Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finding Charlotte Mason

Deciding to homeschool was not a quick, easy decision for me. I went back and forth about it for a couple of years, and it was only this past spring when I finally felt settled and committed. It was a lot of talking to people, reading, reading, more reading, and praying, praying, and more praying. The decision as to how to homeschool has been equally complicated!

I initially fell in love with the idea of a classical education, a la The Well-Trained Mind. It's very school-like, and when you are coming from 12 years of public school, and 6 years of college, school-like makes sense and feels comfortable. Everything is nicely laid out, the subjects are broken down in an orderly fashion, and all of the suggested curricula and books are listed for reference. It really works for my Type-A brain! But the one thing that held me back was that it all seemed...more intense than it needed to be. Does a first grader need spelling and grammar and oral narration and writing? I didn't want to suck the joy of learning right out of my little ones with endless workbooks and textbooks. And everything has a separate notebook to be kept, not to mention geography, math, history, art, music...it's A LOT. Even the author has said she doesn't do all of that with her four kids. The overwhelming feeling I had about this way of schooling was that it was a little like "take child, insert intense levels of instruction, produce Rhodes scholar."

At the other end of the spectrum is unschooling, which was very clearly not for us. I need to know systematic learning is happening, and that the things that are important to know are being learned. And I do think there are important things to be learned!

Charlotte Mason education began to seem more and more like the obvious choice for us. It is classical in nature, but done in a much softer way; rather than producing that Rhodes scholar, you are aiming to produce a well-read, broadly knowledgable human being, with a deep love for God, who cares about learning. Being a scholar is fine too, but it's a bonus:) Miss Mason was an educator and writer who pioneered a new way of thinking about children and learning, and there is quite a treasure trove of her writings to work through when trying to understand her method. Here are some of the key points:

The arts are included as essential, not as extras "if you have time." The children learn Latin (Yay! My 4 years of Latin will come to use after all!), study great art and artists, and read real, whole books rather than textbooks, along with history, geography, math, and science. There is intense focus on nature study, which will, I admit, be a challenge for this city Mama:) Children are encouraged to pay close attention to their reading, so that after one time through, they can narrate back what they have learned, with a high level of detail. The idea is that if you can tell about it, you know it. Of course, they eventually write their narrations as well.

How does this differ from the more modern interpretations of classical education? The lessons are short (20-30 minutes), there is a rich variety of ideas present for the children, and the reading is always done from a book written by someone passionate about the subject, even something like science. There are several ways to go about piecing this curriculum together, websites and booklists to work from. I'm still figuring out what materials we want to use, and how to adapt them for our life. Charlotte Mason was a devout Protestant, and quite a few of the materials and websites utilizing her ideas use texts which might not work for a Catholic family. Therein lies part of the idea I had for this website...how to make this wonderful way of learning work in a real Catholic family, with little people running around, and a Mama trying to pull the very best resources together for a quality education.

I still love parts of The Well-Trained Mind. They have great ideas for books to consider, and they do advocate narration as a key tool of learning. But Charlotte Mason has captured my heart, even though I still have a lot to learn.

Next, I'll share what I'm learning as I start working through When Children Love to Learn, a book about the hows and whys of Charlotte Mason education. 

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