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    31 Days of Charlotte Mason: Increasing Efficiency: The Principle of Alternation by Blossom (Day 14)

    October 14, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    Another guest post, this time from Blossom. Thank you for this, Blossom! this is a small thing that can make a big difference in our home schoolrooms.


    Blossom is a Christian homeschooling mom to two highschoolers in Ohio who loves using the AmblesideOnline curriculum and learning more about Charlotte Mason. She is a moderator for the AmblesideOnline Forum. Read her posts about homeschooling, book reviews, and life in general at North Laurel Home & School.


    Imagine making a list of what needs to be done in a day. The to-do list for the day includes a lot of washing: washing dishes, washing clothes by hand, scrubbing the floor, cleaning out the refrigerator, cupboards, and oven. All these things are done in the kitchen and done with hot soapy water. Your hands get all wrinkled from the long exposure to the water. The constant bent pose leaves an ache in your back. By the end of these tasks you’re exhausted!

    Or here is another example: you’ve agreed to read a book and give feedback in two days’ time. The book is well over 1,000 pages! Getting rid of outside distractions, you settle into the book. It is fascinating and holds your interest well but it is quite in-depth. In order to give informed feedback, you must actively participate in reading the book. By the end of the first day, you want to continue reading but just can’t take in one more word. Your mind is just too exhausted.

    In each of these examples, there is no real break in the monotony. Doing one thing continuously with no break makes the body as well as the mind tired. Charlotte Mason’s idea of short lessons is accompanied by alternating lessons. Even if the lessons are kept short, weariness can show if too much of one type of activity is carried on for too long. Charlotte Mason understood this. She said:

    In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:
    (a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
    (b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)
    (c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.

    Principle 13

    The teacher will be able to see the fatigue set in if the lessons are not switched up for the younger students. The teacher can order the activities to avoid monotony. In the upper years, however the students have more control of their subject order. It is a good idea to get them in the habit of switching up their subject order so to avoid ‘sameness’.

    We pride ourselves upon going over and over the same ground ‘until the children know it’; the monotony is deadly… [It] is at our peril that we remain too long in any one field of thought. We may not, for example, allow the affairs and interests of daily life to deprive the mind of its proper range of interests and occupations. It is even possible for a person to go into any one of the great fields of thought and to work therein with delight until he become incapable of finding his way into any other such field.

    Vol. 6, p. 53

    In the years since Charlotte Mason’s writings, it has been shown that monotony can cause stress similar to that of being overwhelmed. For both younger and older students alternation is important. There have been times when my kids, one just starting high school and one almost done with high school, have had that look of exhaustion from the ‘sameness’ of their lessons. They are mostly in charge of arranging their school day but sometimes I do need to step in with a reminder to adjust the order.

    Reading a chapter in the Old Testament followed by Galileo’s Daughter and then The New World is often too much for my son. If we insert math between one of the readings and geography after the other, his retention is improved. Or sometimes a change of scenery between subjects is necessary and we head outside. When I see exhaustion creeping in, I might add in music or art between to switch it up so that minds are refreshed.

    [This] much is certain, and is very important to the educator: the brain, or some portion of the brain, becomes exhausted when any given function has been exercised too long. The child has been doing sums for some time, and is getting unaccountably stupid: take away his slate and let him read history, and you find his wits fresh again. Imagination, which has had no part in the sums, is called into play by the history lesson, and the child brings a lively unexhausted power to his new work. School time-tables are usually drawn up with a view to give the brain of the child variety of work; but the secret of weariness children often show in the home school room is, that no such judicious change of lessons is contrived.

    Vol. 1, p. 24

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    7 Comments

  • Reply Six Steps to Plan a Circle Time | Afterthoughts July 10, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    […] important thing, and so on. This isn’t the only thing to consider when planning the order (a need for variety should also come into play), but don’t hope that a two-year-old is going to sit through the […]

  • Reply Variety in your schedule | The Common Room March 24, 2015 at 1:42 am

    […] We alternate stiffer history readings with subjects like folk songs or science experiments. I don’t assign copywork right after a longer written narration. When we were doing two languges (German and Sign Language), we didn’t do them one after the other. As Blossom explains here, this is one way to boost efficiency. […]

  • Reply Natasha October 19, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Thank you, Blossom. Your example about reading the 1,000 page book was great, and also something I would probably try to do 🙂 I didn’t quite understand this concept to start with, I always thought it was good for the children to “stick with it” but only after a short time trying this I have seen wonderful results. Math lessons are less painful when broken up with music practice. It was also hard to convince the kids to give it a go and the days felt a little disjointed to start with. We all still have to fight the urge to stick with the one subject until done but are slowly re-training ourselves.

  • Reply Carol October 15, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Thanks, Blossom. I keep on top of this really well with my youngest but I’ve noticed the older ones linger a bit too long on the same subject at times. It’s a very simple concept but it’s easy to let slip when our children are more independent.

  • Reply livingstonesacademy October 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    This isn’t really about the article but about a concern I have. I just noticed today that I hadn’t seen a new email with a new post. I checked and I didn’t receive the last two days. 🙁 Has anyone reported this problem? Can I resubmit my email address? I wonder what happened! I’m loving this series, growing SO much! My email address is stoneagefamily@hotmail.com.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 14, 2013 at 9:13 pm

      I just checked Feedburner, and I see your email address on the list, so I don’t think that is the problem. Have you checked your spam folder? I ask because when that has happened to me, my email started putting my subscription in the spam file. Just a thought. I’m not sure what to do. So far you are the only one, but please let me know if it is still a problem and I’ll try to figure it out. Thanks!

    • Reply livingstonesacademy October 15, 2013 at 1:25 am

      Ok, thank you, I’ll check!

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