I discovered the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling early in our homeschooling journey. I loved the idea of reading aloud to my children, and it didn’t take much to convince me to leave most textbooks behind and embrace a literature-based approach to educating my children. During our kindergarten years, we had spent a lot of time reading together. Once the “real schoolwork” began, we, like most new homeschoolers, bought textbooks and started “teaching.” Somehow we had less time to read aloud. I was introduced to the Charlotte Mason method and eagerly purchased Karen Andreola’s book “The Charlotte Mason Companion”. It was like a breath of fresh air and I found myself wholeheartedly accepting this more relaxed approach and excuse to schedule reading aloud during our school day. We started implementing Charlotte’s ideas:
o Read aloud “live” books.
o Study of images
o Music appreciation
o Learning science from nature (although ours is modified from the true CM approach described below)
or Mother Culture
o The happiness of habit
After a few years, I came across another approach to homeschooling, through a book called Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver Van DeMille. Like Charlotte, Oliver emphasizes the importance of self-education. He says that for learning to take place, the student must take responsibility. The parent is not a “teacher” but rather a “facilitator”.
The other important components of a Thomas Jefferson Education are “Classics” and “Mentors”.
When classic books are read, studied, and discussed with a mentor, the student learns to think. He is not taught “what to think” (as in a filler or multiple choice textbook), nor “when to think” (as in training for a specific job or profession), but “how to think”.
As the child’s mentor, the parent should think about the book they are reading and ask themselves the questions they will later ask the student. These questions must be open-ended and provide food for discussion with the student. The student should be guided to think for himself, not just parrot the “correct” answer.
The student learns to express his or her opinions and present them in a discussion with others in a group setting, or even in a debate.
This growing ability to think – to ask questions of oneself and of others – prepares the student to be autonomous. He will become a leader in whatever sphere he is in—someone who will think “outside the box”, not feebly following the crowd, as the “fill in the blank, multiple choice” student will do.
I have found that the Charlotte Mason method and the Thomas Jefferson Education model work very well together. I tend to lean more towards Charlotte Mason for younger children (when TJEd says they should be in the “love of learning” stage – establishing foundation, good habits and values). Once they have the basics of reading and writing, it’s time to add some “meat” with TJEd. Even as a child, of course, many of the books you read aloud will be “classics,” and you will naturally discuss the books as you read and narrate. The books will become more difficult as the child matures and the discussions will become more challenging. Wonderful spiritual insights can come to light as you and your student dig deep into classic books. The values and morals of the characters (or lack thereof) and the consequences of these are excellent springboards for discussing the biblical view versus the worldview of our culture. Your child will benefit from learning their lessons from the decisions, good and bad, the characters make. He will delight in the triumph of good over evil and empathize with the oppressed.
Particularly in those young people who choose to challenge their parents’ opinions, classic books will speak at length about their lives without you needing to point out the lesson.
So my advice is to start with the methods of Charlotte Mason, reading, narrating, discussing, getting the basics, learning fundamentals, discipline habits and values from the Bible. You begin to transfer to Thomas Jefferson Education when your student is ready—she continues to read and discuss, and you gradually demand more of your student’s way of expressing her ideas—in both oral and written presentations. Watch your children blossom into thoughtful, intelligent and enthusiastic young people with a lifelong love of learning.