The other day someone, on learning that we homeschool, asked what curriculum we use. (Because, after “But what about socialisation?” questions about curriculum are the most frequently asked.) I started to ramble on about Charlotte Mason and living books and how it’s all about God and everything pointing toward God, but I could see when the person’s eyes kind of glazed over and they smiled blankly at me.
So I decided I needed to work on my Charlotte Mason elevator speech.
A post in one of the Facebook groups I belong to led me to this example. But I wanted one that was exactly 100 words, for no particular reason except it seems like a nice, round number. So I played around with the examples, until I reached my magic number of 100.
And this is the result:
For those of you who still have no idea what I’m going on about or would like to see how this plays out in our home, keep reading. (I’ll try to be as brief as possible.)
A Charlotte Mason education recognises the child as an individual created in God’s image. This seems like a no-brainer, but how often do we treat our children as not-quite-persons, as empty vessels who need to be filled and moulded and taught how and what to think? How often do we disregard their preferences because we’re the parents so we know best – when maybe it’s okay that one child doesn’t like corn and another refuses to eat onions. There are things I don’t like to eat, and, because I’m an adult, no one forces me to. Charlotte Mason stated that children are born persons – just like you and me, only smaller and less mature, obviously – persons with the natural ability to think and wonder and know. When I am intentional about thinking about my children’s personhood, I am astounded at the things they think and wonder about, the questions they ask, and the knowledge they already possess.
His education connects him to the world around him, builds relationships with God and people from various places and times, and emphasises the value of outdoor life. Charlotte Mason said that education is the science of relations. It took a few weeks for Angie to start connecting the various stories we have been reading, and it has been so delightful to see her excitement as she connects the dots in her mind. She has also started to relate to the various characters and is invested in what happens to them. We have also become more intentional about spending time outdoors, not just in blissful oblivion, but actively observing what’s happening in the nature surrounding us. Now, almost daily, they bring me earthworms or bugs or shongololos, and everything stops as they get eye-to-eye with some mushrooms that sprouted overnight. I have a collection of feathers piled on the dining room table, another collection of fallen leaves nearby, and a handful of acorns in my handbag.
Focused attention at short, varied lessons keeps the mind fresh, leaving plenty of free time to pursue personal interests. We don’t spend more than 20 minutes on a subject, which is recommended for the lower forms. It has been a challenge for me to let go of my lesson outline for the year – especially with maths – but the whole point is for my children to learn at their pace, so I’m trying to be more relaxed. Angie is a daydreamer, too, so we’re working on the habit of attention. I’ve started setting a timer which is helping us to stay on track. I’m still trying to get the lesson mix right, and not lump all the similar things together.
Living books introduce the child to vital ideas rich in truth, beauty and goodness. A text book presents information in a factual, dry manner. Living books present information in a way that brings it alive in the imagination. Instead of memorising a list of historical events by date, a child – or adult – reads a book like The Little Duke that touches the heart and imparts moral values in addition to historical information. Angie often asks me to keep reading, then sighs dramatically when I tell her she’ll have to wait until the next week to find out what happens next. If Emmy happens to be listening, she’ll often make comments like “Oh, he shouldn’t have done that” or “That wasn’t a very nice thing to do.” I am also trying to de-twaddle-fy our bookshelves, but I have to be sneaky about it.
Narration teaches him to process these ideas. In telling back what he or she has just heard, the child processes and internalises the information. It’s been said, “If you can’t tell it to someone, you don’t know it.” Children are natural narrators – who among us parents hasn’t had to listen to a three-hour retelling of your child’s favourite movie? Several times? And yet narration is also a learned skill. It’s one thing to be able to retell something that you enjoy, but when you have to learn to pay attention to something you don’t particularly enjoy, or with language that is challenging (Parables of Nature, Pilgrim’s Progress, I’m looking at you) then narration can be tricky. It has been gratifying to see Angie’s narration skills improve over the course of this term. She knows when she’s narrated properly, because she’ll ask me how that particular narration was. Sometimes she still throws in a “But you just read it to me; why must I tell it back to you?”
Copywork, dictation and notebooks replace worksheets. Occasionally I will choose a passage for Angie to copy, but most of the time she picks her own. She does five minutes of print and five minutes of cursive every day. (She begged to start cursive this year, and I wasn’t about to say no.) At the moment she’s still just doing cursive letters. Her print copywork has improved so much. Miss Mason insisted on perfection, and Angie has figured out that if the word isn’t written properly the first time, I’m just going to make her erase it and do it again. We haven’t started dictation yet; that’ll only happen in a year or two. Angie has her own journal in which she records things she wants to remember. It’s not a commonplace book, but I think it’s good to get into the habit of keeping a journal.
The teacher directs the course of study, but learning is the student’s responsibility. It is not the parent or teacher’s responsibility to spoon-feed the child information bit by bit, but to present a wide feast of ideas. The child will make his or her own connections. A person cannot be forced to learn anything – Can I tell you how relieved this makes me feel? I think homeschool moms tend to carry the burden of their children’s education and the idea that it’s not my job to make them learn, only to spark the desire to learn, is a weight off my shoulders. I’m learning so much too, so I guess I’m more their fellow student than all-knowing teacher.