Monday, October 21, 2019

CMEC Fall Mini-Retreat {Recap}

Want to take a quick trip to Philly with me? It has become one of my favorite places thanks to three visits there over the past year and a half -- and the dear friends that live, teach, and learn there that I get to work with. :)

This past trip, though, was a special one thanks to some unique opportunities. Come along!


I flew in Wednesday evening and had a very long, very lively "working dinner" with Amy and Erin to brainstorm CMEC business for the rest of this school year and into the next. It really is valuable to talk in person after months going back and forth via email and Voxer.

On Thursday, I finally got to visit The Mason Academy just outside of Philadelphia!

Picture a beautiful tree-lined drive gently winding up to this...

And lots of happy kids and parents arriving for a day of learning together. So special.

The Mason Academy, a two-day educational program, was the impetus for beginning the CMEC years ago. It was these programs for which the curriculum was first developed, and they provide its testing ground (and ongoing encouragement in the work!).

They now have two sites: one in Philly run by Erin Daly of Riverbend Press and one in Princeton. NJ led by Amy Snell. Between the two sites, there are over a hundred students enrolled in grades K to 12, and they even have a Babyleben program for nursery-age littles. :)

Amy and her kids drove down to Philly to join me for the day. Amy and I hopped from class to class: foreign language and Plutarch for Form 2, science and Latin for Form 3, composition, poetry, and art for Form 4/5... I also peeked in at the lower forms doing chalk drawing, handicrafts, outdoor studies, and more. A true feast!

The next day, I got to attend the Princeton site of The Mason Academy. I decided to spend the whole morning just in Amy's Upper Forms class to get a sense of what the day would feel like for a student. I got to see Amy's thoughtful teaching of Shakespeare, Plutarch, geography, commonplace-keeping, folk dancing, composition, and more. Watching her work and watching the students' responses gave me so many new ideas to bring home.

In every class I visited, for every subject, I heard fantastic narrations and saw engaged students. The students moved through their lessons with eager interest and good attitudes, and the atmosphere set by the teachers was inspiring. It was so rewarding to watch groups of kids working with the very same books and activities I do at home with my own kids. Seeing the timetable in action was like a dream!
Ultimately, I was confirmed in just how well Mason's philosophy and program can work in a variety of settings with a variety of students. It really does offer "a liberal education for all" -- just look at all of these happy kids...

That evening, Amy and I went downtown to walk around Princeton's beautiful campus and meet the TMA moms for dinner.

We headed to our hotel in Philadelphia late that night to prep for Saturday's retreat for CMEC members, the real reason I was in town! It was a great event.

We first talked about how delightful learning comes when each partner in the learning process plays the role he was meant to. Then we walked that through in some immersion lessons, including geography and dictation. We closed with reflection on the structure of the lesson and tried to narrate our observations and tease out some more complicated scenarios together.

That afternoon we had lunch and then went to check out the new Riverbend Press retail space (!) just a few minutes away. They will be using the site not only as the new shipping center for Riverbend Press products but also for selling student handicrafts and notebook products, holding brush-drawing classes and handicraft workshops, hosting pre-reading and planning sessions and more!

We also took a walk through the woods at a nearby retreat center.

Topped off by a fun dinner out with Amy and Dawn Duran, two of my favorite "things" about the East Coast!

Amy and I went to Mass on Sunday and then into the city for another trip to the Philadelphia Art Museum. I was there this summer too, but the collection is so extensive that we chose to focus mostly on just a few galleries on our last trip. On this visit, we made sure to hit the pieces that tied in with this year's CMEC coursework. We're studying medieval and modern eras, so we walked through the medieval galleries and the armory, and we also hit a couple pieces by Van Eyck and Tanner, two of this year's artists. Our focus for Form 3 geography is Asia, so we also visited the Asian collections. They have a unique Japanese homes exhibit that I only wish I could show my kids!

This was my LAST speaking engagement of the year -- after this, I'm on a "baby break" until spring. But as nice as it was to get home and settle back in, I have to admit that we were already scheming about the next time I'll visit! :)

I am so grateful for this group of educators and friends.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

{From My Commonplace}

I have been doing a good amount of reading lately, but not a lot of sharing about it. I think a What We're Reading post is overdue!

In the meantime, a couple snippets from my commonplace, one from my educational philosophy notebook and one from my fiction notebook (I like to keep them separate)...

"The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer's day is worth more in the after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons, and this comes, not of continual intervention on the mother's part, but of much masterly inactivity."
-- Charlotte Mason's Home Education, p. 192 

"No, what he must decide in the microcosm of his one being, was the same decision that lay before all his people. Would he keep himself separate, dedicated to a faith that made him solitary among whatever people he lived, or would he pour the stream of his life into the rich ocean of all human life about him? Does he lose himself in that ocean? But would he be lost? Nothing was ever lost. What he was, his ancestors in him, his children to come from him, would deepen the ocean, but they could not be lost."
-- Pearl Buck's Peony, p. 189

Monday, October 7, 2019

Our Weekly Paintings

A couple years ago, we implemented a habit of each student doing a Weekly Painting to practice our watercolor skills regularly outside of nature journaling and brush drawing time.

Each week, each student chooses one subject from any of their readings for that week. They paint in miniature: just one Artist Trading Card, which is a piece of paper pre-cut to baseball-card size.

The small format makes the task doable -- it only takes 10-15 minutes -- and it much less intimidating than a large project would be for a young or perfectionist student. It is thus a pleasant and simple part of our week rather than a burden.

These can definitely be considered a form of narration, but in our home, they don't take the place of narration. This is scheduled on Thursday afternoons, one of the last tasks of our school week. It is always fun to see what they pick -- they go back and forth all week deciding what their subject should be! (And you can imagine the mental effort happening during that culling and selection process!)

At the end of our first year, I purchased a three-ring binder and some baseball card sleeves, and the kids collected their cards into the sheets and added them to the binder. We have continued to add each term and the binder is now a wonderful record of not only what they have learned, what ideas have inspired, what topics have excited them, but also of their drawing and painting skills, and how those have improved over time.

And of course, their creativity! Each card is so delightfully different. (You can see a page-through from last year below. We have over twice that many pages now!)

We love our notebooks, but this binder is so very special for our family. It has become such a treasure and we all love sifting through it and remembering the ideas, stories, moments, characters, events...


Does this sound like something your family might like to try? Here's all you need to get started:

:: Pack of Arist Trading Cards. I buy both Bristol and watercolor cards to have on hand. Both will take watercolor without any warping, but the Bristol doesn't allow any lifting of paint and will get a bit nubby if the student isn't used to using a wet medium. The watercolor version is definitely better for washes and such, but it is also about double the price.

:: Paints and brushes. We just use the same kit we do for nature journaling. Some kids may like to use pencil and/or waterproof marker. I have our favorites here.

:: Plain binder. I like to get one with a see-through window cover so my kids can make a nice cover page. :)

:: Baseball card sleeves.

That's it!

If you have taken up the same habit or something similar, I'd love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below. :)

(I have shared lots of #ourweeklypaintings on Instagram over the past couple years. Click over if you'd like to see more examples!)

Friday, October 4, 2019

Getting Started with Handicrafts :: Knitting for Younger Kids

I almost called this series "Handicrafts for the Non-Crafty," but I decided that it's important that we as mothers redefine ourselves and be open to changing self-perception and self-description. I am not a particularly crafty person by nature, but that doesn't mean I can't become one by habit! Skills are learned, and it turns out that I like crafting much more now than I ever thought I would. So let's say "Getting Started with Handicrafts" with the idea that we are starting with few skills and little knowledge in the area but that we will learn and grow alongside our children.

You can read a bit about my personal handicrafting story here (scroll down a bit to the photos of me and my kids): Meet the Maker.

These posts are NOT written from the perspective of an expert -- neither in Mason's approach to the craft nor in the craft itself. They are written mom-to-mom, answering frequently asked questions I get about our personal experience with these activities, all of which our family has picked over the past few years and now practice regularly and joyfully.

For many years, handicrafts was my nemesis on the Mason timetable. I didn't feel like I could give it dedicated time with all the littles underfoot. I got creative and made it a priority and I'm so glad I did.

Here's my plan for the series so far:
Knitting << we're here!
Sewing with Felt
Needle Felting

Thanks for reading along!



This one is going to be short and sweet: just a couple tools to recommend, a few tips for using them, and some ideas for what to do with the results!

It's a bit funny for me to be talking about knitting, because although my grandmother taught me how to knit and purl when I was small, that's as far as my knitting knowledge stretches for now!. :)  But I did want to get my children started in fiber arts as a way to open up that avenue to them if it is something they want to pursue.

So here are three super easy ways to get a child started with the idea and practice of knitting without actually having any knitting knowledge yourself.

Three Tools.

Knitting tower. These are actually easy to make with a toilet paper tube and popsicle sticks, but those don't end up being very sturdy. We love the all-wood ones and they will definitely last for ages, even with tons of use. I have also seen it called a knitting tube or camden rose, and there are plastic options too.

Knitting fork. These are also called a lucet. Simple construction, easy to use. We have this one.

Circle loom. These can be found cheaply and widely. We haven't tried these yet, but I see them everywhere and they are basically just a very broad knitting tower. There are "long" or oval options too.

What Kind of Yarn?

You can use any kind of yarn with these, depending on what you would like your final product to look like. We have done chunkier wool yarns, thinner acrylic yarns, super thick variegated yarns... I do find that the ones that "hold together" a bit better (that are smoother, with their various strands sticking together) are easier for kids just starting out.

(You may want to pick your tool and your material based on what your kids would like to make. See below.)

Tips for Use.

If you need help "threading" the tool, check YouTube. Tons of how-to videos for each of these tools. Once you get the hang of it, though, it is very easy to start and end projects.

I find all three of these to be easier than finger knitting since the child can stop and start the project whenever he wants without worrying about tying off.

We began with my younger kids by threading the tool for them and then letting them knit. Once they caught the "bug," they were very motivated to learn how to thread it on their own and did so easily.

What To Do With Your the Results.

One follow-up question I often get is what we do with the resulting chains. Unlike "real" knitting, the results are less variable: you basically get chains, braids, and tubes. There aren't patterns to follow to adjust the product beyond those options. Which makes them easy but also limited in a way.

That said, I am always amazed at my kids' creativity. They have come up with tons of ways to use these! To name just a few...

With very chunky or heavy yarn, my kids have made jump ropes.

Knitted snakes.

Holster for a paper sword or handsewn dagger, as the case may be!

 Leashes for their stuffed animals.

Shoulder strap or handle for a felt purse.

Necklaces, bracelets, belts, and headbands.

And headbands work for boys too! ;)

Bow for a gift -- pair with some fabric for homemade wrapping.

Tie in a bow and attach to a barette.

And more. I would love to hear your ideas too -- we are always on the lookout!

Do you like chain, tube, or circle knitting? Any suggestions to share? Please leave a comment below.

(Next up, a related craft: knot tying!)