A Few Charlotte Mason Ideas I Found Inspirational and Useful as a Home Educating Parent
by Beverley Paine
I think most of Charlotte Mason's ideas are workable with all children but the main ideas can tend to come across as sounding too bookish.
Narration, for example, sounds like a lot of reading which some boys (and mine were both like this) don't do. But it is easy to start simple from where they are at in their reading development, rather than where we or society think they ought to be. Children narrate stories to us all the time only because they aren't from books they have read we tend to value them less. Re-telling of computer games can not sound tedious and boring to our ears it can bewildering because of the level of complexity in the game play and story background (often the story background comes not from the game itself but what the kids make up as they play!)
CM also places a lot of emphasis on the formation of helpful habits. I always new the importance of habits but never understood why they were important. I didn't see myself as having helpful habits or routines, but considering what I accomplish most days and have done over the years there are definitely some useful habits instilled in me! Children work well with habit formation because they need boundaries in which to feel secure, thus less stressed and uncertain about their responsibilities and roles. Habit formation needs to be focussed on helping children learn to look after themselves, possessions, environment and others. It doesn't have to become a 'chore' to do the chores - if parents help children do the work and encourage habit formation, that is, spread the workload and the responsibility, children tend to respond positively and constructively.
'Living books', although long cherished as being books of excellent quality don't actually have to be books - they can be films, quality games, documentaries, visits to museums, etc. For example, I treated a visit to Hans Heysen's cottage in Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills in a 'living book' way - soaking up information about how he painted, who he was, his family, how people lived in his time, architecture, etc. The guide's talk was like a 'living book', the home and its gardens and my imagination excellent illustrations. And all of it interactive! Excursions can be like living books - and then you find books or stories that build on those experiences. CM coined the term 'living books' to describe literature (and I believe experiences) that bring to life in our imaginations the experiences of others, from past to present and future times. She hated what she called 'twaddle' - books that talk down to and patronise children or are designed to be 'fun' but are actually a chore to read because there aim is to 'teach' one thing - the mechanics of reading (readers) or facts (dull text books).
Another idea from CM which I think makes sense is the concept of the short lesson. I take from this the wisdom that we need to work with the energy flow of our children - 'striking when the iron is hot' and leaving the child with an appetite for more, not dulling their appetite by over-feeding too much information or giving them too many activities to do on the one concept or subject. A short lesson for my children could be as short as half a minute (how do you spell 'people' mum?), or ten minutes (getting out the atlas to find a country, talk about neighbouring countries or lines of latitude, longitude, etc). Or it could be a fifteen minute word game or a few minutes of mental arithmetic in the supermarket. Easy!
What I loved most about home education was the way I could take the best ideas from excellent school reformers such as Mason, Montessori, Steiner, and Holt (to name a few!) and adapt them to suit our family and lifestyle. I'm the kind of homeschooling mum that makes it up as I go along rather than following one particular method or approach, whatever works for each child!
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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