My Feasting Friends- Interview With Susan Vaughan Harnish

Hi, Friends!
    It is my delight and pleasure to introduce to you, my new friend Susan Vaughan Harnish. Susan is the creator and writer of A Modern Charlotte Mason, a wonderful Charlotte Mason curriculum written for every Charlotte Mason mom, and designed to meet a multitude of Charlotte Mason needs. I have been so encouraged by our conversation, and have no doubt that you too will be better and more at peace in your homeschooling journey after having “met” Susan. Without further ado, “join” my grand conversation with Susan:

1. Tell us a little about yourself, your family, and how you found Charlotte Mason.

      I have two beautiful daughters that are now 20 and 22. The eldest, Emily, just graduated college with the highest Academic award from her department. She is heading to University of Alabama Law School on a scholarship. I am so proud of her hard work, as she was accepted everywhere she applied and got scholarships everywhere. The youngest, Cara, also had a scholarship to college, and is instead following her dream of training to be an Olympic equestrian. I am proud of her courage and her hard work. She is making progress every day towards her goals. I have an adorable husband, Bill, and he is a joy in my life. He is a talented wood worker, a partner in all our businesses and keeps me grounded, but he also is a lot of fun, and my best friend. I was blessed that he came into my life with two young ladies that became children of my heart, Kelsey and Brenna. Brenna is a travel nurse, and Kelsey left a successful career in biomedical engineering to become a teacher. I also have my first son-in-law, Travis. Travis adores Kelsey, and is a fabulous fellow. Family is very important to me, and I am delighted that it means much to him as well. I lost both my parents in the past two years, but Bill's mom, Ginny has moved here with us. We are so blessed to have her. She always makes me laugh, and she takes good care of all us.
       What a beautiful family! I love that your children have all pursued a variety of interests, and each seem to have displayed bravery in living life, and working in careers, with a fullness of heart. Isn’t it an incredible blessing when our husbands are our best friends? I can’t help but notice how your family atmosphere and the love relationship described between you and your children reflects what I know to be true about the atmosphere that Charlotte Mason helps us cultivate. I love that!  I know that family is most important to you, but we would love to hear a bit about you as well.
     And me? Small town girl next door, good student, college degree. Successful at corporate work, then I followed my heart and was training dogs with my own obedience school and traveling all over showing my dogs. I never thought I would love being a Mom nor ever thought of homeschooling. I always say that God dragged me home from work, kicking and screaming, and I found my purpose for that season. I originally started my Emily with The Well Trained Mind, and after six weeks we were suffering from burnout and boredom. I found Ambleside online's email loop, and began to learn about Charlotte Mason from a number of sources. I would have to say that I was a horrible student. I shudder to think how off the mark I was with what I understood of Mason when I began. But I did get better with time.

       I can now see where your daughters all gained their ability to follow their heart and to pursue a full life passionately. I admire that you followed your heart in a career, and I chuckle at how God so often has to drag us kicking and screaming to things that we end up loving with every fiber of our being. He is a good and patient Father! I know that you are certainly not alone in beginning home education with classical or traditional studies, facing burnout and boredom, and then finding Charlotte Mason.  I am so thankful for each mother that finds her and finds within her method exactly what her home school needs.

2. What is your favorite thing about Charlotte Mason, and do you think Charlotte Mason can work for everyone?

     My favorite thing about Charlotte Mason? That is a difficult thing to answer. One of my favorite things is that her philosophy teaches us how to live, and many of us today need someone to teach us. From telling us to exercise and spend time in nature, or to keep our mind active with several books, to making ourselves a priority with Mother Culture, Charlotte Mason taught me to lead a more intentional, Christian life.

          I have to interrupt and say that I wholeheartedly agree, and that I am so very thankful that in studying Mason, I have learned to live intentionally and to educate with purpose. When she said that all  the life should be spent living and not merely passing time, I do not believe that she had in mind our current fast-paced, technologically dependant, “race to the finish line” culture. I have learned so many things from Mason, but I love that this is one of the most profound things I have learned and that I identify with that truth from the mind of a veteran homeschooler like yourself. I

     Another thing that I find amazing is that by using her philosophy we all become better rounded. Her mind, body, and spirit approach is crucial to a healthy life. One thing I didn't see for a long time is the student becomes more than his talents and inclinations. This was important for both of my students, and I believe will lead to their success. Doing the hard things, especially those that are just hard for you, and still doing joyful things that nourish the mind, just creates a mindset that leads us to a successful life.

     That’s an excellent point. I think it’s fairly common to have a view of Mason as either a freestyle unschooling approach, or an extremely rigid schoolroom approach, depending on what concept of Mason that one encounters first. Both are misconceptions, and I think it’s valuable to understand that Mason understood and equipped the minds, bodies and spirits of children, giving them a full and rigorous education that was also enjoyable and enriching.

     Can everyone benefit from Charlotte Mason? This is a great question, and while I think it would benefit most students, I don't know about all. Charlotte Mason used her curriculum/programme as a tool that she used to benefit the student. The curriculum/programme would change for the student. The student might change as a result of the learning, but we didn't change the student to fit. Both of my children were very different both in strengths and weaknesses and learning style. Both see Charlotte Mason as the perfect way to educate, from their experiences. So I think that Charlotte Mason will work for most families, but there are those that don't have the time or inclination to learn the philosophy, or that at the first difficulty (and make no mistake, a CM education should not be easy), begin to add different philosophies into the equation and end up with a mess. I believe that the more we understand the philosophy, the better able we are to apply it and to adapt it to the student we have. None of us will do it like CM would have. None of her teachers did it exactly like she did either. Thank goodness there is no one judging us on our ability to apply CM's principals, or they would have come after me and put me under the CM jail. But I did try, and the more I actually did, the more I understood. So, I think that a CM education is ideal for everyone, but I accept that there are those that aren't able or willing to do what is required to give a good CM education.

     I think I hear you saying that there is actually no Charlotte Mason police! I think maybe we should put that on a t-shirt or bumper sticker. It sounds silly, but how often do we operate as if there IS someone judging us on our ability to “perfectly” apply Charlotte Mason’s principles. I think it’s so very important for us to shake off that burden and realize that we are not slaves to fear. However, I also hear you saying that the philosophy stands well enough on its own that we don’t need to add other things to it, and that doing so can be disastrous. It seems to me that there is a balance between not attempting the method wholeheartedly and attempting it with fear of not doing it perfectly. I think we agree that the balance lies within continuously moving forward and seeking to learn and to do better, while also giving ourselves grace in the process.

3. Tell us a bit about your curriculum.
   A Modern Charlotte Mason was written to try to bless some people that were being overlooked by the big curriculum at that time. Those with children that didn't fit the mold, those that wanted to have strong academics but have their children together as much as possible, those that wanted more modern books, those that wanted more hand-holding, those that wanted something more open and go, those that wanted to tweak and not be vilified. A Modern Charlotte Mason is an answer to those people.

         As I have gotten to know the curriculum while getting to know you a bit, this is my absolute favorite part of what you have created. I LOVE that you saw needs in the lives of Charlotte Mason lives, and sought to meet them. Just as Charlotte Mason saw and understood the heart of children, I believe that you see and understand the heart of Charlotte Mason mothers, and I see that within the pages of A Modern Charlotte Mason. What exactly does a mother get within the pages of this curriculum?

    A Modern Charlotte Mason's bundles are a year's worth of lesson plans and booklists and poetry and folk songs and hymns and speeches, nature study, and Christian Bible study and worship, lots of free external resources for those rabbit trails, a supportive Facebook community, personalized attention for problem or tweaks, that can be used as open and go. I think most will tweak it a bit to suit their students and their families, as I think CM would prefer. AMCM is written as a 6 year history cycle, with lessons and books for years one through twelve for each historic period. I use a little different version of Forms than CM did for my curriculum, but they seem to work well for the way the curriculum is written, allowing students to move from Form to Form and within the Form based on their skills instead of age.

        I believe that many Charlotte Mason mothers that I personally know, both brand new ones and seasoned ones, that can find what they need within A Modern Charlotte Mason, and I am excited about that. Can you tell us about the specific parts of the curriculum?
     I offer several parts of the bundle individually: Morning Meeting is geared towards starting the day looking to God and includes Prayer, Thanksgiving journal, Bible reading, hymns, Bible memory work, commentary for older students, and other books like Mere Christianity. Tea Time, is poetry, and composer study, and artist study, and folk song, and Shakespeare, and handicraft. Shared Wonder is my nature study and includes nature walks, nature lore, drawing/painting instruction, Swedish Drill, folk dance, nature journaling, and lifetime lists of birds, flowers, etc. Morning Meeting, Tea Time and Shared Wonder change every calendar year. The rest of the bundle is reusable. I think it is reasonably economical. It is $100 for the printed bundle of around a thousand pages and can be used twice over 12 years. The books are chosen with an eye towards the cost, and most years will cost around $100-150 used. Higher forms tend towards the high end, and some books are used over a couple of years. There is an essential section, of books you must have, which is typically well within the $100. Short lessons, narrations, copywork, mapwork, map drill, and studied dictation are part of your lessons. Time for math is scheduled but the lessons are not included. There is some supplementary math, and mental math with lessons. It is not a fancy curriculum, black and white, spiral bound books, but I love the content and the living books. I love the clients. I love helping others.

     When I first had the books in my hands, the very first thing that struck me was that it is the perfect balance of straight forward instruction and customizable advice. I don’t know that anything else exists that suits both the mother who needs direct instruction and a bit of hand holding AND the mother that needs a general guideline of things that she can change to suit her family, tastes, convictions, and preferences. I believe that we both agree that if someone wanted to get their taste for the curriculum, without being able to purchase it all, that they should get that taste within Tea Time. I believe that Tea Time could be the very element of many mother’s day that brings the entire family together in the way that we all desire, and also the element that shows them exactly what adhering to the method faithfully along with giving ourselves plenty of grace while molding the method to fit our individual children. Now, let’s dive into some questions that will show us a bit of your heart and mind.
4. What are you currently reading, and should we read it too?
    It seems that in this season I am always reading curriculum books, but especially this time of year. Currently I have A Night to Remember by Walter Lord, Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field, and The Adventures of High John the Conqueror by Steve Sanfield. The Adventures of High John is probably too simplistic a writing style for most adults, although the information is good and the stories are lovely. For those unfamiliar, these are humorous stories told by slaves where the slave bests the master in some way. As a schoolbook for those young ones learning about slavery, it works, but I don't consider it a must read. It is not an adult pleasure read, I don't think. Hitty is an absolute YES! If you haven't read it, you should. It is the memoirs of the life and adventures of a doll. Love it!
         I am adding that to my book list right now!

     A Night to Remember is about the Titanic, and I am reading the first few pages. So far it is delightful, but geared towards older children and adults. I am not recommending it, because I am not far enough involved to know about romance or coarse language, but I am enjoying the beginning. I usually have more books going, but these are the three I brought with me for my hubby's birthday getaway to the beach. I am a voracious reader and typically go through 7 or so books at a time.

         I simply love hearing about the feast that other mothers are spreading for themselves. I am intrigued by The Adventures of High John, and am definitely going to read Hitty. It is so important to invest time into Mother Culture! It is important for our own souls and minds, but I believe that it also models for our children that life long learning is always a reward within itself and that it is always important.

5. What have been your favorite books to read aloud with your family?
     Fave of all time, is the Bible. We all still love that one.

       It should be everyone’s favorite!

    The ones that the 20 year olds want to hear when they come home are the storybook ones. The Velveteen Rabbit and 14 Cows for America and The Poet's Dog are frequent requests. Poems like the Night Before Christmas and Paul Revere's Ride. The Green Ember was a hit recently. During school time, we loved Twain's Recollections of Joan of Arc, Chronicles of Narnia, Little House-all of them, Space Trilogy by Lewis, The Giver, My Side of the Mountain, The Hobbit, anything by Dickens,Sutcliff's and Henty's books.

     Such variety and so much richness! I love hearing the books loved by homeschoolers just as much as I love hearing the books being read by homeschooling mothers. It is so encouraging to us still “in the trenches” that you accomplished so much great reading throughout your years of Homeschooling, and that your children still love stories. The power of a story is so immense, and it does the heart good to hear of adults who still come home to hear great stories. I am adding The Giver to my own personal reading list, because now you’ve reminded me of something great, and I don’t know if I can wait to read it to my children. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with any Dickens!

6. Do you have any advice for mothers who are either burned out, or overwhelmed, with Charlotte Mason Homeschooling?

    This is so important and so often overlooked. Mama's and students are drawn to CM because it is about a peaceful and intentional life. But then when we begin to enact it, we find ourselves overwhelmed and burned out. There are so many reasons this occurs. It can be that we, within ourselves, are never at peace, or that we don't have peace in our relationships, or that we don't have peace with God. It can be doing too much, or not having a rhythm, or trying to confine learning and "school" to certain parts of the day, or perfectionism of what we are doing. It can be a lack of confidence, depression or anxiety. I see many are over-committed with outside activities. Many if not most of us have faced burnout and stress. My first thought is always, hugs and deep breaths Mama. Second thought is always take it to God. These might not always solve the problem or prevent burnout, but they put us in a better place to start that journey. I always suggest that you throw out perfectionism. That doesn't mean not doing your best, but rather that your best is enough. Then take at least a week off of school to pray and plan. Not detailed lesson planning, but list what stresses you, what is too much, why you feel you are falling short. Then set up a daily rhythm that helps.

       I am so very refreshed by your gentle, yet bold honesty. I think it would do every one of us some good to write down that list of possible reasons for burn out and to check our hearts on each and every one. So often, we make homeschooling so much more difficult and stressful than it actually is within itself. We don’t mean to, but the good news is that if we are causing any of our burnout with any of the above things you just mentioned, that we hold the power to remedy those things, with God’s help. I know that I personally need to do some work on remedying some things on your list at this very moment. I am writing this quote in my commonplace “I always suggest that you throw out perfectionism. That doesn’t mean not doing your best, but rather that your best is enough.” So profound. So very timely. So needed. Such a refreshing burst of honesty and grace. Can you give us any practical advice for remedying our own burnout and feelings of overwhelm?

       Here is how I solved my homeschool burnout: I used Flylady for housekeeping, and included the children in what I did, as that was a source of stress for me. I planned meals and snacks, which was another source of stress. I planned for mother culture and time to myself each day. I realized that I would not be able to CM "perfectly." I realized that I couldn't "do it all" and if I did, that it wasn't ideal. I got a timer.

       You had the courage to meet your own needs, and the needs of your family, in order to make Charlotte Mason work for the children that God had given you.
 I love that.

    What does that look like in practice? I woke before the children and did my morning time routine. I woke the children to breakfast and Morning Meeting. Meeting with God in the morning set the day in a good direction. Then we all did morning chores and met for Food for the Mind. This was the academic portion of our day. We made lunch and cleaned up. Then quiet time for them and Mother Culture for me. When they were in their room, playing quietly, listening to audio books, free reading, then I could read or rest or draw. We met after for Tea Time when they were little and took naps, when older we finished up any readings and then had Tea Time. Then it was outdoor time for them and dinner prep for me. Then I would join them outdoors for physical education, nature study and enjoying a Shared Wonder of God's creation. Then dinner and evening chores and family read aloud at bedtime as part of their evening routine. I eliminated outside activities for a year, except church. I used my timer to keep our lessons on track and stopped wondering if we were behind. It was the best year. Later as they became older, I discovered that sometimes I needed to cut out books from my plan so as to keep the time peaceful and the students to have time to think and grow. There is a fine but important balance between doing hard things and overwhelming the student and teacher. It is much better to do less well, than to do more in a rushed way. Your children will never read all the books, or learn all the things, but that is how it should be.

        Another quote for my commonplace! “It is much better to do less well, than to do more in a rushed way. Your children will never read all the books, or learn all the things, but that is how it should be.” I am personally so quick to forget that I am setting my children’s feet in a large room, not checking off every box of things that should be learned. They need to want to learn for a lifetime, which means that any “unchecked box” is an opportunity for more learning later. There is so much wisdom in everything you just told us, both in practical ways and in matters of the heart. I think one thing that I am most drawn to is that you had the courage to eliminate outside activities and to bring peace into your home, which I would guess contributed to your ability to stop wondering if you were behind.

7. Will you tell us about the impact that Charlotte Mason has had on your life?

    Mason impacted my life by making more aware of how I was living and helping me to be intentional. At times I had been concentrating so much on where I was going, that I was not enjoying the journey that was my life, and at other times, I was so busy trying to fight chaos every second that I wasn't going anywhere. CM changed my definition of education, and how I thought we should go about educating students. The goals of education became more about educating an entire person for how to live than imparting knowledge. Education became a catalyst that changed the person. Charlotte Mason caused me to educate myself. It bled into my family and became part of our culture. I try to live with intent, and I try to improve myself with God's help.

     That beautiful, intentional life is what we all desire. I am so refreshed by the encouragement that by just trusting the process, focusing on the whole person that each child is, and moving along the homeschooling path with grace, that we can achieve this beauty, goodness, and intentional living.  Oh how prone I am to overcomplicate everything, and to either be barreling ahead at lightening speed OR stuck where I am . I am encouraged by your testimony that neither is necessary and that we can spend all of life living, like Mason described. I know that every reader of your words will be encouraged by that truth as well. You have already given us so very much to fill our hearts and minds with and to grow from, but I would like to ask for some last advice for Charlotte Mason moms at each stage of this beautiful, intentional journey.

8.Do you have anything you’d like to share with moms considering Charlotte Mason, new to Charlotte Mason, or seasoned in Charlotte Mason?

   To those considering Charlotte Mason, a CM education is a beautiful thing, but it will require you to educate yourself about how CM educated, which is way outside the box of traditional education. CM will probably change the way you live. That sounds so overwhelming, but it won't be. It will be gradual. You will start slowly, with just a few techniques or ideas. You will grow into CM, and it will be a beautiful journey.

   To those new to Charlotte Mason, begin to implement Charlotte Mason slowly. As you implement, participate and model for your students. Use a timer, because most of us have no idea how long five minutes or fifteen minutes are when doing a lesson without one. Do not worry about being behind or ahead. Your student and you are where you are meant to be, so just move forward each day and give yourself grace as you find your way. I personally found the more I did, the more I understood of Charlotte Mason. As she proved herself to me, I began to become closer to a Charlotte Mason education. Although I was pretty terrible at first, I learned and changed and grew.

   To those that are seasoned Charlotte Mason mamas, have grace with yourselves. We often want to do more than is feasible for our particular family life. Have patience with yourselves, and trust that you are doing your very best for your students and you. Enjoy your life, your children, and learning.

   Thank you, my friend, for sharing your heart with us. We are honored to read these wise words, and to know you a bit better from having heard a bit of your story. It is so encouraging to receive the advice and testimony of a mother who is on the “other side” of the journey that we are all trekking. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your honesty, grace, genuine encouragement, and transparency. What a blessing you have been! I want you to know that I now consider you a life long friend and Charlotte Mason kindred spirit, and I know that every reader will as well. This means that we will look forward to hearing more from you, and that we covet your prayers as we educate our wonderful, unique, exhausting born persons. 😃

   I sincerely hope that everyone is as blessed by Susan’s gracious gift of time and wisdom as I am, and as I believe that you all will be. I encourage every reader of Delightfully Feasting to take the time to process all of the advice and encouragement given here, and to narrate what you have gained from it in the comments. Because I know that you are all anxious now to see the curriculum that Susan has created from the heart, to meet our individual Charlotte Mason needs, the links for A Modern Charlotte Mason and the A Modern Charlotte Mason face book page are below. 
Enjoy the treasure that is Susan’s work, and as always, feel free to send me any questions or comments that you may have!

A Modern Charlotte Mason
Be sure to watch the video and join the mailing list!

A Modern Charlotte Mason- The Store

I love every bit of this curriculum, but Tea Time and A Shared Wonder are perfect and lovely places to start! However, the price for the entire year of products is so great, and will get you free shipping, that if you are ready to dive in, you will NOT regret it!

A Modern Charlotte Mason- The Blog
There is a vast amount of wisdom and lovely encouragement in the articles here.

A Modern Charlotte Mason- The Facebook Page
This is a wonderful community of homeschoolers, and one of the best gifts, in my humble opinion, of using A Modern Charlotte Mason.

…May All Your Days Be Spent Delightfully Feasting

<3 Crystin

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