The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew for 2009-2010

I am so excited to make a special announcement! The Old Schoolhouse magazine, one of my favorites, has announced the Homeschool Crew for the 2009-2010 school year. This Crew is a group of homeschool parents chosen to write reviews of products used and tested with their families so that other homeschoolers may benefit from their experience with these products. I know I always read reviews written by other homeschoolers so I may glean from their thoughts and make an informed decision when purchasing materials for my children.

And, I am so happy and feel privileged to announce, I have been chosen to be part of the Homeschool Crew this year and will be posting reviews here on my blog to share with you all. I hope to share anything I may contribute to this effort to assist others in gathering information when making decisions about materials for their homeschool.

So, look for reviews to come in the future! Have a great day!

Carnival of Homeschooling

Just a quick note to let everyone know the Carnival of Homeschooling is being held at the Common Room this month. So come check out some great homeschool blogs; you’ll walk away with some great ideas to end your year, spend your summer, or plan for next year!

Other Uses of Narration – End of Semester Exams, High School Essays, and Timelines

I love using  Charlotte Mason’s methods. I don’t profess to be an expert or even a “pure CM’er.” I am, though, a homeschool mom of two boys with very different learning styles, personalities, and talents. I have tried many different materials (my shelves and closets will back me up on this) and different teaching and learning methods. Now, after a number of years, I feel like we have found something that works for us. I enjoy using alot of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, techniques, and philosophies – but unless I make them my own and tweak them so they are my comfortable way of doing things or my boys’ way of learning, these methods would not work as effectively for us as they do.

So, with fair warning to all those looking for “pure Charlotte Mason”, I would like to share with you some ways that we use narration in our homeschool that may be a little different than what Charlotte Mason might have had in mind.

Last week, I wrote about oral and written narration. I also included links that suggested creative ways to use narration other than completing notebooking pages.

This week, I would like to introduce the use of timelines and end of semester (or quarter) exams and high school essays through narration.

We do not avoid all forms of tests; it just hasn’t been a goal. We learn for the enjoyment with another goal of mastery, not a letter grade on a test. We do have however, oral quizzes periodically on vocabulary words, Spanish and Latin words, and science ( for my older son using Apologia) ( he makes flash cards for himself – he and I orally quiz from those in preparation for written tests for this program.)

You are probably beginning to see we use oral narration as a major technique in our assessment and evaluation. There are times it does not apply, as in math beyond simple computation skills and math facts. But alot of the time, oral narration is such a great means to evaluate your child’s knowledge and thinking skills, while giving him the practice in organizing and expressing his thoughts in a logical and coherent manner.

Our big evaluations or assessments are usually in our history study. We include literature, history, science, math, art, and music in our history study, so our periodic assessments include alot of subjects.

Our assessment takes the form of an oral narration as we place timeline figures onto our chronological timeline. We have long rolls of butcher paper with a line drawn through the middle. The top portion focuses on the western hemisphere and the lower half focuses on the eastern hemisphere.

Around what would be quarterly, we place timeline figures for what we have studied that quarter. As we place them chronologically, we take turns orally narrating what we have learned about that person or event. When a person is done, another does his own narration and adds new information or puts the information in his own words. By the end of the year, we have had about four oral exams covering most of what we have read in almost all subject areas.

We add to this timeline every year. When we are done homeschooling, each child will have a timeline from the creation of the world to the present day. We also will have revisited each time period at least twice and added to it with more timeline figures and narrations. You can use this idea for our timeline, or you can do the same kind of review and oral narration with a Book of Centuries.

The other use of narration is for high school essay preparation. As my older son gets closer to high school, while he does his oral narration, I will ask him a question or two that requires him to use higher order thinking skills to develop his answer. The question pertains to what we have read aloud or what he has read alone, but he needs to interpret or analyze the reading to develop his answer. Sometimes the question addresses the reading and makes a comparison or contrasting statement, or asks for a cause and effect analysis of two events we have read about or two time periods we have studied.

This practice prepares my son to think about what he has read and then organize his thoughts, so he can coherently explain them. Then he can write them down after giving me his answer and we have discussed it from different angles.

This also gives us the opportunity to practice different kinds of essay formats, depending on his answer. For example, to write an answer that includes a comparison and a contrast of an event requires a different format than a paper where he describes a cause and effect.

To give you some ideas of questions to ask to get your older children orally narrating and writing more complex narrations, I’ve included some links where you can find some.

HippoCampus has different subject areas, some AP. If you click in the chapter sections and look at their discussion questions, you might get ideas for questions when reading about the same subject. discusses use of thinking skills in the study of history and geography and looking at causal relationships among other types of questions.

constitution challenge – this site focuses on the constitution and is for grades 5-8, and poses questions in a game show format, but includes the idea of orally narrating your answers while using some higher order thinking skills.

Enjoy experimenting with the Charlotte Mason method and try out different ways to use her philosophies and ideas in your home school; you might be surprised by the results. I know I was! And, I like to think she would be pleased. My kids are and that’s what makes learning so enjoyable for us.

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Charlotte Mason and the Art of Narration

(If you haven’t signed up for our drawing for a chance to win a free ebook for your nature study, there’s still time – sign up for our newsletter, Katie’s Homeschool Cottage.)

This week’s focus is on narration, Charlotte Mason’s art of narration to be more specific. When I first heard of the word narration before I started using Charlotte Mason’s methods in my homeschooling, I would have an image in my head of a child standing by a desk at the teacher’s request, reciting answers to questions of a homework assignment while the teacher looked on with a stern manner.

Today, I picture my children and I lounging on our sofas in our livingroom reviewing what we last read, reading our next chapter in our “living book” selection, and then my children relating to me with their own personal versions of what we just finished reading. I much prefer this second picture. Narration has now become my favorite part of our school day, aside from just reading together.

There are two forms of narration we will focus on – oral and written. First we will discuss the oral form of narration.

From the time our children can start forming words (and then even when they just “babble”), they are born narrators. Children love telling stories and relating to you what they have seen or experienced. How many of you have read a book over and over again to your child at his request, and then later heard that same child retell that story to himself, a toy, or to another person later on. Or, if you miss a word or page, they immediately let you know what you left out. My older son loved the story of “The Little Train that Could.” After having heard it routinely, by 3, he was narrating it with all of the different train voices to his stuffed animals – even using the words “as he puffed off indignantly.” (Which is quite funny hearing it from a 3 year old in the voice you might hear coming from a proper crotchety old gentleman.)

Anyway, to get back to narration – it is the art of being able to retell what you have just read or heard. This is a wonderful art to give to your children. It helps them organize their thoughts, use words and sentence structure they heard in the read aloud, express themselves in words and expression, recall information and details, and gives them confidence in their speech. When we first began narration, I was surprised that my usually verbal older son found it more difficult to narrate a read aloud than my normally quiet younger son. But, it was a habit that had to be formed. And we did. Bit by bit, until it  became a natural and normal action for each of them.

If you are just beginning with narration, before you begin reading aloud, let your children know they need to pay close attention to what you are saying because they will be expected to remember and tell you what they heard when you are done.  Start with reading aloud a short chapter that’s not very complex in its content. When you are done, ask who would like to tell you what they remember hearing in the read aloud. Let your children, one by one, tell you what they remember. Do not concern yourself with the proper order of events or specific details; just get them used to speaking to you about the reading. If they find it difficult to get started, ask a specific question about something that happened and ask them to tell you what happened next. This should get the ball rolling and for the next couple of weeks, continue your narration in this way as they get more comfortable and can narrate more details to you.

As your children grow more comfortable with the art of narration, you can ask them to try to retell what they have just heard in the order of what they heard and then move on to more specific details – by asking a question to draw their attention to that detail. You will be surprised how quickly and naturally your children will follow this habit. We narrate our history or science readings at least three times per week, now that we do longer readings and narrations. At the beginning, they were shorter and four to five times per week. You can adjust this to your family’s needs and the ages of your children.

The second form of narration is the written form. I also love this in our homeschooling! This is where you can really have some fun and develop notebooks on what you are studying.

After your children have become comfortable with their oral narrations, they should be ready to try written narrations after some of their oral narrations. You don’t have to have a written narration after every reading and oral narration. We usually write down the most interesting topics to us or what I may feel are the major or most important ideas, events, or people in our study.

When your children are very young, younger than 8, 9, or 10, (Charlotte Mason and other Charlotte Mason homeschoolers begin written narration around 10.) you can do the written narration for your child. Do you remember from your school days, those big pieces of flimsy tan paper with big lines and dashes in the center, with a big empty space on top for a picture? And, you would practice writing your words and sentences with those fat pencils and then when you were done, you got to draw or paint a picture of your story? Well, with written narration for your youngest child, you can have him orally narrate his read aloud to you, while you write his words down for him. When he is done, he can draw a picture or pictures to go along with his story. You, then, read his story to him as point to each word you are reading. This will connect what you are saying to each word as you say it. Read this story to him routinely and then have him read it to you. It’s okay for him to memorize it and “practice read” it to you.

My younger son wanted to be like his older brother and “write his own book” too, so he started writing his sentences down after his oral narration also. For both my sons, this was another case of forming a habit. It was slow going for both of them. But, as they stared at the ominous blank piece of paper, I would ask them to repeat to me what they had narrated to me from our read aloud only moments ago. Then I would say, “See, you have the words you want to use; now just write down the sentence you just told me.” It took them awhile to get over the intimidation of that blank piece of paper even though they had just repeated to me their oral narrations. First, your children might only be able to write down one or two sentences the first few times they have to write down their narrations. But, just as we did, your children will grow accustomed to the idea that after narration to you, they will write down their narration on paper. You will soon see them writing five sentences, then whole pages and eventually ask for another piece of paper if it is a topic they are particularly excited about. Depending upon the topic we are reading or my sons’ interests, I may choose a notebooking page with a large space for a picture, because I know they will really want to spend time drawing their narration. Other times, if it is more dry and not as creative, I may give them a notebooking page with a simple picture already on the page or a small square where they draw a little picture of their own.

There are quite a few pages throughout the internet with blank notebooking pages, pages with specific formats or pictures depending on the topic you are studying, and pictures of completed notebooking pages you can look at to get ideas for your homeschool. You can keep these pages in some kind of notebook binder or slip the pages into sheet protectors and then put these into a notebook. Either way you have something of a keepsake and study guide of your year together. Your child has something he can look back at and be proud of, and you have something you can use in a portfolio assessment at the end of the school year if you are required to do that in your state.

For middle and high schoolers and narration, their oral and written narration can go beyond just retelling and summarizing what they have read. This is where their writing can really come naturally from their oral narration and their writing gets interesting. You can have them write different forms of essays in response to their reading, just as they would need to on any exam they take for college admission or in college. Great preparation! They can write descriptive narrations of what they have read, personal narrations – even taking on the role of a character in history, science or a literary piece they have just read. What about a compare/contrast paper between two books or other literary selections they have completed? Or a process paper after reading a book or two on a topic of interest to them. ( My son is constantly reading books and magazines about fishing – his summer is going to be spent putting a book together with everything he has learned as a 4-H project.) What about a definition paper? Start out by defining a word as it means to him or the dictionary and explore in detail what that word or concept really means through detail and examples if you have read a book about democracy for example, or courage, or faith. Are you getting the idea. I find, though, the key for my guys, including my oldest, is to let them tell me about it first. Let them organize their thoughts out loud and bounce ideas off you – even if you don’t speak and they can hear their ideas out loud. Their ideas flow much better in this informal situation before sitting down in front of that ominous blank piece of paper.

You will soon notice, as I do, that your children will be unconsciously narrating to themselves as they read to themselves or after you have read something to them. My guys will have conversations between themselves, without me or my prompting, about what we have been reading. Or, like my younger son did today, while he was reading his science book (Exploring Creation with Astronomy) to himself, he was actually narrating what he was reading back to himself – but in a song he made up- while he was reading it. These are moments that will definitely make you smile and you know that you are doing something right!

Here are some sites with more information about narration:

Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series

Narration Ideas beyond Retelling and Summary

Narration Ideas including Narration in Lapbooking

Here are some sites with assorted notebooking pages:


Hold that thought notebooking pages

notebooking nook

jeannie fullbright – exploring creation science series

Cindy Rushton – the notebooking queen

Hope you find these ideas helpful and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask or share any great tips you might have in our comments section! Thanks! Please share our post with anyone you might think may be interested in narration or notebooking.

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Couldn’t Make it to a Homeschool Conference This Year?

Unable to make it to a homeschool conference this year? A free gift for you…

Sometimes life just happens and gets in the way of your own plans. I was hoping to make it to the homeschool conference near me this year, but you know what they say about the best laid plans. So, I am listening to an online conference with all sorts of ideas and tips from different guest speakers. I bought a ticket to Cindy Rushton’s membership site for the Ultimate Homeschool Expo.

There is also a free gift for you that Cindy is allowing me to share with you that I have enjoyed and I think you will too. Please continue reading for information about this free gift and for more information about this homeschool conference package.

I just got an email from my friend, Cindy Rushton.  She is “pumped” about her Ultimate Homeschool Expo library.  Actually, she is so “pumped” that she has just shared a sneak peek into her Membership Site.

You see one of the neat things about the Ultimate Homeschool Expo is that everything is ONLINE as more than a convention–it is the ULTIMATE homeschool resource library.

With every online event that Cindy plans, she builds a private, exclusive Membership Site that includes everything from the UHSE in one place–it has audios (from all of the sessions and from the bonus gifts that her speakers give to us), ebooks, complete unit study guides, articles, printable notebooking pages, cookbooks, on and on. I can’t believe all of the things that we receive for only $99.95. It is truly ULTIMATE!

Anyway, back to the reason that I am sharing with you…

Cindy just sent me permission to give you a sampler of one of her free gifts that is included on the Membership Site. I am so excited to give it to you! It is an audio and ebook set that she actually sells on her website, but she is giving away on the Membership Site. Here is the link:
Let’s Get Ready for a New School Year Super Set!

Let’s Get Ready for the New School Year Mommy Planner…
Ebook by Cindy Rushton

Need some help gearing up for the new school year? Wish you had a friend to take you by the hand and help you plan your year? You will LOVE this! It includes a quick Mommy Planner with a potpourri of planning sheets from all of Cindy’s products to help you get started on the right track with your homeschool planning. It is full of goodies! AND YOURS…

Download Part One

Download Part Two
PLUS! Companion Audio! :)
Let’s Get Ready for a New School Year–Audio

Download by Mp3


You know the saying that a picture captures a thousand words,well…what about a a gift like this???  And, just think…this is only ONE of the awesome gifts included on the Membership Site. There are hundreds more!

Take my word for it, you will WANT a ticket to this event and access to all of the wonderful resources. Grab your ticket here:
Ultimate Homeschool Expo

Hope you enjoy! I know I always do! I’m always listening to some of these audio files on my mp3 player when I’m waiting for the kids at some activity or practice. It never ceases to refresh and invigorate me to try new ideas in our homeschool!

And, if you’re not acquainted with Cindy Rushton – look around her site and enjoy the many offerings she has. I love her stuff and come away with lots of fun ideas to try. And because she used Charlotte Mason methods with her own kids, I know I can use her ideas and materials in my homeschool with methods that my kids and I enjoy.

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Check out these blogging carnivals

Check out this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling site and Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival


There are lots of great ideas and homeschooling blogs out there to be explored! I am participating in two blogging carnivals this week where you can find a host of homeschooling blogs where moms have shared lots of ideas and their homeschooling experiences: Homeschooling Carnival at Walking Therein with Jacque Dixon and the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival at His Mercy is New with Candace. Please visit these lovely ladies’ blogs and enjoy what the other homeschooling moms have to offer!

How to Use Charlotte Mason Methods

(And remember to sign up for Katie’s Homeschool Cottage newsletter for our drawing for a copy of our new ebook coming soon called Nature Study, Nature Journals, and Poetry!)

We are beginning a new series so that each week there will be a different topic in using the Charlotte Mason method. Based on the Charlotte Mason series, we will explore the various materials, topic areas, and methods used by Charlotte Mason with her students and a practical application in homeschooling using those methods. We will share resource ideas, homeschool uses, and websites that illustrate examples of using Ms. Mason’s methods.

I hope this new series will be helpful to everyone who visits our site. The first topic area of our series will explore “Living Books.”

Living Books – the first topic in our weekly series in using Charlotte Mason methods

My family and I use the Charlotte Mason method in our own way and what best serves us. I use recommendations from various Charlotte Mason books and websites, including Ambleside Online. However, we don’t strictly follow the scope and sequence recommended by Ambleside, but we do use some of the living books and methods advocated. I believe parents need to modify educational methods that work best for the members of their family.  This applies to selecting the books you will use in your homeschool as well.

Some homeschoolers believe books that might be more modern light reading  to be twaddle and should be discouraged. Other parents with reluctant readers might use these books to interest these readers into reading books recreationally on their own. You do, however, want to read aloud and encourage your children to read quality literature in its theme, content, and writing. Barring learning disabilities, children’s vocabulary and reading and writing abilities develop with exposure to more sophisticated literature rich in imagery and descriptive language. Their taste for good stories is encouraged with a steady diet of well developed plots and characters, including non-fiction events and famous people. If we read a title that was recommended by Charlotte Mason websites or programs that we found uninteresting, even though others had raved about it, we simply stopped reading it after giving it a good try. Some titles are going to appeal to some and not to others. If I were to force my children to listen to the book and myself to read it, we would not be using our time wisely and would be killing our joy in learning. As I tell my children repeatedly, life and use of your time is a matter of choices, and you want to choose the “best”, not just “good.”

Charlotte Mason discouraged twaddle in her students’ reading. She encouraged “living books.” These books are whole books with entire stories or are written on one topic, not written like a textbook covering a wide variety of topics with summaries of facts. Living books can be used in all subject areas including math. For a more detailed explanation of using living books in math or with the topic of Pi, read our articles about using Charlotte Mason methods in math.

For history, science (including nature study), literature, and even geography there are a number of books out there written on one topic or time period written by people with a knowledge and passion for that topic. This passion and attention to detail is what makes the children enjoy reading these books, interested in the topic, and remember what they read.

History and historical figures come to life through detailed stories of events and lives of people in different time eras.  More in the fashion of a classical education, we study our history in a chronological fashion starting with ancient and biblical times. We also study the time period horizontally across the hemispheres and different continents. We read a couple of books as our spine that cover the time period, while reading other books that are about specific topics pertaining to that time period. For example, while studying ancient Egypt and using Story of the World and A Child’s History of the World as spines, we also read books about pyramids, King Tut, and scientific discoveries. We also read fictional books that centered around characters and their daily lives during the ancient Egyptian times to get a feel for the time period and what common daily life was like. We had a framework with details to fill in that framework. Some places to look for history titles that might interest you would be, Yesterday’s Classics, the Baldwin Children’s Online Project. Also you will want to study primary sources that tie into your history study.

For science, you might want to read living books that include biographies of scientists or books about specific topics. We tie our science study in with what area of science was being developed or the scientists that lived during the specific time period we are studying. For example, if you are studying the renaissance, you can read about Galileo or Leonardo da Vinci. For your nature study, there are numerous sources from which to choose as well. Some places to look for titles are Noeo Science,, Nature Study, Nature Stories. We also use the Apologia series for the elementary and the middle/high school levels. We read books aloud that go along with our studies in these books.

When studying geography, we read general geography books and others that go along with our studies of a specific time period or geographical area in history. We’ve read Holling C. Holling books and mapped the area as we read. Charlotte Mason also wrote her own geography books – Geographical readers. Two other geographic living books are A Child’s Geography series.

Good literature to read has a good plot, detailed and vivid character descriptions, and various literary elements with extensive vocabulary. A good example of clever use of words is found in The Phantom Tollbooth with all of its puns, idioms, and plays on words. For adventure and satirical comedy, we have read Tales of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle and The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain while we studied the middle ages. My sons laughed out loud with the comedic situations in these stories. My son has also enjoyed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn with Mark Twain’s style of tongue in cheek sense of humor. He was very tickled reading about their big plans they would make in their club that actually turned out to be nothing in reality, but in their imaginations they had great adventures they would retell to one another. These books tie in the historical period of the time, but are also thoroughly enjoyable, and develop your child’s creativity, vocabulary, and use of words. Some places to look for lists of good books are Charlotte Mason education book list recommendations, reading lists, Baldwin Online Children’s Project.

Remember to look in our Unit Study Resource Store for other titles of living books as well. You know your children, what interests them, what their individual abilities are, and what you are studying. You make the decisions about what you feel is good literature for your children. These are suggested titles that have worked for us. Don’t feel you have to start or finish a book just because you see that it has been recommended by other Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. Use what you feel will work best for your family and enjoy your time reading aloud with one another. My children and I take turns reading and creating the voices of the characters in the stories and how we think they would sound based on their personalities in the story or the time period they are in!

Hope you can use these ideas and have found this information helpful! Check back here for another Charlotte Mason topic next week – Narration for all age levels.

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