We Read in the Autumn, Too! (Get a fall Mother Culture Habit Tracker to keep you going!)

School is in full swing for us, and it probably is for you as well. This week was unusually crazy, which means I mostly skipped all the things, including my Mother Culture reading. I think I read twice, and I’m not sure I remembered to write down even those! It’s a rare day when I don’t document my reading on my Mother Culture Habit Tracker — this just goes to show how awry things had gone.

As I was reflecting this, and about how consistent I was during June and July — and how inconsistent I was in August! — I remembered I needed another tracker. I want to keep reading so that I can learn and grow, but also because regular reading makes me a better homeschool mom! As Charlotte Mason once wrote:


"What we read, if it is worth reading, will help us to do our work better and will give us fresh thoughts to impart to the children" -- Charlotte Mason on Mother Culture


For moms, the best way to engage in regular reading is through Mother Culture.

If you’ve forgotten what Mother Culture is, here are the basic guidelines:

  • Always have three books available to yourself: a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel.
  • Read for 30 minutes per day.
  • When you go to read, pick up the book you feel fit for.
  • Use my Mother Culture Habit Tracker (free download below!) to keep yourself accountable. ♥


Get your fall Mother Culture Habit Tracker!

If you developed a Mother Culture habit over the summer, you want to keep it. And if you didn’t, well … there is no time like the present! This printable PDF has two boxes for each day of the autumn months — one to check that you did it, and another to mark what kind of reading (stiff, moderately easy, or novel) you did. I also put areas at the bottom to record the titles of all the books you finish! I’m printing my own copy — I think it’ll be fun to look back and see how I did. Pin it up on your fridge or on a cork board — somewhere it will remind you to read.

Fill out the form below to get yours via email. Also, if you want to share what how you’re doing on Instagram — post photos of your habit tracker and books?? — just use the hashtag #motherculturehabit.

Get the Mother Culture Habit Tracker!

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    Need some book titles to get you going?

    I publish extensive lists each summer. (Click here to find them.) For today, I’ll just share one book from each of the categories that I’m reading right now:

    Stiff Book: The Intellectual Life by A.G Sertillanges


    Moderately Easy Book: Your Teenager Is Not Crazy by Jeramy and Jerusha Clark


    Novel: The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss


    Happy fall reading, my friends! ♥

    The post We Read in the Autumn, Too! (Get a fall Mother Culture Habit Tracker to keep you going!) appeared first on Afterthoughts.

    Masterly Inactivity: Charlotte Mason Secrets to Successfully Leading Your Homeschool

    For the past twelve months, the topic of Masterly Inactivity has been a passion of mine. I’ve traveled to speak (and gotten to meet a number of you fantastic ladies!) and one of the talks I gave in every city I went to was all about one of my favorite ideas I’ve gleaned from Charlotte Mason over the years: masterly inactivity.

    Masterly Inactivity: Charlotte Mason's Secret to Successfully Leading Your Homeschool

    Charlotte Mason once said:

    A blessed thing in our mental constitution is, that once we receive an idea, it will work itself out, in thought and act, without much after-effort on our part; and, if we admit the idea of ‘masterly inactivity’ as a factor in education, we shall find ourselves framing our dealings with children from this standpoint, without much conscious effort. (School Education, p. 28)

    This is why I call it a “secret.” If you really come to a deep understanding of masterly inactivity, and adopt it as a good idea, application will begin to flow into your daily interactions with your children like a dam letting water out. No one has to push that water out; it comes of its own accord. In the same way, you’ll see a million opportunities to be masterly inactive.

    And putting masterly inactivity to work in your home is a beautiful thing. You know that pressure release valve on top of your Instant Pot? All the pressure builds up inside — to the point where in most other situations it’d be dangerous — but you just flip that switch and all the pressure is released in a safe and controlled manner. That is the power of masterly inactivity. When you start to live this way, it releases the pressure — it removes so much of the stress we build up in our dealings with our children.


    Want to Go Deep With Masterly Inactivity?

    Masterly Inactivity: Charlotte Mason's Secret to Successfully Leading Your HomeschoolThe talk I’ve been giving (of which you already own the video if you purchased the Leading Well retreat last year) is now available in the Afterthoughts Shop. From now until Sunday, August 26, 2018 it’s only three bucks. Wanna kick your school year off right? Try masterly inactivity! It’s not just a hack — it’s a way of life. ♥

    Click here to grab your copy!

    The post Masterly Inactivity: Charlotte Mason Secrets to Successfully Leading Your Homeschool appeared first on Afterthoughts.

    Is Your Child Allergic to Learning … or Just Food?

    Picture this all-too-common scenario. A normal child wakes up on a normal morning and eats a normal breakfast. As mealtime ends, you — the parent/teacher — begin the homeschooling day with your normal routine. An hour passes without incident. Then, out of nowhere, your heretofore “normal” child bursts into tears, throws a fit, erupts with volcanic energy or mercilessly harasses his siblings.


    Your peaceful learning environment quickly devolves into managing the emotions of your child and limiting his nuclear fallout on your family. Did an unhinged alien secretly inhabit the body of your once-sweet kid? How did this madness start?

    While several explanations might be at play here, I want to suggest a dietary one. It is a fact that we are what we eat, meaning that the nutritional elements of our diets literally become the structural elements of our bodies: our skin, tissues, organs, etc. But food (or its lack) does not only affect us physically. It can impact other parts of our being, including personality, emotions, energy, immunity and mood. I am convinced that if we understood how broadly our diets affected us holistically, we would devote much more care to the subject.

    Now, let’s return to the wayward child. What is happening here? One possibility is that the child feels
    discomfort. I’ve heard it said, “Children act badly when they feel bad.” Food-based discomfort can
    produce painful effects in anyone, but the feeling can be more pronounced in kids — particularly young
    ones — who cannot put words to the discomfort. They may act out in defiance when their tummies ache
    and their heads throb.

    I’ve found it helpful to ask young children very pointed questions about what bothers them. I also ask
    them to take one finger and point to where their body hurts. Using just one finger forces the child to
    zero in on the problem, thus helping to identify the troubled body part and function. Typically, the pain is in the small intestine (around the belly button), but sometimes the finger goes to the stomach (under the left rib cage). A finger aimed at the lower-left region of the belly is usually the descending colon, which might indicate constipation or something worse. Wherever the pain originates, it is there you must focus your efforts to bring relief. Don’t underestimate adequate hydration, as this benefits the entire body. Also consider aloe (like this juice), glutamine, light exercise and tummy massages.

    However, more often than not, the problem with a seemingly disturbed child involves a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance. The three are not the same thing, although they may manifest similar outward symptoms. Whichever it is, the problem is that a food is not being fully digested (chemically broken down into nutrients) and absorbed into the gut’s bloodstream. As a result, a child may suffer internally (e.g., intestinal pain, imbalanced gut bacteria, bloating, diarrhea), externally (e.g., skin rashes, hives, eczema) or behaviorally (e.g., mood swings). It is easy to observe outward effects, but imagine what is happening inside your child, particularly in the brain, where learning occurs!

    [Quick physiology lesson: Official allergies involve white blood cells rushing to mucous membranes and the gut, where they release inflammatory chemicals to kill the invading allergen. This leads to inflammation, which can cause “leaky gut” that over time can allow undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream. The result: additional allergies, asthma and eczema.]

    It may sound odd, but I’ve also seen what is called “emotional allergies”: a food allergy that causes emotional overreactions to benign events. Not only do I have a friend whose kid has this issue, but my own child struggles with it. Consuming less than a teaspoon of added sugar will send my boy on a rollercoaster ride of high-strung emotion for 2-3 days! My child knows this about himself (and how his
    family dreads it), so he watches his sugar and simple sugar (wheat-based) intake closely.

    This intense, long-lasting reaction may be beyond normal, but what happy home has not been disturbed by at least one child on a sugar high? (“Experts” used to claim sugar could not cause manic states, but obviously those experts were not parents of a kid who snuck a plate of cookies or cupcakes!) Now we know that sugar stimulates the same brain region that flares up for addiction. An NIH study states, “Sugar is noteworthy as a substance that releases opioids and dopamine and thus might be expected to have addictive potential.”

    The point is, sugar can affect the brain negatively and thereby jeopardize learning. The culprit may be insulin, a hormone released when sugar hits the bloodstream. You probably knew this. But here’s a new
    tidbit: Insulin also can cross the blood-brain barrier and disrupt the communication between neurons via synapses. Too much insulin lingering too long in the brain can impact learning, particularly among children whose brains are constantly growing and forming new synaptic links (i.e., learning and memory).

    So, what are parents to make of all this? Here are a few suggestions to optimize body and brain health:

    1. Monitor your child’s food-related discomfort. Have him pinpoint pain in the tummy region so you know where to direct your attention.
    2. Identify and treat your child’s allergies. You can use muscle-testing, traditional pinprick testing, blood testing, etc. Some allergies can be eliminated via NAET. Severe ones may warrant avoiding the offending food altogether. Allergies create inflammation, so find ways to reduce inflammation (see below).
    3. Limit sugars. Supply your child with nutrient-rich whole foods rather than processed sugary snacks that are low in nutrients and weaken the body and brain. Sugar and insulin lead to systemic inflammation and a host of other health problems. Keep healthy, non-sugary snacks easily accessible for hungry little people.
    4. Supplement with omega-3s and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids and DHA protect the brain from the damaging effects of inflammation and insulin, and they promote synaptic function. In my home, we all take 1+ gram of DHA per day. (Also eat walnuts, flax meal, olive oil and deep-sea fish for better brain development. To supplement, I recommend Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega for liquid and NOW DHA-500 for pill form.
    5. Serve nutrient-dense breakfasts. Breads, cereals and pastries may be yummy, but they lack nutrients, spike insulin and could impact your child’s mood and ability to learn effectively. Try to always supply proteins and healthy fats in the morning. Good-quality eggs are a great start to the day.

    To summarize, a child’s food intake can cause physical injury that, in turn, can hinder learning, memory and peace in the home. These “injuries” make take the form of tummy pain, food allergies, emotional allergies and synaptic dysfunction. However, by being watchful over your children and diligent about their food choices, you can lay for them the foundations of lifelong health and learning — one brain cell, one emotion, one meal at a time.

    The post Is Your Child Allergic to Learning … or Just Food? appeared first on Afterthoughts.

    Mother Culture: Why I Set A Timer

    I adore the idea of Mother Culture, as you know. That 30-minute habit of daily reading can bring so much growth into our busy lives as moms. But like anything, Mother Culture can become the idol around which we arrange our lives.

    In his book The Intellectual Life, A.G. Sertillanges warns us against being so caught up in study that we neglect our duties:

    [S]tudy … is not always opportune; if it is not, the person who then pursues knowledge forgets his duty as a man, and what is to be said of the intellectual who is not a man? (p. 26)



    It’s interesting to me that to Sertillanges, the man who forgets his duty becomes less of a man — or something other than a man. So his manhood is defined by his proper attention to duty.

    What intrigued me were the examples he gave:

    A country priest who devotes himself to his parishioners, a doctor who turns away from study to give help in urgent cases, a young man of good family who adopts a calling to help his people and in doing so has to turn his back on liberal studies are not profaning the gift that is in them, they are paying homage to the True which is one and the same Being with the Good. If they acted otherwise they would offend truth no less than virtue, since, indirectly, they would be setting living truth at variance with itself. (p. 26)


    He speaks here, obviously, of men. But what if we rewrote this for moms who choose to pursue the intellectual life as well? Something like:

    … a woman who turns away from study to nurse her sick children … is not profaning the gift that is in her, she is paying homage to the True …


    It’s easy to think of Mother Culture as just one other thing we must do — a nonnegotiable imperative rather than a healthy habit. On the days when it doesn’t fit in, we beat ourselves up. Sometimes that sense of conviction is healthy. If it didn’t fit in because I wasted time, that’s a problem. But I’ve encountered moms berating themselves because they just couldn’t get it done after being up all night with a sick baby, or because they had high-maintenance company over, and to that I say: There is no guilt in this. You were doing your duty!

    That’s the thing: to Sertillanges, the intellectual life is part and parcel of the pursuit of virtue, and to be virtuous is to do your duty. Sertillanges gives this rebuke:

    One sees many men avid for knowledge who do not hesitate to sacrifice to it their strictest duties. They are not men of study, they are dilettanti. (p. 26)


    This is why I think the 30-minute limit is so brilliant. I mean, yes, sometimes we need to read longer. I certainly have days when I’m in the middle of thinking through something and schedule a couple hours for extended reading and thinking. But as far as normal days, to read longer than thirty minutes would probably translate into not finishing my laundry or not getting dinner ready.

    Thirty minutes is plenty of time to get a good chunk or reading done, and, most importantly, to glean some big thoughts worth chewing on as we go forth and fold our laundry. For some of us, it’s important to admit that it’s hard to move on to the next task. (For me, this is especially true if it’s a novel, which is why I pick up novels with fear and trembling — I have a hard time being moderate with novels!)

    What duties might be crowded out? Meals and laundry come to mind — we are moms, after all, and so the motherly tasks rise first to our thoughts. But Sertillanges stops us and says:

    [S]tudy must first of all leave room for worship, prayer, direct meditation on the things of God. (p. 28)

    When you are up all night with a baby, make sure that the the first Book you pick up is the Bible. It’s okay to fall asleep while praying (your baby falls asleep in your arms, doesn’t he?), but do not forget to pray.

    Sertillanges continues:

    Study carried to such a point that we give up prayer and recollection, that we cease to read Holy Scripture, and the words of the saints and of great souls — study carried to the point of forgetting ourselves entirely, and of concentrating on the objects of study so that we neglect the Divine Dweller within us, is an abuse and a fool’s game. (p. 29)


    Sadly, I have met a handful of women who get really caught up in Charlotte Mason research — to the point where they are not getting their school lessons done, nor are they engaging in worship, prayer, or Bible reading. While the cases I have encountered have to do with Charlotte Mason obsession, this can happen with anything. The point is that something — anything — that catches our fancy can be dangerous when our affection for it become disproportionate.

    Don’t play the “fool’s game.” Setting a timer is probably the easiest way to get your house in order. A timer puts study time in its place by putting boundaries around it.

    As Sertillanges said:

    The order of the mind must correspond to the order of things. In the world of reality, everything rises toward the divine, everything depends on it, because everything springs from it. (p. 29)

    Mother Culture is great — reading is great — but let us not neglect so great a salvation.


    The post Mother Culture: Why I Set A Timer appeared first on Afterthoughts.

    The Lifeblood of a Successful Education: 10 Tips for Brain Health

    Charlotte Mason devotes numerous pages in her volumes to the idea of using “atmosphere” as a tool of education. You are no doubt familiar with the various elements of atmosphere — building/maintaining good relations, keeping a cheerful home, etc. We are quick to incorporate such features into our homes. They are, in a sense, the low-hanging fruit in a Charlotte Mason environment. But early in Volume 1, she addresses another “fruit” that, perhaps due to our general ignorance of physiology, we easily overlook: brain health in general and blood quality in particular.

    Physical blood — 9 to 11 pints of it — flows through 60,000 miles of our vessels every moment, bringing health, strength and vitality to our bodies and brains. At first, I found Ms. Mason’s focus on healthy juvenile blood unexpected, as I would not have instinctively named it as a building block of a successful educational environment. But the wise philosopher knew better. The reason is simple: learning requires a healthy brain, and a healthy brain requires healthy blood. Blood is as essential to the brain as ideas are to the intellect. Both supply the elements of nourishment necessary for growth and maintenance, like taxis carrying vitality through a network of tiny highways. A lack of quality blood negatively affects the physical organ just as a lack of quality ideas negatively affects the spiritual organ. In fact, Ms. Mason referred to this general point as something “definitely and positively that the mother owes to her child under the name of Education” (Home Education, p. 20)

    So, how does she suggest parents give the youthful brain the best opportunity for success? Here are several tips to consider, along with a few tidbits gleaned from my own nutritional training and clinical experience.



    1. Exercise

    Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts: intellectual, moral, volitional. (Home Education, p. 22)

    Encourage them to strive for knowledge, bear up under burden, and do rightly even if self suffers. A well-training mind is vanity without a well-trained soul.


    2. Rest

    Help your child to alternate work and rest. Because blood flows to the organ or appendage most in use, allow a little time for the redirection of blood to his brain (for learning) after
    playtimes and mealtimes.


    3. Nourishment: Mixed Diet

    Offering a full variety of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) supplies what the body and brain need for optimal operation; avoid repeating meals everyday. Of great import are Omega-3 fatty acids high in DHA, a critical component for successful brain development and anti-inflammatory activity. Dr. Nemechek has a terrific protocol for building and healing the brain, including help for autism and learning disabilities.


    4. Nourishment: Digestion

    Food is only useful to the body if it is digested (broken down into elemental nutrients) and absorbed. Promote both activities by encouraging your child to chew his food thoroughly. Also, drinking too much fluid at mealtimes can actually dilute your stomach’s HCl acid, which is required to break down food into nutrients, so limit water intake while eating. Children with frequent bellyaches may have stomachs with a too-high pH. An HCl tablet or teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar before meals can aid with digestion.


    5. Nourishment: Absorption

    Mason probably did not know much about the importance of intestinal absorption of nutrients, so she left this subject unaddressed. However, today we know that a healthy gut microbiome permits nutrients (vitamins and minerals) to uptake from intestinal cells into the bloodstream. This is the physiological goal of eating. Intestinal aids include multi-strain probiotics, aloe, raw (“wet”) foods, glutamine, and nutrient-specific enzymes (for underactive pancreases). Allergenic foods should be avoided, of course, as they can cause inflammation and then intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”).


    6. Happy Mealtimes

    No pains should be spared to make the hours of meeting round the family table to be the brightest of the day. (Home Education, p. 27)

    Mason believed a child’s cheerful frame of mind promoted digestion, so try to remove stresses and irritations at table time. Herein also lies wonderful moments to train him in manners and morals.


    7. Clean Air

    With every breath, the worn-out, oxygen-deprived blood in our veins is revitalized in the lungs. There, it picks up oxygen molecules, changes from purple to red, and pumps through the heart to give new life to every cell in the body. The brain, especially, requires oxygenated blood because that organ alone consumes 20% of the body’s oxygen and energy! Opening windows to welcome fresh, clean air into your home is a health-promoting act. So is sending children outdoors to play. If your city’s air is polluted, as is mine, you could invest in a portable air purifier. My family uses this one. Also, encourage your child to take a few giant, deep breaths of fresh air daily; it is calming and very health-promoting.


    8. Ventilation

    Ventilation. In Mason’s day, home ventilation was critical. Modern air conditioning units and indoor fans largely mitigate this problem, but don’t overlook the happy, healthy feel of a gentle breeze flowing through open windows. Cracked windows during a rainstorm can do wonders for a child’s natural curiosity of nature.


    9. Perspiration

    The blood transports cellular debris to be excreted via perspiration. Encourage your child to perspire daily, if not sweat outright. Physical movement promotes the flow of stagnant lymph fluids, the toning of muscle, the firing of neurological activity, the movement of the bowels, the relieving of stress and the elimination of cellular waste via the skin. Regular, perspiration-inducing physical exercise is good for the child’s mind and body.


    10. Bathing

    After sweating, it is important to scrub perspired debris from the skin. Sweat that collects on the skin can block pours, enclose bacteria, and impede the elimination of future bodily debris. (Now you can tell your dirty child that science demands he take a shower.)


    Moving Toward Brain Health

    Stepping back from the trees, let’s reconsider the forest of brain health. This wondrous organ is mysteriously tied to the mind and personality, such that a weakness in the physical arena can deleteriously impact the nonphysical arenas. Parents have the responsibility to give their children every opportunity at educational success, and a most basic starting point is to give their little brains all that is needed to develop, heal and flourish. Nearly all the tips above are free, but they may not come naturally to your child or family. Make a few small changes until they become habits, and build on those successes by adding more.

    There is much more to be said about brain health and the life-giving mystery of blood, but that can wait for another day. For now, I leave you with the wise words of Ms. Mason:

    For it is not too much to say that, in our present state of being, intellectual, moral, even spiritual life and progress depend greatly upon physical conditions. (Home Education, p. 37)

    I urge you to expand your view of “Education is an atmosphere” beyond what you can see around you to what is happening inside your child’s brilliantly designed head.

    The post The Lifeblood of a Successful Education: 10 Tips for Brain Health appeared first on Afterthoughts.