Your spouse is almost home from work and you still have no idea what you’re cooking for dinner.  You guess it’s spaghetti again, and hope the family doesn’t complain that it’s the second time this week.  You’ve been running all day but can’t figure out what you’ve done, and you still haven’t gotten a full day of all the lessons you’re “supposed to do” in, and you wonder how in the world people pull off this Charlotte Mason thing.

You want to do more intentional work with the kids, but there’s always someone asking for something, and the living room floor strewn with toys and half-finished projects covering the dining table nag at you.  And you’re just so tired!

You get the kids in bed and plop on the couch to veg and watch a few Netflix shows that you don’t even care about, but you can’t think about doing more.

You finally drag yourself to bed and sigh when you see the piles of clean clothes you dumped there this morning.  You didn’t get around to folding them today, but you’re so exhausted it’s not going to happen now.  Sweeping them off into the clothes basket, you promise yourself you’ll fold them tomorrow.  Then you remember the wet clothes still in the washer.

You love your family, love your kids, but can’t help but think, “Is this all there is?”

Sound familiar?  I’ve been there.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

You can be fulfilled, joyful, happy, and have a life that feels easy (or at least doesn’t feel hard all the time).

Over the last several years, I’ve come to see that there are things that when instituted consistently, bring this peace to a homeschool.  It doesn’t matter what kind sort of homeschool philosophy you follow; these principals are universal.

I call them the four pillars of a peaceful homeschool.

Why pillars?  I love this visual of Greek architecture.  Pillars are what hold up great amounts of weight.  They are so much more than just decorative accents, but are instead integral parts of the structure.  Take a pillar away and the entire thing can come crashing down.  At the same time, they are more than just utilitarian.  They can be beautiful in their own right.

The beauty of these four pillars is that they not apply no matter what homeschool philosophy you follow, but they aren’t dependent on a religious tradition or a specific culture.  They are universal.

What are they?

Self-care, Rhythm, White Space, and Gratitude

Each one is just as important as the others.  Let’s take each one in turn.

Pillar 1:  Self-Care

You’re laughing to yourself right now, aren’t you?  You can’t even go to the bathroom alone without little fingers sticking under the door, how can you even think of self-care?

In order to continually give give give to your family, you have to also take care of yourself.  You know how when you fly on an airplane they tell you that if the oxygen masks fall, put it on yourself first and then help those around you?  They say this because you can’t help anyone else if you’ve passed out from lack of oxygen.

The same applies to your life.  You can’t give endlessly of yourself if you’re not taking care of yourself.  Sure, you can force yourself through for awhile, but it shows up in snappish attitudes, short tempers, impatience, depression, feeling like chores are endless and a drudgery, resenting your family, and avoiding doing the daily tasks that need to be done to run a smooth house and homeschool.

When I first heard of self care I imagined a woman going for a weekly manicure and massage, putting on a full face of makeup every day, and going on regular shopping trips with her friends while her kids ran wild at home.

No thank you!  I’m not a shopper, I don’t ever do my nails, and I’m not about to spend the money on relaxing massages.

Self-care doesn’t mean you’re selfish and it also doesn’t need to take a lot of money.

Think of a few small things that you could do every day that would refresh you.  That are for you and you alone.

Here are some ideas:

  • sit on the back porch in the morning
  • get up earlier than the kids (highly recommended!) to have a few minutes just to yourself
  • set aside 10 minutes at night to read a book that has nothing to do with homeschooling and that’s just for you
  • take 10 minutes while you’re outside with the kids and take off your shoes to stand barefoot on the earth
  • put on under eye concealer and mascara
  • read from a book of wisdom from a spiritual tradition
  • let your spouse put your kids to bed while you take a bath

Plopping on the couch to watch Netflix in a daze after the kids are in bed is not self care (though being intentional about it can be).  Surfing on your phone mindlessly watching cat videos is not self care.

A good barometer is to ask yourself afterward, “Do I feel refreshed?  Or do I feel like I just wasted that time?”

Write down your own list.  Then look at that list again and decide on one or two things that you can realistically carve out time for on a daily basis.

And then do it.

Pillar 2:  Rhythm

Regularity.  Routine.  Cycle.  Predictability.  A template for your day, your week, the season, the year.

Knowing what’s coming because you have a regular routine frees up valuable brain space.  It’s important for kids because it makes them feel secure about the predictability of the their world, but it’s just as important for adults.

Start with mealtimes and sleeping times.

A regular bedtime for both the kids and you, early enough that they and you can get enough sleep to be rested during the day.

Naps are good too, for both young kids and nursing moms.

Develop reasonable times for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  They don’t need to be bam-on-the-dot every day, but try to shoot for a 15 to 20 minute range.

Once you have those pretty well in hand, try time blocking the rest of your day.  You don’t need to be a slave to a schedule, and certainly not one that’s scheduled to 15 and 30 minute increments.

Instead, time blocking means that maybe you decide to do lessons in the morning and household work in the afternoon.  Or an hour and a half of lessons in the morning, an hour of working on the house, then after lunch you have two hours of time for family activities with your kids.

However you decide to do it.

The most important thing is to be consistent.

Pillar 3:  White Space

“The beginning of the week was great!  We got everything done, I was so productive and finished several projects I’d left unfinished, we ate on time and the kids slept.  But halfway through the week I didn’t even want to look at the schedule I’d made for us and instead I spent the rest of the week on Facebook.  What went wrong?”

You didn’t give yourself white space.

White space in graphic design is negative space.  It’s not “nothing” — it has a specific purpose, and that’s to let the eyes rest so that the other elements of the page stand out better.

Think of a page in a book.  Words don’t start at the top edge of the page and continue uninterrupted to the bottom.

There is a margin around all sides of every page with text.  There is spacing between the lines so they don’t overlap.  Words have spaces between them, letting us know that one word stops and another begins. Even individual letters have a small amount space between them; they are not bunched up right next to each other.

White space.  Margin.  Rest.  A breather.

You need to work this into every single day.  Not only once, but multiple times during the day.

This is where ease and spaciousness comes in to your life.

Letting things flow naturally from one thing to the next, rather than rushing to do the next thing.

This is not time to be on your phone scrolling through social media, but time to simply BE.

Slow down your pace.  Take some deep breaths.  Don’t schedule activities back to back.

Stop lessons or this activity or that one a few minutes before you think you’re “supposed to” to give yourself time to transition to the next.

Leave a part of your day unscheduled, and don’t fill that time with TV or scrolling on your phone.  Give yourself that extra time to do what feels good in that moment.

Maybe it’s looking at the lizard your daughter caught.  Maybe it’s writing a letter to your 97 year old Grandma.  Maybe it’s doing some yoga positions.  Maybe it’s lying in the grass looking at cloud pictures in the sky.

Do you know what Charlotte Mason called this?  Masterly inactivity.

Pillar 4:  Gratitude

The fourth and final pillar is gratitude and thankfulness.

This is just as important as the other three.

Gratitude will change your attitude.  It will change your outlook.  It will change your focus from what is wrong with your life to what is right about it.

It is the simplest of the four pillars, and perhaps the most powerful.

How to incorporate this into your day?  Start with a 5-minute journal.  You can buy one on Amazon, or you can just use a $1 composition notebook.

Every morning write down three things that you’re grateful for.  Then write down three things that will make today great.  Finally, write an affirmation.

In the evening, write down three things that made today amazing, and then how you could have made today even better.

That’s it.  It’s that simple.  Do it consistently though and watch how it changes your life.

You can add your children by having them write their own thoughts, or simply talk about what you’re grateful for as your introduction to morning lessons.  Sometimes I read Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, other times my daughter and I just take turns saying what we are thankful for.

I like the Giving Thanks book because it focuses our thoughts on the natural world, and starts “To be a human being is an honor.”

Quick recap of the four pillars of a peaceful homeschool:

  • Self Care
  • Rhythm
  • White Space
  • Gratitude

Take these one at a time and incorporate them into your life.  Start with the easiest one for your situation; success breeds success.

Having just one pillar in place will improve your satisfaction with your homeschool life.  Each additional one will create a firmer foundation on which to rest.  Having all of these in place is a huge step towards ease and peace.

Want to remember the Four Pillars of a Peaceful Homeschool? Pin it to your favorite homeschooling Pinterest Board!

I know you’ve seen it around. The Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six.

Maybe you’ve wondered what exactly it’s supposed to be. Maybe you’ve looked at it and your own child’s skills, and felt lacking. Like there’s no way your child is there, so obviously it’s a ridiculous and outdated set of standards and you’ll just skip it.

Or maybe you’ve looked at it and thought, yep, my 6 year old can do all that. We’re good. Now I can move on to my other curriculum knowing that I’ve got those boxes checked.

But what exactly was the purpose of the List of Attainments for a Child of Six?

I dug deeper to find out, and what I found was that there are a lot of misinterpretations floating around the interwebs.


The first is that it is a list of what your child should know before he or she starts a Charlotte Mason education. A list of First Grade Readiness Skills, as it were.

These parents want to use the list as a preschool curriculum, to make sure their child is ready to begin Charlotte Mason homeschooling at 6.

The second most common perception is that it’s a list of six year old developmental milestones, circa 1890. You know the type: “By the age of 4, most children can kick a ball, stand on one foot for four or five seconds, and use scissors with supervision”.

This creates quite a bit of panic among new homeschoolers, who look at the list and think, “my child can’t recognize 3 birds! Oh no!”

Most places online attributed the List to Ambleside Online, but there was no attribution there either, other than “a curriculum outline from the 1890s”. No specification to what year.

But it does say “a curriculum outline” … which means that it’s the outline of a curriculum, not pre-requisite skills.

I found one post that said it was from a Parents’ Review article published in the ’90s by Karen Andreola, so I searched every Parents’ Review article digitized at the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection before I realized that, ahem, the blog author meant the 1990s, not the 1890s.


Karen Andreola published a new version of the Parents’ Review in the 1990s. I’ve immersed myself so much in Charlotte Mason primary sources that it didn’t even occur to me I was looking in the wrong century!

I contacted Karen, and she has been very gracious answering my questions. While she couldn’t remember the exact year that she got the curriculum outline from, nor if she’d renamed it herself to A Formidable List of Attainments (and who could blame her? This was 20-some-odd-years ago!) she was kind enough to snap a picture of her original republishing and send it to me.

Here is a transcription of it:


To recite, beautifully, six easy poems and hymns.

To recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm.

To add and subtract numbers up to ten, with dominoes or counters.

To read — what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child; children vary much in their power of reading.

To copy in print- hand from a book.

To know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows.

To describe the boundaries of their own home.

To describe any lake, river, pond, island, &c, within easy reach.

To tell quite accurately (however shortly) three stories from Bible history, three from early English, and three from early Roman history.

To be able to describe three walks and three views.

To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wild flowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.

To do the same with the leaves and flowers of six forest trees.

To know six birds, by song, colour, and shape.

To send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed.

To tell three stories about their own “pets” — rabbit, dog, or cat.

To name twenty common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences.

To sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song.

To keep a caterpillar, and tell the life story of a butterfly from his own observations.

A formidable list of attainments for a child of five or six, but it is nearly all play-work, and to be done out-of-doors. The “sit-still” work should not occupy more than an hour and a half daily, and the time-table will show how all can be done, little by little, by day-by-day efforts. Our aim is to gather up the fragments of the child’s desultory knowledge, so that nothing be lost. There is no waste more sad than the waste of those early years when the child’s curiosity is keen and his memory retentive, and when he might lay up a great store of knowledge of the world he lives in with pure delight to himself; but this fine curiosity is allowed to spend itself on trivial things, and the retentive memory — does it not sometimes store the idle gossip of the maids?

When we look at that last paragraph, it says “A formidable list of attainments for a child of five or six, but it is nearly all play-work, and to be done out-of-doors.”

This is where I believe Ms. Andreola took the title from.


After reading quite a bit of primary source material, I came across a curriculum programme from 1891, and it is a pretty darn close match to the Formidable List of Attainments.

This led me to believe that the List is neither a list of readiness skills nor a list of milestones, but rather a curriculum outline to be used and taught.

Let’s compare (I’ve re-ordered the 1891 programme to make this easier):

Formidable List1891 Programme
To recite, beautifully, six easy poems and hymns.

To recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm.

To recite, beautifully and perfectly, three poems, three hymns, a parable, and a psalm.
To add and subtract numbers up to ten, with dominoes or counters.

To add and subtract numbers up to 20, with counters, dominoes, etc.

To make figures up to 10 — a fortnight to be given to the mastery of each figure.

To add little sums, where the answer comes to less than 10, thus 2+3+4.

To subtract units from units, thus 8-3

To work out and learn the multiplication table up to 3×12=36
To read — what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child; children vary much in their power of reading.

To read 500 words (see lessons in P.R. for August, 1891)
To copy in print- hand from a book.

To be able to copy from a book in simplest print characters, thus, A B C D E F G, etc.

To make good firm strokes and pothooks
To know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows.

To describe the boundaries of their own home.

To describe any lake, river, pond, island, &c, within easy reach.

To be able to describe three walks and three views.
(No geography - but:)

To do six Calisthenic or Swedish exercises.
To tell quite accurately (however shortly) three stories from Bible history, three from early English, and three from early Roman history.

To know six stories from the Life of Abraham (Gen xii to xx)

To know six stories from the first six chapters of St. Mark.

*To be able to tell six stories of Saxon times

*To be able to tell six Greek stories.
Natural History:
To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wild flowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.

To do the same with the leaves and flowers of six forest trees.

To know six birds, by song, colour, and shape.

To tell three stories about their own “pets” — rabbit, dog, or cat.

To keep a caterpillar, and tell the life story of a butterfly from his own observations.

To be able to tell all about ten living creatures.

*To mount in scrap-book six wild flowers, with leaves; to know their names, and whether they grow in field or hedge or marsh.
To send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed.

*Three little pieces of work, knitting, cross-stitch and (boys and girls) sewing. Wild flowers, work, kndergarten work, etc, to be sent in for inspection at the end of the term.
To name twenty common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences.

To know forty French names of things; twenty little French phrases.
To sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song.

To sing one French song; and to do Tonic Sol-fa Lessons in P.R.

Do you see how very similar these two are, when put side by side? The 1891 programme is a tad bit more difficult, including multiplication tables up to 3×12 for example, but it was also for all of “1st Class”, which is what we would now call Form 1.

In other words, this 1891 programme covered instruction for students ages 6-9.


Now notice that the List has a line that says “send in work”, which implies that what the child is doing is being sent to a central authority of some kind, rather than simply the detritus of childhood.

When we look at the bits in it, we see that it says “to send in certain Kindergarten or other handwork, as directed” and “the time-table will show how all can be done, little by little, by day-by-day efforts.”

Work was sent in. A time-table was provided.

Those are parts of a directed program, not of a random slew of developmental milestones. And as a directed program, it is not a pre-requisite to that same program.

Another point — the Formidable List has “To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wild flowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.”

A dozen — one every week.

Twelve weeks. This was to be done over a twelve week period. We know that a ‘term’ was 12 weeks ….

We can see that not only are the two very similar, but as the 1891 programme shows, it is for one term of work.

Let me say that again: A programme of study for a single term.

That means it was directed, with deliberate guidance from the parent.

The student wasn’t left to ‘pick up the information’ on her own. Mother guided the child to these.

If you look at the later programmes for Form IB, you see that, while it has been expanded and made more specific, it is also very similar to both of these.

The Formidable List of Attainments was not a list of “what your six year old should know”, nor was it a list of skills and knowledge a child should have acquired in her preschool years.

It is simply a guide for a term of study, that a child of approximately six years old could do.

If you are delaying starting Form IB until your child is 7, using this as a guide for that “Kindergarten” year of 6 years old is a lovely idea. You still might need to leave off reading and writing, but this is actually quite similar to what I’m doing did with my own six year old.

As the ending paragraph says, “it is nearly all play-work, to be done out doors”.

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You’ve heard things about this Charlotte Mason method, and the more you read the more it sounds like exactly what your family is looking for.

But there’s one problem: you keep seeing on blogs and Facebook groups that Charlotte Mason is for Christians only, and can’t be used by those who aren’t.

But you’re not Christian.

Do you need to leave this method behind and look for another that will welcome non-Christians? Does Charlotte Mason’s method of education really only work for those who have committed themselves to her god? Is there something different about the biology and brain of children of Christian parents that makes this method unsuitable for those of us that aren’t?

Of course not!

Charlotte Mason was Christian

Let’s get this out of the way right now — Charlotte Mason was Christian. More specifically, Anglican. In the U.S., this is the modern Episcopalian Church. Her worldview was saturated with it, and she couldn’t conceive of any other religion being ‘right’, just as many modern-day Christians can’t.

However, she also taught Jewish students, and had friends and close co-workers who were Jewish. Nowhere in her writings have I found where she said that Jewish or any other religions should not use her method. On the contrary, she says that her method works with all children. Are we to believe that her ‘all children’ actually means only Christian children, and that children are biologically different depending on what religion their parents follow?

I don’t think so.

How to bring your own beliefs to a CM education

With the proliferation of Christian curricula where the entire thing seems to be saturated with a certain brand of Christianity, and the inclusion of generally Young Earth resources in these, you’d think that Charlotte Mason held those same views.


Her programmes (from the PNEU) are filled with books that are only mildly Christian or that are outright secular. She used books that taught current scientific theory (Darwin), and she says in Volume 1 concerning which Bible commentaries to use: “Mr. Smyth brings both modern criticism and research to bear, so that children taught from his little manuals will not be startled to be told that the world was not made in six days; and, at the same time, they will be very sure that the world was made by God.”

So what do we as non-Christians, or Christians whose beliefs don’t follow other curricula, do?

First, “We must teach only what we know.”

What does this mean? It was actually this singular passage that brought me back to my non-Christian beliefs. I was trying to raise my daughter with Christian materials, because that was all that was available 15 years ago. I read this passage, and realized that I didn’t believe what I was trying to teach my daughter.

“In the first place, we must teach that which we know, know by the life of the soul, not with any mere knowledge of the mind. Now, of the vast mass of the doctrines and the precepts of religion, we shall find that there are only a few vital truths that we have so taken into our being that we live upon them––this person, these; that person, those; some of us, not more than a single one. One or more, these are the truths we must teach the children, because these will come straight out of our hearts with the enthusiasm of conviction which rarely fails to carry its own idea into the spiritual life of another.” (Home Education p 347)

What are the core beliefs that you carry in your soul? These may or may not align with the religion that you belong to. However, these core beliefs are the only ones you can teach.

How do you make this into a curriculum?

The easiest way is to use a curriculum that aligns fairly closely with what you already believe, and then tweak from there.

The great thing about Charlotte Mason’s curriculum as found in the PNEU programmes is that there are few religious books outside the Bible portions, so it’s easy to take a curriculum that is modeled after these programs and tweak it to fit your own worldview.

Tweaking curriculum for your views

Wildwood Curriculum is a strict Charlotte Mason curriculum, but without religious dogma.  It is easily customized to fit your own beliefs.

If you belong to an organized religion with educational materials for your religion, just put those in in place of World Religions/Philosophy. Easy peasy.

If you don’t have such a simple option, it will take a bit more work.

Take a few days to think about what ideas form your spiritual beliefs or core values. Besides those, what knowledge (spiritual or mindfulness) do you think is important to have? What qualities and morals do you want to cultivate in your children?

If you’re a visual person, you might find an outline or a mind map helpful to organize your thoughts. Don’t rush it. It will be a work in progress. Here’s a copy of mine so you can see where I’m coming from.

After you’ve figured out what ideas you want covered, use that as your guide when planning your year. What resources are available to you to convey these ideas to your children? Think outside the box — they don’t need to be books; they can be experiences or you modeling actions. At the same time, they can be books.

Hang with people going through the same thing

Finally, consider joining Facebook homeschool groups that reflect your spiritual views, especially if you can find ones that follow Charlotte Mason.

I prefer groups that embrace both religious and non-religious viewpoints. Here are a few resources:

Charlotte Mason Secular Homeschoolers
Wildwood Curriculum (this is the link to the homepage.  If you are planning to use the curriculum, there’s an active Facebook group, too)
Charlotte Mason Plenary

Up Above the Rowan Tree

Charlotte Mason’s method is for everyone, no matter your religious beliefs (or lack of them!)

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woman in yoga pose next to lake with text Charlotte Mason is not for Christians only


I’ve lost my rhythm.

It stinks.

Not my music rhythm, though I haven’t been singing much lately, either.

No, this is my daily rhythm.  The one that keeps the household running smoothly, time spent with my daughter and husband, and our Charlotte Mason lifestyle moving forward.

I’ve lapsed into the TV trap and my house is a mess.

There are reasons behind the fall — I broke my right (dominant) wrist a month ago and had to have surgery on it, my husband has been unemployed for most of the year and so is home all day, I’ve been working hard on finishing Wildwood Curriculum Form II, and I’m developing a preschool guide to Charlotte Mason from a secular/inclusive viewpoint.

Any one of these things would throw my routine out of balance, and added all together everything blew apart.

Why am I writing about this here?  Because this blog isn’t just about Charlotte Mason methods, but about our lifestyle.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Because I know that you’ve had times, maybe months or even years, when you’ve struggled with rhythm, with getting things done and still maintaining a reasonable level of cleanliness, getting meals on the table, and feeling like you have things under control.

We’re going to identify, brainstorm, and implement solutions.  I’m going to walk through what I’m doing in the hopes that it can help you, too, dear reader.

First, identify the problem areas.

I’m doing good on getting breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the table at consistent times, having a decent bedtime for all of us, and keeping laundry under control.  Though they could be better, they aren’t big issues for me right now.  My biggest problem areas right now are:

  1. House is a mess
  2. spending too much time on the computer (between Wildwood, the preschool guide, and general surfing)
  3. letting my daughter watch TV
  4. spending too much time on Wildwood to the detriment of other projects that are also important
  5. Not singing

Next, identify possible solutions

Here’s where I brainstorm ways to get my problem areas under control.  I won’t use all of these, but it gets the ideas flowing.

— House is a mess:  spend a set amount of time cleaning every day, do morning and evening routines, enlist family’s help to keep things picked up (I’m still on doctor’s restrictions for my broken wrist, which limits how much I can do without causing further damage); start doing morning and evening routine again

— Too much computer time:  designate specific days to work on different things on the computer, and set a timer to enforce limits for myself.  turn the computer off during the day, rather than having the laptop open, on, and easily accessible

— letting my daughter watch too much TV:  keeping the TV off during the day (difficult because my husband likes to have it playing all day in the background.  Get her into a rhythm too, where we do outside time in the morning and activities like playdough and painting in the afternoon

— spending too much time on Wildwood:  This goes back to computer time, and I need to set firm limits

— not singing:  Sing!  These don’t have to be specific nursery rhymes or folk songs, just little made up songs through the day.  Maybe to call my family to dinner, while I fold laundry, or while playing.

Baby steps

This is too much to tackle all at once, so I’m going to take small steps.

On cleaning the house — for this week, I’m going to do my morning and evening routine, and the daily chores from Motivated Moms,the housekeeping app I usually use and love.  (Want to try it? Use coupon code juniper for $3 off your first year!) Also, 5 minutes per day on the worst room of the house.  That’s all.

Set a time limit for computer time — I’ll have my laptop closed between 9AM and 6PM.  Off and put away.  Work needs to be done before and after that time, maybe 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening.

Insist that if my husband is not actively watching TV, that it stays off.  His downfall is having NFL Network playing all day in the background.  If my computer is off, it will be easier to convince my husband to keep the TV off.

Sing throughout my day.  Not anything specific, but just start being intentional about singing little nonsense songs, nursery rhymes, and folk songs.


You may be wondering how this all ties into rhythm.  The cornerstones of my rhythm are sleeping and eating at consistent times, but I still need consistency throughout the day, too.

If I do my morning and evening routine every morning and evening, it brings rhythm back into my life.  It also creates white space because I’m not constantly thinking “I need to be cleaning”.

By keeping work to certain hours, it keeps it from leeching into the rest of the day.  I can spend more time on my daughter without guilt.  I can also work without guilt.


I just started today, so no big results as of yet.  I’ll update more as I go.  Today, though, I shut down the laptop at 9:30.  Oh, the temptation to just ‘take a peak!’

Morning routine and evening routine were done.  The house is just a tad cleaner than it was yesterday.


I’m sure you’ve seen them — curricula that people tell you is Charlotte Mason and is absolutely loaded with historical fiction.

When I first started homeschooling 17 years ago, the choices for curricula were slim.  Facebook didn’t exist, forums were in their infancy, and email lists were spread mainly through word of mouth rather than search engines.  Even learning what curricula was available was a challenge.

I chose a literature-based homeschooling curriculum, but we struggled with it.  Later, we switched to a different literature-rich curriculum with less historical fiction.  And suddenly, our joy was back.   It’s no that the first curriculum was bad.  With that switch,  I realized that my daughter simply did not learn well from historical fiction.

Sure, they were fun, but as far as learning history that way?  A bust.

Both of these curricula though were — and still are — widely touted as using the Charlotte Mason method.  

I thought that while Charlotte Mason was a nice philosophy, it obviously couldn’t work for my kid-who-doesn’t-like-historical-fiction.

I was wrong.

Historical Fiction in the Programmes

When I first began really digging into the PNEU programmes in preparation for writing Wildwood Curriculum, I still held that deeply ingrained belief that Charlotte Mason = historical fiction.

What I found was something else entirely.

While historical fiction can be used to help ‘flesh out’ studies or even bring them to life, they are not a major component of a Charlotte Mason education.

In Form I in the PNEU (Parent’s National Education Union) programmes from the 1920s and early 1930s, we see no historical fiction used for either literature or history.

What we do see is books about children in other countries, and fairy tales from various cultures.

Literature vs. History

Forms II and above for that same time period do have historical fiction, at a rate of 1-2 books per term. These are listed under “literature” rather than “history”.  While they could be used to add flavor to the historical studies, they were never intended to replace the non-fiction living books used for history.

This is good news for those of us whose children shy away from historical fiction.  If your child doesn’t like it, simply use a different high quality book for literature.

Look at those figures again — 1-2 books per term.  That’s 3-6 books per year, though I found that the programmes tended to have 3-4 books per year of historical fiction.  This is a far cry from the literature-based curriculum I used when I first started, which has 25 books of historical fiction for their program meant for ages 8-12.

What would Charlotte do?

Some would argue that historical fiction was in its infancy in this time period, and that is the reason that Charlotte Mason didn’t use historical fiction as extensively as many literature-based curricula that call themselves CM do today.

This is a rather touchy argument. It’s rather like saying, “If this were as popular and widespread when Miss Mason was alive as it is today, surely she would have used it more. Therefore, we are justified in using these in a much higher proportion than she did.”

This is problematic on a few levels. First, no one actually knows what Charlotte Mason would do with today’s resources. She may have used historical fiction much more than we do now, or she may have used it much less. She may have used exactly the same amount, that is, approximately one book per term.

Second, when we say with a broad stroke “this is what she would have done,” we take away from the purpose of studying her works and programmes. In my opinion, it’s fine to say “this is what I have decided for my own family” but not “this is what Charlotte would have done if only ….”

Third, historical fiction as a genre was actually established in the early 1800s. Sir Walter Scott was the one who brought it to popularity, but he wrote Waverly in 1814. There had been a full hundred years of additional historical fiction to draw from by the time the PNEU programmes were in use.

And yet, we still see generally only one book per term that might be considered historical fiction today.

Does “Living Book” = Historical Fiction?

Why the disconnect? I think it’s the emphasis on “living books” in a Charlotte Mason education. That is not a problem; as a matter of fact, living books are indispensable to the method. The problem comes when people think that “living book” equals “fiction.”

I plan to do a blog post on living books in the near future, but let me just say this here: while a living book can be fiction, it is not a requirement. The requirement is that they be written in a literary manner.

As a matter of fact, the vast majority of living books in the PNEU programmes were non-fiction.

The Takeaway

Judicious use of historical fiction in a Charlotte Mason education is fine, but don’t rely on them for the bulk of your children’s education.

One to two books per term should be the maximum, beginning at approximately 9 or 10 years of age (Form II).

More than that and you are taking away from other essential elements of a CM education.


Habit training:  give me a shout if you love it.


Yeah, me neither 🙁

I think habit training is one of the areas that we get asked about the most, both from a Charlotte Mason lifestyle perspective and simply a parenting one.  In particular, ones that don’t come from a strictly Christian viewpoint.

While I don’t have any modern secular resources to offer you, we do have Charlotte’s own words from the May 1890 Parent’s Review.  Yes, that’s right:

Parents have been struggling with dawdling children for at least 120 years.

You are not alone, my friend.

How to cure a dawdling child

p 243:  “How is the dilatory child to be cured?  Time?  She will know better as she grows older?  Not a bit of it”

Don’t think this is something your child will grow out it.  She won’t.  At least, not on her own.  However, we have specific instructions on what we can do to help our child break this habit.

p 244: “This inveterate dawdling is a habit to be supplanted only by the contrary habit, and the mother must devote herself for a few weeks to this cure as steadily and untiringly as she would to the nursing of her child through measles.”

Here we go — dawdling is a habit, and can only be countered by replacing it with the habit of *not* dawdling.  This requires the parent’s devotion for several weeks.

Not a day or two, but several weeks of determined effort.

“Having in a few–the fewer the better–earnest words pointed out the miseries that must arise from this fault, and the duty of overcoming it, and having so got the (sadly feeble) will of the child on the side of right doing, she simply sees that for weeks together the fault does not recur.”

We’re not going to give a long lecture.  We all know that kids tune those out anyway, right?  We tell them short and sweet why dawdling is bad, and get their agreement that they will work on it.

Note the “sadly feeble” will of the child.  Miss Mason didn’t pull any punches here, did she?  LOL  She knew that your child is likely to give you a sigh and “ok” rather than an enthusiastic “yes!” to which you will have to put in no further effort.

Here’s how she sees it playing out:

“The child goes to dress for a walk; she dreams over the lacing of her boots– the tag in her fingers poised in mid air–but her conscience is awake; she is constrained to look up, and her mother’s eye is upon her, hopeful and expectant.”

Kid is tying her shoes and starts day dreaming mid-tie.  (is CM spot on here or what?)  Kid feels mom’s eyes boring into her, and glances up — yep, mom is looking at her with a pleasant face and eyebrows raised.  Not scowling.  Not rolling her eyes.  Just that gentle reminder… maybe a cough is in order here, a gentle reminder if Kid says in confusion, “what?”

“She answers to the rein and goes on; midway in the lacing of the second boot, there is another pause, shorter this time; again she looks up, and again she goes on.”

There.  Right there.  Our child, whom we have just reminded not to daydream while tying her shoe, is now daydreaming while tying the other shoe. 

We’ve all been there.  Moms have been there going back generations.  Here’s your proof.

“The pauses become fewer day by day, the efforts steadier, the immature young will is being strengthened, the habit of prompt action acquired.  After that first talk on the subject, the mother would do well to refrain from one more word on the subject; the eye (expectant, not reproachful), and where the child is far gone in a dream, the lightest possible touch, are the only effectual instruments.”

Note here, that the pauses become fewer day by day.  Not that this is an instant fix, but that it has to be done day by day.  And probably with both shoes day by day 🙂

I also want you to notice the next part — we are not yelling at the child.  No “come on, Sally!  How many times do I have to remind you?”  Just an expectant look, or for those kids who are so caught up in a daydream they don’t see it, a light touch.  Maybe a cough (my own mother’s favorite prompt)

The habit is formed

“By and bye, ‘Do you think you can get ready in five minutes to-day without me?’ ‘Oh, yes, mother.’  ‘Do not say ‘yes’ unless you are quite sure.’ ‘I will try.’  And she tries and succeeds.”

Yeah!  Success!  And we are done now, right?


“Now the mother will be tempted to relax her efforts– to overlook a little dawdling because the dear child has been trying so hard  This is absolutely fatal.  The fact is, that the dawdling habit has worn an appreciable track in the very substance of the child’s brain  During the weeks of cure new growth has been obliterating the old track, and the track of a new habit is being formed.  To permit any reversion to the old habit is to let go all this gain.  To form a good habit is the work of a few weeks; to guard it, is a work of incessant, but by no means anxious care.”


How many of us have done this?  I know I have.  “Oh, just this once, she’s been so good lately!”

And then we’re back at square one.

It has taken us weeks (or longer!) of sustained attention on our own part to help our child overcome the dawdling habit in this one area.  Now it will take months of a watchful eye to avoid relapse.

Habit training is not for the faint of heart.  It requires as much discipline in the parents as it does in the kids.  More so, I’d wager.

“One word more, — prompt action on the child’s part should have the reward of absolute leisure, time in which to do exactly as she pleases, not granted as a favour, but accruing (without words) as a right.”

What this means, is that if you’re working on not dawdling while getting dressed for an outing, then if the child does everything promptly and it’s not yet time to go, the child should have that time to play, to read, to do whatever she wants (within the rules of course).  She shouldn’t have extra chores piled on top of her (oh, since she got ready so fast she can quickly clean the bathroom).

The takeaway

Habit training for dawdlers in a nutshell:

  1.  The child will not ‘grow out of it.’  It is up to the parents to help replace the habit of dawdling with the habit of prompt action.  Take on one thing at at time.  Not all dawdling, but start with a single instance, like dawdling while getting ready to go out.
  2. Talk to your child briefly (don’t lecture) and get her agreement to work on this.  This does not mean you then call it done and start yelling the next day when she doesn’t.  The child has a “sadly feeble will.”  It’s normal.
  3. Be diligent!  Kid will daydream while tying shoes.  A light cough or touch if she doesn’t catch it herself, and you don’t yell.  A raised eyebrow with expectant look, or a very, very brief reminder if the child is truly clueless why you’re looking at her.
  4. Again with the second shoe.  Really.  It’s normal.  Count to 10 internally and smile, and remember that your great-great-grandmother had this same struggle with your great-grandmother.
  5. Repeat, day after day, week after week, never letting down your guard on this one expression of this one habit.  It will be weeks.  This is not Jello Instant Pudding.
  6. When the habit is formed, child will slip and you’ll be tempted to let it go.  Stay strong.  One false move and all is lost.
  7. Guard this habit as if your sanity depended on it (because it very well might).
  8. And last, don’t add extra work as a “reward” for not dawdling.

How are you at habit training?  Is this something you want to try?

daughter joyful in dress she made - sewing is passion

I read homeschooling articles all the time that talk about “finding your child’s passion” and going with it, but I never really understood how to translate that to my own daughter and her lack of focus, her Aspie traits, her, yes, weirdness.

When she was 6, and 7, and 8, and 9, her absolutely favorite book was Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Healthcare Handbook.

Ah ha! thought I. Her passion is medicine. I must foster that.

Ummmmmm ???

She has always adored science and nature. We’ve done primitive skills, been involved with a primitive skills group, she’s flintknapped, gone to weeklong overnight wilderness camps. We’ve participated in WinterCount (a primitive skills gathering). By the time she was 8, she knew how to navigate by the sun and landmarks, knew how to make a compass using the sun, how to start a fire without matches, could throw knives (at a target LOL), could hike 6 miles in a wilderness area to see hidden petroglyphs, knew many local edible & medicinal plants…. the list goes on.

In years past, we’ve tried Prepare and Pray and Blessed Assurance, both primitive skills/survival type curricula. We’ve always stopped after a little while as we both lose interest in that format.

This year, she is working through Kamana 2, step 2 of an intensive naturalist training program, as her science.

But this isn’t her passion. She does it, she enjoys it, but ….

When she was 10, she wanted to do ballet. I enrolled her in a local class, despite her being so uncoordinated that she couldn’t even jump rope. We were with that school for about three years, at which time the teacher pulled me aside and basically told me that unless my daughter started acting more mature than her age, she needed to quit.

Yeah, it was weird.

She quit.

At 8, we sent her to a week-long spring break drama day camp through the local children’s theater. She loved it. We searched out opportunities for her to do more, and found another youth theater that had homeschool programs. She did several with them and had such JOY with it, but she would always grin and laugh on stage because she loved it so much.

She learned to have her lines down by week three of a program — the first week was the ‘getting to know you’ week, the end of the first week or beginning of the second they’d get their parts and a copy of the script, and the third week they were expected to not need their scripts anymore.

She was – and is – a big ham, but then we got to a point where to go any further she’d need to do actual youth theater rather than programs. With daily practices and two hours round trip, that is simply out of our reach.


We found that our local high school was going to offer Drama as a class for the first time, so we signed dd up for it. She was shocked at the amount of wasted time and how long the kids took to learn their lines. After working with Youth Theater for several years, she just wasn’t feeling the step down.

At about 12 she got a game by Project Runway. She and her friends would spend hours spinning the pointer and then drawing designs. She asked for the Accessories add on for Christmas. After about 6 months the whole thing got lost in her room. Occasionally she’d find it and use it for a few days, then it would get lost again.

A few years ago, she started writing fan fiction. She got several followers and her stories were actually quite good. Two years ago a homeschooling friend told us she was going to have her daughter write a novel for English that coming year. Since we’d just finished an IEW course with them, we decided that our daughters would work through A Guide to Writing Your Novel together, and get together weekly to go over their work.

Then we moved cross-country. No matter, Skype to the rescue! They wrote and wrote and wrote and had a grand time.

I gave my daughter a choice of what to study for history last year, and she chose the Middle Ages because she wanted to set her books in that setting. She wanted her history to be research for it. Then she started using The Sims to storyboard her stories. To do that she needed to figure out what they were going to wear. She bought a book about designing fashions, something like Fashion Workshop, and started drawing.

Soon one whole wall was covered with her dress designs.

About this same time we found and joined a Civil War reenactment group. She sewed her own corset.

She took a Landry Academy [note: Landry Academy is no longer in business] class called Forensic Anatomy and decided she wanted to go into forensics.

She took a research class and did her final research project on Mid-19th Century Women’s and Teen’s Fashions in the US. She was one of only two students to do historical research rather than scientific research for the class, and she got a 147/150 on the final project.

She continued sewing, especially for her baby sister, and told me that she’d like to get a book on how to make patterns so she could start actually making some of her designs instead of just drawing them. She decided she either wants to be a forensic analyst or a fashion designer or a novelist. I’m worried about job prospects.

She finished the first draft of one novel, and is working on two others.

We found a class from Landry called Clothing Construction and Design and enrolled her. And then a member of our re-enactment group forwarded me a link to the Minnesota Historical Society’s page where they announced an internship opportunity for girls aged 15-18 to work together with girls from Palestine, performing historical clothing research and designing clothing together to culminate in a fashion show in April.

My daughter applied. She interviewed on Friday. I was so nervous! This is the kid who I still have to remind to not interrupt. To not hug everyone she meets. To not talk about bowel habits in a public restroom.

We practiced handshakes the day before the interview. She brought in some of her designs, a dress she’d sewn for her sister (chosen because of the many elements it used — set in sleeves, gathered waist, lined bodice, handsewn hems), and walked in confidently.

Today, she got the call that she was chosen. Twenty positions, over fifty applicants, and my homeschooled, weird, she-will-never-stay-focused-or-be-able-to-get-a-job kid was chosen to participate in a cross-cultural design group.

Whoo hoo!

I don’t know if she’ll end up in fashion design. We call last year the Year of the Novel. This year is The Year of Sewing.

So there you have it — false starts. Starting and stopping. Tangents. Losing passions under a mound of dirty clothes. And yet…. still they grow. Still we nurture. Still they succeed.

I wrote the above five years ago.  That same daughter is now a junior in college.

She cut her finger that year, a minor cut but she dripped a few drops of blood.

She passed out.  You guys, she passed out.

There goes any medical career.  😀

Where she is now

She took a few drama classes at college but has since decided that while she loves acting, it’s not a career direction she wants to go in.  (Can you hear my mama’s sigh of relief, especially after the Harvey Weinstein scandal?)

She still writes, but she does it for pleasure.  Perhaps one day she will make a living off it.

Her real passion?  Still sewing.  daughter putting the finishing touches on the historically accurate ballgown she designedTo the right is her putting the finishing  touches on her historically accurate ballgown that she designed, drafted, and sewed with minimal help from me at 17.

She designs, drafts, and sews many of her own clothes, including bathing suits.  She is seriously considering opening up a cosplay business online, and selling custom creations.

A Charlotte Mason education is excellent for allowing your children to follow their passions.  It introduces them to a broad variety of subjects that they might not even know exist.

It gives them time in the afternoons to pursue those passions, yet not tie them so thoroughly to those passions that changing mid-leap is disastrous.

Let your children explore their interests while still giving them a solid base.  Don’t let worry overtake you if you can’t see any passion developing.  Life is full of stops and starts and changes in direction.

What about your own older children?  Do you notice a single consuming passion or are they still jumping around?

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!


What does that mean? “For the rest of us”?

Not Charlotte Mason-lite.

Not Charlotte Mason-inspired.

Not Charlotte Mason-ish.

We knew we would homeschool when our first daughter was born, 21 years ago.  I strongly believe that a Charlotte Mason lifestyle is the right one for our family.

But …  we aren’t an evangelical Christian family, and most of the blogs about Charlotte Mason education come from a distinctly Christian background.

I am Heathen (sometimes termed Germanic Pagan).  My husband is culturally Christian and spiritually neutral.

This blog is for “the rest of us.”  We who want to follow a Charlotte Mason lifestyle and homeschooling method but do not come from an evangelical, young-earth Christian background.

We are Buddhists.  Hindu.  Muslim.  Humanist.  Jewish.  Pagan.

We are Christians who want to choose which doctrine to teach our children.

We are Charlotte Mason homeschoolers swimming upstream.