The Living Education Retreat

Last week, it was my privilege to attend the Living Education Retreat held in Frontenac State Park…a long way from home.


Since I have wanted to attend this retreat for three years now, it felt like a major accomplishment! They only accept a limited amount of attendees in order to keep the setting small and personal. Last winter, I was thrilled to find that I had made it in! Great rejoicing!

Thank goodness for Michael pushing me (and paying for me) to go do this. I wasn’t so sure about leaving everyone, as I haven’t really done that. But Michael is a saint. I left on his busiest days of the week, and he took care of everything!

How can I describe the refreshment and blessing of that time?

One of the speakers (unfortunately I don’t remember who) said “When you read something you love, you can’t help narrating!” So true! I would add…

When you attend a retreat you love, you can’t help writing about it. So, I give you my “narration of a retreat”.

Charlotte Mason educators seem to have such a unique passion for a living education, that it just shines out of them. It was a joy to spend time together.

The retreat was led by the gracious Nancy Kelly, who blogs at Sage Parnassus. She cares just as much about learning through a living education as her writing suggests. She and her team worked tirelessly to make sure that we each had time for encouragement and rejuvenation.



(My arm is pinned back awkwardly because I decided that the best place to hold the flute of the lovely girl who took our picture, was behind me. Right? That’s where you hide your flute during pictures, probably.)

From the moment I arrived, until driving away, I was impressed with the certainty that the love of our Savior undergirds all of our efforts at educating our children. Although the education of our children is one of the great joys in life, it is a most serious responsibility to accept. Throughout my time at the retreat, I was reminded to continually return to Christ for wisdom on this journey.

The first evening set the tone, from the picture study on Jesus, The Light of the World, to the unveiling of a brand new reprint of The Cloud of Witness, literally “hot off the press”. I knew that this time away was exactly what my heart needed as a new school year was about to begin.


The Cloud of Witness was not a book I was familiar with, and I thought it was mainly for Anglicans. Not so. There is endless wisdom and comfort to be found in this small book. So far, my favorite lines are from a poem by Longfellow based on Matthew 7:21…

“Not he that repeateth the Name, but he that doeth the Will.”


Due to time and space constraints, I will give just a few highlights from our time together.

The sessions with Carroll Smith were a delight. I have read his writing on the CMI blog, so I knew this was going be a special learning experience. Unfortunately, I had just finished reading Alice in Wonderland to my boys, so my brain (trying to be helpful, no doubt) continuously changed his name to Lewis Carroll. Not so helpful.


Carroll’s use of literary form, story, and the importance of narration was fascinating. His ideas resonated with me, especially this one:

“Your experience with life affects the way you interact with a story, and because of that, we will each narrate differently.”

– Carroll Smith

He went on to talk about how our children “live” the story, and so they naturally remember what they have lived. They are able to make all of these connections in literature, and not have to literally experience it. (That is true, I have witnessed it.)

Carroll’s talk reminded me of Charlotte Mason’s idea that “Education is the science of relations…that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts”.  Of course this idea led to remembering a certain quote that I love…

“…mind appeals to mind, and thought begets thought, and that is how we become educated. For this reason, we owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds, that he may get at great thoughts…of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books.”

-Charlotte Mason, (emphasis mine)

Carroll showed us how emotion drives attention, and that a good story secures emotion. He mentioned that with a good story, at some point the child is no longer listening to, but inhabiting the story. So the child then gains a relationship with a person from history and comes to know them. They will remember that person they know almost effortlessly.

I loved that he said “if we have a book on our list, and our child is truly struggling, not because it’s difficult, but because they aren’t enjoying a certain book, we need to re-evaluate that book…that’s not necessarily coddling a child.” A big thank you to Carroll for saying so. I think we all had a sigh of relief!

Another highlight of my time was Nancy’s session on Shakespeare appropriately titled “Shakespeare -The How and Why”. I have personally enjoyed reading Shakespeare with my children so much. But my attempts at communicating why that is even a good idea usually fall flat.

Nancy called Shakespeare “A banquet for all ages”. I would have to agree. She mentioned the relatable characters, powerful stories, enrichment of our mind, beauty of the writing, and instruction of character. I know that there are many schools of thought relating to Shakespeare, but in my own experience, I have found these things to be true. Shakespeare’s words last long in our minds and hearts, and have the ability to help us grow in depth of character and even in the fruit of the Spirit.

Then there were many small things that encouraged in big ways:

Conversations with like minded people who are excited about the same things. Finally meeting friends face to face! A lovely nature session with Sandy Rusby Bell, who introduced me to Gilbert White and The Natural History of Selborne. (Another book for my list.) Jan, from Books of Yesterday sold me just enough wonderful books to make my carry on…very heavy. The morning meditations were refreshing, and reminded me to read Sir Gibbie, this time unabridged. (If you’re curious, read the second half of this chapter, starting with the paragraph: “Gibbie obeyed more than willingly”, and read to the end of the chapter. I think it’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever read.) The Book discussion on Till We Have Faces was fascinating, with so much more to think about. I think we could have discussed for several more hours!

I left encouraged, and ready for another year. I couldn’t believe all the goodness that had been packed into three days!

“At Scale How time was to be respected, given to the thing or person claiming it rightfully.  Then there would always be time, without over-pressure or distraction.  This sense of time value was hard to achieve but it bore the test of experience during the two years’ training.  What an effort of faith it all was…it did not seem possible to find a moment for everything, yet if no time was wasted there was plenty of it and no hurry.”

– Cholmondley


7 thoughts on “The Living Education Retreat

  1. Mary,
    What a lovely narration! It was a gift from God to meet you that weekend. So glad you came. May this upcoming school year be the best one yet for your family!


  2. It was such an amazing retreat! I am so blessed even weeks later with all the sharing and information I received. It was super sweet of your husband to send you flowers too!


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