Homeschooling Tips from Readers

Readers of the Charlotte Mason Monthly email newsletter frequently send in suggestions and tips for the benefit of other readers.  Here are some of their fun, helpful and creative tips.

Homemade Math Counters
“For math counters, we use homemade beansticks — wooden craft sticks with 10 beans glued on them. The sticks are 10’s and the individual beans are ones. They’re nice for place value and regrouping, borrowing, carrying type problems or explanations. I like to use black beans because they show up so nicely against the light colored popsicle sticks, but any dry beans will work. So, for example, 54 is 5 beansticks and 4 beans, also 50 plus 4 is 5 beansticks and 4 beans. etc. For 7 plus 9 when you get to 10 you replace 10 beans with one beanstick so you see the answer is 16 (one beanstick and 6 beans). Works for subtraction too. For larger numbers, you can put beans in big cups like a foam coffee cup (for 100’s), little cups like a tiny dixie cup with 10 each in them (for 10’s), and individual beans (for ones).”
–Katherine C.

“Mashed” Flowers: Nature Journal Idea
I adore the idea of a nature journal, especially this time of year with all the beautiful colors about (we are in the midwest.) I thought my daughters  would also love the idea, they needed some inspiration…. so, I got out some plastic wrap and a rubber mallot and some paper and we chose some flowers from our yard (we have been into several neighbors yards now too!) and we hammered some flowers on the paper using the plastic wrap as a buffer to protect the hammer. Some of our flowers turned out beautifully, some were a mess and some became other things besides flowers…. all in all we had a great time and a good beginning for our nature journals. It was amazing to see what color the flower started out and what color it was after it was mashed. We mashed many things (we often travel with our rubber mallot now!). Our next project was to pick as many different leaves from the neighborhood and mimic the colors with acrylic paint, we then “stamped” them in our notebooks…. we are all having a grand time and looking forward to many other nature journal projects.
–Teri L.

Rainy Day Activity:  A Use for Old Appliances
Here’s a rainy day activity that my seven year old son loves. I buy old appliances from the thrift store for $1 (like an old mixer, toaster, etc.) and then clip the cords off with a pair of wire cutters. I give my son a box full of tools and let him go for it. Last disassembling was a pair of hair clippers I had that no longer worked. When he had gotten them apart (I removed the blade before any of this!), I told him to put it back together again — and he did! He loves doing this and it’s easy on me — both cashwise and timewise.
–Leanne Ely,

Short Lessons
This is one of the last Charlotte Mason ideas that I stubbornly left to “try later … some day …” and we started the new school year with it.  It’s been great. I choose out of their math lessons what is really important to learn, then if there’s enough time, we review other concepts. Otherwise, it’s onto Latin/Greek for 10 minutes, then French for 15 to 20 minutes. Science has been our longer lesson (30 mins.) as we’ve been doing fun experiments about the human body, but with lots of dictation for the learning side of it. I’m a physical therapist and really want the children to learn the why’s of good posture, fitness, etc. so that it’s REAL to them. We’re using “Blood and Guts” as a base book and it’s a hoot! Reciting poetry is another favorite here (esp. A.A. Milne’s fun lyrical rhymes … and Shakespeare). Could go on forever as home learning as a family is soooooooo special, but it’s bedtime.
–Joanne G.

Give Choices Whenever Possible
One year, I home schooled a foster son. I will call him John for this message. John mastered the art of manipulation, and avoidance of responsibility and SCHOOL WORK. Depending on the time of the year and John’s unpredictable whims, Math was either his favorite or least favorite subject and correspondingly, best or worst.  I had three or four strands of Math planned for John so I could give him a choice of which Math to do. Also, I wrote a list of all the items he needed to do that morning on the white board. He would choose what he wanted to do and erase as we went along. At one point we even had to limit Math to a “Vita-Math.” I took a problem out of the book that had grown unbearable for John and wrote it on a card. I put all of these “Vita-Maths” in a container. I only required him to take one “Vita-Math” a day, but it was so fun he did several. Soon he was able to swallow a longer assignment. These simple techniques greatly reduced his reluctance and avoidance.
–Maggie Dail
Educational Consultant, Tacoma WA

Nature Notebook Tip
We bought lined journals that are about 7×9″ and they are hard cover (cardboard, but feel very permanent and “bookish”). This way, we can write on the nice ruled lines (to keep things neat) and then we do our art work, drawings, watercolors separately and glue them in (gluestick). This way there are no spills or “uh oh’s” IN the book. We have also glued in color book pages which were neatly colored and even photos of our robins nesting and Monarch butterflies hatched out. I also like watercolor and you just can’t use anything but watercolor paper for that. Check out my nature web-pages if you wish.
–Jody C.

Notebook-keeping Idea
We have tried various methods of notebook-keeping, from using a sketchbook for nature walks; using a sketchbook for daily artwork/sentence writing; and writing on notebook paper and inserting the paper into a stiff 3-ring binder. I found that by making a cover on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, then copying the pages for the book we want to keep (field trips, books we have read), that we can get this spiral bound with a clear cover for about $3.50 at our local Kinko’s. It’s easier for the children to carry with them and they’re more likely to fill out a notebook that asks them questions about what they have seen or read.”
–Lynn S.

I have never studied Shakespeare. I was feeling intimidated about attempting to introduce my children to his writings and plays, but now I do not feel as overwhelmed with the thought. My children are young (not in their teens yet), but we will read and study A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the manner you suggested in an earlier issue of your newsletter. One of the local theater companies in our area will be producing the play later this summer. We will be able to complete our study by attending an actual stage production. Thank you for the inspiration. I am looking forward to this new adventure in our family’s educational journey.
–Mary Ellen D.

High School and More
Thanks for recommending More Charlotte Mason Education. For some bizarre and unknown reason, I was under the mistaken impression CM was just for little kids. Finding an entire chapter about older students and CM for high school is just so exciting! Also, the Question and Answer section of the book was really helpful. I also appreciated the description of how to do a Century Book and the section on Coping Stategies. It’s so nice to read about a home schooling author who admits that sometimes it’s just plain difficult to get everything done, especially when you’ve got little tiny ones running around the house during the older kids’ school time. Such a refreshing, realistic approach to home and school. Thanks! 🙂
–Beth H., Sacramento CA

Nature Study
I recently discovered your web site and have found them most interesting and very well done! I just finished reading your Nature Study page, and find that we enjoy similar things. Although I am smack dab in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains and we don’t get to Puget Sound very often (well, actually, never been there), we do similar activities by participating with W.V. Annual Bird Count and going to the Kanawha State Forest spring wildflower and fall nature walks. We camp at state parks, and enjoy many of the programs provided by our Division of Natural Resources.

Service Project Ideas
We started a monthly community service project in our area and we volunteer our time to a new place each month. Our favorite place is the Pot Bellied Pig Sanctuary. They have 450 pigs!! In November, we served Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless at the local Soup Kitchen. We also help a local llama owner to train his llama’s and we will be showing them in the State Fair this February. We are very busy but loving every minute of it.
–Melonie in Florida

We are fond of postcards and use this approach to collecting them. When we go on vacation, we purchase several cards and the kids (as young as three-years-old) each write four words to describe our visit. Then we mail them to ourselves at home. They love receiving their mail and remembering the highlights of our trips. I have them in a photo album with see through sleeves so both sides can be looked at. They are family treasures for sure!
–Sue in NJ

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