Take courage and take the "real book plunge." The act of replacing a history, science or literature textbook with the many fabulous real books available in homeschool catalogs may be an experience similar to that of jumping into cool water on a hot day. Once you are in however, you are glad you had the courage because the water is wonderful.
Let your young children chatter. Charlotte Mason said that this was an amazing gift that every normal child is born with and that it should be taken advantage of in their education. Children of any age can start to narrate using an Aesop fable, for example. Over time a child's habit of narrating what he knows will carry over beautifully to his writing ability.
Pitch the worksheets. Develop the habit of narrating. Use it in place of so many worksheets.
Those who read twaddle may just as well twiddle their thumbs. Most children are bored by easy vocabulary found in "graded readers." Try reading aloud from a page or two of any well-written children's book. I recently finished reading aloud from the story, Ginger Pye by Newbery medalist Eleanor Estes. In it we read that the dog named "Ginger was a purposeful dog. When he found something he "thoughtfully and earnestly breathed in the essence of Jerry until it permeated his entire being . . ." Are the words I put in italics third grade vocabulary? fourth grade? fifth grade? sixth grade? I don't know. What I do know is that my eight-year-old son delighted in hearing it read aloud. He always looked forward to hearing the next chapter at bed time. Listening to vocabulary in context like this is the best way to become familiar with new or strange words.
Make a nature notebook. It's a pity when children can name all the Star Wars characters but do not know the names of the birds, trees, flowers and insects in their own neighborhood. My children's Nature Notebooks, filled the crayon drawings of the nature they have observed, are more precious than a pile of workbook pages could ever be.
Display at least six pictures of one artist's works over a period of a semester. This is all it takes for a student to become acquainted with some of the world's greatest works of art. Display six or more of Leonardo DaVinci, six of Jean Francois Millet, six of Michelangelo, or whomever you choose. Let the children look and look and look and then describe what they see.
Do the same for music. Just pop in a cassette of greatest hits of Mozart, Beethoven, Scot Joplin, or Gershwin. One composer at a time is suggested. Play that composer's music over and over again while you wash dishes, sweep the floor, ride in the car, draw, or give the little ones a bath. Music is the universal language and classical music is another part of a cultural heritage we can pass on to our children.
Hooray for the strong-willed child! My prayer is that all my children will be strong-willed children, that they develop the will-power to do what is right, to choose to follow God's will and to do it with all their might. My job as a parent is to guide and inspire. I place in the curriculum stories that invite "hero admiration." The Bible, biography and historical fiction can supply heroes with virtuous characters that children may choose to emulate.
Good habits need constant attention until they are formed. Faithfulness at a task involves consistency. To be consistent takes great effort until a habit is formed. Once a good habit is formed another can be added to the list of acquired attainments. And good habits can take the place of bad ones this way, too.
Keep lessons short in the early years of school so that a student can focus all his attention without being tempted to dawdle. Over time a habit of attention is formed that enables the students to do harder work without fretting.
Some twenty "habits of the good life" can be instilled in the lives of our children during their school years. A mother only needs to develop one habit in her children at a time, keeping watch over those already formed. Her homeschool days will go by more smoothly with some routine and good manners. Saying "thank you" and "please," sharing, taking turns, sitting up straight at the table, waiting patiently, and remembering daily prayer, can become habit. Speaking the truth in love, using determination, counting our blessings (to avoid self pity and depression) are virtuous actions that do not need strenuous moral effort once they have become habit.
You don't have to be perfect. I'll admit to you that I was not brought up by way of Charlotte Mason's guiding principles of education. I was an "all right kid" so I got through the system of public school okay with slightly above average grades. But I graduated without reading more than one or two real books. I acquired little knowledge of literature, poetry, great art, classical music, history or science.
When my own children were small I was desperately in need of the wisdom and confidence to homeschool my children. So I asked God's help and searched for his answer to my prayers. This was the answer. I would learn along with my children. I cannot say I've never had a down, insecure or confused moment during my homeschool adventure. However, I can say that I am so glad I decided to homeschool fourteen years ago. We've been learning a lot together. And I am grateful Charlotte Mason's guidance was made available to me.
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