I believe in the trivium, the chronological study of history, and classical education in general. But lately, I’ve felt the pressure of keeping up and have been on the search for some inspiration. I found it, surprisingly in Charlotte Mason’s ideas, and I wanted to share some of the ideas that have been inspiring me (including a list of free ebooks available through the SimplyCharlotteMason website.) I love both classical and Charlotte Mason ideas so much, that I’m blending the two as we move forward in our homeschool. From now on, we are classically Charlotte Mason in our approach.
This single concept has made a world of difference in our day. Charlotte Mason proposes short, concentrated lessons, about 15-20 minutes max. for my oldest. That seems impossible at first, but it is amazing how much you can accomplish in that amount of time and the QUALITY of what is accomplished in those moments. Charlotte Mason’s thought was to teach concentration. By prolonging a lesson, we are inadvertently teaching our kids to daydream and drift during a lesson. But when you end a lesson before the daydreaming starts, everyone stays focused for those few precious moments of learning; and my child is taught to put all of his mind into that subject.
Another benefit is that my child’s brain gets the breaks it needs in each particular discipline. For instance, with short lessons, I’m not exhausting one particular area of his brain. We don’t read for an hour. We don’t stare at math problems for 40 minutes. Instead, we quickly move through 20 min. of math, a 20 min. read-aloud, 20 min. of copy work and memory chants, another 20 min. for independent work, etc. What happens if something doesn’t get finished? Come back to it later, in another 20 minute segment after the brain has had a break. Or, come back to it on another day! But before you say it will never work, try it. Try it just for one day. You will be stunned at the difference.
Atmosphere, Discipline, Life
Charlotte Mason defines education as an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. The questions and thoughts inspired by the free ebook Education Is have been most helpful in centering my thoughts on what is important to our family. Another freeing thought is that our homeschool routine is not my only avenue for teaching discipline when it comes to time management and scheduling. A little freedom here will not ruin my children’s characters because their training in these areas is (or ought to be) supplemented in other areas. So if I give us a little freedom in the morning to learn casually, that doesn’t mean they will never be able to make it to work on time as adults.
I wasn’t expecting parenting advice when I researched a homeschool method. On one hand, it makes sense since one is merely an extension of the other. But the resources on habits and character-training have been very inspiring and helpful. Charlotte suggests choosing one character trait to make a habit and concentrating my effort in that area. Instead of nagging, decide on a non-verbal reminder with your child so that the decision and mental process becomes part of the habit, forming a new route of thought for your child’s brain. Acknowledge the difference between the want and the will. (This was huge for me since I have a child that REALLY struggles with this.) A “strong-willed” child is really a “weak-willed” child since the child does not have the will-power or strength of character to deny his want in order to make a right choice. Suggestions are also given for strengthening the will of a child intentionally through positive instruction.
One word of caution here to be a discerning reader. Charlotte Mason, from what I understand from some of her writings, believed that children are neither good nor bad but are a blank slate influenced by environment. I, on the other hand, believe the Bible teaches that there is no one good, not even one, and that our only path to “goodness” or “righteousness” is through Christ and the regenerating of the Holy Spirit. Does that mean we don’t need good habits? Hardly. I see habits as preparing the soil for the seeds of the Holy Spirit’s fruit. Character is the fruit, and I can’t MAKE character grow, but good habits can water and nurture those seeds of God’s grace.
Hopeful, Expectant, Serene and other parenting tips
These three words literally have the ability to change the mood and direction of an entire day. When I’m about to correct my children, these words have continually come to mind. Am I going to be negative and critical with what I’m about to say, or do I have a hopeful, expectant attitude? Am I anticipating obedience or disobedience? Are the kids picking up on my own anxiety and tension, or am I communicating a peaceful, serene attitude? Am I at peace? Oh, my goodness! There is a wealth of wisdom here that has been very equipping and empowering.
Simplicity and Nurturing a Love for Ideas
“When more is actually less” is a Charlotte Mason principle I’m trying to consciously implement. It will be very freeing when I grasp this. For instance, I don’t have to teach every artist of the Renaissance to be effective. The CM method suggest three artists and three composers a year, giving your child a chance to form a relationship and connection with the people and their work. I’ve seen the difference this makes, to really take our time and explore someone rather than plow through all of the bios. It really comes down to facts versus connections with people and ideas. Both have their place. I’ve just got to wrap my mind around where that place will be. I know I haven’t done justice to a lot of the ideas, but really my intent was to spark curiosity, to maybe send someone else on their own journey of discovery and inspiration and freedom. There is a lot to be gained here, even if CM is not entirely the direction for you.
Classically Charlotte Mason
So what does this mean going forward for us? How do these principles of Charlotte Mason blend with ideas of a classical education? Beautifully, and nearly seamlessly, these two philosophies compliment each other so well. We still will keep the 4-year cycle of history and the learning divisions that are key to a classical education: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. We’ll still emphasize memorization, worldview, and Socratic discussion. But I’ll have an opportunity to add beauty and variety to our day, flexibility and freedom. I’m so looking forward to this merger. Classically Charlotte Mason, for us, is really the best of both worlds; I’m getting to have my cake and eat it, too!