Connections All Around

Originally posted in 2007

     We began homeschooling in 1988. I had been brought up with poetry, classical music, and living books, so naturally, they were already part of our lives, as were folk songs and regular field trips to historical sites and science museums. My background combined with the fact that the very first book I read on homeschooling was Susan Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, meant that from the beginning, I included certain ‘CM’ elements in our homeschooling. However, it was many years before I took hold of it with both hands and started applying her principles rather than just many of her methods.

Along the way between our start and our full discovery of the riches of a Charlotte Mason education, we did many projects. We studied the colonization of American and built a diorama of the settling of the west on our dining room buffet. We had an egg carton mountain representing the Cumberland Gap, and small covered wagons to the east of that, and totem poles for the northwestern Indians away to the far left side of our buffet. It was lovely. It was elaborate. We spent months adding to it as we studied a new era in history and exploration of NOrth America. Visitors commented on it all the time.
My children do not remember much about this.

We studied the Middle Ages and had a full feast, complete with drawbridge made from a mattress box, costumes, and a rich collection of books and biographies of the major figures and events of the time. My children do remember the drawbridge and feast, and they loved it. They do not remember the other things.

As I read more of Charlotte Mason, we did fewer and fewer projects. I noticed that my children actually remembered more and more of what we studied. Not only that, they made connections and found relationships between subjects I would never have thought to bring together in my carefully planned and organized (and often quite contrived) unit studies of our early homeschooling days.

I really have found that with education, less is more- less of my specially designed projects, more of the child’s direct contact with the book itself; less of me dragging in all this extra stuff and forcing my own connections into the reading, more of my children making their own connections in a much more meaningful way; less extra stuff, more of what I believe is *real* learning. When I did all that careful planning and what Miss Mason calls the ‘correlation of lessons,’ I was the one doing all the work of the mindand so I was the one doing the most learning. I was feeding my children whirled, pre-prepared mind food, instead of letting them chew on it themselves and make their own connections.

We don’t do many involved projects anymore. I don’t make worksheets or vocabulary cards for games. I don’t create elaborate dioramas (although the children can if they want). Occasionally when we finish a reading I have asked my children to tell me about anyone or anything that the story we just finished reminds them of. Sometimes they tell me they can’t think of anything. That’s okay. Sometimes they will come up with a connection I would never have thought of- that’s really delightful.

Sometimes I don’t have to ask. One day many years  ago we went for a long walk through our woods. On our walk my then 7 and 5 year olds were sharing the connections they were making, and also showing me that studies do serve for delight, and that education is the science of relations.=) Our five year old told me that the woods made him think of Little House in the Big Woods. We found a large tree fallen over a stream outlet, and the top was hollowed out, making a space large enough for two small children to play in. They told me they were Vikings like Harald, only nicer. We found a pile of red fur and one of them wondered if it belonged to Reddy Fox (from one of Thornton Burgess’ books). They played Pooh sticks at the bridge. Our five year old found a hollow in the base of the tree and explained to us that this was one of the animal homes with a place for a door in it for animal visitors to knock on (ala Beatrix Potter).

IN church one Sunday the preacher referred to Genesis 1- as he started reading my 5 y.o. whispered in my ear “He’s going to start reading about Adam and Eve!” A little later in the sermon the preacher quoted a verse that my 7 y.o. has been working on- her eyes lit up and she nodded vigorously at me to show she recognized it- another connection made.

During that same time frame, we read the story of William Tell. When I read about Gesler putting the hat up on a pole in the market place and requiring people to bow to it, I asked my children if that reminded them of anything else they’d heard of- and one of them immediately remembered the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the furnace for refusing to worship the statue of the king.

Many years before this when young Pipsqueak was about ten or so,  we were sitting in church one morning and the preacher was teaching on a passage about the tongue and the destructive roaring fire it could become. After class, this child said thoughtfully to me, “That kind of reminds me of A Tale of Two Cities.” I was rather astonished, and asked what on earth she meant. “Well,” she explained, “in the French Revolution people were informing on other people all the time, and if they were mad at a neighbor they might spread lies to get them in trouble. They could get somebody else in a lot of trouble just by something they said without thinking about it. That’s pretty destructive.”

Charlotte Mason’s ideas of short lessons, alternating lesson types (two literature lessons not following quite back to back, but rather alternate *types* of studies so that one part of the brain is getting a rest while the other is working), and free time in the afternoons gives the children the time they need to make those connections.

Children need that free time for doing nothing but thinking, pondering, daydreaming. It’s just about as important as school and chore time, and I think it is more important than time organized for sports and outside activities.

Sometimes I will follow up a particularly meaty lesson with drawing, a simple craft, or something like sewing on buttons. I think that this gives them time to dwell over the reading more if they are doing something simple with their hands immediately afterward.

However it is managed and planned, do be sure the children have free time to think. Doing this will enable the children to make their own connections, and when they do this, the material is really theirs.
Postscript: I will also add that day in the woods was a particularly lovely day. We _do_ have days when the eyes glaze over, the frowns glower, and the narrations are dull and lifeless, or there are no narrations at all because there was no attentive listening. There is no need to feel discouraged if you have not gotten such feedback yet- sometimes kids are processing information and making connections quietly under the surface and it will come up at surprising times.

Posted in Charlotte Mason, the science of relations | 3 Responses

Military PTSD Documentary

Let There Be Light: The Censored Documentary on Traumatized WWII soldiers

A bit more about that:

 If you’re studying or discussing this with your kids, you might enjoy this as a supplement:

NCIS, season two, episode six, Terminal Leave, an episode about an Iraqui Vet with PTSD

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Response

Spaghetti Squash Stir-Fry

Ingredients, have these all chopped and ready to go:
Cooking oil or fat reserved from other cooking
Approximately 6 cups of roasted and shredded spaghetti squash
4 cloves of minced or chopped garlic (fresh is always better)
2 cups each: grated carrots, green beans (chinese long beans are fine) rinsed, trimmed, cut into pieces about 2 inches long
4 cups of grated or finely sliced cabbage
about 1 cup each: diced, cooked chicken breast and prepared, lightly cooked shrimp
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 thinly sliced lemons or limes

Variations: you can use other vegetables, either additionally or as substitutes. Chinese snow peas, bok choy (petay here), onions, bean sprouts.
YOu can also use a cup or two of chopped leftover pork.

Directions: heat some oil or fat in a large wok or skillet of prodigious size- it’s hot enough when the surface starts to shimmer or glisten- the way it reflects the light will shift slightly. Quickly toss in the minced garlic and simmer for 30 seconds.
Add the harder, longer cooking veggies (carrots, green beans), stir-fry until the colour brightens. Add the meat and continue stirring. After a couple of minutes, add your cabbage and cook just until it starts to go limp, then stir in the spaghetti squash and mix it all together well. Season as desired with salt, pepper, fish sauce- the brand I buy is a bit on the salty side so I might use less salt and you might want more.
Transfer to a warm serving platter; decorate with the citrus slices and serve quickly.

Posted in food | Leave a comment

Essay on Man, 2

Part I is here


Pope’s Essay on Man is divided into four parts.  However, in a 1900 school edition of the Essay on Man, Joseph Seabury said ”

"The poem is an integer. It should be read contin-
uously, thoroughly, slowly, and read to the end. Weigh
each word : each word has force. Every adjective is a
picture ; every noun a strong tower; every verb a thing
of life."

Integer is a whole number.

You can read it that way, or you break it up into the parts and look for some ideas on specific topics in those parts. The suggestions offered below are really just that – suggestions that may help you make your way through this poem.

In all of them, try to notice what he says about virtue, benevolence or charity/compassion, and piety.

Of the four parts,  the first specifically deals with Man in respect to the place he holds in the Universe, and the principal topic is the refutation of all objections against the wisdom and benevolence of that providence which placed him here, derived from the weakness and imperfection of his nature.

Questions you might ask as you read:

What is he saying about God, about Man and his place in the Universe, about creation?

The second sections begins with ‘what is the proper study of mankind’ and the answer is…

Well, what do you think Pope is saying is the proper study of mankind? Other questions you might notice and consider as you read:

What principles does he say rule over or guide the human race?

What does he have to say about virtue, passions, vices, or character? Do you agree (make sure you understand what he is saying before deciding whether or not you agree).

The third section revisits a topic he has touched on previously.  See what you think he is saying nature, creation, instinct and reason, and whether or not you agree.

How does he describe the development and rise of various human organizations and schemes of government?


In the fourth section, look for  what Pope has to say about happiness and the pursuit of it. Consider any of the previous questions as they apply, and look also at what he has to say here about virtue and the role of fortune, or luck, in our lives.


I always like to ask ‘Does this remind you of anything else,” and that is true of the Essay on Man.

Posted in Charlotte Mason, poetry | 2 Responses

What Racism Looks Like to Me

If you think voter ID is racist, then I think you are a racist whose racism goes deep down to your innermost assumptions.  Are brown people dumber than you, that they do not know how to get an ID? Are they cut off from society more than you, so that they don’t already have the same ID everybody needs to hold jobs, cash checks, buy a beer, or even get a freaking library card these days?   Stop being racist, and silly.


If you are the kind of person who imagines you are a defender of brown people but you routinely also take it for granted that they are housekeepers, maids, lawn service providers, kitchen staff in restaurants, etc. It never ceases to make my jaw just drop in stunned shock when a self described liberal, social justice type says stuff like, “I hear ICE is out there looking for people to pick up so you should give your maids a ride home,” or “Those evil Trump types if they lock the borders down who do you think is going to mow your lawn and clean your toilets.”  WHAT?   Yeah, you make those assumptions and you are the racist, the deeply, bone-in, taking for granted assumptions that are the most insidious.  No wonder you assume everybody else is so bigoted.  You know you are, and of course, you cannot live with the notion that maybe people who disagree with you on political issues are actually not more evil than you but might be less.


If you’re the kind of person who assaults 16 year old kids for wearing a red MAGA hat in support of the sitting president, calling the kid the ‘n’ word while you do it, or you make excuses for this sort of violent assault, you are the intolerant, violent, bigoted racist, and a danger to society as well.

If you think the only, or even the main, or even a partial reason there are pro-life women is because they’ve been brainwashed, you are not a feminist. You are a narrow minded fascist who can’t see outside the walls of your own ideology.


If you find it ‘confusing’ that an ‘affluent black man’ driving a BMW which sports NRA and the Don’t Tread On Me bumper stickers, you are probably racist and definitely very narrowminded. (Also, historically illiterate as the Gadsden ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag is not synonomous with Tea Party anyway)

If you are a white lady who says that kind of silliness then defends yourself by claiming it wasn’t about skin-tone (then why’dja bring it up?), but about people voting against their own interests, you are definitely racist, indulging in the worst sort of paternalism, very similar to that held dear by many slave owners in our past. You know, the ones who defended slavery because blacks didn’t know what was best for them and needed whites to care for them?  That’s you.

If you do that, or defend it as reasonable, you’re also more arrogant than you know.  You do not get to determine what is in a total stranger’s best interests based on your foolish assumptions which are entirely grown from your beliefs about his life and well being as determined by what you assume about his life, notions you have which are entirely formed by knowing nothing about him at all except his skin colour.

It is more obvious than you wish that you believe this paternalistic fiction that you know his best interests entirely based on your own prejudices.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Responses

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