I (Cheri) am entering my 15th year of homeschooling using the Charlotte Mason method. It’s been quite a journey, one that has educated me just as much as I have educated my children. I have one graduate, and my next is entering high school this year with seven more in various years to go. My daughter, who graduated over two years ago, gets a lot of questions from other homeschooling parents about her experiences being educated with the Mason method. We have noticed, and I have felt myself, that taking the plunge not only with homeschooling your child but choosing a distinct method can leave people feeling, well, afraid. Will this really turn out okay? Am I making the right choice? What will this look like in 10 years?
As an aspiring journalist, Mason graduate, and last year an assistant teacher at Willow Tree Community School, Kaley decided to interview me about my experiences as a parent using the CM method.
Kaley: What was your most difficult adjustment or realization about CM as a young teacher?
Cheri: This probably sounds selfish or silly, but for me it was that I needed to study, learn, and give a lot more of my day and time to educating than I thought. The beauty of that is that it has become a life for our family and I like who I am now more because of it. I’m better read, I know more about God’s world and I care.
K: How have your children surprised you most as students?
C: I am constantly amazed at their own ability to take what they need from the feast I am offering. We will read or study something, narrate, and move on without me seeing anything happen. But later something is said or done that reflects a deep relationship or knowledge of what we studied.
K: What made Mason’s method more attractive to you than others? What made you decide to use it?
C: The books! That was at first glance; it felt like I was just continuing to do what you and I had done the first five years of your life—read good books together. But going deeper, what held me here through the reality of daily struggles and hard work are the things that Mason says that are more in depth and biblical: that children are born persons. That it’s all about relationships. The lifestyle it has and is giving our family. The beauty.
K: Are there ways the method was more or less accessible to you?
C: I’ve always felt that educating with living books made it more doable. It’s not an expensive investment, an in-a-box curriculum that is consumed in a year. Books are a lifetime benefit. Attending the CLUSA conference, and this year the Living Education Retreat, has made it possible for me to grow as a teacher.
If I have struggled with the method it has been figuring out how to teach the subjects that at first glance don’t seem to just come out of a living book.
K: How have you improved over the years?
C: I read Charlotte’s books. That’s my number one best advice. READ HER BOOKS. Get if from the source. I wish I’d done that the first five years! Once I did, our school and life improved dramatically. Now that I have a grasp on the philosophy, it has made teaching very natural and more intuitive. I stopped looking for a step-by-step guide because once I understood her method, the how-to began to flow naturally out of that.
K: Is there anything you would change or do over?
C: I would have been more serious about protecting our school schedule. I would have used living books for high school science sooner. And I would have done math differently. I would have interacted with you as a high school student more instead of having you be so independent.
K: Name five things you think prospective educators should know.
C: 1. You need to take this seriously and study. Maybe most people do. I didn’t as a very young mom and I was pretty cocky about how easy it would be to home school.
2. That being said, then relax! School with your six-year-old is more about a lifestyle. Read living books, have short lessons, and be outside.
3. This method works. Quit freaking out about not teaching grammar and writing to young children.
4. Be what you want your children and students to become. Keep a nature journal, commonplace book, a book of centuries. Read those books you are assigning.
5. It won’t look pretty every day. It’s real life. Babies cry. Toddlers mess. People get sick or naughty or tired. Just keep reading and keep treating them as persons.
K: Tell about a challenge you worked through.
C: A challenge I am still working through is math. It’s my own challenge, so it’s been hard for me to teach it. I have never enjoyed it, no doubt a result of my own education, so it’s a difficult thing for me. I do feel I have found a better way of doing math for your younger siblings, and part of that it being okay with me asking for outside help in teaching math.
C: My turn to ask you a question. Now that your are a few years from your education, in college, married, and have actually assisted teaching the CM method at Willow Tree, what stands out to you as the biggest impact in your adult life? What has the method left you with?
K: Well, I think that the way the method trains you to think and absorb information is one thing that is really useful, in college and in work. But as a child, a thing that impacted me more than reading the Bible or things I heard in church was the characters I read about. I was more motivated not to do things I knew I shouldn’t, like lie, because I wanted to be heroic and good like the characters in Robin Hood or The Scottish Chiefs. I think that may have had a bigger impact on my character and personality than I can even fully know. But at the same time that was because I cared and was really into the literature.
“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?”
© Cheri Struble and Kaley Struble Kelly 2012