When I was first starting my homeschool journey as a teacher and not a student, my mom gave me a book by Karen Andreola entitled A Charlotte Mason Companion. Basically, it’s a summary of the methods used by Charlotte Mason, an educator who taught in a formal schoolroom, but whose ideas are very applicable in a homeschool setting. Many of Miss Mason’s ideas made so much sense to me, and reading this book about her methods profoundly affected the way that I teach my children.
Charlotte Mason was a big proponent of using real books instead of textbooks, and she was not at all a fan of workbooks as a method of teaching (she felt that textbooks and workbooks were boring, relatively ineffective, and sucked the joy out of learning).
I don’t do a strict Charlotte Mason type of homeschooling, but I do use her ideas for a number of subjects that we study. For instance, the way I do art studies with my children is heavily influenced by Charlotte Mason.
When Charlotte Mason taught her students about nature, she helped each of them make what she called a Nature Notebook. The children filled these books with drawings and information about the plants and animals that her students observed when they went on Nature Walks (which are basically just observant treks through the outdoors). The children do the drawing and the writing of the books, which helps them to be observant (you can’t draw something without looking at it carefully!) and helps them to remember what they’re learning (writing something in your own words is much more effective than filling in blanks in a workbook).
Andreola and her husband have devoted themselves to spreading the word about Miss Mason’s teaching ideas, and to that end, she has written several more books.
Her latest book, Lessons at BlackBerry Inn, and its predecessor, Pocketful of Pinecones, are fictional stories about a family from the 1930s who homeschools. The books are written as a peek into the mother’s journal and are meant to be an enjoyable way to learn about the way that Nature Notebooks and Nature Walks can be incorporated into a homeschool environment.
Though I read about Nature Walks and Nature Notebooks when I read the Charlotte Mason Companion, I haven’t actually managed to include them in our homeschooling experience (it’s much simpler to go the textbook/workbook route!). After reading these books, though, I am newly inspired. My children always enjoy learning in the Charlotte Mason style, so I’m quite sure that they (especially Joshua) will have fun making Nature Notebooks.
These books gave me the kick in the pants that I needed, and I am determined to make the time to include Nature Walks and Nature Notebooks in our homeschooling year. I’ll try to update you all on how that goes since I think this could be a very frugal and effective idea!
A couple of caveats:
- These books are written by a Christian author, so they’ll probably be most enjoyed by a Christian reader. However, the ideas relating to Nature Notebooks and Nature Walks are certainly as useful for a secular educator as they are for a Christian educator.
- I wouldn’t say that these books are riveting fictional literature, but that doesn’t seem to be what they were written for. I look at them as a practical, real-life guide to using Charlotte Mason’s principles, and they fill that purpose very well. They’re easy to read, are composed of short chapters (which is good for a busy homeschooling mom who has little time to read), and will definitely help Charlotte Mason newbies understand how to put her ideas into practice.
- Along those same lines, I found some of the chapters to be a lot longer than a normal handwritten journal entry would be (which makes the journal format a little bit unbelievable at points), and I also found it a little odd to read about a homeschooling family from the 1930s (homeschooling was very unusual back when I was in 1st grade so I can only imagine how unusual it would have been back in the 30s!). Again, though, these things don’t bother me when I think of the books as a teaching tool rather than a work of fiction.
I received a copy of both Lessons from Blackberry Inn and Pocketful of Pinecones for review purposes and now that I’m done reading them, I’d like to pass them along to one of you! So, we’re going to do a quickie giveaway.
If you’d like to win these books, simply leave a comment saying so, and I’ll randomly choose a winner 24 hours from now. I’ll email the winner right away, and will ship these books tomorrow afternoon (so make sure that the email address you leave in the comment form is accurate).