Mom, you too can teach your child to read!

Once again I sit in the awe and wonder of teaching my child to read. You’d imagine that after a houseful of children I would be so over it, yet the wonder captures me yet again.

We’ve had our early readers and those who have struggled so much. It was those that read quickly that fascinated me with how they learned in a backward way…. starting with big complicated words and only later learning the simple phonics. However it was the strugglers that made me research, study and really want to understand the why. Probably because I had struggled to spell until I was 35yrs old! Five years ago, as I sat with my struggling 8 yr old – figuring out how to go forward, I read more and more about Charlotte Mason’s method of teaching reading. As I began to understand the method and pull the full method of training the habits of attention, observation and memory whilst including copy work, whole word and phonics together I was astounded by the results.

When I saw my next – then 5 year old – had no anchors in her drawing or couldn’t draw what she was looking at I decided to begin an intensive season of training the habit of observation, memory and attention. I realised I needed a plan in place that let me easily pull this into our daily routine which accumulated in the creation of a 360 page Pre-1 Fun Days activity book that provided the structure for me to easily pull the training of these skills into our daily life – whilst introducing the alphabet and 3 letter words to them.

Over the past 2.5 yrs we have worked on building these habit – whilst slowly bringing in Charlotte Mason’s whole word and phonic lessons linked to poetry and short stories. All this time our younger daughter was sitting in and joining in with whatever we were doing, absorbing it all.

Learning to read progressed slowly – in inches of 15 min about 3 or 4 times a week – BUT every lesson was a joy and layer by layer they were learning to read quite naturally!

Then it happened! They opened the next page in their reading book – I had created using Charlotte Mason’s method – and they could read!

Not the stilted one word, sounding out sound by sound stumble that we are so accustomed to – but whole sentences!

My heart just wanted to burst as I had always known that this method of a natural gentle approach – no flash cards, tears or stress – could work and I had heard about so many success stories. Yet never before had I been brave enough to exclusively use this method – without using, drill, flash cards, word lists, flashy apps and other creative, around the block methods.

This has proved for me yet again that when reading is presented in a way that a child can build a relationship with the words are are learning and we give them the space to make their own connections during the lesson – instead of us telling them – a child will learn to read naturally! They may take longer BUT by basing the phonetic lessons on the words in the poem they understand the way words are built, they discover their own phonetic words and so “own” them” and suddenly they wake up one morning and can read! Therefore once again I want to shout it from the mountain tops! “This method works not only with an early reader but with a struggling reader too!!!”

Learning to Let Go

At supper tonight I realised why we homeschool and that for our family this is the perfect fit! Today I couldn’t find the younger 2 (aged 5 and 7) to do reading. They had already taken their books outside so that they could watch a sunbird build its nest.

During the afternoon they also discovered blue egg shells in a garden and a peach egg in a nest. At supper they had out a bird book discussing camouflage and predictors and were lookin through the bird app with my 18 yr old naming every bird we have in the garden and excitedly talking about all their behaviours, eggs and which ones were nesting where.

My 12 and 14 yr olds were then filling us in on the difference between fantasy and fairy tales and why Narnia is not an allegory as Aslan is not representing something unreal. Amongst the discussions as to whether Lord of the Rings is in fact a fairytale – much to Kadin’s horror – and not fantasy as it is set in a magical land. One of the twins (12 yr old) – not sure which conversation they were referring to by this point … says -“That doesn’t make sense…. it’s what we did in maths – the reductio ad absurdum – I want to do a debate using that!”

Like swords out flash the arguments as to how rain means clouds in the sky but do clouds therefore equate to rain. Why a film is a movie but a movie is not a film… The next and next absurdity was thrown from across the table. Maths books were pulled out and geometry figures and theorems were discussed – using reductio ad absurdum – at length.

“Aaaah.” says Kadin (18) I wish I had done this book for maths. Next year I’ll do that with my music. Oh, I so love and miss doing maths! “

Will you do you cambridge then?” I venture.

“No – I don’t want to do anything like that. It’s just for fun.”


Which book you ask? First Steps in Euclid. Yup it was written over 100yrs ago and is based on an ancient Greek mathematician who lived in 300BC. But this book has my girls in love with their maths lessons!

This year has had many strange twists and turns… one seeing all our things left in storage for a whole year – including the twins grade 7 maths curriculum, that we’ve used for all our children. We know and trust it so…now what? I found another great Cambridge based one online that Nate – a year older – is loving and has completed almost 2 grades of it in a year. But not the twins. They hated it. They slogged, worked hours everyday, cried and yet seemed to learn nothing.

Then it happened – that voice, I know so well… “Will you just let go?”

“Oh no…. not maths!!!! I’ve done it with so much, trusted using such unorthodox methods for teaching reading, spelling – I mean who teaches spelling using drawing lessons?! I have listened and obeyed but not maths! Maths needs a curriculum!!! It needs structure, layer upon layer.” For days I struggled and fought whilst reading and researching. Challenged by my own convictions. If I truly believe in a Charlotte Mason education- and believe her methods were inspired by God why will I not let go with the maths? After days of battle I realised we could not keep on with the program we were on as my girls had lost all joy in maths. They knew the tricks and how to do them but they had no understanding and could not narrate or tell back the why. So I took the plunge and looked up what Charlotte Mason presented their age children with in maths. I then found the books she recommended in the public domain – A first step in Euclid. Euclid lived in 300BC……

What was I doing?

So with a prayer and a abandoned trust in this method of education we have embraced I ditched the standardised curriculum and left within my 12 yr old’s hands the thoughts of an ancient Greek mathematician. A term later and once again I can shout it from the mountain tops Charlotte Mason is a “Captain Idea!” It worked. My girls are often found huddling over their maths books in deep discussion – sitting beside Euclid as he shows them how he made his geometrical discoveries -I see them pointing and saying out loud – “oh wow” or “look at that” or laughing in delight at a discovery they have made. How often they bring their maths books to dinner excitedly sharing their discoveries.

Charlotte Mason says, “Mathematics depend upon the teacher rather than upon the text-book and few subjects are worse taught; chiefly because teachers have seldom time to give the inspiring ideas, what Coleridge calls, the ‘Captain’ ideas, which should quicken imagination. How living would Geometry become in the light of the discoveries of Euclid as he made them!”
I am busy with teaching 5 different grades whilst running a business and the home – I didn’t have the time – or the desire – to inspire them in maths or give them captain ideas! However Charlotte Mason does also say that through literature we are able to connect the mind of our children with those of the past.

This is a grade 9-12 maths book. Charlotte Mason recommends it for Algebra. What a find!

No I don’t know how this fits in a matric or cambridge but I do know that my 12 yr olds know about reductio ad absurdum (yup I had to google it) and have a deeper love for maths than they ever did before.

So once again I have had to learn to simply, let go and “Trust and Obey” as when we do this the Holy Spirit will take the reigns and direct your child’s education for you. Tonight at supper we had a feast of thoughts, ideas, discoveries and joy laid before us that we were only able to enjoy because we took time to stop, listen and chose what we knew in our hearts was the right path for our family – the challenge going forward is to keep on and not let fear of the unknown steal from us the joy laid before.


Finding Spring

Finding Spring – when you see no sign of it

I’ll never forget spring 2010.

Every year, as a family, we hold a spring celebration on 1 September. The spring of 2010 posed a huge problem, there were no signs of spring anywhere. Not a flower bloomed and not a new shoot showed.

How does one celebrate something that does not exist? Well spring of 2010 found us talking to the trees, telling them it was time to wake up now and we hung to the promise of what was to come. And oh the rejoicing when spring did find its way into our homes.

2011 has been entirely different in that our garden had been bursting with colour and life since August and so we felt our spring celebration to be a bit late but we still used the time to thank God for the beauty he chose to surround us with.

These two contrasting springs have spoken to me very deeply as a mother, wife and woman. At times life is hard, it’s dry we always seem to be fighting against the stream and we see no beauty in our daily chores or what we spend our days doing. Sometimes money is tight, relationships are strained, children seem impossible or work is all-consuming. At these times we are hardly likely to see spring bursting around us! I have however learned that at these times we need to look into these dry branches of our existence and whisper hope and expectation. Beneath every wintered tree lies a green branch busy storing energy and life so that at the perfect moment it not only gives out a little blush of green, no it burst forth in colour and life. So in these hard times we need to cling to the hope that lies below the surface.

In the same manner – other times in our lives are so filled with blessing, happiness and wellness that we are actually at the risk of not noticing or appreciating the spring surrounding us. It’s in these times that we need to ensure we don’t take the “little things” in life for granted, but to instead stop, smell the roses – literally – and give thanks for all our blessings.

So on a personal note from our dry winter f 2011 God has provided us with a wonderful new home, my husband has been offered an awesome job 5 minutes from our new house and we have been placed within a new church family. Out of the dry branches has sprung forth life and life abundantly

Celebrating Spring

Celebrating Spring

Written September 2011

As a new mom I remember reading Sally Clarkson’s book Mission of Motherhood. One of the family aspects that stood out for me was her thoughts on celebrations. We not talking about Christmas or Easter here but rather everyday celebrations.

Since then we have selected a handful of special days and created our own personal celebrations around it. When our children look back on their childhood it’s my hope that they will say, “Our family was special because we always celebrated…..”

One of our favourite celebrations is Spring. This has evolved over the years depending on where we have lived and how old the children have been but this is how it looks today. Mom gets up really early to start making scones for breakfast. Once everyone is up we trek out into the garden with baskets to collect flowers and leaves to decorate the table with. Then while the children decorate and set the table we finish getting the scones, fruit, yogurt and fruits raw oats ready to eat. We then all sit down to breakfast with soft music playing, sweet flower scents drifting from the table and candles burning. Breakfast begins with a prayer thanking God for spring, hope, life and all things beautiful.

This year we focused on the Bible verse Song of Songs 2: 11- 13 , “See! The winter is past;    the rains are over and gone.  Flowers appear on the earth;   the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves  is heard in our land.  The fig tree forms its early fruit;  the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”

So after breakfast the older children wrote out and illustrated the verse while the younger ones illustrated theirs (we cut out some butterfly wrapping paper too – just to add to the effect.) As we had moms group that morning we spent the time making flower arrangements with our friends. W aim to have a lovely supper too at the end of the day during which we all either recite or read a poem that speaks of spring, hope, or new life. The evening is ended by Daddy praying for us.

Update 2020 –

Spring Day is still a central part of our lives. 

Happy 1st of Spring ~ what a privilege to celebrate new life, love, hope and birth along with the rest of creation. As we drink tea, write spring poetry and begin our new phenology wheels – yup that’s a thing 😉 – we take a moment to pause and reflect. Spring day is about more than just the day but about living the winter, living the hard, raw, real all the while holding onto the hope that spring will soon usher in a new season of warmth, light and pure joy. As our lives here mirror an eternal story – celebrating Spring Day not only warms our heart and home but fills our souls too!

Being Mom

Just a day in the life of Mommy

Flashback Friday – Written 3 Oct 2011

As I look around my kitchen this morning I shudder to what any stranger walking in would think. As I turn around I see play dough, orange skins, dirty dishes, workbooks, my laptop balanced on a corner flickering information on making paper from a mulberry tree – hmm interesting info but don’t think we’ll get to do that today… or ever… I see pencils and magnets scattering the floor, papers strewn across the kitchen table and three of our 5 little people scrambling on and under the table.

As I tune into the noise I hear “Mom I need an orange, Mom my sister has my crayon, Mom she drew on my page, Mom this mulberry paper is so cool, Mom I need  you to help me do this work….”  It’s raining outside – has been for the last 3 days and it’s predicted to rain for the next two. Suddenly I’m feeling overwhelmed and as the rain falls outside “I can’t do this” soaks through my skin.

Yesterday I was sick in bed so today everyone really needs me! We tried reading books earlier but the energy levels were through the roof. We’ve done some book work, we’ve done our maths and I’m not up to doing crafts today – I don’t feel like being Mommy right now! No, I’m not Super Mom. I’m just a mommy and right now I just want to escape!

Pitter, patter, splash it’s still raining. I look outside and see my seedlings I bought at the garden show desperate to be planted. Pitter, patter, splash a good Mommy would never let her kids get soaked in the rain! Pitter, patter, splash they would all need to stay inside safe and warm……

Changing from my warm clothes into shorts I grab my raincoat, not taking time to find shoes I dash out into the garden. As an after thought I yell back, “It’s wet out here no one is to follow me!” As I work the soil with rain pelting down my back, my feet and hands covered in fresh, wet soil I hear the cries and chaos resonating inside the house. I see a face poke out into the rain and quickly send them trotting back indoors. Out here I am free to reconnect with the earth, my thoughts, God and life.

As the last tomatoes and peppers are planted I know with satisfaction I have at least one job well done today. As the rain continues to pour onto these new seedlings they are receiving better nourishment than any tap water will ever give them. Cold and ready to return indoors I take one quick trip around the house to see my son’s new baby pigeons – that hatched while I was sick in bed yesterday. I’m just in time to see the mommy rearrange her feathers and an ugly chick wiggle his way back under her warm protection. So special.

Wet and now freezing yet rejuvenated and revitalised I can return to my orange peels and “Mom, Mom,Mom…” knowing that even if we spend the rest of the day watching movies I have at least got one job done well and I am content to just be Mommy and let the day go on as it pleases.

Should we keep readings short?

I saw this question online today. A mom asking why we would possibly want to stop reading if children are enjoying the story? I thought this was a great question so here are some thoughts on just that.

For enjoyable free readers that they can just read or if we reading a story for the story’s sake we just read chapter after chapter. I do however find when we talk about the book say a year later they do remember very little besides the plot. The idea around slow reading is so that a single idea is introduced and digested through narration and the science of relationships builds layer upon layer year upon year. When we started with CM 10 yrs ago I felt the same however now I see and understand it. I see how the little by little has let my children not simply know the info and the story but rather they have a deep understanding of complex thoughts and ideas. They are able to discuss, with references, why they hold a certain point of view. The older 4 are now 17, 13 and 12 yr old twins. Lessons are still short – maybe 20 min. They listen attentively and all want to narrate first. I remember a friends daughter reading about Gregor Mendel’s pea hybrids. She’d done her single reading of only a page or so for that week. Days later on fetching her daughter from ballet she exclaimed – “I know why little sister has blond hair and we are all brown. I was thinking about my reading and……” had she read this single idea amidst a whole story – the book was short enough to read in a sitting or 2 – she would never have pondered this single idea, developed the science of relationships for herself. This way, instead of information passed from teacher to pupil the child is required to do the work and in so doing so they gain knowledge.

Besides this Charotte Mason encourages us to stop before their minds drift off and they loose concentration as part of reading to them is to build the habit of attention. We want to stop when they still excited and want more so that the next day is a treat all over again.

Drawing while listening to a reading.

I’d encourage you to give it a try with just 1 or 2 books and give it time for you to develop the rhythm of a short reading followed by a narration and see at the end of the year which books they have retained more memory of.

Dandelion Days Level 1 Video 2

Today we will be using the Expression Primer with the Expression Primer Narration workbook. You can download the primer off Archive and the narration workbook is part of the Family Feast Literacy ebook pack.

Dandelion Days Level 1 Video 1b

Today’s lesson uses our letter blocks to build on from the words we learned to read in the previous lesson. You will need your letter blocks, some sand or mielie meal to write in and a book to record words into. Enjoy.

Dandelion Days Level 1 Video 1

Here is the first video that Links to the Family Feast reading program. It uses the Charlotte Mason method of integrating sight words and phonics. You could create your own resources to read along with us or you can order our ebooks. The pack of 5 resources that we have created and use in this reading program will be on special as ebooks / pdfs for R150 or $9 (for the next few weeks.

Please fill in the form below if you have any questions or would like to order any of the resources.

Corona Virus Reading Special

With so many families now stuck at home alone we are going to put as many of our reading lessons online for free.

We will try to post a reading lesson everyday. You can make your own resources to follow along or you can purchase the pack from our literacy page.

You can follow along for free all purchase the pack of 5 resources that we have created and use in this reading program will be on special as ebooks / pdfs for R150 or $9 for the next few weeks.

Look forward to you joining us.