I participate in some online forums (fora?) about homeschooling and particularly about Charlotte Mason style education. I have noticed on these that while most of those participating are trying to educate the CM way, there is a lot of temptation to add in little extras.
Charlotte advocated short lessons, especially in the early years, and did not make use of many of the modern tools of education. Standardized tests, worksheets, vocabulary tests, true and false and multiple choice questions, reading comprehension questions and the like were not part of a CM education. Really a CM education can seem very simple. Copywork and later dictation serve to cover vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. Narration in which the child chooses what to include replaces reading comprehension questions laid out by the teacher. Early science is limited to nature study and the reading of living books.
This more limited agenda can be a relief at first. But then, over time, many parents will start to think that it is just not enough. They will see what other families are doing and begin to think that their kids too need grammar drills and vocab tests. That they need to learn all the parts of a cell by fifth grade or memorize all the presidents or all the important dates in history. Very few people, it seems, manage to adhere to a pure CM method of education. I count myself among those who add on little extras as well (my youngest two have a spelling curriculum, for example). Though over time I think I am becoming more and more “pure CM”, that temptation is always there. It is fed by attending homeschooling conferences with all their bright shiny curricula. It is also fed by talking to other homeschoolers. The solution, of course, is not to live in one’s own little bubble, but to resist the inevitable comparisons which arise. My kids don’t need to memorize all the kings of England just because my neighbor’s kids did.
As I have told inquisitive (using a nice word here) relatives, homeschooling proves itself over time. If they just give me 18 years, I will show them that what we are doing is not a bad idea; I do belive it will prove itself in the end. But it is hard to wait and be patient. If this is true of homeschooling in general, I think it is even more true of CM style homeschooling. The CM approach does not give obvious results up front; it is more of a process and one must trust the process to produce the desired fruit in the end. My oldest is in 9th grade now and I am beginning to see that, yes, I am getting what I want from him. He is more proficient at narrations, he seems generally interested in what he is learning, he is motivated and interesting to talk to.
But it is hard in the early years to say, yes, this is all we are doing; we do not need the extra drills and worksheets. Most of us grew up in the public school system ourselves; we are used to having a paper trail and numbers or letters associated with it as evidence of learning. It is hard to break free of that and to be willing to wait for the results.
One thing that I think really helps is to know why you are doing what you are doing. That means read, read, read. I recommend starting with books like Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake but then once you have mastered these, moving on to Charlotte’s orignal writings. Participating in online forums and reading CM blogs helps too though one must exercise some discretion as many of these also will include posts about adding in extras. The more we understand about Charlotte’s philosophy, the better we will appreciate how it works and be able to trust that it does work.