Register for our Narration Webinar Series

Hello Learning How to Live readers!

We are pleased to announce that we are offering a series of webinars this Spring!

Over the years we have taught at The Mason Academy and the Charlotte Mason Institute and we are now ready to offer our workshops to a larger audience!  We are excited to help you grow in your practice of Mason’s philosophy and be blessed as we have been by her methods.

The first Webinar Series is coming up quickly. The class is almost full so sign-up today!

The Art and Practice of Narration with Amy Snell

Session One: Narration: The Foundation for Communication and Composition.
Tuesday, January 31st. 7-8:30pm.

Session Two: Narration Beyond the Basics. Tuesday, February 7th. 7-8:30pm.

A Two-Session Webinar Bundle for just $20.

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“I should like to leave you with a picture of a class of enthusiastic bright-eyed children, bouncing excitedly up and down in their eagerness to be the first to [narrate]. Such children will never be at a loss later on when they have to speak in a school or college debate, or open a bazaar, or even make a speech in Parliament!

(Manders. We Narrate and Then We Know.” Volume 2, no. 4, PNEU, July 1967, pgs. 170-172).

If you have read anything of Charlotte Mason than you have heard of narration.

The idea of bright-eyed children eager to narrate intrigues us. The idea of throwing out the end of chapter questions, study guides, quizzes, tests, and expensive writing programs delights us. And yet, we wonder, will it really lead to children who can make speeches for Parliament?

In the day in and day out of homeschooling life, doubts creep in…

  • Am I doing it the “right way”?
  • Is my child really making any progress?
  • Should I be doing narration differently depending on the subject?
  • Won’t this become boring?
  • Does it really work for all learners?
  • Shouldn’t I buy that curriculum guide that gets good reviews in the homeschooling catalogue?
  • Will my child really be prepared for writing in the workplace and at university?

 We are told that Narration is simple, true to every child’s development and the way truly to know. And yet, these glorious promises don’t always seem to be taking hold in our own homes and classrooms!

If you want more than a primer on narration…

To be given the tools of the practice…

                                          Tied to a philosophy of who children are…

And how they learn best…

This webinar is for you.

When I first began teaching writing 20 year ago, I tried many curriculum and approaches to help my students communicate effectively. After a few years, I “produced” students who could write “5-paragraph essays” that garnered high scores on AP exams and the grades they wanted in their college classes. But when I was finally introduced to Charlotte Mason’s cohesive philosophy and methods, I found what was always missing, an approach which helped students write naturally and to find their voice. Through the practice of narration, students learned to express themselves clearly and powerfully without the tedium and artifice of “composition” classes.

In the next season of life, it was an unexpected gift to teach the practice of narration to many different families through workshops at The Mason Academy and to mentor teachers in their practice in a wide range of classes from Artist Study to Plutarch. It has also brought me great joy to listen to my own five (different and unique) children’s narrations, watching their syntax and vocabulary grow in complexity out of a love for words and what they are learning.  All of these experiences have confirmed what I recognized about Charlotte Mason the first time I read her Philosophy of Education.

So what will be covered in this webinar?

The first session explores Mason’s principles on narration as integral to a child’s education, then moves to its practice. It will include a complete narration lesson plan from teacher preparation to the final Grand Conversation.

The second session refines your art and practice as a teacher and provides solutions for the common pitfalls and road bumps. How do you work with children who have nothing to say or forget details or are disorganized? When will these narrations start to have the sophisticated language and syntax I’ve been promised? Won’t this be monotonous? What about my artsy child who loves to draw and create?

Both sessions include a live Q & A  to cover your questions.

At $20 for two sessions, you will gain the confidence and know-how to start implementing narration right away. Say goodbye to worksheets, study guides, quizzes and other techniques that rarely lead to real learning.

Sessions are expected to fill quickly–register today!

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Merry Christmas!

Well, it took until the third day of Christmas to get one of us on here to officially say, “Merry Christmas!” to our dear blog readers.  It has been so delightful to hear your kind comments and emails this year.  We hope to make this space a great resource for your and your families in the new year!  Since Amy and I both celebrate Christmas for the full 12 days, we’ll be back to posting after the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6th.

Pause and Reflect

In this time of Advent, Amy and I are spending some extra time with our families preparing for the Christmas season so things will likely be quiet here.  We may stop in with one or two more posts before the New Year and the feast of the Epiphany, but we also reserve the right to simply stay quiet the whole time and see you in 2017.  We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and we can’t wait to share with you all the great ideas we have for posts in the new year!  If you have any requests for posts or are curious about any specific topic, send us an email or leave a comment.

(As an aside, I highly recommend hanging your Advent wreath from a light fixture.  All surfaces are easily wipeable and no little hands pick at the wreath.  Also, its a big treat to light the thing and the kids will gladly have the table set and the dishwasher unloaded to be the one to stand on the counter to light the candle.)

How Camille Met Charlotte Mason

My third baby in a sling, my older two children aged four and six, we were in a neo-classical program and I was exhausted.  Partially from having a newborn, partially from trying to make memorization of long lists of facts (that compounded on each other each week) seem fun to a four- and six-year-old, and partially because I was sure there was more to homeschooling than this.  I never seemed to have time and the kids never seemed to have enthusiasm for the joyful things we wanted to do after we were burnt out on our memory work. I knew there had to be more to homeschooling than this.  As I hung out in the parent lounge to keep the squawking newborn from being too disruptive in class, I met someone who would become a lifelong friend.  After many conversations, she pulled me aside and told me I should read Charlotte Mason’s Volume 1.  She said she was reading it with a book club and that it had really shaped her ideas about how to go forward in the schooling of her daughters. I found a way to download it to my Kindle that same day, and then proceeded to read it in a week during my ample time spent nursing at night.  It had the dual effect of opening my eyes to a new philosophy of education and the great relief that my instinct was right – there is so much more joy to be found in homeschooling than I had experienced thus far.

When I saw my friend again the following week, I told her I had read the book, cover to cover.  She laughed, saying her book club had been reading it for over a year, soaking in the ideas deeply with a slow read and here I had consumed it in a week!  But I had taken her recommendation to heart, and we now had a whole new bond.  I joined her book club as they read Volume 6 and I found even more lifelong friends, a new co-op, and dear friends for my children as well.  IMG_6228

Mason’s ideas were starting to permeate not only our homeschool, but also our home.  I realized that in order to implement her ideas of education being an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, there simply was no line of demarcation between “school” and “after school” – it was all one fluid life at home.  It was this knowledge that would allow us peace as we moved away from those dear friends, lived overseas, lived in temporary housing, added another son to the mix, and now aim to create the atmosphere of home in a new place yet again. Our atmosphere, discipline, and life we take with us everywhere we go and it has been a fruitful education for every member of our family.

This method brought more peace, more joy, and more learning than I ever could have imagined.  Far from being casual and easy, it was vigorous and challenging, but also natural and enjoyable.  Not every moment was so Pollyanna, of course, but if it wasn’t it was because of poor attitudes or some outside factor, and not the work itself. School became a time to hike and make great discoveries, read and meet characters as new friends, listen to the great masters of music, view the great masters of art, write down our daily observations, new ideas, and reflections on great works.  Questions abounded, a sense of wonder grew, and a deep joy has taken root.


It is at this point in the journey that this blog seemed like a natural next step.  One of those lifelong friends mentioned above is Amy, my partner in this venture.  She has been a mentor to me as well as a kindred spirit from the first.  We are both setting up a new home in a new state and want to share with you not only how Charlotte Mason’s ideas take root in our daily schedules and the books we choose in our homeschool, but also how Charlotte has changed how we cook, decorate, entertain, and organize.  I hope you’ll come along with us as this blog takes form.  We welcome your suggestions and questions, as well as good conversation in the comments.  We’d especially love to hear how Charlotte’s ideas have taken shape in your homes!

How Amy Met Charlotte Mason

In a 1923 article published in the L’Umile Pianta after Charlotte Mason’s death, Helen Wix wondered what precisely distinguishes a PNEU student (a student in Mason’s schools) from students in other forms of education. She acknowledged  that other schools formed perfectly good writers without Mason’s methods, used Nature Journals, read good literature, studied living history, and yet wasn’t there something that set a PNEU child apart?

She answers with this beautiful response:

“It is not easy to lay one’s finger on, nor easy to express. Is it that these P.N.E.U. children are fuller of humble enthusiasms for all the great things of life? Is it that they – maybe only dimly realize that every new thread of knowledge leads them on to a further appreciation of the knowledge which is indivisible? Or can it best be summed up in: “they live closer to life?” (page 5 of PDF).

They live closer to life. This phrase perfectly encapsulates Mason’s philosophy. And when people ask me what brought me to homeschooling, or how I found Charlotte Mason,  I tell them I met a Charlotte Mason family and while  at the time I didn’t have this phrase, “they live closer to life,” that’s what I saw and felt and wanted for my own family.

So what was it about this family?

I had met other homeschoolers and was impressed with how serious they were about their children’s education and moral formation, there was just something missing…I couldn’t put my finger on it.

bridge path

But the Holy Spirit is always working on our behalf, answering prayers sometimes we don’t even realize we are voicing. Just months before we were to move across the country, we decided to visit a new church plant in our town. After the service this kind family, who had a brand new baby, invited us for lunch. Did I mention they had just met us and they just had a new baby?!? We came to this great rambling house in the historic district, and when we entered their children enthusiastically turned on classical music. “This is our Composer of the Term,” they said, as they danced around the room. As the parents ate sandwiches, we talked and laughed like old friends.  The children moved on to play outside in the trees and with swords. If I remember correctly, there was mention of Shakespeare and Narnia and a whole mix of wonderful literary characters. These were children who “lived closer to life” …and so I just had to ask, You homeschool? What curriculum do you use? And they said simply, Charlotte Mason without much more explanation.

When we got home I couldn’t get this beautiful family out of my mind and so turned to Amazon (something my husband would say I rather frequent!),  typed Charlotte Mason, and Susan Schaeffer MacAuley’s book came up first and then Mason’s 6 volume series—so I bought them all.

We moved just a few short months later and lost touch with the family, but since then I’ve met their children many times over. I’ve seen hints of them in the residents of 17 Cherry Lane and their nanny Mary Poppins, I’ve seen them in the Melendy’s of The Four Story Mistake, in the Pevensies as they traveled from a wardrobe to Narnia, in those who sailed The Swallow and fought the Amazons, any and all of E. Nesbit’s children. My hope is that my children are becoming like these children, too, not in particulars of course, but as children who “live closer to life.”

bikes and meadow

That was the beginning. From there, I started a CM Book Group that fills my living room each month until far too late in the evening.  We began a Nature Study Club with kids carrying nature journals, climbing trees, and wading in the creek. We formed a blended model educational program with almost 80 children next year, full of moms with stories like my own, captured by the beauty of Charlotte Mason’s Educational Philosophy.

Started by a chance encounter or another example of the Great Recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit?

In the things of science, in the things of art, in the things of practical everyday life, his God doth instruct him and doth teach him, her God doth instruct her and doth teach her. Let this be the mother’s key to the whole of the education of each boy and each girl; not of her children; the Divine Spirit does not work with nouns of multitude, but with each single child. Because He is infinite, the whole world is not too great a school for this indefatigable Teacher, and because He is infinite, He is able to give the whole of his infinite attention for the whole time to each one of his multitudinous pupils. We do not sufficiently rejoice in the wealth that the infinite nature of our God brings to each of us.

-Charlotte Mason, Volume 2 page 273

Let us rejoice in the infinite nature of our God and may we strive to live closer to life!


We love to hear from you! How did you meet Charlotte Mason? Share in the comments or link to your blog.


Learning How to Live

As we studied Charlotte Mason’s principles, time and time again we weren’t just given tools for classroom practices, but also the means to develop a rich and full life. We realized that Mason’s principle that Children are Persons, applies equally to Mothers. Mothers are persons too! Mason’s ideas began to effect Moms’ habits in all sorts of areas outside their “school-time.”

Our homes became more orderly and de-cluttered—we found that Mason’s ideas fit so nicely with books on home management, like Marie Kondo’s, Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Jennifer Scott’s At Home with Madame Chic and Sally Clarkson’s The Life-Giving Home.

We fed our families different food with a different atmosphere—meals were often taken al fresco, more simply and wholesome, more thought to its presentation.

Our leisure time was spent differently: we took up new handicrafts for ourselves, started common-place books, and started a wide range of reading.

We fell in love with Vintage Children’s books and also for searching for the best new publications that fit the definition of a living book.

We realized we needed “spaces to think” and so we simplified our schedules, our meal plans, our wardrobes, cutting back and scaling down to create margin.

Our eyes were opened to beauty and we began to see it in art, music, and poetry, yes. But also in math, a caterpillar, a dandelion, and our children as persons.

2013-06-03 16.31.34

We all love the anecdote shared in The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondley. She tells of the young teacher newly arrived at Ambleside: “…I was interviewed by Miss Mason who asked me for what purpose I had come. I replied: ‘I have come to learn to teach.’ Then Miss Mason said: ‘My Dear, you have come to learn how to live.’”

This is what we want to share with you! Through the profound writing of Charlotte Mason, day-by-day, we are “Learning How to Live.” We hope that Mason’s ideas will be as life-giving to your family as it has been to ours.

We’d love to hear from you!

For those of you who know Charlotte Mason, how has she taught you how to live?

For those of you who are new to Mason, what are you most interested in learning more about?