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Like many homeschoolers, we embrace an eclectic approach that combines multiple philosophies or approaches. I often describe our homeschool as a kind of ever-morphing stew that starts with a base of Charlotte Mason and Waldorf, throws in a heaping spoonful of unit studies, stirs in some classical education, and occasionally gets ignored in favor of periodic unschooling. And it’s always changing–sometimes with the seasons, sometimes with our interests, and sometimes because life happens and we are okay with adapting as needed.
The two main ingredients, though, have remained relatively consistent (though far from “pure”) and those are Charlotte Mason and Waldorf. During the next three posts, I will break down our favorite elements of both and show you how we combine them in our fairly-relaxed, eclectic homeschool.
Let’s kick it off with our favorite elements from the Charlotte Mason approach!
Books, Books, and More Books
What initially drew me to Charlotte Mason was the call of the book siren. I can’t resist. Books are my one weakness when it comes to collecting anything. When I learned about this philosophy–built upon beautiful, well-written, high-quality literature–I was hooked.
Appreciating the Arts
My husband and I were both theatre majors and musicians, and I added visual artist to my list of titles in my mid-twenties to boot. Thus arts rank high on our list of priorities when it comes to educating our daughters. The Charlotte Mason approach gives ample emphasis to the arts, from picture and composer studies to dedicated space for artistic expression, Shakespeare, and concentration on the development of artistic skills.
Books and the arts may have gotten me to the Charlotte Mason party, but the short and varied lessons kept me there. Most days, we finish our lessons well before noon, giving us plenty of time to play, read, and run outside. However, we never feel deprived or like we’re cutting things short. There is such a rich variety of subject matter each day–history, art, music, literature, math, French, handcrafts–that we feel like we’ve accomplished a lot in a small amount of time. Short lessons are also ideal for younger children, allowing them to give their best effort each session without fatigue or frustration.
Emphasis on Nature
I have to admit that this was my number-one priority for homeschooling in the first place. The fact that the Charlotte Mason approach emphasizes time spent outdoors, nature study, and nature lore only made it appeal to me more.
The Experience of Science
In the early grades, Charlotte Mason recommended nature study, nature study, and more nature study. She understood that young children benefit tremendously from learning outdoors and observing the world around them. In our home, we believe science is meant to be an experience, a very sensory experience, and this approach honors that. With hands-on, nature-based science, everything comes to life and the child forms a strong understanding about how things are connected in the world.
Inclusion of Handicrafts
Handicrafts–activities like sewing, felting, knitting, weaving, wood-working, etc.–are so much more important than they often get credit for in our busy, busy world. These meditative, introspective activities are critical for fine motor development and provide so many learning moments for children and adults alike. I did not think about handicrafts as educational activities until I discovered Charlotte Mason, and I’m so glad that’s changed.
Narration Instead of Testing
I know that testing is sometimes necessary, but it is far from the most effective way to assess understanding of a topic. I love how the Charlotte Mason approach favors narration over testing, especially when it is kept casual and organic. Julie Bogart of Brave Writer often talks about narration in terms of having “big juicy conversations” rather than doing formal sessions immediately following a reading, and this relaxed approach has been tremendously successful for us.
These are the key elements of Charlotte Mason than we have integrated into our own homeschool approach. Do you incorporate any Charlotte Mason elements in your homeschool? Feel free to share in the comments! Our next post will focus on the elements of Waldorf that we use in our homeschool.
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