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Today I bring you another guest post in my homeschool methods series! I am SO very excited to have Leah from My Little Robbins share about the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling today. Her words are moving and I am sure you will love them just as much as I do!
It was a cold February night, and I brought my big pregnant belly into a crowded classroom, my husband right behind me. We were a half an hour late, and we conspicuously grabbed two seats wedged in the middle of a row of listening parents. Their eyes were fixed on a group of students, reciting lines from Shakespeare.
This was my first introduction to the Charlotte Mason method of education- an open house at a private school. I didn’t realize it then, before my first child was even born, but that was the beginning of our homeschool journey. Most people search for a homeschool style after they decide to homeschool. Not us. We chose to homeschool because of the Charlotte Mason philosophy.
That night, sitting in the classroom, I had a very brief introduction to her ideas. But it was enough to convince me that this was an education we wanted for our children. I hope that this short introduction will give you an idea of why we gravitated towards it five years ago.
The Charlotte Mason Philosophy
Charlotte Mason’s first principle, children are born persons, sounds simple, but it lays a foundation for the philosophy that differentiates it from others. Because children are born persons, they deserve respect from their very first breath. Because children are born persons, they have a desire to learn and are capable of learning before they can even utter words. Their education, according to Charlotte Mason, should respect their personhood and allow them to use their innate ability to learn.
I watched the students proudly finish reciting the Shakespeare piece they’d worked so hard on, and move back towards their seats in the front. How was it possible that these were junior high students? Why weren’t they giggling or throwing elbows at each other or rolling their eyes? What was it about this type of education that lifted them up to be their best possible selves?
The rest of the principles that Charlotte Mason laid out in her six volumes about education revolve around the idea that children are born persons. The respect due to children limits us, the parents/teachers in how we should raise and educate them. According to Charlotte Mason, there are three things that act as a lever to children, lifting them to a higher level of maturity, character, and understanding.
Education Is An Atmosphere
I looked around at the classroom I sat in. The chairs were solid wood- not the plastic, brightly colored chairs that filled my public school classroom. Pictures of notable people throughout history formed a timeline on the top of the walls. Beautiful art hung in a frame next to the window. This was definitely something different.
That night at the open house, I noticed that the environment was very different. But Charlotte Mason’s sixth principle, education is an atmosphere, isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s about what we surround our children with physically, spiritually, and mentally. The timeline on the walls spoke of role models, people to aspire to be like. The artwork introduced a long-ago world, a hard-working painter who turned an idea into priceless paint on canvas. Yes, the environment was beautiful and peaceful for the students, but the atmosphere inspired them to learn.
Education is a Discipline
A teacher made his way to the front of the room. He would answer my question about these junior-highers. Why don’t they act like other kids their age? Because they’ve spent so much time working on habits. We all have habits, either good or bad, he explained. Much of what we do every day is because we’re in the habit of doing so.
This was the aspect of the Charlotte Mason philosophy that resonated the most with me. I often had felt frustrated with students who didn’t pay attention or complete their work, or more tragically, just didn’t care about learning at all. It had never occurred to me that my students had fallen into bad habits, and that it was reversible. Now, with my three young children, before we even start their formal education, we work on habits that will carry them through the rest of their lives.
Education is a Life
A teary-eyed mom made her way to the front of the classroom. She talked about how her young child, once indifferent towards learning, had been so inspired by all of the things he’d learned in school. He came home and spoke of composers, nature, and Bible stories. She said that her whole family had been changed and inspired by the richness of the education their son was receiving.
Charlotte Mason said that we should care as much about the mental food that we feed our children as we do about the physical food we feed them. Education is a life, meaning that we need to sustain a child’s mental life with thought-provoking ideas and beautiful, well-written books. When a child understands and enjoys this nourishing food for the mind, it overflows from him in the form of narration. Because of this, the bulk of the work that occurs in a Charlotte Mason education involves retelling what was read either aloud or in writing.
The open-house ended, and we were thanked for coming. As we left the school, my husband turned to me and said, “That’s the education I should have had growing up.” In that moment, I knew my views on education had changed forever.
I went on to become a teacher in that school for two years, until my second child was born. I decided to keep learning about the Charlotte Mason philosophy, and ultimately decided that I would take responsibility for my children’s education through homeschooling. Five years later, I am still learning, and could never summarize Charlotte Mason’s rich ideas in a single blog post. Fortunately, there are so many wonderful resources available to help you learn more: Simply Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online offer resources and curricula to get you started in changing your home atmosphere, your discipline, and your life.
About the Author:
Leah Martin enjoys living an outdoorsy lifestyle in Colorado. She builds her nest with her architect husband and three little ones. After nine years of teaching in public and private schools, teaching her own children is her favorite role. She blogs about using the Charlotte Mason method during the early years at www.mylittlerobins.com, and about living a full life with less at www.lessinthenest.com.