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We’ve been talking about how to make the transition to the Charlotte Mason method in your homeschool. Some people are ready to dive in with both feet; others feel more comfortable easing into it step by step. So I’ve been outlining a way to make that transition in five stages. I hope you feel free to linger at each stage until it feels comfortable.
We’ve talked at length about changing your methods for the different school subjects, but there’s also a change that needs to happen in your mindset. Today I want to address that mental part of making the transition.
Most of us think about education in certain ways. Some of those ideas might fall right into step with a Charlotte Mason approach, but some might not; and if we don’t know the difference, it will be easy to get off track.
We tend to think as we have been thinking unless we purposefully make a change. So let’s take a look at three tendencies that might be programmed into our minds from past experiences—three ideas that we might easily lean into without even realizing that they’re taking us the wrong direction.
- Feeling like your homeschool has to look a certain way—it has to meet up to certain expectations and look perfectly like someone described or exactly like someone else’s Charlotte Mason home school. Do not let yourself be locked into something like that. Charlotte Mason wanted her approach to be a method, not a system. A system promises, “You do X, Y, and Z, and you will turn out this particular product.” That’s not the way it is with Charlotte Mason, because Charlotte Mason is all about the child as a person, an individual, and we teach each individual person. So use her methods in a way that will fit your child best. You can level up or level down her methods in order to fit the way your children learn best and where they are in the process. Make Charlotte’s methods your own. Let them fit your family, and make your home school a reflection of your personality as you use her methods in a way that ministers to each individual child.
- Many of us have a certain definition of education that might need to be tweaked if we’re going to stay on a Charlotte Mason track. Lots of people think that education is just “Dump the facts into the kids’ heads and make sure that they remember them until the test.” For many of us, that’s the way we were “educated” (if you want to use that term for that process). We had certain facts we were supposed to remember, and then when we got to the test, we regurgitated those facts. And usually what happened afterward—I don’t think I’m the only one who did this—usually you would jettison all of those facts in order to make room for the next load.In a Charlotte Mason approach, education is much wider, much broader, much better than that philosophy. In a Charlotte Mason approach, education is three-faceted. It’s like a three-legged stool. You know what happens with a three-legged stool if you take away one of the legs. It tips over. And it’s the same with Charlotte’s approach to education. You need all three legs of the stool.
The three facets are: Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. By “atmosphere” Charlotte meant the ideas that rule your life as a parent. The ideas that are ruling your own life are going to permeate the atmosphere of your home, and your children will absorb those ideas just from living with you. Charlotte believed that the atmosphere of your home makes up one-third of your child’s education as a person.
The second leg of the stool is discipline, the discipline of good habits. Instilling good habits in our children is so important. It should be a high priority in their education as a person. Habits—like attention, obedience, truthfulness, orderliness, diligence—form character. Charlotte believed that the discipline of good habits make up another third of the children’s education. Having those habits is so important to who they are becoming and for equipping them well for their adult lives.
The third leg of the stool is that education is a life. Giving your children living ideas. Those living ideas are found in the wonderful living books that you’re giving them, in the beautiful art that they’re looking at, in the great music they’re listening to, the poetry, and more. All of the subjects that you give your children in a Charlotte Mason approach are going to feed their minds with wonderful living ideas.
If we were to encapsulate this tendency and this mindshift that needs to happen in just one sentence, it would be one that Charlotte gave. She said, “It cannot be too often said that information is not education” (School Education, page 169). If we want to succeed in a Charlotte Mason approach, we need to understand the difference. Just dumping information into a child’s head is not the same as educating the person.
- Sometimes we get the impression that a Charlotte Mason approach is a gentle approach. It is gentle in the beginning years; but as the children get older, it ramps up. We raise the bar. Too many times parents get stuck on the gentle cycle. Now, if your children are younger, then yes, start out gentle, as the methods do. But as they get older, don’t be afraid to give them challenges, as Charlotte gave her students.
Those are three tendencies, but let me also give you three quick tips.
- First, give yourself grace. Any time you make a change (and especially one as big as changing over the whole way you approach homeschooling), it’s going to take some getting used to. You’re going to have some ups and downs. You’re going to have some good days and some not-so-good days. So give yourself grace during this time.And let’s balance that out. Give yourself grace, but also remember that you want to give your children your best effort. Give it your best try. Give them your best time. During the day, arrange your schedule so that you are giving your children the best version of mom that you can. That’s going to go a long way toward that atmosphere in your home that we talked about.
Grace and also your best effort. There’s a balance.
- Make sure you’re focusing on habits as well as knowledge. Shaping who your child is becoming is a vital aspect of his education. If you need to set aside a math lesson, for example, in order to focus on habits, do that. Academics are only part of your child’s education. Habit training is just as important.
- Remember what your goal is. Your goal in a Charlotte Mason education is growth. You are looking for growth in your child in all areas of his personhood. You’re looking for academic growth, yes; but make sure that you are encouraging your child to grow at his own individual pace in those academics. Also look for emotional growth in the child’s ability to control herself and to do things that are hard. Look for social growth. Is the child able to communicate well with others of all ages? Is she treating those who are younger with consideration? “Respect the elder, protect the younger” is the motto we use in our home. And look for spiritual growth. Is your child growing in her relationship with the Lord?
That’s the whole picture. That’s education. And that’s the goal that you are working toward.
Think of it this way: You are guiding the growth of your child. You’re not causing the growth; you’re not forcing the growth; but you are guiding it. And that is not a “once and done” task. It’s an ongoing process.
Guiding growth makes me think of tomato plants. In the garden, we put wire structures around the tomato plants to give the plants something to climb on. Different plants do different things. Those who don’t have the structure will sprawl all over the ground, and their tomatoes will quickly go bad. But even those that have the structures react differently. Some of them will stay neatly inside the wire. Some of them will shoot out on this side, and others will shoot out on that side. The goal is not to make each plant look exactly like all the others. The goal is to give each plant what it needs to continue growing, to thrive, and to bear fruit.
It’s the same with our children. In a Charlotte Mason approach, we are not trying to make each child learn the exact same facts at the exact same age as everybody else. We’re not trying to make each child sound exactly like all the others. Rather, our goal is to give each child the nourishment and the structure he needs in order to grow as a unique individual, a person.
We provide structure through the curriculum—a curriculum that is intentionally wide, that is well-thought-through and carefully planned out. We provide nourishment through the great living ideas that are presented within that curriculum. With the proper nourishment and that generous structure, our children can thrive, and we will see fruit.
I think Charlotte summed it up best when she said,
“The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” (School Education, pages 170 and 171).
That’s the goal of a Charlotte Mason education: cultivating the whole person.
In the next few posts, I’d like to expand on this idea of tendencies and tips. Many of you have only recently heard about Charlotte Mason, and you want to start using her methods in your homeschool. All of you are coming from various backgrounds.
Some of you are coming from scratch, let’s say. Your children are just now at school age, so you’ll be starting them off with the Charlotte Mason method right from the beginning.
Others of you have pulled your children out of a classroom setting. You’re starting to homeschool, and you’re going to use Charlotte Mason methods from here out.
And many of you have been homeschooling, but you’ve been using a different approach in the past, and now you’re making the transition to using Charlotte Mason. Some of you are coming from a traditional approach, some of you from a classical trivium approach, some of you were doing unit studies, and some of you were unschooling. (If you don’t know what those terms mean, take a look at a video called “Five Flavors of Homeschooling.” It will explain those five terms and walk you through those five different approaches.)
Each of those unique backgrounds brings with it a certain mindset. You can’t help it. And the longer you were using one of those other approaches, the more ingrained that other mindset probably has become. So, I want to walk through each of those transition scenarios and offer you three tendencies to help you recognize some ideas that might have come along with you from that other approach—ideas that could potentially get you off track in a Charlotte Mason education. And just as I did in this post, I will also give three tips to help make that particular transition go smoothly.
Three tendencies and three tips for each approach, starting next time.