Charlotte Mason and Formal Lessons: Waiting Until Six

When I had my first child I remember trying to care for her to perfection. I began motherhood with such excitement and enthusiasm it was almost exhausting. I made her baby food, I breastfed on-demand (until she self-weaned), I taught her baby sign language. My husband and I took turns reading a book to her every night, singing a song, and saying prayers. I had to do everything just right. Not that this was necessarily bad, just ambitious, like most new mothers. Then the idea of teaching her began to creep into my mind. Looking back, if I could do it again, I would wait until she was six to start formal lessons. I would have prioritized and will now always prioritize character development through habit training, over lessons any day.

Where was I going to begin and what was I going to do?

I started searching through Pinterest with all of the zeal of a new mom, planning and implementing amazing craft projects, “toddler” science, learning ABC’s, and numbers. Does this sound familiar at all? We did so.much.stuff. I’ll admit it, it was lots of fun but somewhere (early) in the process I began to get a lot of outside pressure that I wasn’t doing enough. I had forgotten what I already knew about early formal education. It also didn’t help that my daughter was an early reader and seemed to be gifted intellectually. This naturally lead me to think I needed to start something more formal. I don’t include her gifted intellect to boast some sort of child genius snobbery nor do I think (knowing her mind at nearly 6) that I had that new mom hope of raising an Einstein.

She really is smart, she memorized all of her toddler board books by age 2 and phonetically started reading by age 3. She loves outer space and learning about the solar system, she became so engrossed in reading about the planets that she could list all of them and talk endlessly about them. She could count and recognize numbers 1-20 and she knew all of her shapes and colors. At some point, I just felt like I needed to be doing more. Can you relate, have you found yourself thinking this too? Well, this was me so I took a teaching style test to see what would best suit our family, which briefly led me down the Charlotte Mason road. I wish I hadn’t, at least not yet.

Charlotte Mason and Formal Lessons: Waiting Until Six

I found myself on the Simply Charlotte Mason’s website but the curriculum was for children six years and up. At the time I didn’t realize there was a reason for it, so I continued to look around. Then I discovered My Father’s World curriculum which has some of Charlotte Mason’s method leaking into it but it isn’t purely aligned with her philosophy of education. My daughter was only 4 years old but because of her level of intellect, thirst for knowledge, and what she already knew I thought it would be best to start her at Kindergarten level.

Starting Formal Lessons

I am part of a large homeschool co-op and several homeschool face-book groups, so I sought the advice from seasoned homeschool mothers, online and in life. Everyone advised to wait. I listened for a short time but I was convinced that since my daughter is advanced than I just needed to start formal lessons. Knowing everything I know now I wish I had listened to them and here is why.

Everything started great with MFW, it was everything that I thought I wanted. It was the closest curriculum that I could find with a Charlotte Mason style approach prepackaged and ready to go. My daughter loved it too or so it seemed. About halfway through, she began to drag her feet at lessons. She seemed uninterested and bored as the unit style approach became redundant. Being the diehard that I am, we pressed on until she voiced something that stopped me in my tracks, “I hate school work.” I wanted to cry. Here is the thing, I never want my kids to hate learning, I mean do you? After all, isn’t that part of the point of homeschooling, so we can instill a love for learning? I took a deep breath, I sat and listened to her and this is what I learned from my daughter.

She shared with me that she “just wanted to play” and that she was only four. You know what? She was exactly right. No matter how smart she is, she is still just a child who deserves just to play and learn while in that play. Not the kind of play that I set up for her to learn but real child-led exploration and discovery kind of play.

Learning My Lesson

I wish I could tell you this was the point that I scratched the whole early formal lesson idea, but that wouldn’t be honest. I was also growing, and going through the process of not letting outside pressures influence me and getting out of the traditional school system mindset. I was learning how to homeschool and gaining my confidence. However, I did come up with a compromise and we decided that we would only do formal lessons 3 days per week. This lasted until late spring and the tell-tale signs started to show again, the drudgery and almost an apathetic look. I literally thank God that I came to my senses, you know what I did next? I boxed up the curriculum, and we just went back to learning through play.

Discovering Charlotte Mason

I started reading Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. I began with For The Children’s Sake by Susan Schaffer and just fell in love with the Charlotte Mason method. I found Charlotte Mason’s volumes to read for free on website, and I poured over the readings and stopped when I got to this passage:

The consideration of out-of-door life, in developing a method of education, comes second in order; because my object is to show that the chief function of the child–his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life–is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavor of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects; that, in fact, the intellectual education of the young child should lie in the free exercise of perceptive power, because the first stages of mental effort are marked by the extreme activity of this power; and the wisdom of the educator is to follow the lead of Nature in the evolution of the complete human being.
Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, pp. 96-97

I began to look at learning from a whole new perspective. Did you notice everything pertaining to learning comes from the direction of the child and not the intrusive instructions of the mother? I prayed and had a real heart to heart with my husband. He reminded me of what we learned when we took pediatrics and obstetrics in nursing school. The left and right side of the brain do not communicate well with each other until 7 or 8 yrs of age, which is when children enter the age of reasoning. The few short years leading up to that they are hugely imaginative with short attention spans, which (from experience) can make any type of formal lessons feel like pulling teeth. It can squash a child’s love for learning.

Turning Point

As mothers, we can be the hardest on ourselves. While I recognize my oldest is advanced intellectually it doesn’t mean she was advanced socially or emotionally. She still had the maturity of a 4 yr old little girl. While I am an intentional parent, I did begin to prioritize learning over character development. If I had to do it again, I would have waited until she was six to start formal lessons. I would have prioritized and will now always prioritize character development through habit training, over lessons any day. I would have spent more time outside, taking weekly nature walks, and maybe introduced a nature diary. I would have just let her learn through play because that was already working so well, she didn’t need anything formal (yet). I would have focused on nurturing, establishing our relationship, and being her mother.

Now, I have an energetic nearly 3-year-old little boy and you know what I do with him? Play. I read to him aloud every day, he gets lots of time outside, and he learns through play. I focus on loving him, prayers, character development. Above all else-learning about God. This and just a little bit of formal lessons as we transition into a Charlotte Mason education is what I now prioritize for my oldest.

Now, what about you, when did you or when will you start formal lessons?

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