Saturday, January 19, 2019

Why My Son Needs a Charlotte Mason Education

We start lessons for Josiah's Year 1 tomorrow (First Grade). I'm excited and nervous, thankful for a good Christmas 'unschoolery' break. I've read a little about 'tidal homeschooling', which makes a lot of sense. Over summer, when it's hot and there is Christmas and friends about, it makes sense to do away with lessons and free-range a bit. I love it. I love that freedom.

But with four weeks of free-ranging it, we can see the downhill-slope of behaviour in the home. We find that if our son (and daughter, too, but less so) has weeks on end of little structure, little work, little required of him, his behaviour starts to snowball. At first, I wondered why. But then I remembered why we pulled him out of preschool when he was little - because the free-range nature caused chaos for him.

As much as I love unschooling and the heart of the parent that gives their children that life, the Lord keeps bringing us back to the same place: our children need structure, learning as a discipline, and free time that tastes sweet after good, honest work. And the best methodology that suits us in that way - and which has resonated with me right from the very beginning - is Charlotte Mason.

For well over a year, I have been ruminating through her first volume, Home Education. It's so rich and deep, I cannot rush through it! I have recently come back to it after a break, returning to where she writes about habits. It couldn't be more truthful and apt for our family, especially as I see the result of too much freedom on our children.

"...The actual conformation of the child's brain depends upon the habits which the parents permit or encourage; and that the habits of the child produce the character of the man, because certain mental habitudes once set up, their nature is to go on forever unless they should be displaced by other habits...
Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend." pg.118 
"The habits of the child produce the character of the man..." The truth and nobility of this statement cannot be emphasised enough. We only need to look at society over the past three generations and see the degeneration of people as parents took less responsibility for the moral upbringing of their children. I see how my son, when left too long without an outside pressure to bring him upwards, grows more and more inwards. And isn't it the same for myself? For anyone?

I am very thankful that Charlotte Mason's works were rejuvenated for the homeschooling movement of today, providing guidance, encouragement, and rebuke for parents as they seek to raise character-full men and women of tomorrow.  "There is nothing," she says, strongly, "that a mother cannot bring her child up to."

And what do I want our son - our daughter - be brought up to? 

I want him to be noble, strong, brave, pure, wholesome, intelligent, thoughtful, cultured, full of integrity, compassionate, able to think and reason, stand on and for the truth, and, most of all, love Jesus Christ as his Saviour. I don't want a mere veneer of facts laid upon his mind, but a depth of wisdom and understanding, brought about by a vast array of stories, books, history, culture, and art.

In this past month of unschooling (and other times last year), I can see that this wouldn't happen. Though the blessings of such a life are many, I can see that what I hope for in our children would be unlikely to happen without great input on my behalf. And the point of unschooling is for parents to step back more. I find that unschooling is easier for me as a mother. I'm not saying this for anyone else, but fore me, I use it as an excuse to step back and pour from myself less. It's shameful to say, but honest and true.

Yet, the more I learn about our children, about myself and my husband, about humans under God, the more I see that we are in desperate need of outside influence or pressure to help us make noble and wholesome and lovely and true choices.

Sarah Mackenzie, in her book Teaching From Rest, says this about her own experience of unschooling and then, consequently, moving to the classical method of education:
"I spent some of my early homeschooling years parked in an overly relaxed mode of teaching. It wasn't laziness, exactly - I went in quite intentionally and thought it to be a great gift to my students to allow them to bloom on their own terms. What I found, however, was that the nature of my children was not nurtured by my best intentions. My neglect in their formation reaped exactly what one might expect - laziness, carelessness, and a self-centered view of learning. I thought I was meeting my kids where they were. I wrongly figured that if wisdom began with wonder, then I was a teacher ought to step out of the way completely. In an effort not to stand between my student and his learning, I failed to build a bridge at all between the child in front of me and the man God intended him to become."
I could have written these words myself from our own experience, and we haven't even been doing this years. My intentions for giving our children freedom have been true and genuine, but I do think they have been misplaced. Already, we have seen in our children that some 'masterly inactivity' (what Charlotte Mason meant as letting children be) is good, but,
 "this philosophy of 'let him be', while it covers a part, does not cover the serious part of the parents' calling; does not touch the strenuous incessant efforts upon lines of law which go to the producing of a human being at his best."
I could go on, for my own good and health to write all my thoughts down. But here, I shall finish with this thought: The education of a child to an adult is far more than how, why, and what they learn. It is who they become and how much they care, that determines the depth and breadth of an education. For us, with this long-term view in mind, the daily habit of exposing our children to a Charlotte Mason education we believe, will aid us in this "incessant effort". 

Friends, have you had a similar experience? Why is Charlotte Mason a good fit for your children? Why not, maybe?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Help For the Homeschool Mama (Who Wants It Easy)

Jami Balmet from Young Wife's Guide is currently doing a short video course called Taking Action in Your Home (it's free!). She is just sunshine and encouragement! I've never done a little course like this because, quite simply, they scare me. 

They scare me because, well, I'm scared of failing and I know I will fail to fulfill any plans or goals I make perfectly. (I think I have perfectionist tendencies...) Thus, I never make goals! And my planner is often haphazardly filled in - usually with things I have done post-script since I hate seeing things un-done with crosses next to them.

But this side of me has really let me down, especially this first year of homeschooling. 

It's been a rough year - because of me. We've been inconsistent and up-and-down with so many aspects of our life because either a) I made plans but didn't follow through with the daily grind, or b) I didn't make plans and we "unschooled" because it was easier. I'm just being honest there, for my own life.

I would wonder why our son would throw such a fit when I asked him to put the dishes away in the morning. I would feel frustrated and annoyed at him, but really, it was my fault because I was never consistent. 

I would get that "knowing" feeling in my gut that Morning Basket was a good fit for our family. I would make plans and set it all out, ready to start Monday morning. Come Wednesday, because it required me to be purposeful and stick to a routine, I would get restless and apathetic and not bother. We would "unschool" for a few weeks until that "knowing" feeling gnawed at me. The relief I felt after giving up was because I didn't have to try...I didn't have to do the hard work of homeschooling. And I hated that truth about myself.

I wanted what my favourite homeschool mama's have - like Mystie or Stacie or Brandi - but I didn't want to put the effort in. I was in denial that I could have that without the required effort, discipline, plans, and ME. 

Thankfully, God has been doing some painful but good work in me this year. 

One question that Jami asks in the course as part of a review of 2018 is: "What is the hardest thing about this year?" And my answer:

"I was the hardest part of my year. My inconsistency, lack of will, fear, and failure to daily do what I know is good (routines, schooling, Morning Basket etc.). I've been my biggest enemy."

And it's funny because, going into this year, I am pretty sure my word for the year was Habit (or was it Faithfulness...?) I had all these intentions and plans to kick myself out of this apathy and fear of failed plans (is that irony?), and yet, it's been the opposite for me!

But this is good! God is showing me that this year has not been a failure for me. Rather, it's been part of the Holy Spirit refining me, cutting away the unfruitful branches, pruning for the fruit He has in store for me. I had to see the raw truth about myself - my sinful tendencies and personal weaknesses - to really want the need to pursue this part of holiness. And, even though it has been quite painful and embarrassing, I am so thankful. God is good!

So, if you are struggling like me - wanting what is good but not wanting to do the hard yards - I would quickly like to share with you a few of the things that have really convicted and challenged me this year. 


Firstly, these two posts on homeschooling I come back to regularly:

Even though I have been reading it a year and am not even half-way, Home Education by Charlotte Mason. It is so deep and so full of rich, Biblical truths about who we are as people, the importance and responsibility of mothering, the need for habits (which is really us aligning our will to God and obeying), and the vital need for mothers to be thinking mothers and active mothers. This book is changing me irrovacably. 

Another book, A Mother's Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot, I first heard of through Mystie. It is a Catholic book (I'm not Catholic), but it has been exactly what I need. Just like Charlotte, Holly goes in depth about aligning our will to God so that we can live true Christian freedom, which is obeying God.

More of a general Christian growth book, You Can Change by Tim Chester helped me deal with bad thinking patterns a number of years ago (in regards to anxiety), and I am reading it again with this struggle in mind. It is Christ-centred and a book for if you are serious about changing for Christ.

And Elisabeth Elliot's Discipline: The Glad Surrender is all about spiritual disciplines - over our bodies, our minds, our time, our homes etc. It is excellent.

This episode by Marci at Thankful Homemaker was excellent and very challenging: What Does Self-Discipline Look Like in the Home? There are more episodes I need to listen to - she is so encouraging, challenging, and just what I need!

I am sure there are other resources that have impacted me this year - but these are definitely my top. I can see how each of them have been ways in which, slowly and layer by layer, God has been doing heart-surgery on me. How hard it has been to see this weakness in me, but how much I have wanted to change! I am praying this post and the links I have shared with you may lead to a similar change in your life, even if it is a different issue.

Until after Christmas! 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Our Morning Basket (Summer 2018-2019)

Here in the Southern Hemisphere we are a few weeks into summer. Yes, we Christmas with warm weather and picnic on the beach! The children and I are starting Week Two of a Six-Week block (we are starting to Sabbath School), with a week off for Christmas, and then four weeks on. All that is listed below will keep us going until Autumn hits in March. We will change our poem and hymn, as well as a new read-aloud.

Our children are ages five and four. Josiah will turn six in early March and we will not be starting formal lessons of Math, Reading, and Copywork until then. Though we have dabbled in all three, I am finally taking Charlotte Mason and the Moore's seriously and holding off until then (maybe even longer). All these things we do together and Rosalie easily participates.

We generally sit down on the couch together between 9-9.30am, and we spend about an hour together (even less sometimes). I make sure there is colouring or blocks on the floor for wiggly bottoms. When we're doing Memory Work though, I make sure Josiah is sitting next to me as I am trying to instill in him the Habit of Attention. 

I have found other homeschool mother's posts like these SO helpful in my journey, and I hope they will be helpful to you, too!

Christmas Specials

This Advent we have done our first ever tradition. I printed off some decorations based upon readings and we open one each day, we read the passage, and the kids nibble on a lolly. We have so loved this!

Also, our hymn is from Happy Hymnody and is Joy to the World. We sing this together each morning also.

Memory Work

This is brand new for us! I have been very tentative about doing any sort of memory work, worrying that the children wouldn't enjoy it or that it wasn't necessary. But I have seen so much how listening to our favourite Scripture CD's over and over again have helped them know so much of God's Word. I know they are capable and they actually love it. Just sitting in church when we have a time of confession, they have learned the Lord's Prayer easily. So I decided to trust Charlotte Mason and all those Classical mama's out there, and give it a go.

So far, we're going okay - considering I have no idea what I'm doing!

Scripture: the Doxology
Hymn (from January): E Toru Nga Mea (a Maori hymn)
Poem: At the Seaside (R.L.Stevenson) *Printable from here.
Prayer: In the Morning (that I found here)

We do these each day right at the start. I wrote these out and put them in our Morning Time Binder.

Nature Study

Once a week (I'm thinking Monday's, currently) we have Nature Study. We read a chapter of the Burgess Book of Birds (Kindle version), learning a little more about each bird the chapter focuses on. Many of the birds are not in NZ, but some are, so this makes it exciting when we go on walks and identify them. 

We add a laminated photo of the bird to the wall each week, we paint the bird, we listen to it's call on YouTube (such as this one for the wren), and try and learn the difference between the male and the female. We walk in the afternoon, collect any interesting flora or fauna, and generally just enjoy being outside.

Today on our walk, for example, we saw a shag swallow a baby eel whole (bleurgh!), identified a male and female blackbird, discovered a nest high up in a tree, and collected leaves and little flowers. We really love this aspect of our learning.


Our main spine is The Story of the World (Volume 1). I found it at a thrift shop for $4NZD - incredible here in New Zealand. I believe it was a divine gift! I love how the chapters are divided up into parts so we can stop for the day when there are too many wiggles. It does mean it is going to take us FOREVER to go through all four volumes, but I know we can circle around again when they are older.

The first volume is on the Ancient World. So I supplement SOTW with reference books and living books I find weekly at the library. This works really well for us. I also bought the Student Activity sheets on PDF from The Well-Trained Mind shop and found this free lapbook a wonderful mother put together. I found that through Learning Mama's resource page, which is fantastic.

Art Study

This year we have slowly gone through some Impressionists. At the start of the year, we did two terms on Claude Monet. Oh, how the children loved Monet! They can now recognise his work! And they would love to visit Guiverney. We also did Edgar Degas in Term 3.

This block we're going to do six weeks on Auguste Renior and then move onto Leonardo DaVinci (he has cropped up in some of our other learning, so I thought it would work in well). We have a picture to study each week, we may watch a video or two about the artist, we will draw our own version or I will find other activities to do to paint like the artist. If I find any living books on the artist, this is a great bonus.

I found the prints for free from here.


For further character study we are working through Leading Little Ones to God twice a week. I just read the text and we talk about what it said and what it means.

For geography, I have printed out Elementary Geography by Charlotte Mason from Cassandra at The Unplugged Family (thank you!). I think we will only touch on this once a week, and just see how we go. It may be too old for the kids, and I am not too worried about geography as it comes up naturally in history or nature study etc.

For our read aloud, we are reading Winnie-the Pooh. This is delightful and I love seeing how the children are picking up on the nuances. We tend to read after rest time in the afternoon, maybe twice or three times a week.

And I made my own weekly printable to record it all down, as you can see below.

There you have it! God-willing, this is what we will be working through until the end of February. I will need His strength to be consistent and faithful, but as I am already seeing fruit in their hearts and the light of learning in their eyes, we will get there!

What are your favourites in your Morning Basket at the moment?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Beginning Our Charlotte Mason Journey

This year has been an amazingly up-and-down year for me as a home educating mother. Our son, Josiah, turned five in early March and it was as if something switched in me and I began to doubt. Even though my heart had been rooted in Charlotte Mason since he was two and felt deep within that it was the most beautiful way to educate our children, I suddenly began to panic. Was it really the best way for us? Was it the right way?

Cutting a long story short (some of which you can see in pictures at the beginning of my Instagram account), I am ending this year of 2018 much more at peace. Not only are we officially exempt from the Ministry of Education to home educate Josiah (the letter arrived last week!), but a sense of steady belief and calm have returned to my heart and our home learning life.

My heart really does rejoice and rest best with a Charlotte Mason way of home educating.

These last few years have been a seemingly slow journey to this place. I sought to give our two precious ones a "quiet growing time" even before I knew Charlotte advocated for one. I got our little ones out in nature and walks even before I knew it was such a staple for a CM education. And I have been reading the children books upon books since they were newborns.

So when I started reading about this lady during web searches for homeschooling, I was immediately intrigued. And, as I read more and saw beautiful images of around the web of families living such a beautiful and rich way, my heart grew more and more excited. Could I actually give our children such an education as that?

Wee munchkin, aged two!

For Christmas 2016, I bought myself For the Children's Sake by Susan MacCauley Schaeffer. It came all the way from England to New Zealand. It arrived just before we had to move out of our home for a few months. The place we went to stay at had no internet and sat two streets from the beach. My memory of the summer was a blossoming love for Charlotte, confirmation of a deep-rooted belief about learning and childhood, and the evidence before me of two little children relishing days of quiet, steady, rhythmic, story-rich, nature living.

When Josiah turned four, I was desperate to begin. I think too, my own educational upbringing and notions ran deep. Back and forth we did "preschool" and more CM living. And this year, after turning five, that internal pressure to "do school" as well as my confusion over what is "right" educationally has proved tumultuous for me. Bless the children, they put up with a lot from me this year!


But around this past September, in my process of writing Josiah's exemption from school and in which I had to explain our philosophy and schooling aims, the Holy Spirit sieved the chaff from the wheat in me. Not only that, as I saw how my inconsistent parenting/teaching this year had had on their behaviour, I could see so clearly what I really knew all along: we could and should pursue a rich, rigorous yet gentle way of educating their hearts and their minds.

Laying down the lines of habit, understanding the way of the will, thought breeding thought...

It all makes sense and right with how God intends His people to live. It's a woman-made methodology that is not perfect, but it enriches Scripture and confirms the Bible. It is not hard to align Charlotte Mason's thoughts and principles to the Bible. Other educational philosophies cannot claim that, in my opinion.

Now well on his way to being six

So here we are, then. A few weeks out from the New Year. Next week we are beginning Week Two of a Six-Week block of learning (I will be following the Sabbath style of homeschooling). My husband had a large holiday in October and an easy November, so we will follow his working schedule for major breaks. The week over Christmas we will relax, and then we will continue for four weeks into January, with a week off early February just as things start up again here in New Zealand.

Welcome, and I hope you find our journey and all my ruminations helpful, encouraging, and thought-provoking.

~ Sarah