What is a Commonplace Book? Or Another Way to Narrate

Project Gutenburg -Thomas Jefferson’s Writings

Here is a definition that I found online:

“Commonplacing is the act of selecting important phrases, lines, and/or passages from texts and writing them down; the commonplace book is the notebook in which a reader has collected quotations from works s/he has read. Commonplace books can also include comments and notes from the reader; they are frequently indexed so that the reader can classify important themes and locate quotations related to particular topics or authors.”

When we first started thinking about keeping a commonplace book, I was a little at a loss on what exactly goes into it. I tried to find some information online but didn’t get very far. I consulted someone that I knew who used commonplacing in their homeschool and she shared this very thorough website. At first we used the commonplace book as a place to keep our copywork and then eventually the boys started choosing their own passages to write in the book on their own. This made the book uniquely theirs.

We use commonplace books for several of our subjects and my boys find them to be an excellent way to keep track or narrate their reading. They include quotes, definitions, poems, and then any of their personal responses to the subjects they are reading about. Basically, they record anything they want to remember about what they have been reading. I also enjoy reading the boys’ commonplace books as a way to know what they are getting out of their reading each day. I don’t always read every book they do so this keeps me a little more informed about how the reading is going for them and if they are understanding the material.

We started off using a loose leaf notebook with lines for our commonplace books. They are nothing fancy and some might argue that they are really just journals, scrapbooks, or notebooks but I think that is the whole idea….to have something as individual as you are to record your own ideas and thoughts and to keep track of things that you especially like from your reading.

As the last school year progressed, my oldest son decided he wanted to keep a separate book for each subject and we switched over to using composition style books with lines.

I use a commonplace book during my Bible reading and have enjoyed keeping track of scriptures and thoughts related to them over the last year or so. My boys use their commonplace books for science, history, literature, and Bible reading. I also consider my blog another form of common placing.

Many famous people kept commonplace books. (see photo at the top for the writings of Thomas Jefferson….google Thomas Jefferson commplace book and then look at the images for examples)

For older children and adults, this is a great way to incorporate Charlotte Mason’s idea of narration in a form that is meaningful to the student.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Classical Music-Painless and Easy

Yesterday my husband and I visited our favorite garden nursery, which is actually a flower farm. We love to take the short drive down the winding foothill road from our house to the farm. It wanders through vineyards and past olive trees, just like I envision the Italian countryside.


We were on the hunt for a new rose bush for my garden and this was the perfect day to spend wandering around the nursery and farm. The sun was hot but the breeze was refreshingly cool. As I strolled through the plants, I was treated to a hummingbird just inches from me and I was able to capture it with my camera. You can read on my nature blog about that HERE.

The other thing that I noticed as I walked around looking for the perfect rose was that they had classical music softly playing. They must have outdoor speakers because I could hear it everywhere I was in the nursery. I found myself listening harder to see if I could recognize the composer or the piece as I went along. There were some pieces by Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, and some I didn’t know. It made it more enjoyable to me to actually be able to name some of the composers.

It got me to thinking about how that is the challenge of composer study and making time to listen to a particular composer long enough that we recognize them as we go about our everyday life.

But, I think there is no one correct way of listening to classical music.

There is no “right” way to listen. I have read plenty of material on the topic and so many authors try to convince you that you can’t use your computer to listen, or you can’t use headphones, or you have to do nothing else but listen during your music appreciation time. I totally disagree.

Here’s what we do: We listen on to classical music on our computer all the time and it is a satisfactory way to listen. I love putting a pair of headphones on and listening to classical music while I work. The boys have always listened to classical music while they work on their schoolwork and we often color or paint while listening.

Classical Music Appreciation- Goal

Your goal is to offer time for listening to music on a regular basis, tell a little about the composer that you think the children might be interested in, and then listen together. This is a perfect opportunity to work on narration skills with your children. After you listen to a piece, ask them what they thought of it.

If your children need help getting started you can ask them basic questions like these:
1. Was it loud or soft?
2. Was it fast or slow?
3. Could they hear any particular musical instruments? (piano and violins are easy to hear usually)
4. Did the music remind them of something? Did any pictures come to mind?
5. What emotions did it bring up into their hearts? (Happy, sad, angry, etc)

I always encourage families to use what they have for art and music appreciation. You don’t have to invest in a lot of materials before you have made regular listening a part of your daily or weekly routine.Do you have a classical composer’s CD sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust, why not pull it out and start with that composer? Make a playlist on your phone or other electronic device for your children to listen to independently. Keep it simple and fun!

If you don’t like a particular composer, try another. Don’t give up. I find that sometimes I don’t like a certain piece of music but on a different day I tried it again and liked it….it can be just your mood.

Summertime is a great time to start a study of classical composers. Use your hot afternoons to spend a few minutes relaxing and listening. We spend more time in the car during the summer and I try to have our current composer’s CD for us to listen to. Painless and enjoyable.

Harmony Fine Arts Purchase Now button

You may wish to look at Harmony Fine Arts plans for composer study. These plans are easy to use with your whole family.

Time for Reflection: A Time for Ideas

“Education is a life. That life needs ideas to keep it alive. Ideas come from a spiritual place, and God has created us so that we get ideas in the same way we pass them on to others: by expressing them in talk, or printed words, or the text of Scripture, or music.” Charlotte Mason, volume 6, page 109

Eighth grade is finished for the fourth time in our house. It is bittersweet.

All four times we taught this grade, usually American history, in different ways with different books and different styles. Nine years ago we taught with textbooks, seven years ago we did unit studies, last year we used The Well-Trained Mind suggestions since we had covered American history using Sonlight a few years earlier, and this year we used Ambleside Online’s year 9 with some modifications for my son’s interests. Can you guess which year I liked best?

That really is an unfair question because for each child the experience was tailored to meet their personality. For instance with my oldest child we used a textbook for eighth grade history but there were lots of things we did to supplement her learning. That was the year of learning American history through the lens of women in history. We based the year on making a quilt and learned all about the history of quilting in the early colonies, for women who were slaves, and then pioneer women. We read lots of biographies of women in American history like Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, and Amelia Earhart and discussed admirable qualities that each woman possessed. We read about colonial women, pioneer women, women of faith, and women in science and the arts. We baked, sewed, sang, and read about that period of time and both of us still remember that year with fond memories because it may have included reading a textbook but it was so much more than that because we got to know the time period and the people and what made them tick.

You get the idea. Even though I had never heard of Charlotte Mason when I was homeschooling eighth grade with my oldest two, I was still looking for living books, real stories, and trying to get to know the real people we were reading about in our text. It was really about hearing their ideas through our reading and activities.

” When a child is very young, it doesn’t seem to make any difference what philosophical idea we had when we educated them, whether we had the notion of filling a bucket, writing on a blank slate, molding a lump of clay, or nourishing a life. But as the child grows, we’ll come to find that the only things that are assimilated into who he becomes are the ideas that fed and nourished his mind.”
Charlotte Mason volume 6, page 108

Some days I want to call for a “do over” and start from the very beginning again homeschooling my children, not because I regret the methods I used but rather because I want to savor each year again. Reading the books, sharing the minute details of each day, watching the light bulb moments, watching them grow spiritually, and sharing the adventure all over.

It seems I blinked and arrived somehow at the present day where I realize my children have become four intelligent, thinking, creative, loving, God-fearing beings. They are people I love to be with.

There is still an unfamiliar path ahead of us but it is nice to be sitting here at this moment feeling like I have already accomplished more than I ever set out to accomplish in the homeschooling world….both within my family, in my community, and with others around the globe. As the saying goes, “It has been some ride.”

Four more years lie ahead to be filled with lots more learning alongside my boys. This is the spot in the road that we have been working for all these years. So many directions to explore and people both past and present to get to know in the days to come. I will try to remind myself that it is the ideas that matter, not the particular books or plans.

I can see the finish line of in the distance but somehow I don’t feel in a hurry to get there.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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