Like a lot of people, I need balance in my life. But for some reason, I’m always attracted to extremes. When I was a child, I wanted to be Amish. I also wanted to be a nun.
Back when I first decided to homeschool, and I thought it was nothing more than school-at-home, I tried creating my own curricula.
Boy, was that a mistake.
Then someone introduced me to homeschooling methods and I was so grateful that I wasn’t going to have to reinvent the wheel. When I began reading about homeschooling, I was drawn to complete unschooling (but not radical unschooling…radical unschooling makes me shiver), and paradoxically, classical education via a strict interpretation of The Well-Trained Mind. Two rather extreme methods of homeschooling.
(And yes, I know I’ve talked about extreme homeschooling before, and about methods dozens of times, and I may have made a promise that I no longer would, but please bear with me.)
So I opted for classical, but found it stifling. In an attempt to soften it up, I decided to follow (strictly) the wisdom of Charlotte Mason. But I’ve realised that Charlotte’s methods can be extreme as well.
The authors of WTM state that a grammar-stage child should be saturated with information. They shouldn’t be forced to dig for it; the parent should provide the child with a feast of words and information for them to absorb.
I was in two minds about this. Initially this made sense to me. But when I started reading about Charlotte Mason, I really began to question this advice.
Charlotte felt differently, and herein lies what I feel to be the primary difference between WTM and Charlotte Mason: Charlotte, although not completely opposed to reference books, felt all children should gain, in reverse order of importance: facts, information, and ideas through living books. And to do this, a good amount of digging is required. Living books do not spoon feed facts, information, and ideas. The child’s mind must work, and work hard.
Great, I thought. I want my child’s mind to be exercised in this way. Surely this is a better way.
But when I began following Miss Mason’s advice, my son actually complained, ‘Too many stories!’
Previously, we had a mix of stories, living books, and the Usborne/DK type reference books. He loved these reference books. They’re bright, lively, and engaging. He gained lots of information from these books. He also loved his stories. And his mind crunched and munched through the living books.
But once we put the fun reference books away (I felt they were bad; I wasn’t opposed to books such as bird guides, but those reference books were guilty of too much spoon feeding and so were banished), it all became too much work; the balance was lost. And so he stopped crunching and munching. He even stopped enjoying Story of the World. His brain was just flooded with too much literary-type learning.
A balance was needed.
Now that we’ve welcomed Usborne and DK back into our house, he’s livened up and crunching away again. Those books are living books because they elicit excitement and encourage him to participate; he’s not passive when these books come out. He points to things, asks questions, makes comments, makes up little stories, draws pictures, and just plain gets excited. His mind is working and digesting the information.
And he likes learning facts. Learning facts really has a bad reputation in the homeschooling world, but I feel a good store of facts is necessary and helps with the knowledge/ideas bit…it’s a bit like learning a foreign language…you can’t learn just grammar (i.e. knowledge), you’ve got to have lots of vocabulary (i.e. facts) to really be able to communicate fluently. You don’t want to be pulling out your foreign language dictionary every few minutes/
But that’s a moot point. He isn’t just storing up facts and filing them away. He’s using what he learns in his art, in his play, and in his conversations. And here is the crux of it:
He’s creating the ideas himself.
The ideas that Charlotte tells us are so important aren’t just being picked up from books, but are actually being created by what inspires him. Fabulous.
I suppose this formula is closest to WTM: a good mix of stories, living books, and reference books. But to be honest, I think I’m a little tired of the whole methods thing. I’ve realised I need to do two things: listen to my son and follow my intuition. I’ve had lots of people tell me that, but I had to learn the hard way, which sometimes is the only way: through experience. WTM and Charlotte Mason are good reference points, and I’ll continue reading about them and following a lot of their advice and book recommendations, but I’m not going to worry about casting ourselves into any mould.
P.S. I’m not going to promise not to blog about methods. I like reading and talking about methods and I feel the authors of WTM and Charlotte Mason have a lot of experience and wisdom that I do not. I’ll take what they know and use it with what I’m learning to create what works for us.