Do your children complain about doing school? It is quite a common problem I think. I remember my own public school education being mind-numbingly boring; it is a large part fo the reason why we homeschool. But simply keeping them home is no guarantee that they will love their schoolwork. Charlotte Mason addresses this issue in her fifth book, Formation of Character. She says the main problem is an inability to keep one’s attention on a subject:
“Child or man; we spend half our time in being bored; and we are bored because our thoughts wander from the thing in hand — we are inattentive.” (p.259)
I take this statement to apply to things like a child being bored with his studies or an adult being bored at work. Charlotte is saying that we find ourselves so because we are not able to concentrate our attention on the thing. Now sometimes, our lessons or our job may really be boring. A parent who finds their child bored in school must first ask themselves if the work is worth being interested in. If it is busywork, if it is endless worksheets or dull textbooks, it may not be worth the child’s attention. So the first job of the parent-teacher is to select materials that are worthy of the child’s attention. This is why Charlotte advocates living books.
Long lessons can also be an issue; this is why Charlotte advocates short lessons, especially in the early years.
“As it is, the best children pay attention probably for about one-third of a given lesson; for the rest of the time they are at the mercy of volatile thoughts, and at the end they are fagged, not so much by the lesson as by the throng of vagrant fancies which has played upon their inattentive minds.
How, if we tried the same quantity of work in one-third of the time with the interest which induces fixed attention? This would enable us to reduce working-hours by one-third, and at the same time to get in a good many more subjects, having regard to a child’s real need for knowledge of many kinds: the children would not be bored, they would discover the delightfulness of knowledge . . .” (pp.259-60)
As homeschoolers, I think we all know that we can get as much or more accomplished in a lot fewer hours than the public schools require. But we must also be careful that we are not letting things drag out and thereby producing boredom. How do we reduce school hours and still cover the same ground? Knowing when your child has a concept in subjects like math and not belaboring the point with extra practice is a good place to start. We must also be careful not to endlessly review. Charlotte expected children to get things the first time so there was no need for review. She would say that if they know the material is coming again they will be lazy and not focus and learn it the first time. So sometimes we have to be harsh and say it is okay if they didn’t get that, I am going on. She says we should be always moving forward:
“Continuation and progression must mark every study, so that each day we go on from where we left off, and know that we are covering fresh ground.” (p. 260)
Charlotte seems to lay a lot of the burden for keeping school interesting on the teacher here. But we need not think that we must come up with clever lesson plans and projects to keep our children’s interest. I don’t think Charlotte believed that our job was to entertain them. Rather, her cure for boredom consists of quality materials, short lessons, and little repetition.