S8 E7 | Create a Love for Learning with Homeschool Pioneer Susan Marlow (Jeannie Fulbright)
Jeannie brings homeschool pioneer, author, and curriculum producer, Susan Marlow onto the show to discuss creating a love for learning in your children. Susan homeschooled her children back in the early days of the modern homeschool movement, when it was illegal in many states. She now helps her daughter homeschool her grandchildren. She also continues to write delightful historical fiction novels that homeschoolers of all ages love. Jeannie and Susan discuss using historical fiction as a means to teach language arts, culture, and history, how to make learning a joy, and what it was like being a homeschool pioneer, blazing the trail for homeschooling in the 1980s. Susan also shares about her fiction writing course and videos, as well as the writing contests she hosts each year.
Susan Marlow is a former homeschool mom and the author of the Circle C and Goldtown historical adventures series (36 books). She loves to connect with readers at homeschool conventions and on her Andi Carter’s Blog. She enjoys helping young writers learn to improve their writing with her Writing Workshop. In her spare time she is a freelance editor and also helps homeschool her grandchildren. She and her husband, Roger, live on fourteen acres of ponderosa pine at 3,500 feet in north-central Washington state.
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
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Jeannie Fulbright Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show, where we discuss Charlotte Mason's philosophy and how to implement her life-changing methodology in your homeschool. My hope is to come alongside you and mentor you as you seek to homeschool your children with excellence and joy using the Charlotte Mason model. I'm your host, Jeannie Fulbright, the author of the multi-award winning bestselling science series Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Botany, Zoology, Anatomy and Physiology and Chemistry and Physics, which all employ the Charlotte Mason methodology and have been helping families fall in love with science for over 20 years. I also created the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner and the Culture and Craft Enrichment Curriculum, which is coming out fall of 2023. These and many other Charlotte Mason products can be found on my website at JeannieFulbright.com, where if you sign up for my email list, you'll receive your Charlotte Mason daily and weekly checklist which will simplify your homeschool days. While there, check out my blog which covers almost every aspect of the Charlotte Mason method and philosophy.
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Jeannie Fulbright: Welcome back to the Charlotte Mason Show. I'm so glad you joined me today because I have a really awesome guest, Susan Marlow. Thanks for joining me, Susan.
Susan Marlow: Well, thanks for having me.
Jeannie Fulbright: Susan is actually a very long time friend of mine, but we have this weird connection where we have been friends for years-- And she's actually been one of my editors for years. She's an incredible editor, especially of fiction, but of other things as well. And Susan and I had actually never met in person, even though we'd gone to the same conferences, we never go to the same conference at the same time! And so we only ever have interacted through social media and just online in other ways. But I'm so glad to have Susan here because she's got so much really cool stuff to share with you guys. And so I just want to start with: Susan, who are you and what is your mission, especially regarding homeschoolers?
Susan Marlow: Okay. Well, I'm a 20-year former homeschooling mom. I've had four children and now they're grown and I'm a part-time homeschool grandma. I'm also a kids author. I'm with the Christian publisher Kregel Publications. I also love to teach writing to kids; I have a writing workshop. I love to teach that as well as create fun and educational stuff for homeschoolers. And I am a devoted Christ-follower. So as far as my mission goes, it's kind of like twofold, I love to give kids, anywhere from grades two to eight, exciting, wholesome adventures. I'm the author of a couple of series: The Circle C series--historical adventures in California in the 1800s, as well as Goldtown Adventures, which also take place in the 1800s. But more than just books, I love to create the materials that can go with them and expand it and just give kids the joy of not only reading, but being able to dig deeper into what's going on behind all these fun historical fiction novels. And I also love to help moms be able to teach their kids to be a little bit independent with some of their subjects by providing organized study guides, lap books with daily schedules and stuff. So that's what I just love to do.
Jeannie Fulbright: That is wonderful! And I know children love your historical fiction series. And I think that you-- I know you don't only sell to homeschoolers because historical fiction can be used for any child interested in history. But you do market mostly to homeschoolers as a homeschool mom. So tell me what parts of history specifically do your historical fiction books cover?
Susan Marlow: Well, if anyone's familiar with the Little House on the Prairie books, that takes place mostly in between the 1860s through 1880s, and is really a popular series for learning about Western expansion from the viewpoint of some pioneer children--Laura especially. And they're not very wealthy. They do have their struggles and they're going to new places. And that really covers the Midwest and the pioneer movement. But mine take place more on the West Coast in California, which happens to be a state at the time, and it is more around the gold rush. I really focus on the gold rush, which was from 1849 up through the 1860s into the 70s, as well as my other series focuses on ranching. And instead of being poor pioneers, my main character is the daughter of a rich rancher. So it gives a completely different viewpoint so that children realize that not everybody in the United States during the Little House days was a pioneer homesteading. There were some people firmly established. And so my books are set at the same time as that.
Jeannie Fulbright: Oh, how interesting. So what is the age range for your book series? I know there's a couple of them, and can you explain that a little bit?
Susan Marlow: Oh, yeah, sure. I have actually four of the ranching series and they are divided into grades 2 to 3 (ages 6 to 9) for the Circle C Beginnings for early readers that want first chapter books and-- Honestly, I've had some parents say they're tired of readers and they want a real book, so that is their first-- They have an opportunity to have a real book when they're 6 to 9. Then the next series is more like an American Girl reading level for ages 7 to 10. And then the same character--just like Laura goes through the Little House on the Prairie books from age 6 to 18 or 19 and gets married--this is what happens with my character as well, although in that different setting. So then I have the Adventures when she is the 11/12-year-old, 13, that's middle grade. And then I have the Milestones, which are my main character going through her teenage years, actually getting married and her and her husband having their own little ranch. And then for the Goldtown-- Which parents begged me to write because they wanted something specifically targeted for boys. These are the parents I meet at homeschool conventions. And so I did one for the younger kids, ages 6 to 9, when my main character Jem is little, and then another middle grade series for when he's 12/13, and now he'll be almost 14 in the last couple of books I'm finishing up.
Jeannie Fulbright: I love that. I'm sure the boys are very grateful to have their boy characters in there. And you have experience with boys. And you live in Washington, right?
Susan Marlow: I do.
Jeannie Fulbright: And tell me about how your experience with the ranching and all of that, is that how you kind of understood what how to write these books?
Susan Marlow: Yes, actually, that is true. It's kind of funny. I raised goats and we've had a horse and we've had day-old calves we've raised and chickens. So there's a number of stories that are taken directly from experience. Like my five-year-old, he was kind of teasing our rooster and that rooster came after him, and roosters are mean. And so in one of my books, I have my little Andy character who's 6-- She has to collect the eggs and she dreads it because King Henry XIII is the rooster and he goes after her every time. And her friend Riley comes to the rescue with a stick and chases that rooster away. So a lot of the events in my books have been drawn on some of my own experiences. And right now we have our own Taffy foal--I was there when she was foaled--and that horse was named after the main horse in my series, Taffy. A beloved character for all my readers. And now I have my own Taffy, and it's a palomino, just like Taffy is. So we're very excited about that on my daughter's ranch.
Jeannie Fulbright:I love that. So your books, your historical fiction covers history. It covers what's going on in history. And I feel like it's-- I personally, when I look at history textbooks, I feel like they don't really spend enough time on westward expansion. They don't really spend enough time on the gold rush or what it was like to live on the West Coast after the Lewis and Clark expedition got everybody over there. And so I think it's really great that you are, not necessarily trying to teach that time period, but people learning about that time period through your characters. But is there a way that your history books, I mean, your historical fiction stories could be used for a homeschooler for their history studies? That they could be used as their history while they are going through the series?
Susan Marlow: Well, absolutely. One of my main goals, like my mission, is to take a series of exciting books and adventures that are set in historical time and expanding on them. As a homeschool mom myself what I really regretted was when I was having my kids read a book, they would just plow through that book in no time. They would love it. Especially the more they loved the books or the series, the faster they would read through them. And I felt like, "Well, we're losing so much on this that could be incorporated into actual something educational without them really knowing that it's educational." Because as soon as you say "educational", sometimes the kids don't want to do it. The goal was to create some enrichment material because, well, I have a degree, I'm a teacher, so I do love creating materials that are engaging. And some of the literature stuff that my kids did, it was so boring. It's vocabulary and comprehension over and over again, and they just were beginning to hate literature. And I go, "I am not going to do that for my grandkids or for any other kids that might be able to benefit from this." So I take each book--and I have 36 books now in all--and each book has a-- And I hate to use the word "study guide" because that gives such negative connotations. I call them an "activity guide", which includes a little bit of vocabulary, but only vocabulary that is pertinent to that historical time. Like some little kids might not know what a carpet bag is, or a child might not even know what a hitching post is, or vocabulary words that actually have something to do with what they're learning. And I go through for all the books and do that. Comprehension is especially important for any age, but not to trick them or make it too hard, just to know that they've actually read the chapters. And so I put that together. But my main emphasis is on the fun stuff. Like, for instance, I have some study guides-- I'll just give you an example here because the parents love these. For instance, in one of my Goldtown books, which is based on the gold rush, Aunt Rose and the character's cousin Nathan are traveling from Boston, Massachusetts, all the way over to this rough gold camp in California. And so the letter that is in the book only says, "We're traveling around the horn and we'll be there in the spring." Because I'm not going to do any telling and explaining what all this means, because the kids want the action. But in the study guide, I've created a whole lesson on, "Well, what does that mean, 'going around the horn'?" So I explained the three different ways you could get to the gold fields. And then I have a map. And after learning that they trace the way that, "How did Aunt Rose get to the gold field?" Well, they went around the horn--which the children have learned by now is that around the tip of South America--coming up and how long it took. So that is the things that the kids then can relate. They read about someone going around the horn and then they learn more of what that is in little bites.
Jeannie Fulbright: I love that.
Susan Marlow: Well, and I've also-- This is brand new! I've also incorporated on my website, audio and video. So a song that goes along with that is called "Old Californio", and it's a song about going around the horn, and I've edited it and it's quick, and the kids can go hear a song, an old folk song, that has to do with that time period with the gold miners heading for California. So that's one example. Another one is--I love hands on, I can't think of enough all the time--but they learn about a day in the life of a miner, because the second book is based on a hard rock mine. But I'm not going to go into all the techniques because the kids would get bored. So the education is "What did a hard rock miner do? And how did he heat up his meal? And how did he heat up his coffee?" And at the end, they get to build a little miner's stove and heat up their own little lunch. So that's the kind of stuff I love doing in my study guides. And the lap books, they have other unique activities for the kids who are really hands-on. And altogether, each series of books can take a child through an entire year of literature/Language Arts. And, like you asked, yes, they can use it for their California state history or their piece of "let's just spend the whole year on the westward expansion that has to do with California and the gold rush." And you betcha they could use that for their history one year.
Jeannie Fulbright: Well, and you know what I love about this is that it incorporates so much of what Charlotte Mason really did believe about how the best way to teach children is to engage them. And everything must relate, everything must build upon the ideas that they're learning. And so the ideas are what's contained in the book. And then their Language Arts-- Which I am always just trying to explain to people that the way we teach Language Arts in America is absolutely wrong. We have deconstructed Language Arts. We have separate reading, we have separate vocabulary, we have separate writing, and all of that should come together with what you're reading. Your Language Arts should be based on what you are actually reading. And all the elements of Language Arts should be within what you're reading. It shouldn't be deconstructed with all of these different books for each subject matter, because it's all an art. It's language.
Susan Marlow: Absolutely! I don't know if I get myself into trouble sometimes at conventions, because that is exactly my-- That's what I want to do. So if they have a little essay, or digging deeper and critical thinking, it is all based on what they just read. Like, in one of the things: "Pretend you're a gold nugget, that Jem has just picked you up, tell us what happened to you and your journey." In other words, they're writing, but it's about what they're learning. So they're all excited about pretending they're a gold nugget, or any of that. I know that occasionally I've been in trouble because at homeschool conventions I love to talk one-on-one, and they want to know my opinion about, "Oh, which one do you think for grammar or spelling?" And and I just think, "Okay, I don't really like those grammar books because--" Like you said, Jeannie, they're just yanked out of-- They come from nowhere, and they have to find subject and nouns. And I think as a child learns to write, that all comes naturally. And as they get older, they could have some grammar and stuff. But when I've got people with second graders that want to know what grammar book, I just cringe. I just think it should be-- They need to read and to love literature and to love learning about the things that go along with that! And there's a time and a place for the actual nuts and bolts of that kind of thing, I believe.
Jeannie Fulbright: I totally agree. Grammar is learned through reading, learned through having conversations, learning to speak correctly. That is how grammar is learned. And then through their own copy work and writing is how grammar is...it's absorbed. It doesn't need to be taught in such an artificial way, I believe. So I want you to tell our readers-- Well, first I want to also say that you mentioned that you have in your study guides links where they can go to the website and listen to songs. And Charlotte Mason talked so much about how important it is for children to continue to learn folk songs. And I know that when I was a child we, in school, we learned folk songs; folk songs were part of the curriculum. And children today don't know all these folk songs. And I love that you take them back and you let them hear the songs that people sang and how important-- That is such a-- I mean, that is tapping into a different part of the children's brain, and that is such an important part of a child's education, which has been completely stripped out of the educational system today. So I love that you're doing that. It sounds like your study guides are perfect for a Charlotte Mason education. Not only do they learn the history and they get folk songs, but they also get handicrafts, it sounds like! And handicrafts are essentially a Charlotte Mason concept where the children are learning to create with their hands useful things. And you take them and have them create this stove where they can actually cook on. What a useful skill to have. That is amazing. But I want the readers-- I mean, "our readers"...my listeners, my Charlotte Mason listeners, to hear your story about how you hated history and that story about what happened to transform you as a homeschool mom into someone who not only loves history but is writing history books.
Susan Marlow: Yes, I never would have thought, that's for sure! You know, once upon a time, I just absolutely despised history. I was brought up, of course, in the--and I'm going to date myself. I'm part of the 1950s/1960s school system, which was actually a pretty decent way to get educated back then. I remember nothing controversial, but I do remember hating history. Science, I liked. Math, I liked. I guess Science was hands on, you know, you could cut up the worms and do all that kind of thing. But history was just awful. They were so boring. The teachers just droned on and on and it just sounded like they weren't even interested in their subject. It was so bad that-- This is so terrible. In the eighth grade, learning U.S. history (I had a whole year of it), and our family--my dad was going to college for a summer to learn more about this new thing called computer programing--and so we were back in Pennsylvania at State College for summer. And every weekend my mother, who loved history, who loved all that-- We'd go to Washington, D.C. on a weekend, or we'd go to Gettysburg on a weekend. We would do something so she could instill in her children this love of history. And to my shame, we went to the battlefield on Gettysburg, and my mom is near tears because of the bullet holes in the trees and trying to point this stuff out, and I didn't even know what Gettysburg was, and I had just finished the eighth grade history class--U.S. History!
Jeannie Fulbright: Wow! Typical.
Susan Marlow: Yeah! My sister and I kind of made these loco, cuckoo motions behind her back, like, "Our mother is crazy." And that was my view of history, and I dreaded it when I had to take any kind of history class, even through high school. But there's one shining thing, which should have prompted me. Our world problems teacher, every morning he started the class reading out of Mao Zedong's Little Red Book, and I remember-- That's the only thing I remember, which shows that just doing something to show us that it's real, and that there is real people doing real things in other parts of the world, just that little tiny thing, was enough to get me a little bit interested in his world problems class.
Jeannie Fulbright: What's so weird about that is that unfortunately Mao's book was actually a living book, but at the same time, it was the worst, most indoctrination that there is in the history of mankind. But it was a living book which sparked your interest, which is of course what Charlotte Mason teaches and how we should be inspiring our children and getting them interested in history. So continue with your story...
Susan Marlow: Oh, yeah. Okay. So time goes on and I'm homeschooling. We pull my kids out of our Christian school and decide we're going to homeschool here in the mid 1980s. Pioneer mom says, "Okay, let's pull them out. And what is there out there?" Well, without mentioning any names, there's your typical Christian textbook companies, and so that's what we did. And I just taught history by the same way I'd been taught, and it was pretty boring. And finally, I just thought, "I can't do this anymore. There's nothing out there. So guess what? I'm going to have to write it myself." So I had just read this awesome series by Brock and Bodie Thoene called the Zion Covenant, an adult series, about the events leading up to the Holocaust in Europe. And I knew nothing about that because, like I said, I knew nothing about history because I just tuned it out. I was gripped, and I thought, "My children need to know because this kind of thing could repeat itself in a different way toward Christians maybe later on," as we see it is happening now. So I spent an entire summer taking those living books, creating vocabulary, comprehension, essays, all this other enrichment, maps-- Timelines were very important to me! We need a timeline so they could see "Where am I in history?" compared to what was happening here. And we even did some German language. And my children, they loved it. My daughter says to this day it was her favorite year of homeschooling. I gave them-- I read the books out loud so that we could have an opportunity to discuss what's going on, how it relates to us--and they were 9th and 10th grade, so it was the perfect age for them--and then I had reading assignments in the Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler books. I'm sorry. I don't think you can get that book anymore today, but I found it back then. And there were other books we'd get from the library. We watched videos. Hitler's Master Race. The kids had to write essays. But everything we did except math and science were related to what we were doing in these books. And the funny note is, twenty-some years later, maybe thirty-years later, I pulled it all out, and two years ago, I presented the same year's course to my daughter's children, my grandchildren. And there were five or six of them at the time, and even the little kids listened, and did much younger lessons, but the older kids had to do the major stuff. But that sparked a love of history for me and I said, "I will never go back."
Jeannie Fulbright: And I'm sure it sparked a love of history for them as well, to just be using living stories to bring the subject matter to life, to make it feel like history is relevant. To see the real people and real dialog and action and that sort of thing, I think is such an important way to spark our children's love of history and also to spark our own love for history. Because one of the most amazing things about homeschooling, which I'm sure you will agree, is that we actually get to fall in love with learning again. We actually give ourselves the education that we were denied when we were in the public school system or even in the private school system. We were denied a true education because of the manner in which it was presented--that boring teacher lecture droning on and on and on and giving facts, giving dates, having memorization of dates and events. There is no real life...
Susan Marlow: You're making me shiver, Jeannie, you're making me shiver.
Jeannie Fulbright: I know! It is tragic the way they present history. And I love this idea of giving our children a life- giving, a breathing, a living education in history, and also incorporating all the other elements of learning into what they're reading.
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Jeannie Fulbright: So I would ask you, if you could advise our listeners on how to teach history in this way, how would you advise them?
Susan Marlow: Well, I can advise them to find some kind of living books that you can either write your own curriculum for. Like, say you love Egypt, don't be afraid-- I mean, just because you're not "a teacher", you actually are a teacher. And you could take a book that you love to read, like a little book about Egypt, and your mind could say, "Oh, you know, we could learn some hieroglyphics. We could poke some hieroglyphics in some clay." I mean that's all I did. It's not necessarily because I was a teacher, it's just that I got all these great ideas when I read these really fun books. So it's either that or, I know that the History of U.S. does a good job with telling stories. And I would say, throw out the textbooks, do some stories. Read history like stories. Like, Jeannie, wait, I know that you're kind of working on something like that. I've been editing it. I love your approach!
Jeannie Fulbright: Thank you, that is a shameless plug. I am writing a living history curriculum and it's starting in American history, and the way it's designed is each chapter, which will take a week, is history stories. So I take the characters like Christopher Columbus and I create dialog, and they are in there-- They are with Christopher Columbus as he's sword fighting with his brothers, and learning how to be a great sword fighter. And they're with him when he's battling the Barbary pirates and the ship goes down and he's stranded at sea. Or when they're sailing across the Atlantic and there's about to be a mutiny on board, and all the people are angry with him and he's just stoic, "No, we're-- Continue! Continue!," and yet there's fears in him. And I feel like that's the way we want to learn. Because Christopher Columbus could be really boring if you just gave facts and information. But I've created a story through all the events in history. They're little short stories. They're little historical fiction, short stories. And Susan has been my editor, which has been such a blessing.
Susan Marlow: And I just love your approach. And I'm going to put you on the spot here, I feel like I'm the host now. Along with the stories is your intention to add any little extra things like, "Put yourself in the place and write this."? Is it going to include activities or is it mostly a history text?
Jeannie Fulbright: Yes. And I didn't send those parts to you. I have a timeline section where each time that there's some event or something they can put on their timeline, there will be timeline figures in the book so they can cut them out, or draw your own timeline figures. I always think it's better for children to use their creative energies to create something themselves. But for those who would prefer to have a timeline figure to cut out, they're going to be able to cut it out from the book. And then I also have a notebooking activity. For example, after the Christopher Columbus lesson I show them different commemorative stamps that people have created about Christopher Columbus, that depict Christopher Columbus from different countries throughout the years, and I say, "Create your own commemorative stamp from your favorite scene from what you've learned about Christopher Columbus." So there are lots of different—There's one where they learn about the Mayans-- Not the Mayans. Well, they do learn a little bit about the Mayans. But the Aztecs were one of the few Indian cultures that actually had hieroglyphics. They had writing. They had a form of writing. And so they create their own hieroglyphics based on some of the pictures I show them of the Aztec hieroglyphics. So there's a lot. Yeah, there are a lot of activities for them. It's like notebooking and timeline activities throughout.
Susan Marlow: Pretty cool. Well, good for you.
Jeannie Fulbright: Thank you. It's going to-- Yeah, well so, people may want to know when it's going to be ready. And right now I do have a group of beta readers who are reading each chapter as I complete them, and then they're giving me great feedback. And so once I incorporate that feedback, I think the book will be available probably at the end of next spring, definitely by the summer. And Susan will have another hand at editing once I add those new things because she's an amazing—Not only is Susan an amazing fiction writer, author, but she is also an incredible editor. She just improves everything for me, including my Rumble Tumbles series. Which you had so many great ideas for me! You're just inspired; you have great ideas. And so, on teaching history, I think we can all take books our children are learning, we can take the vocabulary out of there, we can take copy work out of there, we can take-- We can integrate all of the learning with the beautiful and fun, exciting books that they're reading that touch on periods in time. So I recommend doing that. I recommend setting yourself free from curriculum that mimics the public school system.
Susan Marlow: Oh, absolutely. And for moms who feel overwhelmed, like my daughter who has eight children and said she would never allow a lap book to come into her home because, for obvious reasons, she just couldn't take the time to help these children do these assignments. And so I took her advice to heart, and I made the lap books completely independent, along with a schedule. So the moms who are teaching so many different ages, like my daughter, I said, "I promise you, Daughter, that you don't have-- Unless they have a question and need help with some reading, you don't have to do anything once you kind of taught them how it works." So they have like a four-day week, which I'll give all credit to the Sonlight people who gave me the idea that I don't have to do school five days a week. Yay! I can do it four days a week. So it's all laid out, and the child reads it, and even the answer key's in the back, and they-- My study guide's (unit studies is kind of I guess the old-fashioned term) is-- They're completely independent. So that's one subject--literature, or reading if they're younger--that they can all do completely on their own without any-- With parent engagement as the parent feels like they would love to be part of it, not because they're forced to because it's part of the way that it has to be done. So I want moms to love homeschooling, and if they love homeschooling, their children will probably love it too. And this is one way to get some of the pressure off the moms. More subjects they can do on their own.
Jeannie Fulbright: 100%! I love that. That just sounds beautiful. And I love the idea, this is another Charlotte Mason...big Charlotte Mason philosophy, is children need to be self-learners, and there is no education except self-education. And so your study guides are designed so that the children can read, and then-- And another thing you mentioned that I forgot to touch back on is you talk about how your children can zoom through books--and children who have a love of reading do want to zoom through books—but Charlotte Mason talks about how important it is to do a careful reading. Be careful, and if you don't know how to spell a word—it's first time you've seen it, or you-- To really spend time doing a careful reading and not zooming through a book. And so what you have done is created a study guide that actually encourages children to do a careful reading and to spend more time thinking about what they've read, which is such a living and a life-giving way for children to learn. And I just think it's amazing that you've created these for these kids, especially the independent learning part, because moms do need a break and Charlotte Mason wants you to give your children the tools to learn and allow them to take over.
Susan Marlow: Absolutely. That's my philosophy. And prevent mom burnout. You know, a lot of homeschoolers have a lot of kids, and my daughter's a perfect example of mom burnout. It's because of her my study guides have schedules so they could do it on their own. It's because of her that my loose leaf free study guides ended up being perfect bound. She says, "Oh, yeah, I buy that. I don't want to print it out myself. I don't have time for that. I can never find the printer cords, some kid stole it." You know, I just want to make things as easy as possible for the moms and as fun and educational for the kids, and that's my two-pronged mission I started off with.
Jeannie Fulbright: How cool for your daughter to have her mom helping her with homeschooling. That just would be such a dream. I can't even imagine how wonderful that would have been to have my mother take over some of the subjects and do some of the homeschooling. What a huge, huge blessing that must be. One thing I want to touch on, because you mentioned this and I've gotten this question a lot at homeschool conferences, is what is a lap book? And so I'll give my definition and then you can expand on that. But a lap book is kind of-- I don't even know where they came from or who invented this idea, but early in our homeschool journey, I was introduced to lap books, and it's essentially little miniature books and little miniature cutouts, and you put them together and they can either create a spinning wheel, or they can create a little matchbook where it looks like the shape of a matchbook, but inside are pages and each page has concepts that you learned about. And so can you explain lap books in your own terms? Because a lot of people have never heard that term before.
Susan Marlow: Oh, sure, of course. I did not know what they were until a lap book company, A Journey Through Learning, contacted me and asked permission to make lap books for my books. And I thought, "Okay, so what is a lap book?" And now I just love them. They are a file folder that folded in the middle and it opens up, and within are about seven different activities of mini booklets, like you explained. Some are kind of fun to open, some are little slots where you can slide things in and pull out little recipes or something. And for me, each lap book activity corresponds to certain chapters in my books. That's how I set mine up. That's how that company originally set them up. I got my rights back, and so now I do it all myself the way I would like to do it. Because some lap books, they tell you the books you're going to make, but you have to go online and find all the information. And I appreciated this company's philosophy is: "We're going to supply the information so nobody has to do anything." When you buy this lap book packet online, you get the file folders, you get the information, you get the booklets, all you need is a stapler, some glue, and a scissors. And that's been a real hit. And so all the information, if they're going to do a booklet about a mule that's carrying the gold stuff-- Like let's learn about the mules; they were called "Rocky Mountain canneries." And, "Why was a donkey in the gold rush called a Rocky Mountain or mountain canary?" And so they're going to learn about that in the little activity thing, and then they cut out a little booklet about the mountain canary. They find out the reason why it was called that and they answer little questions or they do little activities with it, but everything they need is in that little information page that comes with the packet. And some kids just love these lap books, they love to cut out and they learn better. I personally love the study guides because you can do so much more. You're kind of limited with the lap books by cutting and pasting and then kind of answering questions or something, and I can expand more in the study guide by making a constellation viewer or the miner's stove or things like that. But I can do recipes. I have a recipe for old fashioned waffles in one of mine, because my character has waffles for her nine year old birthday. And how did the 1800 people make waffles with no waffle iron? And they're going to learn about that in a lap book and get a recipe to make Old-Fashioned Waffles. And so all of that is in the lap book--complete, unique activities that are not in the study guide. But I've set up the daily schedule so that the lap books are not required. They're optional because some parents have come and said, "My kid hates to cut and paste." And I go, "Great! My daily schedule only has activities for the book and the study guide, and then on off days it says, 'Lap book activities for chapters one through three.' You just skip that. It's not required to read the book or anything." I make those lap book activities optional.
Jeannie Fulbright: Absolutely. And I think that that's an important point. You and I, we're both done with our original homeschool journey and we've got our adult children and my daughter planning on homeschooling your daughter homeschools. But one thing that I think is really important for you homeschool moms to know is that you can skip anything that makes learning a drudgery for your children. Change it up. The curriculum writer is not the master. You are the master of the curriculum. You make the decisions about what is bringing learning to life for my family. And if whatever's in there, if it's too much or something your child hates, don't do it.
Susan Marlow: That's for sure. Amen.
Jeannie Fulbright: So, Susan, I want to end with this really interesting thing that I think is a fascinating part of American history, and that is the current homeschool movement. And you are-- You were before me; you were a homeschool pioneer. You were homeschooling-- What years were you homeschooling?
Susan Marlow: I started out in 1984/85 and homeschooled like 20-some years because I had older kids and then we had younger children. So I've seen the span and I've seen how it started and I've seen all the wonderful things. And then as my younger children moved out and then I had become involved with my writing, and so I have never really left the homeschool culture. I've been in it since my children were about ten and nine when we pulled them out of our Christian school. We closed it down and they said, "Well, you can put them in school or homeschool." And I thought, "Homeschool. Okay, how do I even do that?" And I'm a teacher. And I was like-- I feel bad for these homeschool moms who say, "I can't homeschool!," because I'm a teacher and I was teaching at the Christian school and I didn't know how to homeschool either. So, what a journey! I just remember those days with fondness. In fact, when you go to the Minneapolis Homeschool Convention in Saint Paul, if you're a homeschool pioneer, you get a special sticker to go on your vendor badge that says Homeschool Pioneer. I mean, that's how much you're so different. It was-- Well, it was the days where-- My husband taught in the school district on the other side of the river. And I had a fellow teacher of his, his wife homeschooled too, and she had to close her curtains and the children were not let out of the house until the school was out. That was the mindset, is that your children cannot be on the streets or in town or like go to Costco or any of that because they're supposed to be in school.
Jeannie Fulbright: So much secrecy. So much secrecy.
Susan Marlow: Oh! And I was in Washington state, the home state of of the original Michael Farris fellow, so we actually had it pretty good in Washington state. But it was just like, "I feel uncomfortable taking my kids out." Until I finally said, "I don't care. What are they going to do to me?" And so I wasn't bound so much by that. But I do remember going to my very first homeschool convention-- This is absolutely hilarious. So I get in the van with my friends, we're all going to homeschool and we're all going to go to the Washington State homeschool-- The WHO, the Washington Homeschool Organization, was a brand new fledging place, and they had the University of Puget Sound as where they were hosting it. And I said, "What is a homeschool convention?" So my friends told me, and so we go. And I did not go to the workshops, however, I saw this big old white tent out in the gravel parking lot, and I said, "What is that?" And they said, "It's a vendor hall." And I said, "Well, what's a vendor hall?" And they said, "That is where people like Abeka and Miller Pad & Paper"--and there was Rainbow Resources in there--"they come and they sell their stuff." And I go, "Oh, well, that's really awesome. I'm going to go in." But you couldn't go in. You had to pay $5 to go into the tent. And I said to my friends, I go, "Wait a minute! I have to pay $5 to go in and buy things from people?" I just I could not even comprehend that. And so I paid the $5 and I went in and there was the coolest stuff ever. Miller Pad & Paper, it was paper you couldn't get anywhere else at a stationary story--a lined paper with the blank that the kids can draw pictures on top. I was just overwhelmed by it. I was so excited. And there might have been not even a dozen vendors. There were Abeka, Bob Jones, curriculum. There was nothing, and I do mean nothing, that is, talking about what I have or about history or what you're doing, or even some of the other other wonderful history creators over the homeschool people. There was nothing like that. You had textbooks or you created it yourself.
Jeannie Fulbright: And now everybody's got so many options that it's a little bit overwhelming for them.
Susan Marlow: As a vendor now, I have to say, I do understand why they had to pay the $5, because the vendors, I didn't realize, had to pay for the spot. So I get that now as a vendor on the other side of the aisle.
Jeannie Fulbright: And also the people who put those together, they have to have a website, they have advertisements, they have a lot of-- The homeschool convention companies have a lot of expenses, less stuff they print up, and they do have to charge. And, you know, they're not making a lot of money off these homeschool conventions, they're doing it really as a service and a ministry to homeschoolers.
Susan Marlow: They absolutely are. And my husband always makes sure that he finds the vendor coordinator and he thanks them profusely for all the work, because those people are mostly volunteers. And it is so much work to put on a homeschool convention. And they do a great job. And it's good to appreciate them if you can. And I do see people with deer-in-the-headlights-- They come to my vendor booth and they say, "I don't know even where to begin." And this is like an Oregon, like a small homeschool convention, and I think, "Oh, honey." They don't know anything if they have never been to the Cincinnati one. I go, "They're overwhelmed by a small state convention!" So I feel for them because there's too many choices. So many! It's like the pendulum swung all the way from the desert to overflowing floods of things.
Jeannie Fulbright: Yes! Agreed. I remember-- I love homeschool conventions. I loved speaking at them, but I also, when my kids were young, I loved going to them. We went with our friends. We all met there with our kids and our strollers, and we would walk around. We'd give our kids $5 and they could go and spend it anywhere they wanted, and usually it was Miller Pad & Paper. And we had so much fun. And I remember one time convincing a homeschool friend of mine to go and I was walking around with all my friends, and I was just so excited-- It was like an annual family reunion to see all the homeschoolers that we had met at some co-op or at a class our kids took. And so it was kind of like, "Oh, hi!" It was so exciting. And I was never overwhelmed because I always knew I was going to use the Charlotte Mason model, which mostly meant that I was creating my own curriculum, designed a lot like how your study guys are designed where I would choose the history and we would choose-- You know, I was writing science, so we didn't have any problem there. And I will say also, just a little side note, is that my notebooking journals for my science books also have lap books that don't go in a folder, they actually go in your notebooking journal. But I was never-- To me, a homeschool convention was just a fun place to go and hang out. And I brought this friend of mine and all of a sudden I realized that she wasn't with me and I hadn't seen her in a while. And so I had like everybody go and looking for her because, "What happened to her?" And we found her in the cafeteria section, which they always have a place sectioned off in the back where there's concessions. And she was sitting at a table crying. And I couldn't understand it, and I realized at that point that it must be overwhelming. Because at this point, this is in the, I don't know, 2000...let's say 2006. There's a lot more options. And today the options are-- I mean, it's incredible! And so I didn't realize at that point that really you have to go into these conventions with a plan. And if you go in there and you don't have sort of a plan like, "Okay, these are the subjects I need to teach my children. And I need to find something for each of these subjects." You're just looking and maybe even you don't know for sure that you're going to buy, but you're just letting the Lord lead and letting Him lead by His peace, and looking and listening to the vendor explain it and then moving on. Letting the Holy Spirit lead you, you don't have to be overwhelmed at a homeschool convention, you can walk in and just enjoy being-- Really, I think one of the best things about homeschool conventions is that you can enjoy being with people who are in the same trenches that you're in, who are on this same journey. And maybe they're not using the same philosophy that you're using, but you're all on the same journey of educating your children at home. And just seeing what's new, what people are...what God is leading people to to create for His people at these homeschool conventions. And I have to say, I remember when I was homeschooling, and I started homeschooling in the year 2000, and that I was so grateful for-- I called you homeschool pioneers, I called y'all "the trailblazers." Y'all were homeschool trailblazers. You blazed the trail for my generation and the generation behind me to have a more level path to travel on this homeschool journey. And so I'm so grateful for you homeschool pioneers. Y'all had to be really tough and really just, I would say, counter cultural.
Susan Marlow: And committed.
Jeannie Fulbright: And committed! It must have been so much harder. And there weren't like homeschool groups that you could join a co-ops that you could join and all the different things. You were on your own.
Susan Marlow: Yep.
Jeannie Fulbright: Well, I'm grateful. I just know that God, actually, He just led. He gave y'all this really incredible fortitude for that time period so that those of us who came behind had the ability to leave the stuff that's going on, the teaching that's going on, the mindset, I would say, the brainwashing that's happening. And if y'all hadn't come before, it wouldn't have been easy for those of us who are-- And especially for my listeners of the Charlotte Mason Show, who are now new homeschoolers beginning this journey. And I personally want to thank you for blazing that trail.
Susan Marlow: Yeah, well, you're welcome. It's been a long journey, but the results have been great. To see your own child also homeschooling is just very satisfying. And the fact they have a lot more to choose from than I had has been good too.
Jeannie Fulbright: Yeah, it's a blessing. There's a lot of stuff to choose from. It can seem overwhelming, but God, I believe, raised up these people to create these different curricula because all our families are different and all our children are different. They learn differently. They engage differently with learning. Like some love lap books, some hate it. Some love vocabulary assignments, some hate it. There's so many different ways to teach. And so sometimes you have to-- And it's trial and error. You might try this and realize this doesn't work for my family. So you sell it on eBay and try something new. And I always tell people, "It's okay if your curriculum that you chose doesn't work, it's okay to change. Because on this journey you're learning how you best teach, and how your children best learn." And it's trial and error figuring all of that out--choosing curriculum, finding out it doesn't work, finding something that does work. What I would recommend people consider, though, before you quit your curriculum, sell it on eBay, and find something else, is make sure that you're not doing that because you are influenced by somebody else's experience with a different curricula and you're not going to sell what you're doing or quit what you're doing and start doing what they're doing because of their experience. Because you have to really discern whether-- Their families are different, their children learn differently. You know, God has a different path for every single child and every single family. So what they use may be great for them, and it may not work for you and your family. So if something's working for you, stick with it. Even if you hear somebody else having an experience that sounds very romantic.
Susan Marlow: Yes, indeed.
Jeannie Fulbright: So, Susan, thank you so much for joining me today. I loved having you. I love talking with you and chatting with you, and I know we chat a lot as I send my chapters to you and all my editing stuff. I always have something for you to put your brilliant hand to. But how can our listeners get in touch with you? Where can they find-- Oh, and before you tell them, I want you to tell our listeners about your writing contest that you have.
Susan Marlow: Well, like I said, I love to teach writing. And I actually have a website. I can throw it up there for you.
Jeannie Fulbright: And that will all be in our show notes as well. All your links will be in the show notes.
Susan Marlow: Yeah, I'll put that link up where I have ten free video lessons that go along with my writing workbooks. But you don't have to use the writing workbook if you just want to go through the ten lessons and learn about dialog, learn about creating characters. It pretty much covers it in a nice, fun PowerPoint, and then it tells what pages it goes with. But you know, you don't have to have the workbook. So it's fun. But I also put on contests on my blog. I have a fall contest running right now. If anyone wants to get in on it, they can read any little fanfiction story that's up there and kind of get a sense of my characters and stuff. And this particular one is a prompt with a picture and some words, and you can create your own character for this one, because some kids wanted to do that. And it ends October 13, so you still have two weeks. And there's going to be ages 9 to 12 or ages 13 to 17, and I have a bunch of different prizes for the winners. In the past, I've done an annual contest where-- That was pretty extensive, the winners ended up published on Amazon in a compilation of the winner's stories. So I have all kinds of fun writing stuff for kids who want to write and get some kind of recognition if they place, and all kinds of stuff. So I'll put those in your show notes. I'll send you links for that.
Jeannie Fulbright: And I actually didn't even realize that you taught writing classes for homes for homeschoolers. Or I guess you teach writing classes, and you can be any kind of "schooler" to join them. But what? Is it fiction writing that you're teaching?
Susan Marlow: Yes. I have a book called Writers Roundup for the serious person who's looking to publish. And so I had a younger version earlier in my homeschooling days. I've done co-ops and those things. But now it's mostly for middle school, I would say grade six and up, are the kids who they don't just want to learn to write fiction, they want to get that stuff published. So I've added stuff on how you can upload things to publish it yourself. And you can get the book on Amazon and you can watch the free video lessons that go with it. You can even buy one-on-one feedback, which is a one-on-one course from me then, as you work through the course and the video and the book, we can Google Doc and email back and forth and that's like $75 for the ten weeks.
Jeannie Fulbright: Wow, that's a great deal for your expertise.
Susan Marlow: Well, I've done the whole Zoom online course and the children loved it because they love getting together. That just sucked all the life out of me. So I decided to put those lessons on PowerPoints and create it all organized, and still they could get the benefit and I could do one-on-one rather than commit twice a week, because the class was never over after an hour because they still wanted to stay. These kids. I mean, they loved this class! So I've got the same stuff going on, but now it's one-on-one just to save myself. I can't do everything.
Jeannie Fulbright: Yes. Lots of books to write and lots of stuff to edit and lots of study guides to create.
Susan Marlow: And I tell you what. So I'll put all that stuff—I'll send that to you.
Jeannie Fulbright: Okay. That's awesome. I know people will be really excited about it. I go to conferences all the time and people are always asking, "My daughter wants to write a book." Or, "My son is a great writer and he's writing a series. How do I? I need...we need some help." And I never knew that I could send them your way, so that's very exciting. So mainly your website is how people get in touch with you?
Susan Marlow: Yeah, it's CircleCBooks.com, really easy to remember. Or GoldtownBooks.com. And I have contact forms there, that's the easiest way. And then we can get in an email back and forth if you contact me that way. I love talking to-- I love helping folks. I love talking about homeschooling as you can tell. And I just like to talk. We're a good pair today!
Jeannie Fulbright: Yeah, we are! We are. Well, this has been such a delight and I am so thrilled that I got the opportunity to share you with the Charlotte Mason show listeners, because you are such a profoundly gifted person that God has given to the homeschool community. And I'm so glad that you are with me today.
Susan Marlow: Well, thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity. This is, believe it or not, this is my first podcast.
Jeannie Fulbright: Oh! I'm glad I could be your initiation!
Susan Marlow: Yeah! So thank you so much.
Jeannie Fulbright: Okay, Well, I know we will talk to you. I will be talking to you a lot, and hopefully my listeners will be contacting you and also getting to look at your Circle C Ranch and...Goldtown? Goldtown book?
Susan Marlow: Goldtown Adventures. Yeah, if they go to the website, if you go under "Enrichment" there's a "Try it for free" tab and they can download the first study guide and the first lap book absolutely free for the first book in every series.
Jeannie Fulbright: Yeah. And your books are on Amazon and...
Susan Marlow: Lab books are on Amazon. Study guides are on Amazon. Oh, yeah.
Jeannie Fulbright: Okay, perfect. Well, great. Well, everybody, thank you so much for tuning in and I hope that you will spend some time looking at Susan's great historical fiction series, and all that she has to offer, especially if you have a young writer. And we will talk to you next time on the Charlotte Mason Show.