I think I may have read Charlotte Mason’s School Education: Developing a Curriculum a couple of years ago when my aunt gave me the complete set of Mason’s writings, but I recently re-read it and I have to say that I got much more out of it now that my oldest is seven.
Whereas before I think I read it with an eye toward how habits impact character and lay groundwork, now I have a better perspective on how habits can really help the routine of school and life to run more smoothly.
I say that because although I’ve continued to focus on habits as character training, I have failed to focus on them as a means to smooth our days and make school easier on us all.
After reading School Education afresh, I will be re-evaluating the way we do habits and routines for the next phase of school.
We’ve had a sort of loosey-goosey school arrangement this spring because of my pregnancy complications, and I anticipate giving us grace in that regard as we move to a new house and acclimate to the new baby for a bit, but I think this summer we will begin to apply a fresh approach. Here are some highlights I gleaned from School Education that I’d like to apply:
We need to stick with a simple but firm routine.
Charlotte Mason points out that children are exhausted by lack of routine. When every aspect of the day is up for discussion, it wears kids (and parents!) out. The parent gets tired of the child constantly questioning and challenging every instruction and the child gets worn out by the continual low-grade conflict too. There is a time and a place for flexibility, but if the vast majority of things could be routine rather than the subject of negotiation it could make life calmer and easier for all of us.
We need to allow for vast spaces of unstructured time in our routine.
As modern parents we tend to fill up every second of the day with activity, and it turns out that parents and governesses and teachers of 100 years ago had the same problem. Charlotte Mason felt that feeling like we and our children have to be constantly doing something leads not to greater happiness or more usefulness, but rather to parents and children who are worried, restless, anxious, and fussy. I certainly see this to be true in my own family.
Instead of constant hustle, Mason says we should lay off the hovering and let kids have plenty of time for free reading and playing and figuring things out on their own after their lessons.
“The moral is, not that all mothers should be careless and selfish, but that they should give their children the ease of a good deal of letting alone, and should not oppress the young people with their own anxious care.”
Mason further points out that we are too quick to fault children for “taking advantage” of busy days and being fretful and disobedient, when usually they are just catching the mood of their parents and teachers who get caught up in fussy nervous energy. Again, I have seen this over and over again in my family–when I am overly busy and stressed and we have to get places on time, that is when the kids start dragging feet and losing shoes and getting into trouble. Leaving lots of margin in our days could really serve to mitigate a lot of this fussiness.
In addition to giving the kids space, I need to give myself space.
As I’ve had to slow down this spring, while also continuing to homeschool and being the sole breadwinner for a couple of months, I’ve realized that the pace of trying to be all things to all people is not working out very well for our family. I firmly believe that you can homeschool and work at the same time, but what that worked out to practically for me was working a little all the time, and never having set hours when I could work productively in a chunk, take client calls without child noise in the background, etc. After things settle out with our new house, new baby, and after Josh gets a new job, I’m hoping to work out a regular arrangement with a mother’s helper, housecleaning help, etc, so that I can fill my core competencies (being wife and mom and teacher and also keeping my work hours in check and productive) and hopefully bring a more calm and less frazzled self to the game day to day. As Charlotte Mason puts it,
“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households…If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favorite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents. The mother would be able to hold herself in “wise passiveness” and would not fret her children by continual interference, even of hand or eye—she would let them be.”
We need to apply habits to smooth routine in life and in schoolwork.
In many cases, this is a matter of me recasting how we work on habits. I learned so much from this book about how habits of self-control, fortitude, attention, and controlling thoughts can make school work and daily life more pleasant for parents and children. I found myself personally convicted on a number of points about ways that I don’t have a good habit that I’m trying to instill in my children. If I want them to have the habit, presumably it would help for them to see me evidence it! I also think that fresh applications of habits we’ve long worked on would be helpful, so the kids could see how the habit applies to their school work as well as to how they live their lives.
I’m still working that out, and have some plans to create some posters of habits and verses for the school room in our new house, but I haven’t fully fleshed them out yet.
I got quite a bit more out of the book–great thoughts about living books and school schedules and how to encourage children to have better reverence in worship and the like–but since this is already a long review, suffice it to say that I highly recommend School Education to parents, homeschooling or not.
How do you balance routine and space for free time in your family’s schedule?
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