Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Living Page: Time Tools

Wildflowers and Marbles

I spent some time with Bestvater’s The Living Page early last week reading through her history notebook findings.  It was hard not to think, “great, something else I’m doing wrong!”  Last week was a tough week in my household, with everyone but the baby coming down with a horrible stomach bug, and I'm sure that contributed to my impression of the section.  But I want consider what I've read with an open mind, especially in light of a quote I read at about the same time from Sir Walter Scott's Waverley.

“Alas! while he was thus permitted to read only for the gratification of his amusement, he foresaw not that he was losing for ever the opportunity of acquiring habits of firm and assiduous application, of gaining the art of controlling, directing, and concentrating the powers of his mind for earnest investigation—an art far more essential than even that intimate acquaintance with classical learning which is the primary object of study.”  Waverley, Sir Walter Scott

If I or my children are just reading and not doing the work associated with reading -- narration, mapwork, common placing, history notebooks -- then we are reading for the “gratification of [our] amusement” and we shortchanging our ability to make connections in our readings and we are not gaining the mastery of the mind that Scott writes about.  I’m afraid my education has been fraught with this, and that I'm allowing this to happen in my children's education as well due to my lack of diligence in the application of some of these tools and techniques.

All this being said, I thought I would write a bit about what I'm considering doing with the time tools mentioned in this section and what I'm considering using in my home.  Jen at Wildflowers and Marbles did a wonderful job summarizing the tools, so I'm not going to spend much time on what they are.

The Child's Own History Chart

I am considering doing something like this with Nathan (5) next year.  I'd like to do a chart counting backwards as described, but I would also like to create a one page chart with him moving forwards in time as well, perhaps over the course of a year.  I was thinking that each month we could record one or two memorable things we did and then review the previous months' activities to help build an awareness of the scale of time.  In the history chart, I don't really understand how it develops over time - as the child grows older, is he supposed to remember or become aware of more events in his past than he would initially know?  And I'm not sure that this would work as a wall hanging in my home.  For some reason, things that get hung on the wall are largely overlooked.  I don't have that much hanging on the walls, but what there is seems to be immediately forgotten.  We seem to do better with materials that are pulled out, reviewed and used, then put away than with things left out all the time.

Table of History

Building off my observation that leaving things out does not make my children more aware of them, I think that Celeste's simple binder timeline would be a wonderful way to implement this idea with Gregory (8).  Although I see in the end notes that the piece of paper should be Cartridge paper ("a tough, unbleached paper used for endpapers, linings, and shotgun shells from whence it takes its name.  ...  Sheets of Cartridge paper sold today come in various sizes; one such standard is approximately 23"
 x 33".  For our purposes, it is enough to imagine a largish piece of stiff paper.") I'm still not convinced that this is the right tool for our family because I am not sure it will be noticed and used if hanging on the wall.  But I also take the point that to be able to see all of it at once is extremely valuable, especially if what we are trying to build is a "graphic panorama" in the child's mind so he "will see events in their time-order".  Obviously I need to consider this one further!

Stream of History, History Charts, Map of Centuries and Century Charts

This sounds like the big brother of the Table of History, where events and people are organized by decade rather than centuries, but still only the most important dates are placed.  This time tool has to be displayed, otherwise it ends up almost duplicating the Book of Centuries and becomes far less useful.  The suggested scale is one yard equals 3000 years.  The History Charts seem to go hand in hand with the large Stream of History, giving the student a place to give all the details of a person's life or major event, without pouring too much detail into the Stream of History or Book of Centuries.  The Century Chart then is a graphic representation of much of the same material in the Stream of History, giving the student a symbolic "at a glance" view of a century, highlighting just the most important event of a year.   The Map of Centuries looks like a very useful quick glance as well, but rather than looking at events in a given century, it helps the student to see the most important theme in each century.  Emma (12) saw me looking Jen's map and is already excited about it.

There are a lot of different pieces here!  I take the point when Bestvater says, "Likely any timeline is better than no timeline, but if Mason and the P.N.E.U. gave careful thought to scaffolding the child's growing time sense, are not some important principles at stake if we depart for the sake of convenience or personal preference for a less considered activity?"  And truly, this thought does give me pause.  But all these charts start to strike me as busywork - adding entries to the Stream of History on the wall, adding entries to a close up Time Chart, adding a symbols to the Century Chart, and adding entries to the Book of Centuries.  I can see how they all have their purposes, but does it become cumbersome to be adding perhaps the same thing to four separate places?

Book of Centuries

Last, but not least, is the Book of Centuries.  This is the Charlotte Mason educational tool everyone thinks they are familiar with, but yet it seems we've gotten it wrong.  "The Book of Centuries is like a rope hammock:  there are just enough points of contact to hold you up, but a lot of space too.  This notebook is a visual touchpoint for the child, the century at a glance, personalized."  There is a strong graphical emphasis in this work too, half the book is given over for sketches and drawings of artifacts from the given time period.  "This careful tracking and drawing of artifacts represents a practical outworking of Mason's pedagogy of books and things, left and right-brain education in balance.  In the careful looking and drawing the child forms relationships in a different way than he does with the story or biography."  Rather than a horizontal timeline in a binder, it is a collection of organized notes and drawings.

I think this form of the Book of Centuries will be more attractive to Emma (12) and this is probably the piece I'm most looking forward to introducing to her.

Calendar of Events

Ah, the last one!  I don't have a student old enough for this one yet, but I love Jen's idea of making this a shared iCal calendar.  It encourages entries to be brief but yet doesn't arbitrarily limit how long they can be.  It also makes it easy to include a link for more information.  I will definitely have to do this when Emma gets old enough to use this particular time tool.


Overall, there is a huge amount to think about here, and the potential for a lot of new tools as well.  I can see the benefits and reasons for all of the tools, but I'm concerned about overwhelming Emma as well as myself.  One major disadvantage to having my first and second children four years apart is that I think at time Emma sees the practices and tools in a more negative light because no one else in the house is using them.  Really, what needs to happen is that I need to use these tools too, I need to have my own versions of these things.  And it isn't that I object to this, after all, I can see their value and use...  but I need to build my own habits and set aside the time to use them regularly.  I know from experience that the best way to have Emma be interested and willing to use these tools is if I use them too.  AFter all, don't we all enjoy learning more when we have someone else who is working and collaborating right alongside?  Isn't that why I'm participating in this online discussion about Bestvater's book?

In the rest of the school year, I'm planning on creating a close-up timeline for WWII (our current historical study) with all the kids.  I think I am going to hold off on the other tools until the beginning of the next school year, setting them up with the children over the summer but not making a concentrated effort to put them into practice until August.  I think that will help give me some time to sort through what I need to prepare, figure out where things will go, and what to purchase.  It will also give me some time to work through the rest of The Living Page!


  1. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on these types and how you're thinking about moving ahead, especially since you have an older student. I do feel kinda lucky having only younger ones right now because I think I might be overwhelmed if I were facing the thought of implementing all these at once! LOL But this is a nice kind of book to read toward the end of the school year, when we have time to get things "in order" before fall comes around. :)

    I appreciated what you said about too many charts becoming busywork. It got me thinking that Bestvater is really collecting history tool descriptions from a variety of sources--they're not all mentioned by Miss Mason herself, nor are they all mentioned being used in any one school. So it's seems very likely that there was picking and choosing going on from among these options, with the Book of Centuries being the obvious option for older students and the others filling in where preferred/necessary. I definitely think you can consider which of these will fit which student and when, on a case-by-case basis.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Celeste. You're right, I definitely need to pick and choose here by what is going to be best for each student and for our family. It is easy for me to see all these laid out, read the rationale for each of them, and then think, well, since there are good reasons for them all, I should do them all! I too am glad I am reading this book now - I don't feel the pressure to try and change a lot for this school year, but it gives me ample time to reflect on how to improve next year.