In my last two posts, I shared with you my favorite elements from the Charlotte Mason approach (click here to read) and the Waldorf approach (click here to read.) Many people find that these two approaches compliment each other very well, especially when given flexibility and an open mind concerning educational philosophies. Here’s how that looks for us:
Generous Blending of Books and Storytelling
My love affair with beautiful books blends beautifully with my passion for face-to-face storytelling when the two approaches are combined. We snuggle over books from our morning and bedtime baskets, sneak them into just about every lesson, every day, and step around piles of them in every nook and cranny of our apartment. But we also pepper our day with storytelling. Sometimes I do the telling, spinning a rich tapestry of myths and fairytales as we hike or bake together. Sometimes my daughters are the ones enchanting me with their stories, oftentimes doubling as casual narration since the plot lines from our “lesson stories” will show up in their spur-of-the-moment tales.
Charlotte Mason’s Short Lessons Combined with Waldorf’s Artistic Approach
One of the best parts of the Charlotte Mason approach, for us anyway, is the short duration of the lessons. We’re often finished with school for the day no later than noon, but still enjoy a variety of subjects every day. Over the past year, I’ve experimenting with providing a Waldorf-inspired main lesson book and high-quality beeswax crayons for my daughter to document her learning. Nothing formal–I just leave them on the table and invite her to add to it as she wishes throughout our morning. She took to it quickly, adding in drawings of beetles, bees, and the butterfly life cycle as we wandered through our insect study, and drawing pictures from different fairytales we read. It really is a lovely combination, and perfect for our relaxed, artistic approach.
Narration Through Play-Based, Hands-On Storytelling in the Early Grades
I LOVE that Charlotte Mason advocated for narration over formal testing. But oral and written narration can be difficult for children in the early grades sometimes, as they begin to learn how to organize, process, and offer information they’ve received. I signed up for a subscription to Earthschooling‘s first grade level at the beginning of the summer, because I wanted to add in more handicrafts and celebrations throughout our next year, and I really don’t have extra time to organize these for myself. As I sifted through the photographs and ideas on their website, I found myself very inspired by prop-assisted storytelling.
I decided to try it with my girls in place of oral narration one morning. I handed my oldest daughter a basket full of rocks, sticks, unpainted peg dolls, and cheap 50-cent handkerchiefs from the craft store and asked her to make a little play to tell me the story of The Wild Swans, which we had read the night before. Her eyes lit up as she quickly got to work setting up the “world” of the swans with the props. For the next half-hour, I was treated to her rendition of the story and was surprised how many details she recalled. Her narrations had always been rather curt, jumping from major plot point to major plot point, often skipping over the best bits in the name of brevity so we could move on with our morning. But not this time.
We don’t use prop-assisted storytelling instead of oral narration every time, but it’s definitely become a regular feature in our homeschool.
Nature-Based, Unhurried Rhythm to the Day, Week, and Year
Both approaches are very pro-nature, so this (for me) is where combining them is basically effortless. However, there is a subtle difference between the two, and this difference makes for a delightful experience when you embrace both philosophies in your homeschool. The Charlotte Mason approach is a naturalist’s dreamworld, brimming with meditations on everything from dragonfly anatomy to constellations to the names and origins of the local wildflowers that grace your home. Waldorf loves to celebrate the cycles of nature, the ebb and flow of the seasons, the sensory experiences that come with each in turn. It makes time for things like crafting flower crowns in the late summer and beeswax candles in the winter. It brings music to each season, and ritual, and reverence. It’s almost like they’re sisters from the same wild-hearted family–CM is the brainy, Edwardian sister curating dead butterflies for a careful-crafted display case and Waldorf is the barefoot, sun-kissed, free-spirit dancing around her in circles, singing a springtime verse. I love them both, and embrace both of their approaches to nature and our connection to her.
Handicrafts, Baking, and Helping to Care for the Home and Garden
Another arena where the two philosophies meet is the life of the home itself. Both the Charlotte Mason approach and the Waldorf approach insist that a child’s home-world matters a great deal when it comes to education. After all, education is not simply a matter of arithmetic and language–it’s the preparation of a child to create their whole life. We want our children to be able to care for themselves someday, and for others. We want them to know how to feed themselves, heal themselves, and keep their surroundings clean and welcoming. We want them to know how to talk about their feelings when they are hurt or troubled. We want them to take care of their things. We want them to value their family, peers, and fellow community members. We want them to LOVE to learn, and to know how to do it, and to pursue it for their whole lives! Including things like handicrafts, baking, and helping around the home and garden in the early grades is the best way to set that stage for lifelong happiness and success.
Valuing the Journey of Learning and the Relationship Between Child and Parent-Educator Above Academic Checklists
Finally, the cornerstone element from these two approaches for me is the emphasis on relationship and the journey of learning. I think the heart of this is best summed up in the following quotes:
The question is not, “how much does the youth know?” when he has finished his education, but “how much does he care?” And “about how many orders of things does he care?” In fact, “how large is the room in which he finds his feet set?” and, therefore, “how full is the life he has before him?” – Charlotte Mason
Our task is to find teaching methods that continually engage the whole human being. – Rudolf Steiner
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