Story 3: Lauren
Kids Ages: 8, 6, 2
Style: Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason, a late 19th century educational philosopher and teacher, explained education as a discipline, an atmosphere, and a life. For Charlotte Mason, and those like me who follow her method, education is measured, not by how many facts a child memorizes over his school career, but by how much a child cares, and about how many different things he cares. Has the child’s education helped him or her flourish as a person? Miss Mason designed her approach to education to nurture and develop the child as a person, not just fill his mind with information.
In a Charlotte Mason education the lessons do not merely introduce facts, but introduce the child to new ideas through the use of original sources. We read classic literature in its original language rather than abridgments, we read great poets (and not just those who wrote for children), we listen to famous composers, take quiet excursions into nature, and sit silently to observe pieces of art. As the children meet these great minds (and creations) first hand, and mull over the new ideas, relating them to the rest of their acquired knowledge, they make the ideas their own. Miss Mason considered this act of internalizing and applying new ideas self-education – the only kind of education which makes an indelible mark on the person of a child. But lessons, the discipline of education, are only one facet of her approach.
The atmosphere of the home is an equal part of education. The home is a place that can either encourage and instill a love for learning in children – or stifle it. For us, this looks like welcoming our children’s collections of pinecones, seed pods, nut shells, feathers, and rocks inside. We keep a houseplant garden in the kitchen and decorate with my son’s mineral collection. Our bookcases, corners, and tables overflow with “living” books waiting to be picked up. The kids cook, clean, garden, care for our animals, manage their money, play, listen to music, and help each other learn new skills as part of their whole-person learning. I try to demonstrate a love for learning through my own reading, artistic pursuits, nature journaling, and hobbies. These activities don’t necessarily show up in our daily schedule, but are just as important to our homeschool as the books we read and paper-based work we do.
By “education is a life” Miss Mason meant that children (and adults!) need constant food to sustain their life – physical food, spiritual food, and mental food. It would be wrong, she thought, to focus on healthy food and exercise, but feed them a mental diet of dry “sawdust.” She considered rote memory work, endless worksheets, and boring textbooks to be stifling to a child’s mind and spirit. Rather, living books, original art and music, poetry and literature in their full form should be used. The child will stretch to meet the challenge of understanding them, and take what he can from the “great feast” laid before him. She didn’t neglect the body, either! She was a proponent of exercise, climbing trees, taking risks, and even yelling for the sake of the child’s development (honey to this boy-mom’s heart!)!
I shared this quick introduction to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, because while our approach to homeschooling can be glimpsed in our daily schedule, its set against the lifestyle flowing from the philosophy that education is a discipline, an atmosphere, and a life.
Our Typical Day
A typical day for us begins when the kids wake up around 7:30 or 8. We have breakfast together and the children complete their chores. Then we gather in the living room for “morning time.” My eight-year-old, six-year-old, and two-year-old all participate in this time. Cuddled on the sofas or sprawled on the floor we begin with a hymn we’re learning, then prayer, a passage from Scripture, and practicing our memory verses. We then go into a fairytale or folktale, a history story from our current time period, a moral story from Aesop’s Fables, and a few selections from a children’s illustrated collection of poetry. Depending on the season we usually have a poem and/or story related to the time of year. For the fall we read Ox-Cart Man most days, and over the winter we’ve been reading Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. We work on learning and singing a folksong when I can tell they need a break from listening to me read. We include Spanish lessons in morning time as well. We learn simple useful phrases and actions to accompany them, which we practice each day.
The three- and six-year-old take a break after morning time to play. My eight-year-old heads into our school room for his seated work. He works on handwriting, spelling, math, geography, and mapwork mostly independently. We use a “living book” for geography, which vividly describes the area we’re studying, then we trace and label the region with its major cities, bodies of water, mountain ranges etc onto a blank map.
My six-year-old then joins me for handwriting (making a few strokes perfectly), math (counting and sorting manipulatives), and early reading skills (recognizing letter sounds and short words). Then he gets another break to get his energy out!
While I work with my six-year-old, my eight-year-old is assigned to read his literature book -currently Robinson Crusoe- a historical fiction or biography, and a heavier history book on his own. Then I join him and read out loud from either our Shakespeare play or Bullfinch’s Age of Chivalry, depending on the day.
We take a break for lunch, and often listen to a folktale or music while we eat. Then we have about two hours of free time. The little one naps (sometimes!) and the boys play outside, build with Legos, make forts, or occupy themselves with other games and crafts.
In the late afternoon we come back together for a snack, during which I read from two books. I rotate through reading from our nature lore book, a poem from our focus poet, and a biography of our composer (which also includes listening to pieces of music).
On different afternoons throughout the week, we take nature walks and add entries to our natural journals, practice art skills, like sculpting, drawing, and watercolor, and do a picture study on a famous work of art by our current artist. We also participate in fun Bellingham Parent Partnership Program classes for the boys twice a week.
Not all days go smoothly, and we sometimes take a lot of breaks and skip subjects, but even when some of our discipline is lacking, I know my children are gleaning from the atmosphere of joyful learning and exploration in our home. I love learning alongside them through the beautiful literature, poetry, art, music, and nature study. Charlotte Mason’s insistence that parents continue to nurture their own minds, spirits, and bodies is one more reason why I believe this homeschooling approach will help our whole family to thrive.