Charlotte Mason Series #3 – Short Lessons

Welcome to day 3 of the 10 Days of Homeschooling blog hop!  You can find the previous articles in my Charlotte Mason series here.

Short Lessons in a Charlotte Mason homeschool | Our Journey Westward

Short Lessons

One of the most refreshing aspects of CM style homeschooling is the implementation of short lessons, especially for elementary-aged children.  Most lessons should last no more than 10-20 minutes for elementary children and up to 40 minutes for older children.

My philosophy has always been, “Why go on and on when you don’t need to?” As a new homeschooling mom many years ago, I was always in a conundrum about how to keep records.  According to my state’s requirements, I was supposed to teach various subjects for XX hours per day.  But, what those making the rules didn’t know is that it doesn’t take XX hours per day to accomplish the exact same amount of work as a normal public school child.  In fact, it usually takes WAY less time!

Once jumping fully into the CM philosophy, I realized that not only were my instincts right to not keep pushing certain subjects “just because”, but it’s actually better for children to work on lessons in shorter bursts.  Charlotte Mason knew, like any of us who have ever worked with children (or adults) that the attention span is only so long.  Once past a certain point, little minds zone out. You know I’m right, don’t you?

By incorporating short lessons, you’re actually requiring your child pay closer attention and work more diligently.

How’s that?  Think about the typical grammar lesson, for instance…One or two pages from a grammar book is generally plenty for one day’s worth of grammar.  Unless your child is a dawdler, there is no reason the teaching and completion of the lesson should take more than 10-15 minutes.  If your child is a dawdler, he is simply wasting both his time and yours.  The dawdling has become a habit.  (We’ll talk more about habit training in a future post.)  The longer the dawdle, the less focused attention to learning.  And the less focused attention on any other lessons of the day!

I never let my children get in the habit of dawdling, but occasionally they slip into it anyway.  When that happens, I set clear expectations and pull out the timer.  It doesn’t take too many episodes of having extra work assigned to get them back on track with getting busy the first time around!

Of course, I’m talking about a bad habit rather than a child who’s struggling.  But even for a struggling child, lessons should be kept short and sweet.  He is no different than anyone else in the length of attention span.  It might mean that you simply move more slowly through the curriculum.

Lesson Schedule – A Quick Peek

I’m going to post about my typical schedule later in the series, but here’s a quick look at a morning of lessons for my 5th grader.  The lessons vary as the week goes on, but this is pretty normal.

  • Bible 10-15 minutes
  • Memory Work 5-10 mintues
  • Math 20-40 minutes, usually on the 40 minute side
  • Spelling 5 minutes instruction with me, 5-10 minutes to complete an assignment
  • Writing 10-15 minutes, often included as part of our history or science study
  • Grammar 10-15 minutes
  • Typing, Handwriting (Copywork) OR Vocabulary 10-15 minutes
  • Reading to Self 15-30 minutes
  • History and/or Science as a family 30-60 minutes

So, before lunch, he’s tackled all the 3 R’s + some.  The afternoons, as you’ll see in a coming post, aren’t wasted educationally – they just take on a different “look”.

Is It Really Enough?

Some people really struggle with the concept of short lessons because they feel like their child can’t possibly be getting “enough” in such a short amount of time.  The Lord blessed me with several years in the public school before homeschooling so that I could have plenty of encouraging words to say to homeschooling moms and dads – – – What I cover with my children in short lessons at home is no less than what I covered in much longer lessons in the classroom! What takes my children a few short minutes to do at home is the same material I would’ve spent way too much time trying to explain to 30 students in the classroom – while at the same time making Johnny sit down, asking Sally to stop talking, allowing Robby to go to the bathroom, stopping to answer a question from the teacher next door and answering a phone call from the front office.  Trust me.  Short lessons done well are enough!

I forgot to mention in the previous posts that I welcome all comments and questions!  I hope you’ll come back tomorrow as we take a look at Narration, Dictation and Copywork!

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38 Comments

  1. So great to read this post! I’ve JUST started home-schooling. We are in our 2nd week with a grade 2 & prep. The first thing I’ve noticed is how quickly we seem to achieve the same amount (if not more) work that was being done in the classroom. For starters I was doubting we were doing things right… could we really get through this work in that amount of time? were we doing the work right? I’m much more relaxed this week and am very thankful to have the time to do every day life educating. And now I’m encouraged to read that yes, this is how it can work… thank you!

  2. We love the short lessons. They work so well for us.
    Blessings,
    Dawn

  3. This is great information. I couldnt agree more with short lessons. My son would never survive if we made them any longer{neither would I} I blogged about your 10 days of charlotte mason today. I think your doing a great job of educating folks about Charlotte Mason by putting things into real life by taking it to your own homeschool..
    Two thumbs up!

  4. THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I am so excited about these posts over the next 10 days!!! Lots of good information here, I will be sharing it with my homeschooling friends!
    Carissa

  5. I really started understanding the value in short lessons when we started formal lessons with our daughter. She has ADHD and literally can’t sit and focus for more than 10 minutes at a time. My 5th grader has also benefited from my revelations because I also have cut down on the length of his lessons! I’m looking forward to your habit post, too!

  6. Thank you so much for this series on Charlotte Mason! This is my first year homeschooling and I also taught in the public schools for several years and it took some adjustments in my thinking before I realized that it really did take less time to do things (lots less!). I know very little about Charlotte Mason but am finding through your posts that I need to learn lots more, it seems to really fall right in line with how I think children should learn :).

  7. Love your posts and I look forward to reading more. I have been homeschooling for 2 years and I have incorporated CM a little this year and plan to do all CM next year. Your posts are a big help!

  8. I was homeschooled all my life, and spent my high school years being taught using the CM methods. Now I have my own children, and I’m using the Charlotte Mason way to homeschool them. I love it! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Thanks for sharing. I found your blog from the Happy Housewife.
    I have followed a relaxed CM approach for the past 3 years. I have been feeling a little frustrated recently with how we have been doing things. I just read your 3 posts & they have encouraged me to keep going with what we have. Thanks!

  10. Yay! I’ve been exploring my “Charlotte Mason” side this year and I’m really looking forward to all of your posts!
    I’m fully on board with the shorter lessons and I really appreciate your laying out your schedule here so we can see it. Our schedule would look very similar except that my oldest dawdles on math (Agh!) and I’ve blocked up to an hour and a half for group history or science, but that’s mostly to allow time for projects and/or notebooking after the short lesson. =)

  11. Short lessons make our homeschool run efficiently! People are often surprised to learn that all of my children’s main school work is done by noon every day (except for the high schoolers for obvious reasons, though even then it usually is!).

  12. Thanks for the encouraging reminder that I don’t have to spend ALL day “doing school” (as my kids refer to it…lol)!
    We are just starting out our first year of “official” homeschooling (meaning we had to declare our intent to home educate, with the state, this year). I am still trying to figure out what method of schooling works best for us. So thank you for enlightening me about CM 🙂

  13. Couldn’t agree more. I have been homeschooling for 4 years now and we are generally classical educators with a Charlotte Mason bent (lots of similarities I think). I love that my children can complete their lessons in just a couple of hours a day, which frees up so much time for so many other things (which of course qualify as school as well) like character training, baking/cooking/homemaking, outdoor exploration, play dates, lots of independent reading and read-aloud time (currently working through Anne of Green Gables and the Chronicles of Narnia). Look forward to reading the rest of this series!

  14. Wow, the more you share, the more I want to know. I’m at the beginning of my homeschooling journey and the more I read about CM, the better it sounds. I had mentioned it once to my mom and she (being a traditional public school parent) wrinkled up her nose and said something sarcastic about what would happen if you had kids who didn’t like to read “then what would you do”. I hate to admit that this small comment put me off the CM idea, but I think I was just reacting as any child would to a criticism from a parent. I actually think I CAN raise my kids to love reading & learning, and CM sounds like just the way to do it! Thanks for your posts. I’ll be reading them all!

  15. Abby @ They Lend Me Their Hearts says:

    The contrast between how much time is wasted and the number of distractions versus the amount of active learning in a classroom is a big reason I feel like my second grader would do better being homeschooled. That and the whole “trying to fit in with kids I don’t want them to fit in with” part! (and a few others)

  16. Thank you!!!! I love Charlotte Mason and I am loving your practical advice. I have a dawdler too and I am going to try your suggestions.

  17. Many blessings as you begin your homeschooling journey!

  18. Thanks for blogging about my series!

  19. I’m glad you feel like my humble posts are worthy of sharing with your friends!

  20. Most of us who are teachers turned homeschoolers have a lot of adjustments to make at first!

  21. Depending on the day, our history and science lessons last much longer. This leaves time for living books, notebooking, lapbooking, experiments, projects and so on.

  22. The first year is the hardest. Trying to find your rhythm and make that jive with the rhythm of your children, as well as pinpointing learning styles and how long is really long enough takes time. Each year gets easier!

  23. Classical education and Charlotte Mason style homeschooling are actually very similar. In fact, I follow the Classical model of four year cycles for history and science and try to keep the stages – grammar, logic and rhetoric – in the back of my mind as I plan lessons.

  24. Sadly, most homeschoolers have to show the proof in the pudding before parents and other naysayers will become believers. Once they begin to see how well-rounded, intelligent and eager your children are, they quickly stop wrinkling their noses. Well, at least not as much.

  25. Are you hoping to homeschool soon?

  26. Hi, Cindy! We met at the homeschool intro night back in the fall, in Lexington (my son, Caspian, is gifted). THANK YOU for this CM series. What a blessing!

  27. Hilary, I remember meeting you! 🙂

  28. We’ve gone to shorter lessons this year and we love it.

  29. They’re wonderful, aren’t they? 🙂

  30. Thank you, thank you, thank you for these posts. I went to an all-day CM seminar was completely overwhelmed and these posts have helped me breakdown this past weekend.

  31. Can you give a recommendation on time between lessons. I have 7, turning 5, 3, and newborn. I have tried shorter lessons but then I am constantly fighting 7 year old to come back to school. WE have tried different timers and things but in charlotte Mason approach: how much time between lessons or is it just changing gears completely like math to a read aloud from lesson to lesson to try to keep the child fresh.

  32. Elizabeth, my best answer is to do whatever works best for your family. There is no prescribed plan of action. In our home, there are not actual breaks during the short lessons. We just move right into the next thing. I, too, would have trouble getting little ones to rejoin lessons once I cut them loose for a break. However, I will say that I tend to throw in an active lesson about halfway through most days – like throwing a ball to one another as we practice multiplication facts or jumping jack spelling words. You’ll find a groove!

  33. how do you fit it all in with such a short period of time? I look at all the living literature reading happening for each subject, plus worksheet, plus educational games, etc. I cant seem to figure out how to make it fit in their 20-30 minutes segments. Please help this struggling homeschool mom

  34. Hi Cindy! First I want to thank you for all your help and ideas you give through this website. I have been drawn the CM for years and I definitely try to implement a few aspects of CM , such as living books into my history and science curriculums. For those two subjects I have actually gotten CM influenced curriculums. We do read aloud and they are typically all living book style types of reads. My issue is that whenever I try implementing the extras, nature study, art study etc, I find that they get pushed at the back of the to do list and the three “R” are what always gets done and the fun stuff get forgotten. Also, I do not have CM inspired curriculums for reading, math or the rest of the language arts but they work for the kids, may not always be fun either. It takes forever to get through some days just those three. I end my days feeling like as much as I love the CM philosophy, I find that my core subjects still feel a lot like typical school. I can’t say the kids are not truly learning and the path will take them to love learning and independence but then I can’t confidently say that they are learning and are developing a love for learning. Any advice would be great.

  35. Hi Iliana! Your struggle is real and so very common, especially if you choose to use more traditional materials for math and language arts. That’s where the short lesson philosophy and/or the idea of not doing all the things every day come in. For instance, when my kids were younger (because work does take more time as they get older), I purposely chose language arts curriculum that wouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes per subject. So, we could likely do grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and maybe even a little copywork/handwriting practice in a single day. I also chose not to do “all the things” every single day. So, the next day might be a longer writing lesson and/or writing session only.

    Because your science and history plans are using so much living literature, you may find that it’s better to focus on either science or history for a time. Or, science a couple days a week and history a couple days a week. You would be able to really dig in to the lessons and reading on their respective days. That extra day of the week can easily be set aside for science through nature study and history through art/artist study, composers/composer study, poetry/poetry study, etc.

    There’s no one way to organize your time, but if you think outside of the box you’ll find a happier medium sooner than later. You may want to check out a masterclass or two that speak to these issues in depth. https://ourjourneywestward.com/product-category/masterclasses/ Particularly consider Making Time for the Homeschool Extras, Designing a Practical Homeschool Schedule, and How To Have a Successful Morning Time (which could be something that could help you get in more of the things you feel like you’re missing). 🙂

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