First posted April, 2010
When it comes down to personal application of Charlotte Mason's philosophy, we've done better at some things here than at others....and knowing that our homeschooling achievement isn't perfect is probably as it should be. We are human beings, after all, trying to take hold of what's offered but doing so, often, rather imperfectly.
Some people find it strange that the original PNEU programmes defined so strictly what was to be done at each level during each term, since Charlotte Mason talked so much about the individual. But was it as cookie-cutter a curriculum as that sounds? Let's look at that for a minute. Each student was assigned certain pages in certain books to read or have read to him/her. Each one had a certain number of memory assignments--though those could vary, they were things like "Two hymns by Keble." Each one was expected to keep nature journals and, when old enough, history records (century charts, books of the centuries etc.). Each one was expected to make certain handicrafts (such as "a child's dress.") Each one was to be learning arithmetic, French, etc., though it was thought more important that each one be making progress than that a particular level be reached each term.
So--yes, it was all laid out, and there was a suggested timetable of subjects, and Charlotte Mason felt that the PNEU was doing parents and teachers a favour by going through the publishers' lists and picking out the best in-print choices at the time--plus having a few books specially written by PNEU members and friends. But what wasn't spelled out in the programmes is more "suggestive," as Miss Mason might say: what the children were supposed to think about such and such a fairy tale, what ideas they were supposed to take from a passage of Plutarch, or what vocabulary and what multiple-choice-type facts they were to have learned from a science chapter. Susan Schaeffer Macaulay tells a story about her childhood visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and how she "discovered" a famous painting by Rembrandt. She points out that nobody told her to stop looking at it, or what to think about it, or even what it was about. She just absorbed what she needed from it. The freedom that was given within a PNEU term was not in the assignments (find three catkins and three tree buds) but in the ideas; in each student's "digestion" of all this material, in each one's response, and in each one's growth.
Still, I think if our own family has erred in our application of CM, it's often been on the too-relaxed end rather than in the too-rigid...the parent's and child's comfort zone pushes our own natures forward, but those laws of learning have a voice of truth that we can't ignore. I think that, for instance, often our Squirrelings go away too fast after listening to something read aloud, when according to Charlotte Mason's plan they should stick around to discuss it a bit more. For one reason and another, we've read school books aloud at an older age than is probably ideal, and we've delayed written narrations for the same reason-and-another. I've never sat under a tree with my knitting and demanded that they go look at some other tree and then give me a full description so that I can identify it--I probably wouldn't know what it was either. I thought the Squirrelings were getting a pretty good overview of what's in the Bible, and they could even sing the Old Testament and New Testament books in order, but then I realized that they still didn't know how to find even the books quickly, much less chapters and verses. (We're working on that.) I'm not sure if they know what a catkin is, or a fjord. And I sometimes think that we could have done better at cultivating habits of perfect attention from the time that they were small...although, being Squirrels, that isn't something that comes naturally.
I find the years...particularly the school years...slipping away too fast, and with them, the number of chances we have to start fresh, learn new habits, rediscover what learning is about. And, ironically, I seem to understand this education thing better as my Squirrelings get closer to leaving the nest. (Well, they're not THAT close yet, but you know what I mean.)
If I could give the Squirrelings one thing during the next homeschooling year--which will probably be Ponytails' last before high school--it would be to increase their love of learning, that sense Charlotte Mason described as "everything seems to fit into something else"--and to extend it to some of the areas that stay at the edge or just outside of their personal circle of relationships. History and geography, even with good books, are often too far away from their own world to seem real. Literature sometimes seems to have just too many pages; math is unending (I'd like to try some math journalling with them), and French verbs are just made up to pester people. Isn't the boredom of doing something because somebody's making you do it what we're trying to avoid? So do we then make our curriculum easier, drop books or subjects, expect less, if this way doesn't always cause a sort of earthquake of learning? What do you do when, after all your well-thought-out planning, your kids find more to discuss from an Arthur episode than from a history chapter?
The lesson I've had to learn myself is to be patient with both the teacher and the students; and not to take the teacher's striving for "nice lessons" too seriously. (Charlotte Mason said much the same thing--that we cannot depend too much on our own wisdom in presenting lessons.) I've come to the conclusion that some students, in some subjects, will be like lettuce, springing up quickly and obviously; others are more like carrots under the ground, that must not be yanked up before they're ready. I've also had to remember that squirrels have a habit of taking acorns but then burying them to be used much later.
These are the things I saw the younger Squirrelings doing today: catching a Red Admiral butterfly...and letting it go again after we figured out what it was. Noticing that the centres of forget-me-nots look like embroidery. Finding forget-me-not poems in two Flower Fairies books. Designing a crocheted hair scrunchie. Helping cheerfully with chores and projects. Practicing on a yard-saled recorder. Standing in the driveway singing. Playing an online word game and beating the grownups. Putting together an awesome photography/Powerpoint nature assignment with music. Improvising orange-cream cheese filling for blintzes. Re-reading Magic Elizabeth (this makes several times). And yes...playing on the Stuffed Animal Site after school work was done. We celebrate our childrens' growth in the sometimes unexpected places, and trust for the rest...
Which doesn't mean that there still isn't room for teacher improvement as well. Definitely there are things in which I'd like to boost our CM-ness, without violating the uniqueness and particular gifts of these Squirrelings. But that'll keep for another post.