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When I first began learning about homeschooling, I fell in love with Charlotte Mason. Her thoughts on living books, nature, slow childhood, and the rich array of subjects deeply spoke to me. I read For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer MaCauley and then Charlotte’s own Home Education. I had a good grasp on her principles, and I was all in.
When things just didn’t work for us, I thought my son’s resistance was the main problem. So we went more of the unschooling route because it seemed to “fit” and I do believe deeply in natural learning. However, looking back, I think Charlotte Mason didn’t seem to work for us because of me.
My Past Mistakes
My first mistake, I believe, was trying to do Charlotte Mason “perfectly”. I felt really insecure as a new homeschooling mother, and I wanted “the one, right, and perfect way” that would guarantee success – even at five-years-old. I felt frustrated with our son when he wouldn’t do things “right”, and I felt like a CM failure. I also compared myself to other CM homeschoolers online, instead of embracing who we were as a family. Now I am full of grace for myself four years ago, and I should have stopped reading all those blogs that seemed to do CM in a purist fashion, actually look at my children, and start from there. The more I read her works, the more I see how broad and understanding she was. It was her principles she believed in, her practices recommended.
This leads on to the second reason why I think we struggled: I should have gone slowly. Instead, I jumped on the CM bandwagon and tried to do it all right away. The biggest lesson I have learned over the last year (as we transitioned from unschooling to a more structured homeschool with the Gather ‘Round curriculum), is to go slowly. Start small, and build from there, to where you want to go.
Building Toward Change This Year
This year, after wanting to return to the CM way that I love, I re-added Morning Time (which we had stopped dong for a year or so). But, going slowly, it was a minimal feast: a history book (such as Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin) and a read aloud (such as Treasures in the Snow by Patricia St.John). I then, later in the term, added Memory Work (which is seasonal and only one thing).
At the beginning of Term 2 (here in New Zealand), I added Picture Study (one print a week) and Poetry (a poem a morning). There has been no resistance to these additions to our Morning Time, partly because these riches are not completely unknown to them, but also because I went slowly. Building our daily liturgy slowly has been hugely beneficial and a blessing.
I did this, too, with Math (which has always taken a backburner). I started with 20mins a week on a Monday with a few exercises from our MEP Math. Then, after a few months, we added 10-15mins of Kahn Academy on top of that. By the end of this term (which has taken half the year), we added the same amount of Math onto a Friday. We have made so much progress, and I am thrilled.
As the year has progressed, and we have worked through three Gather ‘Round units, the Lord has been shaping me as an educating mother – strengthening me, growing my confidence as a Mother-Teacher, and sharpening my vision for who my children will be when they leave our home/school. He has brought me continuously back to two principles: words and logic.
Our world is going more and more to the pits, and it is frightening in a way, to think what it will be like when our children are young adults. Sometimes I don’t want to think about it! But, as my husband and I think about what they need to be equipped with – other than a strong relationship with Christ and solid theology, God-willing – we know that they need a strong foundation in language (the power of words, the moral framework in literature, the knowledge of history) and logic (understanding false teaching, detecting fallacy, and strong reasoning skills).
A Christian Classical education appeals greatly for these two reasons, but there are aspects that don’t completely sit well with me (rote memorisation, for example). But, as I go back to Charlotte Mason and her works (I’m halfway through A Philosophy of Education), I see clearly that her principles are exactly what I think our children need – and are what education actually is. So I am reshaping what we are going to be doing for the rest of the year – that is, we’re building and growing into a Charlotte Mason homeschool.
Because of my struggles in the past, I am nervous about the changes we are making. Change is always hard, even if it is toward something delightful and good. But we will be having a different daily schedule, some harder mental work, and broader feast of ideas. I’m seeking the Lord for wisdom, patience, and grace toward myself and our children as we make this change. But I am thankful too, deeply, for the lessons I have learned through our first four years of homeschooling – start small, build slowly.