As recently as nine years ago when my last child was born, a passerby stopped and suggested to my husband, Kent, that he might consider wielding a machete to chop down the weeds taking over the front porch (which had no railing). Soon after that, a sweet lady from across town stopped by the house and invited me to come and see her flower gardens. She described in detail what she envisioned I could do with our pathetic front lawn if I was willing to do the research and heavy lifting. I had never gardened before, but her enthusiasm and vision for what she believed I could do was inspiring. I was finally at a place in my life where I could consider what she was saying and get to work. Over the next few years, our family worked hard on making the front yard the refreshing place that it is now. We enjoy it so much, even though it needs a little weeding and the house will be ready for some new paint soon. What does this have to do with anything, you ask? Stay with me here…
Oftentimes I hear from those beginning this relational education journey with the Mason method. They tell me they are overwhelmed by all of it. Those attending the conference speak of information overload. As an organizer of a retreat myself, that type of comment can be distressing which is one reason why time for reflection and contemplation of the ideas presented is important – and no easy task.
I didn’t wake up one morning when my firstborn was six and start implementing a flawless application of the Charlotte Mason philosophy in my homeschool. Does anyone? No, I started by attending various conferences, listening, and looking. Then I bought a unit study curriculum. Then I bought classical everything. Then finally, someone rather offhandedly mentioned a set of books by this “dead British spinster who wrote 6 tomes on education” and “if you like using literature, you might like her stuff.” Indeed.
I kept moving forward and then heard Susan Schaeffer Macaulay speak on education at a L’Abri conference. I read For the Children’s Sake. Little by little, I implemented more and more of Mason’s philosophy, which was relentlessly true and alive. It wasn’t until I was into it for three or four years that I could say with confidence that I used the Charlotte Mason method. I’m still learning and tweaking what I do. It’s been a process – no, make that a life – but there has been such reward and joy, as well as trials and errors, that I feel blessed to share about it all.
So, when you attend a conference or listen to other veterans of this method, consider how long they’ve been at it. For me, that would be nineteen years of experience. My advice? Start where you are. Keep expectations realistic. Implement a little at a time. Join or start a community committed to learning and growing. Support is crucial – one committed friend will do. Try thinking deeply about one principle at a time. After all, a young woman attending Mason’s House of Education took two full years to be trained properly in her methods. Essex Cholmondley, in speaking of this training said, “Each week at college brought fresh growth in knowledge. Slowly to each of us, according to her own nature, came the power to combine joy of mind with strenuous effort of will in the service of God and of young people for God.” Slowly. According to her own nature.
Remember my messy yard at the beginning of this post? My friend could see the potential and knew the possibilities. I’m convinced that our schools can be transformed into places of beauty, too. For the newbie, you can start to read and apply one thing a t a time. For the experienced, consider coming alongside someone else and sharing some wisdom. Just like my yard, you will “weed it and reap”.
Copyright 2012 Nancy Kelly. You can find Nancy over at her blog, Sage Parnassus, where she continues to weed.