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I have done some form of Morning Time with my boys for something like ten years. It looks a little different now that they are 13 and 11 this year instead of 3 and 1, when I likely started with a song, a scripture, and a calendar at the kitchen table. For one thing, my youngest is no longer restrained in a high chair (though there were a few years where he would be upside down on the couch or literally climbing onto my shoulders as I read aloud that I might have wished for that high chair again!).
This year we are continuing our study of Latin with Visual Latin 1. We did the first 20 lessons last year and the plan is to finish Level 1 by Christmas so that we can start Visual Latin 2 next semester. I made it through the first 20 lessons last year without doing the worksheets myself (thanks to many hours of college-level Spanish), but this year I have printed off lessons 21-30 so that I can get in the same translation practice that my boys are doing. The grammar is a bit more complicated now, so it’s easier for me to keep track of it if I’m doing the work, too. And as an added bonus, I can very easily check the boys’ work without having to pull up the answer key pdf every time.
On lighter days in Visual Latin, we’ll sprinkle in some reading from Lingua Latina and perhaps also from Familia Mala (“Bad Family”…this book doesn’t shy away from the fact that the Roman myths are a hot mess).
Just finished at the start of the year:
Cue drum roll… We have finally finished reading The Story of the World Volume 4: Modern Times by Susan Wise Bauer. It’s crazy to think we’re done with the whole series. I think we’ve actually read Volumes One and Two twice. This series goes down as one of our family all-time favorites. My kids would ask me even on the weekend: “Read Story of the World while we play Legos?” This has been a great adventure through chronological world history.
We also recently finished The Fallacy Detective. This was a big hit with my boys–a fun read with often-entertaining examples and exercises. I’ve tried to make a point to my sons that being able to identify logical fallacies is fun and useful, but 1) it isn’t to be used to tear others down, and 2) fallacies make up a small, small fraction of the study of logic–we have yet to begin to cover all of what logic actually is. We’ll take a break this year before heading into formal logic when my oldest is in 8th grade. The Fallacy Detective has certainly whet their appetite for it.
New reads this year:
I pre-read The Ology a few years ago but it’s finally making it into our rotation this year. I think it would have been great to read sooner, but I think it will still be a good, simple treatment of theology for us to enjoy and discuss this year.
In our home, we love books by H. E. (Henrietta Elizabeth) Marshall, having enjoyed Our Island Story (British history), This Country of Ours (US history), and Scotland’s Story in the boys’ independent elementary studies. This year I decided we could start reading her book English Literature for Boys and Girls together. I’m eager to read it myself, and sometimes the best way to make that fit in my schedule is to read it aloud. 🙂 The boys are excited to hear again from a beloved author, and I’m excited for us to venture into the world of British Lit–more deeply than I ever did in school!
I’m in the process of starting a co-op with some local families, so we’ll be covering hymns, Scripture memory, folk songs, poems, artist study, composer study, and nature study in community this year!
There’s also a book club time and my boys (who are both in the “older kids” group) will be studying Shakespeare, one play each semester. This fall, it’ll be The Tempest.
I’ll try to work our co-op selections into our daily Morning Time. But as the kids are getting older and our Latin studies require a daily commitment, this will be more sporadic than regular (has our Morning Time ever been more than sporadic? Hmmm…). One of the reasons for the co-op, after all, is because it is hard to make space for all of these beautiful things!
Want some inspiration for Morning Time in your home? Over the summer, I enjoyed reading Pam Barnhill and Heather Tully’s new book Gather. It’s a beautiful compilation of thoughts, practices, and examples from their own homeschools, and it’s chock full of lovely photos of other homeschool families (of all sizes!) who enjoy learning together. It’s like one of those “day in the life” blog posts, only there’s a book’s worth of it and you can actually hold it in your hands. Tangible book lovers, rejoice!
What about you? Do you do Morning Time? Or something like it at another time of day? What are your plans for this school year?
The following article has been adapted from a talk I presented at the Natural State Charlotte Mason Retreat in April 2021. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.
Here’s a little literary puzzle for you: What do the following books have in common?
Literary nerds would say most of these are examples of “The Hero’s Journey”, but my husband says they’re all just backpacking stories.
Getting Outside to Live the Adventure
This spring my family reached the halfway point of the 223-mile Ouachita Trail.
We’ve been section-hiking the OT ever since I read True Grit back in 2018 and wanted to walk down where the story takes place.
Backpacking has provided our family with many transcendent connections—literary and otherwise. When we set out to cover some ground on foot, we’re getting in touch with a very ancient human practice. When we do something challenging, we have a chance to grow in character. When we face a grueling, rocky climb, our books can inspire us: “It’s the steps of Mordor! Onward to Mount Doom!”
Backpacking isn’t for everyone, but I firmly believe that reading living books and spending time outside are the one-two punch when it comes to helping our kids experience and enjoy what Charlotte Mason calls the science of relations. Some of our best family discussions and most interesting ah-ha moments happen on the trail. And it’s beautiful. But the magic doesn’t happen if we don’t step outside.
Do you know the context for the familiar Charlotte Mason quote “…mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them?” It’s from Volume One, in the section on “Out-of-Door Life for the Children.” Miss Mason recognizes that getting our kids outside might require us to work wonders. It’s a high calling. And it may feel at times that we have to climb mountains to make it happen. But the payoff is worth it. The connections made, the character built, and the awe at our Creator’s handiwork are all worth the effort.
I want to address two attitude obstacles, drawing from my family’s journey into backpacking. Even if you don’t choose to get into backpacking, I hope these concepts will help you recognize your own obstacles to getting outdoors and think of how you might work wonders to overcome them.
Attitude Obstacle #1: The Anxious Mama
We have not always been a backpacking family. I’ve enjoyed hiking since my teens, but sleeping outside is another story.
Several years ago, my husband looked into hammocking as a more comfortable alternative to sleeping on the ground. One evening, he set up a brand-new hammock kit in our yard, complete with a narrow “mummy” sleeping bag, bug net, and rain tarp. He tried it out and thought it was great. I tried it out and literally started hyperventilating. I’d never slept in a mummy bag before, and it turns out, I’m mildly claustrophobic. I couldn’t see the sky, I couldn’t move my arms or legs. It was too much all at once.
My husband realized that we needed to start by just getting me comfortable being outside. So, he’d set up the hammock on a pretty day and suggest I go out to take a nap or read a book. That, I could do.
Over time, as I got more comfortable, we tried sleeping outside on mild nights with no need for rain tarp or bug net. But I would still sometimes go inside midway through the night. This was not my thing, but it was growing on me.
Fast forward to today: I find my hammock quite inviting after a long day of hiking. And I’ve even gotten to the point where I can sleep on the ground on an ultralight air mattress.
Your husband may not be the one leading the charge into the great outdoors for your family, and that’s ok. You may not be interested in backpacking, and that’s ok—I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for my husband. But I hope you can see some of the takeaways from this story.
First off, we need to be patient—with ourselves and with our people. We are all–moms, dads, and children–born persons. So, consider your people and their quirks.
Secondly, we also need to recognize that if there is a strong reaction to something, it may mean we’re doing too much too soon. Start small, with things you can enjoy, and build up gradually from there.
Thirdly, our fears and anxiety may also mean we need more exposure—not less—to the things that scare us.
Let’s say you’re terrified that a snake is hiding behind every rock, just waiting for you to walk by so it can strike. You go over the facts: “Snakes are as eager to avoid me as I am to avoid them.” But often the facts by themselves don’t govern our emotional response until we’ve had the experience of safely walking past 100 or maybe even 1,000 suspicious rocks, with no snake incidents.
Facing our fears and dealing with our hangups is part of practicing masterly inactivity. It’s well worth reading chapter three of Volume Three to get better acquainted with what that means. But Miss Mason does give us a short list of what masterly inactivity involves: authority, good humor, self-confidence, confidence in the children, and a sound mind in a sound body.
Miss Mason adds, “If the sound body is unattainable, anyway, get the sound mind.” 😉
Our anxiety can trip us up, but it can also trip up our kids if we allow it. If we don’t face our fears and cast our cares upon the Lord, we may fail to communicate “confidence in the children,” we may be more inclined to say no when we should say yes, and we may deny our kids opportunities to test their capabilities and to grow in grit and resourcefulness.
Instead of modeling anxiety, we want to model curiosity and wonder at the things God has made. Instead of allowing our fears to keep us inside, we want to show our children by example how to step out beyond our comfort zone and grow.
Attitude Obstacle #2: The Reluctant Child
We know we’ve got to deal with ourselves first, but we may find that our kids are just as hesitant as we are–or perhaps even more so. What’s a mama to do?
Here are some considerations that may help.
Make it Sensitive
My oldest son loves Legos. When we started more serious backpacking the thought of missing out on more than one day of Lego playtime almost brought him to tears. So, for his birthday one year, my husband bought him a minifig backpacker complete with accessories. There’s even a Lego bear, a fish, and some poison ivy. He gets it out when we stop for lunch or after we’ve set up camp, and it’s made our extended time in the woods much more enjoyable for him.
It makes a big difference for a child to know that their interests have been considered. If there’s an activity that they already enjoy, taking it outside may be a good way to gently encourage a new love for the outdoors. Take read-alouds or poetry tea-time or something artsy out on the lawn. If your reluctant child can get more comfortable doing ordinary things outside, it can help the transition into more outdoorsy activities.
Make it Special
We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it special. There are treats we enjoy only while hiking—things like pre-packaged snacks or GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) or homemade apple leather or dried fruit. And this brings up the idea of special responsibilities. You don’t need to do all of the preparations, mama. It can be more fun for kids if they have some skin in the game and can say, “I made the trail mix!” or “I sliced the apples!” Give them the opportunity and see what happens.
We can also give our children special tools as appropriate. A well-timed gift of a compass, spyglass, or pocketknife can be a big boost to a child. If you have a garden or do landscaping around your home, let your kids use real tools as soon as they are capable of safely wielding them. Our kids are often more capable than we give them credit for. If we tell them “no” all the time when they’re little, we shouldn’t be surprised if they shrink from doing big person things when they’re teens.
In backpacker culture, people use special names that in some way describe who they are. My trail name is Persistent Turtle. 😉 My 9-year-old is ALP, which stands for Apple Leather Power. You don’t have to be a backpacker to enjoy coming up with trail names.
Make it Social
We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it social. My kids love having friends over to play in the woods or in our creek, and we enjoy hiking with other families. It can be a really great way to learn, too, as we observe and wonder at things with friends whose outdoor knowledge and skills are different than our own.
Make it Seasonal
Make it fun by making it seasonal. Nobody really enjoys tick season. So, we do our backpacking mostly in spring and fall. In summer, we do more short hikes to swimming holes. Bonus points if there’s a waterfall to jump off of.
And in winter, our day hikes might focus more on finding waterfalls—frozen waterfalls look really cool.
Other seasonal elements we consider are fall colors, spring blooms, and berry picking season. For years when my boys were small we would read Blueberries for Sal and then go and pick blueberries.
Make it Smile
Make it fun by smiling. This is simple, but powerful. When your kids make an observation or create something with mud or rattle off more snake facts than you ever thought you wanted to know—or better yet they bring a snake inside the house—acknowledge their discovery or creativity and smile, even if you’re simultaneously leading them and the snake out the back door. Miss Mason says it like this: “…if they see that the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you, their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter in the book of Nature is closed to them.” Vol. 1, 58
So, keep that book of nature open by showing interest and smiling. Even if it’s gross.
Make it Screen-Free
Sometimes our screen habits are an obstacle to our outdoor habits. One may need to be cut back significantly to make room for the other—not just as a consideration of time but as a consideration of how our habits are training us. Charlotte Mason emphasizes training our children to really see when they are outside. The more we look at screens, the less practiced our eyes are at seeing depth and detail that isn’t pre-focused for us. Carefully consider screen habits in your home, as they can affect attitude on a general level as well as hinder our ability to really see and appreciate God’s world.
Once you’ve addressed attitude obstacles, the rest is just details.
This post isn’t going to go into all of the potentially relevant details, but I do want to briefly address hiking safety. The three most important things I can tell you about keeping your kids safe on the trail are these:
Train the habit of obedience—when you have little ones on the top of a cliff, they need to be able to stop when you say stop.
Train the habit of attention, of really seeing and being aware of their surroundings.
Get every walking member of your family a whistle. In our family, one blast means “Where are you?” or, in response, “Here I am.” Two blasts means “Come here.” And three blasts is an international distress signal, used for emergencies.
Along with these safety tips, check out the principles of Leave No Trace–these are outdoor ethics which serve as an excellent guide to walking wisely, practicing good stewardship, and loving your neighbor while out on the trail.
Take the Long View
Remember that this goal of getting outside is not a competition. To whatever extent we lead our children out of doors, we’re setting their feet in a wide room, and it doesn’t get much wider than the big world God has made and the living books that we enjoy.
Three years ago my family set out on the first section of the Ouachita Trail. I was so sore and tired by the end of our third day that I suggested to my husband that he might need to hike out to the highway and hitch us a ride back to our car in the morning. But after a good night’s sleep in my comfy hammock I felt much better, and we set out to complete the last eight miles of our 24-mile trip. Toward the end of the day, we climbed to a peak and looked behind us. After diligently studying the map and the horizon, my husband told me to look at the furthest peak in the distance.
I asked, “Is that where we started four days ago?”
“No,” he said with excitement. “That’s where we started this morning.”
Remember that if you and your family just keep taking the next step, before you know it, you will reach a vantage point far on down the trail, look back, and be amazed at the ground that you’ve covered.
Looking for great places to hike and camp or otherwise explore Arkansas? Check out my friend Lindsey’s website: All About Arkansas.
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“What Bible curriculum do you use for grade x?”
It’s a question I get from time to time, and it never ceases to make me squirm a little.
Why, you may ask? Well, because the idea of “Bible curriculum,” and especially for a particular “grade level,” is foreign to me.
Now of course I’m aware of the fact that “Bible curriculum” and “Bible classes” exist in Christian school settings, but I’ve always wrinkled up my nose a bit thinking about the Bible being made to fit the mold of an academic subject, added on to a school day like just another textbook or workbook to get through. What affect does that have on the way kids approach the Scriptures? And do they give grades for those classes? What does that teach?
Our approach to the Bible looks a lot less like school and a lot more like discipleship. Reading the Bible together has been a part of our family culture since before our children were born. We haven’t ever felt a need to make sure we added Bible to the kids’ schooling because they’ve been getting Bible with their breakfast since they were tiny.
In fact, while every part of school is informed by the Scriptures, we like to keep the Bible itself separate from “school” in a sense so that they don’t get the impression that a day off of school is a day off from devotion to the Lord.
But what does that look like? And how can you get started with this holistic family discipleship model of Bible learning if it’s foreign to you?
Well, let’s start with why.
Our Why: Created Reality and Biblical Goals
Our children are precious creations of our Heavenly Father–and they are precious gifts entrusted to us as parents. We desire to give them access to the Truth that God has revealed in His Word so that they can grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, that they would begin to know and love their Creator.
Ultimately, we desire that our children would trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins and that they would love and serve Him all their days–for their good and God’s glory, both in this life and in the life to come. We don’t ultimately control this outcome. But we can be faithful to train our children in the way they should go.
Our Why Dictates Our How: Holistic Family Discipleship
Given the nature of our children, the nature of our relationship to them as their parents, and the nature of our goal (that they would have a relationship with God), it follows then that we ought to teach them in a way that is first and foremost relational. And decidedly not academic.
This means that interaction with the Scriptures comes woven into the fabric of our every day lives. There are no worksheets nor tests, no grades nor grade levels.
This doesn’t mean we don’t use printed materials to aid our children’s learning (I will link to some below), but we need to remember that the greatest resources we have to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord are His Word, His Holy Spirit, and our own lives lived alongside and before our children.
God’s Word: We must be in the bible ourselves and we must offer the Scriptures to our children.
The Holy Spirit: We must be seeking God to be at work both in us and in our children–apart from Christ we can do nothing. We may have had a direct role in bringing about our children’s physical life, but the spiritual life is of the Spirit–we cannot manufacture it in our kids. Prayer is indispensable.
Our Own Lives: We must model for our children what it means to believe the Word of God, to study it, to meditate on it, to practically submit our lives to it, and to receive both correction from it when we fail and comfort from it when we repent.
What does this actually look like?
Family Bible Time (what some call Family Worship)
Our current family Bible reading pattern, which we’ve had going for several years, is Proverbs at breakfast and Gospels at supper.
Now, this doesn’t mean each one happens every day. The reason we read the Bible over breakfast and dinner is because we often don’t read the Bible over breakfast and dinner. This is a scattering of seeds, not mechanical planting.We aim for faithfulness and perseverance rather than anything that resembles perfect consistency. But in keeping up the habit, we pretty reliably hit at least one of these each day, sometimes both. And before it was Proverbs and Gospels, we read slowly through the entire Bible at meal times–it may have taken a decade, but we kept going. The reason we’re in Proverbs and the Gospels right now is because the primary needs of our children are to receive instruction and correction according to God’s wisdom and to receive Jesus the Messiah as their Savior.
While we eat breakfast, my husband will read a few verses from the chapter of Proverbs that matches the calendar date (since there are conveniently 31 chapters in Proverbs), either selecting these verses ahead of time or asking for the kids to randomly select a number. He reads a verse and asks what it means. The kids give it their best shot and then we all discuss the meaning. He asks if they can think of any examples (a child may not use his brother as a negative example–this is a necessary rule, folks!). It has been fun over the years to hear the examples the kids come up with–sometimes from a fable, from literature, from a Bible story, from a movie. They are learning about wisdom and foolishness and learning how to identify each.
After Proverbs, we recite the Shema and the Lord’s Prayer. We switched up this recitation time over the holidays last year in order to recite and memorize Mary’s Magnificat. Now that we have the placeholder for recitation, we may use the time for other passages when they seem fitting.
Our evening Family Bible Time involves my husband reading from a passage of Scripture (currently Luke) at mealtime and then asking a few questions:
What did we learn? This is a good time for kids to either pick one thing that stuck out to them or simply narrate what they heard.
What can we worship God for? Sometimes, when we’ve been in the prophets, the answer is usually “That God was so patient and gave so many warnings.” Now that we’re in the first few chapters of Luke, the answer is usually “For sending Jesus to save us.” Sometimes the answer is different, but it’s no problem to worship God for the same things over and over again–in fact, it’s right to do so. Once answered, we pray and praise God based on what we saw in the passage–even if it’s simply for preserving the genealogy of Christ (which is pretty amazing when you think about it). Sometimes there may not be an obvious answer. When we were in the middle of Job as a family, it was admittedly hard to find any answer from the text–so we felt Job’s desolation a bit but worshipped God anyway.
What can we do with what we have learned? This is where we pay attention to the right response(s) to what we have read. Sometimes it is simply to worship as we did in the second question. Sometimes there is a command that we ought to obey. Sometimes there is something for which we ought to be thankful, something that ought to amaze us, something that ought to cause us to care for others, an example to follow or an example not to follow.
Now, these questions aren’t magical. They’re just the tools we have used for discussing the Bible as a family and for attempting to respond to it properly. Sometimes the kids are fully engaged and wow us with their insight. But sometimes the kids aren’t super excited to answer. Sometimes we get blank stares. But we don’t read the Bible and ask the questions in order to get perfect responses from our kids. We do it so that they are regularly interacting with the Scriptures and learning by modeling how to respond to them. It’s not perfect, but it is worthwhile. We are planting seeds.
Other Applications and Resources
The seeds we plant in Family Bible Time are watered by a lot of other practices and experiences.
We pray together as a family before meals and before bed. We try to remember to include intercession: to pray for neighbors, friends, family members, etc–sometimes on a weekly rotation so we don’t forget (but let’s be honest, we sometimes forget and go for long stretches with just basic bedtime prayers).
We have also made sure to include Bible time for our children to enjoy independently, even from a very early age by listening: Dove Tales (with cassettes–yes, we inherited these from my in-laws), Jesus Story Book Bible (with CDs), and a dramatized audio Bible from Faith Comes by Hearing. Now that our boys are 11 and 9, they are expected to read a chapter of the Bible first thing in the morning before coming downstairs for breakfast. This doesn’t mean it always happens, but that’s the goal and the general habit.
We’ve also enjoyed watching videos by The Bible Project–edifying for parent and child alike.
This emphasis on the Word of God being integrated into all of life means that it also influences our school day–just not in the graded-Bible-curriculum sort of way.
We have enjoyed singing many hymns in our Morning Time (currently singing along with this channel), and we have also enjoyed music by Sovereign Grace Kids (from a Christian seller). Even as adults, when we listen to music with lyrics, we generally choose music that is spiritually edifying. Our kids take this in as well.
The Scriptures inform the other books we choose–and how we read them–whether literature, tales, history, poetry, nature, etc.
The Scriptures make it into our kids’ copy work and dictation, too (that’s language arts).
Keeping It Real
We don’t do all of these things all the time. The most regular parts of our every day life are family Bible time, listening to hymns and other spiritual songs, family prayer, and good discussions on all kinds of things as we go about our days together. And these discussions aren’t just aimed at our kids. My husband and I discuss books, current events, and so many things with each other, seeking to apply God’s Word and His wisdom to everything we encounter. Our kids are audience to these adult conversations, too.
The aim is holistic, not check-list driven. And it is gloriously free from pressure to “get through it” on any kind of annual school schedule (thank God!).
The point of this post isn’t to say we’ve got it down, nor to set any kind of expectation for anyone else. The point is to demonstrate the many ways in which we can spiritually nurture and disciple our children–without boxed curriculum. And to remind all of us (myself included) that we may sow seeds, but the Lord causes the growth. Our dependence upon Him is central to our efforts at training up our children in the ways of the Lord.
All of the things we do have begun as small habits. A little here, a little there. If you are just starting to bring Scripture into your home and homeschool, don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed. Pick one thing. One habit that you and your children can enjoy. Plant a seed. And then another. Water where you can. The Lord causes the growth.
I hope this post has helped to somewhat answer the “What do you use for Bible curriculum?” question. It’s not a short answer, but I hope it may encourage some to think outside that proverbial box … of curriculum. 😉
How do you nurture your children in God’s Word? What resources have you found helpful?
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In my last post, I shared Why We Homeschool, and part of our WHY included the freedom to choose HOW.
I explained a bit of our story–how my husband was homeschooled and how I went to public school. And I shared our mission statement:
Since before they were born, my husband Nathaniel and I have purposed to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and to educate them at home by means of whole/living books, meaningful work and life experiences, and disciplined habits of wisdom and personal responsibility—for school and for life and ultimately for eternity.
In this post, I’ll give a little more of our story and begin to flesh out just how we have come to do what we do–and how we think about it, summarizing Charlotte Mason and classical philosophies as best I can.
A Little More of Our Story…
That mission statement above was written recently, but it pretty well describes what our aims have been from the beginning, owing much to what Nathaniel’s family passed down and to his experience with the literature-based Robinson Curriculum.
Our initial trajectory found further inspiration nearly six years ago when an older mom-friend at the local homeschool co-op first introduced me to the ideas of Charlotte Mason and Christian classical education (yes, both at the same time–it’s taken me years to sort them out! Ha!).
We were already legally homeschooling our five-year-old at this point–attempting to use my mother-in-law’s KONOS unit studies curriculum. Think: a text-only Pinterest board in a three-inch binder (though I’m sure it’s more up-to-date these days). I had already found that, rogue that I am, I took the subject matter we were supposed to cover in KONOS, ignored the binder and its overwhelming amount of options completely, and simply went to the library to check out as many quality books as I could find for us to read aloud on a given subject.
I’m not a crafty mom, nor do I like Pinterest.
While carting books home from the library for our immediate needs, I began to explore Charlotte Mason via Ambleside Online and some of my friend’s Well Trained Mind materials (which are Classical, too).
Somewhere in that first year I also acquired Educating the WholeHearted Child, an excellent resource on Christian homeschooling, by Clay and Sally Clarkson–and I found Charlotte Mason quotes littered throughout.
Hmmm…Interesting. The wheels were spinning.
Half way into our second year, now invested in a couple of those Well Trained Mind materials and a practice called Morning Time (recommended by my friend and expanded upon by Pam Barnhill), I found myself tuning in to a new podcast called Scholé Sisters, “a casual conversation…” for “the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow.”
Inspired by the podcast to “find your sisters,” I invited the friend who had started this mess 😉 as well as a few others to form our own book club and read Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake–arguably the Charlotte Mason gateway drug.
At this point my research perhaps turned into somewhat of an addiction.
I began to see that Charlotte Mason’s ideas about books, habit training, and real-life learning lined up with so much of what we were already doing–and they challenged me to grow further out of my push-through-to-the-next-thing mindset that I’d acquired in my own school years.
I also began to explore classical education a bit, but never really hopped on the Trivium-as-stages Train. I was delighted to find in further listening and research that the “stages” application of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric was a gross oversimplification–classical education, as I had hoped, has far more to offer.
Since that first year where I didn’t-really-follow-KONOS, we haven’t used any sort of all-in-one curriculum (though I have borrowed a lot from Ambleside Online and we do use curriculum for math). We appreciate the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason and Christian classical education, and we choose materials eclectically guided by a lot of the principles from these philosophies.
So, what exactly are they?
Charlotte Mason, a British educator who lived at the turn of the 20th century, describes education as “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Atmosphere refers to the naturally occurring environment of the child—the home in which they live, the people they live with, the world outside their front door. This also includes the attitudes that they pick up from, say, their parents.
Discipline refers to the formation of habits, whether personal cleanliness, academic, or other habits of character. Again, who we are as parents teaches a lot!
Life might be a bit confusing. By life Mason means “living ideas,” or knowledge that is vital. This kind of knowledge is found by being in living touch with the world around us and especially by being presented with a rich curriculum that puts us in touch with the knowledge made available in books—and particularly books of literary quality rather than dry textbooks which can often strip knowledge of its delight. When Charlotte Mason mamas speak of living books, they’re in this realm of “education is a life.”
Our mission statement corresponds with this framework for education: “…meaningful work and life experiences…” — a big part of atmosphere. “…disciplined habits of wisdom and personal responsibility…” — discipline. “…whole/living books…” — and there’s the life.
Now, that’s Charlotte Mason on a very general level. She also has a list of 20 principles and six volumes in which she develops her philosophy and method. Some of the key elements include training the habit of attention, growing in self-education, narrating back what one has heard or read after just one reading, spending time outside in nature, studying a wide range of beautiful things, and resisting the urge to over-teach so that the child does the work of thinking for him/herself. But that’s just scratching the surface.
When I list Charlotte Mason as part of how we homeschool, I mean that we are happily influenced by her ideas, but I do not mean that I follow her method anything near completely. Her principles resonate with me and challenge me to be a better mom, but I implement them very much in our own way. And that’s perhaps why I sometimes feel that we fit more easily within Classical education (a philosophical umbrella with arguably various methods up for grabs) than we do in a strictly Charlotte Mason approach (a philosophy with a prescribed method to go with it). But they really do meld together well in our home!
Christian classical education aims at wisdom and virtue and at cultivating an appreciation for what is true, good, and beautiful. It emphasizes an ancient and long-standing educational tradition that has been abandoned in the past 150 years or more, but it’s making a strong comeback today. Training in The Seven Liberal Arts of Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric (the arts of language); Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music (the mathematical arts) is a key part of the curriculum. But this isn’t the sum total of learning, either. Other elements in this tradition include training in piety, gymnastic, music (in more than a mathematical sense), common and fine arts, sciences and history and philosophy–with Christian theology as both the guide and the goal.
There is a learning curve here, especially since the words I just used to tell you what’s included in a classical education all have older definitions and understandings that are either completely abandoned or else eclipsed by the way we understand them today. There are helpful resources out there, though. Podcasts like the Scholé Sisters, Ask Andrew, and Cafe Schole have been helpful. As for reading, these articles at the Circe Institute can get you started, and the booklet Introduction to Classical Education is a helpful overview. But once you’re ready to dive into a thorough treatment of Christian classical education, be sure to grab The Liberal Arts Tradition (revised edition) by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain. This book ties all the pieces together with lots of historical references so that you come away with a better and deeper understanding of the whole paradigm and where it all comes from. There’s also a short glossary of key words and concepts at the back of the book that’s a very handy reference!
Charlotte Mason and classical both aim at a holistic education that respects the nature of the child as made in God’s image. As such, children ought to be nurtured and educated in body, mind, and soul–and primarily by those that love them most. Today’s secular school system doesn’t acknowledge the soul of the child, so it falls short even when it aims at a holistic education.
Some of what we do will sound flowery, but that’s because our focus isn’t just on academic skills—it’s on all of life enjoyed and lived to the glory of God—and this includes a lot of things that are both enriching in an enjoyable way and pay dividends academically, too. What we do is academically rigorous, but in a very different way.
We’ve found that both Charlotte Mason and Christian classical education each resonate with our priorities and direction, while also giving a greater depth and breadth to our efforts than we knew was possible.
Do you have to follow either of these philosophies or methods to homeschool you kids well and raise them in the ways of the Lord? No. The best way to do that is to be humbly and constantly immersing yourself and your children in God’s word, believing it and living by it together in your everyday, everywhere life. But both classical and Charlotte Mason philosophies can be extremely helpful to that end–not only for the way they give you many positive things to implement in your teaching, but also for the way they challenge you to peel back the layers of negative influence from our modern, materialistic education system.
Stay tuned for more in this series as I begin to post specifically about how we handle various subjects in our homeschool (without actually concerning ourselves much with “teaching all the subjects”).