Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Vacation...with a Charlotte Mason Flair!

Year round homeschooling.

What image does that phrase invoke for you?   Perhaps a negative one...a not so glorious summer spent with your children sitting at the kitchen table reluctantly toiling over workbooks and textbooks for several hours a days while all their friends and the neighbor kids play outdoors, go biking and swimming and just hang out.

No thanks, you say.  Not interested in that at all whatsoever.

Sure, it would be nice to have a little extra flexibility throughout the traditional school year.  Start a little later and enjoy the rest of the summer season.  Take a little bit more time off around the holidays. Longer breaks just because.  More freedom. More flexibility. More time to breathe. Time to simply be.

But then there's the reality of it all...after the busy school year, you really need to just be done.

Well, you can have your summer vacation AND homeschool year round too.  Just shift your perspective and revamp your summer vacation with a little Charlotte Mason flair!

Choose some interesting whole and living books to read aloud (at bedtime, tea time, or during lunch) or listen to an audio book on your car rides.  Pick from those beloved books and stories that you remember from your childhood that gave you the warm fuzzies or find something new to explore together. Snuggle up on the couch for a bit on a hot afternoon or sprawl outside on the grass or picnic blanket and lose yourselves for a while in another world.

Start a weekly tea time tradition with your children.  Enjoy some sweet tea or ice cold lemonade. Have a variety of yummy snacks available - perhaps even take the time beforehand to make something special together.  Then grab a good book and enjoy coming together and reconnecting while you eat, drink and read.  What better time to enjoy reading some of those living books!

Engage in Charlotte Mason's practice of narration...informally known as the "art of talking".   Listen to your children and what they have to say.  What was their favorite part in the book you're reading or the movie you just watched?  Share yours!  What exactly should you do with all those tree frog tadpoles rescued from your pool's cover?   Which is better to use to build your house in Minecraft...wood or cobblestone?  Why?Narration need not be formal to be effective.  In fact, I would argue it's far *more* effective when it flows out naturally from simply living interesting, involved lives together.  Wonder, question, ponder, discuss!

Venture out on some nature walks with friends and start a family nature study project.  Plant a butterfly garden, go frogging on a rainy night, grow some giant sunflowers, raise a few caterpillars or tadpoles, start a baby snail nursery or toad habitat.  Live with your project over the whole season.  Explore, observe, connect, discover...get messy.

And certainly don't forget all those real life, hands on experiences. Trips & travel, summer camps, fairs & festivals, museums, re-enactments.  Do something new together.  Try something out.  Go someplace different. Make your children's world just a little bit bigger.

Homeschooling year round with the Charlotte Mason method can be just as flexible as you need it to be.  It's not about a particular curriculum or "doing school".  It doesn't have to start in August and end in May and there are no required hours or subjects. Instead, the focus is on your children and on providing a wide variety of meaningful, real-life learning experiences. It's about emphasizing connections and relationships and exposing them to new and interesting people, places and ideas.  And the reality of this approach is that whether this learning takes place during the official school year or during summer vacation, every second of it counts as "school".

So go ahead! The summer season is a perfect time to implement some of Charlotte Mason's lovely ideas into your family's learning lifestyle.  Enjoy your summer vacation...with a Charlotte Mason flair. :)

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Unschooling Charlotte Mason: Narration

There are many areas of the Charlotte Mason method that I've found easy to incorporate into our family's lifestyle of learning.  The use of a variety of whole and living books, nature study adventures, handicrafts, and a steady diet of new and interesting ideas and experiences have been such a natural fit for us.  When my children were younger and I first read what Charlotte Mason had to say about narration, I felt an immediate connection and knew that this too would be another area that would be a perfect fit for our unschooling nature.

As I continued to read and learn however, the more I saw this wonderful tool being used and encouraged by others in a way that wasn't such a good fit for us.  It seemed that like so many other aspects of the Charlotte Mason method, narration was something that could be turned into just as "school at home" as a technique as anything else.   An assignment.  Something to check off the to-do list.  Forced, artificial, contrived.


Formal is not something our family does very well. :)

We do better with the informal.  The flexible, the real, the natural, the authentic.  And to be truthful, when I look at much of what Charlotte Mason had to say about narration through my unschooling lens, she seemed to believe in this as well.

Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child's mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education.  A creative fiat calls it forth. 'Let him narrate'; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, so soon as he can speak with ease.  This amazing gift with which normal children are born is allowed to lie fallow in their education.  Bobbie will come home with a heroic narrative of a fight he has seen between 'Duke' and a dog in the street. It is wonderful! He has seen everything, and he tells everything with splendid vigou in the true epic vein; but so ingrained is our contempt for children that we see nothing of this but Bobbie's foolish childish way!  Whereas here, if we have eyes to see and grace to build, is the ground-plan of his education." - Volume 1, page 231

Many years later, narration continues to be a valued component in our learning.  Sometimes I even wish there was perhaps a little less of it going on.  But the one thing I have been very intentional in avoiding is any kind or sense of formality. 

When narration is at its best and most effective, it flows naturally. Within a family oriented lifestyle of learning, narration is the art of talking - abundant conversation, open discussion, good spirited debate. Questions are asked, answers found, opinions shared, stories are told, details given, funny moments relayed, perspectives pondered and widened.  Informal conversation is the key - hearing it, participating in it, reading it and eventually writing it down.

Once you get to the true heart and spirit of it, this is indeed what narration is all about.