Mastering the Art of Delight in your Charlotte Mason Homeschool
Though I love all of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, one in particular is a wonderful blueprint for any homeschool. It is, “Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments–the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.”
I diverge from Ms. Mason only in her use of the word limited. These three educational instruments are anything but limiting! They are key to delight in your homeschool.
To master something means to excel at it. Art is a skill. And delight? A high degree of pleasure and satisfaction of mind. All those fancy words together simply mean that Charlotte Mason would have us see the sheer joy of homeschooling. She hands us the powerful (not limiting) tools of atmosphere of environment, discipline of habit, and presentation of living ideas.
Let’s look at these one by one.
The Atmosphere of Environment
Ms. Mason also said that “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” The atmosphere of our environment is educational. That means, we look for natural opportunities to teach our children. How do we do this? Along the way. When sitting in your house. Walking along the road.
A wise parent will not only recognize when we teach, but what we teach. This brings us to living ideas. And as Charlotte reminds us, ideas are food for the mind.
Presentation of Living Ideas
This is the part of teaching that I love. Ideas make the world go round. They are the very things your children will continue to chew on long after a “buffet of ideas” is served.
When your children are small, you push their little high-chairs to the buffet. But you only serve them on wee-sized plates. In other words, big ideas for little children are presented in short lessons.
Slowly, they move from finger foods to spoon to fork. All the while they receive the highest quality nutrition. No twaddle here! Quality ideas are like that. No need for mere trivia. They never need taste of a fast-food meal with a kid’s toy to entice them. The ideas you serve make the toy unnecessary.
Each subject presented has its own set of living ideas. Your children will make the connections easily. They will soon discover that literature is the handmaid of history, just as they discover it’s quite delicious to pair butter with their bread. No textbook coercion is required.
Discipline of Habit
Habit comes naturally to us all. But, is the habit good or bad? That’s where discipline takes us by the hand and shows us the right path. The wisdom of Charlotte Mason to do a little and do it right establishes the discipline of habit naturally.
“We need not labour to get children to learn their lessons; that, if we would believe it, is a matter which nature takes care of. Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight.” (Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, pg 99)
What is the right sort? That’s the very question every homeschool mom asks herself when it’s time to order curriculum.
Ms. Mason believed that the “right sort” was accomplished via living books, short lessons, copywork, nature study, narration, dictation, and fine art. This is a delicious recipe! Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients.
Just as every subject in the school curriculum has its own unique character, each subject has its own variety of living books. “Living books come alive as you read them. They are so well-written and engaging that you can hardly put them down.”
But Ms. Mason gave us even more information about a living book, and she’s worth quoting on the subject.
“For the children? They must grow up upon the best . . . There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ represent their standard in poetry; DeFoe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature–that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life.”
These are high standards! But what makes them a standard? Why are they of the highest quality ingredients for our recipes to put on the buffet? They are the best, worthy thoughts, well put, inspiring tales, well told.
Living books, full of the noblest and highest ideas, must be presented with breadth, depth, and variety in a disciplined manner. Disciplined manner is another important ingredient for our recipes.
Short lessons work hand-in-hand with the habits and disciplines we’ve laid down for our children before coming to their academics. A child who hasn’t been trained or hasn’t trained himself lacks the self-government to complete any lesson in a timely fashion.
Short lessons, then, demand both of parent and child an effort towards what is attainable for the child. Simply, we teach our children to put their hand to the plow and not look back. To do their work as unto the Lord. Provide their full mental focus for the task at hand. This discipline coupled with short, varied lessons allow the child the to be motivated to complete their work as the time allowed to finish is fleeting.
The value and strength of copywork lie in the quality of the ideas presented for the child to copy. This isn’t merely the formation of letters. Think of the living books the child will consume. These same living ideas presented for reading are ideal for copy and can be retained in the mind to be chewed and digested
Narration is truly every child’s natural bent. Children absolutely love to tell and retell a story. Fed on living ideas, the narration takes on the highest quality.
“Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. A creative fiat calls it forth. ‘Let him narrate’; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, so soon as he can speak with ease. This amazing gift with which normal children are born is allowed to lie fallow in their education. Bobbie will come home with a heroic narrative of a fight he has seen between ‘Duke’ and a dog in the street. It is wonderful! He has seen everything, and he tells everything with splendid vigour in the true epic vein; but so ingrained is our contempt for children that we see nothing in this but Bobbie’s foolish childish way! Whereas here, if we have eyes to see and grace to build, is the ground-plan of his education.” – Volume 1, page 231
Dictation is the embracing of the habit of listening. Creating a careful application of listening skills serves the student well his entire life. Dictation reinforces the quality ideas gleaned from living books.
While the study of the fine arts tends to be relegated to the “extra-curricular”, I don’t believe Ms. Mason would have us place it there. What are the fine arts but living ideas presented through the ears and eyes via music and works of art? Truly an artist must think in images the way authors think in words. Do they not deserve a place on the buffet among the best we have to offer? Remember, “Whatever is beautiful, think on these things.”
A Recipe of Delight
Charlotte Mason truly gives us a recipe for education that provides us with a buffet fit for royalty. The sheer volume of ideas, the discipline of learning well, and the scrumptious variety of the best in learning feed the heart and soul of the child. These are the tools to master the art of delight.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Charlotte Mason Homeschooling How-To
If you could use some help with very practical application of the Charlotte Mason method, you should give Charlotte Mason Homeschooling in 18 Easy Lessons a try. No flowery language. No philosophical rabbit holes. Just the basics with easy, step-by-step lessons to implement one thing at a time.
Other posts you might like: