Monday, May 16, 2016

Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles Live Online Discussion

I recently joined Brandy Vencel of Afterthoughts for a conversation about Virtual ScholĂ© Sisters Groups and Technology Tools on the new ScholĂ© Sisters podcast.  As part of our conversation, I discussed how I led a short online study of Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest, using as our live online video/voice discussion platform.  

The technology worked well for the discussion, and I think this idea has a lot of potential for bringing us together to discuss books and ideas, even when we are spread out or have circumstances that limit our ability to get out of the house.  We can take part in a stimulating and helpful discussion without the hassle of driving, travel time, or arranging childcare.  

The next online video/voice discussion I'm starting is of Brandy Vencel's Start Here: A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles.  This study is an excellent way to learn about Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education or to deepen your understanding of ideas behind the methods you may already be using.  

In order to participate in the study, you'll need to purchase Brandy's study guide and For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley.  We will also have readings from Charlotte Mason's volumes and other articles, but they are linked in the study guide and available online for free.

This study will start in June and last 15 months.  Each session will last around an hour, although the first session will be a little longer to allow time for introductions.  I’d like for participants to contribute $1 per month for a total of $15 to help cover the cost of the online meeting room.  If I subscribe to the service, we won’t have to interrupt our conversation halfway through to change meeting rooms.

Please only sign up if you intend to do the readings and participate in the online sessions.  After all, we can't have a discussion if no one comes!  I am happy to help if you need assistance to get set up, test your video or voice connection, or if you have questions.

Also, I should note that signing up is not a guarantee that you will be able to participate in a discussion.  Session time(s) will be determined by schedule overlap between participants.

I would like to be the group contact for one discussion group of 6-8 participants, and if other people indicate on the form that they are willing to act as a group contact, then we can have more groups.  You don't need to be an expert to lead a group, all you need is a willingness to learn alongside others and the organizational ability to send a few emails at appropriate times.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if many groups could come together from this, and families all over could have their lives and homeschools enriched by studying Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles?

Sign Ups are open until May 30th June 2nd and I will email information about the group(s) to everyone who fills out the form by June 4th.

Sign Up Here!

Questions?  Comment below or send me an email.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Shakespeare with a Small Group - Part 1: The Performance

In my overview post for this series, I outlined what I was looking for in a Shakespeare study for my older children.  In this post I'd like to describe what I did for my first idea, the abridged performance.

Last August, I invited three other families to join us in our Shakespeare study.  We had a total of 11 children, ages 9 - 13, who participated in the play.  We also had a number of younger siblings, some of whom were roped in at the last minute to play small non-speaking roles.


  • 6 Sessions - I scheduled these every other week through September and October
  • All sessions and the family performance were hosted at my house
  • Each session lasted a little about 2 1/2 hours, from 1 - 3:30 p.m.
  • At each session, we began with prayer, then gave the kids an opportunity to share some sort of memory work with the group, then started on Shakespeare.  We would be started with Shakespeare by 1:30 - 1:45, depending on how long we spent on memory work and if anyone was late
  • The weekend following the 6th session, I scheduled a family performance and potluck on a Sunday afternoon/evening

I used a script from Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players.  I like this book because it uses Shakespeare's own language for the plays, adding a narrator to bring the play together and move the action along.  I thought the abridgment of The Tempest was very well done.  The book is rather large and bulky and clearly directed towards a teacher in a classroom.  I wasn't sure how the author intended the book to be used for a class, but I ended up having the spine cut off and the pages punched at a local copy store, then making copies of the script for the kids.

First Session
At the first session, I read an abridged version of The Tempest, pausing often for narration and to let the students add details to their character and plot maps.  This took about an hour.

The Shakespeare map I drew as I read.  Alas, I didn't manage to take a photo without glare
After we became familiar with the story, I passed out copies of the script from Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players and assigned temporary parts to the kids.  We moved outside for our rehearsal and started reading through the first act of the play.

I decided not to assign parts immediately, so I could get a sense for how well the children read and how interested they were in performing.

Second Session
In the second session, I started with a game to help the kids refresh their memories about the plot and the characters.  I printed the names of the characters on slips of paper and had the kids lay them out on the table.  Then I had a separate stack of cards with character attributes or something the character did in the play which I passed out to the kids.  The kids helped each other place all the names, then we briefly reviewed the plot using our character and plot maps.  I think this took about a half an hour, perhaps a little more.

After this review, I started handing out parts and we began reading through the play.  With 11 actors, plus me as the narrator, we had just enough to cast the play.  Some of the kids had two parts and with a few small changes we were able to cast the play so that they didn't have to appear on the stage at the same time as two different characters.

Third - Fifth Sessions
At these sessions, we immediately jumped into rehearsing the play.  Sometimes I would have the kids rehearse just the movements of the scene, and sometimes we would read and move around.  I wanted the kids to be very familiar with their parts, but I did not expect that they would memorize them in this short of a time.  I also encouraged the kids to read through their parts in between sessions, but only a few of them actually did this.

Sixth Session
Our sixth session together was a dress rehearsal.  I asked the performers to bring a costume and props for themselves as well as anything they thought might be handy for other players.  After a little discussion and creativity, everyone had basic costumes.  We rehearsed the play again in costume and with props, both with dialogue and without.

Family Performance
I asked the families to come over at about 3:30 p.m. so we could get ready and start our performance at 4:30.  We have a very open floor plan at our house, and suspended a large drop cloth from the ceiling to serve as a backdrop for the play.  We rearranged our family room furniture, added a few more chairs, and had a cozy little theater, complete with a backstage and an off stage room for props and quick costume changes.

Our performance lasted about a half an hour, and everyone really enjoyed it.  The kids performed in costume with props and scripts in hand, but they were generally familiar enough with the play and their parts that they could move through the play well and act as they read.  After the play, we had shared a meal, visited, and prayed together.  We finished up at about 7:30 p.m.

What I Might Do Differently Next Time
I was really quite pleased with how this went, and there isn't much in my control that I would change.  This is an activity that is best when everyone is able to attend each time, and we were somewhat hampered in this by schedule conflicts.  It would have been nice to be able to rehearse multiple scenes at the same time, but with the number of actors this wasn't quite possible.  I especially would have liked to spend more time rehearsing the last scene of the play with everyone, but with the scheduling problems we didn't have time.  But in the end the kids carried it off well and I think it was a memorable, enjoyable, and worthwhile experience for everyone.

Amazon Affiliate Links to benefit Charlotte Mason West used in this post

Friday, May 6, 2016

Shakespeare with a Small Group - Overview

This year I decided I wanted to share my love for Shakespeare with a small group of homeschooling families.  I had a few requirements:

  1. I did not want the meetings to stretch throughout the whole year.  
  2. I wanted the sessions to have a performance aspect to them, as I wanted to give the children the opportunity to perform in front of a small audience.
  3. I did not want the sessions to require a lot of additional outside class time work from the families.
  4. I wanted the children to memorize a few passages of Shakespeare's words and to be able to read at least parts of the play fluently.
  5. I wanted the children to have ample opportunity to read, consider, and enjoy Shakespeare's actual words within the bounds of our limited time together.
Given these requirements, I had two different ideas.  Thanks to the willingness of some old and new friends, I had the opportunity to try them both.  

In the fall, the children performed an abridged version of The Tempest, using the script from Shakespeare with Children, Six Scripts for Young Players.

In the spring, the children and I read through Julius Caesar then had a small performance to share what the children had learned and memorized with their families.

Rather than write one long post, I'll split this up into two more posts where I'll share more details about how I set up our meetings, the resources I used, how I worked with the kids, and how we put together the performances. 

I found studying Shakespeare with a group really enhanced the experience for my children and myself, and it was well worth the effort.   I hope this little series could be helpful for anyone who might want to try this with their own small group.