15 Oct 2014

Lessons from the Armitt I

This was actually supported to be Lesson II, only Lesson I is taking too long to write, and so I thought I should move on and actually get something into print. I'm sorry for the delay. It's the story of my life, I'm afraid.

Today's lesson is about the Book of Centuries.

Most of what we know about these history notebooks is due to the the extensive research of Laurie Bestvater. Laurie wrote two terrific articles on the Book of Centuries, here and here, followed by an inspirational book entitled The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason, as well as publishing a pretty impressive facsimile of the books, which she makes available on her website, Keeping a Book of Centuries. I was inspired, and back in 2012,I bought two copies, one for Jemimah, and one for me.

And then they sat on the shelf. And sat, and sat. I am not a drawer, (that is, somebody who draws rather than a thing that slides in and out), and the idea of filling the pages of these beautiful leather bound books panicked me into doing nothing at all. So at the time of my trip, there I was with not one, but two, of Laurie's beautiful Books of Centuries taunting me from the study shelf.

The Armitt is the holder of a copy of a Book of Centuries kept by P.N.E.U. teacher Eve Anderson during her teacher training years, and it was really exciting holding her book and looking through its pages. And what I learned was how simple and non-scary keeping a Book of Centuries can be.
First, Eve's drawings, while significantly better than mine, we not all that amazingly good. You won't believe what a relief that was to me. Secondly, and more relieving again, there weren't many pictures at all. Eve Anderson's Book of Centuries is mostly writing.
Miss G. M. Bernau has added to the value of these studies by producing a 'Book of Centuries' in which children draw such illustrations as they come across of objects of domestic use, of art, etc., connected with the century they are reading about. This slight study of the British Museum we find very valuable; whether the children have or have not the opportunity of visiting the Museum itself, they have the hope of doing so, and, besides, their minds are awakened to the treasures of local museums.
Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education (1923) pp 175-6
Now I don't know if that's a good thing. This quote of Miss Mason's certainly seems to imply that the illustrations play the major part in the Books of Centuries kept by her students, but it certainly freed me up. Maybe it will you too.

On our return home, we set to to fill in our pages. The photos below show that mine is not a work of art, but it is so much fun, and every time you get it out to add to it, you remember more and more as you reread. It is incredibly satisfying, as well as serving as a memory aid.

There's a few things I find difficult, in particular, remembering that the year 1066 is in the 11th century, not the 10th, and 595 is in the 6th. That's a bit tricky. The other thing is that the writing gap is really tiny, even for me. Sometimes it brings Jemimah to her knees.

The Book of Centuries, is a great joy to the owner, and even in these busy days it is possible to find some time, however short, to add an illustration from time to time. Children always take a keen delight in their books. There is no need to be an artist in order to have quite an interesting book - neatness and accuracy are essential though. Museums will be clothed with fresh interest to keepers of these books, who will be able to recognise objects which have already become familiar old friends through their Books of Centuries.
G. M. Bernau The Parents' Review, Volume 34 1923 pgs. 720-724
You'll notice I've made some mistakes. I try to be neat and accurate, but I don't always manage. The size of the writing puts paid to neatness, as well.

Anyhow, so that's Lesson I from the Armitt. Books of Centuries are not necessarily works of art, and they're not scary. Pictures enhance what you're learning, of course, but if you're afraid, at least start on the written side. Maybe soon you'll be ready to give the drawing side a burl as well. And maybe I'll join you when you do. Maybe.

Find the start of the series here for more lessons.


  1. We've had our books for a month and a half and I still sit looking at it not knowing what to do with it. And I am a drawer. I love to draw. I think I have two entries so far.

  2. Your BoCs look good! We have a hard time remembering to have it (and the commonplace) next to us when reading.

  3. Very interesting. We kept a version of these when we were at home. It was the part of history they liked. Glad to see I was doing it "pretty much right!."

  4. As usual CM's ways are the simplest. Thanks for the post.

  5. I've had mine since July and I'm going to use pencil until I develop confidence. My first entry is the family tree that shows how Laura Ingalls Wilder and I are kin followed by drawings of things I've seen in my travels to her sites and perhaps a map. Now, I just have to DO IT! Did you take any pictures of images in the BOCs that you saw?

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  7. hello. this is lovely to see (and more wonderful to hear about in person!). I sometimes half jokingly say go ahead and put a coffee ring on the book straightaway so as to get over the perfection of the pages! I am so glad you've jumped in. I have been thinking about the small space to write and it seems even that is a boon...isn't it narration in its most compact form, another tool, maybe even better than the précis...the one word narration (and no, not like the one syllable Pilgrim's Progress lol) ? Can you think of a word (or two) that brings a whole episode, whole story, epoch, life into view? eg. "95 Thesis?" "Culloden?" "Titanic" "Charles I d." Maybe with all that rich reading and connection that small space becomes easier. What do you think? Laurie

  8. Aha! Just what I was looking for! :)
    I've been reading the posts and links via AO forum. So glad to see how you're using yours.

    This is all new to me as I haven't actually read CM's books and didn't know about BoC until a few days ago. I may come back and ask questions again at some stage. :)

  9. So often I make things more complex than they need to be. Thanks for simplifying.


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