Our Experience: Charlotte Mason Institute 2014 Education Conference Part 1

As soon as I heard about the Charlotte Mason Institute’s 2014 Education Conference, I was saving my pennies and planning to attend. Of course I took my kids with me. They were super excited at first because a handful of teens they know sometimes attend. Unfortunately this year none of them were able to. Regardless, both of my kids took away some good things from the conference.

CMI experience graphic 1

We’d never gone to a homeschool convention, or an education conference. We really weren’t sure what to expect. Let me tell you this: We are going next year! It was very good. I want to say “amazing!”, “awesome!”, “spectacular!” but really it was such a calm and wonderful atmosphere that those words just seem out of place. It was great. It was wonderful. I would like to share with you our time at the CMI Conference. And I encourage you to plan to attend in 2015.

You might want to get a cup of something and get comfy. This will be split into parts though, for easier reading. This part will focus on in-between but important bits that we participated in, or that were available. The second part will talk about the workshop/sessions that we personally attended, and briefly about others that were offered. Finally, part three will share the plenaries (the ‘sessions’ that included all attendees in the ‘big room’).

This year was extra special because it coincided with CMI’s 10th anniversary, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s book For the Children’s Sake 30th anniversary, and Charlotte Mason’s Liberal Education for All Movement- 100th anniversary! Liberal education for all. Wow.


The conference hymn, which we were able to participate in singing on Thursday and Friday morning, is a favorite of mine. Be Thou My Vision- Writer Unknown, Old Irish Hymn. The first time I heard of this hymn was when a reader of our family’s little newsletter requested it to be featured one week. It’s a great hymn that really makes me think of how much I need to focus on God’s Will and not my own. And you know, that’s what Charlotte Mason thought, too. Children are a gift from God; lent to us for just a little while. We have to take care of them in His way.

That’s how the conference started for us. And it is a good thing it did because after 10+ hours of driving, I’d begun to wonder if I’d made a mistake in spending the money and time to attend.

CMI hymn

Click on this to see it larger.

I do believe that God has ordered our paths; whether we choose to follow right away or take the long way is another story! We got home from the conference on Saturday morning (1 am *morning*). The hymn we sang at church on Sunday? Be Thou My Vision. God was talking to me and the kids while we were at the conference. I know we were paying attention.

The poem for the conference, which we didn’t actually get to hear recited, was Emily Dickinson’s “He Ate and Drank the Precious Words”.

Click to see this larger.

Click to see this larger.

Picture Study/Nature Walk

We also were able to take part in a picture study of Jean-Francois Millet’s Woman Baking Bread. They gave everyone an 8×11 print to take home. I really enjoyed participating with others at our table. We’ve only done CM in our own homeschool; we’ve no others to discuss in person with the great things we come across.

There were also nature walks each day but we didn’t get to participate in those because there was just too much going on. Okay, I might have been a little tired (did I mention the incredibly long drive?).

While we didn’t go on any of the nature walks with a group we very much enjoyed taking our time when we were going to and from the apartments to activities. There is such a variety of plants on the Gardner-Webb University campus! For whatever reason I forgot to take my camera out of my purse, even though I had it with me the entire time. I got just a few photos but this is one of my favorite. It was a Northern Mockingbird gracing us with a territorial dance.

Click the image to see it larger.

Click the image to see it larger.

Tea Time/Folksongs

One of our favorite parts was the tea time. Not for the tea because unfortunately the hot water ran out before we could get any tea. But no real worries there; we had plenty of yummy pastries from the coffee shop that is on campus. And I had coffee. If you can’t have tea, have coffee and pastries! But really the highlight was the singing. Folk songs. The folk song artist being featured, if you will, was Pete Seeger. He passed away January of this year.

The girl who led the singing was 14 year old Marley Spencer (same age and whose birthday is the same month as my son’s; yeah, he was impressed *wink*). She sang “This Land Is Your Land”, “Little Boxes”, and “Turn, Turn, Turn”. The audience had opportunity to sing along. “Little Boxes” is a favorite of our family, so you bet we were singing along.

Marley is the daughter of the Willow Tree Community School‘s lead teacher, Jen Spencer.

Meet & Greet

There were probably many meet & greets but we had tunnel vision for just one. If you know us, you’ll not be surprised that it was the Ambleside Online meet and greet. I was so excited to finally get to meet in real life some of my friends from the forum. There were people there who were interested in AO, as well as those who have been using the curriculum.

I hope you’ll join me next time to talk more about the CMI 2014 Education Conference: A Liberal Education for All.


North Laurel (7 Posts)

Blossom- "North Laurel" to the online world- lives in Ohio with her husband and two teens, homeschooling the Charlotte Mason way with Ambleside Online. She is graciously allowed to be a moderator for the Ambleside Online Forum. North Laurel loves to read, be on the computer, and learn. You can read her blogging about homeschooling, book reviews and life in general at North Laurel Home & School.

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7 Steps to Summer Learning Adventure!

Do you homeschool year round?  Or maybe you take a long break during the summer months only to find that the kids fall into an “I’m bored” malaise?  No matter what your schooling schedule or method, sometimes you need to take a break from your regular routine.

Embarking on a short, interest-led unit study can reap big learning returns and inject some adventure into your days. Tweet this

7 Steps to Interest-Led LearningNow, I’m not one to crow about making learning fun.  Sometimes it just isn’t.

But I’ve seen my kids get really excited about a topic and dive in, head first, to learn all they can about it…and it sticks with them over the long-term in ways that the stuff they have to do doesn’t.

When the kids have a personal investment in what they are learning, when it really matters to them, when they can see it’s application in their lives—their brains just soak it up and their drive to know motivates them to go above and beyond anything I might plan for them.

In our corner of the globe, we are feeling a bit of the summer doldrums.  The sun is bright, hot, and uncomfortable for much of the day.  The window AC is going full blast.  Math has become a chore.  The Wii seems to be calling their names.  It’s a perfect time to put aside our regularly scheduled program and pursue a learning adventure, whether it be for a day, a week, or a month.

7 Steps to a Great Interest-Led Unit Study:

1.  Poll your kids to find out what they want to know about.

Or listen carefully to see what interests pop up in everyday conversation.  You might be surprised what they come up with.

One year we studied flying fish and hammerhead sharks!

While you’re finding out what topic they want to investigate, find out how they want to approach it—this will help you to narrow down the types of resources you will research.

2.  Decide how long you want your study to last and how in-depth you want it to be.

This will depend in part on your kids’ level of interest, how much time you have to devote to your study, and how many quality resources you can find to use.  Having an idea of how much time and energy you want to devote will help you to know how many and what type of resources to look for.  You may decide you just want to learn about the topic at hand, or you may decide to add in science experiments or follow some interesting rabbit trails.

3.  Take a survey of your own resources.

If you’re like me, you’ve got gigs of freebies on your hard-drive and a zillion bookmarks in your browser that you’ve never gotten around to using.  That free coloring book of song birds could make a great centerpiece for a month of bird watching.  That website with all the cool intro to engineering projects for kids would be perfect for exploring physics.

4.  What’s available at your local library?

Don’t forget to look for documentaries and audios in addition to books.  If it’s not at your local branch, you may be able to request it from your library system.

5.  Are there any local field trip possibilities for this topic?

It doesn’t have to be an official field trip destination!  A pond might afford the opportunity of looking for tadpoles and frogs.  A park could be a great place to watch birds.  An art gallery could allow you to see different painting styles close up.  Maybe a friend has a hobby farm or raises chickens?

6.  Fill in with free internet resources.

Google has made finding stuff super easy.  You can find articles, videos, coloring pages, experiments, lapbooks, and more.  Make sure that you preview any websites before unleashing your kids on them.  The internet is an unpredictable place.

7.  Make a schedule…or don’t.

Once you’ve gathered together your resources, you might choose to make a schedule so you don’t forget to use any of them.  You can pre-print all the coloring pages.  Make a plan for lapbooking.  Devise a science experiment.

Or not.

Jot down a few notes or type a complete schedule into excel—whatever works for you.

This is your family’s study. It can be as fluid or organized as you want (or need) it to be.

I find it helpful to keep a file on my computer or tablet with possible websites to visit and a brief description of what they are so I can just click on them when it’s time.  I do print things that need to be printed, but only a day at a time.  Sometimes our plans change.

To get you started, try out the Flying Fish Mini Unit Study we did a couple of years ago.  It includes lapbooking suggestions, links to videos, and more (100% free).

Free Flying Fish Unit Study

Are you ready to embark on your own interest-led learning adventure?


Susan Anadale (5 Posts)

Susan is a wife, a mother, a Catholic, a teacher, a writer, a philosopher, a seamstress, a maker of things, an imaginer of worlds...I blog about our lifelong journey through learning at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds (my brain on the web).

A Word From Our Sponsors

The 2014 Confident Mom Weekly Household Planner
***SUNFLOWERS UNIT STUDY * New from SEE THE LIGHT 66 pages of dynamic, integrated, comprehensive instruction for an entire month for the student ages 10 and up. $9.99 - http://www.seethelightshine.com/store/unit-studies/sunflowers-unit-study.html***

Homeschool Schedules to Fit Your Family

Winding Down or Gearing Up?

Academic years are ending. Most graders are closing out a year and winding down for summer. But not everyone homeschools via an academic school calendar. Many homeschoolers are abandoning the academic schedule concept altogether. Homeschool schedules are vastly different depending on the family. Some are choosing to school through summer, others begin their school year in January and transition with the calendar while others are choosing year round school, taking time off throughout the calendar.

Year Around Homeschool Schedule Options

This is the second summer that I will be homeschooling through the summer. I can’t say that it’s my ideal for a homeschool solution; however, I like the idea of taking time off as we go through the year. But what I found since last summer was that I wasn’t taking off much time at all. Oh, I had taken a day here and there, but nothing was really planned out. Then March rolled around this year and I felt burned out and May rolled in and I just wanted to crash.

That got me to thinking. Surely, I’m not the only one who has the dilemma of how to set a year long homeschool schedule. So I began doing what every good homeschool mom does, homeschool research.

Ideas for Homeschool Year Round Schedules

  • 9 weeks of school followed by 2 weeks off.
  • 4 weeks of school followed by 1 week off.
  • 12 weeks (3 months) of school followed by 4 weeks off (1 month).
  • Set your own schedule. Most state homeschool requirements give a minimum number of hours, that can translate into any number of days or weeks that best fits your family schedule.

So for me I’m looking at this and thinking, ‘Well I’m not sure my life fits any of these schedules.” I’m thinking the set your own schedule might be in my future. The problem with that is, I have to actually sit down and plan a schedule. This is not my strong suit. Especially in the middle of trying to school through summer. Maybe, just maybe I’ll be taking Davonne’s advice from Dear Homeschool Parents Whose Kids are Still in the Books.

The reality is every homeschooling family has different needs so the best schedule for your family is the one that works best for you {Tweet That}. I’m still in the process of figuring out which one that will be.

How about you? Do you school through an academic year, calendar year or year round? What works best for your family?


Renée (15 Posts)

Renée Brown is author at her personal blog, Great Peace Academy. She is a homeschooling mom to her one amazing son, Jonathan and has been the wife of her Beloved Michael for 21 years. On her blog you will find discussions about her work as a homeschooling mom, her family and her faith.

A Word From Our Sponsors

The 2014 Confident Mom Weekly Household Planner
***SUNFLOWERS UNIT STUDY * New from SEE THE LIGHT 66 pages of dynamic, integrated, comprehensive instruction for an entire month for the student ages 10 and up. $9.99 - http://www.seethelightshine.com/store/unit-studies/sunflowers-unit-study.html***