CM 11: Ana Willis Getting Started with the Charlotte Mason Method
Links and Resources:
Episode 11: Interview with Ana Willis
Description: What are some of Charlotte Mason’s foundational principles to her teaching philosophy, and how can I begin to implement them? What is narration and how do we start doing it? In today’s episode, Julie H. Ross and Ana Willis discuss some of the foundational elements to a Charlotte Mason education, including an example of what a day looks like for the Charlotte Mason homeschooler.
Meet Ana Willis:
Bio - Ana Willis is the unhurried homeschool mom of 3, wife, and homeschool blogger. She loves to encourage, inspire and empower moms to go from stressed to blessed by providing them with the tips, strategies, and resources they need to succeed. Ana is the founder of They Call Me Blessed and the creator of 5 Days to Your Best Homeschool Years, Hebrew for Homeschoolers, Charlotte Mason Online Conference, The Homeschool Sisterhood, Grow Your Blog Partying in 30 Days, and the Beyond Blessed Life Planner. She leads a vibrant free community for homeschool moms on Facebook and you can connect with her at www.facebook.com/theycallmeblessedblog.
The Unhurried Homeschooler by Durenda Wilson
For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
CM Ana Willis Interview
Julie - Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show, a podcast, dedicated to discussing Ms. Mason's philosophy, principles and methods. It is our hope that each episode will leave you inspired and offer practical wisdom on how to provide this rich living education in your modern homeschool. So, pull up a chair. We're glad you're here.
Today's episode of the Charlotte Mason Show is brought to you by Medi-Share. Find out more about this affordable Christian alternative to traditional health insurance at medishare.com.
Hi, hello everyone. This is Julie Ross, host of the Charlotte Mason podcast. And I'm here with Ana Willis. Hi Ana!
Ana - Hi, Julie, it's so good to be here.
Julie - I'm so glad you're here because this is one of our first episodes and you are gonna be talking about the foundations of a Charlotte Mason education. And I'm so honored to have you talk about it because you are just so energetic and so fun. And I know you're gonna be super inspirational and helpful for our listeners. So before we get started, can you just kind of tell everyone a little bit about you and your homeschooling journey so far?
Ana - Yeah, well it's an honor to be here, first of all. So, I am a homeschool mom of three kids, they are now 8, 9, and 11\. But I started when my oldest was four years old. I always wanted to homeschool but life was too busy. We had just moved back from Israel to Canada. And we were in a public school kind of like ????? because life was too busy. And we were glad because we had a lot of issues that we were not happy about if we take them out of public school. And we started our home education, experienced our home education journey that let me tell you, Julie, that it took me about three years to even find out what I was doing. At first I only... I thought, okay if I just do what they do at school I'm gonna be fine. And I went to the Dollar Store, bought a few books at the Dollar Store, and a few things here and there and we felt like, well surely this is homeschooling.
Oh boy, I was so wrong. I was so wrong. So the first years of homeschooling for us, they were kind of a disaster.
Julie - Me too girl.
Ana - I felt like I went from being Mommy to being like this drill Sergeant to just tell them like, this is what you need to get done. And these poor little kids were so young. And I was just requiring so much of them. There was none in our education whatsoever, it was just like, I thought that the more you do the better you're doing, you know?
Julie - Right.
Ana - So it was... my beginning of homeschooling was really a disaster. It was three years later that I start plugging in with other homeschool moms online and I read For the Children’s Sake. And everything else changed for me. So when I read For The Children's Sake, it was like, I never knew what education really was. And I was just finding out for the first time. And I got so inspired by that book and by Charlotte Mason education, everything that Charlotte Mason believed in, and the importance is that the child is a whole person. And it's not just about academics, it's about habits, ???, and their salvation is so important to apply all of those things. And the beauty of using Living Books that we can talk about a little bit later on, but that's when my eyes were opened. And I really felt like, now I know what I'm doing. Now I have a direction to go. So, basically that was a little bit of my beginning and we found Sonlight Curriculum that brought us tons of Living Books. And I know people, sometimes they fight like this is not really a Charlotte Mason education. But without Sonlight, we wouldn't actually know Living Books. They have... oh, they are fantastic. They have ??? that we needed to pursue a better education to our children and to teach our kids love learning. My kids absolutely love learning. They love reading. They love exploring. And yeah, and so here we are. This year we've been road schooling around the United States, something completely different for us.
Julie - That's so cool!
Ana - So we've been exploring, we've done fifteen states in two months.
Julie - Oh my goodness. Wow. That's a lot.
Ana - It's a different season of homeschooling for us and it's just absolutely fabulous. Filled with reading a lot of biographies and visiting a lot of museums and special places like Jamestown, York Town, Gettysburg, and we did the whole national mall in Washington DC. We went to Yellowstone and the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore, and so many wonderful places. But, yeah, so this is where we are in our home education experience right now.
Julie - Yeah, that's great. So, what would you say to a mom that was just kind of getting started and they wanted to explore the Charlotte Mason Method and see if it's a good fit for them?
Ana - You know what I love about the Charlotte Mason Method? It's simple.
Julie - Yeah.
Ana - For us, it's spending a lot of time reading great books and exploring things, exploring God's creation. First of all, I wanna say that I wish I had known this seven years ago. But the first thing that I've noticed is that Charlotte Mason doesn't say teach. She says be a facilitator of learning and spread a feast of ideas before them. So, when you take upon the role of facilitator instead of their teacher, things just are so much easier. You come along and you learn with them. That's about it. And something that I learned from another friend of mine, Jeranda Wilson, she wrote a book called The Unworried Homeschooler, and it's not a Charlotte Mason book, per se, but she taught me how to be a student of my children. How to observe them. How to know what they're passionate about and what comes easily to them and what their style of learning is and just really just be their facilitator according to who God created them to be. And bring in all of those great ideas and topics and books and let them explore.
So for me, I think that's really important. That if you're beginning right now, that you become a student of your child, first of all. And a lot of homeschool moms, they panic at the beginning, Julie, and you know that in your community as well. They're like, "I need to know everything!"
Julie - Yep.
Ana - And that's not true. You don't need to know everything. You just need to be one step ahead. And as a parent, you already are a step ahead. Right? So, don't, yeah, don't let that thought that you need to know everything just take over and make you panic, and make you fearful.
Julie - Yes.
Ana - You're the parent, loving your child, learn with your child, and just, yeah, for me, that's what made it huge. This is what transformed my homeschool four years ago. It was going from the parent who has the big list of things that their kids had to accomplish. Everything. And it was just like the drill sergeant to being the loving mom who saw them as a whole person, who came alongside and learned with them.
Julie - Yeah, I think that's a good point cause... the Charlotte Mason Method like, there is so much to her philosophy and there are so many different subjects and so many different things that we're not really used to. Or that we don't typically include or see in a standard kind of American education. So it's very easy to get bogged down and like, the specifics of how you should teach brush drawing, or what paper sloid is, or you know? And a mom could just be like, oh forget this. Like, this is just way too hard, I can't do any of this, right? Rather than go, no, like, here's some basics. Get started. You're gonna keep learning.
I mean I've been doing this for over 12 years and I still feel like, every year I'm adding more to our feast, and figure out more that I didn't know before, and I just think it's a great point cause as new homeschool parents, we can feel very overwhelmed. Because now there is so much information out there.
Ana - It's one step at a time. It's one step at a time. You apply one, two, three things. And when you're comfortable with those things, you apply more. And for me, like, I have the Charlotte Mason companion. I did not get into the sixth volume by the way.
Julie - Yes, yes, I... that's a little daunting.
Ana - I needed to read them but it was too daunting for me. So I read the Charlotte Mason companion from Karen Andreola who had become a mentor to me, and a good friend now. But I would read a little here and there and try to apply that into my life, into our homeschool, and when I felt comfortable enough with that, then I would move on to the next thing. You do not have to apply all the principals at once. You can just ease your way in, into the Charlotte Mason education. ??? Sometimes we think about Charlotte Mason, think about all those great things that I'm gonna teach my kids Shakespeare and ??? I didn't actually get to go and study Shakespeare myself until like a year or two ago.
Julie - Right. Yeah, me too.
Ana - And they're like, this is so out of my comfort zone.
Julie - Right. Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And, I mean, yeah, it's probably three years ago that we started incorporating Shakespeare. And we all love it now, I mean, we've all been sitting around and we do Macbeth together. But like, if you'd have told me that my homeschooling journey, that my 11, 10, and 9 year-old would be sitting around reading Macbeth, I'd be like, what planet are you from? Like, no way. And we would all hate it, right? Cause I didn't like it in high school and I was like, what, I don't wanna have to do that, you know? And that's what I've also seen about her philosophy, like some of the things at first, I was like, well, that's weird. Once I actually started doing them, I'm like, oh wow, no, she had a point, like this really is amazing stuff.
Ana - It really makes sense, yes.
Julie - It's true. So let's talk a little bit just about what some of those foundations are and just kind of how you've used those with your family or how you've grown in them.
Ana - Yeah. Alright, so the first thing that we did that we start incorporating in our homeschool... and first, I was like, does that really make sense? It was copy work. It was so simple, it was just copy... Just copying beautiful, well-written passages of literature. I have a friend of mine, she teaches in Charlotte Mason too, up in Canada, and she always talks about, you know, a beautiful language. If we want our kids to have great vocabularies and to be comfortable reading great literature, they need to know this beautiful language. And so we start getting passages of great books, you know we start copying, and we start paying attention to the grammar. And we start learning spelling, and vocabulary, and practicing our handwriting. Everything just copying down poetry, prose, Scripture, quotes from these books, and it was just...it really made a lot of difference for us. And it wasn't like a whole day doing copy work. It was just like, maybe one or two paragraphs. We started with one, then we increased. It started making a big difference for my children.
Julie - Yeah, that's great. That's a very simple way to start for sure. And then you also mentioned Living Books.
Ana - Yes.
Julie - And reading those in the studies that you had. Are there any other areas particularly that you wanted to focus on?
Ana - Yeah, yeah. Well, let's just talk about Living Books for a second, because...
Julie - Okay, yeah. That's great.
Ana - When people talked about Living Books, I had no idea what they were saying. So basically, Living Books are an alternative to boring textbooks. Dry facts, right? You don't want dry fact. They include fiction or non-fiction literature written by an author with a talent for bringing the story alive. So all these are really passionate about the subject. When they write it, you can just feel it. There's emotions that are provoked inside of you. Reading those books, it's different from just reading a dry fact about an event, you know, in history. So, these Living Books, they engage the children's ideas and imaginations. They're understanding and retaining information that they are learning because you are fully engaged in the story. So, Living Books make a huge difference in our homeschooling. Charlotte Mason says, in all the time we have books. Books teeming with the ideas fresh from the minds of thinkers upon every subject to which we can wish to introduce to children. So it's very important that we surround ourselves with great books. Read great books. Listen to great audiobooks from, you know, this book. We love listening to audiobooks. Audiobooks is not cheating. Just to let you know, Mama, if you're...thought it's not the same as reading aloud. It is the same. It is actually... because, you know, like, English is not my first language. I find that everyone else reads better than I do. Yeah, and the other thing that, for me is like, basic, basic, basic, that we choose with narration. And again, narration was kind of copy work, like, does that really matter? Does that really make a big difference? Oh boy, it does. It makes a big difference. So, narration's a great way to make sure the kids understand what we're learning together. Let them read to you. You know, I have a background, my background is in Biblical and Jewish studies. And theology. And for many many years, I lived in Israel and I worked at the Israel Bible Society, and if you know how the stories were passed by throughout the generations it was oral narration.
Julie - That's very true. Yes.
Ana - And every ancient civilization, it wasn't just with the Hebrews. In every ancient civilization, even with the native people, right? The stories were passed by narration. They were told over and over again until the point that the kids, that the younger generation would know those stories. And then, there were memoirs of stories and they were passing along to the next generation. So, narration is fantastic. It's not just about trying to make them memorize something to answer for a test. But it's really knowing that even if I ask my child months later or a year or so later, they can still retell that story back to me. So narration's very very powerful.
Julie - Yeah. So if a parent has never done narration before, can you give them just some guided principles or ways to get started with that?
Ana - Well, the first way that I do is just ask them simple questions. Ask them simple questions about the story that you're reading, or the picture that you're looking at. If you're doing a picture study, just ask them a few questions. Help them to observe and tell you what they see. Ask them, you know, what they understood or what was going on with the story. I think that's just the simplest way that you can start narrating.
Julie - Yeah. And I think we make it this very complicated thing when it's very, very simple and it's something that human beings like you said, forever. Right? It's part of who God made us to be, to be storytellers because He is a great communicator as well. So that we are to communicate and so, I think, we can make it very complex when it's just a very simple thing. We naturally talk about the things that we're excited about and the things we're interested in, and the things that we're learning. And so, yeah, it's just getting started. In Home Education, you know, where she talks about teaching kids, younger children, you know, she'll say, go out in nature and have them kind of run off where they can still see you, and then come back and tell you about something they observed. So it's... when you're building those kind of habits early on, it's a very natural process to kind of translate back to what they're reading and learning about.
Julie: Are your kids, have your kids started written narrations?
Ana - Yes, yes they have. They have. Yeah, so oral narrations really helped them to prep for written narrations. They retell you the story and when they sit down to write, they retell the story. That's what they do. But that, you know, they use written words instead of just spoken words. But you think about, you know, children narrate by nature. Kids always run to us and say, "Mommy, Mommy, this is what happened outside." "Mommy, mommy, I just met my friend, guess what?" You know, and they, and I think the narrations just opens up for better communication with our children as well. They know they can come and tell you all the things, and you're gonna pay attention to them, right? Right? That's really neat. And as they get older, then they will develop better writing skills because of that narration.
Julie - Yeah, for sure.
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So, I know this is a funny question but, can you describe like, what a typical day looks like for you all? And I know typical doesn't actually exist. Do we ever have typical days around here? But, hypothetically...
Ana - Okay, we do have typical days. Not every single day. I'll say we do more school now, two, three times a week, because we're traveling.
Julie - Yeah.
Ana - So, our typical days starts always with Bible. We read our Bible together and we let the kids narrate back to us the story. We have a little discussion; we pray together as a family. Then we get into our language arts and we work through our language arts whenever we're working through, we do a little bit of memorization too. We love memorizing Scriptures and timeline and things like that. So we keep a visual in front of our eyes as we go through those things. We do our math, of course, and... but everything that we do, we do in short lessons, which is another thing that I learned from Charlotte Mason. I love it. Keep it short. Keep it short. You don't wanna drag the kids for hours doing the same thing where they're gonna lose their interest, their mind is not there anymore. So we keep our lessons very short. Then we do... we alternate between history and geography and science. I do not do all those subjects on the same day.
Julie - Oh no, no, yeah. Way too much.
Ana - Yes. So it's either... yeah. So either we're gonna do history and geography or we're gonna do science. And normally we do two days a week for science, two days a week for history and geography. And we have a little schedule for all the other great stuff that we love, like poetry, we do, I teach Hebrew. My kids were born in Israel so that's the language chose to study this year. We do acting. We do picture study. What else do we do? We do... we love having poetry teatime and just reading poetry, memorizing poetries together. So basically, that's how our day goes. And we are outside walking trails, going to beaches, collecting things, and observing things. My kids, since we've been traveling the United States, we've been doing the Junior Range Program in the National Parks, and also the state parks near Florida. So, we normally like to go, to go meet with a ranger, and the kids can ask them all kinds of questions, or we can sit and watch a ranger talk. And we can go explore forts and, yeah, museums and just learn a lot so.
Julie - I bet they're also getting to see a variety of nature that like, typically, for nature study, you know, you're doing what's in your home state. And what's around. So I bet they're just seeing an amazing amount of flora and fauna and different animals and birds and things through all your travels.
Ana - Absolutely, yes.
Julie - That's super cool.
Ana - Fifteen states in two and half months, so, nature study has been huge for us. I mean, when we were in at, especially at Yellowstone, it was fascinating. We learned so much. Ah! It was incredible. We wanna go back next year again and spend more time, cause this time it wasn't enough. But you know, when you're out and about, there ???? learning how to identify plants and wildlife. They're learning also a lot because we're in these parks that they're teaching us different things. Like today, our group is going to visit a turtle hospital. And it's absolutely amazing. And they're gonna learn all you can do to prevent, you know, wildlife from suffering because of the litter, because of all the things out there. So not only they are learning about the animals but they are learning how to preserve them.
Julie - Yeah. Yeah, like that's a good point. Like your state and local parks, those people love to talk about their parks, but most people don't stop and take the time to talk to the rangers and they're just a wealth of knowledge. Like, I mean, every time I've stopped and talked to them, they are just so excited to have people that wanna hear about it and will teach my kids all kinds of amazing things, and show us around. So, that's a great resource.
Ana - Yeah, and every state has different national parks, different state parks. Go and explore it, because it's really worth it, the kids learn so much. It's just like, that is a wealth of knowledge, a great opportunity to be outdoors with the kids. Let them explore. My kids love to snap pictures of things or make videos of things. We take the Go-Pro so they can go under the water with the Go-Pro and so, lots of fun stuff to do, yeah.
Julie - That's cool. Cause I think, yeah, I think we can think like, oh nature study, it has to be this beautiful watercolor journal book that you know, looks like the, oh what is it, the Edwardian ladies diary.
Ana - Yeah, well that's not our journals.
Julie - Or mine either!
Ana - More like stick figures.
Julie - My kids too, yes. But I also love that you brought up like, incorporating technology, that's a really good idea and I think in today's world, like, you know...
Ana - You think about it, Julie, Charlotte Mason was really ahead of her time.
Julie - Oh for sure. Way ahead of her time.
Ana - When I think of how wonderful, like, if she was here today, would she take advantage of all the great technology that we have? My kids have a lot of their books in their Kindle Fire. And they take it with them and that way, we don't have... yeah, that way we don't have to take all of those huge, heavy books with us. We access the eBooks and we sit down and we read them while we are there and it just makes it easier for us.
Julie - Yeah. Especially in a RV too, yeah. Exactly, those field guides can get quite hefty yeah. That's a great idea, I love that. So do you have any recommended resources for moms who are just sort of wanting to dip their toe into this, kinda figure out if it's a good fit for them or not?
Ana - Yes, I do. I do. And I wanna start with one that... the Charlotte Mason Companion was great. Absolutely great for me. It really helped me a lot. Yeah, and For the Children's Sake was life changing. It was the one that opened my eyes and really, you know, that was the book that made me understand what education really was. Until then, I think, I was just trying to wing it and do it what the public schools do, which, doesn't work at all. And it's not the ideal thing at all. So, those are my favorites. And Mother Culture. I really love Mother Culture. Cause this journey's just not about, just about the kids, it's about the whole family. And I think Mother Culture absorbed that. How dear to see the simplicity of home education. And how to keep your heart and your mind grounded on what really, really matters. And it's a fantastic reading. There's forty chapters but they're short. Some of the chapters are only like two pages, three pages. And it's a quick reading like you're saying, you read like ten minutes, you got your reading in and it really just fills your heart. And it helps you to be always motivated. We have a great membership group, it's called the Homeschool Sisterhood where we have full clubs and we have Masterclasses. And we bring in experts. But the highlight of our book club has always been our Mother Culture books reading and the special times between us moms. I know the kids will say it's their book club that is the highlight. But for us, it has been... it's really a blessed thing.
Julie - So, there's two different things. There's a book called Mother Culture, by Karen Andreola...
Ana - Yes.
Julie - Where she kind of has little short.. to me they seem like, devotional kind of... like, they're very short, inspirational, on different topics to kind of help the mom along in her journey. Whereas, her other book, the Charlotte Mason Companion, was more of an in-depth look at the philosophy. Okay. But then there's also this bigger term of Mother Culture that's used in Charlotte Mason circles. So there's the book, but then there's also that concept. So, can you kind of explain what that concept means for people that aren't familiar with that term?
Ana - Mother Culture's a trademark of Karen and Dean Andreola.
Julie - Oh it is, oh, okay.
Ana - So the concept came out of the book. Came out of an article... cause Charlotte Mason never actually wrote about Mother Culture. It was a concept that they named and then it grew really big. But the Charlotte Mason Home Educators. But it's all coming out of the same idea of the book.
Julie - Oh, okay.
Ana - Which is mom taking care of herself and continue to learn, not for the sake of teaching the children, but for her own sake. Continue to learn and read and make sure that she's getting quiet time aside to do anything that, you know, just feeds her soul. It could be, sometimes just sitting and reading or painting. Or for me, it's Bible journaling. And, you know, and just feeding herself and having that time for herself. I think that's really, really important.
Julie - Yeah. Yeah. Well great, well it was so fun talking to you. Do you have any closing words or last thoughts you wanna share with everyone?
Ana - I do. All of that would be so much easier if you include habit training. And that is something that we did not talk about it.
Julie - Yes. Yes, I actually have another interview coming up where I"m talking with Leah Martin, especially about...
Ana - Oh yeah, Leah is a perfect person to talk about habit training. But yeah. So just very quickly, it's a wonderful, wonderful ??? You don't have to imitate it. You don't have to apply everything at once. You can begin with little steps, baby steps, it just, it's so natural. Sometimes I even joke, it's so natural. And it's funny that we need to be taught. Right? Cause it's so natural. We need to be taught those things. But it's just wonderful. I am so glad I found the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education. And just seeing my kids as lovers of learning and you know, independent learning... learners, and it's just a lot of things. So, it's wonderful.
Julie - Yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
Ana - Thank you, Julie.
Julie - And I will put everything that you have mentioned and all these different resources, and the homeschool sisterhood that you are spearheading down in our show notes for everybody so they can access all of that, so.
Ana - That's right. And I have a guide and if you want to include the link as well, there's a guide with all the good things that we talked about and a little bit more. It's ... I think it's a 20-pages guide or maybe less. Maybe less. Ten pages I think. And it's really helpful.
Julie - Yeah, awesome. That'll be a great tool for everyone. So thanks again for joining us.
Ana - Thank you, Julie.
Julie - Alright, bye.
Thank you for joining us today on the Charlotte Mason show. I'm your host, Julie Ross, and I would love to meet you in 2020\. I will be at all seven Great Homeschool Conventions, speaking as part of their Charlotte Mason track. Go to greathomeschoolconventions.com to find one near you.
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