S7 E16 | Knowledge of the Universe | Virtual Book Club: A Philosophy of Education (Julie Ross with Shay Kemp)
In this episode of our Volume 6 book club, Julie and Shay Kemp discuss the subjects of science, geography, and mathematics, and how these can be addressed in a literary way rather than as dry facts and figures.
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.
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Julie Ross Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show. I'm your host, Julie Ross, here with my beautiful friend Shea Kemp. Hey Shea!
Shay Kemp Hello. How are you?
Julie Ross Good! Thanks for joining me today to talk about the last section in A Philosophy of Education, where she's talking about the curriculum. So if you remember at the beginning of the book, she talks a lot about the "why", and develops her whole philosophy. And then this past section that we kind of camped on for a couple episodes here is on the different aspects of the curriculum. So we talked about Knowledge of God, Knowledge of Man, and now we're focused on the subjects that she put in the category of Knowledge of the Universe. So obviously the first one there is science, and the study of the actual universe, and all the other parts of it as well. So let's dive in. Shay, what did you think about her description here of the sciences?
Shay Kemp You know science is the big thing people will get a little bit intimidated by, I think, because they think they need to understand: "Well, I don't know anything about this particular subject, so how do I teach it to my children?" And she definitely debunks that in this section, that you have to understand all the details about a subject in order to help your children learn about that subject. But she talks right from the very beginning that it still should be of literary character. And that is such a powerful concept that I certainly did not consider until I came to understand Charlotte Mason's philosophy because, science was going to be a textbook and, like she says, a list. And like she says, "nearly all the talk expended so freely on our blackboards." Lots of notes to take. This is how I was educated in science. But she reminds us that "principals are therefore meet subjects for literary treatment." So we're taking the literary approach to many aspects of science, and it's still a deep understanding of that topic.
Julie Ross Yes. Right. And I think that was a huge, eye-opening thing for me, as I didn't even know living science books existed.
Shay Kemp Me neither. I didn't either. I had no idea what they were even. That was my concern when I came to Charlotte Mason when I began to switch over. And honestly, it was the last subject that we kind of gave up textbook style, to be honest, years ago, because I clung to those science textbooks with my fingernails because I thought that was the only way to do that. And then when I finally began to read some living science books on my own and understood that the ideas in those are so rich and I could actually understand some things rather than just appealing to the left brain side of my mind that I started to enjoy it. And she quotes that. She says, "We've linked universal principles with common incidents of everyday life in such a way that interest never palls, and any child may learn on what principles an electric bill works, what sound means, how a steam engine works, etc." And we're doing... An example--because I use this great curriculum called A Gentle Feast, and this lady named Julie Ross scheduled in a book that talks about Edison--and so we are creating some things in that literary book--it has some great stories--and creating things from that, that yes, had to do with everyday life. And we're actually learning something about those principles. Because when it comes to mechanics, I am not your girl.
Julie Ross Yeah, me neither. And that's a sorta freeing thing, right, is that we don't have to understand all of this. We are not the fountainhead of all knowledge. We are putting our children in touch with scientists who wrote science books, and they're coming at this for themselves. She does give a description of the differences in the different Forms and what they're studying here. So in Form 1, science is nature study. So what can the students observe, touch, feel, smell...taste even? No. Don't eat that dirt! You know, science is that. And I love that she did that because it's so, in my mind, developmentally appropriate. So you're not having so much of this abstract knowledge that they're not ready for when they're little. It's this concrete... And they're learning how to observe, which is really what science is all the way through.
Shay Kemp Exactly. And sometimes it's easy to consider that as not in-depth, but developmentally-wise that is super important for that Form. So these nature notebooks, these special studies that she does, these month-by-month observations of what's outdoors, that is extremely important for that Form. So lest we think it's not enough, developmentally it certainly is enough. If that's all that you're doing with that Form 1.
Julie Ross And if you read some of the books that she uses in her programs that she describes here, like the Arabella Buckley books or Madam How and Lady Why, they are not easy. So those would be like Form 2 level science books. And I had a hard time understanding some of those.
Shay Kemp Yes. Or like The Changing Year? I mean, that stuff it's great information but it also challenges you. So when you combine that with time outdoors, where you're actually seeing some of these things and the connections can be made, then that's a lot of scientific thought that's being processed in the minds of the children.
Julie Ross Yeah, and I love that the nature study doesn't go away. So it's not like, "Oh, that's what we do in Form 1 and now we're going to move on to real science, children." So even though they're reading some of these more advanced literary science books moving up... You know, she talks about in Form 3 here about their notes in their nature book. "What do you understand about a calyx, carolla, stamen, pistil? In what ways are flowers fertilized?" About putting the different constellations, and drawing pictures of these things. You know, as they grow up they don't stop observing nature, again. So they're able to put some of the scientific, more factual kind of knowledge, and mix it with their observations and what they're seeing, growing in the study of botany and more scientific nature studies. But that doesn't go away. And you see that in Charlotte Mason's time in other schools, like the Handbook of Nature Study. It's what all the Charlotte Mason moms talk about. But that was written for teachers in the early 1900s to train them to go teach nature study in schools. So it was expected that this is what you would teach in a school, and we have somehow lost that. And our children that are not in touch with nature and don't get time outdoors are at such a disadvantage. Studies have proven that over and over.
Shay Kemp Yes. And not only that, I think--which she doesn't particularly mention here, but it is a concept that she mentions multiple times in her works--is that that is such a great way for them to come in contact with the Divine when they're out in nature. And when you take that away and you think, "Well, it all has to be just book knowledge now. It has to be technical. It all needs to be just literary." We're missing out on that really important component. And I do think that's one of the first things that people sort of tend to leave to the side the older that a student gets. I mean, my Form 4, we're still going on nature walks every week. We're still outdoors every week. And we still take our nature journals every week. And hers is going to look a little different, obviously, and she's going to have more to add to it. But you don't want to take that part of it and set it aside just because you think the bookwork has got to take precedence over it. That's definitely the opposite of what is the heart of her philosophy. They want to come in contact with those things, that natural stuff, as much as we can possibly let them.
Julie Ross Yes. And she values.... She even says that in Form 4, so in high school, they would have lessons in natural history--so that's the nature study, general science, hygiene, physiology. So there's so many different branches and fields of science that she includes in her programs. And really it is the study of botany. Like you are out there and doing biology, but you're doing it in a natural outdoor setting and not having it be all textbook or experiments. And those things are included and they're valuable, but it's not at the expense of being out there and actually observing these things, which I think is really key. And I get questions about that all the time. Like, "This sounds really sweet, but how are they going to learn all they need for college-level sciences if they're reading books that are more literary in form?" And so I can speak from experience now that I have a child in college. That particular child is a neuroscience pre-med major and in high school was like, "Yeah, I don't think I'm ever going to go into a science field." So she was willing to do some of my more literary science books and forego some of the more textbook-y, do a bunch of chemistry equations kind of thing. And that child has an A in Chemistry 200 in college right now. And it's funny, we joke about it because I was like, "You know, remember how you didn't do any of those equations in high school?" And it's not that your child doesn't... I mean you can definitely include that, I just didn't because that child was like, "I don't want it. This isn't something..." But it was like, "Okay, well, you still need to read these chemistry books, and you still need to read these physics books." But the ideas that were in those books are what has helped her figure out the math later on.
Shay Kemp Yes. And it's so important to hook their interest through those ideas, rather than hoping that they get interested by some dry facts. The ideas are ongoing; the ideas are lasting. But the facts, even if we memorize a list of them, that's not going to be what's going to inspire us later on to be or do that particular thing. Not only that, she has... I mean, all of these examples that she gives in this chapter: "Show how the discovery of this..., or What do you know of... Compare... Illustrate... What do you understand by...?" These are not simple prompts, right? I mean, these are things that are going to come from being in contact with these ideas, either by a scientist explaining them in a way that's passionate and understanding, or by reading a story that explains these things, or by actually observing them in nature yourself where you can, like you said, use your five senses to find out about those things. This is not easy stuff. This is not easy science stuff. This is higher-level-skill thinking stuff that we're requiring of them.
Julie Ross Yeah. I remember For the Love of Physics, which is used in twelfth grade, but it's like a living physics book. And I remember going, "Well, that's why that works like that! That's why that happens." I was like... I hated physics in high school. And I just had to do a bunch of math all the time, and none of it made any sense to me at all. There was no ideas to connect any of that to. And I'm like, "Oh, for the love, this is actually interesting."
Shay Kemp Yes. Yes! And that's like the book we're reading now. We're reading about electric motors. Well, it's super interesting because that's such a big deal right now. And my husband works on transformers, that's part of his job, electric transformers. And so we read about that, and then there's the interest of, "Well, can we make an electric motor?" So then we looked at videos because we were interested, right? So there was an interest rather than just a diagram. And, "Why did somebody come up with an electric motor? Why were they even interested in this?" So we didn't start with the diagram, we started with the understanding of the "why" and the principles behind it. And then it's like, "Well, what would that actually look like in practice for us to do?" And thank goodness we live in 2023 so we could Google it and we found it. So it's important to explain that she's not saying, "This is simple stuff and you just need to read a pretty story, and ditch the deep information." That is very far from this type of scientific education that we're applying.
Julie Ross It is actually very deep and very thorough. And one of the things I did with my high schooler was I had, for her narration, was to keep a lab notebook. So write out from your experiments, write out your hypotheses, and your observations, and your methods, and your procedures. Keeping a scientific narration book, and that's been super helpful in college labs, because that's all you do is write lab reports, right? So once you have that format and you're used to doing it... But other than writing out the steps... I mean, that really is a narration. And then you're writing out your observations, you're narrating what happened in the experiment.
Shay Kemp Exactly. And I remember really struggling with that when I was in college biology, having to write out the observation part because I did not have a lot of experience with that. I could have written you a mean essay because, you know, I had so many. But what our children do every day in the narrating part of it, it was a big struggle for me. Like, "What do you mean? What do I observe? What are you saying? What?" But it has come much easier for all of mine that have graduated and passed through that because it's a more natural extension of what they're doing with their interactions with their readings every day.
Julie Ross Yeah, yeah. And I that's a really key point, is you're teaching them in a way that encourages scientific thinking. You're not stepping in with a bunch of facts that prop somebody up, but you're actually training them. And it's a different way of thinking to be able to observe and make conclusions and hypothesize and, like Edison, come up with this crazy idea about a light bulb. Your brain has to think outside the box and has to process things differently, and have that critical reasoning skill that you get in a Charlotte Mason education that you don't get when you're just trying to recall basic facts. So this type of scientific thinking is so much richer and so much deeper from that. Now, one of the things we get all the time--and I didn't tell you I was going to ask you this question, Shay, but I'm just going to put you on the spot here because I know you love it so much--is when people are like, "Well, I'm reading this book and it's living and it's great and it's about electricity. But now that science is obsolete. Why are we still reading this?"
Shay Kemp We do get that book a lot.... that question a lot.
Julie Ross And then you can say, "Julie Ross is the one...".
Shay Kemp Well, actually, I think it's interesting because we just discussed this yesterday. So a couple of things on that. First of all, she even has a quote in here... She quotes somebody that talks about how we have to connect with the time we are living in, right? And so, yes, we read these books. We're reading all about electricity and it's talking about electric motors, right? Okay, so there is a whole lot more information out there now. But the point is that we're considering the ideas that are in these books, and then it takes literally two seconds for me to sit down and say, with "the Google" as my mom called it... I just type on the Google "electric motor uses today," and then there you go. There's a million things that are out there that are factual. But the challenge is we want them to connect to the ideas in these books that are written from a different time period. And that's one thing I also love about A Gentle Feast is that it's not all books from... Like the book we're reading about Edison; this is a modern book. This is not a book that was written 50 years ago. However, I love the way that the book that I'm reading that is older presents these books in such a literary way, these concepts in such a literary way. So we're not trying to tie everybody to 1957, and we're not saying that there hasn't been some great scientific explorations and experiments and revelations done since then. But what we're doing is starting with, like she does in this book, the "why" of the concept, the scientific concept. And then the details are the things, especially in later years, that will come in other Forms as they read books that are a little more technical in the upper Forms.
Julie Ross Mm hmm. Yeah. No, I think that's great. And I'm sorry to put you on the spot there.
Shay Kemp That's okay. I get that question all the time. I've answered it multiple times. I just answered it this past weekend at the convention.
Julie Ross Yeah. And I think that these older books are... There's some that have such rich literary quality. And they make the ideas come to life in a way that I've never seen in any other book. They don't write stuff like that anymore, sadly. Most of the science stuff... It's hard to find modern ones that aren't completely dry. And so those books have those living ideas that are so important. But it's not necessarily your job to fact-check everything. Well, of course, there's been scientific advancements in the past 50 years. So if you're reading a book about the human body that was written in 1950, we've learned a lot about the human body in the last 70 years. But it's not your responsibility to fact-check everything in there, be like, "Oh, well, now we know blah blah blah blah blah blah blah." And if it's something you do know and you can Google it and be like, "Oh yeah, well now there's a thing that has cured that," or whatever. Talk to your kids about that! It's important for them to see that science is always changing and growing. And as we have new discoveries and we have new things that we find... Same with history! I got that question this week. It's about Francis Drake, and did he land in San Francisco or not? You know, there was this medallion, but it turned out to be a fake. Well, we didn't realize it was a fake till ten years ago! So if you're reading America Begins--which is a beautiful, rich, living book, one of the best I've ever seen for lower elementary--it talks about that he did because there was this medallion. But now we know that isn't true. You might not know that unless that's something that would be in your wheelhouse to tell your children, "Okay, now we know this." But the same thing... We're always finding out more so about history as well. And so you can share. But it doesn't mean we never read these other books. They're now completely obsolete because this one fact is different. No, it has all these other amazing rich ideas in it, and we're reading it (same with science) for these ideas. And then as they're growing... And again, that's why as important as they're in high school to include some of these more modern living books that are written by physicists and chemists and they have more [inaudible]. I can read a science book today and tomorrow some of my stuff going to be obsolete. That's how fast our world is changing.
Shay Kemp And that's why it's called a living education. And I try to really make that point, and why we consider A Gentle Feast as a living curriculum because we are aware that the ideas change every day. We are aware that the facts might change or that some of these things we're learning that we didn't know ten years ago. But because we're worried about creating learners, not fact-checkers, not fact memorizers. We want them to be learners. So they're okay with saying, "Okay, I learned that. Well, here's something that challenges that. How do I figure out which is true? Where do I go?" That's a much more useful skill for somebody in life than saying, "Okay, no, I was told this one time in science class and it always has to be that way. It's never going to change." And those things are amazing. I mean, like you said, in history we find that stuff out all the time, and that's the beautiful thing about the world we live in. The archeology says, "No actually what we thought was not true. It's this. It's this is..." So I get why we get the question asked. But I think a lot of it goes back to understanding the perspective of how we're teaching these subjects from the concept of ideas.
Julie Ross And it is a very important, critical thinking skill to be able to see that it's not going to be in this box. We might learn something new and it might challenge our thinking, and are we able to handle that and process that and come to our own reasoned conclusions? And my daughter I was talking about, in her biology class she was saying she actually had to do that and she actually appreciated the fact that... So one of the assignments was to look at some of these older studies in view of the modern research and say... Not to be critical of those scientists, with the knowledge that they had, how did that lead to the conclusions that they came up with? But then how would we challenge that today? And what can we learn from the scientific process? That was actually one of her assignments. And she was like, "That was so great because that's what we did at home. I read something or you'd read something, and be like, 'I think that might be different now.' And we'd go research and we'd figure it out." It allows you to think that way.
Shay Kemp Yes, it's so important. And for somebody to have that growth mindset--I know you and I have talked about this so many times--it is such a powerful gift to give your child that we do have a growth mindset. And so we learn something different, it doesn't knock us down. We're like, "Oh okay, well, that's a different way of looking at that. Maybe I learned this other thing and I need to reconsider this." And that allows them to be adaptable as they move forward, and we're pushing them into adulthood.
Julie Ross In so many ways.
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Julie Ross Speaking of things that change, let's talk about geography. Because when I was in school, we learned a whole different set of country's names--especially in Europe--than what they're learning now. So, again, I'm not going to have my child memorize a map of 1980 and learn all the U.S.S.R. But it's important to point that out. Like, "Why do all these countries in a row end in 'stan'?" "Okay, well, here's the history of these countries and why..." Or, "I learned that as Yugoslavia. Now it's called..." And be able to talk about that through them. But I'm not going to have them memorize a map from 1980 because that's more factual. We're going to look at what things are called today, but that's changed from five years ago on some of these countries from when I taught Geography IV in co-op. So yeah.
Shay Kemp Yeah. And I think she's very clear on that, that it's the hand in hand. So it's the ideas but also learning the map work. So you're not just... I grew up with geography only as map work. There was very little... You know, maybe a little bit about climate or biomes, maybe. That was all I learned. But she says these are not the things that matter, but only how and where and why... Let's see, I'm sorry... "It is doubtful whether this kind of teaching is even lucrative because the mind works on great ideas and upon these works to great ends." So even though it's geography, she's still talking about the great ideas. And she goes on to talk about how we learn associations, occupations, some parts of the past, much of the present, not just the regions--the mountains, the rivers, the frontiers--but also what's going on. "A beautiful, imaginative picture of this country."
Julie Ross Yeah, I love the way she puts it. With just our imaginations we're climbing Mount Everest or we're in the fields of Norway swimming, or in our gondola at Venice. These are not the things that matter, but only how and where and why is money made under local conditions. That's what we normally teach in geography. And that's the last thing, economics too. "Here's the gross... Here's the products that grow in this area that they produce such and such..." And it's totally valueless of the people that are there, what their values are, what their culture is, and just being able to put yourself in that. So she's saying.... And I love the word she used. She used the words "panorama." In geography, we should have this wide, vast understanding of the world in which we live. And again, this isn't right away. So in Form 1, she starts with, "What can I actually see and observe?" Just like in nature study. So for geography: "Where are the directions for my school? Where does the sun come up? Where does the sun go down? What's in my neighborhood? Is it my yard?" Learning the geography. "What things, in terms of like economics, what are the outputs of the community that you're living in? What kind of businesses do we have in our area? Why? Oh, because we have this river, or we have this resource." And that's going to change based on our global community. But even going back 100 years, "What grew here? Okay, I live in South Carolina. They had a lot of cotton. That's where we had textile mills. Okay, let's go see the mill down the street that we now have a restaurant in." And it's a [inaudible]. But well, we can talk about how things changed, and it leads to a natural discussion because they can actually see it. We want our... your little six-year-old is going to have a really hard time understanding what's happening in Australia, because that's so different from where they're living and that kind of thing. So she starts with where they are at in geography and then they expand. So by the time they get to high school, they have learned about the whole world, which I think is amazing.
Shay Kemp But she's still talking about these romance of natural features--the history, the industries--"so that a country is no more a mere matter of names on a map or sections shown by contour lines. There's something of a literary character preserved in the geography lessons." So all the way through she's encouraging us all the way through the Forms to make sure that we're not just giving them something of facts, but we're also making sure that they understand that there are people that live there and there's something that piques their imagination. And I have to say, I taught geography at our co-op. I have started a Charlotte Mason co-op this year, and I taught geography there. And in the beginning I really wasn't that excited about it, because I had never taught geography in a group. But we had the best time this year really trying to do that, like put an imagination for each country--pictures in a child's mind. And it was so interesting and I learned so much--more than I ever have--about geography following the methods that she talks about here.
Julie Ross Yeah. Yeah. It's a beautiful way to learn it. It really is. And I love reading all the stories and adventures. And I'm a big travel person, and so it's like... Well that's what geography is, right? It's being able to travel to that place and see it in your mind, and even if you can't really go we live in a world where you can probably learn a lot more and see a lot more than you ever could from your own house. So it is a beautiful way to do it. I also like to point out that in high school she mentions, "Time geography to current events." And now that my kids are older, I've seen that. So if we're watching the news, you know, looking at these places on a map, or pictures of them, and kind of understanding the people that... Especially in today's global world that we live in, we know so much of what's happening everywhere. And being able to tie that into geography I think's really important. Do you have any other thoughts on geography?
Shay Kemp She does make a point about the two rational ways to teach geography. I think the inferential mode where she talks about the geographical principles, and she tells why it's defective. "Here's why I don't do that." Right? Because everywhere is different. So especially in this world today, we cannot make an assumption that's a global assumption. Like, "Everywhere is the same." Right? Especially culturally, just because I see something one way, we can't apply that across the world. She says, "The second is the panoramic method"--which I know you had mentioned that word earlier--"It unrolls the landscape of the world, region by region before the eyes of the scholar. Within every region, its own conditions of climate, its productions, its people, their interests, and their history. This way of teaching the most delightful of all subjects..." I think she must have really loved geography from reading this section.
Julie Ross Well, she wrote her own... She wrote four volumes of a geography book. So obviously she loved it.
Shay Kemp She did. Right. "It has the effect of giving to a map of a country or region, the brilliancy of color and the wealth of detail which a panorama might afford, together with the sense of proportion and a knowledge of general principles." So I love that quote and the explanation of how not to do it and how we want to do it. So when we're doing something that's geography, that's one reason I use the technology of Google Earth. We look up everything on Google Earth. We go to every spot and we pull it up and we look and we see, you know, "How can that part come alive?" Because we're blessed to live in a time where she would be amazed by that. Right?
Julie Ross Alright, so moving on to our favorite subject.
Shay Kemp Oh, yes, absolutely.
Julie Ross Let's talk about math, Shay!
Shay Kemp The question that we always get: "What do I do for math?"
Julie Ross I know, right! I love when people come up to me at the conventions and they're like, "What should I do for math?" I'm like, "Well, whatever works for you." There's my answer. Because she says, "But education should be a science of proportion, and any one subject that assumes undue importance does so at the expense of other subjects that the child's mind should deal with. Arithmetic, mathematics are exceedingly easy to examine upon, and so long as education is regulated by examinations, so long shall we have teaching directed not to awaken a sense of awe in contemplating a self-existing science, but rather to secure exactness and ingenuity in the treatment of problems." So she's saying--well, one of the things--is that mathematics can take over your entire school. If we do not... If you let it. So it's a subject, but it's not the only subject. Okay, so put it in proportion with everything else that is part of this educational piece that we're providing for our children. What happens is, math curriculums, most of the time, contain too many problems, and children develop a habit of intention with math. And so a math lesson is an hour and a half long. And you don't have time to do nature study or X, Y, Z, and you think the problem is the math curriculum. And that might be so, you may have to shorten the problems in the math curriculum. Do they need to do 40 problems? I don't think so. Why do we need to practice so many times over and over and over again? Why aren't we learning another time? And you might need to shorten it. But you've got to keep it in perspective with everything else.
Shay Kemp I think this is the subject that it's very difficult for people to switch over into understanding in the principles--in light of the principles in light of the methods--because we say, "Well, math is math." And yes, math is math. The answers are the answers, right? We get that. But it's in the perspective of how you view that math. And like she says here, "The captain ideas should quicken imagination." And if what you're using is not quickening imagination in any way, shape, form, or fashion, then you might want to stop and consider what you're using and how can you quicken imagination through that? Could be, like you said, you're doing too long of a math lesson, right? Could be this needs to be broken up. Could be that you're doing too many practice problems. If you can do five, you can do 55, right? But the goal is, like she does in this book, the goal is to consider the "why," first of all. "Why do we need to learn this math?" And she says, "Remember that the mathematician who knows little of the history of his own country or that of any other is sparsely educated at the best." It's got to be in balance. It's got to be in perspective. "Oh, my goodness, my kid's never going to learn her times tables." My last one, God bless her, we have struggled with the times tables. But finally, I realized that I had gotten way out of balance with these times tables. I'd put way too much emphasis on it, way too much pressure on it. And so is that sparking any imagination in her whatsoever to want to sit down and do any math at all and use that part of her brain? Absolutely not! So Charlotte had to give me a little good talking to there. I was reading everything I could find she'd said on math. Like, "Help me, Charlotte!" And that's really... It says, "They are necessary part, but they may not engross the time and attention of the scholar in suchwise as to shut out any of the score of subjects, a knowledge of which is his natural right." That we can not let it take over our brains, our schools, cause anxiety. Math anxiety is a real thing. I used to tutor for my district in math-- algebra--and it will suck you down if you will let it. But she's reminding us that it's just not important to do that.
Julie Ross Yeah, she doesn't really go in detail at all on how to teach math. All she says in this section is, don't let math overconsume you, your child needs all these other subjects, they need this liberal education. She kind of bemoans the fact that university examinations are so heavy on math, that you feel this pressure to teach them all these math so that they can pass a test. S.A.T., we're looking at you! Right? That's not what she had back then to get into university. They still have examinations they have to take to get into upper levels in England, but I don't know what those tests are like. All I know are the American ones. And I hired an S.A.T. tutor to help both of my college girls get good scores on the S.A.T., and the lady--she's hilarious--but she was like, "So the S.A.T. was written by people who want to trick children. And I'm going to teach you all the tricks." And that was it. I mean, we could have spent years, right? "Oh, this test! And we gotta pass this. And we gotta figure this out." But in a couple of months, she taught them all the tricks, and their scores went up several hundred points. It was just the tricks that were tricking them. It wasn't necessarily that they didn't have the mathematical knowledge, but...
Shay Kemp Which is the opposite of what we're trying to do. It's the opposite of the education we're trying to give them.
Julie Ross Right. And so she really again, doesn't even go into it. And even in her other volumes does not give a ton on how to actually teach math. It was just, "This is the subject of math. And okay, here's a word of caution." And that's all she offers us here. So there you go. And then the very last one is the most hilarious, though, because she includes physical development and handicrafts. And she says in a very short paragraph, this is how long this section is....
Shay Kemp It's like a sentence!
Julie Ross It's a little tiny paragraph. And she says, "It is unnecessary too, to say anything about games, dancing, physical exercises, needlework, and other handicrafts as the methods employed in these are not exceptional." There you go. Good luck with all those, people.
Shay Kemp I think what's funny is she assumes that we are doing those things though.
Julie Ross But I'm like, "I need some help! I don't know how to do any of that stuff! What are you talking about?".
Shay Kemp She's like, "Okay, I know you're doing games. I know you're dancing. I know you're..." Which we do have a sign in my kitchen that says, "This kitchen is made for dancing." So we do dance in our kitchen. That's about all I got to [inaudible]. But she assumes that we're doing these things, right? And just like, "You can figure that out on your own."
Julie Ross Yeah. And I think what she was saying is the way that these subjects were taught in the PNEU schools were not exceptional to what was being taught everywhere at this time.
Shay Kemp At the time. Right! She says, "I don't have anything so different to say that I need to waste the time here because you're doing those things already. And so I don't need to turn everything up on its head, like I do with science or the math or whatever else. This is all I need to tell you."
Julie Ross Yeah. "Just keep on doing those dances and games. Y'all are doing great."
Shay Kemp "Keep out with your handicrafts, everybody. I'm really proud of you. Everybody's going to go home and knit and...."
Julie Ross And so since we live in the modern world where we don't do any of those, you do need to think about how it is that you do want to approach this subject. So we do have several episodes--we can link to those--on handicrafts, and paper slide, and solfa, and Swedish drill, and all these different things. I think the key though is, "What was the rationale behind those?" So like she's saying here, she doesn't have seven chapters on how you must teach needlework. Or what kind of games or dances you need to be doing. So it's not like... I think people will put too much into this and get all stressed out about it and be like, "Well, we can't do a Charlotte Mason education because I don't like Swedish drill." Like, "Well, I don't ever do that. And I've been doing this for years." "Oh, you don't?" "No." What was the point? The point was to teach them physical exercise. It was a common practice during her time. So that's what she was utilizing in her schools, right? It does utilize both sides of your brain, and has a lot of neuroscience behind it that is more of a newer concept. But can we do full-body gross motor exercises that are different at my house? Sure. So it's more of, "What's the principle behind it?" And we're not going to do... I'm not going to teach my kids folk dances that are in a circle. If you do that, that's great. It's super fun to do that in a co-op. But with three kids at home, that's weird. And they're not going to be going to any English country dances anytime soon. So can we do other kinds of dancing that we actually do on a regular basis? Like the wobble and things that if we have to go somewhere, we're going to be like, "Oh, electric slide. We got that. Okay. Yeah." Again, it's more what is the principle behind it?
Shay Kemp Right. Sometimes we get so up close to the ball, you know, you need to back off. Back away. Look at your feast--what you're offering your children. My daughter played softball for years. That's her gross motor. That's her opportunity to do those things. I don't need... That's fulfilling that need, right? So there's other ways to fulfill those needs. Same thing as handicrafts. You know, my girls are going to a very popular concert coming up, so you know what our handicraft was? We made our bracelets. Oh, I have mine on! We made our bracelets yesterday.
Julie Ross What album is that?
Shay Kemp Oh, well, I didn't do a Swifty one. I did one for my family, because... I made... I did Shake It Off, though. I did one for the song Shake It Off. That's my Swift song, okay. But anyways... So there's ways to incorporate that stuff and not show up in an apron and a bonnet, you know? I mean, it's okay to be your modern family and consider, "Oh, well, maybe I'm not including handicrafts. What would my kids enjoy that could be considered handicraft?" And there are millions of resources out there. So it's more about thinking about what you might want to incorporate and how you can incorporate that to fit it to your family rather than checking off some box from the 1800s. Now, there are some great things from 1800s, don't get me wrong that... We do needlework. We do some things. I'm not downplaying that stuff, but I am saying don't beat yourself up if that is not what works for you when you're working to fulfill the principles and the methods and the ideas behind the way that we're educating our children.
Julie Ross And I think it's really key here that handicrafts is put in the Knowledge of the Universe.
Shay Kemp Oh! Yes. Great point.
Julie Ross It's not put in the Knowledge of Man, which is where I would have thought it would be, right? Or physical exercise. Why is that not in the Knowledge of Man? Why is that in the Knowledge of the Universe? So I think there's a lot of... It's like handicrafts, for instance, it teaches you a lot of mathematical skills, especially like [inaudible] or something like that where you're having to be very... It teaches you about order, about being exact, about following directions, which you'll have to do in scientific experiments.
Shay Kemp Perseverance. Yes.
Julie Ross More of this overlap of skills with the science and math. Especially, I feel like that with some of the handicrafts. And the Swedish drill would have definitely fit. That form of exercise would have definitely fit into more of that Knowledge of the Universe, right? And so what can I do that's going to teach my children order, and accuracy, and neatness in a craft that isn't like arts and crafts, like macaroni paintings, but things that are actually related to things that we care about as a family. Now, if you love doing those things, that's fantastic. I do not knit. I don't want to. It's funny actually...
Shay Kemp I can teach you! I know how!
I know. You're so good at all that stuff. But skimping... If there's something that we're super interested in or I want to sew curtains or whatever, I still have to have that ability to measure and be exact and that kind of thing. And so it's working with the tools and the resources that you have. And other people have access to things you don't. Like she was just saying, "This is so natural. You know how to do all this, right?" Well, no, we don't. We have lost these skills. And so you might have access to someone in your community that can teach you how to crochet and I don't. Sure I could find some YouTube video if I really wanted to. I get it. But you have to kind of go with what interests you and that works well for your family. People are always like, "Do you include handicrafts in A Gentle Feast?" And I'm like, "No, I can give you a bunch of resources but you have to pick something that you actually want to learn about."
Shay Kemp Yes. And that's where the freedom comes in, and where it's your servant and not your master. I don't have to roll my eyes and say, "Oh my gosh, I hate this X, Y, Z. I don't want to do this. This is not... I'm not interested." And my kids 100% know that I'm not interested, right? But I can say to them... Okay, like I've learned how to watercolor or am learning. I love that. And it came from lessons that I did with my children. Now, did they really pursue that? Are they interested as I am? No. But we did take those brush drawing lessons and we did do some of those lessons like that that were super interesting, and then we moved on. They didn't really keep up with that, but I did. My daughter is a great seamstress. She loves to buy things from the thrift store and take this shirt and these sleeves off and add this and these pants and stuff. She's great at that. I'm terrible at it. But it came from some simple sewing lessons that we did. So it's okay to look and pick and choose and add those things in without it being the be-all-end-all of your life. Okay, I took one knitting lesson and I'm never going to do this again. That was not our thing. Okay. We tried it. We're moving now. We'll find something that fulfills those same skills, like you're talking about. Because we need to translate this education to this time period we're living in and this family that we're responsible for. Nobody's going to come in your house and say, "Oh, I cannot believe you didn't do paper story! I'm going to give you a big X. You fail."
Julie Ross Yes. Right. No, not from us anyway. Alright, so next we're moving into the very last section of the book. In our next episode--please join us--we'll be talking here. We're kind of taking... We had the "why," we had the "how," and in the last section is a theory applied. And she gives very practical examples of how this theory is actually worked out, and all the different schools, and all the different families that she worked with through the years, and how she wants to see it continue growing. This was her last volume, and it's kind of like... This is her vision for how this could be. So it's really cool. So please join us then, and thank you so much, Shay, for your time.
Shay Kemp Thank you too.
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 AGentleFeast.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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