Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bard?

by Debi Taylor-Hough

A number of years ago (I think it was more than ten), we added Shakespeare to our family’s educational activities for the first time. My daughter loved our field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and I don’t think I ever would have thought of introducing my children to The Bard at such a young age if it weren’t for the inspiration of Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the late 1800’s.

First, we read through Charles and Mary Lamb’s story version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the book Tales from Shakespeare just to enjoy the plot and make sure we understood the basic story line before attempting to wade through the Elizabethan English of the play itself. Continue reading

Winter Educational Ideas for Preschoolers


by Deborah Taylor-Hough


It’s always fun to use things in our children’s everyday lives to spark discussion and easy educational activities. Since many of us are currently in the midst of winter, this season can be a great topic of “study” for our littlest ones.

Study time with preschoolers at home mainly consists of talking and laughing with them, helping them notice the details of the world around them. No pressure. Just a fun time spent in the company of a loving adult.

To introduce the topic of “Winter,” ask your child what she knows about the seasons. Is she aware of spring, summer, autumn and winter? Does she know what the differences are between the seasons in your local area?

Don’t lecture. Just make conversation and find out what she knows already. Have her look out the window and tell you what she notices about the trees, bushes, flowers and gardens. Are there leaves visible? Buds? Flowers? Greenery? Bare branches? Brown stems?

Find a photo, painting, or picture in a book of an obvious winter scene. Ask your child if she knows what season it is in the picture. What things tell her what time of year it is? If she doesn’t know, point things out to her that will give clues: bare branches, snow on the ground, no flowers, people in warm clothes, etc. Hide the picture from view and have the child describe to you in her own words what she saw in the picture. Encourage as much detail as possible, but remember to keep it low-key and fun. This process of orally telling back what she’s seen, helps cement the image in her memory.

To suplement your discussion, enjoy together a winter-time picture book such as Ezra Jack Keat’s ‘The Snowy Day’ or the Alaskan tale ‘Momma, Do You Love Me?’ by Barbara M. Joosse. You can browse

these books online at:

Ask your child how people stay warm in the winter (warm clothes, mittens, fireplaces, warm houses, etc.). Let her brainstorm for awhile. Then ask how she thinks animals stay warm in winter (thick fur, migrate to warmer climates, hibernate in caves, etc.).

Sometimes a preschool child might say things like, “Baby squirrels snuggle up in a tree with a soft blanket to stay warm.” Ask her gently if she’s ever seen a real squirrel with a blanket. Does she think that’s how they’ll really stay warm in those cold, winter months? The line between fantasy and reality in preschoolers is sometimes thin … don’t harshly bring your child into reality, just gently coax her into thinking about how things really happen in nature.

But just so you don’t think it all needs to be a serious dose of reality, have some fun and brainstorm about “pretend” ways animals might stay warm. For fun, read one of these wonderfully fun and beautifully illustrated winter-time books by Jan Brett (one of my favorite children’s illustrators):

You can also visit Jan Brett’s website to print out coloring sheets and other fun projects based on Brett’s lavishly illustrated children’s books:

For a fun activity, throw a collection of clothing and accessories into a bag or suitcase. Without looking, have your child reach into the bag, pull out a single clothing item and then tell you if the item they grabbed is appropriate to wear in the winter. Have the child explain to you why each item is — or isn’t — seasonally appropriate. Include a variety of things in the bag such as: a warm hat, a pair of gloves or mittens, an open-toed sandal, a swimsuit, summer shorts, a warm sweater, a snow boot, a woolen scarf, a sleeveless top, etc.

Have your child finish the sentence, “Winter is …” For example: Winter is … “cold”; winter is … “snowmen”; winter is … “mittens”; winter is … “cocoa and marshmallows.” Consider writing down your child’s responses (she’ll feel so official seeing her words written down on paper). If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can even print out little “Winter is …” booklets using clip-art found on your computer that coincides with your child’s winter responses. Or have your child illustrate their own home-made “Winter is … ” book. Or let her cut out winter photos from magazines and newspapers, pasting them onto a large sheet of paper as a “Winter is …” collage.

Have a wonderful time as you explore the glories of winter with your preschooler!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (freelance writer and mother of three) is the editor of the Bright-Kids and Simple Times e-newsletters. She’s also the author of A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity, Frugal Living For Dummies and Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month. Visit Debi online at: http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com

Twaddle-Free Holiday Celebrations

Copyright Deborah Taylor-Hough. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com


Since we’re currently in the midst of the December holidays, I chatted at length with Catherine Levison (author of A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education) and we put our heads together to come up with ways to apply the concept of avoiding “twaddle” (or what modern parents might call “dumbed down” literature or activities) in our holiday celebrations, family times and Christmas reading materials.

Defining Twaddle in Literature

First, let’s look at the synonyms of twaddle which include: babble, drivel and silly. Ordinarily twaddle refers to literature written down to children. Books written specifically to children are not avoided. A good example would be any of Beatrix Potter’s works — she wrote to children but not down to them. Or the original A.A. Milne “Winnie-the-Pooh” books are another good example of twaddle-free just-for-fun reading material.

Regarding children’s literature, look for interesting content and well constructed sentences clothed in literary language. The imagination should be warmed and the book should hold the interest of the child. Life’s too short to spend time with books that bore us.

If our children have only been exposed to junk food, they may resist trying nutritious food. If they’ve been raised on twaddle, they may need to be weaned slowly off of this mental junk food. Ideally, if they were not exposed to twaddly books in the first place, all involved would be way ahead of the game.

It’s our opinion that dumbed-down literature is easy to spot. When you’re standing in the library and pick up modern-day, elementary-level books, you’re apt to see short sentences with very little effort applied to artistically constructing them to please the mind. Almost anyone can write — but not everyone is gifted in this field. Gifted authors bring images alive with their choice of words. Gifted authors often write classic literature, and classics are an excellent way to spend one’s reading time.

Twaddle is easy to come by; the planet is filled with it. People coped with it in previous centuries, and we must cope with it in ours. If anything, literature has deteriorated even further. The best way to handle this excessive quantity of bad books is to stand firm and only spend our money on the best — even at holiday time.

But what about friends and relatives who unknowingly supply our children with twaddle at gift-giving times?

Try talking to those who are apt to buy gifts for your children and tell them about the direction you’re heading with reading material. Some people pick up on things easier than others, therefore, for some folks a simple explanation of the type of literature you want purchased as gifts is all they’ll need. If you’ve started to collect any particular set of children’s classics currently in bookstores or catalogues, you could provide Grandma with a list of titles you’d like. Be specific, and offer to help her with the ordering or perhaps even drive her to your favorite bookstore.

Twaddle-Free Holidays

How else can we apply the concept of twaddle to the holiday season as a whole?

Well, I firmly believe that twaddle is in the eye of the beholder. That means that some of the following ideas may appeal to you while others may not meet your expectations. Catherine and I put our heads together and came up with the following ideas — some of which were shared with us over the years by other people. As always, take what you like and ignore what you don’t.

During the holidays, I frequently discover a large number of low-cost entertainment options by reading the “What’s Happening” section of our local newspaper. For example, this week I found a listing for a singing group performing traditional Celtic holiday carols at a local church for just a small donation. Many churches and community groups put on low-cost (or free) live performances during the holidays.

Rather than taking the family to a newly released holiday movie, consider spending a few extra dollars and attend a ballet or classical concert instead. Many times attending a concert by a local symphony performing familiar Christmas songs is a very child-friendly introduction to symphonic music for children who haven’t previously experienced that type of music. Also, many churches offer sing-a-longs of Handel’s Messiah that are open to the general public.

As we all know, holiday music is drastically varied. Perhaps some attention to playing classical music around the house — while avoiding animated cartoon characters screeching their holiday favorites — would be more soothing.

Many families, including both Catherine’s and mine, buy one new Christmas book a year and have their collection on display. Catherine’s favorite is called The Christmas Story featuring the paintings of Gennady Spirin. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and priced accordingly — however Catherine insists it’s worth every penny. This is one way to include masterpiece artwork into this season of the year.

It’s also time to buy next year’s calendar. If you haven’t thought of it before, hold out until you find one featuring fine art rather than kittens, horses or cars. Along with being a practical item, the calendars often provide excellent prints to use for art appreciation throughout the year.

While grown children and other relatives visit, provide some old-fashioned fun that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Charades, sing-a-longs, board games and caroling are easy, affordable and fun. Catherine’s family collects Christmas jigsaw puzzles — which may appear to be a bit twaddly at first glance — but they truly enjoy spending time together which makes it more than an aimless pursuit. You could also choose puzzles depicting masterpieces or popular works of art.

Many families are constructing their own advent calendars from wood and incorporating photographs and other touches. If everyone participated in a project of this sort, then they can all look forward to getting it out each December.

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, if the snow doesn’t come to you then go to the snow. Some folks make an annual trek to the mountains during December in order to be assured of some contact with winter weather.

Obviously, there are countless good ideas that help families enjoy each other. Catherine and I send our absolute best to you this holiday season and may each of you be truly happy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Deborah Taylor-Hough (author and mother of three) is a free-lance writer, editor of The Charlotte Mason Monthly email newsletter [ join-cm-monthly@hub.thedollarstretcher.com ], and author of the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series and several other books including Frugal Living For Dummies®. You can visit Debi online, connect with her blogs, and order her books at: http://www.SimpleMom.com

An Autumn Poem …

I used to read this poem out loud to my kids each Fall when they were little… I love how it flows when read aloud. Honestly, the kids probably don’t even remember this poem. But I do. 🙂
.
WHEN THE FROST IS ON THE PUNKIN
by James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)
.
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
.
They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here–
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock–
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
.
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries–kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below–the clover over-head!–
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!
.
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ‘s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! …
I don’t know how to tell it–but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me–
I’d want to ‘commodate ’em–all the whole-indurin’ flock–
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!
.
According to Dictionary.com, fodder is: “coarse food for livestock, composed of entire plants, including leaves, stalks, and grain, of such forages as corn and sorghum.” And a “fodder shock” is in the photo above, or at this link for a more modern version (Amish field): http://www.flickr.com/photos/cindy47452/60826148/

The Advent Book Box

A great idea for the holidays is to set aside a special box or basket containing your family’s special Christmas or other holiday books. The Holiday Book Box only comes out during the Advent season and is put away again with the decorations after the first of the year.

THE ADVENT BOOK BOX

This list of Favorite Christmas Books was compiled following a discussion between a group of home schooling mothers looking for twaddle-free holiday reading for their families.

A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens

Becky’s Christmas
by Tasha Tudor

(The) Best Christmas Pageant Ever!
by Barbara Robinson

Christmas at Long Pond
by William T. George

(The) Christmas Box
by Richard Paul Evans

(The) Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
by Susan Wojciechowski

(The) Christmas Stories of George MacDonald
by George MacDonald (out of print)

(The) Christmas Tree
by Julie Salamon

(The) Crippled Lamb
by Max Lucado

(The) Donkey’s Dream
by Barbara Helen Berger

(The) First Christmas
by Marcia Williams (out of print)

(The) Glorious Impossible
by Madeleine L’Engle

Martin Luther’s Christmas Book
by Martin Luther

(The) Night Before Christmas
by Clement Moore, illustrated by Jan Brett

A Northern Nativity: Christmas Dreams of a Pairie Boy
by William Kurelek

One Wintry Night
by Ruth Bell Graham

Rembrandt: The Christmas Story

Seven Stories of Christmas Love
by Leo F. Buscaglia

(The) Story of Christmas: Words from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke
illustrated by Jane Ray

Tale of Three Trees
by Angela Elwell Hunt

This is the Star
by Joyce Dunbar

OTHER HOLIDAY-RELATED BOOKS

Unplug the Christmas Machine, by Jo Robinson
Don’t wait until Christmas to read this book! The earlier you start thinking about the holidays, the easier it will be to make any necessary changes in your celebrations.

Debt Proof Your Holidays, by Mary Hunt
Whether you’re just looking for further frugal ideas for the upcoming holiday season, or you’re truly dreading another after-holidays debt hang-over, this book will be beneficial.

Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month, by Deborah Taylor-Hough
Less time in the kitchen means more time for activities you really enjoy. This book will show you a step-by-step plan to simplify and revolutionize the way you cook. Save time; save money; save your sanity! Contains a special Ten Day Holiday Meal Plan — perfect for simplifying your holiday meal preparation.

Simplify Your Christmas, by Elaine St James
Simple ideas for taking the complexity out of the holidays.

Hundred Dollar Holiday, by Bill McKibben
“What we need and long for now are the gifts of time, meaningful family connections, periods of silence, a relationship with the divine,” McKibben writes.

~Debi

The Charlotte Mason Method in a Nutshell

j0409455-2.jpgby Deborah Taylor-Hough 

Charlotte Mason was a big thinker who had a very high view of children. So let me start out by saying that I don’t believe anyone could ever fit Charlotte Mason’s ideas, methods and philosophies into an actual nutshell (I just thought it made a good title for this article). Miss Mason’s ideas were so broad and far reaching, it took six large volumes to contain her writings on just the topic of education.

With that said, here’s a very brief overview of a handful of Charlotte Mason’s most familiar ideas.

TWADDLE:
Twaddle is what parents and educators today might call “dumbed down” literature. It is serving your children intellectual happy meals, rather than healthy, substantive mind- and soul-building foods. Charlotte Mason advocated avoiding twaddle and feasting children’s hearts and minds on the best literary works available.

LIVING BOOKS:
Living books are the opposite of dull, dry textbooks. The people, places and events come alive as you read a living book. The stories touch your mind and heart. They are timeless.

WHOLE BOOKS:
Whole books are the entirety of the books the author actually wrote. If the author wrote a book, read the whole book. The opposite of this would be anthologies that include only snippets from other works—maybe a chapter from Dickens, a couple of paragraphs from Tolstoy, etc.

NARRATION:
Narration is the process of telling back what has been learned or read. Narrations are usually done orally, but as the child grows older (around age 12) and his writing skills increase, the narrations can be written as well. Narration can also be accomplished creatively: painting, drawing, sculpting, play-acting, etc.

SHORT LESSONS:
Charlotte Mason recommended spending short, focused periods of time on a wide variety of subjects. Lessons in the early years are only 10-15 minutes in length, but get progressively longer as the children mature. (Lessons increase closer to an hour per subject for high school students.)

NATURE WALKS:
In spite of often rainy, inclement weather, Charlotte Mason insisted on going out once-a-week for an official Nature Walk, allowing the children to experience and observe the natural environment firsthand. These excursions should be nature walks, not nature talks.

DAILY WALKS:
In addition to the weekly Nature Walks, Mason also recommended children spend large quantities of time outside each day, no matter what the weather. Take a daily walk for fun and fresh air.

NATURE NOTEBOOKS:
Nature Notebooks are artist sketchbooks containing pictures the children have personally drawn of plants, wildlife or any other natural object found in its natural setting. These nature journals can also include nature-related poetry, prose, detailed descriptions, weather notes, Latin names, etc.

ART APPRECIATION/PICTURE STUDY:
Bring the child into direct contact with the best art. Choose one artist at a time; six paintings per artist; study one painting per week (maybe 15 minutes per week). Allow the child to look at the work of art intently for a period of time (maybe five minutes). Have him take in every detail. Then take the picture away and have him narrate (tell back) what he’s seen in the picture. Excellent prints can be viewed and purchased inexpensively from the National Gallery of Art at http://www.nga.gov/

JOURNALING:
There’s great value in keeping a personal journal, encouraging reflection and descriptive writing. Record activities, thoughts and feelings, favorite sayings, personal mottoes, favorite poems, etc.

COPYWORK:
Daily copywork provides on-going practice for handwriting, spelling, grammar, etc. Keep a notebook specifically for copying noteworthy poems, prose, quotes, etc.

DICTATION:
Each day choose a paragraph, or sentence, or page (depending on the age of child). Have the child practice writing it perfectly during his copywork time. Have them look carefully at all punctuation, capital letters, etc. When the child knows the passage well, dictate the passage to the child for him to recreate the passage.

BOOK OF THE CENTURIES:
A Book of the Centuries is a glorified homemade timeline; usually a notebook containing one or two pages per century. As children learn historical facts, they make notes in their book on the appropriate century’s page about famous people, important events, inventions, wars, battles, etc.

FREE-TIME HANDICRAFTS:
Charlotte Mason’s schools finished daily academics in the morning, allowing the afternoon hours for free time to pursue crafts and other leisure activities or areas of personal interest.

HABITS:
Charlotte Mason had much to say on establishing good habits in children. Habits (good or bad) are like the ruts in a path from a wheelbarrow going down the same trail again and again. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to run the wheelbarrow outside the rut, but the wheel will always run smoothly down the well-worn rut in the path. By training children in good habits, the school day (and home life in general) goes more smoothly. Focus on one habit at a time for 4-6 weeks rather than attempting to implement a long list of new habits all at once.

For more information about Charlotte Mason and her educational philosophies and practical how-tos, be sure to stop by and visit:  Charlotte Mason & Home Education

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   Deborah Taylor-Hough is a long-time homeschooling mother of three, a freelance writer, editor of The Charlotte Mason Monthly email newsletter, and author of several popular books including Frugal Living For Dummies(r), Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month and A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity.  Visit Debi online at:  The Simple Mom


320_4517182Habits: The Mother’s Secret to Success
Print: $9.99
Download: $4.99

Charlotte Mason was a British educator from the last century whose ideas are currently experiencing a revival, especially among American private and home schools. Her ideas on the formation of habit are a key to understanding how to make lasting change in a child, or even yourself. This book is an excerpt of her teachings specifically on the topic of habits. Introduction and editing by Deborah Taylor-Hough.

http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/habits-the-mothers-secret-to-success/4517182