In 1906, a young woman applied to be accepted as a student teacher at Charlotte Mason’s training college, Scale How. In the pages of Essex Cholmondeley’s The Story of Charlotte Mason, we read:
On my arrival at Ambleside I was interviewed by Miss Mason who asked me for what purpose I had come. I replied: “I have come to learn to teach.” Then Miss Mason said: “My dear, you have come here to learn to live.” I have never forgotten those precious words which have helped me with my children.
For the last couple of weeks we’ve been on term holidays, but if you’d been a fly on my wall, I wonder whether you would have known.
In the mornings, you could still Jemimah cuddled into her bed reading her Bible and doing her devotions. She continued her reading of The Minnipins, and rereading her beloved James Herriot vet stories.
We weren’t studying a particular composer, or learning a new folksong, but throughout our home you would have heard the strains of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd as we indulged in our recent passion for Tudor Renaissance music, the beautiful tenor of Kenneth McKellar, and the large group singing of the Kobe Reformed Presbyterian Church singing the Psalms in Japanese. There is always music in our home.
We weren’t studying Latin, or working through our language text books, but French, Arabic and Indonesian words pepper our every day speech, and our Japanese study has continued on regardless of breaks. We like it, you see.
You wouldn’t have seen much formal maths, but you could have spied Jemimah converting British Pounds into Australian Dollars to discover how much the birthday cheque from her Grandfather was really worth, or multiplying the pounds and ounces in our old Imperial recipes into kilos and grams so that she could weigh them on our metric scales. You can’t really get through the days without maths, can you?
Our scheduled readings had stopped, true, but this only allowed time for some books on the Blue Mountains, our holiday destination, and for the latest Anzac Day picture books. It is a good job we had a break for those. I don’t know how we would have got through them otherwise. We still had read alouds – the third of John Christopher’s Tripod series, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company, the second book of The Lord of the Rings, even a Harry Potter book (yes, we’re reading the series for the first time, now that Jemimah’s twelve and old enough to discuss them). Why would we stop reading aloud just because it is the holidays?
We didn’t go out on official nature walks, but we spent time driving a horse drawn caravan with my brother’s family, and Jemimah spent the night camping in the bush. We ate damper hot from the fire, and good hot beef stew from the Dutch Oven. Marshmallows were toasted, and eaten with steaming mugs of hot chocolate (or good red wine, depending on your age). We went on a road trip to the Blue Mountains and went horseback riding, wildlife spotting and foraging for mushrooms. We saw wombats, kangaroos, wallaroos, wallabies, added to out bird lists, and even trekked to a cave filled with New South Wales Glow Worms. Incredible. Jemimah made drawing after drawing in her nature notebook, and presented many others as gifts to the staff of our hotel.
For the last two weeks we have been on term break, but our learning hasn’t stopped at all. Learning never stops once Charlotte Mason has taught you to how to live.
Recently, I’ve seen Charlotte Mason’s philosophy described as a Method, not a Curriculum. It has become a sort of catchphrase in some CM groups I think. But this is not a line that I can subscribe to at all. For us, Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is not a Method – it’s a Lifestyle.
The PNEU school motto said “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Education is a discipline means that children learn from the real world, not one that is artificially contrived. Education is a life means that education applies to all of a child. We are fed on ideas, and so a child needs lots of them – a liberal and generous curriculum, a broad room to stand in.
When my beloved and I discovered Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, and chose to homeschool our daughter, we subscribed to a Charlotte Mason life. We chose to remove twaddle not only from our bookshelves, but from our television viewing and music listening as well. We chose to visit art galleries more often, to see Shakespeare performed and opera sung. We carved time out for family bush walks and times in God’s creation. Even our holidays changed, and we looked for venues that would educate not just Jemimah, but all three of us.
When you start looking at education as a lifestyle rather than a method, your whole outlook changes. It frees you to add in a book or two because they’re important to your family, or because they’re relevant to a special occasion or your upcoming holiday and to compensate by leaving others out. It allows you to stop worrying so much about gaps. If I can still be learning at 50, does it really matter if my daughter has gaps at 18? Education as a lifestyle makes you jealous for free time out of school. I love the short days of our Charlotte Mason styled Ambleside Online curriculum, because it gives us plenty of time outside of school to read what we want to read, and do what we want to do. The skills that we learn in school apply to every day life, and make it richer and more fulfilling. We learn to really listen, and telling back helps us to remember what we’ve heard. We form connections and delight in them.
In July we’re going to be heading overseas for several weeks in Europe and Japan. Our AO school year will be significantly shorter than 39 weeks this year. But that doesn’t worry me at all. During those three months or so that we’re away, Jemimah will continue learning. We all will. We’ll polish up our French and Japanese. We’ll be exploring the history of the Reformation through the lives of the Scottish Covenanters. We’re attending a week-long Bible conference, and will spend time worshiping with Reformed Presbyterians throughout the world. We’ll see great art at the world’s best art galleries, and even see Shakespeare performed at The Globe. We’ll spend time with family and friends, and Jemimah will form stronger links with her Aunt, Grandparents and cousins. Somehow, finishing every hour of those 39 AO weeks doesn’t seem so important, does it?
Every day is a learning day when you make Charlotte Mason’s philosophy a lifestyle not a method. And a rich and fulfilling life it is indeed. I am so glad that we started on this journey that is Charlotte Mason. I’ve learned so much, and I am a better person for the knowledge. My daughter started living the Charlotte Mason lifestyle before she was four. Her world is so much larger that mine was; the room she stands in is so much broader. Already.
I’m excited to see what we will all learn tomorrow, and next week, and next year, and what new and exciting connections we will make. It is such an amazing journey, this life that we're given, isn't it?