Monday, November 12, 2018

{This and That}

Happy Monday! I thought I would pop on during this chilly morning with a long-overdue update...


First up: a few retreat announcements!

For Catholic SoCal mamas, I will be the speaker at a retreat for Catholic homeschool mothers at Mission San Diego on Saturday, December 1st. After breakfast and Mass together, I'll be giving two talks: "The Infinite in the Finite": Small Steps Towards Beauty in the Homeschool and End-of-Term Reflection: The Mother's Key to Hope and Growth. There will also be a Q+A luncheon specifically on the Mason method. I hope if you are in the San Diego area, you will consider joining us for a beautiful morning! More information and registration details here.


Next up: our annual CM West retreat here in Northern California is now open for registration and we are about half full at this point!

We try to make each year's schedule and focus a bit unique while still replicating our favorite parts about past events. I am so excited about our plans for this year -- click over to read our vision and see the tentative schedule. Amber and Jessica and I are preparing and can't wait to see it all come together. There are just a few short months until we meet together again at beautiful San Juan Retreat. (I am just praying the weather is as fantastic as it was last year. :))


And for my East Coast friends:

Amy and I will be the speakers for the Motherwell retreat in Charlottesville, Virginia this coming April!

They are offering a registration discount if you sign up before November 16th, so head over and check out the website for more information. Featuring a charming urban setting (used book shops, eateries) in a historical locale (Monticello is five minutes away!), this retreat will be a combination of workshops by Amy and me and hands-on activities geared toward mothers living well. The team putting this together is creative and dedicated, and I'm so glad I get to attend and to share there.


Speaking of me and Amy :) ... have you been following along at CM Coast to Coast? We have new chats up on chores, weekly meetings, morning routines, and pre-reading. This week's video was on managing littles in the homeschool. (We talked about that @charlottemasonirl this week also. :))

We celebrated the last of our birthdays for the year this week: Justin is three!

He was a challenging infant but has been SUCH a delightful toddler. I know everyone talks about "threenagers" and "the terrible threes," and I get it...but I actually LOVE age three and am so glad to have a 3yo in the house again! This boy in particular is such a sweetie. And even though he is a bit of a mischief maker, he is also enthusiastic about the little things, a great sharer, and a mama's boy. <3


We moved on to Term 2 this week. Last week was exams, and we decided not to take a break between terms since we have Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up quickly and we're hoping to finish the year in late April or early May.

Thankfully, my husband took all the kids out for most of the day a couple Saturdays ago, so I was able to do my term reflections and get everything around the house prepped for Term 2. So I began last Monday feeling surprisingly prepared, which I didn't expect to be able to do. It made a big difference to going into our first week of the term feeling rested.

Term 1 went so much more smoothly than last year. The main difference is that Damien is now napping regularly, which he wasn't doing for all of last year. Even though I added a student and a three students moved up a Form, this year has so far been easier to manage. Still a bit wild, but easier to manage. ;)


During exam week, we also had our Fall Shakespeare Festival! I was worried that scheduling it for November might mean rain, but it was actually sunny and in the 80s! We had fifteen performances, from all ages. So much fun.


My merry band of Halloween saints -- plus an adorable baby. ;)


It has been a busier fall than I expected! There are lots of things I have had to say no to, and now and then I feel like I may have gotten in a little over my head (ha!), but generally speaking it has been an enriching and productive season. We are going into Term 2 with hope and peace, and I am looking forward to the slow-down that the Christmas season will bring.

Now if only I could add back in consistent exercise... Something's always gotta go!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Foreign Language in the Homeschool :: Making a Skype Tutor Work for You!

Outsourcing comes up every time I speak or write about foreign language, and I think it's a tool we as homeschooler don't think through thoroughly enough! After all, it can come in lots of different forms: using an audiobook (instead of reading it aloud myself), having a family friend or freelancer help prepare lesson scripts (instead of writing them myself), asking someone to share in the teaching of a language program I have built (instead of implementing it all myself).

It has been freeing for me to think about the ways I can be in charge of the principles behind our foreign language studies while still taking advantage of resources and support that make the practices more attainable.

One of the wonderful resources for the Charlotte Mason mother who isn't fluent herself is a site like, which connects people who want to learn or grow in their knowledge of a language with native teachers throughout the world. We started using Italki this spring, and I wanted to share with you some tips for finding and utlizing a tutor in your Mason-style language studies.

Disclaimer: This is going to sound like a sponsored post, but it's not. I just really appreciate the wonderful resource italki can be for the non-fluent mother! :) But they DO offer referral codes, so if you would like to sign up through my link, we'll each get a $10 credit for lessons. ;)

A bit about our history with language learning...

The review I have shared here is based on my experience using Italki weekly for the past nine months for my three oldest children, ages 12, 12, 9, in 7th and 4th grades. At first, I thought I would enroll my third grade son as well, but his facility with the language is too far below the 12yos that he wasn't getting much out of it. I plan to start a separate lesson for my Form I kids once they are both in Form 2.

My oldest two have been doing bits of Italian slowly but surely with me since kindergarten. They were at the point where they could understand a decent amount, knew a lot of vocabulary about everyday objects, and could use those words in present-tense sentences. My 9.5 year old has been doing some Italian for a couple years but at a lower level than her siblings.

Our approach so far has been entirely based on Charlotte Mason's methods, which I have researched, written, and spoken about in various places. (I have a webinar planned for this winter too! More info to come.)

I know some Italian because it is my family's language and I took a couple years in college, but I am not at all fluent. So I am able to prepare our resources and implement mostly on our own, but I am usually just a few steps ahead of my children.

Defining your goals

Before contacting anyone, I thought through my goals for lessons. My aims were to...

:: Add an element of novelty to our lessons. A native speaker outside the family is great inspiration to learn, just as an upcoming trip would be. It also injects the "cultural interest" that Mason recommends.

:: Give the children a chance to do more questions and answers in a conversational format. I rely heavily on scripting during our lessons, which works wonderfully for building fluency slowly and thoughtfully. But at their age in particular, I thought they could benefit from more "chat" in Italian, which it is hard for me to provide.

I think it's very important before getting started to define your goals for lesson time -- what role do you want your tutor to fill in the overall scheme of your foreign language studies? Having this clear in your mind will help you state this up front to any prospective tutors and save a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Finding a tutor

Some things our family was looking for:

:: Clear accent in Italian and in English. Each tutor has an introduction video, and I selected potential tutors whom I could understand in both languages. They also have ratings for their fluency skills that can help you narrow this down. I wanted a speaker whose native language was Italian but who also had high facility in English. Had the lessons been for me, I would not have been so picky, but I knew for my children, a strong accent when speaking English would be challenging for them to follow.

:: Willingness to work with children and in a group. Some tutors are open to this and some are not. I emailed five prospective tutors to see if they would be willing to tutor my elementary-aged children all at once. Not only did I want it to be time-effective and cost-effective for me, but I also knew that if they did the lesson together, they would be more likely to continue that practice together between lessons. Three of the five that I emailed were open to this arrangement; the other two weren't.

:: Open to Mason methods. I had intentionally shaped our language lessons for years in ways that I thought built good intellectual habits rather than worked against them. I wanted someone who would be willing to chat with me about methodology and not work from a standard curriculum. Each teacher chooses the style she wants to offer. Some are flexible and some want you to follow a progression of lessons from a text. You can select the kind of tutoring you want to help narrow it down: Formal or Informal. I only searched Informal lesson providers.  I will say that if you are starting with NO knowledge in the language, tutors may not be willing to go the informal route. We were starting with some understanding, a good amount of vocabulary, and ability to form sentences to say things -- so there was enough there for our tutor to have conversations about. Some are more particular about this than others, so you can always ask!

:: Price. No brainer. :) There are tutors at all price points. Since there were so many to choose from, I set a limit and let that be part of my search criteria.

:: Calendar. Some tutors are very busy. And they are on the other side of the world, which greatly reduces how many hours we both have available; my kids are not taking classes at 10pm. ;) If you already know the general slot you want these lessons to fit into, you can scan their calendar in advance to see if they even have space that fits your needs.

Trial lessons

We did three half-hour trial lessons, which Italki offers at a discounted rate. This was a great way to feel out a tutor, which I think is more important when working with children than if I were scheduling lessons for myself.

Since Italki offers tutors of all kinds, some are far more comfortable and experienced than others. We found this to be obvious during the trial lesson! The first lesson we had was with a tutor with fewer reviews and less hours logged, yet I really liked her introduction. As soon as we started, I could tell she must have had lots of experience off-line teaching and working with kids. She was upbeat, knew how to help them track and follow the conversation without being heavy-handed, and had some conversation topics and games ready to go.

The second tutor was far less prepared and far less adaptable. She seemed like she didn't really know what to do and suggested afterward that the kids should be signed up for formal lessons instead of conversational time if they wanted to move forward with her. We could all tell right away that it wasn't a good fit.

The third was fine and open but relied on much more English than the first did. She wasn't able to move as flexibly through their time together.

So there is the option to consider style, pacing, comfort, and personability during these trial sessions. I don't sit in on their regular lessons, but I sat in on these so I could assess.

We went with the first tutor and have had weekly sessions with her for months now, and it has been a great match so far. Some weeks we skip; other times we do twice a week. I love that it is customizable and doesn't take us out of our home. It has been so simple to fit into our schedule.

Weekly lessons

My main goal for their lesson time is conversation, and that is what I told our tutor. So they do a lot of back and forth during the lesson, asking and answering questions. As conversation fodder, she has them tell about what they have been doing since last time they chatted, shows pictures and has them describe and discuss, asks them to narrate to her the stories they have read with me, talks about likes and dislikes, and so on. She has them ask her and one another questions and keeps the conversation moving along. Often they will play games like 20 Questions. She will also sometimes tell a simple story or describe a picture and then have them narrate.

I told her up front that I didn't want to use multimedia, and she was fine with that. I also told her that my focus was aural/oral and that I didn't want her assigning written work just yet. She often types in the Skype chatbox or sends a link to a Google Doc with words/phrases they worked on for my use, and that is very helpful! But she doesn't engage with the children in writing.

She probably gives about 90% of her instruction in Italian, occasionally moving to English when they ask for her to clarify or when she is describing a task or activity.

Some last thoughts

First, there are a lot of teachers! It is worth trying out several to find a good match.

Second, be clear about what you are looking for. The teachers appreciate the guidance so that you all walk away happy with the process.

Third, try taking a class yourself! I have done just one lesson so far with the same tutor and chatted with her (in Italian) about educational philosophy. I would love to do more! It is great for both of us: she gets clear direction about her client's needs, and I get some extra practice.

All in all, this process was MUCH simpler than I thought it would be. I had it on my to-do list to try out Italki for several years, but I never got around to it...and now I did and I wish I had done it sooner.

Hope this is helpful!

If you end up clicking over and signing up to try out this service, I would love to hear what you think and whether you enjoy it as much as we have. I think it is an untapped resource in the homeschool community!

Monday, October 8, 2018

A New Little Project: CM Coast to Coast

This feels like pretty much the LEAST likely thing for me to take up (LOL), but it was for a good cause and with a great partner -- and it has actually turned out to be a lot of fun so far. :)

Amy and I had such an overflow of enthusiasm about the summer retreat we gave this past July, as well as so many side topics we never got a chance to address, that we thought we would continue the conversation -- on YouTube!

In these 10ish-minute long videos, Amy and I will be chatting about morning routines, weekly meetings, building good habits, chores, and more -- all inspired by the Q+A panel from the CMEC retreat and follow-up questions we have gotten since then. We have two up so far and hope to add one a week through the next few months.

If you would like to stay on top of what we post there, subscribe to our new channel, CM Coast to Coast -- and let us know what you think! We don't know how long we will keep this going but it has been a great little side project for us this fall. :)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Keeping Company :: Fall 2018

Hi friends! Happy Fall!  It's time for our quarterly consideration of all-things-notebooks, inspired by the blogosphere and the @keepingcompanycm community.

Starting the Conversation

We have been engaged in lots of notebook-keeping now that school has restarted.

Gianna and Vincent are making weekly drawings in their Books of Centuries.  I am making almost-weekly drawings. I can never quite keep up with them! :)

I am at weekly work on my new pre-reading notebook -- and enjoying it as much as I did last year.

My Form I and II kids are all reading a geographical text called Our Country and Its People. They decided to start a pictorial map alongside.

Xavier, my 8yo, asked if he could please start a commonplace book like his older siblings this year. He does this in his free time, separate from the copywork he does with me. (If I assigned it, I am sure he would be less enthusiastic at this age. ;)) His entries are so sweet -- I love how they give me a window into his mind.

Cate started formal written narrations this year. She is very excited about her Narration Notebook.

My Form I kids are keeping a small notebook alongside The Burgess Bird Book. Xavier said Mr. and Mrs. Wren reminded him of Mary and Martha. <3

It is always an injection of motivation to begin fresh notebooks at the start of the year! I would love to see into your new-school-year keeping.

From the Community

This past month, I curated a week on Mother's Diaries @keepingcompanycm, inspired by my talk on reflection for the CMEC retreat in July. Some mamas shared a peek into the notebooks they are keeping for each of their children, and I linked to the wonderful two-part article, A Mother's Diary by Miss Beale. Nancy Kelly has a great series on this form as well.

You can read all of the posts here!

Do you keep a Mother's Diary?

We have also had a bunch of mamas talking about fall!



Aussie Carol shares a helpful and inspiring post all about nature study over the past couple months.

Isn't this beautiful?
Melissa shared one of her favorite homeschool tools for notebooking -- have you ever used one of these?  She also rounds up the tangible signs of their learning from this past year.

And now it's your turn!

The Link-Up

:: For BLOGGERS: Leave a link to any blog posts related to CM-style keeping in the comments section of this post all quarter.  I will be sure to click over and read so I can highlight them here in the next edition!

:: For INSTAGRAMMERS: Tag related photos with #KeepingCompanyCM.  You can also follow my new account: @keepingcompanycm. I will be re-sharing daily on that account from posts tagged!
:: Any posts about CM-style Keeping are welcome.  Your post can be as simple as a photo of your commonplace book or your kids' drawing.
:: You can grab the button over there on the sidebar if you'd like to add it to your post or site.

Thanks for your participation! Can't wait to see what you are up to.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

{What We're Reading} :: September

Sneaking in a post before the month ends to catch up on what we have been reading lately...

Stegner's Angle of Repose (just finished -- wow, what a book!)
Goudge's Bird in the Tree (the first of the Eliot trilogy)
In Memoriam, Norms and Nobility, and Formation of Character for various study groups
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (read the first half last year with the kids thanks to AO Year 6-- finally finishing the rest on my own)

As a Family
Secret Water from the Swallows and Amazon series, on audio

Vincent, age 12
His birthday books...

Marguerite Henry's Black Gold and San Domingo
Garnett's Blood-Red Crescent (historical fiction about the Battle of Lepanto)
and two books from the Catholic Tom Playfair series: Tom Playfair and Harry Dee

(He also got his first wrist watch -- which has been a HUGE hit. He times himself for everything now. LOL)

Gianna, age just-turned-12
Her birthday books...

Guerber's Myths of Greece and Rome (a vintage hardcover)
Natalie Babbit's Goody Hall (trying to find good middle-grade mysteries -- I will have to give Gianna's review once she has read it!)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again (super light reading, but Gianna read the original to Cate last month so I thought she would appreciate the sequel)
(We decided 12th birthdays are the time for watches -- so she got one too! :))

Cate, age 9
Spyri's Heidi (she looooves it, and I haven't told her I have some more Spyri books for her waiting on the shelf!)
de Jong's Along Came a Dog (also from the AmblesideOnline list)
Cole's A Nest for Celeste (such a lovely book)

Xavier, age 8
Men of Iron, on audio
Little Folks of Many Lands (a Riverbend reprint -- I love that is has the Philippines!)
Happy Times in Noisy Village (a many-times-reread)

Bridget, age just-turned-7
Her birthday books...

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (beautiful illustrations)
Favorite Fairy Tales (my girls just don't tire of fairy tales!)
Favorite Stories and Songs (she loves these compilation books)

Clara, age just-turned-6
Aaaand HER birthday books!

Rumplestiltskin and The Magic Porridge Pot (to round out the Galdone folk tale collection!)
The Golden Book of Fairy Tales

To the Baby Boys
The Farmer in the Dell and The Glorious American Songbook (2yo Justin's current favorites)

Can you tell they are into singalong books right now? :)

...and Damien's favorite is whichever he can swipe from a sibling and gnaw on before anyone catches him! ;)

In the Mail...
Obviously our mail for weeks was overflowing with book boxes as we began the new year. Most of those hopped right on our shelves, but I corraled a few piles to share here. Did your mail look kinda similar in August?

That new May Mallam brush drawing book reprinted by Riverbend Press at the bottom of that pile is gorgeous, by the way!

Edwin Way Teale's A Walk Through the Year (planning to put this into our Morning Basket at some point!)
Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede (a hardcover to add to my collection)

And then I got this reference book series from my friend Virginia Lee's bookshop that I think will be useful: The Golden Book History of the United States.

And some special book mail: some borrowed Gouin books from a friend that came with a gift: Flowers of Coast and Sierra. If you are in California, check out this book! The writing is top notch and the illustrations are lovely.

What are you reading? I did a fair amount of reading over the summer but have slowed down on fiction now that school has begun. But the pre-reading I am doing weekly now DEFINITELY counts! :)

Monday, September 24, 2018

{This and That}

Hi friends! First, some announcements from the past week...

First: I'm honored to be part of a team working on a new Charlotte Mason print magazine!

Here's what I shared over on Instagram about it earlier this week:
Here we are, ready to officially launch Common Place Quarterly, the magazine for the homeschool mama who wants support and inspiration curated in the spirit of Mason, assembled from the hearts of fellow mamas on the journey, and delivered right to her doorstep. 🎉

This week @commonplacequarterly will be sharing a peek into the various sections of the magazine. You can also preview the content and view the whole team on the website -- just click on over to the IG account, press follow! 😉 , and then check out the link in profile.

The site is also all set up for pre-orders and year-long subscriptions! Orders have already begun rolling in and we could not be more thrilled.

I personally will be co-writing a column about notebook-keeping, sharing a gem from the archives (with discussion/journaling prompts!), and doing some behind the scenes work as well as feature writing.

The first issue, Beginnings, will be heading to print in time for a winter release. We would love to have you join us as part of the @commonplacequarterly community. ❤️
Please head over to the website to read more!


Have you had a chance to check out the CMEC retreat package yet? Over six hours of solidly Charlotte Mason workshops and a 70-page handbook that will guide you through a retreat from the comfort of your home.

If you have already purchased, I would love to hear your feedback! Email me and let me know what you thought. :)


I am not a handicraft expert at all, but that's part of the reason Maria invited me to contribute to her Meet the Maker series on @youngmakerscollective.

She asked me to discuss crafting with a large family, and I went into how I came to cultivate a maker culture without that background myself. Here's my intro post, and if you scroll back through her feed you can see the set of ten posts she featured last week, including each of my kids' favorite handicraft.

Any tips for crafting in large families! Our process is always evolving. :)


Bridget kicked off our family's September birthdays by turning SEVEN a couple weeks ago. Chocolate cake, chocolate frosting -- can't go wrong!


The kids have had so much fun with sloyd lately. I have especially loved seeing our handicrafts collide as they combine their sloyd projects with their papercutting.

I can't even count how many little envelopes and picture frames they have made. And those Mr. and Jenny Wrens by Bridget made my heart melt.

We also added Solfa this year with Children of the Open Air and 2yo Justin is picking it right up along with everyone else. He walks around the house doing his hand notes and singing "Sol-Me" right on pitch.

This education is really just too lovely for words. <3

Our artist this term is Turner, and we really enjoyed looking at these two paintings side by side last week: Chichester Canal and Petworth Park. I thought you might too. :)


How is your school year going?