"Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education."It is hard to believe that we are in the midst of our fourth year of homeschooling. What started out as a vision years before my first child had even taken her first steps has grown into a beautiful, daily reality that has become a lifestyle for our family.
To be at home with my children has changed me in ways that I could have never imagined. The bonds that have been formed between mother and child, father and child and between siblings are precious gifts that I treasure above many other things in life.
We follow Charlotte Mason's philosophies when it comes to educating our children and often I am asked why we chose this path as opposed to the many other paths of education and schooling.
Simply put, it is a beautiful, rich, liberal education that reaches the depths of the spirit, intellect and physical body alike. It truly takes into account the whole being and leaves nothing of the child to be neglected or pushed to the wayside.
Some of the other aspects of a Charlotte Mason education that encouraged us to choose this method are as follows.
the use of living books- whole or living books are books that are written by a single author who shares personally his or her favorite subject with the reader, thus transferring their enthusiasm and passion to the reader. This would be the opposite of text book learning. A simple way to tell if a book is a living book is to simply read the first page and see if it captures the attention of your heart, mind and soul.
the simplicity and effectiveness of narration- after reading part or the entirety of a living book, a child is able to dig out information and knowledge that has been specifically impressed upon him or her and tell it back in their own words. Narration also provides a child with the opportunity to form an opinion or make a judgement. Narration takes the place of fill-in-the-blank type learning and relies upon the child's own effort and attention.
the wonderful family gift of no homework- with Charlotte Mason's philosophy there is no need for homework in the elementary years "because the child immediately deals with the literature at hand and proves his or her mastery by narrating at the time of the reading" (Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola). This aspect has been such a blessing in our home as we are able to enjoy our evenings as a family and are free to pursue other activities. My children are able to begin unwinding after dinner and this makes the transition to bedtime peaceful and smooth.
no letter grades- Miss Mason wished that children be motivated by their own creativity, faith and love instead of external prizes, competition or grades. The result is a carefree, creative and interested child whose stress is minimized and passion for learning enhanced by the true spirit of wanting to simply know more about a subject.
short lessons- the habit of attention is an integral part of a CM education. The idea is to keep lessons short enough to capture the child's attention and to encourage concentration. In the early years this may mean fifteen to twenty minutes for each lesson. Dawdling, daydreaming and distraction are kept at bay by keeping the lessons short!
the luxury of free afternoons- formal lessons are encouraged to end by 1pm and even earlier if the children are quite young. Often times we are done by lunchtime and have the remainder of the afternoon to pursue and enjoy our hearts' desires- leisure time if you will! Leisure for little ones often includes using their bodies to run, climb, play outdoors or build and is usually a time for art, free-reading, fort building, acting out plays, games, practicing an instrument, cooking, handicrafts and playing with friends.
independent child-led learning- when I first started using CM years ago, I often felt guilty because I wasn't "teaching" or "lecturing" my children the way I remembered the traditional classroom to look like. Instead, there are few lectures and the learning is left to the child. This is primarily gained through the use of narration- learning in it's most authentic form. No pre-digested ideas by the teacher, text books or notes taken during a lecture to rely upon.
the use of ideas and culture as the cornerstone to education- Charlotte Mason believed that the "mind feeds upon ideas", much like the body grows on good, wholesome food. To quote Charlotte, " Ideas must reach us directly from the mind of the thinker, and it is chiefly by the means of the (living) books they have written that we get in touch with the best minds." These ideas include all forms of human expression such as paintings, poetry, music, dance and the like. She believed that the appreciation and exposure to the humanities was not a "luxury, a tidbit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life".
the strong encouragement of mother culture- Charlotte wished to keep the teachers or in our modern-day situation, the homeschooling parent (usually the mother) in touch with ideas and culture as well. She encouraged mothers to always have a good book going and to find ways to continue to grow in the spiritual and intellectual life. For me this has been a vital part of maintaining a balanced, peaceful and enjoyable life amidst hours spent each and every day with all of my children without much of a reprieve.
As I write this post I am encouraged even further as I put these thoughts into words and dig a bit into Charlotte's words of wisdom...