Most of the time I like to focus on the positive and think about what I should do. But sometimes it can be just as helpful to turn that around and consider what not to do. Flipping things over sometimes helps bring to light a concept that we haven’t noticed before.
So just for a different perspective, let’s look at ten mistakes that a Charlotte Mason homeschool teacher should avoid. Hopefully, they will serve as a gentle mid-year check for us all.
1. Forgetting that the child is a person.
One of Charlotte Mason’s chief principles is “The child is a person with all the possibilities and powers included in personality” (Home Education, p. 4). Each child is unique. He is not just a grade level. She is not just a label. Become a student of your child and work with him or her as an individual.
2. Letting fear drive your decisions.
It’s easy to get caught up in the expectations of others—What will my relatives think? How will my child appear on standardized tests? While it is not necessarily bad to consider those questions, be careful that you don’t allow them to drive you. Usually you can spot a fear-based decision by what you’re trying to avoid. A fear-based decision is a reactive one; you grasp at any idea in order to run from a dreaded outcome. How much better to make decisions proactively, choosing well-thought-out steps that will move you toward a clearly-defined goal. One of those goals should definitely be cultivating each child’s love for learning as an individual person specially-designed by God. If you focus your mind and heart on that goal, you won’t be quite so intimidated by man-made comparisons.
3. Interrupting narrations.
Isn’t it annoying to lose your train of thought when someone interrupts you? It is for your child too. Charlotte reminded us that we should be “careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell’ ” (A Philosophy of Education, p. 172). For some of us, that’s easy. For others, it’s difficult. Some of us love to make narration time more like discussion time, with give and take in a conversation. But don’t get the two confused in your mind: narration is different from discussion. Give your child a chance to collect his thoughts, form his sentences, and present his ideas as a cohesive whole. When he is done with his narration, you can encourage additions, elaborations, and discussion.
For more help with narrating, download our free e-book, Five Steps to Successful Narration.
4. Treating nature study like an outdoor class time.
Nature walks should be somewhat spontaneous opportunities for discovery. They lay the foundation for future formal science lessons. Charlotte bemoaned, “We are awaking to the use of nature-knowledge, but how we spoil things by teaching them!” (Formation of Character, p. 396). Yes, you can have a focus and guide your students to look for something specific, but be careful to give them lots of opportunity to observe closely and carefully for themselves with a minimum of input from you.
5. Neglecting habits.
Since everyone around us usually focuses on academics, it’s easy to make that the main concern in your home school. But academics are only one-third of a Charlotte Mason education. Education is an atmosphere (you and your home), a discipline (of habits), and a life (living ideas). “The discipline of habit is at least a third part of the great whole which we call education” (School Education, p. 99). Habit training is vital “school work”! Don’t feel guilty if you need to set aside that unfinished history lesson in order to address a habit issue. In the grand scheme of things, you are still educating; for education has to do with shaping who that child is becoming, and habits play a large part in that work.
Our Laying Down the Rails family of resources is designed to help you with this important aspect of education.
6. Teaching dry facts.
Remember that education is a life and should be expressed through great ideas and living books. Most of the educational material you find in other approaches or in your local teacher supply store focuses on just the facts, but “our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science” (A Philosophy of Education, p. 40). The facts are still there, but they are clothed in great ideas that will take up residence in your child’s mind and help him to grow as a person. Don’t get stuck offering your child the dry sawdust of just-the-facts.
7. Standing between the child and the great idea.
Resist the temptation to lecture or spoon-feed exactly what you think the child needs to take away from a lesson. Instead, choose a good living book, teeming with great ideas, and allow it to be the teacher. The more you talk on and on about an idea, the less the child will be inclined to make it his own possession. Simply plant the seed and trust it to grow. “Do teachers always realise the paralysing and stupefying effect that a flood of talk has upon the mind? The inspired talk of an orator no doubt wakens a response and is listened to with tense attention; but few of us claim to be inspired, and we are sometimes aware of the difficulty of holding the attention of a class. We blame ourselves, whereas the blame lies in the instrument we employ—the more or less diluted oral lesson or lecture, in place of the living and arresting book” (School Education, p. 229).
8. Getting stuck in a rut.
Once you find a schedule that works well, it’s easy to just keep running it. But be careful of getting stuck in a rut. Mix things up a bit each term. You don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel, but try not to be locked in to the same subjects at the same times on the same days year after year. Choose a different day for nature study. Swap the days for picture study and music study. Insert a Shakespeare play or a weekly park day with friends one term. Break out of the rut. Add some variety and keep things fresh.
9. Accepting slip-shod work.
Remember, there’s a difference between work done poorly because of haste and work done poorly because of confusion. Craft each child’s assignments thoughtfully, then require his best effort. Every time. “No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required from him as a matter of course” (Home Education, p. 160). Don’t confuse a gentle approach with being a “push-over.”
10. Making it too hard.
It’s not uncommon to hear a homeschool parent who is new to Charlotte Mason’s methods say, “It couldn’t be this easy” or “It can’t be this enjoyable.” Well, yes, it can. Charlotte explained, “We are able to get through a greater variety of subjects, and through more work in each subject, in a shorter time than is usually allowed, because children taught in this way get the habit of close attention and are carried on by steady interest” (School Education, p. 240).
A Charlotte Mason approach eliminates all of the busywork, focusing on quality over quantity. It establishes short lessons with the expectation of full attention and best effort on the part of the student. It takes the pressure off the parent to be the fountain-head of all knowledge, and depends on great authors and living books to do much of the teaching. It gently leads the student to become a self-learner and to love learning. The methods are deceptively simple and profoundly effective.
So don’t make it harder than it is by hauling along baggage from the way you were taught in school. Let go of all of that extra weight and enjoy this delightful way of learning and living alongside your child—the Charlotte Mason way!