Transitioning to Independent Work
Charlotte Mason says, “There is no education but self-education,” (Volume 6, p. 26). Our goal then as educators is to guide our students into becoming self-learners. Transitioning children to more independent work is a process for both teacher and student with many aspects to consider. In fact, I would say there is a bit of an art to slowly letting go. Since every child is unique, we must use what we know about our children to help guide us in this process.
In my experience, children around the age of ten start to desire some independent work. This usually occurs when the child has developed good habits of attention, is reading well and comprehending what they are reading, and is starting to take on more responsibilities in other realms of life.
Begin slowly, allowing the child to start with the subject in which they are strongest. Guide the child in recalling their previous lesson before beginning the new lesson, and help them decide how much they can read before needing to stop to narrate. Then walk them through the process of determining the best narration style for the passage. It can be a silent narration, (see Volume 6, p. 304 for this idea) or any of various types of written narration including outlines, a short synopsis, a drawing, etc. (Volume 3, p. 180). If your student has learned to type, this is a great opportunity for them to begin using the computer occasionally for written narrations. Children can learn how to use an assortment of computer resources (word-processing, graphics, and others) to help get their ideas on paper. We want children to learn these processes for themselves, but we need to teach and guide them in the beginning. As they learn the method, we can give more subjects to the student for independent work.
Turning over a subject to our student doesn’t mean our work is done, however. Ms. Mason says, “Require the pupil to relate to the passage he has read. The child must read to know; his teacher's business is to see that he knows.” (Volume 6, p. 304) Even as we grant more independence, we should not forget to have discussions with our students. Make those discussions with the child a priority. We should also be present to help when a child needs our assistance and to encourage them to stay on task.
While there is work involved in reaching this new stage of independence, there is also a real enjoyment in watching each child begin to take ownership of their education.
As many of us are starting to consider what we will be doing this summer, might we consider Ms. Mason’s idea of a staycation. Yes, even Ms. Mason references the idea in Formation of Character, Part II, Chapter two. “How can we stay at home, with the minimum of expense, and the maximum of convenience, yet all the stimulus of foreign travel?” Ms. Mason states we should observe our town as we would a foreign country. We should observe “its landscape, history, weather, and ways, and then read its literature.” There is so much to see right in our town. Ms. Mason informs us to let the child dive into a specialty whether it be geology, archaeology, botany, or ornithology. She states, “A month spent thus in gathering the lore of a single county is more educative than five terms of vigorous school work.”
This is a wonderful time to involve your children in the learning of their homeland, to make it their own and grow in their patriotic feeling for their hometown. Digging up information in my neighborhood, I have found battlegrounds, battle hospitals, and ruins of houses from yesteryear. This has inspired my son to be out digging and metal detecting to look for relics of the past. Why not take a trip into your town and learn its history? How long have the buildings been there? What are the architectural styles of the older buildings? We have even found in our town an old cannon wedged in stone. If your child is interested in nature have him create a list of species in your area. While you are planning for your breaks throughout this year, use that time to intentionally plan outings and encourage your child’s enthusiasm for the world around them--and even in their backyard--rather than letting boredom set in. Give your child an adventure this year. What will you find in your neighborhood?
Importance of Good Books
Charlotte Mason says in Volume 2 p. 279, “One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child’s intellectual life.”
Alveary membership has helped me ensure that the book choices my children receive meet Ms. Mason’s requirement of “the best.” While I appreciate the work that the Alveary team does to provide books that will mesh with our history timeline, I am most thankful that there is more to the book choice than the historical time period it happens to fall into. The books chosen need to be full of living ideas that build character. Even more, they should nourish the child’s heart and soul.
I was reminded of this recently as I read one of my son’s literature books that was assigned this term. In I, Juan de Paraja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino, Brother Isidro states, “Do not we all serve? In any case, we should. That is nothing to be ashamed of; it is our duty.”
Such powerful words and such a reminder that we are not here for ourselves and that we are here to serve, to love God and our neighbors. As Ms. Mason says, the books speak for themselves. We don’t need to put our thoughts and ideas into our children’s minds, for the ideas come from the great literature.
I am very grateful for all the hard work the Alveary team does to ensure that the books are the best and that our children can grow and be nourished with these books brimming with ideas.
Finishing the School Year Strong
As we draw near to the end of the school year, our last few months of school can become wearisome. We are reminded in 2 Timothy 4:7 that we are to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. How are we to fight strong and finish well? How can we put that into practice in our schools and homes?
It is crucial to take a break after exams to reflect and recharge for the last term. There are many ways we can keep the love of learning ignited. We can change up the schedule to add some variety, add in extra outings, and plan some events to keep up the interest. We can bring out the variety of narration options by acting out plays, writing poems, composing a song, or creating a diorama. Be on the lookout for a question or spark in the morning lessons of something that interests the child, and then gather materials for the child to explore on his own in his free afternoon time and weekends. This is a great way of getting children involved in their education and giving them ownership in what they would like to explore in-depth.
We have to be intentional and not let ourselves become unenthusiastic about school because children will feed off of their teacher’s passion (or lack thereof). We need to find ways to drive our own interests as well, so our children can be inspired. Find books relating to the topics your children are studying so that you can share information you’ve learned and ignite your own excitement for the subject. Education should be a delight and not a burden or chore. Find a spark in your children this term and rejuvenate yourself so you are prepared to help your children succeed and to finish with delight.
-Amy Fluharty & Melissa Ferguson
A few years ago, my oldest son came home from college and as we conversed about many things (including his Charlotte Mason education), he stated that I had been right on a few things. He began to tell me how he had found himself performing silent narrations after college lectures and how it helped him to assimilate his lessons. These are great moments and victories for us as parents and I just smiled and agreed with him.
This is a wonderful time--watching our children grow into adults and knowing we didn’t fail them. We did our best and God stepped in and filled our insufficiencies. As homeschooling parents, we often find ourselves worrying and wondering if we are doing enough, if there will be gaps, and if we are teaching the right way.
One thing I have learned is that gaps are inevitable in everyone’s education, be it public, private, classical, or even a Charlotte Mason education. The thing is, there is no perfect system of education. It is the method that makes CM education stand out and makes it living. Giving our children methods for how to be self-educated is what it is all about. My son’s attentiveness, observation, and attention to detail that we strived for in his CM schooling at home became great habits for him and carried into his schooling away from home. This has helped him to stand out among many, even though some things were lacking in his knowledge. That lack of knowledge hasn’t limited him because he had the drive, the know-how, and the habits to be able to learn what he needed to learn.
I want to encourage all of those trying to teach students or those teaching their own children that education is truly a life; we are only a vessel used by God to carry out His plan. We can only do our best, but God is faithful and will help fill up our deficiencies. We can rely on His promises. CM principles are life-giving and we should hold on to that when doubts set in. Do your part and trust God to handle the rest.
Importance of Exams
Exams are often overlooked in a CM education and we should stop to consider that the main reason for implementing them is to give the children the opportunity to assimilate their ideas and to reflect and communicate what they have learned.
“The children narrate their...answers to the examination questions. They appear to enjoy doing this; indeed, the examinations which come at the end of each term are a pleasure...” Charlotte Mason School Education, p. 276.
Exams are also a great way for teachers to gain insight into the minds of the child. They allow the teacher to reflect back on the term to see if there were any distractions for the child and whether the child was being attentive and making connections. One thing for teachers to consider when evaluating exams is whether the student is in a new phase in his/her development; another might be, “Is this a subject where we were working on their being more independent?” Exams are instrumental in providing a record of the progression your students make through the years.
Exams also allow teachers to examine themselves. Reflective practice questions may include: “How did I present the lesson? Did I recap lessons and listen to narrations? Was I fully present and engaged with my student?” (The Alveary’s Reflective Practice Plan Book has many such suggestions to encourage members’ growth as teachers.)
Exam time provides an excellent opportunity for including your spouse in what your children have been learning. Narrating to dad during/after exams gives a child a sense of accomplishment as to what they have completed.
Children will see the need for sharper attentiveness as they realize that at the end of the term they will be required to give thoughts about their readings. Indeed, this is a wake-up call for some students. Remember, though, that exams should not be taxing on a child and should be a delight, as Miss Mason says. They are definitely a worthwhile investment in your students’ growth--and in your development as a teacher.
-Amy Fluharty & Melissa Ferguson
Nature Study in Winter
Getting outside in winter can be daunting when temperatures are frigid. Sitting near a fireplace with a warm drink and a good book is so much more appealing and may tempt us to stay indoors until Spring! As a result, outside exploration and nature walks are often put off, or children are sent outside for their good, but we do not follow. We know the benefits and the importance of time outdoors from all we have read from Ms. Mason, yet sometimes it’s so hard to make it happen. How can we push past the deterrents?
Preparation is key. Plan an outing each day, even if it is a short one. Invest in some good outdoor gear. (Check thrift/consignment stores.) Buying gender-neutral gear to pass from child to child will make these purchases more economical, but don’t skimp on yourself! Invest in some good, warm clothing and boots so that you are more inclined to get outdoors with your children. Store outdoor gear in an accessible space so you are not scrambling to find what you need.
You will be astonished at all God has provided for us to explore during the winter months. You may also discover a renewed mind and body after a walk in His creation! Sitting by the fire with a warm drink and a good book will be all the more inviting after you return.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalms 19:1
-Amy Fluharty & Melissa Ferguson
The afternoon is upon us; we have just finished a full load of coursework and now I am looking for a break from the structure of morning lessons. Then I remember that I need to get some afternoon occupations in. The science lab. I question, “Is it really needed? He just read all about the idea during the morning lessons. Isn’t that enough?” Then I recall the delight, the laughter, and excitement and how it comes alive to him when my child learns firsthand the idea and can observe and discover for himself what he has learned in his reading .
This is an essential time where children can become excited about their learning, make it their own, and have a first-hand encounter with the idea. These lessons will stay with the child and many times will produce even more ideas for children to explore. Science experiments in the early years help develop knowledge through the activities and reinforce methods used by actual scientists. They help develop a platform of growth for the children as they advance into the upper school years.
So how do I accomplish getting this done in our home? Preparation is key. Plan all supplies a week in advance, set a time, and stick to it. Provide all supplies and instructions for your child and let them lead; then simply be available and assist when needed. Even though it may get messy, may be an inconvenience for you, and may not be your favorite subject, don’t miss out on your child’s excitement and exploration of a topic. Let them discover, explore, and awaken their own delight in science.
-Amy Fluharty & Melissa Ferguson
As we find ourselves in our new “normal”, many have come upon homeschooling in nontraditional ways. Mothers are out there searching for the perfect curriculum or philosophy that will fit the need of their children’s education. Others have been thrown in last-minute and are scrambling due to the public-school system’s inability to meet the needs of their children. Our ideas of education are so dependent upon our own schooling experiences. Where to begin? It is a daunting challenge for those both in and out of the educational field.
I was there fifteen years ago when I began my homeschooling journey. As a young mom realizing that the school system was not sufficient, I began my search. Fear crept in and thus, I played it safe. I met with the curriculum coordinator at my children’s school and got all the “curriculum” they were using and thought I was set–complete with school desks!
After a month in, I was bored, and I knew my kids were as well, so we headed to the library and just read. It worked well; my kids enjoyed themselves more that year while I figured out my plan. The problem was that my ideology of traditional education was ingrained in me. As searched, I plowed through all kinds of educational philosophy, and Charlotte Mason (CM) even crossed my path; however, I felt that it wasn’t for my family. We needed rigor, “the best” and even though good literature stayed in our homeschool, my focus was all wrong.
At this time in my life, I wasn’t looking for a philosophy but more of a system and so, like many, I was sucked into the traditional style of learning: fact memorization and mirroring teacher’s ideas. It worked great for a while; my oldest rose to the challenge, but it slowly began to suck the life right out of my children, and their love of learning dwindled. It saddened me, but I was in the trap of fear, and consequently these thoughts consumed me: “They have to get that merit scholarship,” “This is just the way the world is,” and “It is the only way they can be successful and get into college and a good career.”
It wasn’t until years later that I started to examine some of the problems within this way of educating–the teaching for the test, the regurgitating of facts, learning not for learning’s sake but just for achieving that “A.” I began to realize that there had to be something more. Did God mean for us to live our lives this way? I realized I had compartmentalized my children’s learning. Their school life was separate from family life; it was just a means to an end. Therefore, I continued my research of finding that perfect curriculum, but this time when I stumbled on Charlotte Mason, I read her actual words. And instead of looking for a set curriculum, I started looking for a philosophy.
CM was enlightening: “Information is not education,” she wrote. What was this? The idea of teaching the whole child, a broad curriculum, life-changing ideas that the children can make their own, transforming their persons and character. From then on, I was converted. I read her volumes, PNEU articles, and I had the privilege of attending some Charlotte Mason Institute (CMI) conferences where I learned from the pioneers and about the beginning of the Alveary.
The Alveary has truly been an answer to prayer for me. It has helped me succeed in bringing life back to my homeschool and my family. Having lesson plans laid out so beautifully and ready to go has been so helpful and beneficial. I have more time to spend learning more about how to be my children’s facilitator, and my days of searching for that perfect curriculum are over. I have seen the abundant fruit, the closeness it has brought our family–too many amazing moments to tell–but the best part is the peace. Knowing I have landed where I need to be, having the opportunity to come alongside my kids, and knowing that our journey wasn’t in vain has given me assurance and contentment. God is good and He is faithful and will provide for those who seek Him. And well, what about my fears? They are now gone; God is sufficient and has already proven that to me time and time again. With one kid off to college, one about to fly out of the nest, and one left to carry on with me, I can vouch that education is more than a test, it is life.
So, for all the new homeschool moms out there and for those who aren’t so new but are still looking for that perfect curriculum, I say, “Look no further.” A Charlotte Mason education is not about finding that perfect curriculum, instead it is something much better; it is a philosophy, a way of living, a mind-altering transformation that takes time. Give yourself some grace, know that God has your back, and He will come alongside us as He has promised. I know many want a quick fix of how to “do” this thing, but there is so much more to it than that. It is a process. So, jump in, swim, and enjoy the journey.