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Like Riding a Bike

Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason way is a skill that can be learned.

When our family lived near Chicago, we often went bike riding together. There were lots of trails and several parks within biking distance. Most Saturdays during good weather you could find us exploring those trails and having adventures that we still talk about today.

Now that we live near Atlanta, we don’t ride much. This is hilly terrain near the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Of course, I still remember how to ride a bike. It’s something that, once learned, you never forget. I often think back to those days of riding, the adventures we had, and the places we explored. But there is something that I don’t remember as often: I don’t usually think about what it took to learn how to ride a bike.

The other day it dawned on me that it’s the same with homeschooling the Charlotte Mason way. Those of us who have been teaching with her methods for several years sometimes forget what it was like to learn how. So for those of you who are just starting out, let me give you some encouragement: it’s like riding a bike. 

You’re learning a new skill. Some of you may be thinking, “I’m not a natural teacher.” That’s okay. It’s not natural to balance on two wheels and pedal with your feet either. It’s a skill that is learned. And it’s the same with teaching in a Charlotte Mason way; it’s a skill that can be learned. 

The more you practice, the smoother and easier it will become. You are forming new ways of thinking and behaving. You’re forming new habits, and new habits take time. So don’t get discouraged if you have an “off” day. Take a look at it, see what you can learn from it, then try again. 

I bet the first time you climbed onto a bike, you didn’t ride it perfectly, did you? No, you probably had some wobbles, maybe some falls, perhaps a few tears. But you kept trying. You kept at it. Let me encourage you to approach homeschooling the same way. You’re not going to do it perfectly; you’re human and you’re learning how to do something new. So give yourself grace. 

You might fall off some days, but don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mommy; it means you’re trying and learning right along with your child. Mistakes are just part of the process. If you have a child who falls apart whenever she makes a mistake, you know how crippling those resistant thoughts can be. Don’t get caught in the same trap yourself. Mistakes do not define you; they are a prime opportunity to learn something new and to improve as you move forward. 

I love the phrase “fail forward.” We’re all going to fail sometimes. The question is whether you will allow that failure to block your way and paralyze you right where you are or whether you will see that failure as an opportunity to learn something valuable and move ahead better than before. 

Don’t take mistakes personally; they’re just part of the process of learning—whether you’re learning the multiplication tables, learning how to ride a bike, or learning how to homeschool the Charlotte Mason way. 

We used training wheels with our children when they were learning how to ride. Those little guide wheels really helped them feel more confident. There are training wheels available for homeschooling. We have open-and-go lesson plans that will give you guidance and help you get rolling more easily and fewer wobbles.

Now, for those of you who have been using CM for several years, who have already learned how to ride that bike, remember that even experienced cyclists can work to improve their technique. Our family did a lot of our bike riding on tandems—bicycles built for two. You can really feel the other person’s pedaling cadence when you’re riding together on a tandem. My husband would coach me to work toward equal leg strength. You don’t want one leg stronger than the other, because that makes for jerky pedaling. If your right leg is stronger, it pushes the pedal down harder and faster than your left leg, and you end up with an uneven cadence. Equal leg strength makes for smoother pedaling, better endurance, and more consistent progress.

And it’s the same with your home school. Perhaps you are stronger in one subject than in another. You feel more confident using Charlotte Mason methods in some subjects but not so confident in other subjects. Improving your strength in those weaker subjects will give you smoother, more effective school days, and more consistent progress in learning.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Continual learning and growing as a person. Not just for your child, but for you too. Not just during school hours, or even schooling years, but for a lifetime. We are learning and growing right along with our children.

I think Charlotte had that lifelong growth in mind when she selected the student motto: “I am, I can, I ought, I will.” That motto is not just for school days. It’s not just for children. It’s a mind-set that we would do well to embrace for ourselves too.

I am committed to riding this bike. I am committed to homeschooling the Charlotte Mason way.

I can learn to do this. I can acquire the skills I need little by little, one at a time.

I ought to keep trying. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Fail forward.

I will be courageous. I will learn from my mistakes and grow as a person. It takes courage to get back on that bike after you’ve had a fall. It takes courage to keep working on a new skill until you’ve got it. 

But then there’s that magic moment. At some point, it clicks, and then you’re off! 

And think of all the wonderful places you can go then!

I am, I can, I ought, I will.

You can do this! It’s just like riding a bike.

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