Many years ago, I attended a Charlotte Mason support group led by Catherine Levison, author of A Charlotte Mason Education. I already believed that Charlotte Mason’s ideas held great benefit, but there were very few resources available at the time. This was a long time ago. Almost 30 years. Levison’s book was really the first how-to resource at the time, so it was a tremendous honor to be able to be part of her early support group while she was still formulating the content of the book.
At every meeting, I would go home with one specific technique or idea I was going to add into our home school. One month, it was taking a weekly nature walk. Another month, we added in weekly art appreciation. Over the course of a year, I had switched our family to a Charlotte Mason home school. It was easy and painless using this step-by-step approach.
If you’re interested in Charlotte Mason’s methods and ideas but feel overwhelmed with all the choices and voices out there on the topic, can I suggest you first try dipping your toe in the water rather than switching over in one huge step?
For now, keep on doing whatever you’re doing. Textbooks, unschooling, whatever. Set aside a little bit of time in the afternoon, maybe half an hour, and try these things:
(5-10 minutes) Pick a book off the shelf and read for ten minutes (or five if your children are younger). The book can be something fun and simple like a Frog and Toad book for younger children, or Aesop’s Fables for older kids. Need ideas? Check out my Twaddle-Free Book List organized by grade level. I wouldn’t be surprised if you already have some of these books on your shelf, and if not, start this whole reading process with an afternoon trip to the local library.
(5 minutes) After your short reading, ask a couple of easy open-ended questions to get the conversation started. Don’t worry (yet) about having it be official Narration. You just want to get your students used to the idea of talking about their reading afterward. What do you remember about Toad from the story? Why do you think Lucy went into the wardrobe? How and why questions are especially good preparation for narrating.
(5 minutes) Grab a print of a piece of art. You can download a favorite and print it out from the internet. Fine art calendars work especially well for art appreciation. To begin with (eventually this process will be done differently), sit together and look at the art. What do you see? Have them point out just the content of the painting, not technical aspects. Just find the main points. People, animals, buildings, furniture. Then have them look at the background and see what’s there. After you’ve spent a couple of minutes looking at it, put it away, and then see how much you each remember without looking.
(10-20 minutes) Go outside (in a yard, a park, even a city sidewalk) and look for some natural object of interest. A pinecone, a flower, a pigeon, a stick, a rock. Observe the object carefully, much like you did with the artwork. If the object is something you can bring back home (like a rock or stick, not a pigeon) 😉 grab a pencil and paper and attempt to draw it by paying attention to the details of what you see. Each person can have their own object to draw or everyone can share the same one.
If you have naptime or quiet time after lunch, play some quiet classical music in the background. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was a favorite of my children.
Find a collection of family poetry and read a poem out loud at the lunch table every day.
If you’re looking to start implementing these things beyond just a one day trial, I’d recommended adding in the reading and discussion time every day, and also the music and lunchtime poem. The art appreciation would be only once a week, and the nature walk/drawing would be once or twice a week.
If you find you’ve successfully integrated these easy steps into your home school, find a list of Charlotte Mason’s techniques and start adding one more idea every month or two. Charlotte Mason in a Nutshell is a good place to start. They say it takes about six to eight weeks to develop a new habit, so if you start using a new idea every month and a half, you could easily have eight to ten new techniques added to your homeschooling with very little stress or tears.