Hi! My name is Sarah. My husband, Dan, is a professor at Lancaster Bible College. We have been married for 13 years and have four sons: Ezra 10, Boaz 8, Zimri 5 and Lemuel 3.
I never expected to homeschool, despite the seven years I was homeschooled growing up. When it came time to send Ezra off to school, we were uncomfortable with the whole idea, public or private. We decided to give homeschooling a try and we haven’t regretted it.
Charlotte Mason Approach
It took a couple of years to find the style of homeschool I was wanting for our family but unable to articulate at the time. I stumbled upon Charolotte Mason and soaked it up. That was what my homeschool heart had been desiring.
Anyone who has heard, “The Charlotte Mason Method,” can probably tell you it has something to do with living books, narration and NATURE STUDY! Perhaps two lesser-known, but certainly not less important, philosophies of education Ms. Mason firmly argued for was teaching children a 2nd language and emphasizing that the most valuable subject of all, is that of God.
As dear as those two are to my heart, I’m only going to focus on the 2 most well know subjects, living books with narration and nature study and what it looks like with all these boys!
Living Books and Narration
How do your boys pay attention to and narrate all the read-aloud books that come with a Charlotte Mason approach?
Great question! This will look different for each family, and even each child you have! Boys, generally have a lot of energy. Embrace it. God made them that way for reason.
Now, of course, there is a time and place when they must learn to be still and quiet, but it doesn’t need to be 80% of their day or even 50% of their day. Even in their movement, they can learn parameters.
Your boys aren’t stuck behind a desk all day for many reasons, don’t make him stuck some place at home.
Movement can work in you and your son’s favor. With our boys, stillness rarely equals attention. In fact, when movement is replaced by quiet stillness, that’s most often when their minds wonder.
A gentle, but firm sound of their name is all that’s needed to bring them back, and they commence their prior movement, or perhaps another acceptable one and attention returns to its proper place.
Choosing Living Books
Ms. Mason has a lot to say about living books. I won’t repeat the numerous benefits it brings to the education of the child, but rather focus on, just because it’s a living book, doesn’t mean your kid is going to love it. Know your kid’s interest and choose living books that meet them there.
If you’re following a curriculum and there’s a book your kid just doesn’t like at all and it’s a dread, think about why the curriculum chose that book, and then look for another one that teaches the same value/time period/geography etc. and try and different one. When our boys are enjoying the book, their attention will naturally follow much easier!
Living Books as Windows and Mirrors
I heard something about books last summer on a Simply Charlotte Mason Podcast that I think is valuable as we approach living books for our boys. Some of the books we read (or our children read independently) should be windows and others should be mirrors.
The “window books” give our children glimpses of other people, places, ideas and new things.
“Mirror books,” on the other hand, should reflect something back in our own children that they can identify with.
Example of Pushing Through a Difficult Book
I’ll give an example of a book my boys struggled with, and how I handled the push through it, swap it, or skip it. It was on our schedule to read a biography of Leonardo De Vince. Two years prior he was our artist study and you can’t go through life without some reference of the man or his work, so I thought, “this will be great!”
Well, the boys were never excited when it came time to read about the great inventor/artist. However, there were enough spots sprinkled throughout that would catch their interest. Also, I began to see a similarity between my oldest son and the ever tinkering, inventor and artist. I did not want to point this out myself, but give time to see if he would notice a reflection of himself. I decided to push through it.
Just three weeks later, Ezra, my oldest walks past with hands full of who knows what for his next project, pauses, and says, “I kinda feel like Leonardo, like how he is always inventing but always getting distracted with other ideas he has and always coming up with new things but never really finishing anything.”
Oh. My. Goodness. I would never have wanted to take that realization away from him, and for him to see that reflection on his own!
The point is that when your son enjoys a book, it makes attention natural.
A living book does not equal magical interest. You’re never locked into a contract with a book. Keep an eye out for windows, but especially mirrors, they can be harder to come by. Be discerning with your living books to know when to push through, swap or skip. Know your kids.
Figure out how your boy’s brain operates most proficiently.
Over time I have learned that Ezra and Boaz can keep attention doing different activities. However, what Ezra is able to do, Boaz cannot do. Ezra is able to do things that take little thought, Boaz can only do things that take no thought.
- Setting up army guys verses keeping a balloon in the air.
- Keeping an eye out for critters in the back yard verses hanging upside down from the couch.
- Building with magnitiles verses tossing a ball (but only tossing a ball with himself, involve someone else and it’s too distracting).
Notice your son’s strengths in what he is able to do and still keep attention and involved him with what you’ve observed.
I might come out to read to the boys and Boaz is setting up army guys. I will tell him, “Boaz, I’m ready to start reading, there’s narration.” He will know his strength and weakness when it comes to attention and retention and will stop setting up the army guys and do something he know he’s able to do.
This quick shift from army guys to something else (along with a good attitude) has only happened from me taking the time to lovingly point out what I’ve noticed they are able to do and putting some of the responsibly of learning in their hands.
Controlled Breaks and Attention Spans
Make sure you’re not reading past your child’s attention span. This can be a hard one, I know. 20 minutes goes by but you’ve only read 2 pages because, life! I get it! But don’t forget attention spans, they’re real! When listening and narrating books, and all school work in general, it fatigues the brain, right?
I like to give the boys controlled, short breaks.
They may have anywhere from 2-5 minutes to wrestle, run laps around the outside of the house (even in the snow or rain, or freezing cold, all the better!), do sets of burpees, push-ups and squats etc. The point is to get their heart rate up quick, expel a lot of energy, but all within the parameters and time limit I have set so I don’t lose them somewhere!
They might be resistant to whatever instructions I’ve given, but once they finally start, they usually get into it and are better for it. This is helpful for me too because I also get that few minutes break to clear my mind and heart from any frustration that had been building up from their lack of attention and/or effort.
Remember- controlled, short breaks.
Teaching is My Responsibility and Learning is Their Responsibility
I find it valuable and helpful for all parties involved to recognize responsibility. The boys know that it is my responsibility to provide them a feast of ideas, but it is their responsibility to come hungry and ready to eat!
We often talk about a growth mindset, closed mindset and what a difference for good and for worse each make. What happens when you have one or the other? Who is in charge of deciding what kind of mindset you have? Which leads into something else we frequently talk about, “Emotions are great responders, but horrible leaders.” -Hillary Megan Ferrer.
You might not feel like working at school, but it is your responsibility right now. Do not let your emotions lead you. Choose to have a growth mindset.
Let your kids know their responsibility in learning.
It may take a while for the idea to really catch on, but it is worth working on and helps cultivate an independent learner a little bit at a time. It is prudent, when a child is frustrated and obviously having a closed mindset as a result, to know, no learning is going to happen.
Encourage Them to Persevere When Learning is Difficult
Another way we put the responsibility on them for their learning is this. They sometimes seem to think everything should be fun or is only worth doing if they enjoy it. That simply is not true and is a rather selfish thought at its core. It’s important they know that while learning can be fun and a great benefit when it’s enjoyable, it can’t always be so.
If they can understand there is a benefit to learning, even when it’s not immediate, to persevere when learning is difficult and how to navigate that, what a treasure for them as they grow up. Naturally, the younger they are the more important fun learning is, but as they grow older, they need to appropriately grow into hard things.
Clearly and properly delegating teaching and learning responsibilities takes pressure off me, knowing that I can’t force them to learn. I do what I can by providing appropriate living books, taking note of how they listen best and allowing for that, observing when they may need more breaks and the like.
Outside of that, if I read, and they miss it, that’s on them. It also corresponds with Ms. Mason not repeating herself if a child missed a narration for lack of attention. The thought of knowing they missed out is enough of a reprimand.
One of the cornerstones to a Charolotte Mason philology of education comes from her idea that “children are born persons; ergo, they must have liberties.”
When we recognize our boys as full persons, with all their daring ideas and endless energy, that is when we can truly help them cultivate freedom with responsibility, even at a very young age.
The freedom to move with responsibility to listen and understand.
The freedom to be daring with responsibility to one’s self and others.
Provide your boys with rich and living examples of boys or men who have used their energy, athleticism, and daring ideas for good and for evil.
Who knows what God will be calling them to do?
Did you enjoy this interview with Sarah? Leave a comment to let her know how her story has encouraged you!
If you have boys, you may enjoy the second part of this interview with Sarah: Nature Study with All Boys.
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