A Living Book – More Than Just a Pretty Cover!

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

A Living Book – More Than Just a Pretty Cover!

Charlotte Mason believed “living” books make learning ‘come alive.’ Living books pull you in and make you want to read more. Each page you turn, you find yourself more and more invested in the book you are reading. You begin to know the characters, inside and out. Your emotions rise and fall as you weather the storms and ride the waves with them. You can begin to predict how they’ll react to situations before they even make a move. By the time you read the last page, you know you’ve met some characters you’ll never forget. They will go with you through life and live on in your memory. That’s what living books can do, and they are so much more than just pretty covers!

Not all living books have pretty covers!

Carrie, the author of Heart of Dakota and my amazing sister, has an incredible knack for finding the absolute best living books! Through the past 20 years of Heart of Dakota’s existence, Carrie has been on an unending search for the very best of the best living books. I cannot tell you how many times I have stopped by my sister’s house to find her reading for hours on end, with piles and piles of books surrounding her to be read next. She has tirelessly dedicated herself to finding the diamonds in the rough. Sure, there are timeless, well-known living books that have won ample awards that Carrie has chosen to include in Heart of Dakota. However, there are also the less known needle-in-the-haystack finds that Carrie has lovingly chosen – and I will say, not all of them have pretty covers.

A pretty cover is sometimes just a pretty cover!

I remember Carrie showing me some of the books’ covers she was choosing between. She would ask my opinion, and sometimes, I’d look at the covers and be swayed this way or that. Then, she’d sometimes plead the case for the less than pretty cover and have me read a chapter of both books in the running. As I finished reading each, she’d have that look on her face like, “Gotcha! Didn’t I?!?”  Yes. Hands down, one book would be the obvious living books’ award-winner. Often times, it was not the book with the pretty cover.

The longer children use Heart of Dakota, the less they seem to care about the pretty covers!

The longer my children have used Heart of Dakota, the less they seem to care about the pretty covers. After my oldest son read Heart of Dakota’s Cat of Bubastes and Boy Knight, he became an avid fan of the author G.A. Henty. His Christmas list that year included ‘anything by G.A. Henty.’ Old G.A. Henty books with less than pretty covers were much cheaper. Still, I was reluctant to buy them. They REALLY did NOT have pretty covers. I wasn’t sure what he’d think about that, so I asked him. I said I could either get him a lot of G.A. Henty books with less than pretty covers, or a few G.A. Henty books with nicer covers that were more recently published. He didn’t skip a beat! He grinned and said, “Uhhh, MORE please – it’s what’s inside that counts, right Mom?” Well said, son.

Veteran Heart of Dakota users are often the best defenders of the books with less than pretty covers!

Often when I am helping someone on the phone at Heart of Dakota, we are both online or in catalogs peering at the covers of books. The same is true when I am helping someone at a convention. I have noticed with families newer to Heart of Dakota, there are often comments about the covers of the books. Newer books with shiny covers and beautiful artwork often grab their attention first. In contrast, older books with covers that may not have been updated for awhile get comments like, My daughter just wouldn’t open this book and read it on her own. Or, My son wouldn’t like this book because of the cover; it’s just not that exciting. 

This is when I find myself beginning to defend these books with less than pretty covers! I often end up launching into an oral narration of sorts. (By the way, thank you Charlotte Mason and Heart of Dakota for that wise instruction too!) If I am in this situation at a homeschool convention, I often don’t have to say a word. A nearby Heart of Dakota homeschool mom or homeschool student listening in does the defending for me. Oh, that was our favorite book!  The cover doesn’t do it justice! Or, Just wait ’til you get into that book – it’s awesome! You won’t be able to put it down!

I urge you, take time to look within, rather than hastily judging a book by its cover!

I want to be clear, Heart of Dakota has many, many books with vibrant, breathtakingly beautiful covers! In fact, most of the covers of the living books we carry draw kiddos in from the moment they lay their eyes on them. However, I urge you, for the love of living books, take time to look within them, rather than hastily judging them by their covers. Some of the very best books that are real gems happen to have less than pretty covers. Remember, as a wise son of mine once said, “It’s what’s inside that counts, right?” Yes, well said! Now, let’s open that book and read to discover its real merit. It might have much more to offer than that shiny new book somebody is selling next door that really has, well, just a pretty cover.

In Christ,

Julie

Dictation skills help in many areas of your child’s schooling!

Teaching Tip:

Dictation skills help in many areas of your child’s schooling!

One of my absolute favorite Charlotte Mason-style teaching strategies is the way she uses studied dictation. This is because studied dictation encompasses so many skills within a short session.

What skills are included within a studied dictation lesson?

Before the dictating begins, studying the passage first encourages students to picture correct spelling and punctuation on their mental blackboards. As the passage is dictated, students hone their auditory and verbal skills as they listen and repeat the passage before writing. Correcting their own passage by checking it against a correctly written model practices proofreading skills. Immediately fixing any mistakes means errors in spelling take less root in the child’s mind. Repeating a missed passage once daily until it is written correctly helps students replace an incorrect model with a correct model in their mind. Through the studied dictation process, your children are learning spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills too.

How can you help your children carry dictation skills over into their written work?

Once your children are making progress in dictation, it is time to begin helping them carry these skills over to their written work. One easy way to help students do this is to begin having them read aloud to you anything they write for school. As they read aloud what they have written, they will begin to catch some very noticeable mistakes. These obvious mistakes usually include missing words, double words, or very long run-on sentences with no punctuation. As students read aloud their written work, it is important that you are next to them with your pencil in hand. As they read, gently point out a few things to add. Often these things include missing words, periods, capital letters, commas, and question marks.

How can you address incorrect spelling in written work?

After your child has read aloud his written work, go back and write in pencil the correct spelling above any word that needs fixing. Then, have your child erase the incorrect word, copy your correct spelling in its place, and then erase your word (leaving a clean copy). If you do this regularly, your child will start to notice errors more and more on his own.

Proofreading takes training.

Proofreading takes training, just like anything else. It doesn’t happen naturally. One side note of this process is that you may see the volume of your child’s writing decline for awhile. This is alright, as it is honestly better to produce less quantity that is well-done than volumes written poorly. So, try having your child read aloud his writing today, and let the training begin!

Blessings,

Carrie

Finding Misspelled Words in a Given Passage – Not a Charlotte Mason-Inspired Skill

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment – Misspelled Words

Finding Misspelled Words in a Given Sentence or Passage – Not a Charlotte Mason-Inspired Skill

Many spelling programs have a section that requires a child to find the misspelled word within a provided sentence or passage. In light of Charlotte Mason’s method of studied dictation, this type of exercise is definitely not a good idea! It actually gives the mind yet another opportunity to take a mental picture of an incorrectly spelled word! The theory for including this within a spelling program is that it is good practice for standardized tests, where students must find the incorrectly spelled word. But in truth, the child is training to focus on the misspelled word rather than on the correctly spelled words! Children who have been trained in the studied dictation method often have no trouble finding incorrectly spelled words on tests. Why? Well, they are too used to seeing the words spelled correctly! Incorrect words truly jump off the page… no practice needed!

Charlotte Mason’s studied dictation emphasizes the study of correctly written words, sentences, and passages.

Charlotte Mason’s emphasis within dictation is actually on the studying of the passage in order to fix it within one’s mind. In studied dictation, students are practicing the habit of making a mental or a photographic image of the text. Students must pay special attention to how the words are spelled, where the capital letters are found, and which punctuation marks are used. Charlotte Mason had a continual focus on children NOT seeing words written incorrectly. She believed the incorrect image of the word became imprinted on the mind. Unfortunately, this causes the “wrong” spelling to then “look” right! This is why poor spellers often have no idea whether a word is spelled correctly or not. It is because they have seen the word written incorrectly so many times that their mind can’t recognize the correct spelling – even when they try!

The study of misspelled words, sentences, and passages reinforces incorrect spelling.

In public school, we found poor spellers often had no idea whether a word looked right or not, which is often the technique used by natural spellers to tell whether a word is spelled correctly. The poor spellers had seen the word spelled incorrectly so many times in their own writing that the wrong spelling actually looked right. It is amazing to us how many spelling programs have a section where kiddos are asked to find the incorrectly spelled word within the spelling exercises (in essence taking a mental picture of the incorrect spelling). Charlotte Mason would find this to be a poor activity, as it reinforces incorrect spelling. She was adamant that any word spelled incorrectly be covered up and fixed immediately. She did not want a child to fix the wrong image in his/her mind.

Training the mind to capture correct images of words, sentences, and passages is a powerful spelling tool.

Training the mind to capture a correct image of a word, sentence, and eventually passage is a powerful tool. It often does more for kiddos who have struggled with spelling than any amount of memorizing rules does. This was an amazing idea to us, and one that we had never heard during our years of training as teachers. When we were researching Charlotte Mason’s methods, we were both so surprised to find that studied dictation was the method used for spelling here in America in the early 1900’s. Yet, it makes so much sense! And, what’s more – it really works!

The study of properly spelled words, sentences, and passages helps students become better spellers. 

As students study properly spelled words, sentences, and passages, they improve their spelling and editing skills. With consistent studied dictation, students begin to spell better within their own writing. Carrie and I have seven (combined) sons between the two of us. Some are more natural spellers, and some are not. However, with studied dictation, all have improved. All have also eventually brought up their standardized test scores to above average. Heart of Dakota’s Charlotte Mason-inspired studied dictation passages help children gradually improve their spelling. Students can even recognize what is misspelled on standardized tests – probably because they only have to do it rarely. So, we encourage you to give Charlotte Mason’s studied dictation a try! It is simple, yet truly effective.

In Christ,

Julie

Charlotte Mason skills learned in high school give students strong study skills in college!

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Charlotte Mason skills learned in high school give students strong study skills in college!

I was looking back at past posts on our Heart of Dakota (HOD) Message Board. In the HOD Weekly Check-In posts, I found a random past post I’d done about my oldest son’s week in USI. Reading this post, I realized how all of those Charlotte Mason skills my son learned in HOD still help him so much in college! I just was struck by how well Charlotte Mason skills prepared him to study and succeed in college. Below, I’ll share my 2016 post about USI, and then at the end I’ll share how I’ve seen these skills help my son study well in college.

The Study Skill of Giving a Topic Oral Narration Using Notes

This week Wyatt has been learning about The Second Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence in history. He prepared to give a topic oral narration by listing topics as starting points for a new part of the narration in his US1 HOD History Notebook. Phrases of names, dates, places, etc. that were important were jotted down to help jog his memory. He then referred to these notes as he narrated orally. This activity has so many important skills in it! They are skills I used in college often, and I am glad he is leaning to utilize them already now. He now takes notes and refers to them as he speaks very naturally. It just flows, and he is at ease as he speaks.

The Study Skill of Responding to Critical Thinking Questions

Another great activity is his responding in writing to critical thinking questions from Great Documents in U.S. History. So much more depth is brought out from the readings by the pondering of these critical thinking questions. Then, reading actual Great Letters in American History alongside these assignments – well, what could be better than the actual letters, word for word, written by these amazing people from history themselves! It is like being transported back in time and really being able to ‘know’ that person through his/her very thoughts and words put to paper.

The Study Skill of Researching A Topic and Supporting Your Opinion

A Noble Experiment has Wyatt researching various court cases and their findings, and he finds it incredibly interesting. It appeals to his sense of right and wrong, and he is beginning to see the importance of being able to ‘support’ your opinion by citing the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc.

The Study Skills of Watching Presentations, Taking Notes, and Sharing What You’ve Learned

The USI History Notebook is not just a place for Wyatt to record his thoughts and written answers. It is also a beautiful visual reminder of that which he is studying, and every picture, portrait, document, historic memorabilia, etc. has its purpose and is used in some way, shape, or form for assessing what he has learned. This week, after Wyatt watched his American Testimony DVD, he referred to the beautiful pictures in his USI History Notebook as he orally narrated about each portion of the DVD he’d watched. Being comfortable speaking while referring to diagrams, photos, documents – this is a key skill he’ll need for whatever future job he will probably have. He is already becoming quite comfortable with it, and I can envision him giving a power point presentation with notes quite adeptly someday.

The Study Skill of Conveying Your Thoughts and Opinions in Writing

Being an accomplished writer that can convey thoughts and opinions clearly in an accurate interesting way – this is becoming a lost skill for many teenagers. NOT SO, with HOD! The steady diet of completing Charlotte Mason style written narrations inspired by reading timeless living books has made responding in writing to a topic quite easy for Wyatt. Now, this was not always so. I only have to pull out his beginning fledgling written narrations from CTC to be reminded of how far he has come. But, oh, it is so exciting to me to see the progress!

The Study Skill of Internalizing What’s Been Learned

Where many high school students stare at the blank page with no confidence of how to begin, he can begin writing immediately. Why? Because having completed countless oral and written narrations in the past, he knows from experience one must THINK about what one is reading while one is reading it to be able to respond to it afterward. Pretty important stuff if you ask me. So, oral narrations with index card planning, critical thinking questions, and written narration assessments all work together to help our dc learn to internalize and respond to what they have read in an active thoughtful way. So much better than completing a multiple choice quiz every time.

How These Study Skills Help My Son in College

My son just finished his sophomore year of college. He has taken 18 credits each semester. Some of these credits were earned by taking courses. The other credits were earned by taking CLEP or DSST tests. Either way, he uses the study skills he learned in HOD for both. As he reads his college material, he takes notes. He takes notes as he listens to his professors or watches DVD presentations (just like he did for USI’s American Testimony DVD assignments). From these notes, he writes essays (just like he did for his topic narrations in USI). He has to give an overview (i.e. written narration) and share his opinion citing research or court cases to support it (i.e. opinion narration). Throughout all of this, he is taking quizzes and tests. The scores he receives show he has internalized what he has learned!

A Special Webinar with Jeff Myers

These study skills all came together during an Educational Leadership webinar with Jeff Myers and fellow students. Each student had to write one question for Jeff Myers, based on the materials they’d read. During the live webinar, Jeff chose some of the students’ questions to answer. Jeff chose Wyatt’s question! Wyatt was so excited! Jeff spent nearly 30 minutes answering it and interacting with Wyatt and the other students as he did. It was just such a neat moment! After this, Wyatt wrote an essay on what he’d learned, citing his notes and supporting his opinions with references to the reading material and webinar. So, rest assured, HOD’s Charlotte Mason-inspired skills do much to help your future college students! Even on quizzes and tests – because they truly have the skills to internalize what they have read and what they have heard.  What a blessing!

In Christ,

Julie

Alternate inspirational and disciplinary subjects.

Teaching Tip

Alternate inspirational and disciplinary subjects.

When scheduling your child’s day, Charlotte Mason advocated alternating inspirational subjects with disciplinary subjects. This makes a lot of sense to me and is something I try to consider when scheduling my kiddos.

What is the difference?

Disciplinary subjects are those that are skill-based, while inspirational subjects are those that are content-based. Subjects often are not exclusively in one category or the other.  They may fit in both categories depending on how the subject is taught. However, typically a subject will lean more in one direction than the other.

What are some examples of disciplinary subjects?

Disciplinary subjects will often be subjects like mathematics, phonics, reading instruction, geography, handwriting, dictation, English/grammar, composition, copywork, research, timeline, drawing, and foreign language.

What are some examples of inspirational subjects?

Inspirational subjects often include history, poetry, Bible, read alouds, literature, science, picture study, composer study, and art appreciation.

What are the benefits of alternating different types of subjects?

Alternating differing subject types keeps learning fresh.  This is because disciplinary and inspirational subject matter calls on different parts of the brain. Try alternating the disciplinary and inspirational subjects found within your HOD guide.  See if you notice a difference in your child’s focus and concentration!

Blessings,
Carrie

PS: Want to dive deeper into how alternating these two kinds of subjects works? Then, check out this blog post by Julie!