Most of us who teach using Charlotte Mason style methods are probably first-generation Charlotte Mason educators. It most likely is NOT the way we were educated — not even close! Perhaps this can be a bit daunting to those getting started who are reading about the curriculum used by Charlotte. It would be easy to think that to be a successful CM teacher, one must be an accomplished artist, musician, handicrafter, naturalist and an expert in literature. Not to mention being somewhat competent to teach the three R’s to our younger students. No wonder some shy away from exploring it further. It is so much easier just to use textbooks, worksheets and lesson plans.
My attraction to Charlotte Mason when I first read about it in Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake, was the emphasis on living books and the arts all suffused with instilling that sense of wonder and delight. I was a bookworm as a child and read everything I could get my hands on. I especially loved history, particularly biographies. I also fell prey to several mystery series. Sadly, I did not have much discernment and valued Nancy Drew over and above worthier books. But God’s grace abounds, and my love for reading continued into adulthood. He providentially provided a husband that had a master’s in English and came into our marriage with a great collection of literature. So it was natural for me to start collecting children’s books and the idea of a Living Books curriculum was a perfect fit. I loved the idea of spreading a banquet of ideas in front of my children each day and letting them dine on choice morsels of truth, goodness and beauty.
My background in the arts was minimal. I remember going to outdoor concerts in the park, as well as hearing my dad play classical piano. When my children were very young, our composer study consisted of just listening to selected pieces from the composer for the term and reading a children’s biography. We also identified instruments in an orchestra. As for picture study, I had the advantage of having an artist dad who took me to art shows and encouraged me to take lessons as a child. Early picture study in our homeschool was simply looking at and narrating the selected prints for the term and reading about the artist. We also read poetry each day and of course we devoured shelves of delightful living books.
Now that I have been doing this for nearly 12 years, I can see how I am completing my own education. I have learned alongside my children. What is more, I have discovered passions which drive me to read more, seek out experts in areas where I am lacking, and research fascinating people and events.
This I believe is the greatest gift which Charlotte has given me: Becoming self-educated, a lifelong learner.
I have found that as we study artists, I have become driven to find out why they painted as they did? What their life was like? How did the culture and prevailing worldviews affect what they painted? We have just finished a term in which we studied John Singer Sargent. I read (editing along the way) aloud to a group of first graders about his life. It was enough to whet my appetite to learn more. I devoured books on his paintings and became especially interested in his painting of Madame X. I am on my second biography of Madame X as I write these words. I have also read biographies of Turner, Caravaggio, Durer, Rockwell and others. There is such a window of history in the lives of the artists. I half jokingly say that if I had to start my education over, I would choose art history over nutrition!
In our nature studies, I discovered local wildflower and tree walks. Each year I made the acquaintance of new wildflowers, taking careful notes so that I could welcome them by name the following year. After several years of these rambles, my friends considered me an expert. I still do not consider spring as being official until I attend our local wildflower walk.
As to history, I see it in the context of the unfolding story of God’s faithfulness to His people. I see how it fits together, how God kept His promises and providentially directed each era, putting his people in place at just the right time. I see how man’s selfishness and lust for power has led to misery and wars. It is not just a bunch of unrelated facts, but a real living story full of people who were flesh and blood, who loved and laughed and perspired.
Yet, there is so much more to learn. In spite of some effort, I cannot tell the difference between a sonata and a fugue but I look forward to exploring that mystery, maybe this year. I do love to listen to classical music and can hold my own with my mother-in-law, a classically trained pianist when we play “guess the composer” listening to classical music on the radio.
In teaching my students — my children — I have become truly educated in the world of ideas. It is a good thing for your children and students to see the enthusiasm you have for learning. It is contagious. Never mind that my boys roll their eyes when I exclaim over the beauty of weeds in our yard. I know they too will know some of the wildflowers by name when they teach their own children.
Wherever you are in your Charlotte Mason journey, I hope you appreciate the education in which you are partaking. We are giving our students an inestimable gift. By God’s grace it will return a hundredfold increase.
Jeannette, a homeschooling mother of four children ages 7 to 18, lives in a small town near Chattanooga, Tenn., and works very part-time as a dietitian.