Friday, April 26, 2013

Charlotte Mason Education: Simplicity and Life

The other day Jeanne posted a fantastic article called “Fitting in the Nice Bits” over at A Peaceful Day.   Maybe you already saw it…but if you didn’t, I’d encourage you to click over and read it now.   It is a really fantastic read on scheduling in the Charlotte Mason homeschool.
Did you read it?  Good. 
In addition to the really excellent practical tips that I am tucking away, I was also really struck by the way Jeanne emphasized the two key ideas that drew me to Charlotte Mason in the first place: simplicity and life.
As Jeanne touched on in her article, we can “make space” in our schedules for all of the lovely extras like art, music, poetry, Shakespeare, etc.  by keeping things simple.  By not trying too hard.   It doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, or messy.    Our job as parent/teachers is to spread a feast of life-giving ideas.  The onus is on our children to take those ideas and run with them.   Think about them.  Connect them with other things they know.   Develop their own creative sense.  I don’t have to burn myself trying to execute fancy projects or line up the perfect resources for a unit study.   (Here is another really good article that discusses this same idea.)
I almost burned myself out trying to do this when doing preschool-at-home with Michelle the year she was 4.   I was spending more time researching ideas of cute projects and fun things that we could do to learn the alphabet than we actually spent together doing them.  (And as cute and fun as those projects were, did they really help her learn the alphabet any better or faster than she would have had I employed simpler methods?  No, probably not.)   We were not going to last in this homeschooling thing for the  long haul unless I did something differently.  It was about this point that I stumbled across Charlotte Mason and realized that it doesn’t have to be complicated, and I’m so glad I did.   And as I was contemplating the other day, sometimes the simplest things are the best anyhow.  I’ve found a lot of freedom and realizing and embracing that idea.
I think one of the most important homeschooling principles to keep in mind is that “homeschooling” does not mean “school-at-home”.   We have so much more freedom than that.  Learning doesn’t have to fit into tidy little compartments between the hours of 9 and 3.   It can be hard for those of us who grew up in the traditional school system (and perhaps even more so for those of us – like me – who actually worked in it!) to be able to let go of that compartmentalized idea of learning.   I think that perhaps the key to fitting in the art and music and poetry is to make them part of life.  I heard a really good talk one time in which the speaker, a long-time homeschooling veteran, shared about how it is the little things done consistently over a period of time that will reap a harvest.  Figure out how to fit these “nice bits” into your daily routine and then just do them!  Keep them simple so that they actually get done. 
Some of the ways we’ve done this in our home include Scripture memory and hymns around the breakfast table, playing music by our current composer during lunch, taking time to notice what is around us in nature while we are out walking or playing anyhow, and having Bible reading plus a good literature selection to read aloud at bedtime.   These things aren’t part of our formal school schedule, which means more often than not they get done even when school doesn’t.   Often the kids themselves even ask to do them.  They have become like second nature: grounding practices in our family life – a family life that is so much richer than if we limited learning only to school hours.
Simplicity and Life…two key ideas that make a huge difference in the way we educate.


  1. Great post Jen! Even though my kids will likely be in a traditional school, we are trying to employ some of the things you talked about throughout our everyday (scripture, music, appreciating the world around us). It seems to be something the kids start to look forward to:)

  2. So glad my post was helpful, Jen. :) Thank you for the link.

  3. I so agree with your approach! I think that when we weave all the Bible, Hymns, nature study, arts and poetry into the "normal" school day, we provide a rich and deep education! I've also been guilty of "trying too much" and have had to learn to offer opportunities and make the moments matter. As with all my CM homeschooling, always growing and learning!

  4. This is really encouraging, and so was Jeanne's post! I'm starting Kindergarten with my daughter in August and when I discovered Charlotte Mason's methods I was so excited and relieved all at once! I knew that this is how I wanted to homeschool, it took all the pressure off. That said, I still feel a little like I need to "do it right" and so have been jotting things down here and there that I want to remember, and maybe stressing myself out a bit more than I should. This is a good reminder to keep it simple and remember I don't have to do it all at once... that's what attracted me to CM in the first place, anyway!

    (Also, I did the same thing with preschool and although the projects were fun for my daughter I know she learns just as well through simpler methods - you don't need every cool product or workbook you see, that's for sure!)

  5. I love Simple. It does insure that you actually get around to it and it's peaceful, yet profound.

  6. I totally agree! Every time I launch into school planning, I force myself to take a step back and see if I'm making things more difficult than they need to be.

  7. I love how you turn our focus on two broad ideas: simplicity and life! For a long time, we did not take the nice bits seriously. Homeschooling became more enjoyable when we finally did!