Homeschool inspiration: an atmosphere of education

12/09/2010  |  Melonie Kennedy

Do you know which homeschooling method is known for its founder’s dislike of dry textbooks and offers an in-depth exploration of the arts while still giving students a firm foundation in core academic subjects?

If you answered the Charlotte Mason method you get a gold star!

One of the top issues brought up by home educators is burn out. All too often we start out creating a “school at home” experience, even when it may suit our family better to choose the best parts of the traditional school day and figure out a different option for the rest of the day. We want to relax and enjoy the time with our children, yet we know that some sort of discipline is required to get through the day – and the year – to make sure all the “bases” are covered during our homeschooling journey. With the potential for busy PCS seasons, deployments, TDYs, and changes in schools and teachers, a need for educational continuity is actually one of the major reasons for – and perks of – selecting homeschooling as an education method for military children. But just being home with a parent doesn’t guarantee that a solid educational structure or a schedule that works for the family or for the child(ren) receiving the education.

Enter Charlotte Mason’s writings about teaching children. According to this nineteenth-century educator and those who follow her tenets, we must instill in our children good habits to replace the bad. We must expose them liberally to fine art and music, nature, foreign languages and to “living” books that are, themselves, works of art. We should use short, focused periods for lessons which allow children to complete their work in a time adequate for their age, but not so long as to create boredom and squelch their natural love of learning. Most people retain information better when they personally recount it as a story, so Charlotte Mason families make great use of read-alouds and narration (at all ages). Imagination is not to be humbled and stuffed away in a closet but instead to be brought out and used through the reading of great works of both fiction and nonfiction.

The artists in the family will enjoy the use of nature journals to document their finds during nature walks. Environmentally-focused families will be better able to focus on the cycles of the seasons and learn about the impact of their carbon “footprint” on the planet. Such forays present children and parents with the opportunity to discuss science, allowing them to engage in physical activity and cover whatever philosophical questions come up along the way.

The musically-inclined student will enjoy a focus on fine arts, including studies of famous composers and the use of musical pieces not only for the study of technique but also for general enjoyment. The family with a penchant for foreign language will find plenty of room to study not only languages but also foreign cultures through the Charlotte Mason method. Bibliophiles will love Mason’s preference for whole “living” books instead of watered-down versions and dry textbooks. Even those family members who do not lean directly toward the more artistic pursuits will benefit highly from the overviews involved in a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool; certainly not just the children, either!

Parents seeking more direction in their day will find schedules and routines in various writings by and about Charlotte Mason; the home educator trying to find a way to relax and simplify will find room for that as well. Nowhere does Charlotte Mason - or the authors who have kept her “alive,” such as Karen Andreola and Catherine Levison – advocate a formal, to-the-minute schedule that must be kept at all costs. Instead, this method leans toward creating a workable routine that will provide structure for both student and teacher while allowing plenty of free time to “let kids be kids” and help the family accomplish their chores, meetings and the like. This is helpful for the parent who is dealing with life changes such as a pregnancy or little ones in the home, as short lessons on a variety of subjects means more room to maneuver through the trials of daily life. The Charlotte Mason approach creates space for all to pursue their private passions: volunteer activities, running a home-business and creating a homestead. This framework is of great use to military families. Even the “subjects” in the Charlotte Mason-based curriculum can blend well into the military life; prescribed nature walks equal precious time holding a parent’s hand on a journey down a trail to enjoy leaves during a season that can easily be missed while our sponsor fulfills his or her duty to our country. A parent who is thousands of miles away will enjoy phone calls and web chats that include a young one regaling them with the story of Huck Finn, a very hungry caterpillar, or anything in between – no need to inform the child that they are doing what Ms. Mason would deem “narrating”!

Any further research you do into Charlotte Mason’s method of education is sure to make an impact on your family. Even if you don’t hold strict to her pedagogy, Charlotte Mason’s delightful comments aimed at both parents and children are some of those most frequently used by eclectic homeschoolers gleaning the best from every philosophy. To the children she said, “I am, I can, I ought, I will” - a reminder to them of everything they can and should be.

For more inspiration from Charlotte Mason, check your local library for books by Karen Andreola (especially her fiction titles Pocketful of Pinecones and Lessons at Blackberry Inn) and Catherine Levison. For a free compendium of Charlotte Mason resources, including booklists by grade, suggested schedules, and other vital information, visit Ambleside Online at

Melonie Kennedy is an Army “brat”, military wife and mother of two whose work has appeared in multiple magazines, books and e-books. She currently homeschools in Okinawa, Japan. Visit her blog at
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