When I think about what I want my homeschool to look like as my young kids get older, I think of reading aloud, singing hymns and folk songs, looking at beautiful art, and taking nature walks. But beyond the things I want to do, I also think about how I want my homeschool to feel. I want my kids to feel delight, curiosity, and interest. I hope they feel connected to the books they read, the natural world they explore, and I particularly hope they feel a connection with me, their mom.
Charlotte Mason, a 19th century British education philosopher, suggests that I’m right to want a sense of connection to permeate my kids’ education. She famously stated that ‘Education is the science of relations’, meaning both that education is about making connections between facts and subjects, as well as a child making a personal connection with what they are learning. Fortunately, Charlotte Mason gives us a lot of insight into how we can keep relationships and connections at the center of our homeschools, including our relationships with our kids.
We trust our child’s inner motivation to learn.
When I graduated from my public high school, I barely had an ounce of desire to learn for my own sake. I quite happily studied for years in order to get the A+ on the exam, the teachers’ praise, and the scholarship money. Consequently, my focus turned learning into a competition with my peers rather than something that helped me grow as a person.
Charlotte Mason trusted that every child had an intrinsic desire and ability to learn from birth. She rightly understood that extrinsic rewards or punishments suppress a child’s inner motivation. When children pursue rewards or fear punishments, they are not making relationships with what they are learning. They are more likely to, like me, forget what they have learned as soon as the exam is over!
Instead of rewards or punishments, Charlotte Mason encouraged parents and teachers to approach education from a place of trust and allow a child’s inner motivation to drive their learning. As she says, ‘An observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing’. When we focus on presenting well-written, engaging books, beautiful art and music, and the natural world to our children, we trust that they will naturally develop a relationship with those things.
We measure success by how much our child cares.
I find it very easy to compare my son’s academic skills with that of his peers. At five years old, his friends in school are learning to read and write, and are likely further ahead in math as well. While my son learns a lot every day, I don’t have a series of worksheets or grades to tangibly demonstrate his progress and give me confidence that he’s on the right track.
Grades and worksheets have limited value, though. They cannot tell us what sort of relationship a child has forged with what he or she has learned.
Charlotte Mason says,
“The question is not, – how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
When I read this quote, I am reminded that my goal isn’t to teach my kids a bunch of facts, but to help them forge personal connections with nature, people from history, characters in books, works of art, and more. If we want to keep relationships at the center of our homeschool, we have to stop looking at how everyone else’s kids are doing, and gauge success by the quality of the relationships our kids have with what they are learning. Are our kids interested? Do they care? If the answer to those questions is ‘yes’, then we are on the right track.
We come alongside our children as learners.
Perhaps the most powerful thing we can do as home educating parents is join our children in their learning. We have not already arrived at the destination of ‘education’. Learning is a life-long journey, and we are not as far ahead of our children as we think.
I struggle to retain this healthy sense of humility every time I engage in a power struggle with one of my children. We each want our own way, and are pitted against each other, determined to win. But in those moments, my child doesn’t need me to win. He needs me to come alongside him and guide him through a tough situation, whether it’s learning to help around the house, or learning to stick with a challenging math problem. And as he learns, I’m learning, too – to gather my patience and put our relationship before my pride.
Through and through, the Charlotte Mason philosophy allows us to approach educating our children from a place that respects and values relationships. We trust that they will make connections when put in the way of what is worth knowing. We measure our success by our children’s growing interest and care. We position ourselves beside our children, learning with them, even as we lead them. As we live out these principles, we cultivate an atmosphere in our homeschools that has relationships at its very heart.
Guest Post from:
Hi, I’m Amy and welcome to Around the Thicket!
To make a long story short, I’m a homeschooling mom of three boys who loves to think deeply about the why of home schooling so that I can make good decisions about the how of homeschooling. I hope I can help you do the same thing.