The best way to use the Charlotte Mason method in your homeschool is to just start. Begin with the basics and continue to learn all the ins and outs of what a CM education is all about.
The Charlotte Mason method is best summed up in her words that “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” I talked a little more about what a CM education is here.
To start with the basics, keep the lessons short, read living books and ask your child to narrate every reading. Leave the afternoons for free time and go outside often. Add in singing hymns and folksongs, listening to a composer and studying great artists, learning a handicraft and reciting quality poetry or scripture. You’ll also want to start implementing habit training for your kids. That’s where the discipline comes in.
Short lessons are important because this builds your child’s attention. You stop the lesson just before she loses focus. Before I learned about CM I was working with my five year old (in a CM education formal lessons don’t begin until age 6) on a phonics program and wondered why the lesson always ended in frustration, or worse. Well, each lesson would take 30 minutes and that is entirely too much time for her to focus.
As soon as I realized that it was okay to spread out a lesson to two or three days and only spend 10 to 15 minutes, we were happily and steadily moving through our lessons.
Start to read living books for your history, geography, literature, any topic you want to present to your child. Living books are those that evoke emotion in the reader, they tell a story. After a few paragraphs or a page of the book ask your child to narrate or tell the story back to you.
Narration is done everyday with every reading. This is the process that cements the knowledge your student is gaining into her brain. When she speaks out loud in her own words what she heard or read she has demonstrated that she knows the material. This is a really good in depth look at narration.
When you’re starting a Charlotte Mason education for your children, making time to go outside and play and explore is just as important as the time you make to sit down for lessons. Make time in the schedule for free time, time for your kids to just be.
Allow them to be bored, to choose what to do on their own, to discover their own interests. Do you remember when you were young? Was it the endless days outside building forts or drawing in the dirt that you fondly remember, or was it going to dance class or karate or whatever other activity?
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for these types of activities in your child’s life, but I am saying that priority should go to good old fashioned free time and time outdoors.
Enjoying art and music are easy ways to transition to a CM education. The idea here is to develop an appreciation. No need to track down biographies. Pick an artist, like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, or Mary Cassatt, and find 6 paintings. Every two weeks display one work of art and once a week intentionally look at it, observe what’s happening in the artwork and how it’s been created. You just added picture study to your homeschool.
Choose a composer and intentionally listen to a piece of music once a week. Play it in the background during various times of the day. Just listen. Learn to appreciate the music and it’s beauty. That’s composer study.
Sing hymns and folksongs with your kids. Don’t worry about being perfect. Just start singing. You may even find yourself singing as you clean up dinner. We like to check out littlesongster.com every once in a while and learn to sing the folksongs Amy has in her collection.
I’ve also recently happened upon Hymns at Home, a beautiful resource for listening to and learning about hymns. Bonus for AmblesideOnline homeschools… she has all of the 2016-2017 hymns in one collection.
And learn a new handicraft with your children a few times a year. Handicrafts is all about learning a skill to create something beautiful and useful. Quilting, crocheting, knitting, woodworking, soap carving, and cross stitching are some examples. Start by teaching the skill, little by little and allow time for practice. Give your kids time to work on and finish a project.
I love how handicrafts show the kids perseverance and teaches them a life skill, like sewing, that they can take with them into adulthood.
Poetry is meant to be enjoyed and not analyzed. Pick a poet and read poems. This is such a simple way to add more of the Charlotte Mason education into your school. Then pick a poem to recite. It’s really cool when you see your little one stand and recite a poem with emotion and passion. It’s amazing the things they can do!
The last part of a Charlotte Mason education I want to talk about is habit training. This was big for Miss Mason. Habits like the habit of attention, or the habit of obedience, are good ones to begin with.
“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.” -Charlotte Mason
As you begin to incorporate these Charlotte Mason elements into your homeschool you’ll find how simple yet beautiful and life enriching school becomes.
You can continue to learn about her methods and philosophies (I find there is always something to learn) by reading through her volumes which AmblesideOnline has available on their site.