Three Principles to Help You Create the Homeschool YOU Want
I wish I could say I came up with all of these ideas on my own. But since I can't, let's start by giving credit where credit is due, and that would be to Charlotte Mason. Though there are just as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschooled children, there are some timesless principles that, if adopted and put into practice, help lay the foundation of the enriching, character building, loving, and wholesome environment many of us strive to provide for the precious little persons in our care. Charlotte Mason penned 20 principles, but today let's focus on just three; education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.
Take a few seconds to imagine a raucous rock concert. What does it look like? Sound like? Feel like? What sort of energy is there? Now let's switch over to a 5 star French restaurant. How does it smell? Is it warm? How is the lighting? Are the table placements and settings intimate and inviting? How do the waiters treat you? Try picturing a retirement home. Or a college football game.
Now imagine your homechool. You don't have to imagine what your homeschool IS currently, because you already know. But imagine how you WANT it to feel and what you want it to look like. Most of us want a comfortable, clean, bright, cheerful
environment with dutiful children, busily attending to their studies. There are cheap (and not so cheap) ways to accessorize, create neat and orderly learning spaces, and provide resources to engage our kids' attention and pique their interests.
But IKEA can only do so much. While it's definitely something to consider, there is so much more to atmosphere than just physical environment. We want our children to enjoy and value learning. We want them to try new things - try HARD things - with positive attitudes and growth mindsets. You can't buy any online subscription, wall chart, or workbook set that will create that.
YOU create that. You do it by how you speak, how you act and react, how you spend your time and where you place your energy and attention. Children often reflect what they see. As
the poet William Blake said, "We become what we behold." If we are overly focused on
popularity, wealth, social media, and popular culture, will it be any surprise if our children focus there as well? If we spend our time criticizing, complaining, and exuding an overall
aura of frustration and anxiety, can we really place ALL the blame on our kids for being distracted, irritable, and ungrateful?
Some of you hate me right now. But hear me out. This is actually really good news! YOU have the power to lay the foundation and create whatever atmosphere you want in your home. You cannot take away your child's agency or mold their personality to fit exactly what you think the "ideal" child is, but never discount the power of a mother's example. Be intentional about the atmosphere you want to create. Do you want your children to value reading? Then pick up a book. Do you want your children to love the outdoors? Then go outside. Do you want them to appreciate art or music? Take them to the symphony. Take them to a museum. Do you want your children to learn to work hard? Then you are going to have to show what that looks like. Develop and demonstrate what you value and then share that emphatically and purposefully with your children. Don't expect results overnight. Bit by bit you will create the atmosphere you want.
We're talking habits here, not punishment. This often gets translated into routines, and that's not a bad way to think about it, though it may not be a complete interpretation. If you haven't lived it yet, let me tell you; homeschool life is not all exciting discoveries, mind-blowing experiments, and life changing field trips. Sometimes it's just... regular. Pick a day - any day (hopefully not EVERY day) - where nobody feels like doing math. Nobody feels like opening the grammar book. Nobody feels like doing anything! Surely once in a while we should take advantage of homeschool freedom and flexibility by taking a break. But we don't necessarily want to do that EVERY day. How do you get through the occasional dull, hum drum, monotony of regular, every day, homeschool life?
You develop habits.
In our house, we start each morning with "symposium." This doesn't actually look like any symposium I know of at all, but at one point it was supposed to and the name has stuck. After that, we have "morning school," which basically consists of math, grammar, writing, piano, and depending on age, a few more academic topics sprinkled in. After lunch and a break, we alternate daily between history and science, creatively calling this time "afternoon school." It's a flexible schedule. While I guide and attend to the younger children, the older children have the ability and privilege to order their days more or less how they want. However, we all follow this basic schedule. Is this because it's the BEST schedule EVER? No, it's because it's just our habit. It's just what we do. We wake up and know we have symposium, morning school, and afternoon school.
It's ok if there isn't something exciting and noteworthy about every single day. It's ok if some subjects are hard and we don't want to do them, but we do it anyway. It's ok if when someone asks you what you did that day, you just say, "I don't know. We just did what we always do." Homeschooling is a journey. It's a progression one step after the other. It's not a race and it's not a prize. It's not a badge of honor. It's not a status symbol. It may feel like a wild ride sometimes, but really, it's just a way of life, the good days and boring days. It's what we've chosen to do. So help teach your children to do it, even if they don't feel like it in the moment.
For this instrument of education, it's helpful to think of food. Good food! Healthy, nourishing, life sustaining food. Just as you can maximize the usefulness, abilities, and well-being of your body by eating a wide variety of healthy foods, our minds also require a feast of ideas and experiences to grow, develop, and thrive. As parents, we slowly introduce our babies and toddlers to a variety of grains, vegetables, fruits, and proteins. We don't expect them to necessarily love everything we put on their plates the first time, but we offer the opportunity and provide the exposure. What if we never required our children try new things? What if we just let them eat their favorite food and nothing else? Unless your child's favorite food is the entire soup and salad bar at Sizzler, you'll eventually end up with a small, unhappy, sick and malnourished child.
The same is true with your child's intellect. Spread the feast. Gather out of the world the best, brightest, most important and valuable ideas, knowledge, and questions, and - as appropriate - introduce them to your child. Maybe she'll push away poetry like she does the peas. Maybe math just doesn't tickle his taste buds the way it does yours. There's nothing wrong with that. Your children are whole persons with their own unique personalities. They are not blank slates or computers to be programmed. However, continue to spread the feast. Continue to introduce. And continue to teach and mentor.
This takes intentional and consistent attention and effort. Yes, effort. It's a lot easier to buy prepackaged, overly processed meals or maybe just run for some fast food. (If our taste buds don't recognize REAL food anymore, sometimes fast food seems to taste better, too!) But the the result of a consistent diet of processed and fast foods is subpar health. I hate cooking more than anyone I know. But I still refuse to feed my children junk. None of us are homeschooling our kids because we want them to have a subpar education or a lacking understanding and ability to know and interact with the world around them. We are homeschooling them to give them MORE than what we feel the alternatives can provide. So give them more. You are in control of what you spread on the table; nourish their minds with the very best.
PUT IT TOGETHER
Hopefully you can see how each of these tools or principles builds upon each other. A warm, educational atmosphere aids the perpetuation of foundational daily habits. And such discipline encourages children to try the variety of intellectual foods you lay before them. I hope you can also see how depending on time of year, life circumstances, or even particular personalities in your home, each tool doesn't have to demand equal attention. In my homeschool, we are much more disciplined with schoolwork in September because we know that this will allow us the mental and emotional flexibility to create a more relaxed atmosphere of exploration and discovery in March.
And really, you may have already figured out that whether you are a "Charlotte Mason homeschooler" or not, your homeschool already HAS an atmosphere. You and your children already HAVE habits. You already HAVE a system of providing your children with educational materials, experiences, and opportunities. The real value in taking time to focus on these principles is to ask yourself whether or not your homeschool is functioning the way you want it to function. If it isn't, the solution may not be returning to the never ending search for the absolute BEST curriculum on the market or more expensive extracurricular activities. It may not even be exhausting yourself by committing to a plethora of social connections and networks. It may be as simple as the feeling in your home, your daily habits, and the quality of ideas being presented.
Do these 3 Charlotte Mason Principles appeal to you? Did you know this January is the 100th anniversary of Charlotte Mason's passing? To commemorate, Mentoring Our Own is putting together a FREE online, live, and interactive homeschool summit featuring top presenters from around the country. Speakers will dive into and elaborate on many of Charlotte Mason's most enduring principles. Be sure to register at Many Gifts: Charlotte Mason Education Summit.