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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education, Mother's Education

    Further Adventures in Community Building

    February 27, 2018 by Dawn Duran

    [dropcap]N[/dropcap]ow, where were we? That’s right: our family had relocated to Maryland — our fourth major move (i.e., interstate or cross-country) in three years, and I was determined to find a Charlotte Mason community in our new home state.  When I learned we were moving, I did some reconnaissance to learn all I could about our new hometown, and I began to search for that elusive Charlotte Mason community that I so desired. Alas, it was not to be found.

    Not one to be discouraged, I continued to do what comes naturally to me: I prayed.

    I prayed for God to provide, as He never fails to do abundantly. In addition, I began reaching out to people via the AmblesideOnline Forum, making plans for hikes and park play dates with other AO users within an hour of where we were moving — even before we actually arrived in Maryland. In addition, I searched Charlotte Mason In Community. When I did not find anyone listed from Maryland, I submitted my own name as a contact person for a community — even though said community did not yet exist!

    Within days after moving to Maryland we explored several local nature centers during play dates while forging new friendships. All the while I was thinking about the dynamics of the families meeting together. Were there any red flags for potential conflict? Was the chemistry between the children — and the moms — a positive thing? What was their faith walk like? Would I like to invest myself more fully in this family and come alongside them in their — and our — educational journey?

    Having settled into our new home, and eager to connect with even more moms earnestly growing in the Charlotte Mason philosophy, I posted an announcement on the AmblesideOnline Forum regarding the start of a Charlotte Mason Discussion Group. Five mothers joined me for the inaugural meeting, but afterwards attendance waned so that there were rarely more than three of us present for discussions. While small, the discussion was still rich.

    After one of these discussions I made a proposal to one of the moms. I asked her whether she would be interested in starting a small community with me (many people use the term co-op for this, but I prefer to refer to it as community). I had plans to invite one other family to join us with whom we had also spent time and enjoyed and knew that the dynamics of the family worked well with our families. Not only had I come to understand that these two families were strongly rooted in their faith, but I knew that they were committed to growing in the Charlotte Mason philosophy and adhering to it in their homeschools. To my elation both moms were on board with the idea, and we forged ahead with plans to begin bimonthly gatherings of the 4:8 Feast Community (as in Philippians 4:8) — and it has been a blessing to this day.

    We intentionally kept the size of our community small, in part to foster intimacy of relationships between all involved. We wondered, though, about opening our doors to invite another family to join us.  Honestly, I struggled with this choice: our family was so blessed by these meetings and I wanted to extend the opportunity for others to have the same experience. Yet I remained haunted by my previous experience, which involved a much larger group of children in which not all parents were committed to the philosophy. I kept returning to the importance of chemistry amongst all involved. Mutual respect, shared values, and commitment to the Charlotte Mason philosophy were essential for the success of this community.

    So we waited.

    Until one day … when I spontaneously extended an invitation for another family to join us.

    I shocked myself when I heard the words of invitation come out of my mouth. This was not normal practice for our group: I had not consulted with the other families and had made a unilateral decision in the moment. But I felt it was of the Lord, and fortunately the other community members forgave me this indiscretion.

    What a providential invitation it proved to be, as the addition of this fourth family to our community has been a blessing we may have otherwise missed out on. Yes, there were road bumps along the way: three families had more than a year of meeting regularly; there was a learning curve to bring another family into our fold.

    Now, more than a year later, it is wonderful to see how our community has morphed and changed and continues to bless everyone involved. None of the four families live close to one another, and one family drives over an hour in order to join us twice monthly, but it has been worth it for all of us to sacrifice the time spent commuting in order to gather in community, learn alongside each other, and grow — as image-bearers and as parents committed to the life-giving philosophy of Charlotte Mason.

    Remember the Discussion Group described above? Personal circumstances led me to discontinue the group, but several months after its dissolution I started receiving emails from people who had found my contact information on Charlotte Mason In Community. When I had received three such emails in one week, I sensed that God was telling me something, and I once again prayed for direction. I knew the Lord was calling me to begin the Discussion Group again, but I also knew that the logistics of the first group were ineffective. What to do?

    It may help you to understand the dynamics of where I live. It is unique — a relatively small geographical space is divided among three distinct localities: Central Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia. I had reached out to people in all of these areas and wanted to accommodate everyone in my initial efforts to get a group started; in other words, I cast the net broadly in an effort to include everyone. This was not an effective strategy, as evidenced by the decline in participation that began almost immediately.

    I got the impression that God was telling me not to work so hard to accommodate everyone, meeting at a place that was geographically neutral (i.e., the location was at the same distance away from everyone and convenient to no one). Instead, I felt led to revive the Discussion Group at a time and place that was convenient for me and my family.

    But how could this be? It seemed selfish, whereas previously I had made a sacrifice, driving nearly an hour one-way!  I have learned not to question the Lord’s leading, and moved forward with plans to start again. To my surprise our first meeting brought together 5 women, and every month more eager-to-learn moms have joined us — even traveling more than 60 minutes to do so. We now have 10+ women regularly contributing to our monthly discussions.

    It is clear to me that God orchestrated the circumstances of the initial Discussion Group. The hiatus allowed our Feast community to form deep roots. Once that was established, the Lord clearly intended for me to work on the larger community — and it has been burgeoning with new members joining us almost monthly over the past year. From our core group has morphed a much larger community, currently home to more than 50 families, known as the In a Large Room community of Central Maryland.

    I look back to the day when we moved here three years ago and there were no opportunities to fellowship with other Charlotte Mason families in the area. Now not a week goes by without something planned in our larger community — and it is incredibly exciting.

    I will provide details about our larger community in my next post, but for now I’d like to leave you with some considerations for moving forward with plans for your own local community:

    1. Pray. As I mentioned last month, the first and foremost step should be prayer. Pray for direction and for God to bring others into your life with the same earnest desire.
    2. Map out your vision and goals for the community.
    3. Make yourself vulnerable and share your vision with another mom. Join forces with this person and move forward with making your vision become a reality.

    In the end, that is all it takes to launch your very own Charlotte Mason community: just two families meeting, growing, and living life together. Start small and the rest will come!

    So get to it!  And I’ll be back again next month with more information on our larger community in the hope that it will provide you with inspiration for making something similar happen in your neck of the woods.


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  • Reply Brooke Favorat February 27, 2018 at 8:27 pm

    This is so encouraging and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your experience! I especially appreciate the simple yet profound advice I often need to be reminded of when I get overly zealous about something: to pray, first and foremost! I really appreciate your insight, Dawn.

    • Reply Dawn February 28, 2018 at 3:35 am

      It is encouraging to me to hear that others find inspiration in this story, Brooke. I very much appreciate your comments!

  • Reply Carol February 27, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, Dawn. We’ve been involved in two communities since we first started home educating 25 years ago. Unfortunately, those families have completed their journeys in home ed & I find myself in a position where there are many more homeschoolers than there ever were, but few who are interested in implementing CM or who ‘share the chemistry.’ I belong to an online CM reading group & a monthly (in person) book club with friends who have homeschooled in the past. As Jessie mentioned in her comment, we want what we do as a group to support what we were doing at home, and that is difficult.

    • Reply Dawn February 27, 2018 at 3:41 pm

      Absolutely! If the group activities are taking away from the most important elements of our CM education and what we can accomplish along those lines is diminished by participation then it is of questionable value. Yet so many people make that compromise in order to gain “social benefits.” It’s difficult, and yet another reason why I have felt led to initiate many activities locally!

  • Reply Caitlin February 27, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    Dawn, this is so inspiring and also so humble. Thanks for this example of leadership.

    • Reply Dawn February 27, 2018 at 3:38 pm

      Thank you, Caitlin. Your comment means a lot to me, and I deeply appreciate it.

  • Reply Jen February 27, 2018 at 6:45 am

    Thank you for sharing this journey. I live not too far away but in a much more rural area (Susquehanna Valley of central PA). I am in the beginning stages of creating and nurturing a Charlotte Mason Community in my area that right now is beginning with a reading group. Even though many members of the group do not consider themselves “Charlotte Mason homeschoolers” we are still getting a lot out of reading her work together and engaging with her ideas about education. Living in a rural area (in my experience) means focusing on commonalities instead of differences. I’m not sure how long this group will last, but I am hopeful that it will lead to new endeavors with others who grow in their interest in Charlotte Mason. Hopefully, a natural history club is in my future . . .

    • Reply Dawn February 27, 2018 at 11:06 am

      How exciting, Jen! I am willing to bet that many members of your reading group will consider themselves CM educators in the future if they continue reading her works. It’s unfathomable that they wouldn’t become converts if they are truly immersing themselves in her volumes with you! 🙂

      Seriously, though, I am excited for you. The reading group is where it all starts!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 27, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      Living in a rural area (in my experience) means focusing on commonalities instead of differences.

      YES. That has been my observation, too. What is nice about reading books together is that it fosters commonality — even if you don’t all agree on everything in the book, it keeps you on the page, both literally and figuratively!

  • Reply Nicole February 27, 2018 at 4:18 am

    Lovely, Dawn! Thanks for sharing your heart and also for all the sacrifices you make to serve the feast community and the In a Large Room Community. We who know you in real life are so very blessed.

    • Reply Dawn February 27, 2018 at 11:07 am

      I feel equally blessed by your vision and generous spirit, my friend. Thank you!

  • Reply Jessie February 27, 2018 at 4:10 am

    This is so special to read, Dawn. I think one of the keys you’ve discovered is having layers of community. small group layer, discussion group layer, large group opportunities as a springboard for other small groups to develop… the Lord has orchestrated something wonderful here. I don’t know if you’ll mention it in your next post, but one key to the success of our small group has been saying “No” when people want to join. “Yes – come observe what we do, but we can’t accommodate growth here right now. Yes – there are other families who would like to join you in creating your own small group! See what we do as a springboard.”

    Interestingly, our three – and now four – families did not discuss AT ALL what skills we could each bring to the community in terms of teaching our children when you asked us to join. We were definitely founded on this criteria you mentioned of faith and commitment to a CM philosophy. Yet when we did meet to plan and discuss subjects to study as a group, everything each of us felt our personal home schools were “lacking” in – areas where we would appreciate the encouragement and support of a group setting as a springboard for work at home – turned out to be a subject that one of us could teach.

    I could commit to this day out every two weeks only because it completely supported what we were doing at home. And those areas we were “weak” in before were definitely bolstered at home, knowing that in 2 weeks we’d be moving on together with our group. Thank you for praying for this, Dawn!

    • Reply Dawn February 27, 2018 at 11:10 am

      Jessie! Those are wonderful points that I honestly hadn’t considered in my post planning. I hope people read your well-articulated comment as a continuation of the article, but will put those thoughts into a file to expand upon for a future post as well. Thank you, friend! It has been a joy to come alongside your family in this wonderful journey:).

      • Reply Ami S April 2, 2018 at 6:21 pm

        Layers! yes.

        Between you and Nancy Kelly, I will find my way to in-person community This Year. Been seeking my sisters, but it’s not been coming together. But first, prayer.

        Seeing and growing from what you and Nicole and team have offered us in the Large Room retreats is growing seeds for the Northeast in my heart. Thank you for showing more of the inside.

        • Reply Dawn Duran April 3, 2018 at 11:58 am

          It’s encouraging to hear that you’ve found inspiration here and via the retreat, Ami. I like your attitude – you will find it This Year!! In the meantime, though, online outlets are a true lifeline.

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