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.


  1. Wow, that looks like so much fun! I love the photos of the armor, I'm going to show them to my boys. They have been so into researching and drawing armor and weapons from different areas and it's all due to their readings of course. That is what I love about this way of learning, it motivates the children so easily to take up their own "side studies". Thanks for sharing. -Leandra

    1. My sons in particular really like drawing armor and weapons -- and my oldest son often uses our books about the topic for his Book of Centuries entries. I only wish I could take them to view this armory in person because it was truly a wonderful collection, and so neat to see it all in person, life sized! They did enjoy the photos though. :)

  2. I haven't been the Japanese exhibit, nor have I seen that gorgeous Tanner's Annunciation, Celeste! Must correct that with my next visit. I loved getting to enjoy dinner with you, too, my dear friend.

    1. Your boys would love the Asian art section, I imagine -- it is so dramatic! And yes, seeing Tanner's Annunciation in person was a great way to kick off Term 2. :)

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