Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why I Homeschool, Why Charlotte Mason, and Other Whys

I recently had a discussion with a dear lady I respect on the topic of education. We are both mothers of three, we both have been homeschooling our children since our youngest was in kindergarten, and we both come from the same theological perspective. Yet although we are like-minded in many things, we have different educational philosophies. It's easy to assume that we all (parents, Christians, homeschoolers) have the same goals in educating our children, although we utilize different methodologies. That is true in some cases. But often, our different methodologies reflect the fact that we have different goals. A pastor once said to me, if you want to see what someone values, look in their check registry. We can all say we highly value missions, but our check registry might show that we value other things most. As someone whose schedule is determined almost 100% by myself, I think that the way I use my time also shows what I value most. So this is me looking into my own check registry. The way my school day looks is calculated to achieve my highest goals for my children.

A Thorough Knowledge Of and Love For the Scriptures

This is my highest goal in schooling my children. One of the reasons I homeschool is because I believe the Scriptures are related to all of life. Teaching a variety of subjects while excluding God from the discussion doesn't teach a child nothing about God. Excluding God from all subjects is teaching something about God: It is a way of saying that God is irrelevant in much of life. I want my children to grow up knowing how the Bible relates to politics, to economics, environmental conservation, and the arts. And I want these connections to be made naturally and over time, and starting before age three. I don't want this connection to be restricted to a few classes they may take here and there.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

My husband and I have opinions about how the Bible is rightly understood and applied, the place of the Bible in our life, and how to foster enthusiasm for the Scriptures (some time I would love to write about this last topic more). All of these things have led my husband and I to consider ourselves the primary Bible teachers for our children, and our primary textbook is the Bible. This was true before I heard of Charlotte Mason, so I was drawn to her writings when I saw that she thought that parents and educators underestimate childrens' abilities when they give them watered-down summaries of books, including the way the Bible is often taught, dumbed-down stories with an easily applied moral lesson. Mason thought children should have the Bible itself read to them, and the Spirit will apply it as He will. She says in volume one of her Original Homeschooling Series, “...we should implant a love of the Word; that the most delightful moments of the child's day should be those in which his mother reads for him, with sweet sympathy and...gladness in voice...the beautiful stories of the Bible...”.

I'm not saying that parents have to homeschool in order for their children to love the Scriptures. And I don't believe that parents need to give their child a Charlotte Mason education in order for a child to love the Scriptures. But we all have to choose the path we believe is the most likely to lead us to our goals. And I think that having an atmosphere in the home like that which Mason wrote about, where we enjoy books together and work together, and the Scriptures are taught with “gladness of voice” is a reflection of what my family values most.

I'm now at the point of my standard disclaimer, and it is necessary that I point out that I don't agree with everything Charlotte Mason has written about education, and certainly not everything she has written about theology. We must all constantly check our most cherished ideas against the standard of the Scriptures.

The Atmosphere of the Home

Having unhurried time forms part of the culture of our home. Having unhurried time is not frivolous. And being unhurried doesn't mean I have 30 minutes to myself between breakfast and dinner most days. The difference between our busyness and the busyness I see in other families is that my children and I are busy together, and enjoying our time together. There are some families who seem to be always in a hurry, stressed out by the commitments they've volunteered for. Busyness for us does not mean we are in a hurry: We are just occupied. On my better days, when I don't allow my mind to be consumed with my mental list on things to do, the atmosphere of our home fosters meaningful conversations. While we are chopping vegetables together, we have had discussions about our favorite books, God's sovereignty, things for are thankful for, what different religions teach, and why some parents baby their children. When we were walking home from visiting a nursing home in our neighborhood recently, my eight year old said to me, “If I'm ever a missionary in a dangerous place, I know what verse I'll use to comfort Christians. 'Go, make disciples of all kinds, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them all the things I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even till the end of the age, amen.'” He didn't quoted Matthew 28:19-20 perfectly, but in his own words. He he didn't memorize this and the many other lengthy portions of Scripture he knows because I told him he had to memorize these passages. Listening to the Bible on audio is an enjoyable part of our home life. While doing laundry with my boys the other day, my six year old asked me, “Why was the manslayer allowed to leave the city of refuge when the high priest died?” This question was provoked by the passage we are studying at our church Bible study that he was mulling over.

We don't have these types of conversations when I am in a hurry, when the kids are “rushed and jostled,” as my son says. I am teaching my two year old to wash dishes. We work on this every day, but this habit training gets squeezed out of my day when my time commitments are too many.

My children do miss out on some things because I value other things more. And your children miss out on some things because you value other things more.

Charlotte Mason believed that the atmosphere of the home makes up a significant part of a child's education. She wrote that the atmosphere of real life, which includes sibling relationships, interacting with people of different ages, and having household responsibilities, forms an atmosphere that is like fresh wind to a child. When people use statistics to measure the performance of children in different educational settings, I think of the outcomes that are hard to measure, like, do children who are homeschooled like their siblings more than children who are in age-segregated classrooms? And which children have values more in line with their parents' values? Which children are more likely to have their values determined by all the other third-graders? These are questions worth thinking about.

When friends of my husband and I come over, conversations often center around theology. Sometimes my children choose to go play, but it is not rare for them to choose to sit and listen to the discussion. I think that is because discussing theology is a part of the atmosphere of our home. Our children know that ideas are for them too, not just for adults. I hope they will be thinkers throughout their lives because we expect them to be thinkers as children.

Again, I'm not saying that one has to choose a Charlotte Mason education in order to have an atmosphere of enjoying books and ideas and family relationships. But I recognize that people often pass over a Charlotte Mason-style education in favor of one where their children spend hours filling up workbooks, often starting school in the morning, and finishing homework into the night, because they value different things than I do. For some parents, making sure their child knows how to tell time and recite the states and capitals at the age outlined by the U. S. Department of Education is a priority. In my family, learning these things is also a must. But I'm okay with us studying some things after children of the same age, knowing that we are always learning many interesting things. I'm okay with us studying some things in a different order than others do. I'm not okay with our home having an atmosphere of stress and a constant push to the next activity.

Love of Learning

Many studies show that homeschooled children perform better on standardized tests than children in other educational settings. Some studies show that children who were homeschooled perform higher in college. But this is not why I homeschool. There are also studies which say that homeschoolers perform the same in college as children who attended public school. And this does not discourage me from homeschooling. Grades are not a perfect measure of knowledge (spoken like a B student, I know). Grades are often a measure of priorities, and the skill of responding with what the teacher wants to hear. I do want my children to have the intelligence to to comprehend and retain college-level material, and thus they would have the abilities to earn high grades in college. But if they have priorities that prevent them from earning a 4.0 in college, or even (gasp!) priorities that exclude college, my children might not show up on a study as the most successful outcome of homeschooling. But those who start their own business, invent things, travel as missionaries and raise godly families might not have been 4.0 students in a four year institution.

I believe there is no better way for me to pass on my love of learning to my children than for us to learn together every day with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious, and I am so thankful that my children are storing up memories of being outside with a butterfly net, binoculars, and field guides, learning with joy about the world around us. We have learned so much about tide pool life by watching what happens in between the rocks at the shore, and we have learned about the plants and animals around us just by being observant and interested. And my children are learning that learning is fun. The books we read, usually written by someone who is not only and expert in their field, but also someone who loves the subject they are writing about, these books ooze enthusiasm for the given subject.

"Many young people find botany a dull study. So it is, as taught from the text-books in the schools; but study it yourself in the fields and woods, and you will find it a source of perennial delight." John Burroughs

A child who is “...accustomed to find both profit and pleasure in his books...”, as Catherine Levison says, is a child who will love to read.

Charlotte Mason recommended teaching in short lessons and moving on to other subjects, because she believed it is important to cultivate in children a habit of attention. Teaching long lessons past the length of time a young child can be engaged in the lesson leads to children tuning out. If a child is regularly losing attentiveness due to long lessons or dragging slowly through school work which is tedious, a bad habit is being form. Better to have short, engaging lessons with enthusiasm. And when longer periods of attention are required, as it is for my children during the forty-five minute sermon at church, we prepare beforehand with reminding them what we profit from dedicating our minds to the task at hand.


Some people think that a Charlotte Mason education is not rigorous. Often times, people are familiar only with one or two of Charlotte Mason's ideas, like the idea of learning through literature and short lessons, and they conclude that children in this educational setting are not getting the content that another educational framework would provide. This is not true. Our school day does exclude some things which are exercises of rigor. I do very little testing, for example. But remember, testing is not designed to equip the child with knowledge, testing is designed to tell the teacher what the child has learned. Through our normal, daily discussions, and through narration, which I am so thankful I learned about from Charlotte Mason, I am well informed as to what my children do know and what they do not.

Although I choose to do little testing, there are some aspects of a Charlotte Mason education which are more rigorous than other educational methods, and in ways that children are not often exposed to due to their diet of books. At a young age, children given a Charlotte Mason education are exposed to a rich vocabulary and to complex ideas. Sentences which adults struggle through when first reading these books, to children which are used to well-crafted literature, these complex sentences are able to be digested. In second grade we read sentences like this in Pilgrim's Progress: “...Thou must abhor his turning thee out of the way; yea, and thine own consenting there to...from this little Wicket-Gate, and from the way thereto, hath this wicked man turned thee, to the bringing of thee almost to destruction.” This is difficult language, yet my children will ask for this book. These books give children ideas to think on. My children will often come to me a week or even months after we have read something and say, “Remember when we read how France bent the pride of Rome? Wasn't that funny how the author said...”. One of my sons recently said, “I agree with J. R. R. Tolkien when he says, 'Things that are unpleasant may make a good tale, and need a good deal of telling anyway.'” The books I choose for school books are those with ideas that live with us, and my children continue to think on these things, not because I assigned it to them, but because they are interesting. I think that's what Charlotte Mason meant by the term “living books.”

The strength of the education you give your child lies in the ideas you put before them, and not in how many hours they spend filling paper with answers.

Your children miss out on some things because you value other things more. And my children miss out on some things because I value other things more.

“Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon's lair, but... Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.” C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This is not an exhaustive explanation of why I homeschool. And this is not an exhaustive treatise on what a Charlotte Mason education is. If you want to know more, you might want to read The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola or A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison, and browse the booklists on Ambleside Online. I'm sure many of you reading this have great ideas you could share concerning what you value in the education of your children and the methods you use to get there. I want my children to be thinkers. I want my children to love knowledge. I want my children to highly exalt the Scriptures, even while they are children. I want my children to be knowledgeable about many things. I want my children to care for each other and to be a blessing to the others. I want my children to value my husband's and my opinions. I want my children to learn what is entailed in the Biblical calling of husband and wife, father and mother. And for those of you who value the same things I do, I hope you are encouraged to know there is one more mom trying to get there too.


  1. Let me be the first to say... Amen Sister!! So many great points here, I know I'll be referring people back to this one often. Thanks so much for posting.

  2. This is so beautifully said.
    I have learned so much on my journey of homeschooling and in the eyes of the world, I have only just begun. But I have been schooling my children since birth and together we are on this remarkable journey.
    What you've written here explains so clearly why this is is what we have chosen this for them and for us.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Love from,

  3. Beautiful post, Jen. And put so graciously. Thank you for giving words to my thoughts.
    Love your family.

  4. Wow Jen. This is magnificent. Thank you for taking the time to explain so many beautiful points of your journey. What an encouragement. And I must say... I was quite convicted when reading about what you value being shown in how you spend your time. So true. And something I am really trying to focus on right now and amend. Feeling blessed to know you and share in your wisdom. xox

  5. Thanks friends! As I was writing it I kept thinking, you all would so much to add that I know I'm not saying!

  6. Beautiful Jen! Thank you. What a wonderful post to read on the eve of my first official "homeschooling" day. I also love the reminder that how we spend our time and our money is a reflection of what we value. And I would love love love to hear what you have to say about fostering enthusiasm of the scriptures. Perhaps at Thursdays meeting?

  7. A lovely journey of home educating by a lovely woman! Just wonderful! What an inspiration! Thanks Jen

  8. This was so beautifully written, and so encouraging! Thanks for sharing your passions!

  9. Thank you so much for writing this, Jen. I must confess that one of my main reasons for homeschooling was not being able to teach them Bible--mainly because I figured I would do that anyway even if my children were in school. That being said, the time we spend studying the Scriptures and Catechism are my favorite parts of the day. I've already been amazed at the theological conversations that I've gotten into with my five year old--and at his prodding. I would like to learn more about using the Bible itself. We memorize Scripture straight from the text, but I'm using a story-Bible this year as our main reading. I don't mind the story Bible were using (it's the one by Catherine Vos) because she does such a stellar job at putting all the stories in context, but I don't want it to become a crutch. I really view it more as a commentary than I do replacing the Bible. One idea I read suggested reading the passage being covered in the story Bible and then what is written by Vos. Thoughts?

  10. I use the Vos Story Bible too and other similar things. I am so not against that (I don't know what CM would say). I like how you put it, it doesn't replace the Bible, it's a commentary. I think the same goes for catechisms and I like Leading Little Ones to God. Same goes for Bible in an Hour, what a great supplement!

  11. Jen, what an inspiring story. I am beginning my homeschooling of my 5 children this month and I am so motivated reading all of these wonderful blogs. Do you have your own blog? I would love to follow. Also, I have a question about what bible on tape you listen to? Would you mind sharing? There are so many variations and choices. Thank you and enjoy your beautiful family. :)

  12. Thanks for posting this Jen. My decision to homeschool was based on a "yes" in my spirit, but I did not really know what I was getting in to, nor did I really give much deep thought to it. God is gracious!I feel like I have been lead on a wonderful path to find out the "why". This post feels like another piece of the puzzle. As good is it is for the children, how wonderful it is for us mothers to take the time ( I love that you say you are busy, but not rushed)and be "allowed" to bring God into ALL things. There is so much peace in that. Thank you.

  13. Your message is strong, because you understand about homeschooling and early education well. Your writing is your own words, not copy from another person. Thanks for posting your real, honest feeling about early education. You made an excellent point about CM education.

  14. Heather, I don't have a blog, but I do have more topics I want to write about and post here. I use an audio Bible by Hendrickson Publishers, and it's the New King James Version. I just looked for one that is unabridged and not too dramatized.

    Thanks again everyone for such kind words! It is a wonderful to be surrounded by so many like-minded mammas:)

  15. LOVE this post. I'm printing it...
    that way I can just hand it out to anyone who asks ;) heheh.
    amy in peru

  16. By the way Heather, I do have a blog now:) It's more about theology than homeschooling, but here it is:


  17. I really enjoyed this! Great points!

  18. Thank you so much for this!! I was homeschooled and my mother's methods of education were extreme opposite for me. Now, I have my own children and I have contemplated homeschooling. I knew I could not compare with the same way my mother taught me, so I was terrified of the subject all together. A friend of mine showed me the Charlotte Mason approach as well as the "My Father's World" curriculum. I am so excited about my children's education now and can not wait to begin our homeschooling journey! This was such an encouragement! Thank you for sharing your story!

  19. wow..this post is amazing! thank you, jen, for your encouraging words! i am inspired by your homeschooling experience..

  20. Wonderful post Kristie. I have enjoyed it and it has encouraged me too.

    Thanks for the beauty in the words and pictures.


  21. Great thoughts! I love your photos here. Have you put together these nature collections (butterflies, shells) that I see above? I would love to hear more of how you mounted them etc.

    1. Thank you so much! The seashell collection in the photo is one I put together from shells I've found at the beach. That insect collection in the wood box is something I acquired (it was someone's private collection). I have put together insect collections using supplies from Home Science Tools. I did a post here on how to pin butterflies:


  22. So wonderful! I agree and am encouraged. :-) Thanks much.

  23. Beautiful post. Thank you for linking to it on the forum!

  24. Yes!! Excellent post and photos!

  25. Wow... I really needed to read this tonight. It just spoke to my heart! Thank you so much for such a candid and informative post. I just started homeschooling my three oldest this year {I also have a two year old}. I have fallen in love with Charlotte Mason's methodology. I'm thankful to have found your blog! All the best! ~ Sara

  26. Love this post, very thorough, thank you!! We are starting homeschool this coming Fall. In perusing the other day on your blog and Kristin's I thought I came across a great site that had a load of living books listed under subject category... authors, ages, topics... And now I can't find it at all. I don't recall how I found it, and it is not showing in my history. Weird. And frustrating. Perhaps you know something to suggest? A link? Something like what I'm talking about? My email is beccabozarth@gmail.com

  27. Thank you for pointing out that we don't have to measure our homeschooled children's success by whether or not they choose to go to (and succeed in) college.I was homeschooled and when I graduated was offered one scholarship and qualified for others based on my grades. However, I did not choose this route and I do not regret it eight years,five kids, and a home business later. I have never stopped learning, and I want that for my children, too, whether or not they decide to go in for a degree. College is not the end-all goal of life and so many homeschool articles seem to present it that way! Thank you again for pointing out that for some of us there is a different path.

  28. Hi,
    I'm a homeschooling mama. One doesn't often find blogs talking of theology and I'm just curious (if you don't mind sharing) what denomination (if any) are you a part of? My family and I come from a Reformed church in Ca.
    I enjoyed your post!

  29. This post was written by Jen Dees years ago :) She was Reformed Baptist at the time. You can follow her on instagram @jendydees and listen to her on the At Home podcast