I had dreams when I began homeschooling. Dreams of poetry teatimes around the table. A morning basket filled with beautiful living books and surrounding my children with art and classical music. An atmosphere of learning set around free-play and handmade crafts in the afternoon. Memorizing verses and poetry while copywriting passages of classic literature. Math lessons that occurred in real life while baking delicious food or counting leaves and other nature items. You know, all the nature items we would have collected on our morning nature walk. I ordered all the Charlotte Mason friendly curriculum I could find and was excited to get started. It would have been the most picture perfect, Instagram worthy homeschool I could ever imagine.
Well, a girl can dream can’t she?
To explain I am hopelessly optimistic, not to mention unrealistic when it comes to planning. I desire perfection. Pair that with fairytale dreams and an artistic, right-brain way of thinking I can’t seem to keep my head out of the clouds. Searching Instagram and its many beautiful homeschool accounts were just the icing on the cake. I didn’t waste any time jumping right in. All or nothing right? Well, my son didn’t waste any time sharing his feelings on the matter either.
I sat, defeated, sipping my coffee and wondering why our days looked nothing like I imagined. Why was my child bored out of his mind and why was he pushing against my every effort, and why was the homeschool style most recommended to me failing so miserably. I really thought I was doing everything right by the standards set before me. I wasn’t pushing traditional schooling or rushing into workbooks. We spent hours together outside, learning side by side. I chose beautiful living books to share over breakfast, and I followed his lead, or so I thought. Maybe that’s exactly why my plans were failing.
In the other room, my son sat playing lego, after yet another frustrating day. I sat and just thought about him. Here was my son who took a dictionary to bed with him at night. Who studied large, textbook-sized chemistry books by age six, and kept a Mandarin, Spanish, and German language book by his bed “just in case.” He devoured fact book after fact book. No need to stop and savor the knowledge he was learning. No, once he got, he got it, and it was time to move on. He had never fit into any kind of box laid out before him. Not even as a baby. Why would he fit into any kind of box now? Maybe, if I had been paying close attention to actually following his lead I would have realized how just how simple and clear the solution was.
Unfortunately for all my plans, I’m not homeschooling myself. No, I’m homeschooling a left-brained, differently-wired kiddo who has absolutely no time to take it slow for work he considers silly and pointless. Ironic since the whole point of this Charlotte Mason lifestyle was to avoid the “silly and pointless” work.
“Just give me the boring textbook and let me learn woman!”… is what I imagine him saying someday if I continue trying to add my bit of flair to make it fun, or what I would consider fun.
It would be fair to say that he and I are opposite in many ways, if not most ways. He wanted all the workbooks I had tried so hard to avoid. He wanted the clear, boring math textbook and a straightforward approach to science, with proper terminology, not a nature walk. He needed to learn Language Arts through fill-in-the-blank questions, lists of grammar rules, and challenging vocabulary words from his science texts. I struggled (and at times still struggle) to wrap my head around this style of learning.
Through all my searching I finally realized why the Charlotte Mason style of learning was not working for my son.
- Charlotte Mason recommends putting all else aside, including school, when a bad habit develops in your child and focus solely on that. Character over curriculum, right? While I believe that to be true I eventually figured out that most of the bad habits and behavior would begin when my son wasn’t being intellectually challenged. He needed more out of his education, not less.
- Learning science through nature at the youngest ages was not where my son was all. He wanted and needed that “dry” science textbook. My attempt at natural journalling alongside my son as a form of science nearly pushed him and me to our limits. He was not having it. I was ruining the nature walks, his words, not mine. Plus, why wouldn’t I just snap a picture or take a short video and be done with it? He had a point. So the journals were put aside and nature walks, became just that, a walk and a time to play without the “threat” of having to add to his nature journal later that week.
- Copywork. Copywork. Copywork. Tears. Tears. Tears. I understand the value of copywork to a point but there was just too much. So I cut back, and I cut back until there was no more than a sentence of copywork a day. It still felt like torture so we took a break from it all together only to find without the copywork each day he went back to happily writing pages and pages of his own stories in his notebook. Sure it wasn’t classic literature or beautiful poetry, but his stories were imaginative, at times grammatically correct, and all his own.
- The emphasis I placed on classic fiction and living books was killing his love of learning. He didn’t need his facts mixed in with stories to make sense to him. All he needed was the right encyclopedia and a dictionary by his side. Also I welcome the times he chooses a Calvin and Hobbes comic book or his Ninjago chapter books in place of a textbook. It is a joy to hear him giggling in his bed to what would be considered “twaddle” in the Charlotte Mason lifestyle.
- A gentle approach to the early years, though wonderful for most children was frustrating to my son. He wanted the rules of grammar. The math drills and the lab books to go along with his science text. He didn’t want to just learn about the continents. He wanted to know the names of each country, their flags, their culture, their food, and languages. He wanted to watch documentaries and make little reports and timelines. There was little time for art projects and crafts.
I share my experience only because I know there are other families similar to mine that see what the majority of other homeschoolers, in local co-op groups, Instagram, and Facebook are doing and you’re left wondering, like I was, why doesn’t this method work for us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Charlotte Mason style of teaching at all. In fact, if you read my overexaggerated intro to this post, you’ll know I love her philosophy of teaching. And if it had worked for us we would have continued on that path. Her methods work wonders for many homeschool families.
For us, however, we’ve had to move into a more classical style of education with a bit of interest-driven schooling thrown in. It’s working for me and most importantly it’s working for my son. That’s the ultimate goal of homeschooling, right? To cultivate relationships and educate your child in the best way possible, for him and for his future. Whether it’s through the methods of Charlotte Mason, classical education, unschooling, or something entirely different. So I’ll take my experience with Charlotte Mason homeschooling for what it was, a learning experience.
The lesson I learned, I’m sure many of us had to learn or have to learn at some point is, teach the child not the method. And teaching the child, well, that’s where the real work begins. It’s not the method or the curriculum that’s difficult to teach. Anyone can follow a list of rules. No, the challenge is to listen to your child. Meet him where he’s at and start teaching, and learning with him there. No homeschool style, no matter how wonderful, will work well if we become so focused on the method we forget the child.