Why Charlotte Mason Was Right: Teaching Your Children to Be Students

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth look at the eight essential principles of classical education. This month we are focusing on educational virtues. You can check out the previous posts in this series as well: Charlotte Mason and Classical Combined, Slow and Steady in Your Homeschool, Multum non Multa Exhibited in a Charlotte Mason Homeschool, Practical Ways to Use Repetition to Memorize, and Why the Rabbit Trail is the Right Trail.

Probably the most revolutionary aspect of Charlotte Mason’s teaching philosophy was her understanding of children and how they learned. At a time when Great Britain and most of the world believed teaching children should be methodical and stale, she recognized the natural wonder and curiosity in children and their love of a well told story. Her famous quote that ‘children are born persons’ showed her understanding of the uniqueness and natural abilities each child possess from birth. Ms. Mason was definitely on to something and to create true students in our homeschool, we need to heed her words about habit training. The following practices that are usually found in a Charlotte Mason homeschool lead to many of the educational virtues (or habits) talked about in Dr. Perrin’s video.

If you’ve ever tried to teach a classroom of students who aren’t used to classroom procedures and behavior, it is a challenging task. Once upon a time this was the purpose of kindergarten, to train children how to behave in a formal learning environment and get along with others in the same environment. Charlotte Mason also believed in this training aspect for young children, and it was a major focus with elementary students in her schools. While I don’t think homeschool parents need to force their children to sit at a desk for hours or practice raising their hand to speak, there are some Charlotte Mason practices that will create true students of educational virtue.

Practice: Short Lessons
Habit: Focus and Quality

One of the hallmarks of a CM educational style is having short lessons with time slowly being added over the years and maxing out at 45 minutes to an hour for core subjects in high school. While there are a couple of benefits to scheduling your day this way, especially with lower elementary children, the habits of focus and understanding are what Charlotte Mason really wanted to teach children. Focus completely on your work for a short amount of time and the quality of output from your children will be greater. Instead of rushing through a page of handwriting just to complete it, have your children focus on writing quality letters for ten minutes. It might mean that they only finish one or two lines, but they are learning an important skill of taking pride in a job well done. As they move up through the grades and time increases for each class, they will naturally become faster at their work while retaining quality because you taught them to focus at a young age.

Practice: Living Books, Narrations, Art and Composer Study, Religious Education, and Memory Work
Habit: Recognizing Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

One of my funniest memories from a trip I took in college to visit the Netherlands was when I decided to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich one afternoon for a snack. The family I was staying with watched with equal parts fascination and horror as I assembled my sandwich and took a bite. They couldn’t believe I would eat something so disgusting as jelly and peanut butter together while I couldn’t believe they’d eat salted herring. What was the difference? Our palates had been trained to like the foods of our country of origin from a young age. Certain flavor combinations tasted good to me that seemed disgusting to them and vice versa.

Likewise, we must train our children to recognize truth, beauty, and goodness in literature, the arts, and our faith while committing some of them to memory and making connections between them all. It’s a challenge in this day and age for sure to mold their palate into something that yearns for truth, beauty, and goodness instead of salacious celebrity gossip, instant social media access, and funny cat video clips. Charlotte Mason knew that teaching children using quality, well-written narrative books, taking time to focus on beautiful artwork and musical compositions, and learning how to narrate and examine ideas and information so that it’s useful in their life will train our children’s eyes for life.

Practice: Free Time in the Afternoons
Habit: Leisure and Contemplation

One thing that almost all the grade levels in a Charlotte Mason school had in common was free time in the afternoons. Some of the higher grades did have one or two subjects to complete after lunch, but for most students the afternoons were for their delight. Unfortunately most homeschools aren’t much better about providing this down time than public schools are. However I am slowly realizing how necessary this time is for children and parents alike to restore our spirit with some time to pursue our hobbies and ponder deep questions. Many times (myself included!) when we find ourselves with moments to spare or time to fill, we grab for a remote, a tablet, a laptop, or our phones to lose ourselves in the world of screens. It is becoming clearer and clearer that immersing ourselves in this technological world is causing detriment to our ability to think deeply and to create. The bad habit of constantly reaching for a screen needs to be replaced in our children with the enjoyment found in leisure and contemplation of free time every day to just be.

Practice: Nature Study
Habit: Observation and Attention to Detail

The minute you hear the phrase ‘nature study’ you know there is a CM homeschooler around! We do love our nature study, but I’ll be honest. I haven’t been the best at doing nature study around here. I always felt like there had to be this big focus or list of supplies we needed to do it correctly. Until I started to consider what my children are to learn from nature study. Of course, you want your children to learn about the science to be found in nature, the animals, plants, weather, habitats, geology, astronomy, etc., but there is even more that I believe Charlotte Mason wanted children to develop: the habit of observation and attention to detail. Now when we go outside, I like to have the children find something interesting and then spend some time talking with me about it, really examine it, possibly sketch it if they wish. The amazing side benefit of this time outside observing our world is that my children are now more honed at finding details and observations in other areas of our school. Artwork that we look at is searched for hidden surprises, math problems are read more carefully, and the microscope is pulled out more to find the details to small to be detected with the human eye.

So what do these habits have to do with creating a true student? A child who has learned to focus when needed, produce quality work, find truth, beauty, and goodness in their studies, take time for leisure and contemplation, and pay attention to the details is someone who will have nothing to hinder them as they pursue whatever life holds for them. Charlotte Mason knew this and designed her schools with practices that created true students for life.

Don’t forget to visit my fellow Everyday Scholé bloggers and get their take on the educational virtues. Just click the pictures below.


What habits or virtues do you believe makes a true student?
Let me know in the comments below.


Why the Rabbit Trail is the Right Trail: Wonder and Curiosity in Your Homeschool

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth practical look at the eight essential principles of classical education. This month we are focusing on wonder and curiosity. You can check out the previous posts in this series as well: Charlotte Mason and Classical Combined, Slow and Steady inYour Homeschool, Multum non Multa Exhibited in a Charlotte Mason Homeschool, and Practical Ways to Use Repetition to Memorize.

Very often I hear other homeschool moms make a comment similar to this, “Well, we got off on a rabbit trail today and didn’t finish our actual work. Now we’re behind and I feel like we wasted a day.” Even if I don’t make a comment like this, I definitely think it! Anytime we stop to pursue something that sparks our interest or imagination, my default train of thought is failure. I’ve failed at accomplishment that day. I’ve dropped the ball on learning. I’ve let the children get away with something I shouldn’t have. After listening to Dr. Perrin’s talk about wonder and curiosity earlier this month, I realized that sometimes what we call the rabbit trail is actually the trail on which we’re meant to be.

Children are naturally born with an inquisitive spirit and a sense of awe about the world. Unfortunately most of that is drained or forced out of them in the typical school setting where time, curriculum, and testing limitations rule the classroom. Too many times homeschoolers follow this same trajectory of killing wonder and curiosity in our children, not purposefully, but because we feel the pressure to keep up and achieve.

However, as Dr. Perrin points out, the current school system is not creating students in the true meaning of the word. The original word is studium and means zeal, diligent, striving, and eager. Those words are not ones I would use to describe most children in school today. They do not seem zealous or eager to learn in the least! Unfortunately many times our homeschools become more like the traditional school system and wonder and curiosity are squeezed out of the way.

When a rabbit trail comes along suddenly in our school day, it usually is because something has captured a child’s wonder or their curiosity has been aroused about a particular bit of information. The learning that follows as you wind among the trees of ideas, over the brook of discovery, and step carefully along the path that other true students have trod leads to a day where you have focused solely on reveling in true education. Don’t do the disservice of dismissing these days as a waste or a loss. These are the days that you have taught your children the value of a true education: that following a path of wonder and curiosity is what true scholars, inventors, authors, artists, and world shapers have done since the beginning of time.

 So how do we become better about incorporating wonder and curiosity into our school days?

Plan for it. One of the best things I implemented this school year is having free afternoons (on the days when we’re home in the afternoons that is!). Once our official school time is over, around lunch or a little after, the kids have a couple of hours to do nothing but pursue their own interests and studies. Sometimes they continue with work we started before lunch, or they get lost in library books we checked out that week or they simply play. I have been guilty every year of over-scheduling our days, weeks, and academics, and I wanted to purposefully create a time in our day for exploration, wonder, and curiosity.

Strew books, games, and movies. Every week when we go to the library, I grab some books (usually non-fiction) and movies (usually documentaries) that look interesting or are about something we’ve recently experienced or seen. I keep all of these resources in an easily accessible cabinet in the living room for the kids to enjoy during our afternoon time or any other time they wish. For example, we recently went on a tour through a cave. The kids were fascinated so even though we aren’t technically studying caves right now, I checked out lots of books about caves, animals that live in caves, a documentary about caves, and a travel video about Carlsbad Caverns.

Nature study. So many times, nature study is dismissed even by people who love it as an extra or something to get to if we find the time. However, nature study is the original God-given source for wonder and curiosity in not only children, but adults throughout time as well. Teaching your children to be observers of nature and ask questions about nature is the easiest and most hands-on way to feed their natural inquisitiveness. For the past six months or so, I’ve made nature study an important part of our week and a subject that each of my girls studies on their own a couple of times a week. I’ve been amazed at how much science we’re actually learning through nothing more than awakening wonder and curiosity about the natural world.

Of course, the best way to inspire your children is to be someone who is curious and finds wonder in things as well. Once they realize that learning is not a onetime endeavor, but a lifelong pursuit, they will be more apt to hold onto what they already possess: a desire to know more about everything.

Be sure and check out what Tonia and Sara have to say about wonder and curiosity in education as well by clicking on the pictures below:


How do you inspire wonder and curiosity in your homeschool?
Let me know in the comments.


Embodied Education: Appealing to the Senses and the Soul in Your Homeschool

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth, practical look at the eight essential principles of classical education. This month we are looking at embodied education. You can check out the previous posts in this series as well: Charlotte Mason and Classical Combined, Slow and Steady in Your Homeschool, Multum non Multa Exhibited in a Charlotte Mason Homeschool, and Practical Ways to Use Repetitionto Memorize.

I’ve got some great news for those of you following this series. If you are not even remotely a classical educator, then this principle of classical education is the one for you. It’s actually addressed quite a bit in other educational philosophies as well. Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, and Montessori all address the learning space and what it should be like. I’m referring to embodied education or making sure all of your senses are engaged in the learning environment.

Embodied education is probably already something you are achieving in your home just by virtue of being a homeschooler, as you will see in the examples below. However, I wanted to give some examples of exactly what embodied education looks like in our home and I really want you to share how your homeschool exhibits embodied education as well in the comments. Hopefully this will become an interactive post where we are all sharing ideas.

The principle behind embodied education is a simple one. Children learn better when they are comfortable, surrounded by beauty, and have rituals or routines that focus on virtue and character formation. And I can guarantee that you are already providing an embodied education to your children, so that’s encouraging! But what are some more ways we can practice embodied education?

Make your school area as comfortable and home-like as possible. Nothing wrong with desks and tables, but make sure you include comfy cushions and couches, pillows, and rugs. One way I’ve helped my children with their desire to sprawl and school, as I call it, is to create little nooks in the living room for each of them with pillows and blankets so they can retreat there to work on their independent work. I also give them a clipboard to use because none of them like to write without a hard surface.

Make your school area beautiful. In our official school area (at the end of our dining room), I keep prints of famous artwork on the wall intermingled with their own art creations. I purposefully chose a soft yellow to put on the walls in that room knowing it would be our school area as well. I buy fresh flowers (usually the discounted ones from the grocery store) and place in a vase on the dining room table for the week or if the children pick flowers, we put those in there.

Make your school time a sensory experience. I actually started doing this at the end of last year. During school time I burn scented wax in a wax warmer to provide a pleasant smell during the day. I also play classical music at a low volume all day long while we’re doing school for some background noise. When everyone gets quiet reading or doing work, it’s really nice to hear it fill the room. Adding in field trips about the places, events, and concepts the children are studying in history and science is a great way to bring those things to life through the senses. It’s one thing to read about Egypt; it’s quite another to go to the natural history museum in Houston and see actual Egyptian artifacts.

Create rituals that serve a purpose. I’m not talking about schedules or routines, but practices that you insert in your day to reach your children at the soul level as you form their virtue. While all of that sounds kind of out there, let me give you some examples. The easiest one is starting our day with Power Hour (aka Morning Meeting). During Power Hour I try to focus on good discussion and learning things that are good, true, and beautiful. Within Power Hour, we have our own routine of always opening by singing a hymn and then having prayer. That is how we always start out school day, even if we can’t get to Power Hour that day, and the kids will call me on it if we don’t.

Over the summer as part of my teacher in-service (books I assign myself to read to be a better mother and teacher), I read Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. It made me realize how I need to be better about cultivating an attitude of gratitude in our family as a whole. So starting this school year, of which we’ve completed a week at this point, I began a new ritual where at the end of our school day, we light a candle in the middle of the table, stand around it while holding hands, and say the following together, “Jesus, you are the light of the world. Help us to be lights as well through having a grateful attitude, a humble spirit, and a love for all.” At that point, we go around the circle and we each share three things they are grateful for that day. I close out our school day by reading Philippians 1:3-11 as a blessing for my children and we sing The Doxology together. 

I had honestly never considered how important a pleasing environment and rituals are in a child’s education, but as I learned more about embodied education, I was not surprised to see that I’d already incorporated a lot of embodied education into our day because it makes it more enjoyable for all of us.

I’m looking forward to reading what my fellow Everyday Scholé bloggers have to say about the subject so click on the links below to read more about embodied education.


I also want to see what ways you incorporate embodied education in your homeschool so please leave a comment below.

Tell me how your homeschool environment is pleasing to the senses and any rituals you have in your homeschool day.