If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning, you may remember one of my first posts about the different homeschooling styles. You can find the post here. You may wonder what style we adhere to.
The honest answer is that we do not strictly follow any style. We love the interest based learning aspect commonly found in unschooling, but it’s just not enough structure for me. I like the laid back atmosphere, but I need more accountability for myself as a teacher. We tend to follow that kind of style during the school breaks. Any time we do, I am always surprised by how much Claire learns and soaks up, even though we’re not doing formal school.
However, the style that we lean towards the most is Charlotte Mason. While I gave a brief overview in my previous post, I wanted to dive into it a little more in depth here and explain the things we love about it. We are far from Charlotte Mason purists, but there are things that we implement and enjoy.
Children are born persons
One of my favorite things about Charlotte Mason is that she saw children as born persons. They’re not empty vessels, just waited to be filled. They are born with personalities, specific giftings and ways that help them learn best. Thus, no curriculum is the perfect fit for every single child (again, the beauty of homeschooling! You can tailor everything to fit your child).
Knowledge is nourishment
Charlotte Mason also held firmly to the belief that children required knowledge as nourishment for the mind just as much as they required food as nourishment to the body. Thus, Charlotte Mason tried to present a “feast of ideas”: a wide array of varying subjects to provide ample exposure to different things and deepen curiosity. In the same vein of thought, she thought that the things presented to children should be of utmost quality. Just as junk food isn’t good for our bodies, so “junk” literature isn’t good for children’s mind. She referred to those things as “twaddle.”
In our home, we do allow Claire to read and enjoy books of all varieties. Of course, I prefer reading picture books with beautiful illustrations that are beautifully written, but I don’t prevent Claire from picking out a Disney book from the library. So while we allow “twaddle” in our home, we provide a lot of quality literature as well.
One of Claire’s favorite books we read in the past year was Heidi (Johanna Spyri). We actually read the complete and unabridged version. Claire soaked up every bit of it. I was afraid it would be too advanced for her, but it was engaging for her and she truly enjoyed it. Sometimes we think that children are incapable of understanding or enjoying things that seem advanced for their age, but they’re more intelligent than we give them credit for. I feel the same way regarding spiritual matters, but that’s a different post for a different time.
Education is more than just learning a lesson
“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
This is one Charlotte Mason’s most well known quotes. She maintained that education is so much more than just learning for X amount of time per day. Education goes far beyond the classroom and formal school time. Learning happens all the time.
If you’re a parent or you work closely with young children (especially preschool age), you will quickly notice the natural curiosity that all children have. One of their most used phrases is “why?” Adults can be quick to dismiss this and get exasperated by the constant barrage of questions. But to children, education is automatically their life. They’re always growing and desiring to learn. If we’re not careful, formal education can kill this in children.
We can easily want to just get through the lesson, rather than going down rabbit trails of interest lead learning. While the lessons need to get done, we have to find a balance to not take the fun and wonder out of learning. After all, if a child is drudging through their schoolwork miserably, are they even really learning anything? Are they absorbing knowledge, soaking it in? Or are they just memorizing dates to pass a test? This brings me to my next point.
Rather than test taking, Charlotte Mason preferred narration. Put simply, narration is the child telling back what they heard. After a lesson, rather than taking a test, she would ask the child to share what they heard and learned. This cements the knowledge in the child’s mind as they are putting it in their own words, but it is also a great gauge for the teacher as to what was absorbed. Charlotte Mason thought there was no point in children memorizing the dates of certain events if they couldn’t remember why the events occurred or their significance.
This is not to say that memorization isn’t important in Charlotte Mason’s methods. She emphasized memorization of scripture, hymns and poems, even at a very young age. She just didn’t like the idea of teaching to a test, just so children would “pass.” Memorization does not equal knowledge.
As the children get older, they change from oral narration to written narration. This helps children learn to express their thoughts both vocally and on paper. Of course, the narration for younger children is not nearly as in depth as the narration expected from older children. It begins simply and then grows. As older children do written narrations, they are learning how to write essays on what they’ve learned, which is a very valuable and necessary skill.
This was the biggest thing that attracted me to Charlotte Mason’s style. She believed that, rather than reading dry textbooks, living books were the best way to teach children. What are living books? They are simply books that make a subject come alive. If you’ve ever read historical fiction, you can see how easy it is to become immersed in a time period and how much you can learn about different periods of history through them.
Obviously there are terrific books that you can choose for this and also some that are shallow or inaccurate depictions. This is why Charlotte Mason placed so much emphasis on the quality of the books that are used (this goes back to my point on knowledge as nourishment). Living books can be either fiction or nonfiction.
Have you ever tried to teach a long lesson to a small child? It doesn’t take long to lose their interest. Charlotte Mason believed in keeping lessons short. The idea was to keep the lesson to the child’s attention span. This keeps learning fresh and fun. After all, if the child is daydreaming and no longer paying attention, they aren’t really learning anymore. The lessons progress in length as the child gets older, but for young children, the lessons are kept short and engaging.
By keeping lessons short, it enables the teacher to cover a wide range of subjects in a shorter amount of time. This makes the “feast of ideas” possible. Not only are you covering the basic essentials (reading, math, history, science, etc), but also exposing the child to all kinds of things that are often missed (classical music, art appreciation, foreign language, habit training, nature study, poetry, etc).
We did not even come close to covering a lot of the things Charlotte Mason thought were important this past year, but we did enjoy some classical music and a few other things. In all honesty, I wasn’t very concerned about it. Charlotte Mason also thought formal education shouldn’t begin until age 6. Younger children should be allowed to learn through exploring the world around them. Obviously we did formal school in kindergarten, but it was much more laid back for this reason.
The other reason for short lessons is so the child has afternoons off. This gives the child a lot of free time. The free time means the child is able to play, spend time outdoors and have time to pursue their own interests and hobbies. If you’ve read my post on why we homeschool, you know that one of the reasons I didn’t want Claire to go to public school is that she’d be cooped up inside all day doing school, only to come home, do homework, go to bed and do it all over again the next day. I love the idea of Claire having time to play and enjoy exploring things she finds interesting.
Rather than having long lectures on science, Charlotte Mason instead preferred to go on walks and study nature. This simplifies science. There is so much to be learned by observing the world around us! She and her students would go on nature walks during the week (once or twice, if my memory serves me) and spend time studying what they found. They would examine the plants, insects, animals and trees and research them. Each student kept a nature journal where they would record their findings through drawing and writing.
I will admit that we are not great at doing this consistently. In fact, we do have a formal science curriculum we are implementing this fall. However, I have noticed how much learning takes place when we do nature walks. We usually bring back some of our findings and try to find out more about them. A few weeks ago, we went on a nature walk at a state park nearby. We brought back feathers, leaves and some sort of nut that fell off some of the trees. We identified what all of them were the next day and it was so fun! I’ll admit, I enjoyed it just as much as Claire did.
This is far from a comprehensive list of all that the Charlotte Mason method entails. If you’ve read anything that makes you want to learn more, I encourage you to read some of her works, especially A Philosophy of Education (The Home Education Series) (Volume 6). Since it was written in the early 1900s, the written style certainly reflects that. It is a more difficult read if you’re unaccustomed to that. If you’re interested in reading it for free, you can find it on Ambleside Online (they also have a free, complete curriculum). However, I prefer reading it in book form, rather than on a screen.
A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning(TM), written by Karen Andreola is another terrific resource. It has a lot of practical tips on what it looks like to implement Charlotte Mason’s method in your homeschooling. It’s based off Charlotte Mason’s original works, so it’s the next best thing. I certainly recommend reading Charlotte Mason’s books for yourself, but Karen Andreola’s book is also a must read.
As I’ve said, we don’t exclusively use any method to homeschool, but this method has influenced our choices the most. I encourage you to look into Charlotte Mason’s methods to see if any of them are a good fit for you! What method of homeschooling do you prefer?