S6 E1 | An Exciting Announcement from The Charlotte Mason Show! (Julie Ross with Jeannie Fulbright)
Welcome to Season 6 of The Charlotte Mason Show! In this episode, Julie Ross sits down with long-time homeschooler and curriculum author Jeannie Fulbright to discuss what first led Jeannie to the Charlotte Mason method. Now that Jeannie is an empty-nester, she shares about the exciting resources she is creating for the homeschool community. Make sure you stick around until the end of this episode to hear an exciting podcast announcement!
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
Julie H. Ross believes that every child needs a feast of living ideas to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. As a former school teacher, curriculum coordinator, and assistant director of a homeschool academy, Julie has worked with hundreds of students and parents over the past 20 years. She has also been homeschooling her own five children for over a decade. Julie developed the Charlotte Mason curriculum, A Gentle Feast, to provide parents with the tools and resources needed to provide a rich and abundant educational feast full of books, beauty, and Biblical truth. Julie lives in South Carolina. When she’s not busy homeschooling, reading children’s books, hiking, or writing curriculum, you can find her taking a nap.
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Julie Ross 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 Medi-Share.com.
Julie Ross Hello. Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show. I'm your host, Julie Ross. And today I am here with a very special guest, Jeannie Fulbright. Hey, Jeannie.
Jeannie Fulbright Hey! So glad to be here.
Julie Ross Yeah. We have an exciting announcement for everyone, but we're going to save that till towards the end. So stay tuned for our exciting announcement. But before we get started, Jeannie, I just wanted to kind of talk to you for a little bit. And most people probably know your name from the Apologia science curriculum that you wrote, which is absolutely fantastic. And I can't even imagine the amount of hours it took to put all that together. You did an amazing job. Writing is something that I feel like is a very difficult subject matter on lots of different science topics and making it very accessible and narrative for children to read and enjoy. So thank you for the work and the contribution that you made.
Jeannie Fulbright Absolutely.
Julie Ross So other than that, though, people may not be familiar with you. So I want to just kind of start there. Do you mind telling us a little bit about kind of your homeschool journey, how you got started, the process? I know you're an empty-nester now, so you can kind of look back over 20 plus years and give us kind of a rundown of your experience.
Jeannie Fulbright So yeah. Well, I always wanted to homeschool and when my daughter— I lived in Dallas and my daughter was about two years old and I met this little girl that was visiting her grandparents—they lived next door—and she was just the most brilliant little creature. And I thought, "This is the type of person I want my child to be." And she was homeschooled.
Julie Ross Okay. How old was she?
Jeannie Fulbright She was ten. But she acted like an adult. And I thought, "How is this ten-year-old speaking to me with such— without fear and acting weird?" And, you know, I feel like when kids are in school, they feel weird about adults. They have sort of like this kind of fear of them. But she was just so confident. I thought, "This is amazing." And so from that moment on, I decided, "We're a homeschool family." And there wasn't very much out there. This was like 1994. And there really wasn't anything out there for— I mean, there was. There was some curriculum, but there just wasn't a lot. A lot of the some of the same things that I see now that are still popular were things that were available then. Because they're great. They're timeless. And then we moved to Atlanta, and pretty soon after we moved to Atlanta, and right after my daughter turned five, so she was really formally in school at that point, even though I had been doing stuff with her, obviously, as we do with our preschoolers. And a friend of mine called me up. She's a friend from church, and she said, "I am going to this homeschool conference. It's like a four day thing and I don't want to go alone. Will you go with me?" And I was like, "Okay, I'll go." Never heard of Charlotte Mason in my life. And this is like, I would say probably about 2000, the year 2000. So 22 years ago, that's so crazy. And so we went to this conference and I just thought it was a homeschool conference, but this lady had us all— she was teaching how to teach your children using the Charlotte Mason method. But part of this wonderful thing about the training program that this lady was doing was that she was treating us like the students. So she would explain something to us like how to do picture study. And then she would do picture study with us.
Julie Ross That's awesome.
Jeannie Fulbright And then she would explain how to do notebooking, and then she would have us sit down and do a notebooking page after she read aloud to us. Narration. And all of this stuff, I just started seeing like how it was actually— you can't forget it when you're doing it yourself. And it's great when we teach our children using the Charlotte Mason method. It's wonderful, but it's really cool if we actually get to be that student and we realize really what's happening in our child's mind when they're trying to, for example, narrate. So the lady would read. There was about 30 people in this church where she was holding the seminar. And she would read from a book and then she would choose somebody, "Okay, stand up and give us a narration." And how much thought process, how much ordering is going on in our brain, and just categorizing and helping us to understand really what we're about to teach. We're about to teach her what she just taught us. And it was really phenomenal.
Julie Ross That's amazing. That is such an amazing immersion kind of opportunity, I would say.
Jeannie Fulbright It was. It was like Charlotte Mason by fire. It was crazy.
Julie Ross Yeah. Well, I think, too, parents don't really get it if they don't experience it for themselves. Because I do that in my talk at the homeschool convention. That's exactly how I start out. I read from a textbook about Andrew Jackson and then I give them a pop quiz. And then I read from a living book about Andrew Jackson and then I ask them to turn to the person next to them and narrate. It sounds too simple, really, to just— oh, we just we read it and then we talk about it? Like, where's all the stuff? And I can't know that my child is actually getting this unless I can see that they got like nine out of ten questions right? If they're just talking to me, they might talk about something I don't think is important or how can I check and make sure we're checking all the list of things they should know by this age, you know? And so until you actually realize how hard narrating is, and what upper-level thinking skills are involved, and you're doing it for yourself, do you realize, "Oh wow, this is much better for my child to go through that process than to just kind of read and answer some questions."
Jeannie Fulbright It seems too easy. It's seems too simple. I had a lady once email me and she said, "I just want to thank you for your astronomy curriculum. My daughter did it three years ago and she still remembers the book." Let me tell you what happened. They were playing a game with some neighborhood kids—it was like a trivia game—and one of the questions in the trivia questions was how many earths could fit inside the sun? And this girl gave the right answer, but the question had a different answer. And she said, "No, I know that's correct. I know it. I learned how many earths fit inside the sun." And so they went and looked it up, and what my book said was correct. Thank you, Lord. So I said, "That is so great that she still remembered that little detail from three years ago." I said, "So just tell me, did you do all of the activities, all the projects, all of the experiments? Did you do all the notebooking?" Because I have notebooking as kind of one of the key elements of my— you know, my curriculum was written using the Charlotte Mason model because I couldn't find anything out there when I was trying to teach my children science. And she said, "No, all I did is read and narrate." All this girl did was narrate back, and the act of narration moved the information from the short-term memory into the long-term memory. Just narration alone. And so I always say if you do nothing else in the Charlotte Mason model, have your children begin to tell back what they've learned, because that really helps their comprehension and it moves the information from their short-term memory to their long-term memory. It's pretty cool.
Julie Ross Yes, it is so amazing. So you went to this immersion experience and you're like— you drank the Charlotte Mason Kool-Aid, and you're like, "Okay, we are doing this thing at home." How old were your kids at the time? Or was it just the oldest?
Jeannie Fulbright My oldest was six.
Julie Ross Okay, so you're starting, and then you had a whole bunch of— you had three more, right?
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah, I had babies and toddlers and preschoolers.
Julie Ross So you can actually still homeschool with babies and toddlers and preschoolers, right?
Jeannie Fulbright Yes. Yeah. Well, you know, my six year old— there's not really— you're done by 11:30.
Julie Ross Exactly. That's what makes it so beautiful, right?
Julie Ross Yeah. It was great. And then my son— I had my second child coming up the ranks. He started exhibiting— first of all, he was brilliant. He knew a lot of stuff. He could do math in his head. He was just— but when he was when he was five years old, I started trying to teach him. And it turned out that he had dyslexia, dysgraphia, and some processing disorders. And so it was kind of really hard for me because I wanted to help him to learn. And so we went through a lot of different testing and processing and learning how to teach him, which really is challenging when you have a special needs student. But one thing that he really loved was science. He loved science. And nothing out there was giving him the depth of information that he needed to be satisfied. So he wanted to learn about astronomy. And so I said, "Okay, well let's go to the library." Like every good homeschool mom does. And I came home with 23 books, you know, children's books on astronomy. And as I started reading these books, first of all, I had to skip over the part that talked about billions and millions and trillions of years and all this information which was written in such a boring way. And that's thing was they were not living books. They were beautiful. They had lots of NASA photos in them. And and so my kids— I could see the light going out of his eyes about his interest in astronomy. Suddenly astronomy wasn't interesting. And I thought, "You know what? I am going to write a book on astronomy." And I'm going to give— so that he will learn astronomy. And first I went and got some creation science books and they were written too far above his level. They weren't explaining things well enough. And so I just started writing. And after that I was— you know, back then there was a lot of message boards. And so I had lots of friends that we were— you know, email loops and all that. And they said, "Well I want to buy your astronomy book." And so I was selling it to people myself once I had it published, you know, bound into a book. And then— well, what happened was Apologia a found out about it. And they had been looking for a elementary science author. And this was when Jay Wile was the owner of Apologia. And he called me up, and the rest is history. It was an incredible start to a wonderful career in writing children's science books and using the Charlotte Mason model.
Julie Ross Yeah, I love that. I think homeschool moms are some of the like the most scrappiest people around. It's like, "I have a problem—" and we have such passion for our children that we're like, "I'm going to figure this out even if I have to go do it myself." And that's kind of how I started with A Gentle Feast, because I got to figure out how to make Charlotte Mason where I could just— I don't overthink everything all the time and reinvent every day. I just got to be able to open it and here's what we're doing every day. And I have to wrap my brain around all these different pieces, all these different subjects, you know, because it was like, I got to make this work, you know? And so I love that you just saw a need with your son. And I have two children with similar issues to that. And, you know, we tried a whole bunch of different things and then, you know, till you finally find something that works. But it's because we care so much, you know? So I encourage all the people that are listening that have children, you know, you don't have to go out and write a curriculum or write a science book. But, you know, you can find the resources and the things that you're good at and incorporate and bring your children along with the things that you're really passionate about and that you like to do.
Jeannie Fulbright And I always found that when I strayed away from the Charlotte Mason model, that my children— their love for learning would slowly get extinguished. And that usually happened when they had friends that were taking a class outside of the home, like a once a week class. And obviously, these people weren't using the Charlotte Mason model. There wasn't like a Charlotte Mason style class. And my children would begin to dislike school again. And I just had to always backtrack. Okay. We've got to get back to the basics. We've got to get back to doing this the way that brings the subject to life, that breathes life into it, living ideas that make them excited to learn. I want them to love learning. I want the lessons to be pleasurable and interesting for them.
Julie Ross That's really important and that's a really good point too. Yeah. It's sometimes that peer pressure of like, "Oh, this looks really fun. I want to go do this." But you're like, "Does this really fit in with our family and what I think about education?" So that's why I think it's super important to have a philosophy of education because otherwise you can just kind of be— go with the wind and be— this looks interesting. This looks fun. And you know, you're not kind of have a course. And it doesn't mean you can't ever veer off course because life happens and sometimes you have different needs and whatnot, but you can keep that kind of clear focus that this is the path that I feel like is the best for children.
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah, I always tell people that if you— you have to be really careful about the things you add to your schedule. And of course, I learned this the hard way, just adding too much. Everybody's doing this. I want to do it too. And if you add too many things to your schedule, then you're not operating in God's strength because you've added things that were not his best for you. And when we have guarded our schedule and we've only added the things that we've felt a real strong peace about adding. Then we are operating in the strength that God gives us because we're running the race that He's marked out for us rather than the race that he marked out for your friends. So when you see your friends using this curriculum they seem so happy with it and it doesn't work for you, it's because that wasn't God's best for you. God has what's best for you. He called you to homeschool and he is going to lead you and guide you to the right curriculum, to the right activities. But if you're feeling overwhelmed, it may be that you're overscheduled.
Julie Ross Yeah, that's a great point. Yes, super. I appreciate that a lot.
Julie Ross Today's episode is brought to you by A Gentle Geast. A Gentle Feast is a complete curriculum for grades 1-12 that is family centered, inspired by Ms. Mason's programs and philosophy and rooted in books, beauty, and biblical truth. You can find out how smooth and easy days are closer than you think at AGentleFeast.com.
Julie Ross So now that you are an empty nester, what are you up to these days? Which is super exciting.
Jeannie Fulbright Thanks for asking. Yes. So I am actually writing books. I've started a time travel series. It's fiction books. And I also write nonfiction as well. But I have written a time travel series where these kids go back in time, little like 8 to 12 year old kids. This is about the age range for it. But the first one is Rumble Tumbles Through Time, Dinosaur Days, and these kids go back in time because they have to go and find their dad and their dog, which got lost in time.
Julie Ross Kind of like A Wrinkle in Time.
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah. Yeah. But what's really great about it is that I use creation science and biblical history and biblical, you know, putting it all together in a fun fiction and action adventure story.
Julie Ross So is that out? Is that currently available?
Jeannie Fulbright Yes.
Julie Ross Okay. Oh look, you have it right in front of you.
Jeannie Fulbright So it's really fun. And so right now we're working on the one where they are going to Egypt. They're actually in Egypt now—I'm writing it—and they actually got caught by these people who are going to sell them into slavery in Egypt. And so then they get sold into slavery and they realize that they've arrived in Egypt at the exact time when Moses is there.
Julie Ross Yeah. That's awesome.
Jeannie Fulbright So the water turns to blood and then we're going to go through all the plagues and it's just a real fun story.
Julie Ross That's awesome.
Jeannie Fulbright It was just these little kids having a good time. So that's what I'm doing— one of the things I'm doing. I've also created a Charlotte Mason planner, which is everything I wish I had had when I was a homeschooler. It's got places for you to write down what you're going to do for nature study, your prayer focus, your self-care. Self-care so important.
Julie Ross Oh, yes.
Jeannie Fulbright We can't be our best if we're not taking care of ourselves. Read alouds. And so anyway, I call it the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, because every month at the end of the month, you have a place to write down all the fun, wonderful, the best things from that month. Because I think about all those years I homeschooled, and I only have snippets of memories of homeschooling. I've got their nature journals, which reminds me of places we went. I've got their notebooking activities, which reminds me of things that we taught in history and science. But I don't have a lot of really specific memories of every month. And so I call it an heirloom planner because I think what a family heirloom that would be to have written down everything that you had done that was so wonderful each month.
Julie Ross Yeah, that's great. And I have seen the planner. It's beautiful. You did an excellent job making it, something that's very— that you would want to keep, right? Yeah.
Jeannie Fulbright And so I'm just trying to provide Charlotte Mason style things for parents. I have a nature journal, which is really high quality paper. It's watercolor paper, so you can get it as wet as you want. It's bound—as Charlotte Mason tells you—to get a bound book, and it's kind of PU leather and it's really beautiful. So I'm just trying to provide people with the products that I wish I would have had when I was homeschooling. So that's what I'm doing now.
Julie Ross Yay! You know, it's so fun. I love that you're just continuing to bless this community with your knowledge and your gifts. So thank you for doing that. And speaking of blessing this community, we have a very special announcement. So everyone, Jeannie is going to hop on and start hosting some episodes here on The Charlotte Mason Show, which I am super excited about.
Jeannie Fulbright Yay! I'm so excited.
Julie Ross Yay! Drumroll. Because I feel like, one, I love your heart for the homeschooling community. I love your passion also for the Charlotte Mason method. And I think you are super fun. And so I feel like my approach has always been this is doable. Take a deep breath and relax, and we're going to get through this. And what I would have wanted, like you were saying, like when you started, you're making tools to help people with that. Like what I would have started was a friend that I could just sit and get coffee with and who would just help me take me off the cliff sometimes when I was worrying about totally messing up my children for life, but also to make this approach accessible and make it something that's encouraging for people to listen to and to want to keep going. And so I think sometimes I've found in the Charlotte Mason community, it can be very dogmatic and people feel very boxed in. And I don't measure up and I can't do this because I don't fit into the box that is coming from certain places or people. And so I've tried to be very open with, you know, you're taking these methods, you're taking these principles, you're applying these to your specific situation in your life. And I feel like you have that same kind of heart and passion as well.
Jeannie Fulbright 100%. We need to approach everything with grace and mercy. And I think that people can get, like you said, very dogmatic and very rules-oriented. And there are just certain personalities that tend to fall into, "We need this list of rules and if you break one, then you're not Charlotte Mason." And that was not the heart of Charlotte Mason.
Julie Ross No, not at all.
Jeannie Fulbright And I don't think that's helping people at all.
Julie Ross Yeah. And so I'm excited. We're going to do a few episodes together here and there and then, you know, Jeannie will do some episodes herself and I will do some myself and interview people. And Shay and I will keep doing the book club that we've been doing on volume six. We're going very slowly. We're only in chapter four, but that's okay. It's all about—like Charlotte Mason said—we're not speed reading here. We're going to cherish it and devour it.
Jeannie Fulbright Absorb it.
Julie Ross Yes. Really spend our time digging into the meat of it. And then I am going to England this summer. I just booked our trip. I'm super excited. With my second daughter. This is her graduation gift. She wanted to go to England and then COVID hit. So even though she already graduated high school, we're finally going to make it and we're going to go to Ambleside. So I'm going to record an episode from Ambleside. Isn't that so fun?
Jeannie Fulbright Yay! Oh that's beautiful.
Julie Ross So what are some of the things that you have planned to talk about? What are some of the episodes you've been kind of brainstorming about?
Jeannie Fulbright So I'm going to be talking about things like notebooking and how you can incorporate notebooking with whatever curriculum you're using. I'm going to be talking about habit training.
Julie Ross Oh, good. That's a big one.
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah, just the Divine Life is a big topic.
Julie Ross I love that you're studying that. So can you just give a real brief what that means and kind of what you've been working on with that?
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah, it's such a such a foundational Charlotte Mason tool for really being successful as a homeschool mom, and that is recognizing that the Holy Spirit speaks to your children, and God wants to be your children's teacher. And when we recognize the Divine Life in our children, then we will treat them with more respect. And she believed children were persons. Well, when you realize that God has access to your child's mind and God wants to bring forth the wisdom and all of the knowledge that you are— all the ideas that you feed your child, the Lord makes those ideas grow in your child. The Lord gives your children new ideas from the ideas that you feed them. So ideas create new ideas within your child. Those ideas, the origin of all ideas, all good ideas, is God. And he can take a great idea and build it in your child and build their character through it. For example, if you're trying to work on the habit of truthfulness and you're reading books that exemplify truthfulness, then your child— you don't have to do all this talking. Charlotte Mason was very much against all this moralizing and talking, talking, talking that parents and trying to try to drill it into their brain. We actually do our children a disservice by doing that because we drown out the Holy Spirit who can take the idea that's already in the story, that's already in— that we are feeding to them. And he can take that idea and cause it to really grow in our child's heart and mind and become part of their character. And I've seen that with my own children, that I'm presenting ideas and I feel like, "Oh, this isn't working." I had a child who loved to tell stories that were not true. But when he grew up and he went to college, he actually became just the most honest man I've ever met. And his professors recognized that in him. And it was just the Divine Life is working in our children. And if we can see that, if we can see that the Holy Spirit is really their primary teacher, we're the secondary teacher. We present the ideas, but God makes them grow. So that's really, I would say in a nutshell, the Divine Life. But there's so much more to it. And I love to delve into that topic because I think it will help us to homeschool and not feel pressured and overwhelmed if we're aware that God is the one that's doing it. If we allow God, we leave room for God to work in our children's lives, then He will. So that is the Divine Life.
Julie Ross That's so exciting because I think that is so important to her kind of philosophy of education, and we can kind of move that out and focus on the nitty gritty of like, "Well, what should I do for math?" And we're missing the whole big picture here of raising a person. Right? And what we actually do on a day-to-day basis is super important. It's those living ideas. Are we getting in the way of those ideas being planted by putting all the stuff in instead of letting them absorb the material and narrative back and talk to us and feeding those kind of things. We get in the way all the time. And it does take a lot of trust to kind of step back and allow those ideas to take root. It's like, "I got to control everything, and if I don't control everything, then this whole thing is going to fail and it's going to be all on me." That's a ton of pressure and I lived that way for a really long time. And it was not a very fun way to live.
Jeannie Fulbright It's exhausting when it's all up to you. It's just about faith. That's really what the Divine Life is, trusting that God is true. And really honestly, Charlotte Mason had the most incredible relationship with the Lord. Her writings are so— she was a theologian. She was brilliant, and she was brilliant because of how close she was to the Lord. Well, we have that same ability to walk with the Lord, to hear from him, to allow him to teach us. But we've got to let go of fear and really ask God to build our faith, grew our faith, the author and protector of our faith, and grow it and help us to have faith that he has a plan for our children. He has a plan and he will fulfill it. And we just commit our works to the Lord and he will direct our steps. And it really is about our faith because it's our faith that allows us to let go. It's our faith that allows us not to go a little bit insane when our children have an issue or something's going on. But we have to have faith that this is part of God's plan and this is what he intended all along. So I think this is what the journey is about, is growing our faith.
Julie Ross Mm. Oh, for sure. Yes, definitely. Well, I'm excited that you're going to kind of dive into that and talk some episodes about that as well. I think that's going to be a real big blessing to everyone as well. So do you have any closing words or thoughts you want to share before we wrap this one up?
Jeannie Fulbright Thank you. Yeah, I'm just so excited that I'm going to be on this podcast. I love that we're going to do some episodes together because that is so fun always to be with you.
Julie Ross I think you and I could probably talk about this stuff and mindfulness and our thought works and our faith. We could talk about this all day long.
Jeannie Fulbright We have masterly inactivity. I will definitely be doing that because masterly inactivity also requires our faith. We have to have faith.
Julie Ross We should do a whole episode on that too. I love that topic too.
Jeannie Fulbright Yeah, I'm just excited to be here and I look forward to connecting with all of your audience. Thank you.
Julie Ross Yes. Awesome. Well, we are so blessed to have you. So thank you so much. And we look forward to hearing from you soon.
Jeannie Fulbright Awesome. Thanks so much. Bye, Julie.
Julie Ross Thanks for listening to today's episode. If you would like to know more about the Charlotte Mason style of education, check out AGentleFeast.com and click on the "Learn More" button or a free four-day introduction course. I would love to meet you in 2022. I will be at all five of the Great Homeschool Conventions. To find out more about attending one of those, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. If you'd like the show notes for today's episode, you can find those Homeschooling.mom And click on The Charlotte Mason Show. Until next time, I hope your days are full of books, beauty, and biblical truth. Thanks for listening.