This post is going to be my attempt at a concise summary of all the pertinent installments in this series, plus I want to go beyond summarizing what we’ve learned about Charlotte Mason and continuing education, and attempt a modern application. What could this look like in today’s world? Life isn’t exactly what it was over a hundred years ago, if you haven’t noticed, but I saw way more similarities than I saw differences when I was studying all of this.
Listen to this post as a podcast episode:
You may have noticed other categories, but I’m breaking this into the categories that make sense to me.
1. Variety of Reading
It should come as no surprise that reading is the cornerstone of learning. Books are where the ideas live, and therefore where we must go if we want to find them. Also, books are small and portable. Unlike going to a conference, they are conveniently located right in our own homes.
There is a difference between reading one book at a time, and having a number of books going. As someone who always has five to seven books going at a time, I can testify to the fact that books tend to interact with each other, in spite of the covers which separate them. They can’t help it. All these ideas jump off the page into our brains and start playing with one another. One book can round another out.
Reading multiple books at a time also tends to slow us down. Gobbling a book may be fun, but it’s not the best way to learn. Letting something sit and marinate is preferable.
Throughout this series we’ve seen numerous examples of variety. Miss Mason’s own habit was to break up her work day with different types of reading. So the Bible came first thing in the morning, light reading as a mid-morning break (listed as either Punch or Trollope), classics for 10 minutes (classic meaning Plato or Aristotle, etc.), a travel or biography selection, an “old” novel (listed were authors like Bronte and Thackeray), The Times, literary essays, memoirs, and then, of course, a Waverly novel before bed.
If you wanted to read by category, you could try using the topics from the Mother’s Education Course: divinity, physiology and health, mental and moral science and education, and also nature lore and the elements of science. You could also add in some other topics that you, personally, are trying to learn about, of course.
The bare minimum variety that I found anywhere, the one suggested for mothers in the most difficult years of mothering (meaning the diaper and toddler years) was to have three books: a hard one, a moderately easy one, and a novel.
2. The Importance of Scheduling
I am understanding more and more that scheduling is key to making something happen. It is so easy to just watch life happen, and then respond. And we all know that life often happens in spite of the schedule! But scheduling the things I want to get done has made a huge difference for me. It doesn’t come naturally to me to schedule certain things, and yet when I do it, I’m amazed at the results.
Miss Mason had a pretty rigid schedule for her college students, and they all reaped huge benefits from that.
If you want to read a book, don’t wait for time to find you. Instead, YOU seek out and find the time. Make a date with that time. Do it.
3. The Minimum During the Busiest Seasons of Motherhood
Mommy Brain. It’s a real problem, I know. Don’t let it eat up all of your intellect. The Parents’ Review suggested a minimum of thirty minutes of reading per day. This is what it takes to keep living. It’ll help you think of something beyond the Mommy Wars and whether or not you want to use cloth diapers. Read a book on something other than being a mom. If you use the three book minimum I listed above, you’ll find your brain refreshed and ready for action.
4. Casual Reading Like Magazines
Miss Mason edited the Parents’ Review, as you know. AmblesideOnline has purchased a number of these old volumes, volunteers have typed them up, and now they are available online for free! Some of the content is outdated, yes, but you’d be amazed how much of it is timeless. My local reading group regularly uses these archives to supplement our other reading assignments.
You can also take advantage of what is newly available today. Maybe you have your categories of reading all set, but don’t have a book on your list for one of them? Perhaps a magazine is in order! For a couple years, I published Newbie Tuesday, a digital mini-magazine that had a new Charlotte Mason theme each month. You can buy the back issues right here on Afterthoughts. The two-volume set contains a total of 22 issues totaling 160 pages of Charlotte Mason goodness that is deep enough to feed your soul, but simple enough to relax with by the pool.
If a physical magazine is more your style, I can attest, after reading it cover to cover, that the new Common Place Quarterly is absolutely wonderful.
A magazine doesn’t have to focus on education to be helpful. You could subscribe to one that focuses on a subject area of interest. For divinity, I like to read Modern Reformation — it covers current thought and theology all at once!
I also think blogs are a modern version of magazines. If you subscribe with care, you end up with quality articles delivered to your email, for free, that can seriously help you continue your own education. (Click here to subscribe to the Afterthoughts Weekly Digest, for example.)
5. Regular Nature Walks
Miss Mason took regular nature walks, and when she was too ill, she took a ride in her carriage instead. Her example reveals how important she thought it was to get out each day. This is hard for me because I get absorbed by my work. Lately, we’ve been doing about once every-other-week, though I’m trying to bring it to once weekly at minimum.
Miss Mason’s college students were required to take daily walks during fine weather. It’s always easier when the weather is fine, isn’t it? When our weather is perfect, we often do school at the park — which isn’t quite the same as a walk (though we try to take a walk while we’re there), but translates into a number of extra hours outdoors for all of us.
Getting in touch with and knowing your surroundings was something Miss Mason considered important. Back when I was drowning in diapers and toddlers, a daily walk helped a lot. It refreshed me and helped me get a bit of perspective.
6. Formal Study
Not all moms can or should take formal classes. If it would drown you to do this, then don’t do it. But some of us thrive on this sort of thing, and Miss Mason did design her Mother’s Education Course. AmblesideOnline hopes to debut their own, modern version of the MEC, and this will be a valid option in the future, which is totally exciting!
There are lots of classes available online. I offer Charlotte Mason Boot Camp three times per year, but, again, I think it’s important not to feel limited strictly to education. I’ve taken online classes on everything from guitar to sourdough!
There are also classes available locally. I know someone taking an art class. I have a friend who recently took a cooking class. Take advantage of what is available in your area.
It’s true, lectures weren’t used in Charlotte Mason’s classrooms for the children, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t use them with adults. She gave lectures regularly as part of the Liberal Education for All movement. Her students received lectures at the college. And many of the Parents’ Review articles were simply transcriptions of papers that had been presented at one of the PNEU local meetings!
If your area is like my area, there are lectures you can attend. My church is part of an organization that brings in theology teachers multiple times per year. Our local college regularly has lectures available to the public, as do local clubs. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you might be amazed at what is available.
In addition to this, I think podcasts are a great modern equivalent. There are a lot of helpful podcasts out there, and you can even use your reading topic areas to help you balance your podcast subscriptions.
I would encourage you put podcasts through a twaddle filter just like you would reading material. Don’t waste your time anywhere, including here. I regularly go through my podcast subscriptions, sorting them, deleting some, and looking to maintain a balance of varied subjects and topics.
When people think of Charlotte Mason, they don’t usually think of the latest mega-conference, but that is sort of what she was doing. Her first conference, in the late 1800s, had over 300 people in attendance. The conference was attended by PNEU homeschool parents and governesses, teachers in the PNEU schools, Ambleside graduates, school headmasters, and others involved in education. She was trying to reach her entire country and regenerate the state of education.
Conferences can be wonderful. There are now so many homeschool conferences and retreats! If you have the resources, I highly recommend hunting down a conference near you.
9. Local Group Meetings
This is really what Miss Mason’s PNEU was doing. There was a central office, yes, but the local groups were very decentralized. Each had its own local leadership and arranged its own lecture series, and then reported back to headquarters. The local meetings were where the action was happening.
These can’t be classified as mini-conferences because over time, groups like this can become quite intimate. They become a community. You might find that you don’t just go to a meeting for information — though you’ll definitely find that — but you also go for friendship and camaraderie, inspiration, motivation to keep going, help when a course correction is needed, and more.
I cannot tell you how much my local group means to me. We get together, chat informally, chat formally … and then follow up with more informal chatter! I often arrive tired and harried, but I leave ready to face another month of this journey we call education.
If you have one other Charlotte Mason mom that you know, you have what it takes to create a group. If you are looking for a local group, try to find one over at Charlotte Mason in Community or Scholé Sisters. You could even add your name as a leader starting a new group and see if anyone else finds you, if you’re feeling rather lonely.
Oh, the Endless Possibilities!
My purpose here is not to make you feel like you aren’t doing “enough.” (Whatever “enough” means.) What I have aimed to do is to show you how big is the world of continuing self-education. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t discount activities you’re involved in because they don’t consist of reading a book. If you’re learning and getting inspired, that’s good.
Some of these things are seasonal. A conference is once per year, often in the summer. Some of these things are intermittent. Our local group meets monthly except December and September.
There are times when you can read seven books, and times when you’ll only be able to do the three-book, 30-minute-per-day minimum.
Learning is, after all, essential to what it means to be human.
You can mix and match these elements to fit your life. And you can change things as your life changes. What I want you to see is a world that is totally open to you. Don’t think you can’t learn, or don’t have time to learn. Instead, figure out what will work for you. And then do. it. You’ll be glad you did!
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