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Your Questions Answered: Fitting in the Good Stuff

My friend and co-worker Laura Pitney is joining me to talk about all of those wonderful enrichment subjects. Here’s the question to discuss today: “There are so many enriching subjects in a Charlotte Mason approach: picture study, music study, nature study, poetry, handicrafts, art instruction, Shakespeare, hymn singing, and more. It seems like so much to try to fit into my schedule. How can I juggle all of those subjects and actually get them done?”

Laura: That’s a great question. I feel like there are two parts to this question.

Sonya: Okay.

Laura: I feel like there are the people who are just starting out that feel very overwhelmed with the idea of all of this feast that they should be doing. Then I feel like the second part is the families with older children that don’t have time for the enrichments because they feel like they need to do these other important subjects, because they’re their high school workload. So there’s this struggle that I see between these two types of situations: the beginners just getting their feet wet, really wanting to do well with the enrichment subjects but feeling kind of overwhelmed, and then, again, with the older children that feel that time is so important and it’s hard. It’s like the enrichments are one of the first things to fall off the list. So, for the newbies, or the people just starting out, one thing I really recommend is maybe just to pick one a day to do. Not all 150 of them. (That’s what it feels like!) So to say, “Okay, Mondays we’re going to do art study. And Tuesdays we’re going to sing our hymn together.”

Sonya: And it really only takes—picture study takes five or 10 minutes. That’s it. And I think you can do five or 10 minutes. And singing the hymn will take three minutes or so. I think that can be done.

Laura: Right. And I think people realize that it can be done; they’re just scared to get started in it, because it seems overwhelming. So it’s just like anything else: let’s commit to it, let’s do it, and let’s get comfortable in it, and then add more. So you’re not necessarily adding all 30 of them Day One. You’re sprinkling them throughout the week—just little touches.

Sonya: And you can even layer them in if it still seems overwhelming. You could say, “Okay, the first two weeks of the school year, I’m just going to get picture study established on my Mondays.” And don’t worry about the rest. And then the third week: “Okay, we’re going to keep picture study. Now we’ll bring in the hymn singing.” If you have to take a term to get up to full speed, do it.

Laura: Right. I just feel like there’s this pressure that we have to do it all Day One. With the enrichment studies, or those subjects, I feel like there’s a lot of margin there. You want to do it, and you’re going to do it well, but it’s okay to take your time to do them well and to do them efficiently and not to feel overwhelmed. So I say that as an encouragement, that it doesn’t have to look like the textbook definition of what “enrichment” should be like. Because we don’t want it to be that way anyway. We want it to be a natural flow in the school day, or a break in the school day. And I think that’s key, especially for the new moms starting out. It adds variety in your day. It helps break up the way you’re using your mind. It helps not fatigue the children. So honestly, I use them as fillers—not to undermine the importance of them, but—they are staples in my day that help fuel us forward to the different subjects that require full concentration. We’re going to read and then we’re going to go sing our hymn. Then we may read a geography book and then we’re going to do art study. You know, just using it as a tool to help break up your day. There’s a beauty in that as well.

Sonya: Absolutely, that was the exact word that came to my mind. That is the beauty of those enrichment subjects. They are designed so they’re very easy to do, but they use that other part of your brain. And you can tuck them into your schedule to help diversify, let’s say, your daily schedule. The other thing you can do is—a lot of them lend themselves well to afternoon occupations, if you want to. Once you have the formal lessons done by lunchtime, we still want the kids to be doing profitable things, not sitting on the couch eating bonbons all afternoon.

Laura: Which is tempting.

Sonya: True. So to encourage them to keep using their time profitably in the afternoon, you can bring in handcrafts, you can bring in music study or some of those other things.

Laura: One thing that we’re doing right now in our home school is, we actually are taking one afternoon to do most of them. So in some ways that’s a time saver, because it shortens our other school days. And I say that not to diminish the purpose of them, but—art study and music study and even the allotted time for nature study, I know that I have a whole afternoon set aside to accomplish those beautiful things. Now I do use our hymn and our Scripture verse and things like that daily as a—

Sonya: To break up the order.

Laura: To break up things, yes. But right now the way our life is and the business of everything, that seems to be working well.

Sonya: It’s so nice that you have flexibility to do that. Use those subjects, schedule it in a way that fits your family.

Laura: Right.

Sonya: That’s beautiful.

Laura: So the other part of the question I feel like is a challenge. Unfortunately, when you get to the high school years, the enrichment subjects are usually one of the first things to fall off your list. You just feel like the other subjects like math, reading, . . .

Sonya: Science.

Laura: Literature, yeah. All those bulky high school courses just kind of trump the enrichment classes. I have a friend who her high schoolers are super busy, and I can relate. And she has her lunch time when she knows no matter where they’re at in the house, no matter which kids are working on what subjects, at lunch time when they come to the table (because everybody’s got to eat), that’s when she does her enrichments. Sometimes she’ll read their poem or their poet biography while they’re eating lunch. Or when they’re done with lunch, that 30-minute time block, maybe they’ll put everything down and do their art study. It’s just she knows that’s a staple in her day when her high schoolers are around the whole family. They’ve got to eat. And so, for her, that works well to be able to squeeze them in, because otherwise she feels like her high schoolers don’t have time.

Sonya: I love that idea, because it respects that older student’s schedule. They should be doing most of their work independently by then. And they might be working head down in the middle of their science reading, and suddenly you come in and say, “Hey, let’s go do picture study all together as a family.” And it just interrupts their whole time management efforts. So to plan your schedule intentionally at a time when we’re going to be together anyway, I know that they will be taking a break from their other studies, that just seems genius in that situation.

Laura: I think that’s a key point: that there’s this misconception that you as the teacher, as the parent, are having to teach all these extra subjects. But that’s not the case. You’re doing all of them if… All of them, right?

Sonya: All of them as a family.

Laura: I was just trying to think if there’s any that you would separate, but there’s not any.

Sonya: You could easily do them all together as a family.

Laura: So the misconception that it takes so much time to do all these enrichment subjects is not there, because all of your children you are teaching together.

Sonya: So you’ll save a lot of time. And most of them just take the 10 minutes or 20 minutes at most. So yes, it is a big time saver.

Laura: Another concern I feel like we get a lot in our feedback is How is this possible when I have elementary, middle school, and high school—to all be doing the same enrichment subject? So what would you say to that?

Sonya: I would say the enrichments are topical. Does it matter if you study Monet’s art when you’re in second grade or in tenth grade? No, it’s just a topic. And does it matter if you learn “How Great Thou Art” in third grade or in twelfth grade? No, that’s a topic. Same things with handicrafts. Now handicrafts, that’s a good one.

Laura: That’s a hard one.

Sonya: It could be. But you can all be doing the same craft. You could all be working on knitting, for example. But maybe your younger ones are just going to be learning how to cast on. (I think that’s a correct knitting term.)

Laura: Sounds good to me.

Sonya: Okay, we’ll say that. And your older ones might be to the point that they are just sitting there knitting a sweater in their sleep. You know?

Laura: Right.

Sonya: So everybody’s working on the same handicraft, but you can level up or down the skill. That’s the big difference: there are skill-based subjects and topic-based subjects. The enrichments are topics. So you can do them all together. If there’s a skill involved, level it up or down. Maybe which poems they choose to memorize and recite. Younger ones can do shorter; older ones can do multiples. So you can level up or down any skills involved, but the topics themselves lend themselves to everybody.

Laura: Do you see that it’s important to have those relationships within your family? Have you seen fruits of that with your girls to where they’re different ages, different levels even, but yet because they’re doing the common topic that it helps form relationships? Have you seen that?

Sonya: Absolutely. Yes, I have. I’m picturing it in my mind. I remember when they were doing, I believe it was crocheting, and my oldest one was crocheting and my youngest was watching and she said, “Do you want to try?” And so my youngest climbed up in her lap and she was showing her how. She was trying to keep the lesson short, but every time she would say, “Do you want to quit?,” my youngest didn’t want to quit. And so she sat there for an hour.

Laura: Oh wow.

Sonya: Just learning how to do the crochet.

Laura: Everybody’s going to be doing crochet now.

Sonya: But you can do that with so many. With the poetry: yes, the older ones might be learning different poems—same poet but different poems—and so they’re sharing with the youngers that extra dimension of that poet. So many discussions can start because we’re doing the same thing. And picture study: what one person sees in the picture—it might not even have to do with their age, it has maybe to do with their personality—, they pull that out and the other one says, “Oh, I never noticed that” and then they say something. So a lot of interconnections and building of relationships.

Laura: It’s almost like it gives them something to look forward to. The younger ones with the older ones—like anticipation, like with the skill level or just the time it takes to even be more observant about something. You know?

Sonya: That’s a great example.

Laura: It’s like a team effort.

Sonya: A role model. Yes. We’re all working as a team. And it gives the youngers an opportunity to feel respected. One of my biggest peeves with an age-segregated approach to education is that each age is separated from all the others and they think only about other people their own age and they rarely interact with all the other ages. And they’re missing out on so much. Where this way, when we regularly make time, we deliberately make time, for the ages to come together, learn together, share together, interact together, that is going to enrich them as persons in their growth, which is the goal of education anyway.

Laura: Right. So I was just thinking, if somebody came up to us, to you, and asked the question, “So Sonya, which ones do you think I should start with?” What would you say to that?

Sonya: It depends somewhat on your comfort level.

Laura: Yes.

Sonya: Picture study’s very easy to do. But maybe you’re more comfortable with music.

Laura: Yes, it’s true.

Sonya: Music study’s easy to do too. So I would say a lot of it depends on your comfort level. Choose one that doesn’t scare you to death.

Laura: That you think you can do.

Sonya: Yes.

Laura: That makes sense.

Sonya: Maybe for a lot of us that would not be Shakespeare. Maybe you don’t want to start with Shakespeare. That’s okay, that’s fine. And maybe poetry’s not your thing either.

Laura: Just for the record, I said I would never do Shakespeare.

Sonya: And?

Laura: I’m doing it now. We love it.

Sonya: Yes!

Laura: That was just one for me that I was like, “Uh-uh, I’m not going there.” But it’s really been fun, enjoyable.

Sonya: And I wonder if some of that daring to go ahead and try it is because you saw success in the others. You got those in place and it’s like, “Oh, this isn’t so hard and I’m seeing the benefits, so I think I’m going to go ahead and try Shakespeare now.”

Laura: Definitely. And for me, not knowing how to… I mean I don’t remember ever being taught anything about composers or the time to do an art study. It just wasn’t something that I grew up with.

Sonya: Neither did I.

Laura: And so I have utilized, especially with Shakespeare, the Shakespeare in Three Steps, the process that I know that you recommend. That’s a tool that gives me… It makes it accessible, it makes it doable. And I feel like in my own personal home school, I don’t think without a valid resource to tell me what to do, I would not have even ventured there. So personally, it’s been a blessing to me to have those. So thank you for doing those.

Sonya: I’m glad.

Laura: And I say that for other people that may be scared and not sure how to do it or what to do, that the enrichment guides that SCM produces and the list that literally tells you word for word what to do has given me the confidence to try it. And then, obviously, if it’s not a good fit or it doesn’t work, then we’ve changed things; but for the most part, it has been a way that has given me confidence. Especially with Shakespeare, because I did not like him.

Sonya: But now?

Laura: I feel like he’s friend.

Sonya: That’s great. And that’s what enrichments can do for the whole family. With the artists, with the composers, with the poets, all those things that many of us didn’t grow up with, we have an opportunity to make new friends now too.

Laura: And that’s what we want to do for our children. We want them to see that example in us with things that maybe we don’t know or that we’re scared to try. We want them to see us putting forth the effort to do something that maybe we’re not 100% confident in or that we’ve never done before. So I even think that’s a valid point for our children, to see in us that we’re at least willing to try to do these things that maybe aren’t our comfort zone, to start with.

Sonya: And I think the Charlotte Mason Method, the way she approaches those things does make it—

Laura: Doable.

Sonya: Absolutely.

Laura: You know, it doesn’t take a lot of my time.

Sonya: No.

Laura: Multiple kids, one kid, old, young—it just, it fits so well. And like you were saying, just the family ties that are created through the same subject. You know, having the bond over the topic or the subject. You know, I feel like I’ve seen that in my children as well. And I’m thankful for that.

Sonya: And then whenever they are watching something, and they see a Van Gogh or they see a Monet or they see something else, and they point it out, it’s like, “Yes, victory!”

Laura: Say it louder, say it louder. Tell everybody.

Sonya: It works.

How about you? What questions do you have about enrichments? What benefits have you seen from the enrichment subjects that you have implemented into your home school? Leave a comment and let us know.

And if you have other questions that you would like us to discuss, leave those in the comments too. We want to make sure we get your questions answered.

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