Slow and peaceful early years

I was in the parable of the buried treasure a couple years ago. A dear friend dropped Charlotte Mason’s name and my life changed. Like the man who sells all he has to buy the field, I quit my job with a move to Michigan, and didn’t look for another one here. I wanted to do this.

Charlotte Mason’s like that. I feel it’s catching as a method in small pockets thanks to people who remind us that homeschooling should be joyful at least half the time for all involved. A small retreat on a prairie in Minnesota sold out before registration even opened to the public. Locally, my area-wide “Is anyone out there” call a year ago yielded only my own voice echoing back; this year, I’m part of a small regional group of Charlotte Mason families.

I cannot speak for Charlotte Mason’s method from a long view, but my micro review of our Year 0, our kindergarten years, is that simplicity works, and I don’t want to forget the peace I feel right now come February when everyone’s sure to be puking and I’m behind in our reading.

I was trying to compile a list I’d feel like a rallying cry, a remembrance of why we wait, when my middle and youngest kids are approaching first grade. Charlotte Mason isn’t a system — there’s no formula to getting it right. We have freedom to be flexible with our approaches with each child. The point of the list wasn’t to replicate success I found with the first child. It was only in remembering that the philosophy is life-giving, if we let it rearrange our lives: better quality reading, more time outside; no busywork.

My list, though, became more of a confirmation of what I intuitively knew. For one, gentle starts — drawing letters in sand or paints, matching numbers with decks of cards; none of which are my ideas — last longer and require no special skills in coercion. Each child comes at it differently, anyhow, and making learning part of life instead of cramming in table time for preschoolers makes sense.

Slowly adding on facets of a Charlotte Mason education instead of diving in was great, too: being outside in nature; keeping a nature journal (of my own; it’s not something I required of the kids, though they asked to start one and occasionally draw beside me); reading a story bible at breakfast, singing folk song favorites and dancing as Dad plays them on the guitar.

Beyond that, all I hope to remember is that we enjoyed being together for it. Most of it.

I’ve trusted the method enough to change my life around it; I’ve spent the last couple years reading it, studying some of her original books, and that’s built confidence for me. It’s rare, in online discussion groups, to find the kind of confidence that comes from finding a kindred spirit and so many solid philosophical agreements in a book written by someone from the early part of last century. Once I found what I needed there, though, along with a couple modern bloggers who were a little further down the road from us, I could unfollow the chaotic rest. There’s peace in that, too. I hope to remember: keep it simple.

This time, the early years, should be restorative for us, parent and children, and if I had to advise myself on my younger children it’s this: if it feels forced or stressful and they’re younger than 6, just stop and wait. Come back to it. This time should be fun, restorative: I don’t see a lot of people using that word in the context of early childhood education — but it’s true. The hard stuff comes soon enough; the early years should be slow and kinda peaceful; as peaceful as they can be with toddlers. Maybe I should clarify: peaceful expectations from us parents.

I think about us two years ago, before we started, and I see us now, and we’re happier now.

“Now, it sometimes happens that the thing we desire is already realised had we eyes to see.”

– Charlotte Mason, vol. 2, “Parents and Children”

(Even if we quit homeschooling, our minds would still be influenced by this philosophy that rigorous work in the morning and fresh air in the afternoon can make a life.

The philosophy’s bigger than homeschooling. It says that how we spend our free time matters; the stories and activities we spend time in matters. The crafts we do, the way we fill Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons matters. How we parent matters. How we talk to the kids in our lives matters — you know. What I read, what they read. I’m even experimenting with some of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy in planning Sunday school for our church next year. Sharing this idea matters.)

So, to myself in two to four years: If you’re smiling and they’re smiling, and if you’re outside a lot, you’re doing it right.

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