Charlotte Mason Journey

People often ask me if I have always been a Charlotte Mason homeschooler.  The answer is I thought I was.

I started, as so many do, with Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake, and it is a beautiful introduction to Mason’s methods.

It resonated with me largely because of the good parts of my childhood.  I had already read nearly all of what are considered children’s classics (the thousand good books list, for instance, was old ground for me) because my grandfather had given my mother a copy of Honey for a Child’s Heart when I was born (you didn’t know it was that old, did you?).  My uncle and grandparents supplied us with excellent books throughout my childhood.  My grandparents were fans of Thornton Burgess’ books for children.

I had read quite a lot of poetry, and part of my misspent youth was spent on writing very bad poetry.  Because I loved poetry so much, my aunt had given me Louis Untermyer’s Golden Treasury of Poetry for Christmas the year I was in the fourth grade.  That Christmas I had a nasty case of pneumonia and was hospitalized for a week, receiving penicillin shots around the clock, every four hours.  I found great solace in that poetry book, which came to the hospital with me, and I had nothing else to do while I lay in bed waiting for my next appointment with the needle, which I hated and feared.

I had been playing my father’s classical music records on our small portable record player for as long as I could remember.  I think the earliest music I knew outside of hymns was Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

My grandmother, a truly remarkable woman, had majored in botany in college in the 1920s.  Until I was 8, we spent part of every summer with my grandparents and we would walk through the woods and she identified plants and wildflowers as the faces of old friends.

My father dabbled in languages. He spoke Korean, he could have an rudimentary conversation in Spanish.  He did not teach us more than how to count and sing I will make you fishers of men in Korean.  But the appreciation for language and cultural differences was there. For a while when we lived in Canada, we hosted immigrants from various cultures for a time until they would get settled into a more permanent home.  The other side of our townhouse also seemed to be something of a revolving door for immigrant families, often with children my age.  I learned something from every one of them, the girl from Ireland, the family from Holland, Dorothy from the Dominican Republic, the Greek family next door, the French Canadian family from church.  When we moved 12 miles away from the Mexican-American border it was another layer in my childhood exposure to cross-cultural experiences.

We had some prints of classic works of art hanging in the home, although mostly none of us knew what they were. Mom just knew she liked them.  And we did not have a lot of kitsch.

At any rate, as you see, I was familiar with and drawn to many of the things which seem to most homeschoolers to distinguish a Charlotte Mason education, and upon reading For the Children’s Sake, I added narration, copywork, and more living books to my bag of tricks and I removed textbooks.  But even in the ‘things,’ I was missing something. My idea of living books was mainly centered around historical fiction and other stuff I liked.  most importantly,  I lacked the deeper understanding, or even knowledge, of CM’s principles.

I would really need to read Mason’s own words in order to truly grasp those principles.  Somewhere in the late 80s, I believe, a bookclub I was in offered the six volume set as a premium for joining. I was already a member, but I asked my mom to join (I had to promise to buy her two books a year or whatever it was) and give me the slipcovered Charlotte Mason set.  She did.

I started to read them, but over and over I would set them aside, bogged down in details about drains, wool, and open windows and smells.  I would set them aside, and try again a few months, or, who are we kidding here, years later.  I tried to sell the set at a yard sale once for a very good price, but I had mislaid one of the books at the time and nobody wanted to buy only five of the six volume set.  It turned up later, but I still did not make much progress.

Then we moved to Washington in the late 90s, and got the internet for the first time.  I was tethered by a very painful pregnancy and orders from my midwife not to be on my feet for more than 20 minutes at a time, with a good hour at least in between (torn cartilage in a place nobody ever wants to have torn cartilage).  I discovered email lists for homeschoolers, including one about Charlotte Mason.  I joined, pooling my ignorance with a couple hundred other homeschooling moms who had also not read anything by Charlotte Mason herself, and occasionally reigned in by the remarkably patient, practical, and very knowledgeable List Mama, Lynn H and a handful of other veterans who had actually been reading the books for themselves.

Spurred on by their encouragement, and, to be honest, the sting of being told I was wrong about something, I started reading again.

And then…. I lost my volume one book for a time. We looked everywhere, just everywhere. I offered rewards to the children. I increased the reward offered. I even bid for a new set at e-bay (and lost). I had given up. I prayed.

Then a Veteran’s charity came by to pick up donations. Since we would be moving again in a few months we’ve been going through stuff and piling it up in boxes and bags near the front door for a yard sale. I was sick of the sight of the clutter and looked on the Veteran guy as a godsend, literally, so we gave him all that stuff and a few more things as well.  The man had to make about five trips back and forth to carry all this stuff. The bags and boxes were flimsy and poorly packed, since we’d intended them just for yard sales, but got it all to the his truck without losing a single item. Until…
As he carried the very last and biggest (about three feet high) box of all
out the door, it tipped a bit, he caught it and steadied it, but one single book slipped out onto the sidewalk. My oldest went to pick it up for him, and of course, yes, it was my missing volume 1.  It missed disappearing forever by a
hairsbreadth! My daughter said she thinks the poor man thought she was a nut case because she started dancing in the yard sputtering joyfully, “the book, the book, the book!!!”
Who knows what he would have thought if he’d seen the pandemonium that broke out _inside_ when she brought that book back in and returned it to its
excited owner=)

I still got bogged down in the drains and wool, but Lynn H, the List Mama suggested I try volume 6 instead, since I had a 13 and 15 year old at the time, and very few other people were doing CM in high school.  So I started volume 6, and the scales on my eyes fell away.

Well. I don’t want to be melodramatic.  It was exciting, heady stuff.  I was able to read through much more easily than I had done volume 1, and I made new discoveries on nearly ever page.

Some of them were….



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  1. Posted September 7, 2016 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Aaah, TBC! Can’t wait — interesting story. The good parts of your childhood were very very good.

    I just finished tonight’s episode of W and you’re reminding me of that. 🙂

  2. Rhonda
    Posted September 8, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait for part II!

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