Spaces to Think No. 10

The destiny of the child is ruled by his parents, because they have the virgin soil all to themselves. The first sowing must be at their hands, or at the hands of such as they choose to depute.

What do parents sow? Ideas. (Volume 2 p. 29)


Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas; ideas are of spiritual origin; and,

‘God has made us so’

that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another. The duty of parents is to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food. (Volume 2 p. 39)

In the early years of the child’s life it makes, perhaps, little apparent difference whether his parents start with the notion that to educate is to fill a receptacle, inscribe a tablet, mould plastic matter, or nourish a life; but in the end we shall find that only those ideas which have fed his life are taken into the being of the child; all the rest is thrown away, or worse, is like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury to the vital processes. (Volume 2 p. 38)

  • What ideas were sown in your child’s life this week?
  • Did you see their education as a matter of filling a receptacle and inscribing a tablet (checking off a box) or nourishing their life?
  • In what ways did their education nourish their life and form their vital processes?
  • Are you still hanging onto old ways of doing school, even though you know it will, at best, be sawdust or, at worst, be an impediment to true learning?
  • Are we patient enough to sow the idea and wait for the seed to sprout as it is meant to do or, in our impatience, do we seek the easy or quicker way for immediate results, even if it may prove detrimental to their attitude about learning and themselves?
  • Do we value immediate results even though we know that these won’t result in true learning and the formation of character?
  • Mason tells us that our duty is to sustain our child’s inner life with ideas. Do you know how to do this? In Artist Study? History Class? What about Science? Math? Copywork?
  • Any struggles with this that we can help you with?



This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.


We are all mere creatures of habit.

We think our accustomed thoughts,

make our usual small talk,

go through the trivial round,

the common task,

without any self-determining effort of will at all.

If it were not so––if we had to think, to deliberate, about each operation of the bath or the table––life would not be worth having; the perpetually repeated effort of decision would wear us out…

What we can do for [our children] is to secure that they have habits which shall lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places.

When we first hear of Mason’s Habit Formation, it perhaps seems to us some new, exciting external apparatus or tool to apply to our lives. We ask, what new habit should I try to obtain? What new habits do my children need?

This way of setting about things can make life very difficult and discouraging!

Instead, I think we must remember, as Mason tells us, that we are “all mere creatures of habit.” All is habit! Some of our habits are good, some are unhelpful. A better approach than trying to add new habits (like new resolutions) might be to think on how we can actually change our current habits into good or better ones.

We want to “secure that [our children] have habits which shall lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places.” (Volume 1 p.111)

Last week was the half way point of our term and I was sick. It seemed best to just call it Fall Break, I was doing such a poor job of keeping up with things. Sick and tired all our efforts seemed “ugly ruts in miry places.”

So what to do?

I headed with baby to a coffee shop and a notebook to brainstorm how to climb out of the miry place! Well, I knew I wanted to fix things, but how? First, I needed encouragement, because I felt none. What was going well? What was working? What were our good habits? I made a list that grew and grew…it surprised me! Things weren’t so bad, after all.

  • We were starting school on time…
  • The new time-table was a delightful feast…
  • Combining my children into one booklist, rather than 4 different levels was bringing so many good fruits…

On and On…

With that encouragement I faced the ugly ruts and made a second list…

What wasn’t going well? What wasn’t working? What bad habits had we established?

  • The messy table at the end of the school day…
  • Burning out by lunch time and not feeling like doing “afternoon occupations”…
  • Scrambling to make dinner each night…

On and on…

And then a second cup of tea, a cinnamon scone and a third list…solutions!

When it was all set out like that I could see clearly our current habits and the way to move forward. We had habits, some needed tweaking, some needed to be paced differently, some needed help.

I could also see what “problems” were anomalies due to my not feeling well and lack of sleep and would fix themselves in due time and other problems that could become the new normal, if I didn’t set a new course.

Taking the “space to think” about how it was all going made such a difference. So, for your “space to think” this week, I encourage you to try thinking about how your day is going with your children.

“…whether you choose or no to take any trouble about the formation of habits, it is habit all the same which will govern ninety-nine one hundredths of [your] life…” p. 110

This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.



So glad to be running free!

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without. Besides, the gain of an hour or two in the open air, there is this to be considered: meals taken al fresco are usually joyous… All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children’s laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 43


Camille shared this quote on Wednesday with us and it was the one I had planned for today too!

Did you know that “on average, children now spend less time outdoors than a prison inmate”?

Exploring a new pond. We saw a Heron, a Northern Water Snake, Fish, Turtles, and an Eel!

Isn’t that shocking?

A perfect spot for “Picture-Making”

Watch the 2 minute documentary video from the Dirt is Good Initiative and then find time to be outside with your children this weekend!

And remember, as one guard in the video tells us, ““If you don’t have to throw the kids in the bathtub, they haven’t played hard enough”! (Real blogging would be to show you the disaster of our bathtub after this excursion!)

The Dirt is Good website (scroll down for more articles) is chock full of information on why getting outside is essential for our health and well-being. The National Wildlife Federation also has a great website with lots of information to inspire you to just go outside! The science proves what Mason recognized so long ago:

 In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air. And this, not for the gain in bodily health alone––body and soul, heart and mind, are nourished with food convenient for them when the children are let alone, let to live without friction and without stimulus amongst happy influences which incline them to be good. -Volume 1 p. 44

Even baby enjoyed  being outside and then took a nice nap in her carrier!

What do you think? Are your kids outside enough? What keeps you inside? What outdoor activities will you be doing this weekend?


This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.


A Charlotte Mason Commonplace Book and questions to ponder.


For the right use of the programmes two things are necessary—solitude and independence. Children must have these….Miss Mason devises time-tables which cover such reasonable hours as to leave time over for this solitude, but parents are often very culpable in thinking that Tango or some other new thing must be learned as well, and the much needed time for solitude is used for plans which necessitate hurried journeys, always in the company of a responsible person, who feels it her duty to talk in an instructive way, and the thinking time, the growing time, the time in which the mind is to find food is diminished, and the child becomes restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient—everything that a child who is reputed to be difficult can be. The parents marvel and say, “But we are giving him the best education that can be procured, we are neglecting no opportunities.” Kind, generous parents! You are giving your child every opportunity but one, and that is self-development; by your generous care, you are safeguarding him from ever using his own mind, ever relying upon himself in any way. The child who at first found interference irksome, later depends on it so much that he is unable to work without constant prodding from his mentor.

“Imagination as a Powerful Factor in a Well-Balanced Mind” by E. A. Parish Parent’s Review Vol. 25 no.5 1914.

Look over your weekly schedule and your child’s schedule.

Where does your child have time for solitude and independence?

Where do you have “thinking time and growing time”?

This quote has come to mind so many times these last few weeks. You see, we have recently moved to a new area and have had to build our schedule from scratch. We were part of a lovely Charlotte Mason inspired program with classes based on her programmes, teachers who used her methods and families who loved her philosophy. This has been so painful to leave! Not only in leaving a beloved community, but also because we had a good mix of home life and activities. Our schedule, through much trial and effort over many years, was balanced and fitting for each of the children. We had found good leagues and good coaches for sports. Wonderful music teachers who seemed to walk right out of Mason’s Philosophy of Education. We had made mistakes from time to time and found out the hard way what was just too much for our family, even if it wasn’t too much for our friends. We learned what was life-giving and what was a drain. And now to begin again with an empty calendar and the responsibility to fill it responsibly! Our new home is in an area with many co-ops, special classes, nature classes, museums, history, and field trips galore, so how to decide?

Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is built on the idea that we are made for relationships with people, that we meet in life and in books from the present and the past; things, living, material and artifact; and ideas. And all we learn becomes a science of these relationships.  Guiding our children in the development of these relations is our main task. This applies to extracurricular activities and curricular classes.

…we consider that the setting up of relations, moral and intellectual, is our chief concern in life, and that the function of education is to put the child in the way of relations proper to him, and to offer the inspiring idea which commonly initiates a relation… Volume 3 p. 78

I’ve had to ask the following questions with each new opportunity that comes our way:

  1. Is this opportunity truly an integral part of my child’s development and education?


  1. What will this opportunity give my child for what it will cost? Financially, but also in time and driving and commitment for the child and the entire family. With 5 children, including a new baby, we can’t do what everyone might be able to do; sometimes we all have to make sacrifices so a child can play the sport they love and other times the child has to sacrifice for the good of the family. For us, that means no travel soccer this year.


  1. Am I being persuaded to join something because it sounds good or looks flashy? Do you feel the pressure to “waste no opportunity”?

STEM, Art Council, aligned to state standards, rigorous, classical, elite, college prep. (Can you think of other flashy phrases?!) Do the buzz words really translate to real learning? We must ask ourselves if the activity’s goals really meet our principles and methods, not just offer empty promises and resume-builders.


  1. Will this activity through its methods and its content allow my child to have a relationship with what they are learning? Shuffled from one activity to the next, can they really have the time to know, to love, to care about this activity? Is the class set-up at the time of day, with a rhythm and time-length that will allow a relationship truly to form?


  1. Do I know much about the teacher or coach? Yes, their training and experience is important but we also want our children to have wonderful role models—people they can admire and aspire to be like. People who perhaps have different gifts and personality from mom and dad yet affirm the same values. Look at the number of hours the child will spend with this person and consider will they treat your child as a person? This doesn’t mean special attention or coddling, but respect and dignity. Will this person be a positive influence in your child’s life? Would you want your child to grow up to be like this person? If not, choose a different studio, class, or coach!


  1. Is this activity/class something my child needs help building a relationship with and signing up for the class be just the thing to help them?

Meaning do they struggle with math or just don’t enjoy art and would just the right teacher make it come alive for them?


  1. If they already, have an affinity for this activity, do we really need to go to a special class to make it happen?

I remember taking my son just before the dinner hour to a “lego club” where the kids…wait for it…played lego! After a few weeks of packing everyone up to take him there, it hit me, he does this everyday and every time a friend comes over. Why am I going to all of this trouble?! Yes, he had fun, but everyone was grumpy when we got home and it made getting dinner on unnecessarily stressful. A simpler method was just to be more intentional about inviting friends over to play!


  1. If this is a class of a core subject area, will the teacher undermine the work of “self-education,” a priority of a Mason education? What does this mean or look like? It takes time and discipline to help our children establish the habits of being responsible for their education, facilitating their sense of wonder and questioning on their own. We painstakingly narrate passage after passage so that they know they must learn what the book has to teach, we are not going to spoon-feed it to them. But then we sign them up with a teacher who motivates them through rewards, grades, and approval. A teacher who asks the questions, rather than teaching the students to ask the questions and sadly also gives the answers, rather than teaching the students how to really work to find the answers for themselves. We want the great minds in a living book to be their teacher and must work to find teachers who will guide them in their journey to understand, not seeing themselves as the expert or master but “guide, philosopher and friend.” We then wonder when our children take these types of classes and then they don’t want to narrate at home! Honestly, answering questions at the end of the chapter is easier, getting the A often feels more rewarding in the short term, and a teacher’s or peer’s approval more important than our family’s values, but Mason teaches us that these motivators undermine our quest for real knowledge.


  1. Am I just signing my children up for this, so I can get a break? I hear so many moms say they join a co-op for themselves, more than their children. They don’t mean because the co-op shoulders some of their teaching responsibilities or guides their children in a way that they can’t. They mean they get time to socialize! Co-ops and classes are a gift of space and friendship, but if they come with more burdens and expenses than they give back and contribute, are they worth it? Can’t we find other ways as moms to socialize with each other? Hosting a Charlotte Mason reading group, a mom’s night out, meeting a friend for coffee early on a Saturday morning. Even hiring a babysitter one afternoon a week might be cheaper!


10. How do you know if your child has the right balance?

This really depends on the child and your family! Some children need more social time than others. Some children have special needs and gifts that require more outside expertise than we might have at home.

But here are two things to consider:

First, the quote above tells that if our child is often “restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient” than we should consider the stress in their life. Could these be signs of over-stimulation and being over-activity?

Secondly, if you find that your child doesn’t know what to do if given some free-time, if they don’t glory in time for solitude and independence, I’d suggest that it is actually that they don’t have enough of it! Every summer we cut out all television in our children’s life. At first, they are bored, they squabble a lot, they lay around…and then something clicks. They work through it and they become more creative and more interesting people. They invent games, elaborate dress-up worlds, they set up tents in the backyard, they read and read.  Sometimes it is our “generous care,” aka interference, that safeguard[s] him from ever using his own mind, ever relying upon himself in any way. The he is unable to work [or play!] without constant prodding.

Well, this has been a longer than normal “Spaces to Think” entry. You can see I’m still working on figuring it all out!

I’d love to know if you have any other helpful considerations when building your family schedule? Please comment below!

This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.


Habit a Delight in itself.

…the forming of habits in the children is no laborious task, for the reward goes hand in hand with the labour; so much so, that it is like the laying out of a penny with the certainty of the immediate return of a pound. For a habit is a delight in itself; poor human nature is conscious of the ease that it is to repeat the doing of anything without effort; and, therefore, the formation of a habit, the gradually lessening sense of effort in a given act, is pleasurable. This is one of the rocks that mothers sometimes split upon: they lose sight of the fact that a habit, even a good habit, becomes a real pleasure; and when the child has really formed the habit of doing a certain thing, his mother imagines that the effort is as great to him as at first, that it is virtue in him to go on making this effort, and that he deserves, by way of reward, a little relaxation––she will let him break through the new habit a few times, and then go on again. But it is not going on; it is beginning again, and beginning in the face of obstacles. The ‘little relaxation’ she allowed her child meant the forming of another contrary habit, which must be overcome before the child gets back to where he was before.” Volume 1 page 121.

Fruit from our Farm Pick-up, Amazon Fresh and Wegmans in a big mess.
Tidied into bowls
Keeping clean, empty counters has been a new habit for me for the last year or so. It brings me peace and happiness (and fortitude to prepare yet another meal!)
Putting away small appliances and dishes washed-by-hand takes only an extra moment or so.

What are some of the good habits you have in your life? How do they bring you delight and pleasure, even in the very doing of them, not just in their result?

Now that the new school year has started, with fresh eyes think through one habit you most need to develop? What bumps in your day could be helped by a good habit put in its place?

What is the contrary habit to your good habit that you need to overcome? What reward do you get from your contrary habit that you need to let go of to really establish your new habit?

What reward will you get from your new good habit? Think through the delights that your habit holds, in doing them and in the result.

What “penny” will you need to give to create your new habit and what will be the “pound” (dollar) you will receive in return?

This summer I read The Power of Habit and found much that confirmed Mason’s theories on the power of habit in our lives. It was inspiring and worth checking out of the library. I hope to blog more about it when my Charlotte Mason reading group gets to the habit section in Volume 1.




This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.







“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, pg. 34

2014-03-01 06.51.51
Playing in Rome. Not a every-day kind of “Mother-Culture”!

Camille wrote on this quote in her post on Mother Culture and Creativity. If you missed it, go back and read it now!

Play is so important in all of our lives that I thought it was worth posting this quote again for our “Spaces to Think” series.

Here are some things to ponder:

What is the difference between real play and escapism?

Have you been seeking to escape your work and life or finding life-giving ways to enrich it through play and leisure?

Why is play not self-indulgent?

What do you do if you have a few extra minutes in your schedule? Is this life-giving to you?

How can you have more courage to set aside time for your “Mother-Culture”? It is often heroic, isn’t it– The lining up of babysitters or planning quiet activities for your children, so you can have the chance to “play”?

What activities does Mason mention for the mother to do when things have become too tense? How are they different from the normal recommendations for women to go shopping or to the spa? Or might even these be a good option?

Look back at your past week. Did you get enough rest? Enough Mother-Culture? Then, look ahead, and plan a pocket or two of time! We can’t hop on plane to Rome, but what can we do?


This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.


We’d love to hear your thoughts or questions about the quote below!

Spaces to Think No. 4

fresh water clam
Freshwater Mollu found in nearby creek yesterday!

For our Spaces to Think post, I am sharing a quote from Volume 1 that I have been pondering time and again this week.

For my children, yes, but even more for myself. I hope you find it helpful too!

Do not let the children [or mother!] pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional; let them brace themselves to understand; let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do right at the sacrifice of ease and pleasure…

(Volume 1 page 22)

This quote has come to mind for various reasons since I read it with my Charlotte Mason Reading Group a few weeks ago.

When I fall into bed exhausted wondering how long I have until my baby wakes for her next feeding, I am challenged to read for even a few minutes before I sleep…

happy baby
Don’t Let Her Cuteness Fool You! (Sorry for the fuzzy picture, she wouldn’t stay still and giggle at the same time!!)

And when I close the book and spend time in prayer examining my day, I wonder what  moral efforts I have taken on….

And throughout my day, I often see how closely related my moral effort and my volitional effort are. This great duty we have because “Ye are not your own” as Mason reminds us so often, is to Will to do the next right thing.

Whether that next right thing is to do

The dishes, yet again.

Or laundry, yet again.

Or referee a squabble, yet again.

Or a dictation lesson, yet again.

And when “the next right thing” is unclear or seems too difficult. I ask how has our life gone off the rails of good habits? As Mason writes, “the man who can make himself do what he wills has the world before him” and it is also true that “the effort of decision is the greatest effort of life.”(Volume 3 page 20).

And so, I must “brace to understand” myself, my children, our habits, our strengths and weaknesses.

I am called this day “to do and to bear” and there is much to do and to bear!

To read the rest of the Spaces to Think series, go here.