What did I learn? What are my final reactions? That it was worth every minute of my time and the sacrifices I made. It turned out to be a very enriching education for me as well as my children, thanks to the Charlotte Mason method.
Even under the best of circumstances homeschooling was at times not only tiring but also thankless. There were months on end without any show of gratitude, which incidentally, Charlotte Mason calls the “holy emotion.”
However, there were many realizations that helped me, and I want to share them with you. Among the most crucial was the awareness that neither the children themselves nor the fact that I homeschooled them was accidental. Both were from God Himself. With an ordination like that, I felt empowered. I did not just fall into homeschooling one day—I was called to homeschool. That fact kept my head above water many times. To paraphrase Charlotte Mason: The mother who feels that she has God behind her does not behave with levity and weakness. Instead, she holds her due position in the family as a trust that she has no right to give up.
Secondly, I kept my individuality. I did not copy my homeschooling friends, and I recommend that you also avoid that tendency. I was one of the very few homeschooling parents in my state who knew who Charlotte Mason was. Had I relied on following fads and friends I might not have learned how to implement the CM method.
My children were also individuals with varying strengths. Some were good at math and some were good at writing. One of my toddlers ate green food, any green food—pickles, peas, peppers—she did not care. She was nothing like her four siblings. Perhaps I should have checked her for colorblindness, but I learned that not all of my children were going to be exactly alike in their preferences and learning abilities.
Looking back, I am glad I embraced our individualism. From the very beginning I knew that homeschooling was not a competition, it was not a popularity contest, and there was no one formula that could guarantee results 100 percent of the time.
As I learned and experimented with new Charlotte Mason concepts such as nature study, art appreciation, narration, whole books, and living books, I was well on my way to being the most well-adjusted homeschooling mom that I knew. I understand that is quite a compliment to pay oneself, but it was true nonetheless. The techniques and philosophies of the CM method really were very effective.
Certainly, every homeschooling mom wants to be happy, and yet human nature tends to focus on whatever is negative. This is likely the reason Christians are asked to meditate on what is noble, pure, lovely, and praiseworthy. Focus on the good; look for what is right about your children, not what is wrong and what they do not know.
At the same time, Charlotte Mason, as an education expert, recommended that we encourage children to stretch their minds—and to never forget that it is the students who propel themselves, who work, and who learn. Yes, we teach, but we cannot hop into their little bodies and make them learn. That is their job, not the teacher’s.
Narration is one good example of stretching minds while staying positive. In short, narration is the act of “retelling” what one has learned and knows about any given topic. This approach looks for what is positive, because it brings out what the child knows instead of looking for what the child does not know or cannot recall. It is one way to focus on the positive.
In the Charlotte Mason method we stretch the mind of the child by allowing his or her mind to act upon the material we have covered. This applies to all of our homeschool—math, literature, a field trip—everything we are doing and learning. As we experience things alongside our child, our minds also act on the material and form opinions and thoughts. However, we stand out of the way and let our student do the thinking and the retelling. Many educational methods rely on the question-and-answer method. First the subject is covered, and then comprehension questions are presented. It was said in the CM schools that he who creates the summary questions, following the lesson, does most of the work. He uses his mental capacity more than the student who simply answers them. For example, answering questions is, at times, similar to a person filling in an easy crossword puzzle far below his ability. It lacks that mental stretch, and there cannot be any growth from so little exertion.
Some children may think that it is fun to work below their level, but a “fun” education may not actually result in a well-educated person. I have observed classroom teaching. Quite often the teacher is overly concerned with having fun, not challenging the child. This builds false self-confidence, not the healthy kind of self-assurance that is based on actual skills.
I have also witnessed some homeschooling families being overly preoccupied with having fun, and I have seen poor results with that as well. The Charlotte Mason method is fun, and it is enriching and rewarding, but it is also challenging and results in retention of knowledge. Holding on to true knowledge while having fun is good. My observation of public schools has led me to think they are too committed to building strong egos and missing the big picture, the goal of knowledge. We do not have to sacrifice the well-being of the students to meet our educational goals. I know for a fact, from using the CM method, that you can have both. Moms and students can have fun, stretch their minds, exert their capabilities, and be broadly educated.
Another thing I have learned is that time is consistent: it passes whether you are active or passive, conscientious or lazy. There is no stopping it, but it can be used to your advantage. Homeschooling is like getting in shape. One workout does not make anyone fit. Rather, getting in shape requires a progression of activity, using a daily approach. Three or four workouts a week can bring actual results. Reading a very long book requires the same approach. Reading one page at a time adds up, and soon the whole book is completed.
I learned that taking small bites, using baby steps, putting in some time daily adds up. This works better than “intending” to do school and never getting around to starting. It also works better than trying to cram a week’s worth of work into one day. If you apply yourself to invest a little bit of time to schoolwork daily, then at the end of the week you will have accomplished something. And those weeks quite obviously turn into months.
Wasting time is a Charlotte Mason “no-no,” and I can think of no better example than video gaming. Personally, I can assert that video gaming is the opposite of a Charlotte Mason education. It is possible that your children will be able to game responsibly, and the opposite is also possible. If you know someone at risk of gaming addiction, please read Playstation Nation by the Bruners.
Attempt to counteract potentially addictive gaming and other “time-killing” pursuits by going outside in nature as often as possible. It goes without saying that looking out of a window is not the same as being outside. This is ultra-important and deserves your attention. It is healing and restorative to go outside daily, and it greatly helps to put things into their proper perspective. City dwellers can easily ignore the night sky, mountain cliffs, rivers, and meadows and even forget about them entirely. The cure? Plan vacations that include outdoor activities, take walks, and go on long hikes. This is one of the most crucial goals you can add to your homeschool, regardless of what method you are involved with. This is critically important and can be life-changing for children of all ages. Charlotte Mason wanted young people to understand that our world was created by God, and she knew that the magnificence of His creation is best appreciated through firsthand observation.
Thirty-one years ago, while holding my first little baby in my arms, an older man said to me, “Do not scream and yell at your child.” (Let me reassure you, I was not yelling nor in any way angry at my little newborn.) He went on to say, “She will only remember the strong emotions you displayed, not the reason you were yelling and raging.” I appreciate being warned of the potential harm of angry screaming. I have never forgotten his words.
Gentleness is a lovely practice, and the very word evokes many tender images. We enjoy a gentle rain and a kind expression. Jesus described Himself as gentle. For His followers, it is one fruit of the Holy Spirit. We all yearn to be treated gently. We may extend gentleness to strangers as often as we cross their paths; however, is this always the case in our homes?
Charlotte Mason mentions gentleness in regard to parenting, and I believe in this wholeheartedly. She cites one of my favorite verses: “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all.” (2 Timothy 2:24) I love that verse, and I find it to be very practical. Do you apply that verse with your children? Charlotte Mason writes that this verse is not restricted to certain people but that it is the “secret of strength” for every parent who is guiding young ones in her home. Discipline can be firm and yet not frighteningly harsh.
The thanklessness of homeschooling can multiply until it feels like the most ongoing aspect of your daily life. After many years I received an unintended “thank you” from one of my children. On an ordinary night my son was on his way to bed. He turned and spontaneously said, “I’m looking forward to homeschool tomorrow.” That shocked me. That humbled me. It might not have been as startling if we had something special planned, but we did not. We were simply facing another day of mental stretching in our home. We cannot always choose what we will be remembered for, but we can choose to hold certain memories close to our hearts.
I hope to never forget that moment. May you have many moments that you never want to forget.
Originally published in The Old School House Magazine Summer issue 2011