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10 Mistakes CMers Should Avoid

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” (Vol. 1, p. 4). Each child is unique. 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 do on standardized tests? But if you can concentrate on cultivating each child’s love for learning as an individual person specially-designed by God, you won’t be intimidated quite so much 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 “the teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell’ ” (Vol. 6, p. 172). Instead, feel free to list key words for the child to refer to when narrating, and encourage additions or elaborations at the end.

4. Treating nature study like an outdoor class time.

Nature walks should be unstructured, child-led 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!” (Vol. 5, p. 396).

5. Focusing on academics and neglecting habits.

Academics is only one-third of a Charlotte Mason education. Education is an atmosphere, 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” (Vol. 3, p. 99). Habit training is vital “school work”!

6. Teaching dry facts (like you were probably taught).

Remember that education is a life and should be expressed through great ideas and living books. “Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses” (Vol. 6, p. 40).

7. Standing between the child and the great idea.

Resist the temptation to lecture or spoon-feed regurgitated facts. In a Charlotte Mason education “the much-diluted, or over-condensed, teaching of the oral lesson, or the lecture, gives place to the well thought out, consecutive treatment of the right book, a living book in which facts are presented as the outcome of ideas” (Vol. 3, Preface).

8. Getting stuck in a rut.

Once we find a schedule that works well, it’s easy to do the same subjects at the same times on the same days year after year. Break out of the rut; add some variety! Try to create a new schedule every Term. Here are some ideas to get you started.

9. Accepting slip-shod work.

Remember, there’s a difference between work done poorly because of haste and work done poorly because of confusion. “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” (Vol. 1, 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 new CMer 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” (Vol. 3, p. 240). So enjoy!

We hope these little reminders will be helpful and encourage you to “finish strong” this school year. (We know Doug’s post on how we keep your records safe in the CM Organizer was scheduled first, but we couldn’t resist slipping this one in ahead of it!) Have we helped you? Are there some mistakes we’ve missed? Let us know.

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8 Responses to “10 Mistakes CMers Should Avoid”

  1. christy April 9, 2007 at 8:26 am #

    where was this when i was trying follow cm methods? this is so good to remember no matter what method you are using.

  2. Sherry April 9, 2007 at 10:05 pm #

    Your newsletter was both timely and wonderful–thank you!

  3. Alisha April 11, 2007 at 2:38 pm #

    Thank you!

  4. Owl April 19, 2007 at 9:45 pm #

    How are we to require excellent work without killing the joy of learning? I understand that we need to set our expectations appropriately, but what is a gentle way to pass those expectations on to the children?

    • Sonya April 20, 2007 at 10:24 am #

      Hi, Owl –

      Great question! Two ideas come to mind for gently conveying our expectations for excellence: (1) encourage rather than nag — Charlotte talked about a child’s looking up to see “her mother’s eye is upon her, hopeful and expectant” (Vol. 1, p. 120); and (2) make sure the child knows ahead of time exactly what is expected of her. Sometimes a child’s idea of “excellent” and a parent’s idea of “excellent” are world’s apart. But make sure your idea of excellence is based on the child as an individual and what she is capable of doing. There’s a big difference between encouraging your child to do her best and frustrating her with unrealistic expectations.

      A couple more thoughts: If we honor and esteem diligent effort and doing one’s best as a matter of everyday life in our homes, the children will pick up on that atmosphere and mind-set. And if we provide good quality living books that capture their interest, we probably don’t have to worry about squelching their joy of learning.

      Anybody else have any thoughts on the matter?

      Sonya

  5. Jill April 24, 2007 at 2:35 pm #

    I have read a lot about allowing only one reading of the material so that the students will know they have to attend the first time. My question is: what if during a child’s narration you realize that she has not grasped the meaning at all? Do you go back and “teach” her what she missed? Just hope she picks it up some other time through some other means? Or read the material again?

    • Sonya April 25, 2007 at 11:41 am #

      Hi, Jill –

      If a child misses the main point of a passage, that should be a red flag to the parent that the passage may be too long. You might try, depending on the age of the child, backing off to reading only one paragraph before asking for a narration, then gradually increase the length as the narrations improve.

      Feel free to help her focus on the main point before you read also. Charlotte described narration in Volume 1, pages 231ff, more fully: “Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children may be animated by expectation; but she should beware of explanation and, especially, of forestalling the narrative.” So don’t spoon-feed what you want to hear ahead of time, but feel free to get the ball rolling in the main direction so your child will enjoy success in her narrations.

      Hopefully, between the two techniques (shorter passage, little introductory talk) you’ll be able to fine-tune your child’s narrating.

      Hope this helps!

      Sonya

  6. Jacci M October 18, 2007 at 5:02 pm #

    Great post! And so appropriate. I really love reading posts from moms who have some experience in the real world, day to day of educating with Miss Mason’s methods. You’re a great encouragement to us, Sonya :)

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