CMI Conference-Midwestern 2019


CMI Midwest/Great Plains Conference   l   May 16-18, 2019   l   Grand View University   l   1200 Grandview Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50316


Our first Midwestern/Great Plains Charlotte Mason Education Conference will be held at Grand View University, Des Moines, IA which is 25 minutes from the Des Moines airport. We welcome you as we explore a theme of Discovering the Exquisite Beauty of Nature through various speakers.

Two keynote speakers will help us consider our surroundings.  First, Dr. Rusty Pritchard will help us understand a Christian view of stewarding our environment.  Secondly, our friend, Jack Laws, will help us see and observe nature by teaching us how to draw and paint what we see.  Jack has been with us for our Eastern and Western conferences and we are excited for the Charlotte Mason community in the Midwest/Great Plains to have the opportunity to spend time with him.

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We are delighted to introduce our first Midwestern CMI Teen Conference. John Muir Laws, the keynote speaker for the general conference, will also work with the teens.The Teen Conference is for students 13 to 17 as well as 18 year olds who were in high school during the 2018-19 academic year. If a teen is 18 years old but graduated last year, they are encouraged to attend the General Conference.  Students will participate in a number of activities that will continue to build on the foundations of spiritual, moral and academic training of a CM education, forming/understanding Knowledge of God, Knowledge of Man, and Knowledge of the Universe. To register, select “#2 Attendees,” fill out your information and then add your teen’s.

What will the Teens do?
  • The CMI Western Teen Conference will begin with a time of getting acquainted with each other through games. Our goal is to help foster friendships and relationships that extend past the conference time.
  • Jack Laws will join the teens on Friday morning. As a naturalist, artist and educator who has dedicated his work to connecting people to nature through art and science, Jack will train students to observe with rigor, draw accurately, and to become intentionally curious.
  • After lunch on Friday the teens will visit the Johnson Wellness Center.  This 3,100 square foot state-of-the-art strength and conditioning facility features ten “Power Lift” stations; 9,020 lbs of plates, dumb bells, and bars. The room allows for up to 50 athletes to train together in a team setting.  Here the teens will learn the principles of exercise and get the opportunity to use the facilities.
  • After working out the teens will have a break and attend the Eve Anderson Tea followed by  the talk given by Dr. Rusty Pritchard on “Saving the Planet versus Care for the Creation”.  Rusty is a natural resource economist and strategist for organizations that seek to combine social justice, economic empowerment, and environmental restoration.
  • The teens will be engaged in an interactive practical learning experience to learn how to manage the finances of a home.  The teens will be given an income based upon the demographics of the area, and will have to make decisions on housing, food, transportation clothing and entertainment.  All numbers will be based upon realistic scenarios and will learn the financial principles necessary to manage a household budget.
  • Saturday morning will begin with a hike on the High Trail and Bridge. This beautiful hike will help the teens to practice some of the observational skills and appreciation of nature they’ve learned from Jack Laws.
  • After one more session with Jack on how to draw animals, the teens will have time to nature journal and/or discuss and reflect on the conference.

Charlotte Mason was keen on the development of good habits.  Good habits help in the development of good behavior which encourages a lifestyle that leads to a full life.  Our intention with the teen conference is to foster activities that lead to good habits that will be followed for a full exciting life.



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Schedule & Sessions

Subject to additions and changes

Plenary 1: This Is Your Brain on Paper: The Neuroscience Behind Nature Journaling with John Muir Laws
Plenary 2: Visual Thinking: An Introduction to Sketching as a Means to Know with John Muir Laws
Plenary 3: Using Words and Numbers to Enhance Your Journal with John Muir Laws 
Plenary 4: Drawing 101:  Fearless Sketching with John Muir Laws

In this session participants will learn sketching tricks to help approach any subject by exploring line, shape, value, negative space, and depth.

Plenary 5: “Saving the Planet” versus “Care for Creation” with Dr. Rusty Pritchard

Confronted with a constant barrage of information about environmental crises, families struggle to fit “saving the planet” into their existing priorities, including concern for the spiritual formation of their children, for the good of their communities, for the wellbeing of the poor, and for the advance of the gospel. How should we understand and respond to the prevalent apocalyptic framing of environmental change as “the end of the world?” On the other hand, how do we respond to those who say we shouldn’t care for creation because “it’s all going to burn?”

For those in the Christian tradition it is helpful to understand what the Bible teaches about God, creation, us, and our neighbors. We would like to bring our theology of creation to bear on the world’s pressing issues, but we need first to understand our own responsibility to live lives of faithfulness and justice. Thankfully, we can find ways to live out our theology that bring us joy and satisfaction (rather than inconvenience, guilt, and drudgery). The Christian doctrine of creation care is good news for us and for our neighbors caught on a treadmill of consumption, toil, mindless entertainment, and despair. In our households and churches we can create communities that model a different story.

After we understand our own story, expressed in the Bible, in our history, and in our homes, we will have more to offer a highly polarized world that treats the environment like a political football. “Care for creation” is not just a Christianese word for baptized environmentalism, but a new way of living. We can offer the good news that, although the world we see is out-of-joint, a King is coming who will put it to rights, and in our life together we can bear witness to that future kingdom.

Plenary 6: Drawing Animals 101 with John Muir Laws

Drawing animals does not need to be a huge challenge.  In this session attendees will learn the fundamental lines to start drawings of the most common animals you see and a few key details that will make your drawings pop.

Plenary 7: Thinking Like a Naturalist with John Muir Laws

What does it mean to think like a naturalist?  In this session attendees will learn how to approach mysteries in nature with curiosity and rigour.

Plenary 8: Watercolors for Quick Sketches in Your Nature Journals with John Muir Laws

Sometimes it is necessary to be able to sketches something quickly.  This session will demonstrate how to make watercolours work in fast sketches and detailed studies with a minimum of equipment and field conditions.

Plenary 9: Drawing Plant Life 101
Charlotte Mason’s Alveary Team Immersion for Home and School with Dr. Jennifer Spencer and Cathy Barrington

Join members of Charlotte Mason’s Alveary curriculum team as they walk you through a morning of elementary lessons using Alveary lesson plans. During the morning hours, attendees will experience lessons as students, following the scheduling principles and teaching methods laid out by Mason. That afternoon, the group will be split into homeschool educators and classroom teachers so that discussions particular to each group can be held. Attendees will receive a copy of the lesson plans and schedule used.

Please bring: a notebook, a pencil (in addition to pens for note-taking), watercolors, and a small paintbrush.

Keeping the Fresh Impulse for Learning: Multi-age Homeschool Immersion with Nancy Kelly

Nancy will demonstrate a morning in a multi-age homeschool using Mason’s methods.  Despite the large age range in many homeschools, adherence to the principles and practices in every area can make this rich education possible.  The focus will be on subjects that can successfully be combined with multiple ages. Subject areas that may be presented include Bible, dictation, citizenship, Shakespeare, history,  geography, hymn, folksong, poetry, copywork, composer study, picture study, handcrafts, nature study, literature, and natural history – all subjects that Nancy has years of experience teaching to all ages at the same time. Attendees assume the role of the student, experiencing the different forms of narration and the banquet of ideas which will bring a deeper understanding to the method.

Stewarding One’s Neurochemistry: Strategies to Support Those with Executive Functioning Weakness Immersion with Andy Smith

Self-compelling power, habits of attention, self-governance, a child turning on a force in obedience to the child’s own authority–all these describe what Mason wanted for children and what she thought could be developed through proper methods, curriculum and habit training. The limited knowledge of her time, however, did not allow Mason to understand how much self-governance and sustained, persistent attention are functions of the brain’s executive system that emerge with maturation. In typically developing children, many tasks requested of the CM student fall within their executive functioning (EF) capacities; however many neuro-atypical children with limited EF capacity struggle with impulsivity, intense emotionality, distractability, lack of motivation for non-preferred activities, task management, accessing working memory and remembering so as to do something. This seminar will discuss Mason’s understanding of habits and attention in light of the current understandings of EF, focusing especially on the current ADHD research. Because it is critical to understand the neurological versus the character basis of these challenges, we will consider the neurology of self-regulation and then how limited EF through different developmental stages can impact home, social life, and core foundational learning. Attendees will learn practical adaptive strategies to support persons with EF weakness in home tasks as well as how to modify CM lessons in reading, math, narrations, compositions, picture study, and geography by reverse engineering for EF deficits. Since EF deficits can wreck havoc in children and adults alike, this seminar is applicable for adults dealing with these issues with their kids or with themselves and also for teens needing to understand their own ADHD. A questionnaire will be sent out and needs returning beforehand to help determine the needs of the group.

Nature Study Immersion with Marcia Mattern

From the earliest of years, Charlotte Mason recommended many hours out of doors.  Join Marcia Mattern, mother of six children, in getting out into nature.  Learn how to make nature time a habit that can continue through one’s whole life.  We will discover simple ways to grow and to help our children grow in the habits of seeing and observing God’s great outdoors.  We will also compare Charlotte’s recommendations to the current research studies about the importance of outdoor life.

Bring a nature notebook and sketching/brush drawing supplies.  Dress for the weather as we will be outside most of the morning.  Afternoon learning will focus on habits of keeping a nature notebook, beginning to brush draw, making scaffolding for nature studies and starting your own Natural History Club.

Science and the Appetite for Knowledge Immersion with Danielle Merritt-Sunseri

We will examine the big-picture of Mason’s science curriculum and consider what she was trying to accomplish in her historical context.  We will journey through time, as well, to understand how science education has changed through the decades.  Danielle will explain how a Mason approach elegantly addresses the needs of our modern era.  She will share additionally how Mason’s awareness of the child’s appetite for knowledge is especially relevant today and how we can better wet this appetite in our science curriculum.  Danielle will tailor a portion of this immersion based on submitted questions and attendees should come prepared for at least one laboratory experience.

Mason’s 20 Principles with Dr. Jennifer Spencer
Children are persons. Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. Education is the science of relations. For those who are new to Mason, the lexicon of the Charlotte Mason philosophy can be vague and daunting. For those who have been practicing for a while, the ubiquity of the words can make them stale. In this plenary lecture, Dr. Jen Spencer takes a fresh look at the 20 principles that are the foundation for Mason’s entire philosophy and methodology.
Shakespeare: The How and Why with Nancy Kelly

In this workshop, Nancy will examine how and why Charlotte Mason’s PNEU students were immersed in Shakespeare.  The results may surprise you!  She will be sharing her 20 years of experience in teaching Shakespeare to children, high schoolers, and adults – often all at the same time.  The results of her extensive research, personal anecdotes, recommended resources, and audience participation will be part of this session for newcomers and aficionados alike!

Narration Part I with Dr. Carroll Smith

In this session we will discuss the history of and research behind the practice of narration. Is narration a viable option for learning today? We will look at both what current research and Mason have to say about this. This session will ground you in the importance of narration so that you can go home and use it thoroughly and with purpose. (Note: this session is a pre-requisite to Narration Part II.)

Educating a Large Family: Your Big Family’s Feast with Debi Zahn

In any family it’s helpful to set priorities but in a big family it’s often the key to kicking guilt to the curb and rediscovering your joy and peace! It can be totally overwhelming to try to juggle the books, the schedules, the programs, the forms, all the things! Inspired by “The Lazy Genius,” Debi will talk about learning how to be a “genius” about the things that matter for your family and “lazy” about the things that don’t!

What is Working Memory and What is the Impact of Limited Working Memory? with Andy Smith

Working memory (WM), a concept unknown in Mason’s time, is part of our brain’s temporary memory system; think of it as a cognitive workbench where we bring in old learning to mix with new information to create new learning. Our genetics give us varying size cognitive workspaces; when the demands of a task exceed one’s working memory capacity shallow learning occurs. This session will look at how limited WM can impact learning and will give principles to support those with limited WM capacities.

The Joy of Handling Tools with Mycah Amstutz

The joy of handling tools and working with a variety of materials is one wonderful way to create beautiful items and bless those around us, while also “teaching” humility and respect better than parent’s words could get across.  Handicrafts are doable (even if you think you have two left thumbs), fun, and just as important as math and Plutarch.  Leave this session with motivation to try and some samples ideas for projects.

Consider Anxiety Part 1: It’s not about worrying. with Danielle Merritt-Sunseri

Sometimes our children’s behavior can be quite puzzling!  When this puzzle becomes frustrating or troublesome and we just can’t figure out what the obstacle is, it might be time to consider anxiety.  Anxiety is a neurological condition which requires special consideration.  Danielle will review symptoms and contributing causes of the condition in part 1 of this workshop.

Establishing and Sustaining Intentional Community Around Charlotte Mason’s Vision with Steve and Marcia Mattern

Marcia and Steve Mattern will share suggestions and experiences from their journey of creating intentional community among Charlotte Mason families. The underlying premise of their approach is that families can learn a lot from each other. The New Testament alone contains over 30 examples of exhortation about how we engage “one another”.  Marcia and Steve have chosen to invite and welcome families into their home for reading groups, family days and discussion circles. Additionally, they host a large family camp, a natural history group,  a learning community and math sharing afternoons in their area.  They would love to share ideas with you as they facilitate wider inclusion of fathers in these efforts and how to help people where they are from exploration phase, to novice, to practitioner to advanced practitioner.

Alveary with Dr. Jen Spencer
Peace in the Home with Nancy Kelly

“He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” – Goethe

The Charlotte Mason philosophy and method of education has a unique source that encourages shalom in the home. This talk will explore the meaning of peace, how a CM education helps develop peace, and why parents are called to be peacemakers.  Nancy will share insights from her own experience as well as some extremely helpful direction from Mason and other solid PNEU teachers on peace in our homes, schools, and lives.

Narration Part II with Dr. Carroll Smith

Based on what we learned in Part I, we will observe and study the narrations of children at various ages. Next, we will practice and discuss how to introduce narration to young children or to those who are new to narration. Finally, we will practice the art of narration.

Trauma-Informed: Effectively Balancing the Needs of Our Students and Ourselves with Dr. Christy Maher and Cathy Barrington

Are you teaching and/or parenting a child with special challenges? Do you find you are exhausted at the end of the week wondering if any effective learning took place? Are you wondering if schooling in a Charlotte Mason Philosophy is best for your student with emotional needs? Join us as we honestly address the challenges, needs, and tools for bringing balance to our homes and classrooms.

The Art of Standing Aside: The Role of the Teacher with Shannon Whiteside

Charlotte Mason said, “The art of standing aside to let the child develop the relations proper to him is the fine art of education.” This session will explore the role of the teacher as a guide and facilitator and how that differs from the traditional role of the teacher. We will be looking at the steps of a lesson and the stance we should take to allow for self-education. Why is it essential for teachers to “not be the fountain-head of knowledge”? How should the recognition of the Holy Spirit as the supreme educator of our children affect our teaching methods? We will also be encouraged by the advice Mason gave to teachers on how we can continually learn and grow as persons and nurture our own souls as well.

Consider Anxiety Part 2: Special considerations with Danielle Merritt-Sunseri

In part 2 of this workshop, Danielle will consider the educational impact of anxiety both in general and within the Mason paradigm.  Appropriate responses and helpful tools will be shared.  Attendance to part 1 is not required, but highly recommended.

A Shepherd at the Gate: The Calling of Leading a Learning Community with Amy Fiedler

Do you organize a CM learning community? Do you hope to begin one someday? Learning Communities or Co-Ops have much to offer a CM family, but they require intentional vision, courageous decision-making, and continual prayer. Join me as I share openly about The Arbor Guild, a multi-age CM Learning Community that I began in 2013.

What is Working Memory and What is the Impact of Limited Working Memory? with Andy Smith

Working memory (WM), a concept unknown in Mason’s time, is part of our brain’s temporary memory system; think of it as a cognitive workbench where we bring in old learning to mix with new information to create new learning. Our genetics give us varying size cognitive workspaces; when the demands of a task exceed one’s working memory capacity shallow learning occurs. This session will look at how limited WM can impact learning and will give principles to support those with limited WM capacities.

Handicrafts: A Beckoning Doorway with Amy Fiedler

 Have you ever stopped to consider why Charlotte Mason included handicrafts as a part of her curriculum?  As a Mason educator, do you ever feel ill-equipped or unsure when you think about teaching handicrafts to your students?  Let’s take some time to closely examine Mason’s own words on this topic, while considering them in light of her twenty principles.  By digging a bit below the surface, I hope we’ll come away with renewed inspiration and confidence as we continue (or even begin) teaching this vital subject.  I’ll also share practical tips for getting started, and we’ll be making a coiled sisal basket together to give you an idea you can immediately begin implementing in your home.

Ourselves (Volume 4) and Moral Development: A Third Position with Nancy Kelly

Dissatisfied with teaching morals directly or indirectly, Charlotte Mason developed a unique “third position” which featured the use of her book Ourselves, Our Souls and Bodies. Join Nancy as she shares background information and activities in order to more fully understand the purpose of this unique book which she considers a must-read for all teachers and teenagers interested in a truly relational education. This session will give you the tools to confidently utilize this masterpiece in your school.

Taking Time to Feed Myself with Mycah Amstutz
Parenting in itself can overwhelm anyone, then add homeschooling to the list and most will grow weary.  Is there a remedy?  Yes! Charlotte Mason wrote for us a most helpful preventative to burnout, a philosophy of living per se (even though she focuses on education).  We, in addition to children, need living ideas to feed our mind. We need beautiful inspiration from nature, art, and music.   We need time to rest and space to let our minds process ideas.  Come join the discussion of how her principles also apply to us and be encouraged to take care of ourselves.
Living with Executive Function Deficits with Andy Smith and Jack Laws

Andy Smith will interview Jack Laws about his experiences growing up with EF deficits and the compensatory skills that he has found most helpful in living with his EF challenges.

Father Care: A Facilitated Discussion with Steve Mattern and Dr. Glenn McKnight

The goal of the facilitated discussion is to bring particular focus on the importance of fathers being present, supportive and actively engaged with a Charlotte Mason based education approach and vision for the family.  Practical considerations and suggestions are shared and these are shaped to support fathers at various points along the developmental journey which they are on, from entry level to more advanced.
This discussion will be led by Steve Mattern and Co-Facilitated by Dr. Glenn McKnight. Steve Mattern is a Senior Executive in a large health system from Illinois and Dr. McKnight is a university professor in Iowa. They are friends and companions on this journey and wish to offer encouragement and to share their perspectives.

Understanding Cognitive Load and Its Implications for a Mason Education with Dr. Jennifer Spencer

Every task that we undertake costs something of us in terms of mental energy; that is, it has a “cognitive load.” The more novel the task, the higher the cognitive load. The task feels difficult because our brains have to spend much attention and energy to accomplish it. As we practice the task over time, our brains do not have to work as hard, and the task feels easier to us; that is, the task has become automated to some degree. This fact has important implications for us as educators, as we try to determine when a child is ready for certain tasks. In this lecture, Dr. Spencer will discuss cognitive load, using Michael Polanyi’s model of focal and subsidiary awareness, how it relates to various subjects of study, and how Mason’s developmental and incremental learning model recognizes the importance of cognitive load.

Confidence with Composer Study with Erika McKnight

“Use every chance you get of hearing music (I do not mean only tunes, though these are very nice), and ask whose music has been played, and, by degrees, you will find out that one composer has one sort of thing to say to you, and another speaks other things; these messages of the musicians cannot be put into words, so there is no way of hearing them if we do not train our ear to listen.” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p.31) Composer study is critical for your student’s feast.  It is great for honing attentiveness as well as adding beauty to your child’s life.  Composer study introduces your student to the world of classical music; it also opens the possibility for your student to have a life-long relationship with at least one composer.  You do not need to be an expert or have any knowledge of classical music to add this subject to your feast.  Over time you will begin hearing the differences and develop your own ear.  In this workshop I will be equipping you with the tools from both my past experience as well as Charlotte Mason’s own words to spread confidently this portion of the feast.

Developing a Mason Science Curriculum for the 21st Century: Science as a Living Pursuit with Danielle Merritt-Sunseri

Danielle will examine Mason’s science curriculum and consider how we can interpret her work so that we remain faithful to her intent in our current place and time.  This will include both specific curricular content and the essential roles of relationship, curiosity, and culture.   Let’s examine the hows and whys, so that science might be an inspiration rather than a requirement.

Are you beginning your Charlotte Mason journey? Have you been learning over the past couple of years but are feeling a little overwhelmed? Are you struggling with the methods and are trying to see how to practically apply these ideas with your students? If so…

We invite you to join the Charlotte Mason Institute’s Beginner conference track designed specifically for you. A tailored conference experience is offered for a limited number of individuals. Together we will cover a foundation of Mason’s principles, her Christian vision of education, and her tools for learning through “atmosphere, discipline and life”. This small group will encourage community with others who are at the same stage while also providing interaction and guidance with experienced Charlotte Mason educators.

Uniquely designed workshops include the practical aspects that are helpful for those new to CM; things like habit formation, creating a schedule, and the Mason lesson plan. You attend sessions together and have some informal times built in to the conference days where you can narrate what you are learning, ask questions and get feedback.

As a registered CMI Beginner Track member, you also have the opportunity to continue with your group and join the 2019-2020 Beginner Cohort giving you more community, training and support over the coming year. We meet for a summer Conference Debriefing Webinar. Then, once a term (fall, winter, spring), we hold topic-specific webinars with small group discussion breakouts included. All learning materials provided for these exclusive continuing sessions.

To take advantage of this opportunity select the “Beginner Track” option during registration!

An Introduction to a Charlotte Mason Education
The Basis of Our Days–An Atmosphere, a Discipline, and a Life
The Purpose of Our Days – Fostering Thoughts Toward God
The Rhythm of Our Days

abstracts to be added

Food and Lodging

Meal Options

Please provide any food allergies or sensitivities that you may have. The catering staff wishes to do their best to accommodate your needs.

Option 1 – Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner starting Thursday breakfast and ending with Saturday lunch.


Option 2 – Lunch and dinner only starting with lunch on Thursday and ending with Saturday lunch.


Option 3 – Breakfast, lunch and dinner starting with dinner on Thursday and ending with lunch on Saturday.


Option 4 – Lunch and dinner only starting with dinner on Thursday and ending with lunch on Saturday.




Grand View University has reserved suite-style Town Houses for our the CMI Midwestern/Great Plains Conference. Each Town House will have two bedrooms per floor and a shared living room and bathroom. Linens will be provided at an additional cost. You are allowed to bring your own linens if desired (beds are XL Twins).

Double Room (cost per person)                                     $45.00 per night

Single Occupancy                                                              $60.00 per night

Linens                                                                                  $23.00 per person



Des Moines International Airport is a short 15 minute ride to Grand View University. Super Shuttle is available to transport you to and from the airport. Reservations with Super Shuttle will need to be made 24 hours in advance. (Contact Super Shuttle: 800-258-3826). If you prefer, Uber is also available.

Registration Costs

Registration Discounts

CMI participated in a Facebook fundraiser to help defray some of the registration costs.  We will offer 12 registration fees at a 50% reduction for the Midwestern/Great Plains Conference to individuals who complete a financial need application. Applications Closed.

Immersions (limited to 25)
(Held Thursday, May 16, 2019)

Immersion Registration Cost                                                        $95.95


Alveary and CMI Supporter Registration
January, 2019 – May 10, 2019.

Alveary Member Rate                                                                    $159.95

CMI Supporter Rate                                                                       $159.95


Early Bird General Registration
January, 2019 – April 15, 2019.

Charlotte Mason Group Early Bird Rate*                                  $169.95

General Early Bird Rate                                                                 $179.95

Spouse Early Bird Rate                                                                  $149.95

Teen attending General Conference Early Bird Rate              $149.95

Teen attending Teen Conference Early Bird Rate                   $159.95

College Early Bird Rate                                                                  $154.95


General Registration
April 16, 2019 – May 10, 2019

All registrations (excluding Alveary and CMI Supporter)       $199.95

Cancellation Policy

Before April 25, 2019: 75% refund of total cost (includes registration, meal tickets, lodging, linens, & immersions) is available.

After April 25: no cancelation refunds except in extreme emergency.

Please notify us via email at of your cancellation.

Transfer Policy

Registrations are not transferrable to another person.

*There are three requirements to fulfill to obtain a group registration at this year’s conference.  First, your group must consist of a minimum of three people who are working together or who are seeking to work together in the future. Second, the members of your group must be from the same local community.  Finally, your group must have a name.  You cannot use a name like The Hive which is not a local group.  It must be the name of a local group (for example: Grains of Gold CM Community of Roanoke, VA).