Educational Philosophy, Home Education

School is War: Scheduling for Peace Revisited

November 23, 2015
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the summer of 2013 I wrote a guest post for this blog in which I shared an experiment my family had undertaken the previous school year: I took Nancy Kelly’s admonition to “Keep Cutting Back Until there is Peace in Your Home” to heart and attempted to conform our school day schedule as closely as possible to those used in Charlotte Mason’s classrooms. My blog post generated a lot of questions:

  • But what about all the lovely living books we might miss?
  • What if we have gaps in our history and science learning?
  • What if we (gasp!) don’t finish a book?
  • So I don’t have to do every single book on AmblesideOnline’s schedules?
  • If I don’t drop books, my child might not get through Y12!!!
  • Which is better — to do all the AO books and not get through as many years OR skip several books each year and pick up the pace so my child is doing each year roughly when she should be doing it based on her age/school grade level?
  • How can I possibly do AO with multiple children in different years?

Right up front, let me stress that I haven’t “cut” any books from the AO schedule — I’ve moved them to free reads, moved them to another year, or used them for Sunday reading. In a CM economy, selections such as Parables from Nature or Trial and Triumph tended to serve as Sunday reading rather than part of the school day. We shared poetry with Dad at supper, and enjoyed artist study and special read-alouds as a family on Sunday evenings. As an idea, people really should take a look at local art gallery whenever they have free time. It really makes your day better. There is so much that we could have done, instead of setting aside time for composer study, we kept the term’s music playing while we ate breakfast, did chores, cooked supper. In essence, we allowed our learning to become part of our life.

The AO readings were carefully chosen so the page counts for each term are equal to what Charlotte Mason was assigning. Instead of jumping to book-dropping, focus on the time slots. How much time was Charlotte Mason giving to each thing each day? Take a look at the timetables. Mason’s students were required to give focused attention to a subject for a certain period of time – not a certain number of pages. AO has tried to craft their curriculum in a way that is as close as possible to Mason’s own — so they know page counts are important. But in the day-to-day, the timetables were concerned with focused attention for a certain period of time.

I discovered another piece to the puzzle while mining the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection curated by Redeemer University College. There I found that in a talk given at a House of Education alumni conference, Mason’s close personal friend and secretary, Elsie Kitching, said it is better to leave the term’s work unfinished than to rush the pupils through for the sake of having finished the work set. Hmmmmm…….

Then consider these little nuggets from a Parents’ Review article entitled The Work and Aims of the Parents’ Union School by Miss O’Ferrall:

And now we will take a look at the carefully arranged time-tables. Practically all the bookwork is done in the morning when the children are fresh and ready to tackle the more arduous part of their work. The hours are not long — two and a half for the first form, four for the Vth and VIth; an hour more later in the day for II, III, and IV and a couple for the Vth and VIth. This is exclusive of practising, dancing, sewing and a certain amount of reading. The lessons are carefully arranged for the various days, no lesson is longer than twenty minutes in the first form whilst in the Vth and VIth the average length is about forty minutes.

That same PR article continues:

The afternoons are free as far as book-work is concerned for both students {HOE teachers-in-training} and children {in the practicing school}, and are spent in nature work, walks, Girl Guiding and games. … As the staff conduct the Nature and Bird Walks for the College {House of Education}, so the students take them for the {practicing} school. Then comes 3:45 when the children have an hour’s work before tea — handicrafts, singing, painting, picture study are the type of lessons given at this time. Then comes tea, after which the children read and sew and have some time to amuse themselves.

So let’s get this straight: The P.U.S. students were engaged in book-work for 3 hours each morning, then after lunch they had time for nature walks and journaling, games and scouting. At 3:45 they spent an hour enjoying things like handicrafts, art and artist study. After tea they read and had a little “free time.” This is a simpler, shorter, more effective way to organize our day using the timetables as a guide. If your child is reading independently, there are plenty of minutes in those time slots for the readings mapped out by AmblesideOnline for each year’s course of study. Every child and every family dynamic is different, but for me — if we’re having trouble getting the reading done in a reasonable time, the problem is more likely in my execution and/or my student’s lack of focused attention than in the assigned work.

Karen Glass has said that Charlotte Mason’s timetables are more like guidelines:

It’s a perfect illustration of the fact that even in Charlotte Mason’s lifetime, real teachers with real children had to figure things out for themselves and their particular pupils and needs. Keeping the principles of the timetable is more important than following someone else’s scheduling to a T. I think the principles of the timetable are:

  1. You need one.
  2. Lessons should be short.
  3. Lessons should be varied/staggered between detail work {writing} and mental labor {math}.

 School is War

1. WE NEED SOME FORM OF SCHEDULE/ROUTINE/RHYTHM TO INDICATE TO US AND OUR STUDENTS THAT TIME IS TO BE RESPECTED, GIVEN TO THE THING OR PERSON CLAIMING IT RIGHTFULLY.

In the first place, there is a time-table, written out fairly, so that the child knows what he has to do and how long each lesson is to last. This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him in habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is not ‘as good as another;’ that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time; and this knowledge alone does a great deal to secure the child’s attention to his work. {I.142}

 

The habit of regularity is as attractive to older children as to the infant. The days when the usual programme falls through are, we know, the days when the children are apt to be naughty. {I.132}

“But I’m creative! I’m a free spirit! Don’t box me in!” I hear you and I get it, but it’s a well-established fact that children thrive on order. They like routines and consistency, so call it whatever you like: A schedule, a routine, a rhythm — but we need to know where we’re headed in order to get to the desired destination. G.K. Chesterton says it best:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

We need a schedule/routine/rhythm to our days.

 

2. LESSONS SHOULD BE SHORT.

Therefore our business is to feed him daily with the knowledge proper for him — in small portions, because he is a child, but of the finest intellectual quality, because he is a person… {V.363}

One of the things Miss Mason connected to short lessons was the training of the attention. Attention is the act by which the whole mental force is applied to the subject at hand. Her thought was that it was better to hold a child’s attention for a short period of time than to give a long lesson and allow the child to build the habit of mentally wandering off in the middle of it. Children trained in these methods build up a habit of attention that can easily handle a 30 or 45 minute lesson when they are older.

[W]hatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only in so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them. {I.146}

 

3. LESSONS SHOULD BE VARIED/STAGGERED BETWEEN DETAILED/DISCIPLINARY WORK (writing, math) AND INSPIRATIONAL WORK (history, poetry) SO THE BRAIN DOESN’T BECOME TIRED.

The teacher should have some knowledge of the principles of education; should know what subjects are best fitted for the child considering his age, and how to make these subjects attractive; should know, too, how to vary lessons so that each power of the child’s mind should rest after effort, and some other power be called into play. (I.141)

 

MARGIN — WHITE SPACE — SABBATH OF LEARNING

One key idea in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy isn’t spelled out in black and white, but is a lovely, consistent thread running through her educational writing and it is key in developing our daily schedule/routine/rhythm. It’s the idea of margin, white space, down time in our lives which is crucial to processing what we’ve learned. Carroll Smith of the Charlotte Mason Institute calls this idea the Sabbath of Learning, a term that means children, as image bearers, need time to process their learning. He writes:

God completed his creation on the Sabbath {Genesis 2:2}. As God completed his creation on the Sabbath, so children need “time” to complete their learning… After learning something new children need a Sabbath, a time to process, internalize, to find pleasure in the new learning, and to make connections to previous learning. The new creation {new learning} is not complete without this Sabbath… We must reorient our way of doing education so that learning is viewed as the process of learning to live excellently and deeply in relationships with God, the universe and humankind… For many children today there is no “delight” in learning, no love of wisdom. Children’s learning is identified with a grade, test score or the amount they can memorize to indicate their accomplishments and not with a love of wisdom. Love of wisdom is pushed away by a barrage of facts. The time to ponder and process is tragically lost in such utilitarian purposes.

Returning to the PR article referenced earlier:

The afternoons are free as far as book-work is concerned for both students {HOE teachers-in-training} and children {in the practicing school}, and are spent in nature work, walks, Girl Guiding and games. … As the staff conduct the Nature and Bird Walks for the College {House of Education}, so the students take them for the {practicing} school. Then comes 3:45 when the children have an hour’s work before tea — handicrafts, singing, painting, picture study are the type of lessons given at this time. Then comes tea, after which the children read and sew and have some time to amuse themselves.

These afternoon activities were a way of creating time for the children to ruminate on what they had learned during their morning lessons.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, beloved author of For the Children’s Sake, has written:

When planning routines, priority must be given to the most important things. The person matters (be it child, husband/wife, or friend). We’ll need time to talk, read, relax, and work together. Our relationship with God matters. Where is the time to be found for that? I am a part of this creation. Where will I find time to get out and enjoy nature? There is too much work to be done, and I am finite. I need to accept that reality, and plan the time and priorities carefully.

In a Parent’s Review article by E. A. Parrish, he says,

For the right use of the programmes two things are necessary — solitude and independence. Children must have these. Nursery children come off fairly well in these respects; they get time when they can wander and dream alone in the garden. But this happy state often ends where school-room life begins. Lessons, walk, and lessons again, always in company, and always something that must be done. Miss Mason devises time-tables which cover such reasonable hours as to leave time over for this solitude, but parents are often very culpable in thinking that Tango or some other new thing must be learned as well, and the much needed time for solitude is used for plans which necessitate hurried journeys, always in the company of a responsible person, who feels it her duty to talk in an instructive way, and the thinking time, the growing time, the time in which the mind is to find food is diminished, and the child becomes restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient — everything that a child who is reputed to be difficult can be. The parents marvel and say, “But we are giving him the best education that can be procured, we are neglecting no opportunities.” Kind, generous parents! You are giving your child every opportunity but one, and that is self-development; by your generous care, you are safeguarding him from ever using his own mind, ever relying upon himself in any way. The child who at first found interference irksome, later depends on it so much that he is unable to work without constant prodding from his mentor. I believe that this is the prime reason of the oft repeated lament of teachers and professors, “Little ones are so eager, older children are less keen, adults are dull and lethargic.”

Nancy Kelly blogged at Sage Parnassus:

KEEP CUTTING BACK UNTIL THERE IS PEACE IN YOUR HOME. I have been thinking about this little phrase, shared a few years ago as a quick answer to a question by Christy. In this guest post over at Afterthoughts, she writes about it as it relates to scheduling in the homeschool, which is what I was referring to. But I wanted to address it as it relates to another part of homeschooling — outside activities. I think it applies here as well.

Three words that I read over and over again in Charlotte Mason’s writings are “long,” “slow,” and “time.” If you are running around from one activity to the next, you are cheating your students out of so much of the natural benefits of homeschooling and in particular, the CM method.

If we simplify our formal school hours and cut back on extracurricular activities, this will give us some margin/white space in our lives. What should we do with it? Entertain ourselves? Watch TV, play video games, read? As my friend Nicole would say, “We need to do something worthy of an afternoon.” How about handicrafts or physical labor — something that occupies the hands but frees the mind. Even reading, as wonderful as it is, shouldn’t be the only thing we do in our down time. We can’t let the true, good and beautiful ideas we’ve been exposed to in our educational feast percolate down into our very souls if we reach for another book {or iPhone} every time we have a free moment and escape into THAT universe. We need to think about REAL people and REAL ideas that apply to our REAL world.

We must hone our priorities {paying careful attention to extra-curriculars and media} and up our commitment level to what we believe to be best for our families, our children and ourselves.

So, when we’re creating a schedule/routine/rhythm for our days, the goal is to keep things simple and do-able {and cook, clean, laundry, etc.} but still remain true to Charlotte Mason’s principles. At the top of each and every year’s detailed schedule page, there is a note from the AO Advisory which reads:

These booklists and curriculum suggestions are incomplete without a thorough understanding of Charlotte Mason’s ideas and methods. We cannot emphasize enough that you take time to familiarize yourself with her philosophy by reading her books.

I am often amazed and eternally grateful for the thoughtfulness and consideration that the AO Advisory and Auxiliary put into the booklists and schedules they make freely available to us. Periods of history, page counts, methods, ages and materials have all been considered and meticulously scheduled. So after careful consideration, if you believe you need to modify AO’s curriculum, I would encourage you to swap something one-for-one out of the schedule. Adding in extra books or activities on top of AmblesideOnline will most likely result in a frantic attempt to fit it all in — the result of which would most likely be that nothing is well done {ask me how I know}. And if you substitute a particular book, be careful to choose one of equal literary quality and rigor with a similar page count.

And finally, we must remember that we are not teaching a curriculum or a scope and sequence — we are teaching a person. Each child — as a person — trumps the book or the schedule every single time. It doesn’t matter where your child is “supposed” to be — it only matters where your child IS.

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13 Comments

  • Reply Samara April 30, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    But, but, but there are so many questions I have left after reading this wonderful post! Specifically, all the questions you mention at the beginning of your post :).

    What if your 9 yo is trying to give perfect attention to her math lesson but BOTH toddlers fought the entire 20 minutes so neither teacher nor student could say two words to each other?
    It looks so simple and FREEING looking at the timetable but what if the teacher simply isn’t available to spend time in direct instruction for 2.5 hrs each morning to the 2 school-aged kids, due to younger siblings (no matter how well trained ;)). This stretches the school day out and it’s discouraging for teacher *and* students to “never be done with school.”

    What if the teacher needs to cook dinner and fold laundry and care for toddlers and *breathe* in the afternoons, so no handicrafts, PE, nature work, or painting are taught?

    Honestly, learning about CM has changed my life personally as well as how I parent my 4 and obviously how I teach. But it’s just *so much* right now! I see how important and beautiful it is but I never feel I can rest – there’s always something we didn’t get to.

    • Reply Jenny July 10, 2018 at 7:11 am

      I am with you sister!! The more I read about CM and study the schedule plans the more in awe I am, and panic too, trying to figure out fitting it all in with 3 different ages and needs! My oldest is 9 and nowhere near being trustworthy enough to keep her focus on her short assignments to work alone so I can teach my younger 6yo who is just learning how to read. And my 4yo who is isn’t really participating beyond casually listening but needs some tethering from time to time. All the enrichment usually gets cut for us…nature journal? Yeah…still sitting blank. Structured handicrafts and sewing…havent happened.

      One thing I did do was give up on trying to do the AO timetable. It just wasn’t working. I couldnt fitnit in amd we were doing school for 6 hours. So we are now focusing on bible and Devos during breakfast. Literature/grammar/reading, math and science (we are going to give Sassafras science a whirl since It has 3 different levels of involvement using all the same materials) and history with more bible plugged into it from Simply Charlotte Mason since it too can be used family style. Having different books for each kid was killing me. So we pared it waaay down.

      Still working on chores and fitting that time in. My kids have the whole afternoon free but I have zero down time for.myself after school is done since I have meals and chores to do. I need to figure out that balance. And also not overscheduling playdate and extra curricular….so hard to choose the best yes and say no to good things.

  • Reply H.W. July 13, 2016 at 6:06 am

    Greetings!

    I would love to have feedback from parents who have implemented the P.U.S. Time-Table.

    As one who uses a schedule that remains pretty consistent M-F I am curious as to the benefits of having classes that are so different from day to day. Class I is quite mixed and Class II seems a little less so. Do the students/children enjoy the schedule? I have often heard that children like consistency and as I have other littler ones I think it perhaps be a challenge to incorporate them into one’s schedule.

    Thanks so much and I appreciate giving me some food for thought!

  • Reply Family Focus and Balance | Practical Pages January 6, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    […] Please pop over and read Nancy’s blog post “Time, Peace and Creativity” and read Christy’s follow-up post “School is War: Scheduling for Peace revisited“ […]

  • Reply Angela November 25, 2015 at 11:37 am

    This is so excellent, Christy. I just read it for a second time and took some notes for myself as I move though Term 2 with my kids.

  • Reply Jen Mackintosh November 24, 2015 at 5:03 am

    Christy,
    This post is excellent! It contains two things I appreciate so much: philosophy and practical! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the PR articles you linked to, and found your excerpts so helpful in terms of providing a framework to work within.

    I especially loved your Chesterton quote: “It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” Doesn’t that remind you of that admonition in the gospels where we’re told that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven we must be like little children? That stood out to me immediately. And relating to it…part of our responsibility in building/following a schedule that respects the person is that the schedule does not stifle the gifts of wonder and contemplation within a person. That’s a beautiful and weighty thought. The idea of time as a gift to steward is not new, but working toward peace in scheduling is an excellent avenue to brainstorm! I’m grateful for your post! Thanks for taking the time! 🙂

    • Reply Christy Hissong November 28, 2015 at 10:01 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, Jen — I’m grateful to you for all the experience and wisdom you share with all of us!

  • Reply RobinP November 23, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Superb post, Christy. Thank you for laying it out so beautifully.

    • Reply Christy Hissong November 28, 2015 at 10:00 pm

      Thanks, Robin — that means a lot coming from you 😉

  • Reply Karla (clay1416) November 23, 2015 at 5:39 am

    Excellent post Christy! I like the way you talk of a CM economy and moving books around instead of “cutting.” I have never seen it that way but it makes sense. The books I have changed in the past were not really cut but moved to our Sunday reading (Pilgrim’s Progress, T&T, etc), our circle time or left there for free reads. Wow! What a change of paradigm!

    • Reply Catie November 25, 2015 at 1:18 pm

      I agree! I really like the idea of moving them around, too.

    • Reply Christy Hissong November 28, 2015 at 9:59 pm

      It really is a different way of thinking, isn’t it? Glad the post was helpful to you, Karla!

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