Do oral narrations make you cry? Here’s help. Follow these proven steps to painless oral narrations, from a homeschooling mom of 20 years.

She leaned conspiratorially across the picnic table. The warm breeze licked our arms as we corralled the discarded remains of half-eaten kid lunches, crumbled crackers, and a few random grapes.

“I would love to get Emma and Lexi together to read some Tales.” The words flowed in a rush. “I think it would help Emma with her narrations. She has such a hard time with them! I’m pretty sure she understands the material, but when I ask for a narration, she says she doesn’t know. And if I make the passage I’m reading shorter like people suggest, she just tries to repeat it word for word. Maybe if she did it with a friend, she would understand.”


She had fallen victim to one of the classic blunders. 

still of Vizzini from The Princess Bride

The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this:

The old “shorten the passage advice.”

You know the one:

If your child struggles with narration, the passage is too long. Shorten it to a page. If he still struggles, shorten it to a paragraph. Then a sentence. 

I’m just going to say it: this advice is wrong.

If your child struggles with oral narrations, he needs your help to develop this skill, not to drill down to repeat one phrase at a time.

“If you try to tempt them by shortening the passage read, they will think that you want verbal memory — exact reproduction — and you will get it. But there has been no assimilation of knowledge. That way there can be nothing but disappointment.”

H. W. Household

We think of oral narrations as a single skill to learn, but it’s actually an amalgam of at least three separate skills.

If your child is struggling, the best thing to do is to break it down into its components and practice each one separately.

Three components of oral narrations

What are the three skills in oral narration? 

  • Recall details
  • Sequence
  • Verbalize

Recall is the most important, because without it you won’t get either of the other two. It’s simply being able to recall what you heard or read.

A key factor here is an engaging book or experience. If your husband calls to tell you all about the new engine he wants to build for his dream sports car even though you and he both know the dream is 20 years from being reality, and you don’t understand cars other than

  • Step 1: turn the key
  • Step 2: magic fairies under the hood make the engine come to life

chances are you won’t remember many details from that conversation.

The same thing happens with our kids. If the material we ask them to engage with isn’t engaging, then no matter how good a memory our child has, he won’t be able to give you much.

If you’re using a living book though and your child still can’t give you much, that’s ok! This is where we start from.


oral narrations making you cry? learn my secrets from a homeschooling mom of 20 years. Girl in pink sundress curled in a ball on an off-white oversized chair with her head down and ears covered

Encouraging success in oral narrations

You know that imaginary toolbox we have? The one that stores all the best techniques we’ve accumulated over the years? Let’s dig deep in the dirty depths and drag out some grease-covered tools (grab a shop towel; we don’t want you ruining your fancy new top).

Open the toolbox, the one with the rubbed corners that creaks as you open it, the one with the lopsided hearts a toddler’s hand drew in red Sharpie (oh, the memories), and pull out three tools:

First, celebrate every success, no matter how miniscule they seem

If you ask your child to tell you what he remembers from the passage, and he only gives you the last word you said, celebrate that!

That’s a win! It’s the first baby step of a marathon, and we all have to start somewhere. Don’t compare it to his “best” day (don’t we all have good and bad days?). High five him, do a silly happy dance (it’s okay to embarrass him and get the side-eye), give a solemn presentation on the nature of the cosmos if that’s his thing.

Whatever it takes.

The next tool is to model, model, model.

We can’t expect our children to do something we can’t do, and sometimes — often — they aren’t really sure what we’re asking for. 

Remember to keep your modelling attainable, though. If your daughter can only give you a single word that she remembers, don’t model a 10 minute narration complete with details about the dress the girl in the story wore.

Model something reachable. Model one baby step further than where they’re at.

If she can’t recall anything and won’t even attempt one word, then model one word.

Kid: (mumbling) “I don’t remember anything.”

Mom: You know what I remember? I remember a bird.

You want her to think, “Oh, I can do that!” 

If she gives you the last word you read, celebrate that and model an object mentioned before the last word.

It could be from the same sentence, or it could be the key character in that passage.

But just model a word or a phrase.

Kid: “I remember a bird.”

You: “And I remember there was a king.”

Ask “do you remember anything else?” If your child says no, that’s all I can remember, then stop right there. Celebrate that you both remembered one tiny thing, and end the lesson.

It’s ok. 

We’re building this foundation one pebble at a time.

Each lesson that can be narrated should be, even if you’re getting a single word with each narration.

It will grow.

And the last tool in our handy-dandy toolbox?


Draw your oral narrations. (stay with me)

“But,” I can hear you say, “my kid hates to draw!”

No, dear. Not your child.


And before you protest that you can’t draw, we’re not talking art gallery-worthy paintings here.

We’re talking stick figures… or even more basic.

When I draw narrations, I literally draw a circle with a line coming straight down off it for a person. I don’t even draw arms and legs.

This isn’t drawing practice, this is a tool for memory recall.

To reduce cognitive load — the amount of working memory resources we’re using — we need to separate recalling from holding that information in our head. Get it out on paper or chalkboard or a whiteboard.

I use a chalkboard from Ikea every day.


When your child gives you that one word narration, draw it.

A bird? Make an oval with a beak and two lines coming down for legs.

Combine this with modeling, switching back and forth between the two of you, and before long your child will remember more.

Here’s a recent example:

We read The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, and previously I’d only been getting one word from my daughter.

This had gone on for weeks, but I’d been faithful with the chalkboard for a while.

After I asked her what she remembered from the story, she said “there was a rabbit”.

I drew a snowman-like rabbit with long ears.

“I remember there was a man,” I said as I drew a stick figure man. The one with a circle and a line.

And then out of the blue, success!

My daughter said, “Uh… he had a hat.”

Woo hoo!

black chalkboard with pine frame. A circle with a line straight down and a hat on top (left) and right side a simple stick figure rabbit. Drawing in pink chalk.

Remember what I said about celebrating all successes, no matter how small? Yep, we did a high five, enormous grins, the works.

But I didn’t give a lecture on the nature of the cosmos.

It’s not my child’s thing.

Now, a year later, we still draw everything, but I get much more than a single word out of narrations.

Practice this. Keep practicing. It might take months and that’s ok.

Second Oral Narration Component: VERBALIZING

You can either start this shortly after getting comfortable with “one word”, or you can wait until your child is at ease recalling a few more. It will depend on your assessment of your child.

Once you’ve drawn — or your child has, if she’s taken it over —everything you’re going to get for that passage, model how to use the drawings as memory markers to talk about the story.

You don’t have to do it in the order you drew them, and don’t start sequencing yet. Remember… One. Step. At a time.

Point to the first figure and say, “So we had a bird.” Point to the next figure and say, “and there was a man with a hat.”

After your child has seen you do this for several days, begin asking him to use the drawings to tell you about the passage. 

This is important: Don’t ask for anything that’s not drawn until your child is confidently verbalizing what’s on the chalkboard.

Do some of this in partnership as well. “There was a bird, and… what was this?”

Once this is easy, elaborate one small section. Don’t try to expand on every figure right off the bat. Keep it simple and attainable.

“And this is the dragon! Oh, I remember the queen jumped on his back and flew over the castle!”

Depending on time restraints, you can draw a stick figure with a crown on the dragon’s back, and a castle.

Gradually hand it over until your child is the one verbalizing all the figures.

Then you can start modeling multi-word phrases to recall. Instead of “I remember a bird” say “I remember there was a one-eyed bird with blue feathers”.

Remember to keep it attainable, and model only one baby step ahead of where they are.

I have one more secret for getting more out of my kid.

Using the secret power of AND to get more out of oral narrations

Now, this isn’t for when your child struggles to remember one thing. It’s not even for when your child has started giving you two things he remembers.

It’s for when your child has been giving you consistent multi-word phrases but seems stuck at one or two of them.

When that seems easy but at a plateau, pull out the AND card.

Child: I remember there was a dragon and he flew over the castle!

Mom: And?

(yep, that’s it! And see if the magic happens)

Child: And the king was scared.

Mom: And?

Child: And the queen threw her jewels down.

Mom: And?

Child: And…. that’s all I remember.

AND Celebrate!

If you pull out AND and your child says, “I don’t remember anything else”, that’s ok too. You pull out one more thing you remember, celebrate this lesson’s success, and put the AND back in your pocket to pull it out next week.


Once your child can consistently and easily give you many things from the passage, then slowly add in sequencing.

This doesn’t mean you have to wait until they can do it without drawing the narration. This step is easiest to take when everything that was said has been drawn in some way.

Those stick figure drawings will serve as a reminder so your child doesn’t have to hold everything in his head at the same time as trying to sequence it.

Again, you’ll start small.

After you and your student have drawn everything, go back through and have your child name each object and elaborate where he can. “This is the rabbit, and this is the man with the hat, and oh yeah he had a garden (draws quick square for garden), and this is the rabbit’s coat and this is the cat.”

Then take this into sequencing by asking, “which one happened in the beginning of the passage?”

If this is hard for your child, then stay at this one step for as long as he needs to. It may be days, weeks, or months, and any of those is fine. Remember we meet our child where she’s at, not where we think she should be, and this is an important foundation.

Your child doesn’t need to tell you the very first thing, just something towards the beginning. Remember to model, too. You choose something from the beginning. Maybe you circle it in bright green chalk.

Then stop, celebrate, and end the lesson.

When that’s easy (do you see a pattern here? We never move on until each skill is mastered and easy. Not just familiar, but easy) add ‘what happened at the end of the passage?’

Beginning and end are usually easiest because they’re like bookends. The middle is more nebulous.

Keep doing the beginning, but add the end. Circle the bits that happened towards the end with a different color chalk so it’s easier to visualize.

Once the end bits are easy, the middle is a tiny step. It’s whatever is left.

When this last step is easy, you’ll add one more piece of the puzzle: bringing everything together.

Putting it all together

After sequencing, you’ll put everything together: 

  • Recall and draw the story
  • Verbalize
  • Sequence

to tell the whole thing in sequence using the drawing as a guide.

First recall and draw the story, then verbalize the pieces, then sequence them.

Add the last piece: “Now that we know what happened in the beginning, the middle, and the end, let’s put them all together.”

(Point to the green beginning pieces) “First the book fell out of the tree at Merlin’s feet. The book was from the fairies and had words in it that Merlin used to build an enormous round table.” (point to the orange middle pieces) “Then Merlin used the words in the book to get the table inside the castle. The king was surprised.” (point to the blue-circled end figures) “The knights gathered all around the table and swore an oath to the king.”

And now you’re finished!

Before long, your child will be doing all the steps at the same time.

How long should we allow a child to use drawings? This is one area I deviate from Charlotte Mason. She felt that using drawings should be a short-term solution. But she was also referring to “typical” children.

I look at drawings as a tool rather than as a crutch. If your student has learning struggles, let him use the drawings as long as he needs to, even into and through high school. 

Some of these steps might take a few days until your child can do them easily, while others might take months.

But it will come.

The results?

A few weeks later, my phone pinged with a text notification. My friend had sent an update:

“After we talked about narration, I started doing longer history readings and let Emma use a whiteboard for narration. Here’s today’s, which she did in sequence! Depicting Cochise and one of his men discussing a plan to ambush a Tubac silver mine by sneaking through the mountains, hiding in the horse corral at night, and driving out the pack animals when it’s locked at dawn.

Thanks for your help :)”

oral narrations stick figure drawing on whiteboard


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Finally, a secular, updated version of Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Geography! Living Geography for the Primary Grades

Reading Elementary Geography to my seven-year-old, I grimaced, face scrunched as I rushed to cover the blunder, “Whoops! We CAN go to the moon now. When this was written we couldn’t.”

Later, reading about hot and cold countries, my stomach lurched. My shoulders tightened as I thought, “Do we really need a throwaway line that people with dark skins live there? Because everyone who reads this must be light-skinned, right?” 

Wish you could read aloud from the book without pre-reading, without editing-on-the-fly, without your stomach doing gymnastics, and knowing you have everything you need for today’s lesson?

Me, too.

While I love Charlotte Mason’s geography book, some bits have always been sticking points. 

The religious imagery in poems, the outdated information, the colonialism.

Oh, the colonialism.

If I could write the perfect book, they would be gone.

I dreamed also of an updated version with a variety of poetry styles written by diverse authors, supply lists so I’d be able to easily do the demonstrations when we read about them, notes that would explain sticky portions.

After years of waiting, I finally realized no one was going to do it for me. Faced with yet another year of using Elementary Geography, I grabbed a notebook and pen and sketched out what my ideal version would look like.

Charlotte Mason’s voice, but better.

Be the change you want to see in the world, right?

This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Your price stays the same.

Living Geography for the Primary Grades

Announcing: a completely secular and updated version of Charlotte Mason’s first geography book, with the new title Living Geography for the Primary Grades: Secular Charlotte Mason for the 21st Century.

Let’s go through the changes.


Secular Geography

I’ve altered all in-text references to “God” by either changing to “nature” or “the universe”, removing throwaway lines, or rewording the sentence.

The poems, though? Charlotte Mason loved poetry, that’s no secret. She felt we should read it every day. But many of the poems had Christian references in them, which right off the bat is a no-go for non-Christians.

I searched high and low for wonderful poems to replace her choices. Not only do the new poems reflect a variety of styles, but I deliberately searched for diverse poets.


Diversity in Poets

This might be the improvement I’m most proud of. After I found replacements for all the religious poems, I sat back and looked at the poets.

My satisfaction turned to unease as I realized there was little diversity. Most poets were English.

As I searched for more diverse authors, I ran into a problem — there isn’t much in the public domain written by poets of color. There are many reasons behind this, but mostly it was difficult to get published as a non-white author before the early 1920s, which is what is in the public domain in the United States.

Though I had a limited pool to draw from, I was excited to find several amazing poems that slid right in to the themes in Living Geography. So many, in fact, I added even more poetry than Charlotte Mason had.

Here’s the breakdown of poets:

Deaf or Blind:

  • Fanny Crosby
  • Joseph Schuyler (2 poems)

Poets of Color:

  • Angela Weld Grimke 
  • James E. McGirt
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar (3 poems)
  • King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti
  • Langston Hughes
  • Sarojini Naidu

(8 of the 17 poems)

Male Poets:

  • James Schuyler (2 poems)
  • James E. McGirt
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar (3 poems)
  • Coleridge
  • King Akhenaten
  • Langston Hughes

(9 of the 17 poems)

Female Poets:

  • Jane Taylor
  • Eliza Cook
  • Fanny Crosby
  • Mary Howitt
  • Valerie Dohren
  • Queen Nefertiti
  • Sarojini Naidu
  • Angela Weld Grimke
  • Lydia Maria Child

(9 of the 17 poems — one is attributed to both King Ahkenaten and Queen Nefertiti)

Now, many of these poets do have a Christian background, but each poem is secular. No worries about being blindsided by a reference to heaven.

Living Geography: Updated Facts

Surprisingly, very little required updating here. Galileo lived about 400 years ago, not 300. Men have been to the moon and gotten off the planet. 

I’ve kept the bulk of the map-making lesson but reworded it to reflect that even though we now have satellites and computer technology, before those came into use people mapped the land by hand.

No More Colonialism and Gender Bias

The original Elementary Geography contained some cringeworthy colonialist phrasing, especially towards the end. Much of it couldn’t be salvaged.


Women are and have been astronomers and mapmakers and serve in the army and navy, and our children need to see that.

I rewrote phrasing to “men and women”, “people”, or in one case, “humans”.

But you know what would make it even better? If you could have notes about facts and terms you’re not familiar with.


Notes on Teaching

Many lessons now include a short “Notes on Teaching” at the beginning. These notes range from what “to speak a ship” means, to definitions of “star” and which one Charlotte Mason was referring to, to when and why the word “Negro” fell out of favor regarding Langston Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. 

And that’s all good, but as you’re reading through the lesson in Elementary Geography, it says, “take an orange and run a knitting needle through it”.

You cast your mind to the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter and suck in a breath as you remember… all you have are bananas. 

Welp, you won’t be doing this demonstration today.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you knew ahead of time what supplies you needed for the lesson?

Supply lists, check

This new version includes not one, not two, but three supply lists.

  • A master list of all supplies you’ll need
  • a supply list sorted by lesson so you can look ahead at what you need this term
  • supply lists at the start of each lesson so you know what you need today

Yep, let’s make it easy.

Digitally enhanced images

All the original images are here, but they’ve been enhanced or recreated for crispness.

Teddy bears should be fuzzy, not illustrations.

Original Image:

fuzzy image of solar system

New Image:

crisp new image of solar system

The result of this massive reworking? 

An amazing living geography book, easy for busy homeschooling parents to use…written in Charlotte Mason’s voice but safe for all families.

No matter what ethnicity your family is, what spiritual beliefs you have or don’t have, or what gender your kids are, you can read through this book OUT LOUD without your stomach doing backflips.


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Want to remember this post? Pin it to your favorite homeschooling Pinterest board!

pinterest pin girl in red shirt and braid lower rigth corner pointing to the sky, boy in blue striped shirt with aviator hat, binoculars, and scarf behind her, chimney behind them. text reads Living Geography for the Primary Grades checkmark secular checkmark supply lists check mark up to date checkmark diverse poets

Not just a Charlotte Mason timeline, learn exactly what a Book of Centuries is, how to make one, and how to use one. Includes free printable copy!

“A Book of Centuries is just a Charlotte Mason timeline book.”

I cringe when I hear those words. Like a grizzled fisherman casting his line into the water, my mind pulls up a dusty memory of a thick manila-covered book from Sonlight.

A dark line runs horizontally across the inside pages while evenly spaced vertical lines mark the years. My daughter wrinkles her nose as she lops off yet another timeline figure sticker from its sheet and slaps it on the correct page.

Another memory: As I run out the door of my 4th grade classroom, my childhood self glances at the sheets of heavy paper stuck along the top of the wall, large images of stately men with white wigs scattered stapled in seemingly random places. I have no idea who the drawings represent, and they are just another classroom decoration I ignore.

Neither of those timelines helps get a sense of how events relate to each other in a meaningful way.

And neither of those are a Charlotte Mason Book of Centuries.

What is a Book of Centuries

The Book of Centuries began as a way for children to record the history they learned at the British Museum. While it’s a way for students to keep track of time, it isn’t a “timeline”.

Way back in the early 1900s, a Mrs. Epps was involved with Charlotte Mason’s organization. She taught her students quite a bit of history by studying the exhibits at the British Museum.

Mrs. G. M. Bernau took that idea and ran with it, creating what we now call a Century Book, or Book of Centuries

“Up to that time we had put our dates and drawings in our exercise books with lines on each page, but in 1914 we started the present interleaved century book.”

G. M. Bernau, “Century Books” PUS Diamond Jubilee Magazine, p 42

The Book of Centuries has one century per two-page spread, typically with a lined page facing a blank page. This stays the same throughout the time periods we record.

We don’t change it to 25 years per two-page spread in recent decades, and we don’t cover 500 years per page for far past centuries.

We have so much more of a record of recent events than we do of events that took place long ago that it will be tempting to do that. Resist the urge and stay strong.

book of centuries sample page from charlotte mason archives showing 13th century a.d.

What goes in the Century Book?

Every child’s ‘Book of Centuries’ should bear witness to ‘a liberal and generous diet of History’…The children should be free to enter on their pages events and drawings which have interested them in their wide general reading of History (that ‘inexhaustible storehouse of ideas’) and of Literature.

The Book of Centuries and How to Keep One by G. M. Bernau

If we have facing pages of lined and blank paper, we can write events on the lined paper and draw objects on the facing blank side.

What exactly should we put in these books? We want our children to take ownership of them, so they should have the final say in what they enter and draw, but here are some ideas:

  • history from all areas they have read about or seen, whether or not they studied it during lessons
  • drawings of artifacts from museum field trips
  • copied drawings from books
  • household implements from the Bronze Age
  • grave finds

Because they choose what they feel is important and draw it in themselves, kids are engaged with their Book of Centuries. Students are more engaged when they look back on those previous entries than if they only slapped stickers in that show what other people think are the important things to remember.


What age is the Book of Centuries for?

From ten years old and onwards the P.U.S. children make these books, ‘putting in illustrations from all history studied during the term (Bible, British, and General History.’

The Book of Centuries and How to Keep One by G. M. Bernau

If you’re freaking out that your 7-year-old still hasn’t started her Book of Centuries, relax.

You don’t need to worry about this in the early years of a child’s school days.

Kids don’t begin the Book of Centuries until they’re about 10 years old, and starting older is OK too.

If you want to start one with younger children, create a family version — one all members of the family contribute to in some way.


How to Make the Book of Centuries

If you can find a book with opposite lined and blank pages, that’s the best; however, I haven’t been able to find one in all of my searches.

There are two other options, then: search through your school supply stash and choose a composition book you picked up at the last Back-to-School sale for 75c, or design one on your computer and print it out.

Option 1: Composition Book

A composition book is cheap, it’s already bound, and if you want to pretty it up your student can draw a custom cover on a heavy sheet of paper and glue it to the front. Just be sure there are at least 21 lines per page.

Now the downside — (you knew there had to be a downside) All the pages are lined, and it can be annoying to draw on lined paper.

Option 2: On the Computer

Printing uses the cost of ink, which can be expensive depending on your printer type, and means you have to bind it.

Choices abound for binding, from grabbing a lonely and unused 3-ring binder (blow off that layer of dust first!) to having it spiral bound at your local Office Max.

If you’re feeling perky, here’s a handwork idea: Have your kids bind the printed pages into a book as a summer project! (We can dream, right?)

The Process

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so before I explain it and lose you, here’s an image from the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection:

Book of Centuries 4th century BC sample page from charlotte mason archives

If you use a composition book, start from the end and work your way backward.

Leave a few pages at the very back of the book, about 10, for maps of countries or perhaps cuttings of recent discoveries. Anything you glue in should be on very thin paper or else your book will become too thick to close before you know it.

Then on the pages before these write “21st Century A.D.” or “21st Century C.E.” (your choice) at the top of either the right or left side page. Then work backward in the book — 20th Century C.E., 19th Century C.E., etc.

Random factoid: C.E. = Common Era, B.C.E. = Before Common Era and they are used in place of the Christian terms A.D. (anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”) and B.C. (Before Christ)

Want a done-for-you Book of Centuries? There’s a FREE one in the Resource Library!

As I go further back in time I tend to forget if 1377 is in the 13th century or 14th, so I like to also write the years the century covers, like so:

20th Century C.E. (1901-2000)

Go until the 1st Century C.E., then continue from “1st Century B.C.E.” until “54th Century B.C.E.”

“Year Zero,”, or “0 Century,” doesn’t exist, so make sure you skip it.

Yeah, I didn’t the first time and had to look it up. Because we’re always learning, right?

If you were lucky enough to find a book with lined and blank facing pages, then write the centuries on the lined pages. If you create this in a word-processing document or a composition book, then keep it consistent (and simple!) and write the years on the same side of the page (left or right) for all the centuries. In other words, if you’re going to print it out keep the lined pages on the same side all through the book.

Use the first few pages for the prehistoric times, like Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Early Iron Ages. These are best kept apart from the rest of the book since different regions passed through these periods at different times.

Now for the more tedious part:

For the C.Es, write a small figure 5 at the end of the first line, followed on down by 10, 15, 20, etc on the next lines. After 50, draw a heavier line across the page. For a nice visual, you can draw it in a bright color like red.

Then continue with 55, 60, and so on until you get to 95.

In the B.C.E.s you’ll do the opposite — the numbers will be at the beginning of the lines and start at 100, then 95, 90, etc and ending at 5.

book of centuries pages with arrows pointing to numbers for a.d. and b.c. pages

Each of the lines will cover 5 years. When you write in an event, visually divide the lines into 5 segments or use light pencil marks.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

Don’t get hung up on perfection. If you make a mistake, correct it and move on.

Take a look at the writing on the right side of the 15th century A.D. image. The person who did it started the numbers one line too high and then had to write darker and scribble out a bit to put the correct dates on the lines.

charlotte mason timeline page showing corrected mistakes

That’s okay. We don’t expect perfection. Remember, done is better than perfect.

A few more hints from Mrs. Bernau:

  • Don’t overcrowd any page with drawings and entries. Leave room for something you may want to add later.
  • Always draw in pencil first, very lightly, so you can easily erase the pencil marks showing.
  • Write clearly and neatly
  • Never be tempted to take two pages for a century that seems to interest you more, as it quite does away with the object of the book of the centuries.
  • Heading the pages is rather a wearisome business, but if you do a few each week, it will not seem so long. (I love her Victorian language! Translated that means don’t try to do it all in one sitting.)
  • Write events in the year they happened
  • Put famous people near the date they were famous

Have a set day to put entries in it, maybe twice a month, but don’t discourage kids from adding to it if they want to do it more often, especially after a museum visit!

It’s so easy to become rule-bound, but there are no rules.

And now you’re ready to create your own!

Let your kids take ownership of it, so their own book doesn’t become an unused, dusty memory.


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6 Essential Charlotte Mason Resources You Can’t Live Without


Learn the 8 ways you need to change Charlotte Mason for your dyslexic child.

My husband and I stared at the reading specialist on the other side of the Starbucks table, a mixture of relief and apprehension in our eyes.

The whir of the coffee machine and soft ’90s music faded to the background as the diagnosis rang in our ears.

Dyslexia: severe to profound.

A thick stack of papers lay in front of me, filled with test results and recommendations. I tried to concentrate on what our reading specialist said, but a million thoughts swirled in mind.

First the relief: I’m not a terrible teacher.

And it’s not that my child isn’t trying. She struggles so much with academics for a reason.

But hot on the heels of the relief rushed the panicky thought, “Can we still continue to homeschool with Charlotte Mason? Is it even possible?

And if it is possible … how?

Modifications for dyslexia

While a Charlotte Mason education is well suited to students with learning differences, you’ll need to make some adjustments.

Don’t worry– these alterations are painless but effective. Think of it as fine-tuning your child’s education.

What can you keep? The books, the writing, handwork, art and music, reading …you can keep everything!

But you will need to tweak how you use them.

Let’s walk through the eight changes you’ll need to make to your homeschool.

#1 — It’s not “cheating” to do this

Even if your child can read, the sheer number of books in a CM education can be overwhelming. For a child who is a slow reader, who struggles to decode or struggles with comprehension, audiobooks can be an education-saver.

We often think of using audiobooks or readers as cheating, because the students aren’t doing the “work” of reading for themselves.

But three kinds of reading exist– reading with your eyes, reading with your fingers, and reading with your ears.

If a person is visually impaired and uses Braille to read a book, would you ever tell them they weren’t really reading?

Of course not.

And yet this is what we think when we let our kids use audiobooks.

It’s not legitimate reading.

New research has shown that audiobooks activate the same areas of the brain as reading with the eyes. That’s because it’s all in how language is processed.

Your child will get the full benefits of reading. He’ll activate the same language centers, develop vocabulary, gain cultural and background knowledge – all while keeping the actual reading instruction separate.

Audiobooks can be used both for instructional books and for the lighter, literature portions of the curriculum.

Good places to get audiobooks

  1. The first stop is your local library. Ask how to access their digital collection if you aren’t already familiar with it. I can access OverDrive, Hoopla, and Freading through my various local libraries, but every county is different.
  2. Learning Ally — if you have a diagnosis of dyslexia or a visual impairment you’re eligible to use this huge collection.

    Learning Ally has professionally produced books and costs $135 per year, but also requires verification of a print disability.
  3. You can also use Bookshare. Bookshare uses good computerized voices to read the books, so if you want professionally read audiobooks this isn’t a viable choice. They require a diagnosis of a print disability that interferes with the ability to use traditional print materials.
  4. Audible is a division of Amazon and has many books that are professionally produced. The membership costs $15 per month, and you get 1 audiobook plus 2 “Audible Originals” for the price. You also get discounts on additional books and access to member-only sales.
  5. For ebooks that don’t have a professional audio version, if you can get them in .epub format you can use a computer program like Natural Reader to read them to your child.

    My non-reading daughter relies on the free Natural Reader browser extension to figure out the print on web pages.
dark skinned female with curly dark brown hair and orange shirt, smiling with eyes closed, white earbuds in ears

# 2 — Change the way you teach reading

Orton-Gillingham based

A combination of sight words, phonics, and word-building form the basis of the reading instruction in Home Education (Charlotte Mason’s first book). While this can be a fine way to learn to read for 80% of the population, students with dyslexia need something different.

They need a reading program which is specific, sequential, and explicit.

Orton-Gillingham is a research-backed approach to teach reading, not a method, system, or program.

We can buy several Orton-Gillingham based programs for homeschool. They vary in the speed they move through the material, how explicit the instruction is, and how scripted they are for the parent.

Examples of Orton-Gillingham based programs are

Logic of English and All About Reading are good for most mild-moderate dyslexic kids, but they moved too fast and the leaps were too big for my child.

Rooted in Language has online workshops that teach you how to teach your child with an Orton-Gillingham approach.

Barton is considered the gold standard for dyslexic students who are tutored at home. The downside is the cost, which seems exorbitant when compared to other reading programs.

Even Logic of English and All About Reading look downright cheap in comparison.

To bring the cost down, buy used and resell when you’re finished with the level. Or if more than one student in your homeschool group needs Barton, pool your money with those other families and share the program.

Before you buy any of these programs, it will pay to give the Barton Student Screening to your child. If your student can’t pass this screening, he’s not ready for any reading program and needs more work on the phonological parts of language.

Mother and teen with blond hair smiling and reading together

More reading instruction

For ages 6-9, all of the PNEU timetables scheduled 10 to 20 minutes per day for reading instruction and practice. If you use an Orton-Gillingham based program, you’ll need to spend 20-30 minutes per day.

They often recommend an hour per day several times per week.

But since we follow Charlotte Mason’s guidelines, we want to keep the lessons shorter.

#3– How to Handle Spelling, Copywork, and Dictation

Another area where we need to veer from Charlotte Mason’s method is in spelling, copy work, and dictation.

You won’t skip these, but you will do them a little bit differently.

With Charlotte Mason’s method, you would choose a paragraph, passage, or pages from the books your child reads, then use them for spelling, copy work, and dictation. The length of the passage depends on the age of the child.

A student would copy the selection, paying attention to the spelling of words and to punctuation, with the help of the parent.

Students visualized words to learn their spellings, but those words, in general, were ones the student didn’t know how to spell. They were not taught “explicitly and sequentially,” and a student didn’t always learn the spelling rules.

Instead of those passages from your literature or reading books, to modify for dyslexia you will use the spelling, copy work, or dictation provided with your reading program.

If your child reads well but the dyslexia shows up in spelling (this is more common than you might think!), use a spelling program for dyslexic students like All About Spelling or Sequential Spelling.

Sequential Spelling unlocked the spelling code for my two older children who could read but couldn’t spell.

Rooted in Language has an online workshop for parents about Intentional Copywork and Dictation. Though I don’t have experience with it, it looks like it would mesh very well with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.

#4 — What About “Readers”?

One of the draws to Charlotte Mason is the wonderful living books, and the “readers” are no exception.

But when you teach reading with an Orton-Gillingham based program, you use leveled readers. These are not living books, but they are necessary for a student who struggles with dyslexia in the earlier stages of learning to read.

You will not be able to use readers recommended in Charlotte Mason curricula for “reading with the eyes” until your child has reached a certain level of proficiency in their OG reading program.

It’s so easy to feel like if your child isn’t able to read the assigned books in a curriculum, he will be “behind”.

Get rid of that thought right now.

We have to meet our children where they’re at, not where we think they should be.

And not where someone who has never met your child thinks an “average” child will be. Remember, homeschooling means we get to tailor the education to our child, not the other way around.

We don’t want to eliminate those wonderful “living books” readers, though. They are (usually!) engaging and full of adventure, and just plain old good stories. They’re also full of rich vocabulary and background knowledge which is the hallmark of a living book.

How do we get these benefits not have a child in tears? Go back up to modification #1 and use audio versions. The same areas of the brain are stimulated, your child still is exposed to the vocabulary and adventure, but the physical act of reading is separated.

# 5 — Narrations and Composition

One innovative aspect of Charlotte Mason’s method is she separated the mechanics of writing from composition.

Little modification is needed if your student is early elementary age. Do narrations orally, which is what a student that age should do.

Occasional written narrations were begun in Upper 1A at about age eight.

We’ll delay this even further though and wait until the student is strong in both reading and the physical act of writing before we expect written narrations.

As your child gets older, she’ll work on composition through oral narrations, but don’t expect her to write them down by hand until she’s a proficient reader and able to physically write with ease.

But we still want to reap the benefits of written narration. To get those benefits, once your child is about 8 or 9, add in a few other things.

Read up on the Natural Stages of Growth in Writing and the Absolutely Free Program at Brave Writer.

Introduce graphic organizers if your student is able to read well enough that he can understand them.

Do sensory awareness exercises, like those in this post from Nature Mentor. (I share several of these same exercises in my emails, because we had the same mentors)

Help your child come up with words to describe what they sense, or smell, or feel.

Ask questions like, “if you had to describe a color without saying the name of the color, how could you do it?” There is a lot of room for creativity with this, but possible answers to model are “her dress is the color of lemons” or “his shirt is the color of dried grass in the fall.”

#6 Writing and Composition

As with reading, students with dyslexia need explicit and sequential instruction in writing or composition.

Charlotte Mason didn’t begin specific writing instruction until Form 3 (ages 12-14). For children younger than 12, written narrations and whatever creativity flows out of them fulfill the role of composition.

Two of my favorite programs for the elementary and middle school years are Brave Writer and Write On!

Writer’s Jungle from Brave Writer will teach you how to develop your writer, while Write On! uses a guided method of explicit instruction to teach your child while using plenty of word-play and giving as much support as they need.

They are both for grades 3-8.

For both programs, do as much as you can orally.

At the junior high level, I would deviate from Brave Writer. Not because I don’t like her material, but because it wasn’t sequential or explicit enough for my dyslexic student.

The program expected her to infer too much about the structure of various forms of writing at the high school level.

When they are in high school, some students just need help editing their papers, and if you show them a model of different kinds of writing that will be enough.

But for our students who struggle with reading and writing, it’s not.

They need to work through a solid writing program.

What are other good options then?

#7 — The Tech Solution

The physical act of writing can be very difficult for a dyslexic student, so consider using dictation software.

Dictation software is best for middle school and up.

One good free option is to enable Google Voice Typing used in Google docs. You can do this through your computer if you have a microphone, or you can do it with a smartphone.

It’s not perfect.

Because it doesn’t have an option to learn your voice patterns, sometimes the transcription can range from weird to downright funny.

The best thing to do is proofread as soon as you finish, while you still remember what you said. Otherwise you’ll chew on your bottom lip as you gaze at your screen, saying the gibberish words out loud and trying to figure out what you meant when Google heard “the dog is raining”

While the work still requires editing, sitting next to your child and going through their paper to edit is a valuable learning tool.

If you’re willing to pay for dictation software, this blog post writes about how using Dragon Naturally Speaking helped several dyslexic and dysgraphic students.

Finish it off with Grammarly and you’re golden.

#8– We’ll Always Have Paris

I’ll admit it — this modification stuck in my craw. Oh, how I resisted it!

Foreign language is such an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education that I felt like if we stopped we would throw out a large part of what makes a CM education, well … Charlotte Mason.

But our reading specialist, also a homeschooling mom and familiar with Charlotte Mason, explained two things:

First, adding the sounds of another language when my child struggles with the sounds of English just delays her progress in English, and second, someone who is dyslexic is dyslexic in all languages.

Dyslexia’s difficulties “typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language” (from the International Dyslexia Association).

It’s difficult for people with dyslexia to learn to read, write, and spell in one language.

It’s very, very difficult for them to learn to read, write, and spell in more than one language.

People with dyslexia process language in a different way than the rest of the population.

But what about Charlotte Mason’s method of learning oral language first?

If your student struggles with the sounds of English, adding new sounds from a different language will hamper her progress in English.

A good alternative is American Sign Language (ASL). If you’re not in America use whatever your local sign language is.

ASL allows the student to learn a different language without having to process new sounds or learn to write a new language.

If your child is mildly or moderately dyslexic he can try to learn a foreign language orally. But be prepared to stop if it’s too challenging or if his progress stalls in learning to read and speak English clearly.

If you notice either of these, then you should delay work on that second language until your child reads and spells well and at grade level in English.

Besides American sign language, one foreign language that might work is Esperanto. As a created language, Esperanto is phonetically regular with no exceptions to spelling or pronunciation rules.

The problem with Esperanto? Very few materials for children exist, and the materials for adults are pretty much all print-based.

If you as a parent are not already proficient in teaching a foreign language, you’ll need to translate a children’s program from a different foreign language into Esperanto.

That takes a lot of time and effort, time we often don’t have because we’re doing additional instruction in reading.

I thought translating a Spanish program into Esperanto was such a fantastic idea, I tried to do it.


Because apparently, I’m not a fast learner.

Both times I gave up a few weeks in. It’s not something I recommend.

The Most Important Thing to Remember

When our children struggle in one area, we have a tendency to focus most of our attention on that area until they can be “brought up to speed”.

But remember: a Charlotte Mason education is a liberal education, a broad education.

Don’t neglect the other areas of a Charlotte Mason education – the arts, physical education, work, music, drawing, and nature connection- to focus on reading and writing.

Here are my favorite video resources I’ve found very helpful:


While we can do a Charlotte Mason education with students with dyslexia, we do need to modify some portions.

  • Use audiobooks and audio screen readers
    Resources: Learning Ally, Bookshare, your public library’s digital collection, Audible, Natural Reader
  • Use Orton-Gillingham based reading instruction
    Resources: Logic of English, All About Reading, Rooted in Language, Barton, Foundation in Sounds,, LiPS
  • Spelling, dictation, and copy work should be those provided in your reading program
  • Use readers from your reading program, rather than those assigned in the CM curriculum. Use audiobooks for the readers in your curriculum
  • Composition and narration should be oral until physical writing is strong.
    Resources: Write On!, Brave Writer
  • Explicit, sequential writing instruction in Form 3 and above
    Resources: Write On!, Beyond the Book Report, Michael Clay Thompson
  • Dictation software like Google Voice or Dragon Naturally Speaking
  • Wait on foreign language until your student is reading well, and consider using American Sign Language instead of a spoken language

Can you homeschool with Charlotte Mason with a dyslexia diagnosis?

Yes. Yes, you can.

It is possible.

Want to remember Charlotte Mason and Dyslexia: the 8 changes you’ll need to make? Pin it to your favorite pinterest board!

pinterest pin with boy in green shirt, text Charlotte Mason and dyslexia how to make it work

Learn how to make a loop schedule for your homeschool! (with free printable)

My daughter giggles as her bearded dragon scampers up her arm. After an hour of therapy and online class, she’s taking a much-needed short break before we start our lessons.

I look down at the schedule I’ve plotted for the week and rub the back of my neck. Shaking my head, I know there’s no way I can ask her to do an additional two hours of lessons.

“Let’s get the basics in,” I think, “and tomorrow we’ll try to pick it up again.”

But the next day is the same, and suddenly it’s two weeks later and we’ve not done any of the “beauty” subjects.

The fun ones.

The ones that make our homeschool a joy instead of a slog.

While a set schedule is nice, sometimes it’s impossible to keep one.

How do you fit everything in when your life is turned upside down? How do you get done what needs to get done on a daily basis, and still get those “beauty” subjects in? It’s easy to revert to doing the 3 R’s and then calling it done for the day since “we got the important things in”.

But that doesn’t do anything to give a liberal (broad) education, the kind that Charlotte Mason wanted us to give our children.

What’s an overloaded parent to do?

One way to make sure you’re getting everything in even when you can’t get everything in is to do a loop schedule.

There are a few ways to do it, and we’ll go over my two favorites. Basically, rather than having a specific time slot on specific days to do specific subjects, you’ll do as much as you can one day and then just pick up where you left off the next.

Loop Method 1- Two lists

Make two lists, one of your daily (or very frequent) subjects and the other the rest of the subjects you want to do at least once a week.

Label the lists any way you’d like:

  • Category A and Category B
  • Frequent and Loop
  • Aardvark and Anonymous Duck

Whatever you want, hon. No one is going to see this but you. And maybe your kids.

duck wearing sunglasses

Grab a sheet of paper and put your list of “would like to do most days” at the top. Maybe draw a box around it with hearts and stars for decoration.

Or maybe just a bold outline of black sharpie if you’re feeling particularly goth today.

In a separate large box below that, write the other subjects you also want to do but not nearly as often.

Want a done-for-you loop schedule printable? There’s one in the Resource Library!

Now, there are two ways you can handle the second box.

Either pick and choose on a daily basis what you want to work on next, or just work your way down the list and when you get to the end, start again at the beginning.

Both ways have their downsides.

The first way, you’re more likely to just keep putting off the subjects or books that are less favored. It’s temptingly easy to choose your easiest or favorite subjects over and over.

And over.

The second way, where you work your way through the list and then start again? It’s not perfect, either.

Not all subjects should be done with the same frequency in a Charlotte Mason education.

You could very well end up doing both Picture Study and Foreign Language the same amount of time. (Horrors!)

One way to make sure that doesn’t happen is instead of writing out the subjects you want to cover each week, to actually write out books, page numbers, and activities and check those off as you go.

Loop Method 2 – the “5 days of work done in 8 days” schedule

Have your schedule made out as if you were going to do a 5-day schedule, but check off each subject as you go. If you make it through everything planned for the day, great! If not, tomorrow pick up where you left off, even if that’s halfway through the day.

This can be an effective way to make sure you’re getting everything done in a good ratio, albeit at a slower pace. The danger lies in trying to “get caught up” for the week. 

“Hey, if we work extra today, we can get back on track!” 

Don’t do it.

Step away from the math book, Sarah.

Having trouble visualizing it? Take a look at this weekly plan.

loop schedule showing 5-day homeschool schedule with checkmarks on completed days and arrow pointing to block with start here tomorrow text

If you only get through Foreign Language on Day 1, then the next day you would pick up with Math and try to do a typical day’s work.

Make sure you’re taking movement breaks and not trying to push through. (Just a little more … just a little more …. *splat*)

That’s not what we want.

Keep the same time limit on lessons for the day.

Want the secret to making the Loop Schedule work?

Don’t do all of your daily subjects each day.

Um, excuse me? Isn’t that what “daily” means?

Well… not really, no.

You’re already overwhelmed. Our task here is to simplify your schedule, not continue on with the drudgery.

When you do all of your daily subjects first, and only then start working through the joy or beauty subjects, it’s easy to just stop when the Dailies are done. 

That, my dear, defeats the entire purpose of having a loop schedule.

Instead do 1-2 from your Dailies box, and then start working on the second box. This ensures that you get your 3 R’s (or whatever you feel is Very Important) done frequently, but you still get the other subjects in that make for a great liberal education.

If, after doing a few from the Anonymous Duck, I mean the Loop box, you want to do a few more Dailies you can.

If you’re using Method 1, make sure you do the subjects in the order you’ve listed them and don’t skip around to do the 3 R’s first.

Which loop schedule works best?

I usually prefer Method 2, but I’ve been trying out the first method this week and like it, too.

If you are schooling multiple kids then Method 1 gives the most flexibility. I like the second method because I’m a rule follower and I know I’m getting everything in the “right” proportions.

Are those wheels turning in your mind yet? Do you feel empowered?

Here’s your assignment for this week:

Choose either Method 1 or Method 2 and try it for a week. Next week, check and adjust.

And let me know what works for you! I’d love to hear.


Related Posts:

Easy and Relaxed Charlotte Mason Schedule
How to Create a Healthy Home Rhythm
5 TV Shows for a Charlotte Mason Home

Want to remember this post for later? Pin it to your favorite homeschooling Pinterest board!

Pinterest image of rosie the riveter and how to make the best loop schedule to banish overwhelm

blowing bubbles secular preschool programs
Learn about 11 secular preschool programs that work with a Charlotte Mason homeschool.

Are you searching for a preschool program that will help you bring Charlotte Mason's ideas to your little ones?  Need a little hand-holding?  Are you tired of asking for recommendations only to find that the program that looks lovely also will "provide a firm foundation in Christ"?

I've done the research for you and found several preschool programs and resources that are both secular and easily adapted to a Charlotte Mason education lifestyle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through my link I may get a small commission at no additional cost to you.


What criteria did I use to narrow down the choices?

  • First and foremost, they had to be secular.  Any religious holidays had to be cultural holidays.  For example, if a program has activities for St. Patrick's day, that wasn't disqualifying because virtually no one thinks of March 17 as a religious feast day.   However, making an Advent calendar as a countdown to Christmas, or a Garden Goddess to watch over the yard meant it got the boot.
  • Limited academics, and those done in a Charlotte Mason-appropriate manner.   That also means not an emphasis on nature books, but instead a focus on the child experiencing the natural world for himself.
  • If coming from a creator who is not well versed in Charlotte Mason, the program needed to be very easily adaptable to her methods and ideals.  If there were only small portions that I considered Charlotte Mason, it didn't make the cut.  However, there are several Waldorf-inspired resources included because Waldorf and Charlotte Mason are almost identical in the early years. 
  • And last, what is the underlying purpose of the program?  Is it to support the child's development, encourage wonder and connection, and have a healthy home life, or is to actively teach the child, with "readiness skills" and "solidifying learning"?  Are the activities natural extensions of life, or are they contrived?  (making a mud kitchen for open-ended play vs labeling leaves and beans with numbers and asking the child to match the numbers while pretending to be a caterpillar).  Is the parent viewed as a mentor to help the child make discoveries, or as a teacher who should give information to build up the child's store of facts?

    Remember that just because a curriculum has the kids learning a lot about animals doesn't make it a Charlotte Mason program.

And now for the selections, in no particular order....

A Quiet Growing Time: Charlotte Mason with Your 3 to 6 Year Old

I hesitated to put this one first, for the simple reason that I wrote it.  I don't want you to think I'm tooting my own horn and everything else is just a pale imitation.

But I truly believe that if you use my guide, especially as an adjunct to any of the other programs mentioned below, you will be able to craft a lovely Charlotte Mason preschool experience.

Charlotte Mason's method of education is about developing the whole person.  The guide is not a book list, a schedule, or a long list of activities.  I take Charlotte Mason's words and ideas and put them in plain English, as well as give you practical suggestions for how to use them in your life.

It is a guide to creating a Charlotte Mason, magical childhood.  

As with all my work, I hold your hand and give you practical encouragement and advice, all in a non-religious, non-judgmental way.  

My passion is helping moms connect the dots from Charlotte Mason's theory to how to apply it to their own families.

For a sample to see if it will work for you, check out the page here.

Recommended?  Yes

Modifications required:  None

Rooted Childhood is one of those programs that when you open it up in your email, you sigh in contentment. (Use coupon code juniperpines10 for 10% off your purchase!)

If you are looking for ways to foster connection with your children through handwork, crafts, and activities, this is for you.

It's not a checklist to do each week.  You won't be making yet another paper chain or waiting until the kids are in bed then secretly disposing of their 'creation' of glue and construction paper and macaroni noodles in the trash.

These are real projects that are appropriate for children but won't drive Mom crazy.  It is also filled with poems, songs, recipes, and ways to connect with your children and make those memories sweet.

Use this with A Quiet Growing Time, and you will have a wonderful, winning combination. 

Recommended?  Yes, enthusiastically

Modifications needed?   None

A Mind in the Light

Here is a nice classical and Charlotte Mason mix.   While there is a loose timetable and schedule, the creator also encourages you to not stop a child's play in order to follow the schedule.

The Pre-Preparatory Notes are particularly valuable.

The Preparatory level (presumably age 5) is based on the PNEU programmes from the 1950s-1970s,  a full 30 years after Charlotte Mason's death, and as such they had begun to stray from her original vision and became more academic at an earlier age. (The PNEU was Charlotte Mason's organization that sent curriculum to registered families.)

Recommended?  Yes

Modifications needed?  Yes

  • Cut way back on the books.  The pre-preparatory level has 139 books scheduled for the year.  In Home Education, Charlotte Mason says that a few books read repeatedly is much better than an endless train of them in the young years.
  • I would also skip the numeracy and literacy games in the schedule, because the instructions they are drawn from are based on a small group nursery situation.  Instead, weave numeracy (counting, one-to-one correspondence) throughout the day.  For literacy games, consider doing the games from this free resource to encourage phonemic awareness, the building block of reading.
  • Add handwork like finger knitting if your child is ready for it, lacing, making toys like sock dolls, and gardening.  Handwork was a huge part of the early years and it builds neural connections in a way that supports future academics.

Blossom and Root

Volume 1 is a lovely Charlotte Mason preschool experience, weaving arts, nature experience, and connection.  Along with the suggested activities for the week is a page where you can create your own schedule for the week of what you'd like to do on what days. 

However, they schedule one new painting every week, while Charlotte Mason's school-age programmes schedule six paintings over a 12 week period.

Their age recommendations are off,  too.  The website states that Volume 1 is for ages 2-4 and Volume 2 for ages 4-5.

Volume 2 is based on the Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six and as such has specific teaching strategies for these.  It is also much more academic, with the sample showing a letter of the week and making a graph of what objects float and what objects sink.  

However, the Formidable List was not "what a child should know before he turns six" but instead was an early "term programme" of what a child of six can be learning. 

The lessons in Volume 2 are 40 min to an hour long daily, and Charlotte Mason later said that regular lessons should not begin until age 6.

As such, I would recommend Volume 1 as a wonderful curriculum for ages 3-5, and Volume 2 as a lovely introduction to Charlotte Mason for 6 year olds, or a child who will turn 6 during the school year.

Recommended:  Yes

Modifications needed?  Yes

  • Change the age recommendations to Volume 1 for 3-5 year olds and Volume 2 for 5-6 year olds
  • Decrease the number of artist prints studied.  Remember slow is good.
  • I can't tell from the sample if there is a new picture book every week in Volume 1.  If so, decrease that. I am NOT saying "don't read a book every week" but don't read a NEW book every week.  Remember that fewer books read over and over is better than a constant parade of new books.

Cantiamo Tutti

If you want to bring music to your littles but don't know quite what to do, are stuck for ideas, or just want a guide for inspiration, this is for you.

Every time I think about this offering, I smile and relax because it is just so .... perfect.

Filled with not only songs, music, music themed picture books, but gentle and encouraging ideas to hold your hand, this collection is a treasure.

And it is completely free.

Download and use this resource.  You will not regret it.

Recommended?  Yes, enthusiastically

Modifications needed?  None

Wee Folk Art

From their website:  

The Simple Seasons Preschool-Kindergarten Homeschool Curriculum has been designed with three main 12 week terms for the school year, plus a bonus shorter 10 week long summer study, and an optional 4 week Advent unit. Each unit includes a weekly schedule that focuses on the rhythm of the seasons with a special emphasis on holidays and nature. Each seasonal unit can be used as a stand alone program. You can also begin your homeschool year at any time by choosing the seasonally correct unit.

Many families repeat Simple Seasons for two years in a row, delving a little bit deeper the second time through. Young children enjoy the repetition of the stories and will learn even more with the repetition."

My impression:  This simple curriculum for ages 4-6 follows the seasons and focuses on nature, being outside, and activities that are developmentally appropriate.

There are too many books (around 75 for three terms, 95 or so for the full year) so I would use only the literature books and even cut those back to about half.  Remember a few excellent books read repeatedly is better than an endless parade of new books. 

The instructions say that to be a full Kindergarten curriculum, you must add a math program.  I would instead use Games for Math by Peggy Kaye (recommended in Wee Folk Art).  I would also not do the phonics for a 4 year old, but save that for age 5 if your student is interested.  If your child is not interested, just set it aside.

There is a page for weekly narrations.  Children under 6 should not be expected to do narrations in a Charlotte Mason education, and at 6 they should not be written but oral.  Charlotte Mason narrations are also not summaries of the material, but what stood out to your child.

Recommended:  Yes, with modifications

Modifications needed?  Yes

  • Cut back on the amount of books, or spread the program over 2 or more years
  • Delete the narration requirements for ages 4-5.  If you are using this program with a 6 year old, change the narrations to Charlotte Mason-style oral narrations.
  • Save phonics and a math program for age 6.
  • Also, be aware of the activities that are scheduled from the Nature in a Nutshell book. Nature in a Nutshell  was written for 2nd-4th graders, so while observing the scales on a fish with a magnifying glass is wonderful for the preschoolers, getting into the explanation of circuli is a bit much.  Remember that our aim with a Charlotte Mason preschool is to increase nature connection and wonder, not to "enhance the educational value" of activities.

Twelve Little Tales


Twelve Little Tales is a story-starter and 12 prompt cards that will gently guide you on your storytelling journey each month.  Including enchanting stories and delightfully creative prompts adorned with original watercolor illustrations created just for the tales.

Recommended:  Yes

Modifications needed:  No. 

Hearth & Gnome

Hearth & Gnome Song and Storytime Circles are inexpensive instructional guides to bring music to your preschoolers.

They come from a Waldorf methodology and as such are compatible with a Charlotte Mason lifestyle in the early years (Waldorf and Charlotte Mason are very similar before the school years).

The Song and Storytime Circles are secular, but Music Unfolds (for school aged children) and a few of the stand-alone products (Music for Michaelmas, Music for Advent) aren't. 

The biggest problems  I see with the Song and Storytime Circles is that they are written in a "lesson plan" format with Objectives ("The children will") which can be off-putting to home educators.  Also, the samples appear to be written for small group situations, so if you have an only child you will need to make some modifications.

Recommended:  Yes

Modifications needed:  Maybe.

The guides appear to be written for small groups, so a few of the games might require modification if you have an only child.

The Little Oak Learning

A twelve week curriculum to gently carry you and your family through the seasons, with a rhythm and flow that leaves you feeling calm, happy and connected.

Each twelve week seasonal curriculum has six two week units, and each unit has a theme.  Unlike a unit study though, the theme isn't "let's learn all about this topic and make sure every activity is related to it in some way".  It is merely a unifying thread.

Each unit has weekly and daily plans, a story, songs, rhymes, finger plays, reflection activities, nature walks, recipes, purposeful work ideas, and art and craft ideas.

I love the look of this program, though be aware that the craft ideas might be contrived and busy work.  Instead of coloring a pre-drawn picture and cutting it out, or making a cat-ear headband out of paper, I would instead substitute those activities with open-ended projects and letting your child decide if and how he wants to make cat ears.

Recommended:   Yes, with minimal modifications

Modifications needed?  Minimal.  

Be aware of busy work and contrived paper crafts.  Instead skip these, substitute real projects,  or substitute open-ended projects where your child is the one who decides how to make the objects.

Wildwood Curriculum is a free, secular, inclusive Charlotte Mason curriculum.   Since Charlotte Mason did not advocate formal lessons before age 6, we have included a page with suggestions for what to do with your children before this age. 

I am one of the creators of Wildwood Curriculum and helped write this page.  It is a framework for you to use, but is does not go in depth into any one area.

Recommended:  Yes

Modifications needed:  None

Build Your Library is a Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum, and Level 0 is their "Kindergarten" year.

It is a trip around the world to visit children, see some animals in other parts of the world, and listen to folk tales from all over the globe.  There is no letter of the week, nor is it a "First Grade Readiness" program.

Because there seems to be a focus on books rather than experiences, I would definitely save this for ages 5 or 6.

It does need some modification for CM families.  In the intro to Year 0, Emily Cook (the creator) writes, "I have created this curriculum based on the idea that children learn best through reading and hearing great literature."   Charlotte Mason writes, however, that children in this age group learn best through direct interaction with things, rather than the symbols of things (words).

Thankfully Year 0 is not so filled with books that it crowds out other activities.

Emily comes from a Charlotte Mason background.  Even though the Build Your Library isn't strict Charlotte Mason,  because Charlotte Mason ideals and methods are ingrained in Emily, the "sense" of Charlotte Mason underlies her curriculum. 

The emphasis in Year 0 is on learning about children in other parts of the world, and exploring their cultures by hearing folk tales, making art, and eating the foods they eat.

Recommended?  Yes, with modifications

Modifications needed?  Yes

  • Don't do the activity sheets.  Just forget they're there
  • Use the literature and tales as nighttime reading so you can spend a lot of time outdoors during the day
  • I would recommend you pair this with my guide, A Quiet Growing Time: Charlotte Mason with Your 3 to 6 Year Old.  If you use BYL as written, it can easily become a list of books and activities to check off without Charlotte Mason's philosophy underpinning it

These programs would all fit nicely in a Charlotte Mason home, and even if you choose to go with a free rather than paid option, they should give you plenty of ideas if you're in need of inspiration.


best secular preschool programs pin
secular charlotte mason homeschool preschool

Learn how to introduce music and an instrument to your early elementary child even if you have absolutely no idea how to do it.

Living Music from the Heart

(Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. This means if you buy after clicking through a link, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

You’ve thought about a piano or keyboard like Charlotte Mason recommended, but that’s just too expensive right now. Besides, you have a small house with nowhere to put one.

You need a simple way to introduce an instrument to your young student that’s easy for you to fit into your life. Oh, and it has to be engaging for your wiggly child. AND it can’t break the bank.

If this sounds like you, then consider Volume 1: The Magic Flute by Jodie Messler 

I bought this program for my own 6-year-old and we’ve been working through it joyfully this year. (edit – we are now at 8 years old and going through it again)

Living Music from the Heart comes from a Waldorf background, but as with other Waldorf-inspired curricula I’ve reviewed and loved, it isn’t specific to a Waldorf style.  By that I mean, there’s nothing in it that you’d have to throw out to use with our Charlotte Mason education.

In Waldorf circles, students don’t start academics until the year they will be 7 for most of it.  In other words, if your child turns 7 in spring, they will generally wait until the following autumn to begin studies.

I recommend the same thing for most kids in a Charlotte Mason education, because most children at a young 6 just aren’t ready for “school.”

Living Music from the Heart is a lovely transitional program for your Kindergarten-at-6 year, and is also suitable up to age 9 for a child with no musical training.

Let’s get down to what the program actually consists of.

Features of Living Music from the Heart Magic Flute

Living Music introduces music theory to your child by teaching her to play the penny whistle by ear.  You can also use it to teach yourself the recorder or pentatonic flute, but you’ll need to YouTube the different fingering for those.

The tin whistle/pennywhistle is an inexpensive instrument that is easy for both a child and an adult to learn, so it is perfect for this age.   Waldorf methodology calls for a “blowing instrument” at these early years, but I like it for Charlotte Mason also because a piano is simply out of reach for many of us.

The program itself is a course on the thinkific platform and includes not only pdfs but videos as well, of every lesson. 

And… there are 9 teacher lessons, to teach YOU  how to play the instrument.

Not only that, but there is a video of Jodie teaching her own son a lesson. You can see just what can be expected of a young student!  It was so reassuring to see that even Jodie had to call him back a few times to keep him on track.

When my own daughter started giggling and ran out of the room during a lesson, I knew it wasn’t a problem with her. It was just the age — because I’d seen Jodie’s son do the same thing!

The entire course consists of 20 lessons, divided into four blocks over the entire calendar year.  Each lesson is marked with what time frame it works best for, like “May be used for weeks 1 & 2 of September”.

If you fall off schedule, it’s not a big deal.

It’s seasonal in that, for example, October music has a Jack O Lantern song. But as a bonus in the program are songs for autumn, Christmas, winter, spring, and summer songs. It’s so easy to just substitute an appropriate song. Those are also songs that the parent plays, so you don’t have to worry that your child doesn’t yet know those notes.

In addition, your child will knit a case for his tin whistle over the course of the year.  If you struggle to get any sort of handwork into your life, this is a simple, no-fuss way to do it!

Breakdown of lessons

Let me break the program down to an easy-to-digest format:

7 Teacher Lessons

20 lessons for your child

The 20 lessons are divided into 4 blocks (Wind, Fire, Earth, Water)

The first 16 lessons are to be done at a pace of 2 weeks per lesson (totally flexible though — let’s be honest here, sometimes that pace just doesn’t work for our family life!)

The last 4 lessons are to be done at 1 lesson per month.  These are scheduled over May, June, July, and August.  They are a really nice way to keep up over the summer, without feeling like your child is still keeping to a school schedule.

Each lesson consists of reviewing notes learned, rhythm practice via hand clap games, a song to learn (either singing or on the tin whistle), and often a separate game to play.

For each lesson, there is a pdf of what you will be teaching, plus a short video of Jodie demonstrating the songs and hand claps.

Children are encouraged to pick up the flute throughout the week and play it. Not play with it (we don’t want them turning into pretend-swords!) but actually play the pennywhistle throughout the week.

What Your Child will Learn

Your child won’t learn to play the pennywhistle like a virtuoso in Level 1 — you will only teach a few notes to your child at this level.  What your child will learn is

  • to play the notes B, A, and G properly, and by ear
  • how to finger them on a starter flute
  • rhythm
  • fast and slow
  • hand clap games
  • that playing music is fun and not stressful

I feel like that list doesn’t get across the way the curriculum feels though. It is written directly to the homeschooling mom and is full of gentleness and beauty. While each activity is short because a 6-year-old’s attention span is, it doesn’t feel like you are rushing from one thing to the next.

This course is for you if you want a different way of teaching music than the academic way you were taught.

Who This is not for

As much as I love the program, it’s not the right fit for everyone. So who shouldn’t buy it?

  • If you want an academic approach with reading music
  • If you want a particular style of teaching, like Suzuki
  • If your child is 7-9 years old and you know how to play the pennywhistle or pentatonic flute, start with Volume 2 rather than Volume 1

What are the cons?

Cost — Isn’t that always a concern? The current price is $125, and sometimes that can feel out of reach. I can help with that, though, because …

I have a coupon code for you! Purchase through this link and use coupon code green for $25 off

Production quality – the videos were filmed several years ago in Jodie’s house, and the production quality of them isn’t professional. It’s not a turn off to me (I’m teaching it in my own house, after all), but it’s something to be aware of upfront.

The good of this program far outweighs the cons, and overall it’s an excellent program for early elementary homeschools.

Have you used this program or any others from Living Music from the Heart? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Related posts:

Legends of the Staff of Musique: An Honest Review 
13 Secular Preschool Programs for Charlotte Mason homes
Do We Have to Start Lessons at 6?

Want to remember this review of Living Music from the Heart — Magic Flute: Volume 1? Pin it to your favorite homeschool pinterest board!

Learn 5 super-easy strategies to keep your child's attention during read aloud times. 

It happened again.

I had read an entire selection from our current read-aloud to my child. I could see her attention wandering, and by the end I knew I had lost her.

I knew it was an interesting book. I knew if I could keep her attention while I was reading aloud she would love it.

Bu when I finished with that short section, I asked her to tell me anything that she could remember.


Deer in the headlights.

It was obvious what I was doing just wasn't working. Being a being an analytical person, I knew I needed to figure out how to keep my child engaged during our read aloud times.

So I came up with 5 strategies that almost guarantee that my child will stay engaged (and yours, too!). 

I found them so useful that I made them into a bookmark that I use all the time! And It’s free for you to download in the CM Resource Library.

NOTE: Read aloud books are books that you read aloud to your children. They don't need to be fiction, but they should be living books for maximum engagement.

what you'll need to keep your child engaged during read alouds

1. Recap Last Week's Reading

Because we use a Charlotte Mason homeschooling approach, we read books slowly and over several weeks. This means we often read from a particular book only once a week.

This also means that if we pick up a book, that it's hard to remember off the top of our head exactly what happened the last time we read.

This is where the recap comes in.

Do you remember watching TV when you were a kid? Before Netflix when you could binge watch a whole season and one night?

When the episodes only came out once a week, at the beginning of each episode the announcer would briefly recap what had happened in previous episodes.

"Previously, on all my children."

Even cartoons would do this. "When we last saw our intrepid duo...."

We should do the same thing with our books. Help your child recall what happened the last time, so that they can get excited about what will happen next.

If you have trouble remembering, jot a few notes down on a Post-It note at the end of today's reading. 

Just a few words to jog your memory.

Stick it in your book with the bookmark below so you can easily refer to it next week.

That slides right into previewing what you're going to be reading this week.

2. be a movie trailer: preview this week's reading

Think about watching a movie trailer on TV.

It teases the exciting parts of the movie.

They don't give the whole plot away, but they give you just little snippets to make you want to watch it.

You call to your husband who is doing dishes in the kitchen while you're sitting on the couch, "Hey, honey? That looks so good. We're going to see that as soon as it comes out!"

A girl can dream, right?

Even without theatrical trailers, when you're telling someone about a movie that you want them to see, you'll tell them little bits of it. Just enough to get them to want to watch it,  but you're not giving them a full blow by blow account.

We want to do the same thing when we were reading to our child. If we've looked over the passage, we can give them just a little bit. Just enough to pique their interest.

No spoilers!

"Today we're going to find out what happened to Harry and Ron after they crashed the car into the woods."

Include your child in this.

Ask them, "What do you think's going to happen? Do you think their parents are going to be angry with them?"

Not only does this involve children in the story, but it also helps them develop the skill of predicting what will happen next.

It will help develop them into more active readers when they are reading their own books.

After you've recapped last week's reading, previewed this week's reading like a movie trailer, then remind them to listen closely.

3. Remember to Listen Closely

Even with getting kids excited about what's going to happen, it still helps to just give them that little reminder to pay attention.

I use a very simple, "Remember to listen closely now."

Or sometimes, I'll say, "Remember to pay attention."

Either one reminds your child what she's supposed to be doing.

It's just a little reminder but it seems to really help when they're told, that this is what they need to do.

Once we've recapped last week's episode, previewed this week's passage, and reminded our child to listen closely, now it's time to actually start reading.

And the only way to read is to read with feeling.

4. Read with Feeling

It doesn't matter how engaging a book is, if it's being read in a monotone voice it's hard to follow.

It doesn't matter how old the listener is. If the presentation is boring, the listener will be bored.

Think about your favorite audio books.

Chances are, the narrator is involved with the book. He's able to convey that by how he reads it.

This means doing the voices if you're reading something with dialogue.

It means putting emotion into your voice.

It means slowing down in the difficult places and speeding up in the exciting places.

Convey as much emotion as you can while you're reading to your kids.

Use your entire body. Use hand, arm, and facial gestures.

If you come to a part where a character slowly cracks open a door and peaks around the door frame, then act that out while you're reading.

If you're not used to doing this, it can feel really embarrassing. Even if your only audience is your kids.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

This alone is the number one way to keep your child's attention. 

If you are engaged, they are much more likely to be engaged.

But it doesn't matter how exciting you make the reading if those who are listening don't understand the words.

5. Define Words in Context

Listening comprehension is a complicated mix of being interested in the material, understanding the meaning of the words, and drawing on our previous experiences for background knowledge.

It doesn't matter how interesting the material is, if the vocabulary is too high.

One way around this is to define words in context. 

What that means is we're not going to write vocabulary words on a chalkboard before we start. We're going to give the definition of some of the difficult words as we're reading.

"Peter's coat and shoes were plainly to be seen upon the scarecrow, topped with an old tam-o-shanter of Mr. McGregor's." 

Look up from the book, look at your child, and say, "A tam-o'-shanter is a kind of floppy hat."

Then continue reading. "Little Benjamin said it spoils people's clothes to squeeze under a gate..."

See how this doesn't interrupt the flow of the story? But it gives your child enough information that they can picture things in their head. Even if they don't know the words.

Don't do this to every word. Just the ones that you know your child does not understand and that would be hard to figure out just from context. (Is a tam-o-shanter a scarf? A hat? A cape?)

If you're having to stop every sentence to define words in context, then the vocabulary of that particular book is probably too high.

Find a book that will be easier for your child to understand, that still has good vocabulary in it, and then work your way into these higher level books.


Did you skip to the end? Here are the five strategies to use every time you're doing a read-aloud with your child.

  • Recap last week's reading
  • Preview this week's reading (think movie trailer)
  • Say, "Remember to listen closely"
  • Read with feeling
  • Define words in context

I put these five tips onto a beautiful, simple, done-for-you bookmark to keep as an easy reference.

They are printed four to a page, so all you have to do is print out a sheet, cut on the solid lines, and then fold the top on the dotted lines.

One of the things that I hate about bookmarks is that they always slip out when I open a book. By hooking that folded part over the top of the page, the bookmark stays in place.

Not only is it a handy way to keep your place, but you'll be reminded every time you open that book to do these five simple steps.

Soon it will become second nature!

Learn why you shouldn’t go on nature walks with your children, and what you should do instead.

What do you picture when you hear the words “nature walk”? Is it a woman in Edwardian clothing walking briskly down a country lane, taking deep power breaths through her nose? (“Ahhh… smell that country air!”)

An adult in jeans and tank top leading a small group of kids, clapping to get their attention, then pointing at a tree and saying, “Kids, look at the trees. Observe the coloring of the leaves.” (moment of silence while the kids look at the tree and try to figure out what they’re supposed to be noticing)

Then stopping after a few more steps to say, “Look at the flower over there. When we get home we’re going to draw it.”

And the kids smile lamely, wishing they were playing Plants vs Zombies 3?

I can’t imagine any thing more uninspiring to an energetic and rambunctious child. I get bored even thinking about it!

(At a loss as to what to ask your kids when you’re outside to get them noticing the natural world? Download free “I Wonder …” questions from my Resource Library)

Never go on a nature walk

My kids?

We go off trail. We get dirty. We get mud ground into the knees of our jeans. We get sticks and leaves and straw in our hair. We crawl through the bushes as we’re stalking small animals.

We are getting down on our bellies and looking at the ants pretending we’re a zoom lens. (Anyone else’s kids love insects?)

But we never, ever go on a nature walk.

What is a nature walk? defines nature walk as “a walk on a nature trail, especially with an experienced guide.”

What is a walk? It’s a stroll. It’s putting your feet one in front of the other. Your mind may be somewhere else and you’re just moving.

The purpose of a walk is to move, right? To advance or travel on foot at a moderate speed or pace. That’s the whole purpose of it.

It’s not to explore, it’s not to have fun, it’s to get from Point A to Point B. That’s what you do when you walk someplace.

So if I am not about to do a nature walk, then what do we do?

We don’t go on nature walks.

We go on adventures.

Nature adventures

At a nature walk information is being lectured by the person leading the walk by the guide.

It’s not being discovered.

I have visions of a man wearing khaki shorts with binoculars and lifting those binoculars to his eyes while saying, “What ho! A rare black bellied whistling duck! Jolly good.”

Nope, not for me.

Adventures all the way.

We pretend we’re in the movie Swiss Family Robinson and we have to belly crawl up to the top of the hill so we can look out over the landscape and see where the pirates are coming up after us.

We stalk animals, we stalk pretend dragons. We go on quests to find elusive lizards. We see a bird or a mule deer or a desert cotton-tailed rabbit or a pterodactyl and we stop dead in our tracks.

And then we whisper, “Let’s go really really quiet now.”

And then we slowly, slowly, ever so slowly try to get closer.

We try to make no noise as we creep forward, slightly hunched over….

….putting our feet down deliberately but gently, one slow step at a time.

We pretend we’re in a Mission Impossible movie and we’re trapped behind enemy lines and we’re trying to get out.

How to go on a nature adventure

But you’re wondering, how do you actually do it? How do you switch from walking down the sidewalk and looking at the bushes while trying to get your 12-year-old to stop chatting with his buddy about his latest Lego mock-up of the Millenium Falcon?

First, seed them with great adventure shows. 

Some great ones to start watching are I Shouldn’t Be Alive and Brave Wilderness on YouTube.

Anything to get into your kids that sense of adventure.

Pretend that you’re part of a book.

Pretend that you’re Sam Gribley from My Side of the Mountain.

Are these trees big enough to to make a home like he did? Why or why not?

Yeah, don’t actually say, “Why or why not?” or you’ll sound like a textbook. Just bring it into your discussion.

Use these nature adventures — and I wouldn’t even call them nature adventures, just adventures— use these adventures to get your kids excited about being out in nature.

Talk about, what we could use these sticks for. Could we use them to make a weapon? Could we use them as a walking stick?

If somebody got hurt, how could we use them to help? Could we use them to splint an arm?

Is this the kind of wood that we could use to start a fire with?

And when we get into questions like these, our kids start making connections.

They start making connections to not only the natural materials but what they can be used for. It drives them deeper right into that sense of adventure.

You can bring in primitive skills even, or bushcraft or woodcraft skills. You can bring in fire making, you can bring an edible plants, you can bring in medicinal plants.

You can learn more about the animals by noticing, “Oh, this plant right here has been bitten by something. What kind of animal do you think nibbled on the leaves?”

Download FREE “I Wonder…” Questions from the Resource Library to make nature study easy.

Use them when you’re out on your adventures as jumping off points. I fall back on these many times a week, sometimes using as is, sometimes using them to leapfrog to other questions.

And then you start talking about, “Ooh here’s the animal trail. Do you see how this is trampled down more than the surrounding area? If you were in a survival situation because you got lost, how could you use this information?”

Look really closely at those flowers. These leaves that you’ve belly crawled through because you’re looking out for those pirates. Are the leaves smooth or are they rough or sticky? What are the petals like? Are there a lot of petals in a ray or are they in a bell shape? What color are they? Are they a light purple? Dark purple? Striped purple?

And then when you go home, draw that plant that you could use to poison those pirates.

Or that you could use to heal the dragon.

When you bring the adventure, when you bring the storytelling to the kids, then it it imprints the experience on their minds so much more than if you’re just walking out for a stroll and saying, “Oh, look at that tree. Oh what a pretty flower.”

The next time you decide to go out on a nature walk, don’t.

Instead go on an adventure.

And see how different the experiences and see how the experience has changed.

Related Posts:

What is the Charlotte Mason method?

6 Essential Resources You Can’t Live Without

Want to remember why I don’t go on nature walks (and you shouldn’t either)? Pin it to your favorite Pinterest board!

Does the idea of giving exams terrify you? Here's a step-by-step tutorial to walk you through the process. Exams don't have to be scary!

The purpose of exams

Unlike many exams where the purpose is to find out what the child knows and does not know, Charlotte Mason exams instead are designed to showcase what the child knows.

They are not only an assessment tool for the parent, but also let the parent or teacher know what the students are remembering and connecting with.

Why is this important?

When we see what our children are connecting with and remembering, we can also then see what they are not remembering, with no stress to the child. 

We can also see any misconceptions that they might have developed over the weeks and months since the last time we worked on specific material.

Exams are a confidence boost for kids because they get to show off what they know.

The questions are broad enough that they can almost always recall at least some information. No more staring at a blank sheet of paper in dread desperately trying to remember the non-metals of the periodic table.

How to Give Exams Step-by-step

Let's walk through step-by-step how to give Charlotte Mason exams. It's easier than you think!

step one: prepare the exams

But how do you come up with exam questions for your children? How do you know what sorts of questions are appropriate? If our only model is the example that we had in public school, how do we translate that to the very different educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason? How do we rephrase questions to be more along with Charlotte Mason was thinking?

This is where the primary sources come into play. We are lucky enough to have many copies of the Parents National Education Union programmes available to us as a model. (The PNEU was the organization that Miss Mason founded to administer her method to member homeschools and brick & mortar schools.)

The families of the PNEU received not only the plan for the term, (that is, what books and resources were to be used and activities that were to be done,) but also exam questions appropriate to the Form. 

Note: If  the terminology used in Charlotte Mason circles sounds like a foreign language, refer to this Beginner's Guide to CM Terminology.

Use these exam questions as your template for your own exams.

The first part of the file on is the program itself, but the second part is the exams that were sent out for that term. Each file on has at least Forms 1,  2,  3, and 4. Some of them also have Forms 5 and 6.

So we have plenty of examples of exams for students aged 6 through 14. but less for students ages 15 through 18.

Need a little hand-holding? Here's a step-by-step video walk-through of how to find the PNEU programmes and exams.

Step 2: Sub in exam information from your own resources

We can't just use the PNEU exam questions as written, however. Obviously when we change books many of the exam questions are no longer relevant to us.

That doesn't mean we throw the whole thing out; it just means that that we have to create our own exam questions based on the models.

Some questions we will be able to lift straight from the programmes. Questions like

  • Write a line of poetry from memory
  • Drawing: two kinds of wild fruits (from nature)
  • What music by Schubert have you heard this term? Say what you can about one of his (a) songs or (b) pieces for piano.
  • Reading: Father to choose unseen passage.

Some we will be able to use with only a small amount of modification.

  • Write in verse (which must scan), otherwise in prose, upon one of the following, (a) Prometheus, (b) General Gordon, (c) Wayland Smith, (d) Sir Francis Drake, (e) Puck.

Look at how many choices the students had! It wasn't simply write about A or B-- they were given five different topics that they could write about. This particular question was from Form 3, so ages 12 to 14.

It's simple enough to substitute the characters or situations we have read about in the last twelve weeks, no matter what books you are using. On this question, we have figures from mythology, from the biography read, from history, and from Shakespeare.

Remember that a term was twelve weeks long, so we don't want to go back further than that. It's tempting to let the terms drag out for five months if life has gotten in the way and you haven't gotten as much as you wanted to get done.

But rather than waiting until all of the material from the term has been worked through, and that comes six months down the road, instead simply call three months into your school year the end of the term no matter how much work you've actually gotten done.

Adjust your exam questions based on the material that you've actually gotten done within the last three months, not on what you had planned to get done.

step 3: spread the exam over several days

Give the exams spread across a week.

We want to keep the exams to about the same amount of time as we are allowing in our regular routine for each subject. If you are following the time tables or schedules from the PNEU or you have made your own, then you will still follow that plan for exam week.

But instead of doing your regular learning, you will be doing exams.

For Form 1, the student dictates all the answers except for the specific category of writing. For Form 2, ages 9-12, the students still dictate much of the answers, but can do some of the writing on their own.

What you don't want to do is let any student's slower writing ability impact the answers they're giving in the exams. So if your student struggles with writing, either written narrations or the physical act of handwriting, then you'll want to take dictation for him.

On the other hand, if a student writes freely and it's easier for her or for him to write than to tell the answers, then you will let the student write as much as they want.

The 12 to 14 year old, if they have no writing disability, should be writing as much of the exam as they can.

When spreading the exams over several days you will very likely get through the questions quickly. That will give a lighter week than a typical learning week so it also will make for easing into a break. 

Step four: One tip for giving the exam

Keep in mind that this is a new process for both you and your student.

If your child freezes, or gets frustrated, or wails, "I don't remember anything,"  or "I have no idea," this can be frustrating to us also. We think all of this time that we've spent the last three months learning this information is completely wasted.

Remember though that part of this can be performance anxiety, and the way to get through this is to not express disappointment or anger that they do not remember.

Now it might be that they legitimately don't remember, or it might be that they're just freezing from being put on the spot. Either way don't get angry with them.

Don't let them see disappointment.

This is not a reflection on you.

Remember that the purpose of exams is for them to show their knowledge, not for them to be caught out with what they don't know.

Simply say something like, "This is just like the narration that we've been doing. Can you tell me just one small thing from it?" If they can't, smile and say, "That's okay. We'll move on."

Don't make a big deal about it.

You want to ease their distress, minimize their stress, as much as you can.

One thing that I did find when I gave exams to my daughter was that if she could not narrate at the time that we went over the material, she rarely could narrate when we actually gave exams.

That narration was what cemented the material into her mind. Or it could be that the narration was what she understood at the time and she wasn't able to make other connections later. I don't know which one it was but it was an interesting point.

Oh, and one more thing. What you think is important to remember may very well not be what they remember.

That's OK.

These are not public school tests, where the student is expected to memorize certain facts. It's about building relationships with the material, and making connections on their own.

Step five: evaluate your exams

When you are finished giving those exams for the week, write down how it went

This is the step we always want to skip. We think that of course we'll remember what happened!

But you won't.

You won't remember the details any more than you remember what that brown lumpy stuff is in the Tupperware container in the back of the fridge.

Write down any pitfalls, any things that you took note of or noticed, any things that you would like to next.

Did you see that you need to be more consistent with your lessons? Did you see that there are some books or resources that were easier for your child to narrate or to make connections from or were somewhere more difficult? 

And celebrate their successes! Any little thing that you were surprised at or that they did particularly well, write that down because it's so easy to remember only the tough parts, the things that didn't work.

But it's more important to look at what they did remember. At the connections they did make.

If they were not able to narrate at all from one of the books, then think back on that.

Is this the book that they showed no interest in while they were reading it or you were reading it to them, if they're younger?

During the term did this seemed like a book that they simply did not understand? If so, and at the end of the exam you found that they really couldn't remember anything from it, then seriously consider either changing out that book or doing something during the next term to help them interact with that material even more.

Narration is the act of interacting with the material, listening to the material, processing it in the mind, pulling it back out of the mind, in order to really assimilated.

It does not have to be done orally-- it can be drawn, it can be acted, it can be written.

There are all sorts of ways that you can do narrations.

However, if they are interacting with the material well during the week during the regular term and you feel like it's that they simply we're having problems with the exam itself, then the answer to that is just to make exams regular and stress-free.

I do not mean monthly, I mean at the end of every term. 

At the end of every three months of your school, make sure that you are doing a week of exams.

quick recap

Giving exams is an important part of a Charlotte Mason education.

  • They should be done every 3 months during the school year
  •  prepare the exams using the PNEU programme exams as examples
  •  substitute information from the books that you were using in your own studies
  •  spread the exams over a full week
  •  don't express disappointment or anger if your children do not remember what you want them to remember
  •  evaluate at the end what went right, what went wrong, what do you want to change for next term if anything, and what do you want to do differently the next exam

I hope this has eased some of your anxiety about giving exams.  

One last thing -- have a treat at the end.

Ice cream is good.