Your Questions Answered: The Place of Fun in a Charlotte Mason Education

Today we want to talk about fun in Charlotte Mason. Laura Pitney is here to join me in this discussion.

Sonya: Laura, the question we received was from a mom who was changing curriculum. She was switching from a different method to a Charlotte Mason curriculum, but she said she was going to miss all of the fun activities that had been written into that curriculum. So we need to address that: Is Charlotte Mason fun? Are there fun activities in Charlotte Mason Education?

Laura: I would say yes, for sure.

Sonya: I think it might help to delineate the difference between fun and enjoyable.

Laura: Agreed, there’s a difference. When I think of fun, I think of stirring up the kids’ emotions, this almost like “high” of emotions. Then there’s kind of a letdown too; there’s a flip side of that. But that’s the goal, getting that emotional high, so to speak. What would you say is enjoyable?

Sonya: Enjoyable is pleasant; it’s not repulsive; it’s not like “I hate doing this.” It is something that is pleasant, but it’s more of a steady thing than this emotional roller coaster, if you will. Now, when I started way back when, as I was still learning about Charlotte Mason, I was coming from a unit studies background. So I was doing a lot of these activities, what they would think of as fun activities, that were written into the curriculum and that I was putting in by myself. I remember that as my kids grew older, I would refer back to those activities that we had done that first year. They would remember some of the activities, not all of them. (That was interesting.) And they would remember the activity, but they would not remember the lesson that went with it. Like we were studying one of the Roman emperors, and we built this great big arch out of paper over a big archway in our house, an open doorway. We made this huge arch and put it up there. It took forever. I’m not artsy-craftsy, so to me it felt like “Why are we doing this? It takes forever.” But we got it up there, and it’s like, “Tadaaa!” and we took pictures. They did not remember which emperor it was for or anything about their Arc de Triomphe or anything like that. So, there’s a difference I think. We might put too much emphasis on these fun activities because we think they are more valuable than they really are. Would you agree with that?

Laura: I would, and I think that’s something that is learned the longer you do Charlotte Mason: those fun activities naturally happen versus the planned ones that maybe are written into a curriculum.

Sonya: Yes, or teacher-directed: “We’re going to do this now.”

Laura: Correct. Not that those are necessarily bad, but if we really get to the heart of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, it’s what is growing on the inside. We want it to come out. What that looks like can’t be scripted, because it connects so differently to each child. That’s one of the reasons why it’s not specific activities for every lesson, from every book, because we don’t know what’s going to connect to our child, what is going to make him want to do the game, or the dress up, or the comic strip, or the play-dough art. We just don’t know what is going to connect with them and what’s necessarily going to come out. So the activities are there, the fun and enjoyment is there, it’s just not necessarily scripted. Does that makes sense?

Sonya: Absolutely. We were talking about this earlier, and you had a good point that that’s kind of how it is for us as adults too.

Laura: As I was chewing on and thought of this, I think about me and my adulthood. I’m inspired by maybe the view out my window, or something pretty I see in the store, or maybe a magazine article that has the pictures or the words paint a picture in my mind, all these things I’m just chewing on, then all of a sudden I’m like, “You know what? I want to rearrange this furniture or paint this wall to mirror what that vision gave me.” It’s like it hits me and it comes out and I just want to do it. So I was thinking about how that connects with me, and then in the same way that process is happening in my children. They’re being influenced by all the things around them, our home atmosphere, and the books they read.

Sonya: All the ideas.

Laura: Yes, it’s just pouring into them, and who am I to say, “Make it come out right now.”

Sonya: “and it has to look like this.”

Laura: Correct. So there’s freedom in trusting the method, knowing that in my experience as an adult that is happening, that I can trust it as I’m doing this method with my children, that it’s going to come out as well. I’ve seen it. Early on, I do remember having things scheduled for my little ones to do, keeping their hands busy in a profitable way or “Together, we’re going to work on this project,” but it was ultimately teaching them a craft that they would use as they developed. So I do remember having things planned out and purposeful; if we were going to make Origami, we might string it up for a little tea party. There were things we did in our home that were projects and fun things. So I don’t want to neglect those things. My mind-set was just “Okay, what’s the purpose of it?” and kept that going to where it wasn’t just about that activity. That doesn’t help the atmosphere or something that they’re learning.

Sonya: It’s really easy to cross that line into busy work.

Laura: Yes, and so I definitely caution against that. But I mentioned that to say that it’s not like I neglected all the things, just like you didn’t either. It just kind of grew into what it naturally should be versus what I thought it should be. As my children got older, I definitely saw the fruits of my labor, so to speak. I had to let go of wanting it to be a certain way or to happen at a certain time.

Sonya: Oh, that’s a good point.

Laura: Because it’s all this effort of pouring into my children and I want it to come back on cue so that I can be like “Okay, good job.”

Sonya: So I can take a picture and say “See, they learned something! Tadaa.”

Laura: I just had to let go of that, because that’s not real life, especially in the Charlotte Mason world, when we’re wanting them to connect to all these beautiful things and ideas. I had to let go of it fitting into my time frame or my mold. So I had kids dressing up, acting out stories, maybe during their free time. I’ve had children ask to get out clay and make little scenes of of things or ideas that they connected to. I’ve had one of my daughters, she was inspired by the picture that was painted in her mind and wanted to decorate in that color scheme in her room. There are connections happening all the time. It just doesn’t fit into my mold. So letting go of it happening the way I want it to happen and then letting go of the mess.

Sonya: Yes, or the inconvenience.

Laura: The inconvenience, that’s really hard for me, but it’s so worth it to let them do their thing.

Sonya: Our kids would get together with another family’s kids and create movies. I remember once they turned the whole living room into the movie set. So we helped move all the furniture out, and it was weeks that they were in there making this movie in the living room, which was no longer a living room. But we have to make room for those things and show respect to that learning process because it’s so valuable. If you think about it, it’s as you were saying, as an adult when you finally get to the point where it’s like, “Okay this idea has been germinating, now’s the time to act on it. I’m going to paint the front porch” or whatever it is, that could create an inconvenience for them. Now I’m making a mess. Now they can’t use the front porch. Now maybe I’ve been working on this so long, I don’t get supper made: “Sorry kids.” It’s a two-way street. So it does create some inconveniene. Sometimes it makes a mess. But I think it is so valuable to have student- and child-initiated ideas of fun hands-on activities, rather than scripted, teacher-directed “It must happen now and look just like this” activities.

Laura: I’ll give you a good example of that. A couple of years ago, our history time period we studied was the middle ages. So I was spent the whole year on that time period, reading the stories and such. Since then we’ve moved on. This year we’re back around to ancient times. So, here we are. It was one of those things where I gave my children duct tape and a safe hot glue gun that’s not going to burn (burn them too badly), scissors, and an old t-shirt they could cut. I was in there getting my coffee and then I turned around and there was this full man in armor standing next to me, because he had made the helmet, he had made the breast plate, all the gadgets, everything head to toe. I mean, I had seen him working on it for a few days. But it’s like, “Okay, it’s seven o’clock in the morning, I’m half asleep, and then hello, Mr. Armed-Man here.”

So here we are almost three years later and it’s coming out of him. I couldn’t have planned that any better. I mean, he knew all the parts of the armor that he wanted. He knew the weapons. It was an inconvenience to me to have to go get all the duct tape and save all the Amazon boxes and make sure the glue gun was in working order. There were so many components, that was just irking me. But it was worth it—just the pride that he had in this accomplishment. Sure, one day we’ll probably throw it all in the trash, but the fact that he spent so much time and thought and he applied what he remembered or what he wanted, the skills it took to trace and cut all the cardboard pieces—it was a big deal. But here we are, three history cycles later, not even on that, and it has surfaced and come out.

Sonya: But the idea has been growing and growing and growing.

Laura: I’m just going to make him stand guard at my front door. That’s his position now, to scare off all the things.

Sonya: To me that is so much more valuable. It’s a peek inside the ideas that are taking root, rather than, “Here we have a project we’re going to do. Now everybody get out your scissors and your crayons and everybody make it look like this,” so I can check it off and say we did something fun. “We did this project and now you remember.” It’s not as easy as that.

Laura: I thought of another difference between fun and enjoyable. Again, trust in the method that the activities will come out. The things they connect to will come out, but sometimes we’re not necessarily good at what we’re teaching and sometimes we make mistakes. So hymn study is a good example for me. I’m not a natural singer. It takes effort for me to practice and get the melody and to sing along with my kids, and I mess up a lot. And that’s really fun, because the kids laugh at me and we giggle and “It’s okay, let’s try again.” For them to see the mistakes and know that I’m going to keep trying because I’m not a good singer—that’s really fun. It makes our hymn time enjoyable, because we’re all working hard together to accomplish that lesson of learning the hymn together. So I don’t want to discredit the fun part of it, but it’s not in the sense of that emotional high per se. It’s different.

Sonya: It’s very much a relational thing, that you’re building those relations with each other having fun together. And it’s so important for them to see that you can laugh at yourself and keep trying. That’s a huge example to them. So amidst the fun they’re learning important lessons and ideas as well. Thanks.