Today we have Beth from Acorn Hill Academy to guide us in the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. Let’s walk.
Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. –Charlotte Mason
Have you heard of Charlotte Mason? Do you think of CM’ers as slightly nuttier than the average homeschooler? Perhaps you think of us as unschoolers (we’re not)? It’s certainly a dramatically different way of educating children than anything I experienced in public school. So why did I choose this path for my family?
I was first drawn to Charlotte Mason’s principles of education through living books. Aren’t most homeschoolers addicted to books? I love to read, and the idea that my children could be educated without textbooks was more than a little intriguing. A living book is one that is usually written in a narrative style, most often by one author who is passionate about the subject. Living books draw you into the story, because they’re so much more than just facts. They make the information they contain relevant to a child. Have you ever read the Burgess Bird Book for Children, or The Story Book of Science? What about learning history using a book like An Island Story? I have watched my children flourish using living books.
As I began to learn more about how Charlotte Mason taught and what she believed, I knew it was the right choice for us. The most profound thing for me has been her very first principle: Children are born persons. We all know that each child is unique, and respecting the personhood of each one of mine has been more challenging than I ever would have thought it could be. It has also been the most rewarding thing I’ve done as a parent.
There are many pros of a CM education, and I will try to list a few for you:
- Short lessons – We are done with school by noon or 1 every day. That doesn’t mean they have nothing to do in the afternoons! They have “masterly inactivity” to attend to, which means they work on handicrafts, nature journals, and even chores. Most importantly, they spend time outside every day.
- No textbooks – or at least, very few. Textbooks can be used in upper levels, but only in conjunction with living ideas. At the Charlotte Mason Institute conference I recently attended, I heard from a wise mom who has a high school aged daughter who’s taking chemistry. She’s using a textbook, but only after reading books like Uncle Tungsten and The Search for the Elements. Because she has read living books with living ideas, the concepts of chemistry are much more relevant to her.
- Learning to know – Narration helps a child take what they learn and make it their own. It’s a beautiful thing – and it’s rarely the same as what I take away from what we read.
- The paradigm shift – It can be hard to wrap your brain around educating children this way, even though it’s a beautiful, living education. I spent several years arguing with the “public school side” of my brain, panicking because I thought we were surely missing something. I would buy curricula, look at it, realize it was not going to work with what we were trying to do, and resell it. I can still remember when I finally got it. It felt like my brain had come apart and was reforming itself. I think other people are less inclined to beat their heads against walls than I am, but this was tough for me.
- No textbooks – I know, right? One of the pros is also a con. It’s much easier to find textbooks than it is to find living books. There are lesson plans, and study questions, and everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to do. There’s a bit more to figure out for yourself when you teach á la Miss Mason.
- Learning to stand aside and let the children learn – I am learning along with my children, and sometimes, I get so excited, I feel I MUST share what I learn with them! This often turns into what might be considered a lecture, which is a BIG no-no. Sometimes it’s hard to trust that they’re learning because I don’t have to do very much, but the results speak for themselves.
A Charlotte Mason education is so much more than college entrance exams or job preparation. It’s really about the whole person, and it’s a beautiful way to live. If you’d like to learn more, there are some great resources online: the Charlotte Mason Institute, Ambleside Online, and Charlotte Mason Help. I’d also love to talk to you if you have any questions.
Beth blogs at Acorn Hill Academy.
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