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The Benefits of the Short Lesson

© Beverley Paine

One of the main features of the approach adopted from the teaching methods of nineteenth century educator Charlotte Mason was the application of the principle of the 'short lesson'.

In many ways the short lesson epitomises the way in which children learning naturally: as they go about their day their interest or curiosity is piqued and they spend a few moments engaged in intensive bouts of learning. For a four year old this may be a short session concentrating on learning to tie shoes, cut a sandwich safely, or memorise a nursery rhyme or lyrics to a song. A fourteen year old may discuss a news item, learn how to change a tyre, learn a new dance movement. These activities take minutes to learn and are reinforced by repetition and practice over the coming months.

The short lesson builds on the natural way we learn by extending it throughout the educational curriculum. Children learn to persevere by starting small and building on success, gradually. This increases self-confidence over time and keeps motivation high as sense of failure is kept to a manageable level. By using the short lesson we help our children develop self-discipline and the ability to see a task through to completion. As children grow they will naturally increase their attention span as they learn to control their ability to concentrate.

This isn't to say that all lessons must be short. At four, Roger would sit and draw for well over an hour. At eight, he could build models with LEGO for hours on end, often without a break. And at age fourteen he would work through the problems set in his maths book for more than an hour, without prompting.

Charlotte Mason believed short lessons capitalise on the nature of children and the nature of learning to help children learn to make the most of their time. Short compact lessons, engaged when a child's interest is high, help the child value learning in the moment, making the most of each minute.

Advocates of the short lesson within a structured educational time table have found that when a child's interest is high in a particular subject but the lesson is stopped after five, ten or fifteen minutes, while the child is still engaged, the interest remains and becomes a motivating factor to learn more. This generates questions and ideas - creative thinking at work - to be brought to the next learning session. For natural learners or unschooling families each learning moment flows into the next in a way which is often described as 'delight-driven learning'. Both methods result in children who spend more time in reflection, more time role-playing, and personalising what they have learned.

A welcome benefit of the short lesson is the way it frees up time for children to play, to explore and investigate the environment, to complete chores and to give service to others.

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since 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. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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