Conversations, Relationships, and a Charlotte-Mason Education During High School (with Jami Marstall)

Jami Marstall Charlotte Mason Classical Education Homeschool
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Jami Marstall is a Charlotte Mason homeschooling mom of 4, including 2 homeschool graduates! When I was exploring options for podcast guests, I reached out to previous guests Karen Glass and Cindy Rollins for their recommendations. When both of them mentioned Jami as someone I should talk to, I knew she would be a scintillating guest! Our conversations ranged from the joys and challenges of homeschooling to the nitty-gritty of homeschooling (and graduating) a high schooler using a Charlotte Mason approach. This was an absolutely delightful conversation. Jami is a real-life homeschool mom in the trenches right there beside us, but she also has the long-term wisdom that graduating 2 very different students brings. You will be so encouraged by Jami’s perspective.

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

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Jami Marstall Charlotte Mason Education high school Homeschool Conversations Podcast

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Jami Marstall’s path to homeschooling

Amy Sloan: Hello, everyone. Today I am joined by Jami Marstall, who is a homeschooling mom of four, including two homeschool graduates. When I was exploring options for podcast guests this spring, I reached out to previous podcast guests Karen Glass and Cindy Rollins for their recommendations. When both of them mentioned Jami as someone I should talk to, I knew that she would be a scintillating guest for this conversation.

I’m really looking forward to chatting with you today. Could you just start, Jami, by telling us a little bit about yourself and your family, and your path to homeschooling.

Jami Marstall: Sure, absolutely. Thank you, Amy. I’m flattered that Karen and Cindy are so kind. They are, and maybe I’ll mention it later, but certainly two of my friends and mentors and I would not be thinking the thoughts I am without them, so very grateful to them.

I am married to John. We’ve been married 23 years. We live in South-Central Iowa, a small historically Dutch community called Pella, which many people know for the windows. We moved here about four and a half years ago from Austin, Texas. Though we both grew up in the Midwest, and so we were returning to the Midwest to be closer to family after a decade in Texas.

We have four children 19, 18, 16 and 12. John works from home. He’s a software design guy, and so we are able to live a pretty home-centered life since he works from home. He’s pretty involved in homeschooling, and I can talk a little bit about that later as well.

How we got started homeschooling: We’ve been homeschooling, I guess, for 15 years since my oldest was five, though I was ready to start before that with preschool type activities. My oldest three are about three years apart, so we had a pretty dense preschool cluster for a long time.

Jami Marstall Homeschool Conversations Podcast

Amy: That’s a lot of diapers at one time.

Jami: It was. It was a lot of fun too, so I have at times missed those crazy days with lots of littles. Neither John or I really knew homeschoolers. Though I think one of our college friends had been homeschooled, was very normal. I had an uncle and aunt, and it fit their family well, but other than that neither of us really knew of homeschoolers.

We got married in the late 90’s, and so it was the early 2000’s as we were starting our family, but we were both really interested in ideas in education.

I studied history and he studied philosophy. We both thought education was something other than passing tests or getting a job, I guess, and so our idea of what education should look like for a person, and then our idea of what a family culture could look like, happened first. We talked and thought about those ideas first, and it was a gradual progression then as we read more broadly and met more people.

Some of the influences we were reading in college were Francis Schaeffer and then Edith Schaeffer, reading about L’Abri and the home culture that they cultivated, particularly around reading aloud and books. Then I was in a Christian bookstore. My oldest was– I think I had had my first baby at that time. I found two books by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake and For the Family’s Sake. Those really cemented our vision of, again, what education could look like school or not school, because she doesn’t necessarily argue for homeschooling, she argues for person-centered education.

Then the kind of home that I wanted to cultivate by being home with the kids. As those things took root, we really began to see that homeschooling would allow us to do that. We didn’t see how a private school was an option on a single income if I wanted to be home, and so that just made it a lot easier. We started and, for me, it was a really natural vocation, I guess. I loved being with the kids and learning with them. I loved research and ideas and philosophy and curriculum choosing, book buying. I didn’t know what other career would suit me better, so there I started and there I stay.

Amy: When I was growing up I used to think, “Oh, if I could just find a job where I get paid to read books.” Really, being a homeschool mom is about as close. You’re not paid monetarily, but it is part of your job to read books so it’s a pretty great gig.

Jami: Yes, I wanted to be a student. I didn’t know what else I wanted to be. I loved being a student. I loved college, so here I am. [laughs]

Amy: I really love hearing that story too because a lot of times when you hear someone talk about how they came to homeschooling or thinking about educational philosophy, it starts more on the education philosophy side. What I heard you say is that it was more the kind of family you wanted to have, the kind of culture you wanted to have, even as Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, that sort of perspective resonated with you because it was dealing with personhood. The persons that you were going to be raising in your home.

I think that’s really interesting, that it was you had these bigger ideas first and then homeschooling was just a way to accomplish a bigger goal. The end goal was not homeschooling. The end goal was something almost bigger.

Jami Marstall Charlotte Mason Education high school Homeschool Conversations Podcast

Growing into a Charlotte Mason and Classical Education

How has your approach to homeschooling then changed and developed over those years? I know that you said you obviously read For the Children’s Sake, which I keep joking we need to have a Homeschool Conversations drinking game. How many times people bring up For the Children’s Sake or Dawn Garrett, her name keeps coming up. [laughs] That’s a pretty early Charlotte Mason influenced book. A lot of people start there. Were you always drawn to that Charlotte Mason classical idea of education, or how did things grow and shift over the years?

Jami: When I read For the Children’s Sake, it certainly gave me a vision for education, particularly for younger children. I had read in high school as part of writing a paper on justifying a liberal arts degree, part of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s essay, The Idea of a University. It talked about that the disciplines of knowledge were integrated and didn’t have to be these separate spheres, and that the end of the liberal arts was wisdom and humanity, I guess, or humaneness. That appealed to me. Before I had a name, I didn’t really have a category for a type of education, I guess.

Then I grew up reading books like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. There was something to those educations that didn’t seem like the school that I experienced in that they were directly encountering books, they were doing a lot of poetry. Shakespeare was always a part of things, all those things were a jumble in my mind that that’s what a great education maybe looked like. I just didn’t have the vocabulary for it. Then when I read For the Children’s Sake, and then it was in the late 90’s, the different neoclassical books were coming out, Well-Trained Mind, and some of Doug Wilson’s books.

I picked up Norms and Nobility. I had no idea. I just would go to the library or the bookstore and anything on humane classical liberal arts education, I just started reading and slowly over time saw where they were all saying the same thing at different points.

I started looking for a curriculum or a guide that I thought would take me toward that Great Books/Great Ideas end for high schoolers. My husband’s background is philosophy, so he was also thinking, “Oh, we want our kids to read Plato at some point.”

One of the influences on me was James Taylor, Poetic Knowledge, and he talks about a good-to-great education. That’s from John Sr, his mentor. That you would read all these good children’s classics first and they would be foundational to developing the syntax, the ideas, the imagination that could then lead older students into those great conversations.

I started looking at all the book lists that were out and I wanted to find the best, most perfect good books list. I looked at Veritas and Sonlight and all of those. I don’t even know how I came across Ambleside Online back in the early days of Ambleside Online. I looked at their list. That was the list I liked best.

I started with Ambleside Online pretty much the way they tell you not to, as a booklist, without a lot of understanding of the philosophy behind it. The deeper I got into Ambleside, the more I was ready to read Charlotte Mason herself.

That was sort of a classical-to-Charlotte Mason, but she was just part of that bigger conversation that I was reading and thinking about at the time. There weren’t compartments for me. It was there’s one big picture that all these voices are speaking into in terms of the content and the direction, their view of personhood, the goal of education. Now that Karen Glass has written Consider This, go read Karen Glass’s Consider This. It talks about this big tradition and how Charlotte Mason is a part of it.

Charlotte Mason Dawn Garrett

Amy: Yes, I think it’s really helpful. I tend to be a big picture thinker anyway. That makes sense more naturally in my mind. I think sometimes, unfortunately, there can be this idea, very segmented. You’re compartmentalizing this idea and that idea and that idea, instead of seeing while there is some truth, there are persons, there are big ideas that are there because of God’s character, the way it has worked out in His creation. There are ideas and all these people are coming from all these different directions. Like the fable of the elephant and the blind mice.

I think about that with education sometimes because it’s a danger to just think, “Well, this one person, they figured out the whole elephant.” They’re all coming and trying to describe something that they can understand or see really well, but it’s just a piece of it. The more we can bring in with all these different ideas and people who are all talking about the same thing from slightly different angles, it really helps us to have a bigger picture. If we narrow ourselves down to just one point of view, it’s not going to really be as helpful for ourselves or for our children.

Jami: Right. I think that having that broader foundation maybe philosophically prepares you then to evaluate how well a certain program, a certain curriculum or teacher fits into those bigger goals. If they don’t, why don’t they? Starting with a general why, and what is education, and who is being educated here I think is a great place to start. I was not interested in teaching as a science, and so methods and pedagogy, and even too much of the classical model of the neoclassical ages stages which depended more, it seemed to me, on a classroom understanding of education and methods, just didn’t interest me. [chuckles]

Amy: Then you’re like, “Okay, now I’m going to go sit in the living room with all my own children and we’re going to work this out ourselves.”

Jami: Right.

Amy: Which is part of the fun of homeschooling, embodying it into the real home, the real people in our actual unique family. That’s my favorite part.

Jami’s Favorite Parts of Homeschooling

Jami, what have been some of your favorite parts of homeschooling, and then have there been any struggles? As you’ve had all these years of experience, I’m sure it hasn’t all been roses and sunshine all the time. Both sides, what have been your favorite parts and then maybe some of your struggles.

Jami: Absolutely. I jotted some things down so I wouldn’t forget. Certainly the books we’ve read together, absolutely. The stories and revisiting those with younger children that the older children loved and were happy to come back. Just that culture around books that we wanted from the beginning has really, I think, come to fruition in ways that I hoped it would. Having those shared stories and books and having four children who love stories and books has been fruitful.

Conversations about all sorts of things. For the most part, all my kids are eager to talk about ideas and the things that they’re thinking about. They seem to be curious learners. That’s been my favorite thing, is to have those big conversations with them.

Another thing that I wouldn’t have set out for as a goal but because of the way my husband’s job has worked out, sharing the teaching and the educational work with him. He teaches math to the girls first thing. Then because his background is philosophy, he has done logic and philosophy and church history. Just being able to be partners in that part of parenting I think has been a delightful part that I didn’t expect necessarily as part of the benefits of homeschooling. I know that’s a rare thing a lot of times to both have things that you can contribute in the teaching.

Sharing the homeschool load with Dad

Amy: Can I interrupt right there? I would love to hear a little bit more about how that came about. Was that something that just you were one day like, “I just can’t teach them algebra anymore,” or was it more over the summer you were– how did this whole story come about?

Jami: That might feed into some of the challenges. My oldest is my only boy. Then I have three daughters. As he got to be about 10, there started to be some pushback. That happens, especially not just mom, but mom and lots of sisters. Him trying to figure out as he was moving into the puberty years how to be a gentleman in the house and not too frustrated with mom all the time. At that time, my husband was able to start telecommuting, working full-time from home. I said, “I think one thing that would help is if you took my son’s math and did math with him before you start your workday. That’s one less thing he and I will butt heads about then.”

Also, another challenge that I could bring up is that he and his sister, next sister, are 14 months apart. That at that age caused a lot of friction based on who was– He was good at math, she was more careful. [chuckles] There was just sibling tensions there that by saying, “Okay, you’re going to do math with dad, and I’m going to do math over here. We’ll give you guys some separation to shine in your own ways.” What happened is, my husband’s a really good teacher. I had a toddler at that time, my fourth little girl, and everybody wanted to do math with dad eventually. One by one, they all left me and kept doing math with dad.

That first hour of the day they do math before he goes into the office. Four days of math. Then on the fifth day, when my older two got to be seventh, eighth grade, I wanted them to add in logic. I said, “Would you like to teach logic on Fridays?” He did. Then they got into high school and we picked up Wes Callihan’s Old Western Culture program. I said, “Would you like to do philosophy and church history with them?”

Liberal Arts, Great Books, and Classical Christian Education Wes Callihan

Amy: Oh, fun.

Jami: He would tell you that he’s filled in gaps from his education and read things that he wouldn’t have read before. That’s been one of his favorite things. Math, I don’t know, but he still does it for me.

Amy: It’s because he loves you all.

Jami: He really is a good teacher. Now, I think they’re all doing math higher than what I could just easily jump in and pick up, so I’m stuck and they’re stuck. Because of the workday he’s been able to have, it means that they have to be up and starting school when dad’s ready. It’s given a lot of good structure to our day, but also they hear less of my voice all the time. Also a good thing.

Amy: Sometimes it can be hard when it’s all a mom going, “Wah, wah, wah, wah,” that you tune it out. It’s harder for them to hear.

Jami: Especially sons. It was good for us to not have that. Eventually, we outsourced some higher math for him as well.

Amy: I know I interrupted you in the middle there so please continue.

Struggles in homeschooling

Jami: Those are my favorites. The struggles, I think I mentioned. Those really closely spaced older two having different strengths and gifts was something that we had to figure out how to help them learn together in areas that they could and encourage one another. Most of the challenges I think about come down almost more to parenting than homeschooling. Homeschooling in a lot of ways gave us a focus beyond just the parenting relationships. Occasionally, there were things where some separation would have been good just as we were working through different stages of development and growth and everything.

Then other challenges, there are so many good resources available. When to outsource or who’s ready for a deeper book maybe than who. All those things where I have to know the child, know my budget. Every year it seemed there were some new things I had to think through. Does that fit into what we’re doing? Is that a good use of our time and our money? I know that lots of homeschool moms have 10 times more. I’m in my ruts now. I know what I like, I know where I want to be. In the elementary days especially, there were so many new things that all looked so wonderful, and you just can’t do it all.

Amy: That’s come up several times on this podcast, just the abundance of good options and the fact that we can’t do them all. I appreciated, too, you in passing mentioned, “does that even fit in my budget?” I remember when I was a young mom, this was not about homeschool curriculum. I remember I was reading, I don’t know, I was on a kick and who knows what I was reading. I was just feeling very put upon that we couldn’t afford organic meat. I would just think to myself, if we really loved our family we’d be able to buy all this really great meat at the store or whatever.

I distinctly remember walking into the grocery store grumbling in my head about this. Walking back as I’m going through my precise grocery list or whatever and going back to where the meat is looking for the cheap meat like I always did, and finding all this organic beef that was about-to-expire-meat marked way, way down. There was this huge pile of the fancy meat, super, super cheap. It was just like the Lord was reminding me, “if I want you to have that organic meat, I’m going to provide a way for you to have it, but meanwhile, maybe you should adjust your attitude and be thankful for what you have.”

That moment, I know that’s the silliest moment, but it was this moment with that organic meat that I think about all the time in different contexts when I think about this really good thing that, “Oh, that would be really cool if my kids could do that or our family could do that,” but realizing we don’t have the resources of time or money or energy to do this, that or the other.

It can be easy when you see this other mom doing this really cool thing or you think that would be amazing, “Will my children be successful if we don’t do that special thing that everyone’s doing?” To just remember too as homeschool moms, what the Lord needs for your children to do, what He has for them to do, He will provide a way. If He has not provided the way for that, then you can trust Him for your children and for your future. You do the best you can with the loaves and fishes you have and you give it to Him and He is faithful to work what is best for them.

Jami: Absolutely. That’s really where Cindy Rollins has been just a blessing. Her voice has been so clear that be faithful with what you have, the family you’re given, the resources you have, be faithful with those things and trust God to provide what you need. If He thinks your kids need X, Y or Z then that will– but maybe they don’t. That’s okay too, but your job, mama, is to be faithful.

Jami Marstall Charlotte Mason Education high school Homeschool Conversations Podcast

Homeschooling High School Charlotte Mason Style

Amy: Jami, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about high school because you have I think two who are currently in high school, and then two that you’ve graduated. I would love to hear about homeschooling high school, especially from a Charlotte Mason perspective. If you think there are any misconceptions people might have about a Charlotte Mason high school, tell us your experience.

Jami: I graduated two. They are a sophomore and a freshman in college. Then I have a 10th grader and then, actually, my youngest is a sixth grader. I have a few more years, but I’m on my third high schooler. Some misconceptions about Charlotte Mason and the upper years, those high school years, in that when people– and this just starts with a general misconception that Charlotte Mason is too gentle, too maybe child-centered, or too tea parties and what Cindy says, tiptoe through the tulips kind of education.

I would say that that’s a misunderstanding of her elementary focus as well. What seems gentle or even child-centered is, I think, because so much of the work that the child is doing and learning is happening inside the child, there’s not that output that maybe would prove that the child is doing a lot academically. There’s so much faith in what’s happening in the mind of the child as ideas are presented, as their attention is growing, as those relationships are forming, that’s all very complex. It’s just more hidden than maybe traditional education expects for a rigorous education.

Then what I see a lot from people is that, “Oh, we did Charlotte Mason in the elementary years and then when they got to high school, we needed more traditional textbooks or a classical approach,” which can mean lots of different things. Something that’s in the way they’re describing it means media, more college prep, the way that I understand, or more disciplined. I found Charlotte Mason, her methods to expand into high school and offer those things beautifully. It allows her methods because she expects the education will be this relationship-building method, just not system.

There’s a feast of ideas that is presented to the student and that each student as a person has an inheritance of relationships, including a relationship to the divine, to God, to the universe, the natural world, and to man, both himself and other men. Within those three broad knowledge areas that Mason talks about, you can think of dozens of subjects that would then fulfill this relationship building. You can choose from those as rigorous and intense a feast as you want. That’s up to you. The main thing is that those relationships continue into high school.

For us, we use Ambleside Online. There’s flexibility to adjust so the knowledge of God includes reading the Bible, devotional works. We brought in church fathers and theology proper into that sphere, which gave us again, the flexibility to use some of Wes Callihan’s programs. It includes maybe commentaries or just that broader sphere. Then the knowledge of man, its history, and literature, and geography, and ethics, and citizenship, and anything that men have contributed to learning. Again, with those things, we’ve been able to focus history streams or literature streams in ways that connect with our children individually.

For example, my son is a little more science and engineering-bent. History books, I could choose biographies about architects and military history, or things that are still covering that stream of history. Providing that feast, but are more relational to where he is at that point and where he’s headed maybe. Languages also. My second born is very linguistic-gifted, and so we were able to maybe dial back some of the math and science part of the feast and give her bigger portions of Latin, and then she took some Russian.

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All the dynamics, all the things are there, just in maybe different portions as they figure out where they’re headed and what their natural gifts and callings are. I think the key thing is that, and what I love about Charlotte Mason, is that because they’re persons, no part of that feast should be cut off. Nobody gets to get away with no science and math. The science and math kids don’t get to get away with no history and literature. Personhood means access to all the rich ideas that they can continue to feast upon, but maybe the portions or the dishes change more with time. I just love that the foundational methods allow me to customize their educations in that way.

Nitty Gritty of Charlotte Mason high school life

Amy: I love that. That’s great. What did a normal or typical week look like for your high schoolers? Were they working independently? I know you mentioned there were some things that were outsourced. Were you prereading all of those good things with them? I would love to just hear a little bit of the nitty gritty of what that looked like in real life.

Jami: Sure. If I take a snapshot from a couple of years ago when I had a senior and a junior and an eighth grade and elementary school, we start the morning math first though my son did online math classes. He would just do his assignments when my husband was working with the other students on their math. Then we’ve done morning time all the way through. As much as I could get, the junior and senior year or the harder times to keep going with morning time. My son by his senior year was pretty reluctant. He had a lot of things to do. If I could pull him in for one song or one poem, “Can you just come read Shakespeare with us?” I would do my best.

Sometimes if I picked up a novel he wanted to hear he would creep in, but usually by junior, senior year, I don’t get a lot of morning time with them anymore because they do have so many outside responsibilities. We do morning time and then as I was working with the younger two, the older two for the most part were either in class if they had an online class or working on their work independently. They’d come and do narrations and check in throughout the day. It’s really a back and forth.

That’s how it is with my current 10th grader. She has an outside biology class one day a week. She has to do her homework for that, but with math, morning time, and then that back and forth throughout the day where she reads and we discuss a little bit, or she stops and practices an instrument. It’s pretty fluid at this point with only two left. When they were all little, it was much more scheduled and okay, you’re doing this with mom right now, and you’re playing with the two-year-old, but now it can be pretty just open routine.

Maybe we meet together at lunch. I know you do World Watch, that’s usually when we watch that, is at lunchtime. Then the afternoons, I will meet with my sixth grader to read if we’re doing some reading together still, sharing one of her harder books. Really, it’s just very conversational at this point. I expect by high school that they’re setting their own schedule somewhat. That at the beginning of the week, I give them the week’s assignments, the week’s readings, which Ambleside schedules by week, and that I’ve taught them seventh and eighth grade how to break up their readings so that they’re manageable. Three to four a day. I expect a narration four days a week, written, the rest are oral.

Then the only thing I’m directly teaching usually through 10th grade is writing, where we’re sitting down to work on elements of essays or looking at an old narration and talking about some of the grammar or flow of it. I don’t do a lot of direct teaching or I don’t lecture. We read books and we discuss, they narrate. History is my background and love. I’m happy to read and talk but I don’t present any kind of formal lecture. They wouldn’t like it if I did, I’m sure. That’s pretty much what it looks like now. They’re very independent. My sixth-grader especially, she’s awake up early and check off my list and I’m like, “Who are you? You don’t even need me.”

Amy: It’s really funny to see. I have some kids who I will come down bleary-eyed in the morning to get my coffee and they’re already on the sofa working on their schoolwork to get that checked off and to be able to do their own things later in the day. Then you have other ones who you’re like, “Okay, it’s almost dinner time. I know you’re supposed to be working on that reading journal. I haven’t heard you practice your piano yet.”

Jami: They’re all so different. That’s some of the fun. We joke about how quiet it’s going to be when it’s just her and I in high school because she’s happy do her own thing and is not one for a lot of discussion, so we’ll see. It could get interesting.

Amy: Maybe you’ll have to start taking some classes she’ll have to quiz you on. “Hey mom, have you done your homework?”

Jami: Right, exactly. In terms of prereading, I wouldn’t say a lot of what I’ve done is prereading. If there were gaps in particular literature I hadn’t read in my own education or history gaps or things I was just really interested in, because some of their books on their book list– I chose Ambleside Online in part because so many of the books looked so good for me. I was like, “Oh, oh, that looks so good.” I’ll join in and read along or read even just after them. “Oh, you really loved that. I should pick it up and read it.”

For the most part, I don’t necessarily schedule prereading. If there are books that I feel like we need to talk through as we go, I try to read it before them maybe over the summer, or at least buddy reads week to week as they’re reading it. With younger students, I read enough aloud that I learned a lot that way.

Amy: Anyone who’s listening to this episode now at that point, both my conversation with Kristen Rudd and my conversation with Jennifer Dow will have published. Both of them gave slightly different but similar questions that you can ask, no matter whether you’ve read the book before or not. Just some really helpful open-ended questions to draw out your child as you’re discussing books. If you feel like, for anyone listening who’s like, “I don’t have time to keep up with all my kids’ reading,” you can still have really profitable discussions if you know the right questions to ask. I’ll put links to those in the show notes.

Jami: That’d be great. One thing that Charlotte Mason’s methods freed me from was the thought that I had to be the expert, that I needed to be the teacher of all things, that I just needed to find great minds and great ideas and present them. That could be other teachers, that could be the books that we read, but that the work needed to happen in the mind of the student. If I was lecturing and telling them all the things that I had learnt, that wasn’t them doing the work of making those connections. It really has freed me to be a co-learner or a cheerleader because it’s their education ultimately. It’s not my work, it’s their work.

Amy: They’re going to remember what they’ve internalized and the work they’ve done, not the things that you necessarily said out loud to them in the living room necessarily. Hopefully, they remember some of the things we said. [laughs]

Jami: I’ve used a lot of words over the years. Some of it gets in, they know the Charlotte Mason quotes pretty well.

Transitioning to college

Amy: Let’s talk a little bit about, as you were starting to think about life after homeschool graduation, what were some of the questions that you guys were thinking through as a family? Then how did you help guide your teens through that process of deciding what to do next? We’ve talked a little bit about high school from a Charlotte Mason family. Did they have trouble transitioning to college having that as their background?

Jami: My son knew pretty early on in high school that engineering was the path he wanted to pursue. He was definitely, he still is I think, my most science-loving kid. Finding good outside teachers for that was important for him in a way that it wasn’t necessarily as high a priority in my outsource list for the girls, though they’ve had some great science teachers too. When I guess he got to his sophomore year and as we were looking at his junior year, we decided what would be some good schools to visit, what still needed to be on his transcript as we looked at what colleges expected for admissions. Then we hadn’t done much test prep at that point, I’m not one to do a lot of that.

We built in some time into his junior year for regular ACT practice, because the way you do well on those tests is to take the tests. [laughs] When he started his junior year, we started the regular ACT, getting him comfortable with that, and I started paying a little more attention to his transcript. I didn’t put it all together until right before his senior year and applications, but we knew what he still needed. Mostly foreign language that he needed to finish because that was not necessarily a strength of his.

We looked online, we looked at what different schools look, but we really only visited Dordt University, which is where he’s a student. It’s a smaller Christian school but they have really a neat engineering department that’s well integrated and he liked it and felt like it was a good fit. We talked about, “Okay what scholarship are you going to need? What does the financial path look like to attend this school?” Then when he was admitted and got his financial package, talking about is it workable, do you need to do a gap year and work, do you want to start at community college?

We talked about all those things in terms of if you’re going to borrow some money, how much do you think your future career justifies in loans, and let him really make the decision. He could have done community college to a state college path, but he really liked the smaller size and really being known by his professors. He’s a very extroverted kid and so the idea to knowing everybody and being known by everybody really appealed to him, and it’s relatively close to home.

We felt like the bigger state schools it’s a harder path for first-time students, and so we wanted to avoid that if we could. We talked about his gifts and our financial situation. Got him ready for the test to see how well he would test, bribed him a little bit to get his scores up. [laughs] Say, “Here’s the threshold for the money. This is where you need to be.” A little bit of coaching and teaching to the test, but I didn’t fundamentally change my homeschool plans, my curriculum plans.

Again, he’s a person, he’s not a worker first, he’s not a college student first. He’s a person and so I wasn’t going to turn everything on its head for the college game. When it came time to make his transcript, I translated the language of the school, of the institution, and what we had done at home. I just needed to use the right language to explain what we had been doing at home and how it fit their categories.

Then with my daughter, she’s more of a creative, doesn’t really know what her vocational path is. But she really needed a community and cohort of scholars and fellow believers and small, she wanted small. She’s very academic so we looked at some pretty competitive schools for her, but ultimately, more than a rigorous education, she needed that community of scholars. She’s at New College Franklin in Tennessee, which is a very small community of like-minded believers and scholars, and she loves it there.

Again, she just had different needs in terms of job preparation and it didn’t make sense for her to have much student loan debt because she wants to write. She doesn’t know. An engineer we felt like, “Okay, you have a little more wiggle room in what you can justify.” Ultimately, they were their decisions. After two years back-to-back of visiting colleges and doing transcripts and getting applications done, I’m enjoying my break [laughs] with my third high schooler. She loves lots of things, she’s a really broad renaissance kind of kid and she’s a homebody, so she’s not itching to be out the way the other two were.

God will have to show us what’s next for her, but she’ll be a junior next year. We’ll start some of the college or the test prep. We’ll build in a little bit of time to get good at the tests because you just never know what doors you’ll need to walk through and that’s one of those hoops that they’re expecting you to jump through.

Amy: That is so helpful and encouraging to hear it. I’m probably going to be sending you “help me” emails over the next couple of years. My oldest is heading into his junior year next year as well and there’s suddenly two years before he leaves home, it is feeling so very short. I don’t know, it’s just when you have a little baby that’s not sleeping through the night every month feels so long, but now I’m just like, “Only two years.” [laughs]

Jami: It goes so fast. This year was even stranger than last year in that half of them were gone. One going off was one thing but then when half of them, I guess I should have had more because it only takes two kids to be down to half and half of my job is done. Yes, I’ve been feeling it more this year for sure but they’re so ready and I love the experiences and learning that they’re doing, and they were ready, they were prepared. They’re broad readers, they know how to ask good questions, they have a good, David Hicks calls it a spirit of inquiry. They’re interested in ideas in the world.

Their writing was solid. The only thing that they maybe weren’t prepared for was managing multiple deadlines with academic life, which I think is not rare for homeschoolers. I had trouble how much should I hang out with my friends, and how much should I study?

Amy: Yes, that can be hard even as a grown up sometimes.

Jami: Exactly.

What Jami Marstall is reading lately

Amy: Jami, here as we come to the end I’m going to ask you the two questions I’m asking everyone this season, and the first is just what are you reading lately?

Jami: I jumped in. Again, with 50% of my kids gone, this last year I jumped into all the book groups and I guess ramped up prioritizing reading more broadly for myself again and just doing more of it. Scholé Sisters has the 5×5 challenge that they do and so this year I’m doing that. You chose five books in five categories to read deeply in a category. Some of the books I’m reading for that are The Great Tradition, which is an edited collection of ancient to early modern, modern early 20th century essays and writings on education.

It starts with Plato and I don’t even remember who the last guy is. It’s on education and so I’m still interested and curious about what other people have said about education over time. That never seems to fade for me, I’m still curious and interested in those ideas. I’m reading A Distant Mirror which is Barbara Tuchman’s history of the 14th century.

Amy: It’s a great one.

Jami: It is, yes. I’m really enjoying it. I read her books on World War I a couple of years ago, and I just love her because she was a stay-at-home mom turned historian, which I think is a great story.

Amy: I did not know that about her. Yes, that’s really cool.

Jami: She was a journalist and a scholar, and then had children and decided she would prioritize home life for them and then began, a little bit when they were older, writing histories. Outside of the academic world she’s an amateur historian, but brilliant. I’m a fan of hers and I’m really enjoying that. I have a lot of gaps and medieval history is one of them. I’m reading C. S. Lewis’ The Space Trilogy for the first time. That’s weird so far. That’s one of my choices on The Literary Life Podcast challenge. A book outside of a genre you usually read is one of those categories and science fiction is definitely outside of my usual genres.

I’m reading a biography of James Garfield. I like history books. Last fall, I read Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic about Garfield and his assassination. It was so good, but it made me really curious to get a bigger picture. I asked for Christmas for the definitive book of James Garfield, and I’m enjoying it. Let’s see. I’m reading Charlotte Mason in lots of categories at once. Often I have an Agatha Christie book going at night, just my bedtime reading.

Amy: Always good to have a nice murder mystery going on.

Jami: It’s not too intense that I can’t set it down. I have to be careful about bedtime reading because if it’s too gripping, then it’s 2:00 AM and the day is shot.

Amy: Then the next day you’re like, “I’m supposed to be a cheerful mother, but I stayed up late reading last night.”

Jami: Exactly. They all understand now because it happens. Sometimes you stay up too late reading. I have to be careful with certain kinds of fiction late at night, but those are the main ones I’m picking up right now. I’m about to start Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly. On the Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, I think is the subtitle.

Amy: Fascinating. I have not read that yet, but Keren Chu, by the time this comes out, this other interview with Keren will have published. She writes at Raising Covenant Children online. I’m not sure if you are familiar with her, but she’s a classical homeschool mom in the Philippines. She and I chatted recently, and that was one of the books that she mentioned that she had just finished reading.

Jami: It’s on all the lists right now. Actually, the first printing sold out. It’s a little bit hard to find at the moment but I have a copy and several other friends are interested in reading it and so probably have some discussions about that. That’s the devotional book that’s next. I just finished Megan Hills A Place to Belong about the local church. That’s really good, if you are not familiar with that one. Just on loving your local church well and belonging there.

Amy: Man, I’m going to have to go and check all of these books, put them on my wish list. I’ve cut myself off. No more podcast book buying for me.

Jami: It’s really hard, I hardly ever listen to a podcast or come visit a bookish group on the internet without adding something to the Amazon Wishlist.

Tips for the homeschool day going off the rails

Amy: Exactly. Jami, what tip would you give for a homeschool mom whose day just seems to be going completely off the rails?

Jami: This is a hard question because what I would do now I hope is kinder and gentler than what I would have done 10 years ago.

Amy: Oh, a hundred million percent.

Jami: Yes. Hopefully I’ve grown in patience and grace by God’s goodness. Now, a McDonald’s coffee, fun coffee drink. It goes a long ways with older girls. Let’s go get a fun coffee and get this day turned around. Being willing to be a little bit silly and find something to laugh about. We have a cat and a dog and usually there’s something wacky one of them does that we can all get laughing about and covers over maybe the grumpiness that was building up. If it’s a pattern of bad days then there’s usually a sitting down and a conversation about what’s not working.

Oh, is there too much on your plate? Do we need to adjust your schedule a little bit? We talk about the basics, are you eating okay? Are you sleeping okay? Are you drinking enough water? How’s your protein? Those troubleshooting, but sometimes it’s a matter of this just doesn’t fit. This book is not the right book right now. We overloaded your schedule. We get into ruts or I tend to over plan, over schedule, and have to step back. When they were little and things were going bad, a lot of times I would declare a boot camp week where we just tightened up the schedule and the routine, and everybody worked on obedience and cheerful attitudes. For a one-off day, cookies, food solves a lot of things.

Maybe a fun movie or getting outside in the sunshine doesn’t hurt, especially when it gets to be February. I’ve already seen some conversations popping up in different places that is anyone tired, and say, “It’s February, everybody wants to quit.” You can pretty much set your homeschool calendar by it. Oh, it’s February.

Amy: They always say don’t make a major life decision for a year after trauma or something like that. I’m like, “Don’t make any major homeschool decisions in February. It’s just not a good idea.”

Jami: Oh, man. I have some awesome groups of friends that have been good peers but are a little bit ahead of me and yes, same thing. They would hear, “Oh, I’m on the web and I’m looking at our local private schools,” [laughs] or “I don’t know if I can do it anymore,” but you pull each other through because there’s a bigger vision and purpose than one hard day. Sometimes it’s a check of, “Am I being too particular or too humorless? Am I smiling enough? Do they know that I’m happy and I love being here with them?” All things that me now can tell myself but in the midst of it, I needed to hear more often than believe that it would make a difference.

There are good people out there. Mystie Winckler I think is really good about look them in the eye and smile, and Cindy is good about let them know that you love being here with them. They don’t always know.

Amy: Yes, that’s really important. It seems like something that should be obvious, but I think when so many of us look realistically at the way we live our days, we realize, “Wow, that’s actually a reminder I need to hear.”

Jami: Yes.

Amy: Jami, this has been a delightful conversation. Thank you so much for chatting with me today.

Jami: Absolutely.

Find Jami Marstall online

Amy: Could you let people know where they could find you on the internet? I know I pop around and see you in different literary discussion groups.

Jami: I do not have a fixed home on the internet. I’m not a blogger or a podcaster or an Instagrammer really. I do have an Instagram account. I think as you found, it’s infrequently used in part because I’m not a photographer. I feel so much pressure to have nice pictures and nobody wants to see my photography. I use Facebook, mostly various groups that I enjoy being a part of there. I don’t use the broader newsfeed a whole lot, but Cindy Rollins’ Mere Motherhood group I’m a part of sporadically, in terms of when I jump in for conversation. The Literary Life Podcast group, I enjoy the conversations there.

The Ambleside Online Facebook group, If people have Ambleside-specific questions, that’s a great resource. Then recently in the last six months or so I’ve been participating more on the Scholé Sisters. They have some good in-depth book groups and conversations happening there, and it’s a good mix of classical and Charlotte Mason educators. I enjoy the conversations there and try to be helpful when there’s a question that I feel like I can contribute to. Other than jumping in and out of those groups, I’m around. [laughs]

Amy: I’m just really appreciative of moms like you who have gone through it. You’re still in it, but you have that longer-term perspective that you can share. I just really appreciate you taking the time to share with us today. I will have links to things we’ve chatted about in the show notes for this episode at There will be a full transcript there as well. If anyone is listening and wants to ask Jami a question, you can also go comment on that blog post and I’ll make sure that she hears about it as well. Thank you, Jami, and I look forward to talking with you again.

Jami: Yes. Thanks, Amy.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

Homeschool Conversations Video Interviews Podcast Amy Sloan

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