When I first began learning about Charlotte Mason and her educational principles, I found a wonderful group of women who helped me so very much, and told me about the Childlight USA conference that has been held at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC. This year was, I believe, my 4th time attending, and it was every bit as wonderful as all the others.
On Wednesday, June 6, the conference officially started in the evening, but I was able to go early and attend a Multi-Age Homeschool Immersion Group, taught by Nancy Kelly. She has been homeschooling her 6 children using Charlotte Mason's methods for 15 years, and is a wonderful teacher. She did a fantastic job of taking us through the elements of a school day. We covered several topics: Bible, geography, poetry, science, folksong, Shakespeare, copywork, citizenship, picture study, and hymn. All of the people who attended the class were treated as students, and called on to participate through narration, acting out Shakespeare, singing and even a science experiment! What I loved the most was seeing different ways of doing things. She had us do picture narrations for science, for example. Truthfully, we haven't done a lot of science in our homeschool, but it was fun to read my assignment (from The Story-Book of Science) and draw pictures. It was encouraging to see that a living science book, one written in a narrative form, could be so full of scientific information. I also appreciated seeing the books she used. Nancy has a passion for seeking out the most living books on a subject, and it's always a joy to read what she shares. After the "class" portion of the session, we got back together in our group and discussed how it went, and had the opportunity to ask any questions.
There were 6 plenary sessions, or lectures for all conference attendees. We heard Margaret Coombs, who is working on a new biography of Charlotte Mason. You can read more about her here. The second plenary was given by Deani and Meghan Van Pelt, on "L'Umile Pianta," a newsletter that was published for Charlotte Mason's teachers once they graduated and moved on to their teaching careers, as a way of keeping in touch and offering encouragement. It was interesting to see what they felt it important to include in such a newsletter. You can read a little more about that here. The 3rd session was the Eve Anderson Nature Study Lecture, in which we heard from Tina Thomas on birding, and on some of the things she does with her passion for birding in NC. I got some good ideas from her for things to do with my children. The 5th plenary (we will revisit #4) was given by Art Middlekauf on Charlotte Mason's theology. You can read a little more about that here. Professor Carroll Smith, of Gardner-Webb University, gave a talk on the sabbath of learning that was quite wonderful. Some preliminary thoughts on his talk are here. I hope that he will put his talk online so you can hear it.
My favorite plenary talk this year (#4) was given by Makoto Fujimura. He is an artist, specializing in the ancient Japanese art form Nihonga. His work is stunning. His book, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture, was on our suggested reading list for last year, but I didn't read it. I don't generally care for abstract art, and didn't consider reading the book. This year, though, when he was going to be a plenary speaker, I grudgingly decided to give the book a try. It is amazing. I was not able to finish it before the conference, but Mako has a beautiful spirit and a wonderful gift that he shares with the world. He spoke of his work illuminating the four Holy Gospels, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. (For some reason, he worked on the ESV version. This makes no sense to me. However, I digress.) He also spoke of culture care, which he defined as caring for our culture the way we have learned to care for our environment. I must confess, I'm not sure I fully grasp what he meant by culture care; I didn't come away with much practical information on how to DO it. However, he encouraged us to focus on what is good, true, and beautiful, because that is what rehumanizes all of us.
A little "aside" - Charlotte Mason speaks often of children making connections in their learning - I had a "connection moment" about art while listening to Mako. I won't go into it here, but I was encouraged that I might not be a complete ignoramus about art forever.
In addition to plenary talks, I was able to participate in 5 workshops: "Commonplace Books," "Science in the Early Years," "Building a Living Books Library," "Self-Made Writer: Writing Development Without Writing Instruction in the CM Model," and "The Well-Balanced Mind." They were all fabulous, and I would love to share more with you if you're interested. Just let me know!
I had a lovely time at the conference, getting to know new people and reconnecting with friends I'd met in previous years. I made a new friend, Sara, who lives just 15 minutes from me, and homeschools her 5 boys. We are planning to start our own CM co-op, of sorts, so that our kids can play and we can try to cover all the topics Charlotte Mason felt were important. I also met Kerstin, who lives in South Carolina, but went to college in Michigan. Her best friend is from Bath, which is right up the road from where I grew up, and her best friend's father was my wedding photographer - and hers!
This time away has become a refreshing, invigorating time for me each year. I came away this year with a dream of starting a library for living books in my area. When I told Todd, he wasn't even surprised! I guess it has something to do with the piles of books that are ever-present in our home.
I have notes, and notes, and notes from this conference, but don't want to write a novel of a blog post. I feel as though I've left so much out. I will have to go narrate it for myself, I suppose. Blessings to you! I hope you can join us at next year's conference.