Subject Specific

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The religious imagery in poems, the outdated information, the colonialism.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

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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.


How to Schedule Form I (ages 6-9)

Do We Have to Start Lessons at 6?

What Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers Ought to Learn from Waldorf

How Fast Do We Read Books in a CM Education?

How to Make the Best Loop Schedule to Banish Overwhelm

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

Do you struggle with how to teach your preschooler a foreign language? Charlotte Mason suggested beginning at the earliest ages, but how do we do that when we don’t speak the language ourselves?

We know that using a curriculum for this age group is anathema to a Charlotte Mason education, but what should we do instead?

Should we even teach a foreign language to our little ones, or is it better to just wait until school age?

As so often happens, I’ve found the Parents’ Review addresses just these problems. Isn’t it amazing that parents have had the same struggles and doubts for 130 years? It really puts things into perspective when you look at it that way.

To begin:

Yes, we should teach our young ones a foreign language. It is never too early. But how to start?

First Steps in learning a language for preschoolers

For this article, we’ll look at the Parents’ Review Volume 1, No 4, pages 269-273  : Nursery French

“Many of the mothers of to-day will still remember the sad bewilderment and weariness of their first French lessons, when at the age of nine or ten they were considered old enough to “begin” French, and were suddenly called upon to grapple with the difficulties of reading and writing in a foreign language, whose words, pronunciation, construction, were all alike equally strange and uninteresting to them.

Believing, as we do now, that children should learn a foreign language as they learn their mother tongue – they speak it long before they learn to read and write – we endeavour to give the little ones while still in the nursery a joyous and interesting oral introduction, by means of games, songs, and stories, to the future study of the language as read and written.”

Here we see that our preschool language learning should be entirely oral, and done by means of games, songs, and stories. These will lay the foundation for future book studies of the language (starting in Form 2, around the ages of 9-10).

This is good for me to read, because I tend to think that early learning can (or should!) give a complete grasp of the new language. The author, Francis Epps, is telling us though that we are simply laying a foundation at this point, and more in-depth studies will come later.

Let’s read on:

“Passing over the baby stage of learning, the names of the objects in sight, at table, round the room, out of doors (never omitting the article), and the learning of little sentences by slow and careful repetition, e.g., “J’ai une rose,” “le chat dort,” “j’aime ma mère,” the little one will soon be ready to join in the lively dancing and singing games of his elder brothers and sisters…”

Whoa, I need to stop there! The sentence continues, but I want to break this down into manageable bits.

Have you done this with your child yet? I haven’t!


Before we even get to singing games and lively dancing, it is assumed that we have finished the “baby stage of learning,” the names of everyday objects both in and outdoors.

Silverware, simple furniture, trees, plants, birds … these are all words we can learn with our young ones.

How? Perhaps we get a 100 First Words in French (or Spanish, or whatever your target language is) and work through it. This would introduce the written word to the children, though, and that is not what we want.

How about learning 3-4 new words per day, and using a tool like Google Translate to do it? Use the small speaker icon to learn proper pronunciation. Make sure to use the ‘article’ with the noun (whatever means ‘a’ or ‘the’ in your target language, so your children naturally learn the gender of the noun).

If 3-4 new words per day is too much, try 1-2. Use them in your conversation throughout your day. Slip them in, substitute the words for typical English words.

“Lexi, it’s time to come to la mesa for dinner!”

“Joey, put your zapatos on please, we’re going outside!”


Then learn little sentences by slow and careful repetition. The examples given here translate to “I have a rose,” “The cat is sleeping,” and “I love my mother.”

This exercise alone could take several months before you run out of words in your immediate surroundings.

The rest of the sentence talks about specific actions in specific nursery songs. One in particular that many of us know is “he will before long be quite … successful … in ‘washing his face’ with dancing round the ‘Mulberry Bush’”

I had to look this up (shame!) but, there’s more than one Mulberry Bush song. While what came to mind was the monkey chasing the weasel, there’s another that I’d forgotten:

Here we go round the mulb’ry bush, the mulb’ry bush, the mulb’ry bush. Here we go round the mulb’ry bush so early in the morning.

Next verses are This is the way we wash our face, then This is the way we comb our hair, etc.

Sing this in your target language and do the actions at the same time, and it’s a fun way to learn more of the language. The children dance around and do the actions, having fun and cementing the words and phrases at the same time.

A good option here is a CD of nursery rhymes, preferably sung by a native speaker, and also preferably with full directions given for the action songs.

“The children will, naturally, learn the words slowly and carefully, with their meaning, as well as the actions and music.”


A few games are also suggested in this Parents’ Review article:

1) I have a basket.

“all sit round the table, or the fire, and the mother says to her right-hand little neighbour, “J’ai un panier.” [I have a basket] This calls for the interested question, “Que mets-tu dedans?” [What do you put in it?] and its answer by mother, “J’y mets des poires,” [I put pears in it] “ des œufs,” [eggs] or any other familiar object. The little neighbour first spoken to then tells her right-hand neighbor “J’ai un panier,” and so the announcement, questions, and answer pass round the circle. Generally, the children try to think of something amusing to put in their baskets, and the game goes on amid a ripple of merry laughter.”

2) Picture bingo (“French Loto”)

“each child has a card with about twenty little pictures of familiar objects on it, and a heap of as many counters. The leader of the game reads out from a list she has the name of one of the objects represented on a card, perhaps “la chaise.” The child who has the picture on her card says, “J’ai la chaise,” and covers it with a counter; the one who gets all the pictures on the card covered first, wins the game.”

3) Buz

It is agreed before the game that a certain number, say “seven” (whatever the number is your target language) shall not be mentioned, either by itself or in seventeen, twenty-seven, etc, and that “Buz” should be said instead. The counting goes regularly round and round, each one saying the number which comes next. Uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco, seis, buz, ocho …. Children eagerly await their chance of saying buz and of catching the forgetful one who says vientesiete.

4) 20 Questions and I Spy, both played in the target language.

Here are directions for playing in Spanish.

Next we are told that “besides the words of the songs they sing, children much enjoy learning to recite little fables and stories….”

For those learning Spanish, Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Salsa series is wonderful for this. For other languages, look for simple repetitive fairy tales. Especially good for parents are those that have been recorded online by native speakers.

You can go to your local library and ask the librarian if your library has any resources for these. There may be audio books, or digital resources, or even story time if the language is one that’s widely spoken in your area.

The Accent

Here we come to the crux of the matter.

“How are we to secure a good accent for our children? A mother may do her painstaking best in her nursery French games and plays, but most likely she will feel, unless she has been educated in France, that there is a too conscious effort about it all…”

Over the last pages of the Parents’ Review article, Frances Epps suggests the same thing Charlotte Mason did – that a French woman be employed for a few hours per week to tell stories and converse with the children. To cut costs, she suggested the expense be shared among several families, to create a group of about 12 children.

How can we do this now?

Think about what resources are available to you. Does your library have a language time for tots, with a native speaker? Do you have a friend or family member who speaks the language that would be willing to spend regular time with your child?

Perhaps a local language school has a Mom and Me time (this would be more common in large cities).

Can you afford an internet language tutor for half an hour 2x per week, one who works with kids?

Your last option might be watching children’s dvds in the language you’re learning, simply for the accent.

Music and youtube videos aimed at children, especially when done by native speakers, is another way.

Read this excellent article from Fluent In 3 Months on why you should teach your children a foreign language, even if you aren’t good at it yourself:   Why I’m Teaching my Kids to Speak French Badly (And Why I Think You Should, Too) 

The Takeaway

  • Start with “baby French” (or whatever language you choose).
  • names of objects in sight, around the room, and outdoors
  •  little phrases and sentences, spoken as a whole and memorized (“I love my mother,” “This is a beautiful flower”)
  • Move on to nursery rhymes, action games, and other children’s songs.
  • Then add simple games that are played as much as possible in your target language.
  • Next, fables and stories.
  • And last, take advantage of any native speakers you have available to you.

Though we will begin with “baby French”, the next steps don’t need to be done sequentially. They can be done in any order or all at the same time.

Whatever works well for you!

Have you introduced a new language to your young children? I’d love to know what resources you’ve used, and whether or not you felt they were worth the time or money!

Want to remember How to Teach Foreign Language to Young Children? Pin it to your favorite Pinterest board!


Artist study is one area I’ve always struggled with.

I don’t know much about the artists or styles or periods that they worked. I couldn’t tell you the difference between Impressionist and Post-Impressionist.

I’ve always been stumped about what to actually do with my kids during art appreciation. Do we just look at the picture? Am I supposed to point out the use of color? How do I help my kids learn about art if I don’t know anything myself?

Have you felt this way, too?

Reading through the Parents’ Review articles I was happy to find an article titled Art for Children written by Thomas Rooper.

What sort of art to use for artist study—

On page 248, it says that the wisdom of the day was that children couldn’t appreciate high minded art, and both the subject and treatment should be simple or children won’t like them.

We still get that today. A quick search for art for children’s rooms turns up nauseatingly simple designs of giraffes and rabbits, with bold, simple colors.

There is no beauty, no subtlety.

Instead, Mr. Rooper reminds us of this:

“’Young citizens,’ says Plato in the Republic, ‘must not be allowed to grow up amongst images of evil, lest their souls assimilate the ugliness of their surroundings. Rather they should be like men living in a beautiful healthy place; from everything that they see and hear, loveliness like a breeze should pass into their souls and teach them without their knowing it the truth of which beauty is a manifestation.’ In the study of art ‘liking comes by looking.’ Children cannot learn what a beautiful work of art really is unless they have an opportunity of seeing good specimens almost every day of their lives. A love for the study of beautiful things is gained by a slow process; it cannot be dinned into the mind like the multiplication table, it was never imparted by the rapid method of acquiring knowledge which is known as ‘cramming.’”

There’s our first step — choose beautiful pictures. Not cute, not ugly or disturbing. Beautiful.

artist study


After you’ve decided on suitable art, how do you bring it to the children?

“Leaving to others the study of the technical skill displayed by the artist, and of the position of the painter in the closely connected schools of European Art, I will direct attention to the subject which has been chosen, and then to the thoughts which the present treatment of it may suggest.”

Ah-ha! We don’t need to talk about whether an artist was Impressionist or talk about how he used color in this way and that artist uses it in that way.

Instead, we draw the children’s attention to the subject painted.

That’s not to say that you can’t talk about the schools of art, or that you shouldn’t as a child gets older. But this is not something you need to go deeply into.

For older students, a quick biography or object lesson concerning the artist of the term will suffice, while younger children don’t need even that.


The painting used in this example is called “Circe” by Briton Riviere circe and her swine by briton for artist study

“Have you ever gone to see the pigs fed? … As we approach the sty bearing a heavy bucket of bran and meal stirred up into a thick creamy mixture, we hear inside pushing, struggling, squealing, grunting, shrieks of excited greedy anticipation mixed with squeals of disappointment, as some porker gets shoved away by an old sow from a place near the trough which is to receive the cause of all this babel of sounds. Now we pour out the luscious nutriment. Wonderful result! In a moment the din stops. Not a sound is heard but of a furious supping, interrupted by an occasional subdued and comfortable grunt of utter enjoyment and satisfaction.”

At this point, the author isn’t even talking about the picture. He’s just setting the stage for it, talking to the children about feeding pigs. He’s using descriptive words, making it fun, and letting us feel like we’re actually out throwing the slop.

Once we have this background, we can start talking about the painting itself.

“If we now study the picture we shall see that the pigs are painted as at the moment when they expect to be fed. See them crowding up, pushing each other over, uplifting their ugly heads, stretching their throats …”

Interesting! He’s not just putting the picture in front of the children and letting them ‘get what they get’, he’s actually drawing their attention to certain bits. Because he’s set the scene, we can see exactly what he’s talking about. If he hadn’t had us imagine that we were feeding the pigs, we might not have understood when he says “we see that the pigs are painted at the moment when they expect to be fed.”

“Look at their flexible coarsely-shaped snouts, their huge wrinkled brawny faces with small greedy eyes, and ask yourselves whether the artist has not studied nature to good purpose, in depicting the scene of animal selfishness which I have just described.”

And again, he’s specifically pointing out how they are portrayed. Their huge wrinkled brawny faces. Their flexible, coarsely-shaped snouts. I can almost see a pigs snout moving and snuffling just from this description; how much more alive will this make the painting!

“Let us now turn … to contemplate the fair form of the woman who sits and surveys it. What a contrast! What grace, refinement, and beauty are here! Observe the long fall of hair, gathered above the neck in a single circlet of gold, the graceful curve of the seated figure …”

And then here, he’s contrasting. He’s pointing out the difference in how the woman is drawn to how the pigs are.

But do you see? He’s not only pointing out the contrast, he’s also drawing the children’s attention to details they might otherwise miss. The single circlet of gold in her hair, the graceful curves.

By directing children’s attention, we are also refining it. We are modeling for them what close observation of a painting looks like.


After the picture itself is admired and studied, the author gives even more background.

It is not simply a painting of a beautiful woman feeding pigs, but an illustration from Homer’s Odyssey. Then he tells the children an abbreviated version.

Do you think a child, after studying this painting in this manner, might want to go further and listen to an audiobook of a dramatized version of The Odyssey?

This might even be a good lead-in for an older student before beginning to read The Odyssey for himself.

But what if you have no idea if there’s a story behind a painting?

The internet is our friend.

Spend a few minutes on Wikipedia before presenting a painting, so you are armed with at least a bit of knowledge before starting.


Now that you know a good way to present art to your children, are you wondering where to find it?

  •  One easy way is artist calendars. has many calendars for $14.99, or you can look in bookstores or even discount stores. While it sounds expensive, at 12 prints per calendar (make sure you get one with different pictures for each month), it works out to $1.25 per print.The paper is heavy and fairly resistant to grubby fingerprints.And they are easy to cut up to hang on walls or otherwise display.
  •  Come Look with Me series by Gladys Blizzard. These are cheaper than calendars, come with artist bios and questions, but can’t be cut up to be displayed.
  • Download and print

The Met Museum has released 400,000 digital images of its collection into the public domain.

They also have hundreds of art books free for download.


There you have it, folks. Artist study should be guided somewhat, but we can leave the technical talk out of it.

Do a bit of research yourself before presenting a print to your child. Set the scene. Draw their attention to details. Then give backstory and connections if there are any.

That’s it.

Like so many things in a Charlotte Mason education, so very simple, but so effective.

Do you have a favorite artist or piece of art? Share it in the comments!

Classical Music for Halloween

Add this beautiful spooky music to your Halloween playlist.

We want our families to experience and learn to appreciate beauty.

But who says that beautiful music must only be light and upbeat?

Classical Music for the Halloween season

Here are several classical music pieces that are perfect to add to your Halloween repertoire.  Play them throughout the day to add some spookiness to your life.

Night on Bald Mountain

Danse Macabre

Marche Funebre d’une Marionette

March to the Scaffold

In the Hall of the Mountain King

Toccatta and Fugue in d minor

Ride of the Valkyrie

I’ve even made it easy for you with a YouTube playlist!