Oral Narrations: An Integral Part of a Charlotte Mason Education

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Oral narrations are an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education!

A Charlotte Mason education is literature-based and full of living books that you just can’t put down!  Think about the best book you’ve ever read. As you were reading it, if you were asked to respond to it each day, would you have delightedly chosen to take a pop quiz about it with fill-in-the-blank, true/false, or multiple choice questions? Or, would you have much rather just told a friend about it, sharing all you remembered in a narrative way? Chances are, you’d prefer to tell someone about it over taking a quiz.  Even if you happen to be a rare quiz-loving person, which response would you be more likely to remember? Good books are meant to be shared, and Charlotte Mason knew that when they are shared, they are remembered – long after any quickly forgotten quiz. That is why oral narrations are an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education.

A Charlotte Mason education is based on using narration as the primary method of comprehension.

When children orally narrate, they tell back in their own words what they have just read or heard. Oral narration allows children to share their own version of the passage with accuracy, individual personality, spirit, and originality. In Charlotte Mason-style narration, children borrow words from the author to retell the story.  Narrations are often lengthy and detailed, and there is no “one right” answer or certain key points that “should be” in the narration. This is the way the child connects to and makes sense of the reading. Children can often give a candid heartfelt oral narration on a book they read years earlier, simply because they remember it so well due to having narrated upon it. A Charlotte Mason education is based on using narration as the primary method of comprehension because it is so effective.

Heart of Dakota’s guides include helpful tips for both the teacher and the student before, during, and after orally narrating.

Chances are, you didn’t grow up orally narrating in school, and more than likely, you’d love a little guidance in this area. Well, Heart of Dakota provides that! Each year Carrie wrote a new Heart of Dakota guide, she pulled out Charlotte Mason’s original volumes and reread all that pertained to the upcoming stages of learning students were entering. The result? Decades of Charlotte Mason research at your disposal right within your Heart of Dakota guides. Beginning with modeling oral narrations and moving to helpful tips for both teacher and student before, during, and after orally narrating – HOD has you covered. Likewise beginning with simple narrations and moving to detailed, summary, key word, highlighted, topic, opinion, persuasive, recorded, and typed narrations – HOD makes sure oral narrations grow and mature as your children do!

Narrating is an essential skill life.

Narrating is an essential skill in life.  To be able to give an opinion of a book, relay a telephone message, summarize a letter, give driving directions, write an article, or share a doctor’s instructions – are all examples of practical applications of narration skills.  Narrating is an important skill to learn.  You can begin to teach your children to narrate by following the steps in Heart of Dakota’s guides.  Just be patient, and have fun with it!  Narration is a way of life you will surely learn to love!

In Closing

In closing, here are a few Charlotte Mason quotes about narration for you to take inspiration from…

A narration should be original as it comes from the child- that is, his own mind should have acted on the matter it has received. – Charlotte Mason

Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. – Charlotte Mason

In Christ,





Invite Charlotte Mason’s Teaching Methods into Your Own Home with Heart of Dakota

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Invite Charlotte Mason into your own home with Heart of Dakota!

At Heart of Dakota we ‘met’ Charlotte Mason more than several decades ago when Carrie began homeschooling her oldest son. The more we researched and practiced Charlotte Mason’s teaching methods in our own homes, the more we became convinced her methods deserved to be brought to life in other homes as well. Her breakthrough educational philosophy was just too good not to share! And so began Carrie’s 20-year journey of writing Heart of Dakota’s guides! With a dedication to bringing Charlotte Mason’s teaching methods to life, Carrie created Heart of Dakota’s guides so you too can ‘meet’ her in a very doable, inspirational way!  At Heart of Dakota, we help you invite Charlotte Mason into your own home, so you too can say, “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” (Charlotte Mason)

Meeting Ms. Mason in Heart of Dakota’s Guides

Charlotte Mason’s key teaching methods come to life in Heart of Dakota’s guides. Each day you and your children use Heart of Dakota, you will be meeting Ms. Mason and inviting her into your homeschooling with easy-to-use daily plans. Step-by-step, year after year, from guide to guide, Heart of Dakota’s plans introduce your children to Charlotte Mason’s key educational principles and ideas. Little by little, children learn to love literature, love the Lord, and love their learning, just as Charlotte Mason intended.  So, just how will you be inviting Charlotte Mason into your home with Heart of Dakota? Let us show you how as we describe each facet of her educational philosophy and how it is brought to life in Heart of Dakota!

Living Books 

You cannot ‘meet’ Charlotte Mason if you do not use living books. Charlotte Mason had a passion for literature that Carrie shares! With the utmost care and loving research, Carrie carefully chooses living books for each and every subject area.  Like Charlotte Mason, Carrie’s living book choices are narratively written in a conversational way by an author who is passionate about what he or she has written. “Living” books make learning ‘come alive.’ They are the opposite of encyclopedias and textbooks, which are often written in a less than conversational way by a team of people who more than likely are not all that passionate about what they are writing.  In contrast, living books pull you into a subject and make you want to read more. They are the books you cannot put down!

In Heart of Dakota, your children will enjoy living books each and every day in a way that will make them want to read more. Living books light a passion for reading in our children, and Heart of Dakota keeps that passion for learning with literature alive year after year!  Join us in our next “More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment” series, as we describe more key principles of Charlotte Mason’s teaching methods and how they are incorporated into Heart of Dakota!

In Christ,


Meet Charlotte Mason

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Meet Charlotte Mason

Let us take a moment to meet Charlotte Mason, and in doing so, gain inspiration and direction for homeschooling our own precious children! Charlotte Mason was born in England in 1842 on New Year’s Day. Her father was a Liverpool merchant, a simple but refined man who was very fond of books.  Both of Charlotte’s parents loved to educate her. As only children themselves, teaching  Charlotte, their only daughter, was a special joy.  Unfortunately, Charlotte’s mother died when Charlotte was just 16. Her grief-stricken father died the following year. Suddenly alone in the world, Charlotte lived with friends until at 18, she moved to London. She enrolled in the only training college available to teachers in England at the time.  From these difficult beginnings, Charlotte rose to become an advocate of parents as educators for their children.

Heart of Dakota – Inspired by Charlotte Mason

Heart of Dakota is inspired by Charlotte Mason, and it is our family’s hope that you will be too!  So many  educational cornerstones of Charlotte Mason’s approach to education form the foundation of Heart of Dakota’s approach to learning.  It is no surprise to me that an orphaned young daughter would grasp the importance of the education parents could give their children and long for it herself.  We believe this too.  Through Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning, we find we as parents can hopefully give something Charlotte’s parents could not – an education provided by loving parents that carries our children to adulthood. 

Education is an atmosphere!

“By the saying, ‘education is an atmosphere,’ it is not meant that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment,’ especially adapted and prepared; but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions.  (Mason 1923: preface).

I think Charlotte longed for her childhood days of her parents lovingly creating a home atmosphere for education.  It was powerful to her, because she once had it and lost it.  She spent her life trying to help parents create this atmosphere of education within the home setting – perhaps because she longed for it herself.  We long for this ourselves as parents, and we also long for it for you, as fellow homeschool parents.  Hence, Heart of Dakota.

A dream dreamed, from an orphaned child, coming to fruition through you!

I believe Charlotte Mason was a strong woman whose difficulties in life brought about a newfound respect for the once well-respected old adage that parents are the best teachers for their children.  Parents love their children as no others could. They are invested in their future, and there is no ‘passing on’ of the children to a new teacher. The parent is the teacher. She knows her children well, and she has a heart full of love and hope and fortitude to see them through to be the best they can be.

I like to think we as homeschool parents have the love and hope and fortitude for our children Charlotte’s parents surely had for her.  Only, Lord willing, perhaps we will be blessed enough to journey on this home education road a little longer.  I believe this was an orphaned child’s dream, and it can come to fruition through you. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be introducing Charlotte Mason to you as she makes her presence known in Heart of Dakota. I hope you take as much inspiration in meeting her this way as I have.

In Christ,


Charlotte Mason Via Ambleside Online Vs. Charlotte Mason Via Heart of Dakota

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Charlotte Mason Via Ambleside Online Vs. Charlotte Mason Via Heart of Dakota

Fellow homeschool moms – this is wonderful post by Carrie on the topic of teaching Charlotte Mason using Ambleside Online vs. teaching Charlotte Mason via Heart of Dakota. It really is also a post comparing straight-forward Charlotte Mason style teaching done very simply, vs. making changes based on experience that may result in a better balance of education for our children today.  I thought you might enjoy reading this for our “More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment.”  So, without further adieu, here are Carrie’s thoughts on the matter, which have shaped our resulting Heart of Dakota PreK to 12th grade curriculum.  I hope you enjoy!

When did Carrie use Ambleside Online (AO)?

I find this subject near and dear to my heart, for I used Ambleside Online for 4 years with my oldest son, Cole, before I wrote the HOD guides for his level. He used the AO years right on grade level. We used each level exactly as written. He used Ambleside 3 in grade 3, Ambleside 4 in grade 4, Ambleside 5 in grade 5, and Ambleside 6 in grade 6. He did use Drawn into the Heart of Reading along the way with Ambleside Online. After that he began piloting guides for HOD, beginning with Creation to Christ.

Carrie’s Initial Thoughts and Experiences with Ambleside Online

Since we did AO as written and did it for multiple years, I feel pretty clear when I share my initial thoughts about our Ambleside Online experience. First of all, I am grateful to that program. AO introduced me to Charlotte Mason (CM), and it helped me learn about the CM way of schooling. CM’s focus on character training and the importance of God’s Word thrilled me. In fact, I remain enthralled with that today. Her methods of studied dictation were a complete breakthrough. I believe there is nothing better. CM’s slower, more thoughtful reading process and the deeper thinking about what was read is pure genius. Fewer books done better is still my motto. We enjoyed our years in AO to some extent, and I definitely felt good about some of the old, classic books I was introduced to along the way.

My Oldest Son’s Initial Response to Ambleside Online

My oldest son, Cole, was one of those early readers who could read the AO books without trouble. He definitely rose to the challenge and completed his assignments without difficulty. Blessedly, he was a natural narrator and was not a fan of writing. He completed his school in a timely fashion and did what he was asked without complaint. So, his initial response to Ambleside Online was good. However, the further we went down the Ambleside path, the more I found that there were some definite problems running under the surface of his education.

Developing Dislike of Orally Narrating, Lack of Enthusiasm for Book Selections, Antiquated Language, and Little Guidance on Scripture Instruction

The first bump that appeared was his outright dislike of orally narrating every text. He began to really frown over narrating, though he could do it easily. The next bump appeared after we ramped up the number of daily written narrations. While he did them well, it began taking him longer to complete them. He began to dread written narrations.

The next bump was his lack of enthusiasm for the book selections. This really surprised me. The antiquated language and the old-fashioned story lines began to color his opinion of the books he was reading. This was a child who loved to read anything! He didn’t complain about the books. But, he was no longer excited about his school day or what he would read. I also felt like there was no guidance on Scripture instruction or character training. I felt alone in coming up with my own plan for this.

Repetitive Days… Reading… Narrating… Reading… Narrating

From my perspective as a teacher there were also increasing bumps. First, I felt that my son’s days were pretty repetitive, with him reading and narrating… reading and narrating…. and reading and narrating. We did do poetry, composer study, hymn study, nature walks, and handicrafts. In fact, we did one of these each day. But, it still seemed like his day involved a lot of reading and narrating. My oldest is such a hands-on child that he missed more activity. As a teacher, I missed the connections that can be made through a more unit study approach through projects, timeline, research, geography, primary source documents, guided drawing practice, notebooking etc.

Delayed Grammar and Writing Instruction Posed a Problem

I also increasingly felt like the delayed approach to formal grammar and writing instruction was leaving me wondering how to talk to my son about grammar and writing skills that I felt he was needing earlier than CM advocated. I was left alone to figure out many other skills that I wanted my son to be gaining along the way, it seemed. They just weren’t a formal part of AO. Skills like dictation and copywork were also left for me to implement, gleaning from CM’s guidance.

The things I felt my son was missing, he was missing too.

In the beginning, I loved the idea of a more streamlined day with the focus on reading and narrating. However, as I watched my son’s enthusiasm for school and learning wane through the years, I began to see that the things I felt he was missing… he was missing too. I began asking myself, just because my son could read Robinson Crusoe as a 9 year old, should he? Or, would he benefit more from it later, when he had more maturity?

Some books are richer when read later.

When Pilgrim’s Progress scared him, as he read it at such a young age, because he was worried he couldn’t face the trials that Christian faced. I realized it might have been better to save this book for a time when he was more mature. By waiting, he could potentially really appreciate the complexities of the allegory and be encouraged by Christian’s journey. The further we went, the more I began to see that maturity has as much, or more, to do with enjoying the richness of classic books as reading level does. Some books are richer when read later.

The first newness or awe of reading a classic book cannot be regained.

There is never the same newness or awe of reading a classic book as the first time you read it. Why not wait until the newness and the richness can come together and be appreciated by a mature reader? Why not read the easier wonderful classics and new classics too when your child is younger, saving the harder classics for when your child is older? As I pondered these questions, I realized I wanted a book list with a different balance of books. I wanted a list that that took into account the fact that our young children are not living in the same era as Charlotte Mason.  Thankfully, hardships don’t impact children on a daily basis now as they did during that time.

The Importance of A Balance of Old and New, As Well As of Skills

I longed for a balance of old books and new books, as well as a balance of skills. So, I began the quest of taking as much of CM’s philosophy as I agreed with and adding in the skills I knew from my own 20 years of teaching experience would be necessary for kiddos in this day and age of education. What appeared then was our guides from Creation to Christ (CTC) on up.

The Switch from AO to CTC

When my son made the switch from AO to doing CTC, I can honestly say that it was challenging. CTC asked him to do thing that he had not done before. His day was definitely longer. Yet, by the end of the year I had seen so much growth in my son spiritually and Godly character-wise that I was a firm believer that the switch had been a good one. What’s more, my son was enjoying his learning again, even with a longer day. His day was much more varied. Overall, I felt his learning was richer. I knew exactly what to expect from him each day, and he knew exactly what was expected of him.

What changed once we made the switch?

Much changed for my son, once we made the switch. He no longer dreaded narrations, as they were only once daily and rotated among the subjects. The balance of books piqued his interest. I often found him digging deeper into topics that interested him. He began voluntarily sharing about things that he’d learned. Our dialogues were filled with enthusiasm! Likewise, my interactions with him were much more varied, and I was more enthusiastic as well. My son opened up about his faith. We had opportunities all throughout the year right within the guide to talk about his walk (and mine) with the Lord. It was the education I’d wanted him to have, but could never figure out how to give him.

A Love for Reading, Balanced Skills, Teacher Guidance, Focus on God’s Word, and Character Training

My other kiddos have only ever done HOD. I must say that within their education I continue to find this same richness, love for reading, solid balance of skills, teacher guidance and help, focus on God’s Word, opportunities for character training, and academic excellence too. Every year, as we begin pondering what to do next in HOD, I pull back out CM’s original volumes and reread all that pertains to the stage of learning we are entering. I take as much as I agree with from her philosophy and then add things from my own research and years of experience as a teacher and educator as well.

HOD – A CM Education with Some Differences

So, within HOD you will see a CM education with some differences. You will see her wonderful focus on reading living books and narrating from them, doing copywork and dictation, composer study, artist appreciation, hymn study, nature journal, steady diet of poetry, sketching practice, timeline work, etc.  But, you will also see the richness of research, hands-on projects, notebooking, formal writing instruction, formal English instruction, geography lessons, lessons on primary source documents, mapping, etc.

An Organized Way for a Teacher to Guide, Direct, and Facilitate Learning

I know that CM also included many of these things I just listed. However, I was in desperate need of presenting these things from a teaching standpoint in an organized fashion. I needed it to be laid out for me as a teacher to guide, direct, and facilitate my kiddos’ learning. I wanted lessons that lent themselves to helping my kiddos make connections as they were learning. More than that, I wanted God at the center of my boys’ learning. I wanted His Word integrated throughout our day. Likewise, I wanted character training to be a part of each guide. I wanted training in becoming a Godly young man or woman to be a part of every year. This is how we designed HOD.

I learned much from my oldest son’s journey and my years of teaching that helped me reach the philosophy I have today.

Each family must make their own choices as to what they are looking for in their children’s education. However, I wanted to share a bit more about what I was looking for in my boys’ education. This is why we wrote the guides the way we did. AO was a part of my oldest son’s journey that I learned much from. I can honestly say it helped me fine-tune my philosophy of education. It helped me know in my heart what I believe about how kiddos’ learn. It helped me take my 11 years teaching in the public school classroom, combined with 2 years of doing my master’s in education to be a principal, and then another 20 years as a homeschool teacher and put them together to reach the philosophy I hold today.

Implementing this philosophy, as we continue to create HOD to have a balanced approach to skills and learning, continues to be a journey for me that I enjoy. I pray you will find what you are seeking too.


Charlotte Mason’s Picture Study Inspires Art Appreciation

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Charlotte Mason’s Picture Study Inspires Art Appreciation

Charlotte Mason loved to inspire children to appreciate art by using the format of picture study. According to Charlotte Mason, We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture. (Volume 1, p. 309)

So, how do you do Charlotte Mason style picture study?

It is not as hard as one might think! In fact, many times people try to over-complicate Charlotte Mason’s picture study. Simply put, during picture study children spend time studying artist’s pictures, absorbing their details, and discussing what they noticed. In the process of picture study, the goal is for children to learn to appreciate art. Through picture study according to Charlotte Mason, Children learn not merely to see a picture but “to look at it”, taking in every detail. (Volume 6, p. 214-215)

So, what does Carrie have to say about her journey with Charlotte Mason’s picture study?

Our family pursued Charlotte Mason style picture study for many years before I wrote it into our guides. I must admit I was extremely skeptical about the simplicity of the Charlotte Mason approach to picture study in the beginning. But, I have become a firm believer in it as the years have passed! Because of picture study, my kiddos and I have learned to appreciate and love beautiful art. We spent time studying pictures, absorbing each picture’s details, and discussing what each of us individually noticed. Best of all, we did find we truly learned to appreciate art in the process. We also learned art study doesn’t have to be long or in-depth to resonate. It just needs to be meditated upon and shared.

So, when is picture study included in Heart of Dakota?

Heart of Dakota includes picture study one day in each unit of Resurrection to Reformation.  Parent and student get to do art appreciation together, so both can enjoy it! Art prints for the picture study either use full-color prints from Looking at Pictures or from the full-color “Art Gallery” provided in the back of the Resurrection to Reformation Student Notebook. Looking at Pictures with its 150 stunning illustrations in full color from The National Gallery in London (including entries from Leonardo, Rembrandt, Matisse, Seurat, Picasso, and many more) partnered with the full color Art Gallery in RTR’s notebook work together beautifully!

Closing Thoughts

I don’t know about you, but I am personally thankful we get to enjoy Charlotte Mason’s ideals in such a way that I can actually do them! If I were to try to do every Charlotte Mason ideal every day or even every homeschool year, I think I would fall down eventually. I feel I have the best of both worlds with the way Carrie has written HOD’s guides. The tenets of Charlotte Mason are always present in the guides – dictation, copywork, oral narrations, written narrations, timelines/Book of Centuries, and living books. But, the other Charlotte Mason led activities (such as hymn study, composer study, nature study, and picture study) rotate. Each gets their moment in the sun! We get to do each activity thoroughly and completely, so we can remember and enjoy it for years to come.

My children will never walk into an art museum without appreciating the art they see, and I have Charlotte Mason and Carrie Austin to thank for that!

 How do we prepare a child, again, to use the aesthetic sense with which he appears to come provided? His education should furnish him with whole galleries of mental pictures, pictures by great artists old and new. (Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, p. 43)

 We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture. (Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, page 109).

In Christ,