Saturday, March 2, 2019

Recap :: Retreat in Old San Juan 2019

Our annual CM West retreat here in Northern California happened just last weekend and it was such a joy.

It began on Thursday afternoon with an optional Moms' Hike at the Juan de Anza trail. The weather was sunny and chilly and just perfect for a winter walk outdoors.

From there, we headed a couple miles down the road to our retreat center and got started with our official schedule of events.

After our book sale and dinner, I gave the first talk of the retreat, called Principles of the Lesson: How "Studies Serve for Delight." I specifically designed it to serve as a frame for the extended immersion that we had planned for the following morning. Several key components of the method crystalized for me as I prepared this talk, so I'm glad I was able to share those insights into the delightful process Mason's methods can be when student, teacher, and work play the roles they were meant to play.

That night, we finished with plenty of singing, chit-chat, and folk dancing! The Thursday night folk dance has become a CM West tradition now, and I don't think we can ever go back. We learned one hard one and one easy one. Both so much fun.

The next morning I woke up early and took a long walk before breakfast. The grounds at the retreat site are peaceful and lush this time of year.

lots of turkeys!

After breakfast, we began with our Morning Timetable Immersion: two hours spent moving through all different kinds of lessons, from composer study to geography to math to dictation. A feast!

I led short lessons on nature lore, Italian, citizenship, dictation, and century chart. It was tons of fun to teach and learn alongside these moms.

We then offered a reflection time for attendees to think through those lessons from a principles-based perspective, using a guide I put together based on the framing talk from the previous night. I went through the questions myself and it was such a useful exercise for me to think through the lessons which I was teaching and also those I got to play the role of student for. I find more and more that I appreciate quiet moments in the midst of events like these.

After lunch, we brought those guides with us to discuss in small groups and in the larger group, trying to tease out the roles of student and teacher more deeply. Everyone's answers were really thought-provoking and even though I was the one facilitating the discussion, I definitely feel like I left with an even clearer picture of my role as mother-teacher.

The rest of the afternoon was about Afternoon Occupations. Amber gave a wonderful talk on sloyd, and then we broke into two groups to trade off on a nature walk and a sloyd immersion activity. We decided to break each of those activities into beginner and experienced groups to give people a chance to do their own thing if they were already familiar with the practices.

During my assigned time outside, I had a chance to take a nature walk with (fellow-keeper and longtime e-friend) Wendy while some of my friends led small groups of new journalers.

Then it was time for some sloyd fun! Since our family has been been doing sloyd for about a year now, I joined the more experienced table, where we had a chance to use the materials Amber brought to make our own projects while she worked hands-on with the beginner group.  I brought home this adorable sliding pencil tray. Can't wait to get to this lesson with my kids! They were a little jealous. ;)

With snacks and time for leisure, it was a lovely afternoon. That evening we had Mentor Meals scheduled for dinnertime, a chance for attendees to talk with a group of moms on a particular topic, led by a more experienced educator. We had tables on managing multiple grades and getting started in the method, as well as a special table hosted by the teens that attended, sharing from a student's perspective.

After dinner, we planned two activities: a Q+A panel on the morning immersions and a round up of Western Resources.

The next morning, I was up early again to get ready for the day and head out on a pre-breakfast hike with a small group.

After eating, we kicked off the morning with a group memory sketch activity on the painting we had used the day before for our formal picture study. This is an exercise I have done with my children at home a couple times. It was great to see how it worked with this group of mothers!

Then we had an hour and a half of Mother Culture of choice -- more folk dancing, more sloyd, or more time outdoors. Then we came back together for one more talk: Jessica Severne spoke on Education is an Atmosphere.

The relationships that come out of this event just can't be beat. So many wonderful moms join us and I am just so grateful they all come, open and willing, seeking out education, refreshment, and community. It's a blessed opportunity to help organize this weekend.

two of my gorgeous mama friends and their little girls!

new attendees and returners!

And then it was lunch, tear down, and home. 

And then it was time to hibernate for about a week. 

Ha! But we really did have a great week of school when I got home, despite my being tired -- that is how it always is after this event! I get such renewed investment in my work and inspiration for the daily. I love the timing of this retreat for just that reason. And I love seeing these ladies every year: Amber, my fellow CM West organizer, and Jessica, friend and return speaker for our group.

Thanks to all who came, and if you didn't make it this year: I would love to see you at this event in the future. You can sign up at Charlotte Mason West for updates.

Special thanks to Dee Hillman, Matt Vanderpol, and Joanna Overly for sharing some of their photos from the event. You can see more #charlottemasonwest!

(And now I'm turning my sights to Motherwell, coming up in just eight weeks -- will I see you there?)


  1. Thank you for sharing! I was sad I couldn’t make it this year, but I love seeing this recap - it looks like it was another wonderful retreat!

    1. Hope you can join us again next time, Charlotte! It was a beautiful time and it was great having so many ladies from your group there with us. <3

  2. Looks like a truly wonderful event. I must tell you, Celeste, that in the photo third from last, you look about 17 years old! You never seem to age. :)

  3. Is there anything like this on the east coast? I live in upstate NY. I see the recaps and sigh wistfully every time....I so wish I could participate!

    1. Hi Rhebeka! You can see a list of CM retreats around the country here:

      I will personally be at two on the East Coast this summer, in April in Charlottesville (Motherwell: and in July in Philadelphia (CMEC retreat -- registration hasn't opened yet for that one). Both of those will be different from our CM West event in that they are Friday-Saturday events, not overnights. But I do think both will be similar in tone, in fellowship, and in a blend of education and Mother Culture. I know they aren't SUPER close to you, but I just thought I'd mention it. :)

    2. Thank you for the reply! I will look into each of those. Philadelphia might be a bit of a drive, but it's closer than California! :)