From my Commonplace Book: A Review of Brandy Vencel’s Start Here

This is the first in a series of posts about resources that I use that I think you will like too!  They include affiliate links.  That simply means that if I recommend a product and you choose to buy it, I’ll receive a referral commission.  So thanks in advance!

True homeschool confession: I’ve never read Charlotte Mason.  I’ve read collections of quotes and books about her methods, but never the real thing.  I think it was because I felt such an affinity with her ideas.  Keeping a commonplace book, nature walks, living books–what’s not to like?  Her ideas meshed so well with how we lived our lives.  And Charlotte Mason is a favorite of both Melissa Wiley and Julie Bogart–some of my favorite homeschoolers.  So, I didn’t want to ruin Charlotte Mason.  I didn’t want to read and find out that her ideas weren’t such a great fit after all.  Silly, but true.

rain drops

But at the close of last year, I felt the pull again to get busy reading.  I borrowed the complete set from my wonderful neighbor Sarah, and it’s still taken me two full months to begin.  Here are a few quotes that have caught my eye in the opening chapters of Volume 6:

The best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving. (26)

The teacher who allows [her] scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher, and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding. (32)

Imagination has the property of magical expansion, the more it holds the more it will hold. (43)

Start Here Page Graphic

I’m using a guide created by Brandy Vencel from Afterthoughts called Start Here: A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles to help focus and organize my reading.  The guide came out of a Charlotte Mason study group that Brandy was a part of.  Though she wrote it with groups in mind, I’ll be reading on my own.

The really good news is that for each principle, Brandy has collected and linked to relevant passages from Mason’s A Philosophy of Education as well as articles from The Parents’ Review.  In addition she has included links to contemporary homeschoolers who are working out these same ideas.  I love hearing the interplay of voices, the way that these ideas are being fleshed out.  All of these sources are linked from Start Here making it easy to follow the rabbit trails and still stay on track.

Brandy has also started a free newsletter called Newbie Tuesday.  It comes out the first Tuesday of each month, and is designed with Charlotte Mason beginners in mind.  Newsletter subscribers get a 20% coupon code for Start Here, so go subscribe already!

During dinner prep I’ve been listening to the audiobook recording of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake.  I’ve read it a few times before, and the thing that’s striking to me now is the respect Mason has for children, so different from the way that our society conceives of young ones.  I’ve also discovered that Barb from Our Life’s Star is studying a chapter a week from A Philosophy of Education.  I’ll be checking in there of I hit a rough patch and need some encouragement along the way.

This Thursday Sarah Mackenzie is hosting a webinar with Andrew Kern called The Beginner’s Guide to the Commonplace Book. {Have you entered the GIVEAWAY for a seat at the webinar?} Keeping notebooks is sort of the quintessential Charlotte Mason skill.  I’ll be hanging out in the chat box, so come say hello!

So there you have it!  A feast of resources for a master course in Charlotte Mason!


  1. Thanks for the mention, Kortney. I hope you enjoy reading CM in the original! I find her writing so wonderfully delicious. Beautiful ideas written beautifully. You can’t beat that. Great resources you listed, I may have to see if I can squeeze in that webinar. I want to use my commonplace book more than I do now – sometimes my hand gets lazy and I don’t write out what I really want to hold on to.

  2. You will not be disappointed in Charlotte Mason’s own words. I’m still not through the series…have read volume 1, and am about halfway through volumes 3 and 6. Every time I sit down with her, I find something to think about and to act on.

    1. How amazing that your thinking is connected to actions! I’ve got a pretty good handle on the thinking part….but sometimes the theories stay pretty theoretical!

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