We first began homeschooling nine years ago. My daughter had just turned five years old and upon making the choice to veer away from the norm and to follow my heart, I did a lot of reading – researching education theory and homeschooling methods. In all honesty, I learned more about education and how children best learn in the first few years of homeschooling than I did in all my teacher training. And in that time, I discovered Charlotte Mason.
Charlotte Mason was a British educator who invested her life to improving the quality of education in England at the turn of the twentieth century. She wrote volumes and held a firm belief that the child is a person and we must educate that whole person, not just his mind. A Charlotte Mason education is three-pronged: in her words,
Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.
This really resonated with me and it has been my mantra ever since. I even use it in my email signature. Recently, I have been giving a lot of thought to Charlotte’s teachings. Specifically, what Charlotte did not say:
- “Education is meeting the requirements of the Common Core.”
- “Education is mastering Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.”
- “Education is what someone does to you by teaching important information through tests and grades.”
Charlotte tells us to take our eyes off “end points” and to focus on creating a rich life through shaping the atmosphere through discipline and through life itself. I so love Charlotte’s vision that I recently sat down to reflect on how we have embraced Charlotte’s teachings in our homeschool.
By “Atmosphere,” Charlotte meant the surroundings in which the child grows up. A child absorbs a lot from his home environment. Charlotte believed that the ideas that rule your life as the parent make up one-third of your child’s education.
In our home we strive to model life-long learning, cultivating an environment that puts education and self-improvement above other pursuits (like television). We have a wall of resources – a library of living books, reference materials, and curriculum. We read both for leisure and for self-improvement. We take part in book discussions with friends.
While traveling, we visit historical sites and museums and incorporate our homeschool studies into our holiday excursions. You can read about our travels on our family travel blog, Well Traveled Family.
My husband and I participate in professional development opportunities regularly. One of the courses that I have most enjoyed is Turning Leaners Into Leaders: Empowering Youth Through Service in Education that is offered FREE this summer through Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots.
I also coordinate learning opportunities for the local homeschool community to ensure that my children have a variety of learning opportunities. The activities my children have most enjoyed include:
- Ooey Gooey Messy Art Camp – Year One, Year Two, and Year Three
- Living History Day
- Annual Homeschool Art Show
In addition to fuel for our brains, we take our physical health seriously. The kids participate in swim team year round, attending practice 3-4 days a week with coaches and peers who are passionate about swim, who set goals, and work hard to achieve them. Though competition is a part of this experience, we don’t schedule our life around swim meets. Our goal is a healthy lifestyle, not college scholarship.
Education is a Discipline
By “Discipline,” Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits—and specifically habits of character. Cultivating good habits in your child’s life make up another third of his education.
Lessons aren’t always fun and games. Rote drill and practice are important – particularly in subjects like math, music, and foreign language. We thereby have weekly lessons all year long to keep these skills sharp.
I try to maintain continuity when it comes to our other lessons. The unschooled within me often wins, however and we have a very relaxed approach. I trust that they will learn the skills they need for success – regardless of how many facts they can recite.
Contributing to family obligations is another key to character development. We utilize a rotating chore assignment and everyone is expected to pull their own weight. Establishing a chore routine takes time and practice. We still have kinks to work out ourselves!
Our regular family meetings help to assure we are on the same page and serve as a venue for airing grievances.
The other third of education, “Life,” applies to academics. Charlotte believed that we should give children living thoughts and ideas, not just dry facts. So all of her methods for teaching the various school subjects are built around that concept.
In the end, it is important to focus on ensuring that people feel heard, loved, and that their dreams can be achieved. Listening to the hearts of my children and allowing them to pursue their passions not only makes learning enjoyable, but allows them the freedom to be innovative. I elaborate on this in my previous post, Independent Study Projects.
With Charlotte as our guide, we allow homeschool to ebb and flow—some weeks making a “course of study” a priority in a systematic way, other weeks learning as we go guided by our curiosity and enthusiasm.
We allow all of life to serve as our classroom—our recent conversation about the state’s decision to ration water in light of the drought is equally important as the math lesson that had been planned.
If you can let go of your need to match the state’s expectations, your own school memories, the pressure of your very academic classical homeschool community, or the stringent requirements of some important university … you can surf the waves of learning as they roll onto your shores.