S7 E12 | The Knowledge of Man, Part 2 | Virtual Book Club: A Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10 (Julie Ross with Shay Kemp)
In this section of Volume 6, Miss Mason covers the subjects of literature, composition, languages, art and music in the curriculum and how to teach those with her methods. Julie and Shay discuss these subjects and the practical ways to follow the methods in your homeschool.
Shay is a homeschooling mom of five who loves enjoying the learning journey with her children and encouraging others in their paths of faith, parenting and homeschooling. She believes the best conversations happen when you are comfortable on the front porch and loves to share her own journey from there!
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.
Julie Ross | Instagram
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Julie Ross Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show, a podcast dedicated to discussing Miss. Mason's philosophy, principles, and methods. I'm your host, Julie Ross, and it is my 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. I'm glad you're here.
Julie Ross Here's a riddle for you parents: Homeschoolers love them. Enemies of freedom hate them. What are they? It's the Tuttle Twins books. With millions of copies sold, the Tuttle Twins help you teach your kids about entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, the Golden Rule, and more. Get a discounted set of books with free workbooks today at TuttleTwins.com/Homeschool. All right, now on to today's show.
Julie Ross Hello everyone. Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show. I am Julie Ross and today I am here once again with my wonderful partner in crime Shay Kemp.
Shay Kemp Hello. Welcome everybody.
Julie Ross We are once again diving into Volume VI: A Philosophy of Education. And we've been in a chapter where she's talking about the curriculum. So now we're getting into the nitty gritty part. So in our last episode, we talked about history and citizenship and geography. So we're in the "Knowledge of Man" section. And today we're going to be talking about literature, composition, and language. So let's dive in. So Shay, let's start off with literature.
Shay Kemp Well, we get so many questions about literature, don't we? About what literature should be included? And is it enough? But she talks so much in this whole chapter about... The note that I made is that it's the depth that you're offering your children. That's the word that sort of came to. Even though the Forms may be earlier and they may not be difficult books, they're still books that have a depth to them--those heroic tales. And she breaks it down by Form, what you would expect each Form to be covering.
Julie Ross Right. So in Form 1, she says the literature is fairy tales, stories from nature... She talks about Pilgrim's Progress and Andrew Lang's tales of Troy in Greece. Neither of which are easy to read. And so that first shocked me when I read that. Obviously, your second grader's not reading Pilgrim's Progress to themselves, correct?
Shay Kemp I mean, there might be some out there, but I don't know any of them.
Julie Ross So this is something that you're reading to your Form 1 children. She talks about Alice in Wonderland, which we get comments on all the time about how parents don't like it. I'm like, "It's not for you."
Shay Kemp Right. And I think those books are challenging because... She has a quote that says, "There is no attempt to reduce the work of this form or any other to a supposed 'child's level.'" And traditional education is so quick to reduce something, to boil it down or reduce it, to where it is on a 'child's level.' And these books are not on a child's level. So we would not expect a Form 1, even if you're reading that to them... We're not expecting them to take away from Alice in Wonderland something that a literature... That it would be studied if it was studied as a literature piece by, say, a Form 4. We're reading it to them for the language, like she talks about, and these exquisite classics written for children, but not written down to them. And sometimes we people are intimidated by that, or they feel like it's too difficult. And maybe they did not read these books when they were in school. And so, "Oh, gosh!" But in my experience, it's really worth tackling. And the value is really rich for even those young children. And we're not reading four chapters at a time. You set the timer and you read a small portion, and just bit by bit. And they're worthwhile reading, I think.
Julie Ross Yeah, I mean, I took her advice when I first started and I was like, "Okay, well, let's just try this Charlotte Mason and see what you're talking about here. So I'm going to read Charlotte Mason to my second grader and first grader, and they're not going to get anything out of this, and I'll show you, Charlotte Mason." Cause I mean, I read that in college--the unabridged version. You know, and I'm reading it to them and I'm thinking, "I have no idea what is happening in these chapters." And at first my kids were like, "What is this book you are reading to us?" And we were all kind of like, "I don't know what's happening here." But I'm like, "We're going to persevere." Like you said, I would literally read one page, and I would go, "Okay, what happened?" And we'd all just kind of stare at each other. But then after a couple of weeks, my kids, they would be like, "Oh, well, I think it meant blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." And I was like, "Oh, well. Okay, yeah actually I think you're right. I think that is what it said." And all of our comprehending abilities greatly increase from reading that. Now I don't include it in A Gentle Feast until high school. I include Dangerous Journey, which is a wonderful living and rich retelling of that story in Form 1. But I have included Parables from Nature and I have included Alice in Wonderland, and those are the books we get complaints about the most. So part of it is just encouraging parents to try it and keep persevering through it. And you're developing this habit of reading things that are difficult and understanding things that are difficult. And no one likes doing hard things. Even I'm a grown-up, I don't like doing hard things.
Shay Kemp Right. Well, and I think we have been so trained to go the easy route, like even in some of these books you can get these abridged versions that are just a couple pages longer. Like when it talks about Alice in Wonderland we're thinking of the Disney version. You know, we are so used to those sorts of things that it feels like it's too hard to tackle this stuff. But even today, I mean, my daughter's reading Parables from Nature. There are some words in there, or phrases (I usually read it to her or with her) that we have to stop because the phrasing is different, the language is different. We may have to stop and say, "I don't really know what that means." But that is a comprehension skill that we're getting without sitting down to a super boring workbook. You know, I mean, we're working on these skills without a paragraph that's just boring and has nothing to chew on, no ideas in it. So it really, really is worth it. And she says, "The great tales of the heroic age find their way to children's hearts." And I actually have that down in my planner. Because sometimes when I'm trying to decide between a book, I'm like, "Okay..." Or I might want to shy away from one. It reminds me, I want my children to have those heroic hearts, so I have to read them the heroic tales. And that can be something to tackle.
Julie Ross Yeah, that's really good. And then she goes on to Form 2. She included Shakespeare in that literature. Again, some challenging suggestions. But I love where she says here--and this is one of my favorite Charlotte Mason quotes, and I'm sure you all know why when I read it--but she says, "We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programs, and each small guest assimilates what he can. The child of genius and imagination gets greatly more than his dollar comrade, but all sit down to the same feast and each one gets according to his needs and powers." And again, that's where I get the Gentle Feast concept. It's from this quote. But with literature, you are spreading this feast. They're going to get what they need and what they're able to from it, and trusting this kind of process.
Shay Kemp That's right.
Julie Ross And then as they get older, encouraging them to read more through literature books independently as they are able. But if not, reading them to them, or audiobooks are fantastic. But I think it's important to kind of look at the reading level of some of the books that you're assigning for literature. And if it's assigning Pilgrim's Progress or something like that for your fourth grader to read independently is probably not realistic. So I try to look at the reading levels of books and match them up with kind of a grade level equivalency as well, because you do also want to build that habit of teaching them how to read independently from you.
Shay Kemp Yeah, and that's a great point because that's why we are not following... We're following a philosophy and methods, and we can use a curriculum as our servant, but it does not need to be your master, where you say, "Oh, I'm sorry, this book is listed for you, and I know you're struggling with it, but you have to read that book." You know? And we can make decisions for where our children might possibly be. She even talks about in that section about, like I mentioned earlier, the abridged editions. And she's like, "That is not..." There's strong arguments against those abridged editions. And I go crazy when I see those.
Julie Ross Are you talking about like the illustrated classics?
Shay Kemp Yes. They make me crazy. Because I think if you're going to go to the trouble to read that, it would be better to read the real language to your child of what the story actually says and take longer to read it, than just to let them digest that.
Julie Ross So I think there's a difference between those illustrated classics--those abridged versions of classic literature--and retellings. So like I said, the Dangerous Journey is fantastic on its own. It's based off of the Pilgrim's Progress, but it's not like a watered-down version. It's a retelling. Nesbitt's retellings of Shakespeare are fantastic, and they're great ways to introduce a Shakespeare play, so a child has some kind of foundation. Even Plutarch... There's Plutarch for Boys and Girls by Weston. These introductory retellings that are going to help them with something that's super meatier later on. But it's not an abridged version of Alice in Wonderland.
Shay Kemp Not so watered down that you lose the language and you lose the plot and the character. Yeah, yeah, good point.
Julie Ross Alright, do you have any other things you wanted to add on literature here? She just gave lots and lots of suggestions.
Shay Kemp Yeah, lots of examples for people to read. And you know, I love her encouragement. She always talks so positively about the children. "They're able to do this. They're able to do that." But she says, about the amount covered in each Form, "While we grown-up persons read and forget, because we do not take the pains to know as we read, these young students have the powers of perfect recollection and just application, because they have read with attention and concentration and have in every case reproduce what they have read in narration or the gist of some portion of it in writing." And that's where it all goes hand in hand, the narration and the literature. We're not just throwing this book at them and saying, "Okay, that's hard and we're just going to..." But you're breaking it down as you go little by little. And it's a living power, like she talks about. I just... Yeah, I love that section. But I love literature. It's my favorite subject.
Julie Ross Yes! And she says in all Forms, except for 1, the literature does go hand in hand with history. You know, so bringing in historical-fiction biographies, poetry, even geography readers that go along with what you're studying is great as well--getting a wide variety of genres of literature. Alright, so let's jump into composition. The thing we get questions about the most.
Shay Kemp Every week.
Julie Ross Because in a Charlotte Mason education, until they're in high school, composition is not a separate subject. They are composing all day long in their narrations. And I think it's so important for parents to see, that is composition. You don't need to add a whole 'nother writing curriculum onto what you're doing here, people! They are composing. So if you look at early English books from the early 1900s, they actually have a subject in there called "oral composition." It was actually something they taught. They saw the value of it. So oral composition is just narrating. And then when they get ten/eleven and they start trying to write down some of their narrations, which is a whole big process here... Then once they start writing a narration every day, that is their composition. You don't need to add a whole 'nother thing.
Shay Kemp Maybe if we called it "oral narration" it would give people more confidence. Because I think there's... You know, it can seem like it's not... As in, "Well, all they did was orally narrate. They just told..." But in that little phrase, "orally narrate," there are so many brain processes that are in that, and are so many thought processes that go through there, and considerations of, "Well, what happened? How does that connect?" And like she talks about ideas over and over again. And what she says here is... The way I feel... I mean, I understand, I was taught to teach kids to write, as a teacher. You know, this is how kids write. So it's in our hearts do it. But she says, "Teachers err out of their exceeding goodwill and generous zeal." So we can have great goodwill in wanting to make sure that our kids are amazing writers, and we can have great zeal about it, and we can actually hinder them, and stultify them--is the word that she loves so much--because we are not trusting that process of narration orraly at that young age, in those early Forms.
Julie Ross Yeah, she uses some really strong words here. She says, "In a few things do certain teachers labor in vain, more than in the careful, methodical way in which they teach composition to young children." So you are laboring in vain here, people. And then she goes on to say, "The drill that these undergo in forming sentences is unnecessary and stifling. As much so, perhaps, a such drill would be in the acts of mastication in deglutition." I don't know how you pronounce that. "Swallowing." It's like, let's give our children lessons on mastication, which is chewing and swallowing. "Let's have chewing and swallowing lessons today, children." How boring and awful is that, right?! She's saying it's unnecessary and stifling. Same thing with writing. You know, you have to drill it. (And I'm sure this was your experience, but you can speak for yourself when you taught public school.) When I taught kindergarten, trying to get them to form sentences was like pulling teeth. But we had to do it, right? And basically I'm the one writing the sentence, and make it look pretty. And they would have to copy it like seven times to get it to look really pretty so we can hang out wall outside of our classrooms so everybody could walk by and go, "Oh my gosh! Look how smart those kindergartners are!" But it took like a week for us to get that sentence.
Shay Kemp Yes. And it's such a good point because that's about the product. She's constantly reminding us that we are not product-driven. In some ways, yes, of course, we look at the product. We want good exams, we want good narrations to show what they learned. That only comes through the process. And the process of composition is only going to happen in a natural way that keeps their voice... Which I think is so important. We just do not talk about it until kids get to, "Okay, now we're in high school. What's your voice in your own writing?" And then we're backtracking to help them understand that. But when you actually follow these natural processes, like she's talking about, and you're not drilling them like we did use to have to do in one sentence about the cookie or whatever, then they actually have an opportunity to try out and hear their own voice before they have to put pencil to paper in a more formalized way.
Julie Ross Yeah. She gets really clear here in case the people didn't understand the first time. She goes on to say, "Let me again say, there must be no attempt to teach composition." So if you want a really clear, definite answer here, people, don't teach composition. She just said it. "Or failure as teachers is that we place too little dependence on the intellectual power of our scholars. And as they are modest little souls, what the teacher kindly volunteers do for them, they feel they cannot do for themselves." So you can get a certain level of writing out with young children. It will require a lot of drill, it will require a lot of you handholding everything, and it will require very formulaic writing. But they'll lose their voice here, and they'll just feel like, "I have to follow this formula. This is how you write things. This is the five-paragraph..." Like when I taught fifth grade we did the five-paragraph essay model, and they would kind of fill in the blank. It's like, "Punch in writing essay. Go." No voice whatsoever. And she's saying, composition... She says, "It's not an adjunct, but it's an integral part of their education in every subject." So it's not a separate subject! Stop teaching it as a separate... I'm sorry, I'm on my soapbox today I had too much coffee. It's not a separate subject. It's a living thing that you do with every subject. You are narrating everything. Picture study, nature study, your science experiment, you're talking, that is composition. And I just can't encourage parents enough to see the value of it. It's not like, "Oh, some little thing until we can get to where we actually do real school when we start writing it."
Shay Kemp Yes. But it's so opposite then what we have been taught/shown/said, "That is important." But you really do have to... Which is why we take time to go over these things, because this is the "why". So when you have your family member or your friend who will say, "Oh, well, we wrote an essay for homework last night. Your kid's in the fifth grade and you haven't even written an essay yet. Oh my goodness! What in the world?" You know, you've got to have that confidence in the methodology, in the philosophy itself, so that you can know that you do not have to jump on that bandwagon. It's just not necessary.
Julie Ross Yes. We can't say it enough here! And I think a lot of parents get tripped up. So let's talk about this for second. She didn't really talk about this in this chapter, but on when you start transitioning from oral to written. So it's around age ten or eleven. It's when a child's abstract reasoning is starting to form. They have some kind of understanding of grammar, punctuation, spelling. But there's so many mental processes involved with written composition that children's written narrations are going to pale in comparison to their oral narrations. And when I do my narration talk, I always show people this sample, and it's like my daughter's (in fifth grade) written narration for nature study. And it's, I mean, natural history, so it's like three sentences: "The cuttlefish da da da da da..." Very basic. You're like, "Oh, that's not that great for a fifth grader." But then I show people her oral narration of the Secret Garden that I wrote down, that's four pages long. So obviously this child knows how to share ideas, right?
Shay Kemp Mental process. Yes.
Julie Ross It's the process of, "How do we take what's in here and put it down on paper?" And that, at first it takes a year, two/three years for that written narration to catch up with what they've been doing orally. And that's okay. Take a deep breath and go... And we get that all the time on Facebook groups, people will post pictures. "This is my kid's written narration. Is this good? I'm worried about blah, blah, blah." So I just want you all to know right now that if you go, "I'm worried," you are completely normal and that's totally okay. And we're telling you to trust this process. But it's very scary and hard to do, isn't it?
Shay Kemp Yes, it's very hard. And I think it's because of the voices in our heads that say, "That's not enough." And the more you stick with the process and the more you watch and see... I mean I have a child who's twenty now who was a horrible... Okay, let's just say his writing was not up to what I thought was up to par all the way up through almost finishing high school. I mean, it took him a long time. This child could hardly sit still. He had lots of energy, and he never was diagnosed in anything, but I would say there was probably some attention issues there. And he had been brought through just like this: oral narrations into written. The transition was extremely difficult for him and it took a long time. But now, he just graduate with his associate degree, he works on airplanes, and he helps his friends write their papers that are in liberal arts school. How is that possible? It's only because his brain was able to finally get caught up, the process is caught up. So I just want to be encouraging. Like if we say, "Okay, around ten or eleven, they can start doing this." It's not that there's going to be some magic switch age thirteen or fourteen, right? "Oh, well, my God, they're just..." It's different for every child. And eventually, when you stay with the process, you stay with these ideas... And he would orally narrate... Oh, and this is another point: Oral narrations don't just go away when they begin to write.
Julie Ross That's huge. Yes. They'll orally narrate when they're a senior in high school.
Shay Kemp Yes, I have a junior. And she still orally narrates. I still scribe some of her narrations for her. Some of them are just purely oral, some of them are scribed, some of them she writes. But we don't want to lose that powerful oral composition skill. We want to keep working on that. But it is a process.
Julie Ross Yes, very much so. And she does go on to say, when they're in high school, "Some definite teaching in the art of composition is advisable, but not too much lest the young scholars be saddled with a stilted style which may encumber them for life." So again, it's in high school and people are like, "Well, how are they going to learn to write an essay? And, you know..." When they're in high school, you literally can spend an hour and teach them how to write a compare and contrast essay and they can go do it. You don't have to spend months teaching them all these different writing styles like you do when they're younger because they're not able to really do it yet. When they're ready it's super easy to explain. "Oh, that's what I do? Okay, yeah sure, I can do that." And she does give some examples in here, in high school--and I encourage parents to do this--to ask for different kinds of narrations, orally or written, when they're in high school. You can ask them to compare the character in this book to a character from another book they've read. That's a compare and contrast narration, which can be a compare and contrast essay, but you're just asking the question at first and they're orally composing and it's teaching them that skill. But it's not like every narration when they're high school's, "So tell me what happened." Like we got to move beyond that too once they get high school here. And, "Persuade me that we shouldn't have dropped the bomb on Hiroshima." Something from a history book or something. You can ask them for these different kinds of, what would be different styles of writing, once they get to be high school.
Shay Kemp And I think, I told a lady when I was doing a consultation not very long ago, we were talking about this, about doing these processes older instead of younger. And it gives me the mental picture of like, if I'm asking a child to run 100 yards and I put five different roadblocks in the way--they have to jump over this, then they have to go around it three times, and then they have to cut a cartwheel, and then they have to pick up the ball and run to the end--it's going to take them longer and it expands more energy. But if I just say, "Run from here to there," they're just going to get there. And that's what we do to children when we expect them to do these written composition-type things at a younger age. They have so many more mental processes to get to that end goal that it ends up being frustrating. But when we take an older child and we say to them... It's just, it feels so simple... Like I was reading some of these examples that she says: "Write an essay on a question of the day. Write a page or a play." They have the ability in those older ages to just run with it and go to the finish line. There's not all these roadblocks. And I have to admit, before I had a kid in high school, I had the questions too, I'm like, "I hope this lady knows what she's talking about, because I'm doing this. I'm doing this and we don't know yet!" But it really, truly does... Although when I read these compositions that she gives examples of, oh my goodness, they're amazing, aren't they?!
Julie Ross Yes, I do want to caution parents. So in this chapter, she does give examples of several PNEU student's writing. They are very good. But I would also like to point out that the youngest is thirteen. So she's not showing examples of ten-year-olds narrations or something like that. But you can also see in here some of the variety of things: "Write a letter. Write a poem about this." That it's not all just, "Tell me what happened."
Shay Kemp I love the way she says, "Gather up in blank verse..." Do you notice that? "...the impressions you've received through your reading of...." And then she gives... She talking about Tennyson's poems, but I'm going to use that. "Gather up and blank verse impressions you've receive from reading." That's a great way to put that. Very poetic.
Julie Ross "Sketch a scene between Mr. Woodhouse of today and a neighbor of his." That's great, too. You know, it's kind of some of that imaginative writing style. It's not necessarily, again, describing exactly what happened, but because you read this, can you use what you know about those characters and write something else? So it's even higher-level thinking skills. So, yeah, she does include a lot of: "Write a poem. Write a verse." And that kind of thing to give... But see, here's the thing--and I don't know if you noticed this about your kids--when my kids were reading Tennyson, they could write something that sounded like Tennyson. When they were reading Jane Austen, they would write something that sounded like Jane Austen.
Shay Kemp Because they hear her voice. They hear his voice. And because they're reading something that has a voice. When we read them deep literature--great, beautiful books and beautiful poems--from the voice of the author--"the passionate writer," as she talks about--they hear that. Now if we sat down and said, "Oh, can you tell me the voice of this author, of this poet." They're probably not... They'll be like, "What do you mean?" We don't have to label it in those terms. When you get to high school, "Yes. Great! You know what you're noticing? That's the author's voice." But even at a young age, they begin to pick up... And you can read a poem: "Oh, I know who that is. That's Tennyson. Absolutely. That's got to be Emily Dickinson." Because they can hear that voice. And I don't know about you, but I taught writing lessons for years before I started following Charlotte Mason, and voice is just so difficult to teach.
Julie Ross You can't teach it.
Shay Kemp You can't! You can talk about it. It's like me describing the sky outside today. I can tell you as much until you experience it yourself. So there's a lot of deep stuff that goes on and these, what seems to be simple, assignments that she's giving them.
Julie Ross Yeah, I remember my high schooler, all of her history narrations started to sound like Churchill at one point, and I was dying laughing because I could tell that's what she was reading, you know! like you just start to write in the style... And that's what's so amazing about being very well-read. And I think that's why it's so important that we are talking about composition right after literature. If you're not reading living books, it is very hard to write. It is very hard to orally narrate and describe it because there is no voice there. There are no living ideas to express. So we're providing this feast where they're getting all these rich ideas and words and vocabulary and expressions and metaphors and feelings and emotions, that it makes these narrations come to life. And you read something that's super dull, there's no voice, there's no way to express it. And that narrations are a way for your child to express their voice. I also hear this: "Oh, they were being so silly and they did da da da." And I'm like, "No, that's actually really good. Because that means your child made it their own. They were interested in it, they were excited about it. And the fact that they're telling this narration in a silly way about so-and-so and using their voice..." Yes!
Shay Kemp Yeah, I know it cracks me up because when... Now I just have two at home, but when I had everybody and... The way that each child would narrate the same thing was just so interesting. I have a very technical child, and his narrations were technical. I mean, he was looking... That's just his brain. Now I see. And I have one that's much more flowery. And you could hear their voice in those things even about the same narration. And my youngest now, she's funny, 'cause her thing now is she's like, 'Well, I think they were kind of talking about..." You know, this is how she starts every narration. And she's really a funky little kid. But that is--I just want to touch on this--that is a huge privilege as a parent. We get to hear our children's... If I was not doing this with them, I would not know that. I would not know what each of my child's voices are in their writing. I would not know. I could pick out each of their essays now, my older ones, if they were laid before me, because I have been privileged to hear that internal expressed that is specific to that child. And I feel like that is such a privilege that a Charlotte Mason education has given me as a parent, and worth the trust to follow the literature and composition in this manner.
Julie Ross Yeah. I was actually just talking about writing with my kids last night at dinner, and I was telling them the story of how in 10th grade we had to write this memoir project about our family history and about our lives and stuff. And I put a lot of effort and work into it. We had to type it on the typewriter back then, and I had to explain to them what to do if you didn't know how to spell a word. You had to go look it up in the dictionary. And then if you spelled it wrong, you had to white it out, and then you had to wait for it to dry, and then you had a type over it. And they're all just looking at me like, "How did you survive as a child? We're not sure." But I'm explaining how all this all worked back then. And then I said, "I worked so hard on that and I got a D for my spelling and my grammar.".
Shay Kemp Julie!
Julie Ross And I said, "Do you know what I do now for a living? I write." Praise God for spell check. I'm very grateful. My spelling has improved tremendously even from what I was doing in college. And I even told him, I said I remember my freshman English professor was like, "You have a lot of important things to say, but you kind of go on and on and on and on here. You need to learn how to condense your thinking, and..." And she even, I mean I had a meeting with her once where she's teaching me some basic grammar. I mean, I was honors my whole life, right? And having my college professor teach me some grammar lessons for my papers because I was always getting these things wrong. But I mean, I write all the time, you know? And so it's not like, "You're never going to be able to write if you don't do X, Y, Z right." You know, I did all the things in school that I was supposed to be doing, and I still struggled. But I moved past it because I kept going. I kept writing. And the more you write, the better writer you become.
Shay Kemp Yes. And those things do not have to be a hindrance. And I think that's what oral narration does. We remove the hindrance of the grammar, we remove the hindrance of the spelling, we remove the hindrance of the... You know, for a lot of kids the actual physical act of...
Julie Ross Like my son is allergic to pencils.
Shay Kemp Yeah, "I have to make it move across the paper in a way that somebody else can tell what these marks are." I mean, that's a big hurdle to jump over for a lot of kids. And we've been doing it for so long as adults, we think, "Why is hard for you?" And for certain children it's very difficult. My oldest son had dysgraphia and it was so difficult for him. The typewriter was the best... Well, not they typewriter. By his time he came along it was computers, but it was the best thing for him. But we removed those hindrances, and they're able to let those ideas just flow. And they build confidence. So when they are older, they don't have to say, "Well, I can't spell, so I can't write." Well, you can still write if you can't spell. Yes, you want to improve, you don't want to misspell every single thing. But you can write if you can't spell. Thank God we live in 2023 where all you do now is highlight and click and it fixes all the things for you, or tells you as you spell it. Anyway, I think it's important to note because, even if you don't have older children yet, you're educating them with a view to that outcome. So it's important to think about these upper Forms and what is coming, even if you just have a first grader and you're just starting narrations, that there is a process and it's not worth frustrating them, like she says. It's not worth it! No matter what every curriculum that you get... the box curriculum says. No matter whether all your friends are all taking writing classes. And we get so much, "What does everybody use to teach for composition?" And I think what I'm going to do from now is, I'm just going to copy and paste that quote.
Julie Ross "There's no such thing..." Or what is it? "Do not teach composition."
Shay Kemp "We do not teach composition!" I like, page 195 or whatever. So this is what she said.
Julie Ross I agree. I think you should I think you should just start.
Shay Kemp [Inaudible] not going to be super popular for that.
Julie Ross You know, I think people get this misnomer of like, "Oh, we don't ever correct their narration. We don't ever teach them how to write well." That's not true. It's just these aren't formal composition lessons. I'm not going to take... I mean, I almost cried the other day, I saw someone put their child's narration on the Facebook group and they had written all over it with red pen, and I wanted to cry. And I'm like, "Oh my goodness! No, no, no, no, no, no!" But you can gradually teach them like, "Oh, I notice you start every sentence with 'and.' That's probably just because when you're talking, your brain's thinking, 'Oh, this and this and this,' and all these thoughts are coming out. But when we read it in writing, it sounds kind of weird. Let me read it to you. Does that sound good? Oh, how can we change these sentences?" I'm literally explaining this lesson I just had with my son last week. "How can we start these sentences a little different so it sounds better to the reader?" That's simple. I don't need to... He was struggling with that as a reader. It doesn't sound good to me, right? But it's not like, "I'm going to circle everything you did wrong in this narration and you need to go back and fix it." I've also seen that. "I think my child should redo their narrations."
Shay Kemp Well, I'll tell you, even today, my sixth grade will self-edit when I type her narrations for her. And I just type exactly what she says. She talks, I type. I'm like, "Okay, go." I type exactly what she says. I do not change it. I do not fix it. And she has started, just in the past few months she's like, "Wait. Wait a minute. That didn't sound good. Don't say that. Go back and say this." She's self-editing.
Julie Ross That's awesome.
Shay Kemp And I never told her that. She's picking up on that as she reads her own writing because she's starting... Like you said, that new stage version of brain function. And she's starting to read that and be able to notice how she can change it herself. So I don't have to have a lot... Now, I will teach her some. Obviously, always we narrate. That's why we have the written narration once a week. We do our weekly narration with A Gentle Feast we do on Fridays. It's super helpful. I hope people aren't skipping that, and are putting due process into those.
Julie Ross Do you want to explain what that is for people that don't use A Gentle Feast?
Shay Kemp Of course. So on Fridays you allow your child to choose a narration that they did during the week, and they're going to work on it in a more, should say formalized way? So they're going to either edit it or redo it if it was an oral narration, which sometimes my children will choose because I really like that story. They might want to write it out. If it was a picture that they drew (because sometimes we'll be drawing narrations, especially if it's for something in science) and they'll want to go back and add a written narration to it, or perhaps edit it. Like when I scribe and my daughter picks one, so I'll take that one, I'll print it out, and then I'll maybe sit down with her or she can sit down with herself or she'll add a drawing to it. So it's basically going back to those narrations and working a little extra on one at the end of the week. And it makes a great portfolio for your students at the end of the year because you have something they put, not only all the other narrations they've done, but something they put a little more effort into. And some weeks we spend more time on that than others.
Julie Ross There were some weeks we didn't do it at all.
Shay Kemp Yeah, exactly. And some weeks I'm like, "Okay, you need to share." And they would say, "I think I really did really well on this one. And I would like that..." "Absolutely. We want you to be proud of something that you've done. You're proud that, you don't feel like it needs any extra work. And we're going to use that." But I had never done that until I started using A Gentle Feast, I had never followed that process, and I think it's it's been very valuable for us.
Julie Ross Yeah, I started doing it just because in South Carolina we're required to have a portfolio. Of course no one's ever looked at them. And I told my kids that are like 22, I'm like, "Can I throw some of the stuff away?" But anyway, we're required to have a portfolio, and I know there's other states where people actually do look at them. And so, you know, to me that was a way to take this concept of narration... and with the Charlotte Mason education, you can't show...
Shay Kemp A test score.
Julie Ross Like, "Oh, here's all the workbook pages my child did." So it's like if you need to have something to show someone... Plus I like having a record of that stuff. So even though my kids are like, "Yeah, throw them all away." I didn't throw all of them away. And it was so cute to look at their little notebooks, and I took my favorite ones through the years and I made a notebook for each of my two adult children, that I wanted to keep of all their stuff. (And got rid of like four boxes of other stuff.) But it does give you something tangible. What do you show grandma when she comes? "What have you been doing for school?" You know, having a little tangible something is super helpful. So like Shay was saying, it's like notebooking. You take a narration--if they're little, they draw a picture to go with it--they tell it to you, you write it down. It's simple, right? And she even talks about that in the thing about languages and arts and a couple more things, she says, "They illustrate favorite scenes and passages in the books read during the term, and the spirit with which the illustrations are drawn, and the fitting details introduced make the teacher aware of how much more the children have seen in the passage than he has himself." Isn't that true? They're drawing these things, they're telling you about them, you're writing them down. And then when they're older, take a written narration that they've done and say, "Okay, do you want to type this one up (if it was handwritten)? How can we make this better?" But simple. Again, we're not asking them to redo the whole entire thing, and we're going to mark everything that's wrong, and you're going to have to fix everything.
Shay Kemp Right. No pens. No red pens. No...
Julie Ross It just gives you that tangible thing. So I hope that's encouraging. I think it's just so key because this really is the most... Composition is in every subject. So if you can't wrap your brain around narrations, this is the starting point here where so many people get discouraged, and they don't feel like their child's learning enough and they want to throw in the towel because of their narrations and they want to go back to just like, "We're going to have a worksheet. And they got ten out of ten. And I know that they're understanding it." But not really. They're just recalling, people. So, this is such higher-level thinking skills and it's so important. We can link in the show notes to that episode I did all on narration, or that YouTube video, I think. That narration talk, just because it is so important to kind of wrap your brain around and understand that.
Julie Ross Today's episode is brought to you by A Gentle Feast. A Gentle Feast is a complete curriculum for grades one through twelve, that is family-centered, inspired by Miss. Mason's programs and philosophy, and is rooted in books, beauty, and biblical truth. You can find out how smooth and easy days are closer than you think at AGentleFeast.com.
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Julie Ross Okay, so let's move on to languages, which does tie into composition, because--my favorite subject, which I fail every year--school grammar! And as I was doing grammar with my child the other day, and we were doing phrases and trying to determine if they were prepositional or adverbial or adjectival, I remembered why I hated grammar school. And I think it's because, in a way, it's kind of like math. Very analytical, and my brain doesn't work that way. I've tried; I'm 45 and I still get mixed up if that's a prepositional phrase, an adverb phrase.
Shay Kemp Well, she even says that "knowledge of this sort is difficult and uncongenial." I was like, "Say it again, Charlotte." So, I mean! Because it is abstract, just like math.
Julie Ross Yeah. And she says, "Children will probably be slow to receive this first lesson in abstract knowledge." And I think it's a really good point because, once again, abstract reasoning, when does that develop? Around ages ten and eleven. So if you're trying to get your first grader to understand parts of speech, you're going to feel like you're banging your head against the wall and your first grader is probably going to feel like they're banging their head against a wall, because their brains aren't actually able to understand this yet.
Shay Kemp Yes, it is so much... Just like with what we're talking about in a composition, it takes so little time for an older child to learn the grammar concepts. You do not waste time. You can just give them... We do discuss them sometimes when we're doing a narration, and I'm like, "Well, you started that sentence with the blah, blah, blah." Or, "Actually, that needs to be an adverb." So you're throwing that out there if they're asking for your help. But even when... Like Elizabeth is in the sixth grade, so she's doing Grammar Land this year. It's nothing. And this is really the first grammar that she's done that's formalized in any way. And she gets it. I mean, she gets it. She has no problem with it, because her brain is ready for those things. And we're not throwing like 25 sentences to parse in one lesson, and really struggling and stressing out the brain. We're just giving little bites, little pieces; it's still done in a living way because there's [inaudible]. Yeah, grammer, we get a lot of questions about grammer too. And people either love it or hate it, I feel like.
Julie Ross Well, she says you're starting off in Form 2, so fourth grade, very basic. Basic. And it's, "What are the two parts of a sentence?" Okay, "Here's a subject and a verb." Okay. Like, basic! And it's gentle. And she actually had a grammar book that Karen Andreola... Do you remember the name of it?
Shay Kemp First Grammer Lessons? Easy Grammar Lessons?
Julie Ross Something like that? We'll look it up. But if you look through what Charlotte did, it's very basic. Maybe five minutes. Okay. And then you look at grammar curriculums, even starting in first grade, and they take 30 to 45 minutes!
Shay Kemp There's so much! And it's so frustrating, even for me. I mean...
Julie Ross I want to... Yeah, I mean, my child is at the age where we're supposed to be doing this, and I still wanted to poke my eye out yesterday.
Shay Kemp And that's when I think you just back up and say, "Okay, one bite. Maybe we need to do five minutes of this." Because we're not going to let a grammar concept beat us up and knock us off the path, you know? I mean, if it takes us two weeks before we can figure out, I don't know, maybe what's an adverb and what's a verb, what difference does that make? They're gonna get it. They will get it because they're going to say it again and again. That's the thing about grammar and math, okay, it does the same thing. You're doing the same thing in seventh grade that you did, if you're following a traditional path, that you did in the fourth grade. It's the exact same thing. So take your time and take a deep breath. And Charlotte... I'm paraphrasing Charlotte, but that's basically what she's talking about. She says, "These are matters familiar to all teachers, and we have nothing new in the teaching of grammar to suggest." It's just like, "We've been doing that this!" And grammar is grammar is grammer, and later is better.
Julie Ross Yeah. And she goes on in the language section to talk about teaching French, but it ties in very well with grammar. She's basically saying, "When they get to foreign languages, grammar is going to be very important. And it is. When they learn Latin, when they learn French, you do need to know what the adjective is and the noun, because if you have to talk about gender and make things agree and it's... But then there's a purpose, a greater purpose. And it makes a lot more sense when you see it that way. It did for me anyway.
Shay Kemp But I think that's... They've already been interacting with language in such a different way, when you introduce--if you're doing French or Spanish or whatever you're doing for a second language in a younger age--that by the time you get to the grammar, it's almost like, "Oh, that's what that is. Oh, so I know to say this, that, or another in this language, but I didn't know that was the infinitive. I didn't realize that." And so they have something to hook that onto because they've already been learning phrases and names for things, and speaking in a more conversationally comfortable way until they get to the grammar. I feel like I learned more grammar when I learned Spanish than I did when I learned English.
Julie Ross Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that's what I was saying. You learn... It makes a lot more sense what English grammar's like when you're trying to do it in a foreign language, for sure. And we can link to the episode where I interviewed TalkBox Mom about foreign languages and Flip Flop Spanish too. Those are great ones, if you want to know more about languages. We won't go super deep here. Alright, and then we're going to move on to the arts. This is our last part here in the "Knowledge of Man." So first she talks about picture study, and the importance of that, and getting these pictures into a child's mind. She says, "But there must be knowledge, and in the first place, not technical knowledge of how to produce, but some reverent knowledge of what has been produced. That is, children should learn pictures. Line by line, group by group, by reading not books, but pictures themselves." So before you're diving into formal art lessons on how to make something, they need to be filled with the ideas and the pictures of things that have already been made.
Shay Kemp And she gives such a great explanation of exactly how to do a picture study. And it's just so simple and so natural the way she talks about it. Like, "We're just looking at it in every detail. And we're just talking about what we saw. And we're just conversing about it." And the things that they notice, the more that they do, and the way they're able to connect one picture to another is just really powerful. We've been doing this for a long time in my family, and sometimes my kids can't always remember the name of the artist, but they can say, "Why does the light in this look like that picture of that man that always painted the lady in the corner next to the window?" You know! Which is Vermeer. And so they're like, "Why does the light in this painting look like that? That looks the same." That is something nobody... I'd never even considered anything like that until I was in college and took an art appreciation class, right? That I did not love, because it was not interesting in any way whatsoever. But lots of higher-level thinking skills going in on that one little lesson right there.
Julie Ross Yeah. She gives these examples, just children being able to identify the artist when they're out. Or like you're saying, "Oh that's similar to so-and-so's." And they have this kind of gallery of pictures in their minds, and it is really cool to see that when your children recognize things out and about. And we were at a Mexican restaurant in Austin, Texas, and my kids are like, "Mom, that mural on the wall looks like Frida Kahlo." I mean, the people we were with were like, "What?" I'm like, "Oh, yeah, that actually does look like Frida Kahlo's paintings." Again, it's this science of relations and these little seeds that come out. You just never know. And so she says, "We trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art, as elsewhere, we shut out the middleman." So picture study... Like you're saying, I'm not going to have to tell them about the light theory of Baroque paintings for them to understand or appreciate how light looks in this Vermeer painting. Right? I don't need to be the fountainhead of all knowledge, which is great for art. So all I'm doing is laying this feast, letting them take what they will, let them learn and appreciate the idea, let the art speak to them.
Shay Kemp And that's what she says, is that, "In a worthy book, we leave the author to tell his own tale. So do we trust the picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it." And that right there, I feel like I need to copy that down, because we do artist's study at co-op, and a lot of times the moms, we all sit there at gathering and we're all talking about this picture, and sometimes the moms are hesitant to share because, I mean, we didn't grow like this. So what if all we have to notice is like, "Well, it's divided into thirds." Or, "The light is coming on the left side." We just let the picture tell us the tale it's telling us. And that frees us up and frees our kids up to really make their own personal connection, instead of there being some right answer, "Okay, great. You knew that was...." "Yes, okay, let's check that off." Which is the way I was taught art. I don't know, I remember in class we were given these pictures--I think I have PTSD from it--we had five pictures hung up, and you had to know things about the picture. And then you took a test. That's the way I had art. And it was horrible. I hated it. I thought I didn't like art. And then I started homeschooling, and I actually love to go to an art museum. You know, it's a lot different than what she's talking about here.
Julie Ross Yeah. I saw a post on Facebook, like their child was describing the painting, and they're like, "That looks like Luke. And that looks like it's a lightsaber." And you know, again, it's them making their own personal connection to it. And she does say when they're in high school they can learn more the artistry part, learn more of the technical drawing skills. And then she says, "Art comes in other ways, too." So it comes in their illustrations that they're doing of their narrations. It comes in their nature drawings. She says, "Children are introduced to clay modeling and various handicrafts." She says, "But there's nothing unusual in our work in these directions." It's just, this is what everybody did back then. But nowadays, that's completely foreign to us to include handicrafts, drawing, clay, modeling, those kind of things.
Shay Kemp But you know, what's interesting is I went to--I think I showed you this book--I went to a antique store back in the fall and they had a, it's called a Teacher Plan Book from 1906. It's a beautiful book. It includes every bit of what she just said every single week. It's weekly lessons for a teacher. There is a beautiful painting... It's not the 100% greatest copy of it, but you can tell [inaudible], there is a hymn that goes with it. There's a recitation for children broken into--it does not say forms--but it's just says "younger", "older", "mid" children. There's all these things that she talks about. This is the way people were. And it says, "You may have a child describe the story." They don't use the word narration. But they'll say, "Have the children describe the story, perhaps in clay modeling. Perhaps they want to design one of the dresses that they heard in the history lesson today." You know, that kind of thing. This was so natural! Because this is the way our brains actually accommodate knowledge and assimilated it into us, and it becomes part of our person. Whether it's the arts or it's the history or all the things that we covered in this chapter, that are part of the knowledge of man, it's all assimilated in the same way.
Julie Ross I would love... Could you put a picture of that in the show notes?
Shay Kemp I will.
Julie Ross I think that would be great for people to see. And then she ends with music appreciation. And I love what she says here, she says, "But musical appreciation has no more to do with playing an instrument than acting has to do with appreciation of Shakespeare, or painting with the enjoyment of pictures. I think that all children should take musical appreciation, not only the musical ones." And that's comforting for me, right? Because I love Shakespeare, but I do know how to act. I love art. I can somewhat paint. I have no musical skills whatsoever. I tried to take guitar last year, and that was just a huge disaster. But I love music! I mean, I love it. All different kinds. I love going to concerts. I love learning about new artists. I definitely appreciate music even though I can't play a lick of anything. But I know you do a lot more with music than I do, Shay, so what are your thoughts on musical appreciation?
Shay Kemp I think it is so important because I came from a musical family, my husband did not. I mean, I sing and play the piano and a little bit of guitar, and some of my children do. But what's interesting here is where she talks about--and I thought of him--when she talks about how they're called tone deaf. Well, you know, my husband, when we... Why I believe this works, when you expose somebody to this on a regular basis. So he was, "Oh, I never can sing. I can't sing. I can't even carry a tune in a bucket." You know, when we first got married. But we would sing all the time. I would sing. I'm always singing with the kids and getting out the piano and singing. And I played in our church. Well, one of these days I happened to be--I mean, I'm talking years, okay, like ten years... I noticed that he was singing and he was singing perfectly pitched on key. Never had a lesson. Never... And I'm like, "You are singing so great." And he even ended up singing on our praise team for men. There was no lesson there, it was the exposure. Right? It was the exposure to music, and to people singing and learning the parts, and all that. That's all it was is the exposure. And so I think it's so important that even if you think, "Gosh, I don't know enough about this piece of music to play it." It doesn't matter. We have that kind of music playing all the time in the house because I want the children to hear it, I need to hear it. And another point that she doesn't make here, but I know she talks at some point, I can't remember--well, you'll know because you're better at memory--but, about how powerful it is to the mind to play that kind of music. And we have the brain research to show that now. That it's so powerful. Like if your child is struggling, "Okay, let's put on a piece of classical music." And that's all art appreciation. It does not have to be a... It's not all just, "Let's sit down and listen to this piece of Beethoven." It can all be exposure as they're introduced to it. You know, it's okay if you're not musical. I love you anyway.
Julie Ross Well, thank you. And I think for me, for a long time, composer study was, "Let's read a little bit about this person's life, and let's listen to some music from this person at some point." And that's great, I mean, for me, that's better than nothing. And again, I think with everything she teaches, there's ideals and there's reality. So if they're getting a little bit of exposure to something, it's better than none at all. Right? So if it's, "We're going to at least listen to these pieces of classical music," is better than none at all. "We're going to go see a Shakespeare play every summer in our town," is better than no exposure to Shakespeare. Again it's, "What season of life are you in? Can you still get these seeds in different and creative ways and not feel like you have to do this box or you're doing it wrong?" But I've seen the value of, for A Gentle Feast in our morning time, RaeAnna Goss--who we can link to her episode, she talked about solfa--but she really understands music and was able to write our composer studies for us, which wasn't just, "Hey, here's some history and Beethoven, here's a song." It was, "Okay, in this song, let's talk about these things, or this new instrument was introduced, or this new style...", has really broadened my understanding of music as a whole. Which, like I said, I love music. And so understanding some of the things that she taught is really even helped me in terms of understanding and appreciating modern music as well. So, you know, it's just like the more of that you know, the more that you can find, and see, and appreciate.
Shay Kemp The more connections you can make and the more [inaudible] you can make. Yeah, exactly.
Julie Ross So but don't feel bogged down if you're like, "I don't know." I don't know any of this stuff! That's why I need the morning time guide written by these people that can help me!
Shay Kemp And you can put all music in the car. I mean, you're sitting in the car, you're going to listen to something. I mean, I tell people all the time, "Look and see what your piece of music is for that week. Just play it in the car while you're riding." That's exposure in itself and it's better than... Some beauty in your children's life is better than no beauty. And that's very effortless, just to play even that, instead of just being intimidated and not doing it at all.
Julie Ross Yeah, right, right. Well, that was a lot to cover. Again, very meaty into all her subjects here. But again, I hope it's encouraging to see that it's very doable. And it's not, "You have to do X, Y, Z and all these different things." And just kind of understanding the philosophy as a whole, again, makes it easy to kind of fit into these little pieces of the different subjects that she wants to cover. So thanks, Shay, for your help.
Shay Kemp Oh, thank you. Always a pleasure.
Julie Ross We will see you all next time. We're going to be talking about Knowledge of the Universe and science. Woo hoo. Alright, bye everyone.
Shay Kemp Bye.
Julie Ross Hey, thanks for listening to today's episode. If you'd like to know more about the Charlotte Mason style of education, check out A Gentle Feast.com and click on the Learn More button for a free four-day introduction course. If you'd like the show notes for today's episode, you can find those at Homeschooling.mom and click on The Charlotte Mason Show. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast. And while you're there, could you leave us a quick review? This will help other homeschooling parents, like you, get connected to our community. And finally tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom and let us know what you thought of today's episode.
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Julie Ross Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the United States. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. I hope to see you there. Until next time, I hope your days are full of books, beauty, and biblical truth. Thanks for listening.