Homeschooling is a journey. Sometimes the path is clear and straight – the sun is shining, and all is well. Other times you have to turn on your fog lights, pray for protection and guidance, and hope that you don’t run over anyone since you can hardly see ten feet ahead. A big part of preventing a wreck is keeping your eyes on what is ahead and keeping your hands on the steering wheel (foresight and a plan of action). This is our story… the story of how I learned to navigate a little better on our homeschool path.
For the past two years, the homeschool road has been getting darker. With the sun set and curves ahead, I’ve been praying about what is around the next bend. It isn’t that I haven’t enjoyed homeschooling… it is just that the children have been in the process of growing up – becoming more mature – and our needs have been changing. Eventually we were bound to come to a curve in the path. Just as a child graduates from baby food and picture books (well, maybe they can still enjoy picture books – I do) they grow out of certain curriculum and teaching methods. I have known for a long time that mine have been needing more than unit studies… less of a strict and stressful (parent-led teaching) schedule… and a lot more nature and literature. I knew that as they grew, what may have worked for them at 2 and 4 might not be the best mode of ‘transportation’ to continue stimulating them intellectually at 10 and 12. And with the gradual changes came a fear of the unknown for the navigator – because it meant I was going to have to steer off the beaten path.
And so began my search into Charlotte Mason. I knew enough about her style to admire her in passing.
A long time ago, I had read about learning styles, teaching styles, homeschool methods, and such. After skimming through these things, I just decided to go with what was working for right then and not worry about stereotypes until much later in the trip. After all, I started homeschooling when my kids were 4 and 2. Anything worked back then. It isn’t hard to educate a toddler and a preschooler. Unit studies were the favorite, so we ran with it. The kids loved learning in a topical, hands-on fashion. They thrived as young kids spending a lot of time on drama, games, dress-up, activities, and field trips. Somehow, though, I ended up getting a little overwhelmed by my perfectionism (fancy that)… the rabbit trails got longer and longer as the kids got older. The lists got burdensome – even for me. We ended up spending too long on things and fizzling out because I was not willing to move on. The planning consumed me and I always felt like a failure because we didn’t get everything done.
This began to wear on the kids. Not just me, but the children. We were all feeling like failures and the joy was quickly ebbing away from our learning experiences. The list was taking on a life of its own. The word ‘school’ was enough to send my kids running to their rooms. I knew something was very wrong.
And so we came to the curve in our homeschooling road.
Me being a mom, I knew that things had to change… and they had to start with me. Thus began the prayers, the discussions, the research. Now here we are with a brand new plan forming. I felt my heart opening and my life beginning to drastically simplify. This was a welcome feeling knowing that our new baby (due in March) was bound to bend us around another hairpin curve.
If you don’t know anything about Charlotte, like I didn’t when my kids were younger, you might just fall in love with the woman if you keep reading. Her ideals and utmost respect and admiration for children are praiseworthy. Here are some reasons below why we’re changing course and planning to turn towards a more Charlotte Mason teaching style:
1. Charlotte believed that the home life should be relaxed, positive, and enjoyable. Lately our homeschooling has been leaving me stressed and negative. I could use a good right turn.
2. Charlotte believed that one of the most important parts of teaching were to help form good habits in the student. I think we all need a good dose of work on habits in our home. After all, self-motivation is the beginning of inspired learning and good work ethic. I don’t want children who can’t be trusted to do a job unless they have someone watching over their shoulder. I want to work myself out of a job.
3. Charlotte believed that all life is a classroom and the goal of the ‘teacher’ is to help the child become self-educated. I believe the way we have done unit studies has taught my children to rely too much on me. Being teacher-led so much has bred in them a hesitation to seek information without being told to do so. Also, because of our topical focus, it has quenched their desire in some cases to learn about other topics that they were interested in because they weren’t “part of our unit”. I don’t think this would be a problem if we had been doing unit studies on occasion, but we have done them for 7 years! I can’t tell you how many times we have set a book aside for a later date when we were “studying that topic”. I want my kids to love to learn and follow their heart’s desires (which God put there), not just a unit study scope or sequence. Life doesn’t come at us in neatly sequenced topical units. We have to be able to multi-task and change gears – all in a matter of hours each day – to be effective and able adults.
4. Charlotte believed that we should be feeding the children the best intellectual food (God’s Word, literature, fine art, nature). I feel that while unit studies can have many of these things added in at times, there is also the tendency to overlook them for lengthy periods or not spend as much time in them as you should. I have pretty much kept up with our Bible, but I know we have lacked the great literature and fine art that we would have been getting with more of a CM method.
5. Charlotte believed you should keep lessons (table time) short and make them a daily routine (part of your life, not ‘school’). In other words, there is no “SCHOOL”, there’s just a family that spends a short amount of time EVERY day (besides the Lord’s Day) around the table doing ‘lessons’. Instead of the rigors of bells (yes we had a bell system – at home), the stress of a long list of assignments, the twaddle of busy-work, and the madness of expecting the children to stay busy when I was busy elsewhere… we plan to truly dedicate a two hour span each day at the same time TOGETHER to do our ‘lessons’ so that it becomes a welcome and positive habit – “a discipline and a life”. No more endless school that exasperates my children. 8 hour school days are for the birds. Well, actually they aren’t – they are for NOBODY. Nobody that isn’t being indoctrinated to become a number in some socialistic workforce, that is.
I want to be one of those women who says that she’s done with formal school by lunch time… the ones I have always scratched my head at in wonder (for the last 7 years). I want to keep our table time short so that the REAL individual and inspired learning (the self-led and delight-driven kind) can happen EVERY day. I want to free up half of our day for the FAVORITES of our educational life… art, poetry, science, nature, reading, ministry, family time, hospitality, personal interests, music, etc. I want my kids to forget the TV and video games ever existed because they are having so much fun LEARNING and DOING.
6. Charlotte believed that a child has a great capacity to remember, memorize, and store information. She suggested that language should be taught by reading and copying great writers (straight from the horses mouth, as us Southern girls would say)… by listening and repeating (narrating) what you have heard. I want my kids to do much more narration, dictation, and transcription so that they learn naturally to be good writers, speakers, and thinkers. I don’t want to TELL them what to think (like most textbooks do). I want to hear what they think about what the great minds of the past have said. I don’t want my kids to rely on the cliff-note version of regurgitated children’s literature. I want them to discover through the finest intellectual sources that life is so much richer than textbook summaries and facts that some narrow professor found to be important.
Unit Studies are great, but we read far too much encyclopedia-type books and not enough living books. I want them to be exposed to and fall in love with amazing art, morsels of written truth, stirring poetry, heroic deeds and moral greatness. I want them to form their own opinions, treasure their own growing intellect, and have their own favorites. I also want them to learn about the people who wrote great books, painted great paintings, made great music, etc. I want them reading biographies and autobiographies about people that matter – not just reading little clips or facts that are not associated with any internal meaningful life experience.
7. Charlotte believed that the habit of boredom comes when a child is forced continually to do what doesn’t come from their heart. I have seen this boredom growing in my family. It begins slowly and turns in to the desire to hide and isolate – to put distractions and twaddle before true learning (which if done properly is much more interesting and fun than anything on TV or the computer). I find that not only are the kids bored, but my husband and I are bored, too. It has infected all of us – and the family unit is, in my opinion, off track when we can’t have fun without spending time in front of a screen every weekend. I think freeing up more time each day for self-driven learning will benefit all of us. Watching others create and grow is inspirational and contagious. Now if I could just get Dad to agree to joining us for family time each night!
8. Charlotte believed that you should spend time outdoors every day. I can think of no better way to get more nature in our lives, more sunshine in our lives, and more spring in our step. Not to mention it would be a wonderful way to continue my daughter’s and my interest in photography. My kids need more vigorous play, exploration, and time alone with the beauty of creation. My long lists and our current schedule just are not cutting it. I have to free up time for this, and CM is the perfect excuse to do so.
9. Charlotte believed that the most productive time of the day was the FREE time. Free doesn’t mean Gameboys and Xbox. Sounds strange, but if you truly consider it, you’ll admit that you are most driven to learn something (see #7) when you are INTERESTED in it. There’s something to be said about child-led education… with a little discipleship and guidance from the people who love the child the most, of course.
10. Doing school the CM way is the result of a heart change brought about by prayer (and a God-given curve in our homeschool road). I needed to revise my goals, revive my joy, and re-commit to the purpose and path we had set out on when we chose to homeschool. Doing school in a box doesn’t allow God to guide us and doesn’t allow us enough time to listen and connect with God or each other. Unit studies themselves are NOT bad. You can do CM and unit studies together, actually. I just think it is time for a little detox for the bee family. I want to slow down and refocus on the atmosphere, the relationships, the priorities and the joy of learning as a lifestyle. I think CM will provide the perfect ‘driving conditions’ to safely get us to the destination we have in mind.
Our entire schedule is going to change… and I think we’re all going to be a lot happier travelers in the near future. For now mom is reading and researching (mapping out the trip), taking her notes and making her lists. We’re looking forward to enjoying our holidays and starting fresh with this next
decade semester of homeschool… a brand new method and a brand new MO (method of operation). Every homeschooler is going to eventually come up on a curve in the road. Often changes in course are truly a gift from the Lord. I think ours will turn out to be a heavenly short-cut.