Category Archives: Charlotte Mason

CHARLOTTE MASON AND PERFECTIONISM

I’m a perfectionist to the point of being paralyzed. It’s only during my middle thirty’s that I began to realize that perfection isn’t necessary in every situation and that it’s okay to do just good enough. It’s okay to fail.

Knowing this about myself makes life a lot easier. I can attack my housework knowing it’s okay to just do rather than having to do it perfectly. In fact, I coined the phrase “people perfect” with my own children.

When my kids were little, I stressed that we do things “people perfect” because only God is truly perfect.

When I read curriculum that stresses doing things perfectly the way Charlotte Mason does, my heart races, my jaw clinches, and my stomach knots up. It really stresses me.

I cannot fully embrace Charlotte Mason’s methods because of this.

And while I dont like the “doing what a child can do perfectly” I really love narration because the child doesn’t have to be perfect.

Charlotte Mason’s methods are complicated. I’ve learned to take what I like and leave the rest.

Actually, I wish I could embrace the idea of perfection because it is what I aspire to be, but it is that same idea that prevents me from being my best. I cannot see burdening a child with the burden of having to be perfect.

The dark side of my avoidance of perfection is that I risk teaching my students to not try their best.

That is why co-op has been so good for me. I typically have high expectations but I have to put aside my own fears and still require the attempt at perfection from my students (co-op and home).

It’s such a fine line to balance between doing your best and trying to obtain the unattainable. Because of my tendencies, I have to err on the side of good enough rather than perfect.

For a perfectionist though, good enough is often not good enough.

By the way, I don’t think Ms. Mason was trying to burden everyone with perfectionism. I just think that for those who suffer with this tendency, the wording used by Ms. Mason and by those that interpret her work must be taken with a grain of salt or a handful. I have to know who I am as a teacher and, just as importantly, who my students are as people. No program is perfect for everyone and should be adjusted for each student according to his or her needs. By and large, Charlotte Mason’s methods are beneficial to students everywhere. The student just must be the focus of the teaching and not the method–whether it’s Charlotte Mason’s methods or classical or any other method.

TEACHING AT CO-OP VS. TEACHING AT HOME

Not the same. It is so much harder to teach a classroom of children than it is to teach my own.

But teaching at co-op has been so good for me. I’ve learned to look further down the road to graduation. I’ve learned to be a stricter teacher and disciplinarian. And I’ve learned more about children and education in general.

It’s so easy to think that my kids are like kids everywhere or that kids everywhere are pretty much the same. Not true. Not true at all.

At co-op I have to try and meet children where they are. And they come from homes where the rules are different and the expectations are different.

What I take for granted in my kids, I realize now, is the result of the work that my husband and I have put into raising them. And my children’s weaknesses are also a result of that same training.

Because of co-op, I can see a little more clearly what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong.

What we’re doing right?

My kids know how to think. We don’t spend as much time as I’d like discussing deep concepts, but we do talk a lot–everybody at my house is always talking–and we’re all so loud. My husband and I love debating and arguing and having deep meaningful conversations, and my kids are beginning to get involved in some of those conversations. Our current favorite topic is the economy and the demise of America as we know it. :-)

After spending a couple of years at co-op, I see that many, many homeschooled students are excellent thinkers. Most of the highschool students that I teach are amazing in their ability to research, filter through information, and write up their opinion(s) about the topic. But not all of them are capable of doing this on the same level. There are a few whom I have encountered over the years that have unclear, muddled thinking. They don’t know how to narrow down ideas to the crux of the matter. (This is why I like The Lost Tools of Writing so much. It’s not muddled.)

What we’re doing wrong?

~sigh~ There’s so much I don’t know where to begin. I’m working on discipline, scheduling, habit training, and the list goes on. My kids are good kids, but I didn’t learn about Charlotte Mason’s methods until I was an adult, and I am the one that needs habit training. I am working on all of those above issues for me, and as I get better in these areas, my children improve in these same areas as well. They catch my habits.

So more than anything, co-op is helping me to be more organized and together by requiring me to be more organized and together. The end result is that my kids are becoming more organized and together.

The biggest drawback to attending co-op is the fear it causes in me. I fear that my kids will not get as good an education because the teachers are not teaching my children the way I would. (This is huge!)

In some instances, I know it’s right. But in others, I know that I have seen the co-op teachers doing a better job in some subjects than what I would have done. And my children are benefiting.

Our co-op is worth the risk. The ladies who run it are amazing and are gifted at what they’re doing. I’m really looking forward to what is happening at our co-op.

HOW I DECIDE WHEN MY CHILDREN CAN WRITE THEIR NARRATIONS

Honestly, for my daughter, I can’t remember. But for my son, I’ve learned a few things.

A couple of years ago, his sentences were structured all crazy. He also narrated in such a way that he’d miss out on some important details. Sometimes he narrated in everyday common, informal words. I knew he wasn’t ready.

Now, he narrates in a such a way that the structure of his sentences sound just right. In fact they sound very, very good. He has varied sentence beginnings and he uses words properly and formally.

Now, he has to learn to condense the story down more. I’m trying to have him summarize the beginning, the middle, and the end. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And every child can tell you what those are. And my 9 year old can tell me what those are too, but to identify what those are and to word those three parts with transitions so that they flow together, even though the details aren’t there, does take another level of skill. That’s what I’m working on with him.

My daughter is already there.

She has moved on to creating an outline from her summation. I’ll probably talk about that tomorrow.

THE PROBLEM WITH ADHERING TO SET SCOPES AND SEQUENCES

Okay, I realize it’s not entirely problematic to adhere to a set lay out in any subject area. It’s absolutely beneficial to do it in math, for instance. But, from my personal experience, more often than not, a curriculum that is so laid out where it is planned to T in a skill subject can be detrimental and not beneficial to some children. The reason? Well, not all children are learning at the same rate as the schedule.

There is no strict rule that says that all first graders have to be able to read x number of words or at x level by the end of the school year. Those reading levels and such are just guides, and not everybody follows them.

After having 4 kids, I’ve finally come to understand this. My kids are so different. Why would I judge my 9 yo son’s reading ability compared to where his sister was when she was 9? He is a different person, he has different interest, and he has different eyes. He even has an eye tracking problem with one eye that can give him headaches and make reading in the car almost impossible.

And my daughter? She reads a book a day. She loves to read. But should every child read as much as she does? Absolutely not. She is not a super active child and has some problems with her feet. That slowed her down with walking and all other physical milestones. By being behind in some areas, she has gravitated toward what she loves.

When I use a curriculum, I try to tailor it to meet my child’s needs. For instance, if the math lessons are too redundant, we speed it up and skip some problems. If the math is too hard, I pull out a workbook that has more practice problems in the trouble area, and we park there for a while. I let each of my children dictate their pace of learning.

The only areas where I see there may not be a need to do this are in content areas. There is a lot of history and science information that can be learned. And I’ve learned to adjust what we’re doing for my daughter by giving her 5 books to read to my son’s 2 books to read. (My daughter is almost 11, son 9 1/2)

I like curricula that I call open-ended. Those that present my children with as much information as possible, and then allows them to spew out what they can. That is why I like narrations so much, no child fails at narrations.

For us this is really working. My daughter told me this weekend that the Trojans eventually got their revenge. When Aeneas escaped, his grand children eventually founded Rome. And Rome eventually defeated the Greeks.

She also came next to me yesterday, sat by me, and said, “You know, Hitler and Haman were a lot alike. They both wanted to destroy the Jews.” She had just finished reading about Persia in Ancient History and last year we studied modern history. Evidently, it’s all starting to come together for her.

Now if she were a few years older, I’d have her write a comparison contrast paper on Haman and Hitler. Shucks, I’d do it today if she knew how to outline well enough, do the research, and then write it. Problem is, she can probably write it, but she is still learning to outline, and she hasn’t done much research other just reading.

(Sorry for the grammar, the country in me started coming out)

PLAYING THE PIANO

All 4 of my kids are now taking piano lessons, and I’m so thrilled about it.

Children are so different. They have different skills, different talents, and different interests. My daughter, almost 11, dislikes the piano the most. But I am so very, very glad that we persevered and made her continue taking lessons.

In some movies there’s always one kid with glasses that reads a lot but cant make their bodies respond to physical stimuli, like catching a ball or riding a bike. In some cases, it’s a boy that tutors everyone else but has an F in wood shop. Well, that’s kind of my daughter.

Even though she dislikes the piano the most, she needs it the most. When I see her playing, using both hands, and pumping with her foot at the same time, while reading the notes, I know its helping her mind, her concentration, her hand-eye coordination, and her musical awareness.

She needs to play the piano. I’d go so far as to say that she has hated it for the first 3 years of practice. But it has been physical therapy to my daughter and a blessing to her. And, best of all, she actually enjoys playing, now. She doesn’t like to practice, but she does like playing.

My 3 sons, on the other hand are more naturals and they just plow their way through the piano. My oldest son tries to play his music backwards. They asked to start playing. My 3 year old begged me, “Pease, pease, can I pay the piano.”

I couldn’t say no.

KISS GRAMMAR–FREE AND FANTASTIC!

KISS Grammar It recommends teaching grammar as I suggested in Write from History. This actually comes as a surprise to me because I just found this website. The exercises are from real sentences and they are cumulative. I love this!

But he goes much further than I did or even most curricula does on the subject. He teaches children real grammar. He’s a college professor and loves the subject. This is a fantastic–FREE!–curriculum. Check it out.

OLD COPYBOOKS VS. WRITE FROM HISTORY

The old books–Classical Reading and Writing Copybooks–are still for sale, most of them, but I hate to link to them because they haven’t been upgraded like the new books–Write from History.

Here are the differences–

1. Write from History has a page for written summations, the copybooks don’t.
2. Write from History has 3 areas for writing the models per story, the copybooks have 4
3. Write from History has two separate models per reading selection rather than only 1. (This is because Charlotte Mason used different models for copywork and dictation. So I’m providing extra models in the appendix for those moms that follow Ms. Mason to a “T”.
4. Eventually, I will have student pages available for Write from History with different font options. (The ancients books actually are available in different fonts, right now.)
5. Write from History is cheaper because I always lower the prices during this time of year, and because it has fewer pages. The print cost at LULU increased about $4.00 per book last month.
6. The old copybooks for the beginning grammar students are still available for year 3 and year 4 in the old format. I am reworking the ancients book for the beginning grammar students right now. I’m removing the primary source documents and replacing that chapter with Aesop’s fables. More appropriate for grades 1 and 2.

The old copybooks for the upper grades are still available for year 3 in all of the fonts at the first link below. Year 4 and Year 1 for the upper grammar stage are now retitled Write from History, Level 2. The stories are all the same, but the organization, the instruction, and the grammar guide in the back are different. And those differences really make a difference. The books are more flexible and cheaper.

If anyone can’t wait for the updates and is willing to pay the 3 or 4 extra dollars for the old books, here is the link to all of my books at LULU–about 3 pages. And here is the link to the old Classical Reading and Writing site that, I believe, will still get you where you want to go.

CO-OP NOT WORKING OUT AS I HAD PLANNED.

At least not completely. My fifth grader is taking Apologia Zoology, Total Language Plus, and My Father’s World Geography. The Zoology is going great, but because it’s a co-op class the teacher is not assigning any writing. The Geography class is also multi-level, and once again–no writing assignments. For the Language Arts class, the teacher is trying to assign writing, but no one does them, including my daughter. I should feel bad about this, but I don’t.

Total Language Plus is set up to primarily focus on reading, comprehension, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary. The writing assignments are grouped with the enrichment activities and little to no guidance is provided. The writing assignments are all topic focused, not method focused. This doesn’t help children who don’t know how to write a paragraph. There’s no direction!

At home, we are using Write from History, which will help solidify her foundation, but she should be writing something in every subject. If we were covering all of these classes at home, I could extend the Charlotte Mason methods in Write from History across all of her content subject areas. But, by not being her main teacher for every subject, it’s extremely hard to assign more work on top of what she is already doing. And we have daily assignments in each co-op class! It’s not going as I expected.

My daughter is probably a little advanced in the area of writing. Before I created Write from History, we used Classical Writing Aesop A/B and Classical Writing Homer A. I quit half-way through Homer because I was not satisfied with the method of implementation. For me, the program was too cluttered. It was just too hard and time-consuming to implement. But, in addition to those programs, we also did copywork, narration, and some dictation from the pre-cursor to Write from History.

So she has been writing, but now it’s dropped to half of what she was doing.

Our co-op is a blessing, and I love it. My kids are doing excellent work for their co-op teachers. They are becoming more independent, and I am very pleased with that. They are doing great and thriving from the interaction with the other kids, and because I’m not their sole teacher, they are not expecting me to do everything, or anything for that matter, to help them. Co-op has been great for their confidence and independence; however, they’re not learning exactly what I want them to learn.:-(

Next year, I can fix this problem by either putting my daughter in a writing class and not a language arts class, although there should be writing in the language arts classes as well; or I can work with the co-op on incorporating more writing throughout the lower levels.

But what about this year? Well, I have a solution!

We are going to mix IEW and this wonderful little ebook I found on currclick to teach paragraph writing. I own two of the IEW programs: SWIC for teaching writing at the high school level, and TWSS that I purchased when I first began homeschooling, but I’ve never used.

So, I downloaded the free lesson share plans for SWIB for my daughter, but with that I’ll use the ebook called Paragraph Writing Made Easy. Both of these only cover 1 semester, which will be perfect for us. She’ll continue to do Write from History, even though she’s moving forward toward more advanced writing without models. Narration, I can easily incorporate with the co-op classes by requiring her to tell me what she just read. That only requires a little bit of time, but provides huge benefits. The homework from the classes just makes it impossible for me to add more work on top of what they are already doing.

I could have her write about Zoology, but if she’s spending 3 to 5 hours on the subject already, I think it would be demotivating to add more work on the same subject. She is still only 10 and spending more than 30 minutes on one subject can become tedious, and it completely goes against the principle of short lessons.

Next year, I’ll do a better job of picking co-op classes for her, until then I think we have a solution.
To check out Paragraph Writing Made Easy, check here. And of course to see Write from History for the Ancients check here.

And btw, just to be clear, once a child can write, they should be writing across most of their subjects. It is the best way for students to communicate what they’ve learned, and the best way for teachers to assess comprehension. I believe that elementary children need foundational programs such as Write from History, Writing Tales, Writing with Ease, Institute for Excellence in Writing, or Classical Writing. However, writing should not be limited to the writing curriculum. And in my daughter’s case, I’m having to add a more advanced writing curriculum that will meet her needs and will compensate for the lack of writing in her other classes. The combination of this curriculum plus Write from History should serve her well.

My 9 year old son, on the other hand, doesn’t need anything more than Write from History. And he may not for a few years. He isn’t as far along with writing. We’ll see how he progresses. His oral narrations and written summations from Write from History along with the oral narrations from his other classes are enough for him. He is doing copywork for his Zoology class, and writing answers to his Language Arts class. The combination, for him, from co-op is actually sufficient. He’s getting practice in writing sentences and oral narrating across the curriculum, as well as formal writing lessons from Write from History–narration, copywork, and dictation. He’s covered.

One of my daughter’s strong suits happens to be writing, and I don’t want to ignore that topic just because she is where she should be. I want to continue to challenge her even if she’s further ahead than she needs to be. Children should be challenged in every subject they take. They should not spend time spinning their wheels learning nothing new.

In fact, wheel spinning is my daughter’s weakness; she loves to coast, and being ahead can exacerbate this flaw. I can’t let that happen. She needs more; my son, who is a very bright young man, doesn’t. Every child is different. So, if you have a middle school student that needs more work on different kinds of paragraphs–just beyond what Write from History offers–check out Paragraph Writing Made Easy. It’s inexpensive and worth the risk. I have only just purchased it and printed it out. But I’m excited because I believe it has what my daughter needs. After using it for a couple of months, I’ll post a real review on it. :-)

I’m so glad this is resolved. This issue has been plaguing me for weeks, maybe months.

READING THE ORIGINALS–HELPING ME GET BACK ON TRACK

I’m reading Vol. 6 of Charlotte Mason’s writings. And all I can say is, “Read the original.”

It’s so full of passion and knowledge. Also, it’s good to read about her journey in developing her philosophy of education rather than just reading “here’s how you do it.”

When you can understand the reasons behind what she did, it’s much easier to understand what to do in a modern world.

As I’ve mentioned before, I started out teaching my children somewhere between Charlotte Mason and Classical. And while I don’t think they’re exclusive at all, I think much of what Ms. Mason proposed was extremely classical, the point of origin, to me, seems to be different.

(And by the way, I’m not an expert at either. I’m figuring this stuff out as I go, and I am having a blast doing so. But I no way feel unqualified to talk about these ideas as a parent and teacher. I’ve come to learn that I’m not an expert, but then again, neither are the people than many of us call experts. Just look at the public school system.)

Ms. Mason’s methods really were focused on the whole child. And while much of the subject matter taught was the same as with classical education, the input and the output were different. From my interpretation of her writings, she believed that children should read books for themselves and interpret for themselves, guided by their teachers. I believe she knew the dangers of what a teacher-led education could do to a child. Some of which I addressed here.

Where input is concerned, the quantity, the quality, and the method are all important. Charlotte Mason piled on the quantity–not too much, but not too little either. She definitely piled on the quality–nothing but the best. Neither of these really differ that much from other methods of education. The method and the reasoning behind it, though, appear to be unique. She said that just like the body needs food, the mind needs ideas. I believe she recognized in children the hunger for information, knowledge, and understanding. She didn’t believe that these passions needed to be created, only cultivated. So the method of input was to give children the tools to read and then let them read. It seems so easy, but it contradicts most of what we do with education–even homeschooling.

How much time do your children spend reading every day? How much lecturing do you as a parent do? I know when I answer these questions, that we are not doing as much as we should, especially where my boys are concerned. My daughter sleeps on books and sucks the information in even as she sleeps.

A worksheet here, and a worksheet there, here a sheet, there a sheet, everywhere a worksheet. It’s just too much. And we use these because we want documentation on what they can do. We think it’s helping to accomplish output, but really it’s driving out the input.

This is where we are in our journey. I’m frustrated with myself and how I’ve gone astray. We’re not doing bad by any measure out there. But my children should have the best, and I think I’m crowding out the best with the good and easy.

So my goal for the rest of the school year is to find a way to get us back on track.

By the way, it’s not the curriculum so much as the implementation. It’s all about the method of the input. Some of it is co-op driven, which I don’t want to give up at all; we all love it. But some of it is because it’s been easier to do it the traditional way.

Anyway, reading Ms. Mason’s original volumes, as available and recommended through Amblesideonline, is what has me refocusing. There’s good stuff in those books.

SETTING CHILDREN UP FOR SUCCESS–I am, I can, I ought, I will

As I’ve made the transition to more of Ms. Mason’s methods, I am struck at how she had the best interest of the children at heart. She knew, unlike most modern educators (I am speaking of the main stream system), that children “can” if they think they can. Her motto “I am, I can, I ought, I will” addressed the child’s heart–and adults as well. Modern self-improvement methods are based on a similar philosophy but their motto is usually something like “If I can dream it, I can achieve it”. Ms. Mason’s motto, however, was more complete and focused on the whole person.

“I am…” This statement frames the child’s existence and causes him to put his own identity into balance with all of creation. I believe Ms. Mason was profound at starting with human self-definition as the first part of her motto. “I am a child of God.”

“I can…” speaks to the ability. My 10-year-old daughter loved to say, “I can’t” whenever she was faced with something challenging. Now that I have taught Ms. Mason’s motto to her, she seldom says it. And when I do have to remind her, there is a trace of a smile that comes to her face as she lets the idea soak into her soul. She likes believing in herself. It is helping to form her identity.

If it weren’t for Ms. Mason, I would not have focused on teaching her “I can…” I had erroneously assumed that my daughter new that I would not give her a task that she could not do. For one reason, I was always there to teach her and help her, but I never actually taught her this. I had skipped a step. She needed reassurance and confidence, and I failed at giving that to her. That is until I delved a little deeper into Ms. Mason’s methods.

“I ought…” Ought addresses whether or not something should be done. Ms. Mason taught children that obeying their parents was directly related to obeying God. The bible teaches “If you love me, obey my commandments.” Obedience is an act of love toward God. Obeying one’s parents is an act of love toward God. Doing one’s schoolwork is an act of love toward God.

“I will…”Once a child realizes that he should do what has been asked of him, he then has to decide whether or not he will. This reminds me of a sermon my husband and I heard many years ago. The preacher of the church we were visiting titled it “Willing and Able”. He talked about two donkeys; one called willing, and the other able. Obviously, one was willing but wasn’t able, and the other was able, but not willing. We still laugh about those donkeys. But from that lesson, I learned that one must be both willing and able before one can take action.

This seems obvious on the surface. But most problems with procrastination and disobedience are born out of a lack of determination, not ability. Children need to be taught that everything they do is born out of their own will. They either chose to do or not do their work. They chose to follow the crowd or not to follow the crowd. That knowledge of self-will makes them aware of their responsibility and empowers them to make choices. It helps to internally motivate.

Charlotte Mason knew all of this, and she taught it to her students and set them up for success. She put within them the idea of who they are–I am. She taught them to believe in themselves–I can. She taught them why they should–I ought because God requests it of me. And she taught them determination–I will.

From studying Ms. Mason’s motto, I have learned that a child needs to be taught that his self-identity comes from God, his abilities come from God, his desires should be to please God, and he has to will himself to take action. When a child knows “I am, I can, I ought, I will,” he can approach any task given to him with the right attitude. He does his best. But if not taught this self-identity before hand, a child is apt to answer these questions for himself based on the results of his efforts.

Just think, if a child doesn’t like to do his math and doesn’t want to do his math, he will only try half-heartedly to complete the work. After many weeks and months of producing sub-par work, he begins to define himself as being bad at math and feels like a failure. The self-definition is produced from his output.

But if a child is taught “I am a child of God. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I ought to be obedient. I will be obedient.” He starts his math lessons knowing who he is before he ever answers a question. Not only that, but he tries his best because failure won’t define him. He is released from the fear of failing.

I had to learn to teach to my child’s heart and address her self-awareness, her beliefs, her reason, and her internal motivation. Every time she is faced with a challenge, it is now an opportunity for her to grow, but it cannot define who she is. But if my daughter had not been taught this from the beginning, then her identity may have been formed from her successes or her failures.

“I am, I can, I ought, I will” has changed the way we do school. And because of it, I feel that I am setting my children up for success.