Life and Learning

I am afraid this may turn into an eclectic post, filled with my rambling thoughts on life and learning, and how we approach each in our home. I’ve written a few times that this year has been a growing and changing year in our homeschool, but the truth is when I think about it, I realize that we’ve been growing and changing the past few years in home and school alike, and that our approach to homeschooling has grown out of the changes in our home life.

I first became aware of the Waldorf approach to education a few years ago, when we started our journey with Oak Meadow. While the Waldorf approach to the 3Rs did not work well for my children, aspects of the lifestyle which I was learning more about, did. In fact, I completely fell in love with many parts of it.

Now, we are far from purists, in fact I wouldn’t even remotely claim to say that we’re living a “Waldorf lifestyle”. But rather, that we have employed elements of it in our life. For example, we watch television and the kids own and play video games, but reading more about Waldorf did make us reassess and put stricter limits on how much they were getting of each. We don’t go to the extreme of eating certain foods and wearing certain colors on certain days, but we are striving to be more intentional about bringing rhythm to our days and weeks, even if just in little ways. We don’t strictly use only natural materials in our clothing and home, but we certainly are trying to use more. As Christians, we do not believe in Anthroposophy, but we do firmly believe in a holistic approach to raising and educating children.  We believe in equal importance of the heart, head and hands. Neglect one part and the whole being suffers.

Learning more about Waldorf led us to re-evaluate our children’s toys, both the quality and quantity. I admit, I never thought that my children had “too many toys”, until I compared them against the guidelines of Waldorf-inspired simplicity. We realized that we had a lot of toys that were never or hardly used – and most of those were the plastic, battery-chugging toys, or all those action figures that the kids just “had to have!” As we observed the children, we noticed that the toys they played with the most were the ones that allowed the most creativity – cars, wooden building blocks, Lego, wooden trains and Playmobil.  In the end, we got rid of almost everything else. It was refreshing.

We also ditched the cheap Crayola crayons and paints and colored pencils, and invested in rich, aromatic beeswax crayons, true watercolor paints with quality brushes, diving into the world of wet on wet watercolor painting. We bought wool roving and needles and tried wet and needle felting, making some Christmas ornaments which we donated to a charity event. We tried weaving and knitting, and baked more together.

I knew that I wanted nature, freedom and creativity to be the dominant forces in my children’s childhoods – not video games, television or organized activities. This isn’t to say the children aren’t involved in sports and activities, they are. But where once they may have had several activities per week, we now limited them to 1 each.  We placed a higher value on allowing the children more time for free play.

We also realized that in so doing, it afforded us another benefit that we didn’t even realize was missing – more time together as a family. My husband delights in his children, but like most working fathers, from Monday through Friday, he only sees the children for a few minutes in the morning and a couple hours in the evening. We realized that being on the go two or three nights a week for activities was seriously cutting into the time he got to spend with his children. And I’m sorry, but sitting on the sidelines watching your child play organized sports does not even come close to being the same as being home with the children reading books, playing board games, wrestling around in the living room, or kicking the soccer ball around in the backyard. Not that there isn’t value in supporting and cheering your child on in an activity they enjoy, but sideline parenting shouldn’t make up the bulk of your time together during the week.

Those were growing years, and this year, as I’ve been reflecting on our homeschool, I’ve come to realize that I want our homeschool to blend seamlessly within our lives, not to feel like an artificial extension. And yet, I have been struggling the last couple of years to find an approach that blends our personal values and goals, with a practical application that meets the hectic demands of a family with a child with special needs. To say nothing of matching the learning styles of our children, and the personality traits of all of us! Pure Waldorf didn’t work. Pure Charlotte Mason didn’t work. Pure traditional workbook-based didn’t work. Pure anything didn’t work.

As much as I have wanted there to be a neat and tidy, pre-packaged curriculum that is open and go, that works perfectly for both of my children, such a thing does not exist. As much as we loved the holistic, creative approach of Waldorf – it was far too much work for me to put together with our hectic lives, and their approach to reading and math was a horrible fit for my children, who thrive with workbooks.

Likewise, as much as I loved the short and sweet lessons of Charlotte Mason, the idea of narration being the only comprehension exercise necessary, and the beautiful idea of spreading a liberal arts feast before my children – the numerous short lessons drove my son up the wall, he hated narration, and try as we might, we just never could keep up to all the liberal arts studies.

While using a workbook only approach seemed like it would be the winner – after all, my children are both visual learners who love workbooks, and they are certainly an easy , open and go approach for a hectic life, workbooks for everything was just plain boring. It was also far too much writing for my son who has joint-related fine motor issues.

I was feeling pressure this year – after all, this was my son’s grade 4 year. He only had one more year of “elementary school” before he would be considered “middle school” – the years when one was supposed to start getting more serious about education. The years that prepare students for the academically challenging years of high school, which prepare them for college, their career, their life. Suddenly the distant future felt like it was looming on the horizon, and here we were, only managing to get the 3Rs done with any amount of formality or consistency.

Art and music lessons were non-existent, the only social studies my children had really learned was the names of the provinces – no ancient history other than some reading about Egypt and China, two countries that interested my son. As for science… well, I actually felt okay about science, because my son is a born naturalist who devours bird and animal encyclopedias. He is currently reading cover to cover, a 750+ paged encyclopedia on the birds of North America. Every day we were being told a new and interesting fact about some species. But outside of his self-directed learning, the most we did for science was the occasional Magic School Bus science kit or tv episode. Forget about learning a foreign language of any kind, let alone Latin. I felt like a homeschooling failure.

But why?

By whose standards was I a failure? The public education system we have chosen to eschew? By the standards of Rudolph Steiner? Or Charlotte Mason? Or the fellow homeschool Moms who used very heavy academic, traditional approaches full of textbooks and workbooks? It dawned on me that I have spent years believing others when they tell me that my children have to read “x” book or study “y” subject at “z” time, in order to have a successful education. That without these things I am somehow failing my children.

I’ve been waking up to the lie this year, and slowly taking a stand against it. In fact, I am now at the place where I refuse to believe it. Following some other person’s academic ideals with rigidity is not what makes me a success as a homeschool teacher. Teaching my 6 year old about Ancient Rome & Greece does not make me a success. Nor does doing picture study, composer study, hymn study or reading Shakespeare to a 9 year old.

What makes me a success is acknowledging  and respecting my children’s individual areas of strength and challenge, their learning styles, and their areas of interest – and then building their education around them. What makes me a success is realizing that by following their interests now, I am opening the door to future learning. I am helping them learn how to love learning, now, rather than burn them out with drudgery and required work that in no way applies to their lives.

As I sat reflecting on all that we haven’t accomplished in the past 5 years of learning, I decided to shift my thoughts, and instead think of all that we have accomplished:

  • I have taught one child to read well ahead of his years, and another is in the process of learning. What’s more – my children love to be read to. We have spent countless hours reading through storybooks, poetry, classic literature and the silly stories of Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. Consequently they have impressive imaginations and excellent vocabularies.
  • Both children are proficient in math. My youngest is extremely skilled in math facts and my oldest is showing real aptitude in the visual realm of mathematics, such as geometry.
  • They both have excellent penmanship, and are learning cursive.
  • They enjoy writing stories and letters to their pen pals.
  • They have picked up computer skills naturally on their own, without it having to be a forced subject in school at the expense of others.
  • They have taken countless nature walks, learning the art of observation, and have an excellent awareness of and love for, the natural world.
  • They are both talented artists, with my son being skilled at drawing, and my daughter developing a penchant for painting. They enjoy going to art galleries, examining various styles of art.
  • They both are natural musicians who love to sing, and enjoy listening to all forms of music including classical. My son can accurately identify Vivaldi’s Seasons and some of Beethovens work as well.
  • Enjoying poetry, both children have now memorized several poems for fun, and have even given recitations at our homeschool Christmas party. This has helped with the skills of elocution, public speaking and has helped my daughter with her speech errors.
  • My son is an amateur ornithologist, not only capable of accurately identifying dozens and dozens of species of birds from across the globe, but he can also tell you their habitats, eating habits, if they’re endangered, protected and more.
  • My daughter has a love for homemaking and handicraft skills, and at only 6 years old, is quite a talented baker, enjoys cooking breakfast for the family, loves to help with sewing, and is learning how to knit.
  • They have helped every year with the garden – from rock picking to snapping beans, and everything in between. They also help with the grocery shopping, and are fully capable of making purchases themselves. They help with household chores and maintenance. Our daughter (out of her own free will) helped her father build our new deck at 6 years of age – skillfully using the tools alongside her father. One of our strongest desires is to raise children who are perfectly capable of running a household.
  • We have done financial math projects, where they are given a budget and have to manage a “store” – purchasing stock and supplies, dealing with unexpected expenses, paying employees etc…
  • They have learned numerous Bible stories and have already memorized several prayers of our Catholic faith. They have a love for the Lord that astounds me sometimes.
  • We have done countless field trips to a historical settlement village where they have milked a cow, fed pigs, washed horses, threshed flax, spun wool, baked using a wood stove, played antique games and been witness to a different era of living. On other field trips, they have learned how pizzas are made and how dairy farms work – they were even privy to watch a calf being born. They have been to one of the largest green houses in North America to learn about their operations, they have been to art museums, science museums, aquariums, zoos, general historical museums, and a planetarium. They have been to an apple orchard where they not only picked apples and made fresh pressed cider, but learned all about the workings of commercial apple growing. I’m sure there’s more that I’m forgetting.
  • They have participated in science and social studies project fairs, presenting their projects on Ancient Egypt, Canada, the Canada Goose, and Volcanoes.
  • They have watched countless hours of Dr. Quinn, which has led to discussions on women’s rights, the historical treatment of Native Americans and African Americans, slavery, prejudice, and much more.
  • And during our many trips to the children’s hospital, they have learned patience, tolerance, compassion and understanding, the reality of disease and disability and respecting others who look, speak and act different from us, and they have learned to appreciate the blessings that they have in life.

As I reflect on this much lengthier list, I can now see that my earlier assessment was wrong. My children have been learning much in the way of science and social studies, as well as home economics, arts and more, despite the lack of formal teaching thereof. I can also see now that perhaps while I thought I was searching for our “niche”, I had already found it. It would appear that our rather “unschooling” approach to “Everything Else”, has not been failing us, but rather, has given our children thus far a rich and varied education, one that is developing not just their minds, but their hearts and hands as well. Perhaps the traditionalists, Rudolph and Charlotte would be proud after all.

Nature Study 101

It was only a month ago that I wrote my post about Saying Goodbye to Charlotte – Charlotte Mason that is, and her approach within our homeschool. In it I mentioned how rarely we ever were able to get Nature Study done; while we certainly spend lots of time outdoors, we rarely, if ever, completed a nature journal.

Fast forward a couple weeks. It didn’t take long for the children to become bored with workbook-based science. So, I sat down and had a talk with the kids, and for once they actually agreed on something! They both described what their idea of a perfect “science” would be: reading about things and drawing about them, or going for walks and coming home and drawing what they saw. Huh. So their vision of a perfect science was essentially the nature study that I had just given up on.

I decided to give a program that I had been eyeballing for a few months, a chance. It is called Exploring Nature with Children, and it’s a year-long nature study curriculum. I might call it “Nature Study for Dummies” or “Nature Study 101”. It is a very comprehensive, yet easy to follow and very flexible program that makes nature study (and journaling) easy, for anyone. Even beginners like me.

Each month is broken down into four topics, and includes a nature walk idea, a book list, a poem and piece of art work that relates to the topic and a selection of engaging and educational extension activities – no busy work craft ideas in this program! It is easy to use this for a wide range of ages, and I can definitely see how this could be used for multiple years.

So, I bought the book and we dived right in with the April study on trees. Since spring is just starting here in Atlantic Canada, we had to don our rubbers, parkas, hats and mittens for our nature walk. We roamed the back yard, studying the various trees and comparing the differing buds.  We gently took a few samples home with us.

When we got home, we did our first ever “real” nature journal entry, in our newly purchased journals. We sketched in pencil, then filled in the color using watercolor crayons and paintbrushes, replicating (or attempting to!) the trees and buds that we saw.

The next day, we revisited the journals and added some information, and we also dissected the leaf buds that we had found, examining them for signs of baby leaves. The following day we drew a diagram of a tree, with all it’s parts labelled – from the roots up. Each day we read beautiful books such as Sky Tree, Planting the Trees of Kenya and A Log’s Life.

We are only two weeks into the program, and thus far the lesson on trees is the only one we have completed since we had some unforseen interruptions. We will start lesson two next week (Plant Life Cycles), but in the mean time, one thing I have noticed is we are already being more intentional about observing when we are outdoors. Yesterday we took a bike ride and stopped several times to watch the small swollen brooks and streams – we noted the color of the water, the sound, even just the little tiny trickles along the side of the road. At one brook my son spotted a mallard taking off.

Today, despite the cool rain, we bundled up and hiked down to the stream that runs behind our house, eager to observe it in it’s flooded state. It had risen 2-3′ overnight, and the children loved seeing “their island” where we go fishing, pick fiddleheads and go wading, completely covered in water. We enjoyed the spring-sweet smell of the cedars, and the squelching sound of the mud. We compared how it looked today, to how it looked other times. We noticed that the buds on the trees are getting bigger, thanks to the mild days we’ve been having.

It is a process. Our journals are far from the prize-worthy specimens I have seen online on Pinterest and other nature journaling websites, including a wonderful Facebook group called Charlotte Mason Nature Journaling. But we will learn and grow together, and what’s more, we are loving the process.

 

My first ever attempt at nature journaling.

20170404_155900~2_resized

I couldn’t quite figure out at first what my 9 year old son was trying to depict, until I looked at the stem he was using as inspiration. Then I was pleased with his attention to detail.

20170404_155842~2_resized

His first entry. 20170404_155848_resized

My 6 year old daughter’s entry (I helped with labeling the buds). 20170404_155746~2_resized

The children hard at work. 20170404_155632_resized20170404_155642_HDR_resized

Dissecting the buds20170404_155449_resized

 

A trip to the stream20170411_120310_resized

20170411_120619_resized20170411_120725_resized

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Charlotte

Back in the fall I wrote a couple posts about not feeling like you need to adhere to any particular pedagogy religiously. That it is okay to “tweak” things as necessary to work for you and your family. I wrote how I myself have struggled for years to find what works best for my children and our often hectic life.

I’ve known for awhile now that my son does best with workbooks, and yet, I’ll admit, the Charlotte Mason philosophy has been a hard one to let go of. I’m part of a few Charlotte Mason groups online and the fan base is rather large, with many who are rather zealous advocates. I learned a lot from the conversations on those groups, and overall I found their well-meaning and articulate comments were intended to be encouraging. However, I will admit that reading through those groups also often left me feeling guilty that I was not doing enough, or doing it right; that I just needed to try harder.

Here’s the thing: I really, really, wanted to follow the Charlotte Mason approach. We’ve been trying it for over two years now. Every fibre of my being agrees that it is a beautiful and enriching approach to education that can produce excellent results. But I have finally come to the realization that it just doesn’t work for us, no matter how much I want it to, no matter how hard I try. And finally, I have come to accept that this is okay.

This isn’t a realization that I came to suddenly, but rather something I have been gradually realizing over the last few months. In January our daughter ended up spending a couple days at our local ER which led to being admitted to her children’s hospital for seven days, six hours away from home.  Despite having just finished Christmas break, needless to say, lessons were put on hiatus again.  Once we were back home, I was too physically and mentally exhausted to even think about doing school, so we took another week off.

During this time off, I had a lot of time to think and reflect on our school – the past, the present, and what I wanted for our future. I had that little nagging voice in my head that was telling me that something just wasn’t working, and I needed to figure out what it was.

I finally came to realize that school felt like it had become nothing more than a check list of Charlotte Mason to-dos that just were not getting done, which was resulting in feelings of guilt and failure for me. There were so many subjects to keep track of at one time, and we were all tired of hopping from subject to subject every day. Just starting to read a chapter in this book on geography, and then the next day reading something different in science, then the next day reading something different again. We wanted to really be able to dive in and enjoy a subject, to soak it up – not be constantly stopping and starting.

Likewise, trying to keep up with the numerous enrichments was overwhelming me, even though people kept saying it’s easy to do. It was all feeling so forced – I was tired of trying to keep up to a list of which study we should be doing which day and constantly feeling behind when we missed that day for some reason. So I tried loop scheduling as some people suggested, but that didn’t change the fact that we  just weren’t getting to those “extra” subjects – which people kept telling me were actually the very core of a Charlotte Mason education.

In all honesty, many of the enrichments, picture study especially, were feeling contrived: telling my children they have to look at a picture they have no interest in, because some woman 100 years ago said we should. How on earth was that enriching their lives? My children love art, they love creating art, and they love seeing art – when we go to an art gallery. Because there they are free to explore many types of art, and they can find the pieces that speak to them, that interest them. There, in that setting, they will stand and stare, drinking that picture into their soul, figuring out what it is that they like, or perhaps dislike about it.

I was also tired of feeling guilty about our literature times together. Every morning at breakfast we read from our selected read-aloud, which we only ever do one of at a time. We love to dive into our books, and sometimes we will read 2 or 3 chapters of a delicious book in one sitting.

But according to Charlotte this was wrong – we shouldn’t be reading so much at one time, and we should always have multiple books going at a time. I wasn’t cultivating the habit of attention properly, and according to many, there was no way the material was truly sinking in like it would be, if I did it the “right way”. Never mind that after reading, my children would jump up and act out extremely detailed scenes from what we had just read. Or that sometimes our readings would lead to discussions on certain topics or ideas that had come up – things that they would remember long after we had read that particular chapter.

We also were enjoying a selection of adapted classics – something I never admitted on the groups, where these books were repeatedly called twaddle and were frowned upon.  I tried to do the “right” thing, and I did try to read the original versions to my children. But here is what I learned: when I tried to force the original versions with their archaic language on my children, they were completely disengaged. They did not enjoy the stories, nor did they take anything in.  They would essentially shut down while I was reading.

But see, here’s the thing: the language in the original classics was the language of the day (or at least recent enough that it was familiar), thus, these books were much easier for children of Charlotte’s era to understand. But that is not the case today. Right or wrong, the prose of 150 to 250 years ago,  is not the one our children are growing up with today. We need to respect that many children are going to need modernized versions, without criticizing the parents for not challenging their children enough.

I have come to realize that I fully believe it is better to read a modern-language version that allows the child to comprehend what they are hearing, and to become engaged in the story. This in turn encourages a love of literature, as opposed to forcing something on them they can’t understand, which only discourages them.

These are the things that I mulled over and over in my mind that week, and have continued to think about since then. Ultimately what I have come to is that I am tired of our education feeling like a constantly unfinished to-do list. I am tired of our education feeling like it never quite meets the incredibly high bar set out by others who are not living our life. I am tired of measuring our success by other people’s standards for their families. I want something that engages my children and makes them look forward to lessons, instead of something that has begun to feel like drudgery. Ultimately, I want them to love learning, and I want their learning delivered in a format that makes it easy for them to learn. This is not the same as saying they won’t be challenged.

And so, roughly a month ago, we dropped all the Charlotte Mason enrichment studies that had been part of our Morning Time. I was tired of forcing these enrichments on my children, just because Charlotte said my children needed them to have a fulfilled education and life. I realized that they were already being exposed to these things organically: singing hymns on Sunday, or whenever else the mood hit them – our daughter loves to sing the Gloria at random times. I realized we were already reading a variety of rich poetry and literature for fun. We already visited art galleries, museums, as well as the playhouse to enjoy plays and music.  We listen to classical music in the car when driving somewhere, or whenever my kids feel like a romp and want to act out the stampeding warriors of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.

I admit I had no idea when we would read Shakespeare, or if we would ever read Plutarch. Nor, quite frankly, did I care anymore. As for Nature Study, we never got it done anyways, so it really wasn’t a big loss from the schedule.  What we would continue to do however, was spend lots of time outside together and going for walks. Whenever my children find a rock, or shell or feather that excites them, we stop and examine it, and it inevitably finds a home on our “Nature Sill”.  I knew we would continue to stop and watch the squirrels scampering up a tree, or listen to the variety of birds singing. We would teach the art of observation organically, without having to come back and make a lesson out of it with water colors and a journal and oral or written narrations.

dsc_0232dsc_0231dsc_0233

And so it was a step towards joy to let go of a large chunk of “Charlotte”. Instead of trying to cram several different forms of literature and studies into our time together at the breakfast table, we enjoyed a Bible story, our read aloud, and then ended in prayer time. Short and sweet. Simple. Refreshing.

Life and lessons continued on. We kept up with the Charlotte Mason approach to language arts with copywork and dictation, science and history, and always of course the infernal narration. My son hates narration with a passion. We have been at it over two years now – he hated it when we started, and he still hates it today. And slowly I have been coming to realize that because of his hatred of narration, it is not working as a learning tool, as it is supposed to be. I would read to him, or assign him something to read, only to have him look at me pleadingly, sometimes anxiously, saying, “Please Mom, please, don’t make me narrate.”

And so, after much prayer and consideration, I decided to say goodbye to Charlotte completely. It has been a very hard decision – the toughest one I’ve made in our homeschooling journey. It has been very hard for me to give up on my picture of their education, but I’ve come to realize that my ideals are hindering them. So, I am letting them go because I know that deep down, it is what is best for my children and for our family. In letting go of Charlotte, I will be opening up their education to it’s full potential.

We are a week into our new approach, which is your very basic, traditional workbook approach – the complete opposite of what I wanted when I started homeschooling several years ago.  But already, I can see my children thriving, especially my son. Most in Charlotte Mason circles scorn workbooks, calling them the “easy way out”, claiming they don’t teach children to think as deeply as narration does. Yet, I am here to say that workbooks have opened up my son’s ability to think. Working through the workbook questions allows my son to process the information he has read, which in turns leaves him better able to discuss it. He is retaining information better and he is better able to articulate his thoughts. He is no longer dreading science or history lessons because of the narration he knew would come at the end. He is enjoying the variety of exercises in his grammar and spelling workbooks – he told me after the first few days that he was glad to have some variety. He had gotten tired of doing copywork and dictation day after day; always the same thing, just different words.

Our daughter, who has Autism and health issues, is loving her workbooks. She is taking great pride in being able to read the instructions to herself, always saying, “Look Mommy! Listen! I can read them Mommy! I can do it!” It gives her a small area of life that she can have some freedom and more importantly to her, control over. So much of her life is out of her control – the inability to manage her feelings and emotions, her struggles socially, and thanks to her bowel disorder, even what happens to her own body. It may seem such a small thing  – the ability to work independently with a workbook, but to her, it’s a big thing, and it’s bringing a smile to her face during lesson time that I have never seen before.

I wish the pure Charlotte Mason philosophy of education could have worked for us, I do. There is a part of me that feels a bit envious of those who were able to make it work, and not just “make it work”, but who truly thrived with it. But there’s a bigger part of me who is proud to have realized and acknowledged it wasn’t working, and to have had the courage to make such a radical change. I’ve finally learned that there is no curriculum or method out there  is inherently any better than any other, when it comes to achieving an excellent education for your children. Because the best curriculum is the one that meets your child’s individual needs, not your ideals.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Is It Essential?

So, I’m going to come right out and say it – I have seen some real snobby attitudes since I joined the homeschool world. Some truly “all or nothing”, elitist attitudes, especially when it comes to curriculum and educational philosophy choices.

You know the ones that I mean – the ones who have become so focused on a certain pedagogy or curriculum, that they (passive aggressively) look down on anyone who doesn’t choose something as academically “rigorous” as they did. Or, they look down on those who do not follow the model of an educational philosophy to a “T”.

They are the ones who will argue that a “true” education, is not complete unless your children have read the Odyssey and the annals of Plutarch; until they have learned Latin and Greek mythology, and have memorized countless poems and speeches. Or, unless they have studied the great composers and poets and artists of eons past, their life will ultimately be lacking in depth and fullness.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I would like to think that they don’t realize how they’re coming across to others. Maybe they’re just so truly passionate about the choices they have made, that they forget that there can be another way that works better for other people. Or, sometimes I wonder if it is because the idea of another way is perhaps threatening to them, maybe they are not as confident in their decision as their bravado would lead you to believe.

Just the other day, in a group that I’m a part of, a fellow mother, obviously frazzled, wrote that she is struggling to get through the recommended study of Plutarch: she doesn’t like it, her children don’t like it, and she’s afraid that it’s going to make them hate school. “Is it essential?” she asked.

Now, anyone with common sense knows that no, it isn’t. And the fact that she would even have to ask others if it is crucial, stopped me in my tracks – until I remembered that I have done the same thing. Because that is the pressure we homeschoolers put on ourselves, and what’s more, on each other, to be perfect. We find an educational pedagogy or a curriculum that we agree with, that we like, that works, but then suddenly think that means we have to follow it 100%. We think that each and every ideal of that philosophy, must be done perfectly lest our child’s education be found lacking.

I thought that perhaps the other mothers would encourage her to shelve it for awhile, or forever. That they would reassure her that of course her children will turn out fine if they don’t study Plutarch. And a few did, but the majority “encouraged” her to persevere. Their encouragement ranged from posting articles on why Plutarch is “necessary”, to reminding the mother that, “We don’t get very far by quitting!” “We should be forcing our children to trudge through the hard and mundane things!” (Regardless of the cost, eh?) “No liberal arts education is complete without Plutarch!”

You get the idea. I felt so sad for that mother, who clearly just needed some reassurance, to be told that it was okay to let go, which is what she clearly wanted to do. And instead she received peer pressure to keep going, basically a passive aggressive form of adult bullying.

In the end I sent the mom a private message and told her what I want to tell all homeschoolers:

There are ideals, and then there is reality. Educational pedagogies such as Charlotte Mason, were just one person’s ideals. One individual person’s idea of what constituted the “ideal” education, one person’s ideas of what were important topics to learn and how to learn them. And that person lived over 100 years ago in a different era, society and culture. They did not know you and your priorities, or your children and their needs or interests. The reality is, the “ideal” education is going to vary from student to student based on their learning types, needs, interests and goals for the future. Ideals are not a one-size fits all.

Today we have the ability and freedom to tailor our children’s learning to that which interests them, that which incites a passion for learning. And if Plutarch does not incite that passion, there is quite honestly, no need in teaching it. This is not to say that Plutarch can not be valuable with lessons to be learned from it – most certainly it can be. However,  it is most definitely not essential to a fulfilling education and/or life.

And here is another reality – there are many valuable things to learn in our world, and we will never be able to learn them all. So, all we can do, is pick and choose what is the most meaningful to our lives, what interests us the most, what will have the most impact and influence, and pursue that – and let go of the feeling that we must learn it all.

After all, learning does not stop when a child turns eighteen. Learning is lifelong. If you can teach a child to enjoy learning, to want to learn, then they will continue to pursue learning as an adult. Perhaps they will choose to read Plutarch when they are older, when it has meaning and value to them.

But, I can promise you, that if you destroy that enjoyment of learning early on, by forcing them to push through things that are meaningless and pure drivel to them, things which make learning tedious and boring, just because one person a hundred years ago said it was “essential”, you are hindering their future learning. And chances are, they will never pick up Plutarch again.

So, what is essential? The “Three ‘Rs”. Because without a foundation of those, other learning cannot happen. Give a child the tools that will allow them to learn, and then incite a desire in them to want to apply those tools for the rest of their lives. If Plutarch, or Homer, or the Odyssey, or Latin or Greek incites a desire and an excitement in your students, then by all means, dive right in.

But if those non-essentials are not working for you, if they’re causing stress and grief and turning learning into a chore for your student, then please, never be afraid to let go; no matter what anyone else tells you, even if they tell you that without checking off all those boxes on the pedagogical checklist you’re not giving your child a complete education. Let go of what doesn’t work for you, and what doesn’t bring joy to your learning, especially if it is actually hindering your child’s enjoyment of learning. Trust me, it will be okay.