This past year of homeschooling could be summed up in one word…crazy! We started out great and had a solid six weeks of learning before life got turned upside down. Between moving in the fall, staying with my parents for six weeks, moving again to Georgia, and then getting settled into a new community and a new church, which has an insanely busy schedule, school became strictly about survival, not about prospering! During the stay at my parents, however, I had a little more time to evaluate and reflect on our current model of education and it was during this time that God began to give me a discomfort with the direction we were heading. Our curriculum consisted of pulling together a variety of books, all sources listed in Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Trained Mind. Most of the books were great in and of themselves, but the pace and the methods (particularly large amounts of strict memorization) were just not working for Mikias. He was getting more and more frustrated with school and feeling more and more defeated. I was feeling more and more disappointed because we spent such large amounts of time just trying to grasp the basics of the information, that we never had any time for the fun extras like history activities and art projects. Once we got settled in Georgia, I began to seriously pray about what God would have us do next year for school. I knew something had to change but I wasn’t sure where to start. But I love when we get to that place of not having a clue what God would have us to do and then He so clearly speaks. I ran across this post on my friend Tara’s blog. I had heard of Charlotte Mason before and even looked into her briefly, but I decided I needed to know more. Funny enough, that same week I had lunch with a new friend from church who also home schools, and she randomly mentioned to me that she was in the process of switching to a complete Charlotte Mason education with her children. I came home from lunch, e-mailed Tara and she recommended starting with “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay to wet my appetite in Charlotte Mason’s educational ways.
I ordered it, and promptly dove in. Its a book about education, but it focuses largely on the work of a Christian educator named Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) from Ambleside, England. This post could never contain all of the wonderful ways that Mason thought of children and wrote of the ways in which they best learn. But I will share the three propositions of her philosophy that have impacted me the most. First, education is a life. I need not look at our time in the school room as the only time that I am educating my children. Instead, when I correct a disagreement and require reconciliation, I am educating my children. When a child stands beside me with the mixer as we prepare a cake, I am educating my child. When the children gather around the coffee table to tackle a load of laundry, I am educating my children. When we discuss the verses of a favorite hymn, I am educating my children. What a marvelous way to think of our everyday life…even in what seem to be the most mundane of days, my children are still learning and I am their primary source to learn of the world around them and the God who made it all. But if I want to give them the best, I won’t only offer them great life experiences “but also the best mankind has produced in art, books, music, ideas and many more areas” (p.83). Secondly, children are born persons. Obvious, right? But oh how often I fail to respect them in the individual ways that God has created them and appreciate who they are!
Charlotte Mason was, however, a realist. She accepted the little child exactly as he was. She did not romanticize him, but she appreciated him and looked with wonder at what she found (p. 14).
Lastly, and probably what I love most about Charlotte Mason’s method was her use of living books. Living books are whole books of well-written literature which are used in the curriculum instead of standard textbooks. And typically they will always wet the appetites and tastes of young children far more than a bunch of mumble-jumble facts from a textbook. So we work our way through good books about history, science, literature and we read fables and stories and poetry. And, instead of taking a multiple-choice test or completing a worksheet, the children are then required to narrate back or re-tell what they have just heard. I know…it sounds a bit out there at first, but a few days in and I’m already seeing how the principle works. Once a child is required to tell back the information they have just heard (whether its a poem about your shadow or the landscape of Ancient Egypt), they have no choice but to train themselves to listen carefully, to internalize what they are hearing and to then make it their own by using their own choice of words to explain what they have just heard. And once they’ve done that, they most likely won’t forget what they’ve learned. Of course as they get older, the children will write out their narrations and not do everything orally. Nevertheless, I’m finding it to be such a more effective way of learning and it especially seems to fit the way God has wired my children.
We are two days in to our 2012-2013 school year and I’m more excited about what we are learning and how we are learning it than I ever have been before. Just today we spent an hour and a half on a nature trail, exploring whatever we could. Molly Kate and Miles spent a good majority of the time fascinated with big black carpenter ants and before we left, Molly Kate made an entry in her nature journal with an amazingly accurate drawing of the ant. During her observation, I gently guided her, encouraging her to see how many legs it had, how many parts he had in his body and told her the names of those parts. She had the opportunity to watch it and linger over it and truly experience it…and she enjoyed it. How vastly different from my science education where I was required to read about the ant in a textbook and then memorize and label its parts on a worksheet, never really caring much at all about where the ant lived or how fast he could move or the fact that my all-powerful God created so many different kinds of ants.
If you are considering home schooling your own children, I would highly recommend spending some time considering Charlotte Mason’s philosophies of education and I would recommend this book as a starting point. I think you’ll find it fascinating and then be asking yourself, much like I did, why haven’t I thought of this before? It makes so much sense!