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    Home Education

    Out to the Back Forty

    May 7, 2018 by Caitlin Beauchamp

    My mom grew up on a wheat farm outside a small town in north Texas. She’s got a store of tall tales about killing rattlesnakes and pulling calves, our own family mythology. My siblings and I are city kids, raised in suburbia, but we spent lots of time at my grandparents’ farm growing up. It was a kind of dual citizenship: we were just countrified enough to be venturesome, just citified enough to be easily unnerved by this rugged, beautiful prairie. It’s a land of big skies and hot summers, crumbling red dirt and sluggish, muddy creeks, cactus and mesquite trees, scorpions and snakes — expansive, challenging, exhilarating country.

    When we were small, we couldn’t leave the farmhouse yard for the fields beyond without an adult. But as we grew older we began exploring on our own, fortified with walkie talkies and water bottles. Every time we visited, we’d learn the land a little better. Eventually we extended our knowledge all the way out to the back forty, the roughest, most remote part of the farm. I’ll never forget our triumph the first time we reached the very back fenceline, our sense of empowerment and liberty. We climbed the highest rock we could find and stood in the wind looking around at the land we’d mastered, mighty as queens.

    I owe so much to my time on the farm. That land shaped me in profound ways I can hardly articulate, even though I never actually lived there. It was also my primary exposure to nature as a child. During my school years, though we followed Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, we mostly didn’t get around to formal nature study — and I’m not telling you anything my mom wouldn’t tell you herself. This is real life: homeschooling is hard, and things slip through the cracks.

    It’s true: I didn’t have The Perfect Charlotte Mason Education, in part because at the time, nobody knew exactly what that looked like. This was the early 90’s; homeschooling was still fringey and grassroots, and there was barely even an internet. If you wanted to learn about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, you had to dig in and study the series. It was slow going. There were no blogs, no podcasts, no facebook groups, no conferences. AmblesideOnline was in its embryonic form as a few intrepid women on an email list — my first official year was Year 4, and it was still a prototype (I was in the first batch of children to go through the curriculum — the “guinea pigs,” as we were dubbed fondly).

    Let’s be clear: this isn’t meant to be some kind of expose (“AO grad tells all!”) but rather an expression of gratitude and admiration. The Charlotte Mason educators of my mom’s generation were pioneers in uncharted territory. They cleared trails for the rest of us, a immense labor of love it was my privilege to witness. Now, this territory is fairly settled, with reliable maps and plenty of guides. What a blessing this is — and yet, there is a trade-off.

    Let’s be honest with ourselves: with all these resources available to us, isn’t it a little tempting to assume that everything has already been figured out for us? This can make us complacent, expecting the difficulties we face in understanding and implementing the method to be smoothed away by the right blog post or podcast or tutorial or curriculum. Or it can feel like pressure: rightly or wrongly, perhaps at times the possibilities suggested by the experts or the pretty Instagram feeds raise our expectations, and the simplicity of the principles becomes a complex list of things that must be done Just So.

    But even with the support and inspiration provided by all these resources, there is still not one of us who will be able to Do All The CM Things Just Exactly Right. Fortunately, this isn’t necessary — these principles are elastic, resilient, built to withstand daily wear and tear. I can assure you: my imperfect, first-wave Charlotte Mason education has served me very, very well. We may not have done nature study just right with beautiful notebooks and ingenious handicrafts to show for it, but we had the farm, and my mom made sure we grew up in relationship with that land. That is what mattered. I may not have had The Perfect Charlotte Mason Education, but I received a wide and generous education, offered with great love, effort, and enthusiasm. And it was enough.

    This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to understand the method and apply it as consistently as possible. What it means is that we can pursue that understanding and that consistency with a beginner’s sense of enthusiasm and liberation, rather than a purist’s burden of obligation. I’ll speak in a parable: when we were children on the farm, there was abundant beauty, interest and adventure to be found in the pastures and ponds close to the farmhouse. We could have ended our exploration there, or we could have never ventured farther without the guidance of an adult, and we would still have received plenty of benefit from knowing that land. And yet we were compelled by our delight to explore for ourselves, to go “further up and further in,” as Aslan says, and make the whole place our own. Our reward was an increase of knowledge, freedom, and joy. The better we knew the territory, the greater were its blessing for us.

    I’m deeply, deeply grateful for all the help and support we enjoy now in the Charlotte Mason community. So much beautiful, inspiring work is being done, building on the foundation laid for us by the first wave of pioneers. For those of us who make up this second wave of CM educators, perhaps our task is to make wise use of these resources, but to preserve a pioneering spirit — expansive, independent, eager to improve our understanding, but unburdened by perfectionism. The guides and resources available to us now are incredible, and yet the richest experience of CM philosophy will always belong to those who dig in and study it for themselves, the way the pioneer generation had to. May we remember to consider this a joy rather than a burden; may we undertake it with the eagerness and freedom of children forging their way out to the back forty under a bright, wide, windy sky.

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  • Reply Ashley Antkowiak May 12, 2018 at 9:30 am

    What a sweet, encouraging read! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. There’s always a small sense of “am I doing this right?” with home educating, and especially using CM’s method with so many resources available. Your encouragement to see ourselves as pioneers is something I’ll be taking to heart.

  • Reply Teresa May 10, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Oh, so encouraging, Caitlin – for newbies, for those in the middle, and for seasoned CMers, alike. I think you are more of a country girl than credit is given. (Wide reading will do that for ya [no small thanks to Mr. Berry, et al]. ?) With poise and that carefree country spirit, you have put in perspective for us the true struggle of homeschooling in the midst of information overload. We all need reminding that CM’s “generous curriculum” will always mean the same: a wide variety of things –within limits. That large room we find our feet set in looks different for each home and in each era. When we, individually, stop comparing and start looking for the Lord’s direction, the spirit will guide our paths and the world that is accessible will become each child’s teacher. You said this so very well. Keep writing and sharing your gifts, sweet friend!

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:26 am

      Yes!!! Thank you so much for your encouragement, Teresa. ?

  • Reply Katrina May 10, 2018 at 6:02 am

    You calmed my fears and encouraged me on, all in one fell swoop. I very much appreciate your perspective as an AO student, thank you for writing this article.

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:27 am

      Now that is wonderful to hear! ? Thank you.

  • Reply Addie May 9, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Very well said! This was so encouraging!

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:28 am

      Thank you!

  • Reply Laura May 9, 2018 at 5:55 am

    “This is real life: homeschooling is hard, and things slip through the cracks….”

  • Reply Heather May 9, 2018 at 4:15 am

    “I may not have had The Perfect Charlotte Mason Education, but I received a wide and generous education, offered with great love, effort, and enthusiasm. And it was enough.”

    This warms this mama’s heart!

  • Reply Lucy barr-hamilton May 9, 2018 at 3:52 am

    Thank you so much for this blog and all the comments from experienced mums. I’m off to dig the garden and stop worrying about not doing nature notebooking while veg patches need clearing! Thanks for the grace xx

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:32 am

      What a privilege for your children to have that experience, that relationship, that responsibility. Truly, this the good stuff and the stuff that matters!

  • Reply Dawn Duran May 8, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Caitlin, you have done it again. You brought your poetic voice to a very real situation in today’s CM circles and you addressed issues head-on in a non-threatening, as well as encouraging, manner. I second the sentiment that you are “wise beyond your years.” Your children are blessed beyond measure. Thank you, Caitlin, for writing this – it is such a pleasure to regularly hear from you in this space.

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:33 am

      Dawn, this means so much. Thank you for your kind words.

  • Reply Cynthia Heflin May 8, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Beautifully expressed! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and life experiences with us. I’m trying to get on the list to subscribe to email notifications but can’t seem to get the box to move off of “no, do not subscribe.” If you can add me manually, I’d be grateful. Love and blessings to you and your sweet family!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 8, 2018 at 3:08 pm

      Hi Cynthia! I’m sorry that box isn’t working — we’ll try to get it fixed. Were you trying to receive email notifications for the comments on this particular post? Or for the blog as a whole? If the latter, you can sign up for the weekly digest newsletter in the form on this page. If for this post, there isn’t a way for me to add you manually! (And I am so sorry about that!)

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:53 am

      Thank you! Blessings to you and yours.

  • Reply MariaB May 7, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    Caitlin, I could not appreciate your words more. It’s not a program to copy from someone else. It’s a life to live and to give. And we can’t do that unless we are digging in, and doing so joyfully. Shouting all the amens here. Thank you for setting aside time to pen these words.

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:34 am

      Yes! I love this. “A life to give.” Thank you!

  • Reply Jean Shepard May 7, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Caitlin, I am so impressed with your wonderful writings. I was unaware of this blog until Lynn posted on FB. I will attempt to follow if I can figure it out but I really don’t know much about blogs! I have loved your FB posts so much and see so much of both you and Claire in Luna. I think she is brilliant, as are all the Pyles offsprings. Do you share your writings with Sarah? I always thought she could have been a writer except for her family circumstances. If you don’t share with her, please do so. Anytime I mention such things to her, she asks that I copy and email to her. Aunt Louise and Uncle George would have loved your writing as well. Love you, Sister

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:36 am

      Thank you so much, Sister. I often don’t remember to forward things to grandmother but you are quite right that I should! Thanks for the reminder and encouragement.

  • Reply Donna-Jean Breckenridge May 7, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Caitlin, I love you. Thank you for this.

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:37 am

      I love you! ? Thank you. If the Aunts approve, that’s what matters. ?

  • Reply KarenG May 7, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    I’m so glad I read this. It prompts me just to share one of my favorite bits from Volume 6:

    “Is there not some confusion of ideas about this fetish of progress? Do we not confound progress with movement, action, assuming that where these are there is necessarily advance? Whereas much of our activity is like the waves of the sea, going always and arriving never. What we desire is the still progress of growth that comes of root striking downwards and fruit urging upwards. ”

    Be still. Take in the ideas. Try one thing at a time. As someone wise once said at a conference in Dallas in 2005, “little things done faithfully yield a harvest.”

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:39 am

      Ohhhh that is SO good! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Jessica Severne May 7, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Amen and amen! This needed to be said, and you said it so well.

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:39 am

      Thank you!

  • Reply Hannah Mann May 7, 2018 at 11:01 am

    So much beauty, clarity, & practicality in this essay! I love how quick you are to “rise up & call [your dear mother] blessed.” Your perspective of maintaining the enthusiasm & eagerness of being a beginner/pioneer is undergirded with humility. As one who often feels the paralyzing pressure of CM purist-ism, your voice of experience is freeing. Do, please, write about this again!

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:41 am

      Thank you so much! “Freeing” is about the best thing I could hope for these words. ❤️

  • Reply dawn May 7, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Yes! All the yes!

  • Reply Lena May 7, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Caitlin, you are wise beyond your years. Your words speak to the very thing I struggle with daily. The abundance of information and advice can lead to paralysis out of desire for perfection. I think I was more content in growing gradually and slowly as I read Charlotte Mason and changed one thing at a time. The more connected I become, the more discontent I am, and the ideal seems to grows farther from my reach, not nearer!

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:51 am

      Thank you! “One thing at a time”— the patience that requires is quite a discipline! But that kind of gradually developing relationship with the method is so real and solid. ❤️

  • Reply Nancy Buterbaugh May 7, 2018 at 9:01 am

    Thank you so much! I began homeschooling in the early 2000s when there was still not as much information. I do feel like the stakes are much, much higher now to do THE PERFECT CHARLOTTE MASON EDUCATION. A reminder is indeed welcome that progress, not perfection is still good.

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:47 am

      Thank you!

  • Reply Jen @ Bookish Family May 7, 2018 at 3:08 am

    “yet the richest experience of CM philosophy will always belong to those who dig in and study it for themselves, the way the pioneer generation had to.”

    That is how I am finding it! After being all over AO website for years, it wasn’t until I began to read the Home Education Series that I wanted to give this education to my kids. Fortunately, I’m no perfectionist! Nevertheless, I have to give myself permission to do things to the best of my honest abilities–far from perfect and depending on my knowledge, understanding, and energy . . .

    Thank you for encouraging me that it will be enough for these children I love!

    • Reply Caitlin Beauchamp May 11, 2018 at 6:44 am

      Yes! Even as a CM/AO grad, I experience this too, for sure. It all clicked in a totally new way when I read Home Education for myself. That was when I really started to get some idea of how to proceed with my children.

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