We’re approaching our 8th year of home educating; my children are 12, 10, 6 and 3 and apart from my eldest who was at school for a year, they know life no other way. And it’s a beautiful life for the most part. My kids are still kids with all their raw imperfections; true diamonds in the rough, but Dave and I are totally committed to seeing them shine.
We educate our children at home mostly using the ‘Charlotte Mason method’; it’s not a curriculum or set of books but as she said herself; it’s “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life”. Using this pedagogy has not only shaped our children’s minds and imaginations but it has opened up a new world of adventure for me; the teacher, mother and lifelong learner. We’re pursuing the method in all areas of our learning but not trying to become purists.
“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play!”
― Charlotte M. Mason
So for starters, just because you’re using the Charlotte Mason method does not mean you’re forcing your family into living a Victorian, archaic life! We go for scooters and skateboards over swedish drill and we’re fine about the habit of leaving doors open due to a great modern central heating system (and constant coming and going in our small house) rather than the Mason stoked open fires of her time!
I love our rhythmic life of living books, nature study and narration but it’s not always easy. I’m sure there has always been a clash of agendas between parent and child, teacher and student, but there are more ‘entertaining’ distractions at hand today than ever before.
So if your 9 year old would rather play minecraft than listen to Mozart then listen up; here are 5 tips to help you engage your children in the Charlotte Mason method (purists look away now):
1. Play classical music lots. Just that. Create an atmosphere where the music is in the background whilst they’re eating, working on a lesson or even in the car. This can be harder for older children if they’re not used to it; you can trade off with them – Classic FM for 10 minutes, then Radio 1 ( or whatever your local alternative is) for 10 minutes. I am a walking testimony of this method; I was never particularly interested in classic music but my Dad played it around the house a lot. I now have a huge appreciation for it and it helps me relax. Remember; we don’t always see the fruit of our input – just because they’re raving about Beyonce more than Beethoven does not mean it’s not impacting their brain activity and that they won’t embrace and love it as an adult!
2. Teach them ‘hard stuff’ whilst they eat! I gather my children around the table at breakfast and lunch (we also gather at dinner but ‘school’ is over by then). They like food, they have to eat so there’s no getting away, I have my captive audience! At breakfast we read the bible, we pray, I read a poem and I play a piece from our composer quietly whilst this is going on. At lunch I read Shakespeare, Greek Mythology or a chapter from a book we’re working through. They get to narrate between bites! At the end of lunch I might do a quick artist appreciation viewing and narration with them. It works a treat…
3. Mix it up with modern day artists and composers. We recently studied Rembrandt; my children found his work dark and dreary but endured 6 paintings and struggled to answer ‘which one did you like best’ at the end of our study. I had to liven things up so I chose ‘Banksy’ to study next and they LOVED his work. There was a stark contrast and we enjoyed comparing how they felt about Banksy compared to how they felt about Rembrandt and why. Mix it up Mama’s!
4. Don’t do it if you don’t love it! There’s a huge difference between a bad attitude towards learning and real boredom. ‘Bored’ is a banned word in our house but even I often start reading to my kids and feel like I need a little snooze! If i don’t find life or enjoyment in the book I don’t continue. Don’t make your kids read anything, or read anything aloud to your kids that you wouldn’t read yourself. This is a LIVING education using living books – make sure you all feel the life whilst you journey through the book.
5. Be the example and make it ‘normal’. Dave and I regularly say to each other ‘it’s our fault isn’t it’ when we face certain challenges in parenting. It’s pretty much all about you (sorry). BE the joy in the home, be enthusiastic about this beautiful atmosphere, the discipline and the life you’re creating for your children. Make sure your children see you devouring books, have classical music on before they wake up, go to art galleries on your own or with a friend, find out the names of familiar trees and sights in nature you see on your dog walk or even your walk to the local shop. Read poetry, print it out and stick it by your desk. My children often laugh at my tears when I read the bible over breakfast, they’re amused by my passionate reaction to a poem or sonnet we’re reading but there is no doubt in them that I don’t love what I’m doing. My children’s education is shaping me everyday.
“The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
― Charlotte M. Mason,