Into this broken mess and chaos of life, among other great acts of mercy and grace, the Lord brought into our lives Charlotte Mason. She was a gentle whisper and a kind tutor. Narration, living books, dictation, recitation, picture study…
I praise God that He does not leave us in dark places; for from the dark place my family slowly arose and with it our homeschooling. Under the inspiration and direction of Jennifer Taylor, a local Charlotte Mason group was formed. Volume 6 began to be read. Social media, first the Ambleside Online[v] Forum and then later Facebook, was joined. With the help of amazing, brilliant, humble women I met online, as if in a test, first one child was moved to as full of a Charlotte Mason education as I was able to produce. Then, another and another. The change was not directed solely toward my children. Spurred on by Ambleside Online book discussion, I began to read books. The first book I read during this transition was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This book was interesting and doable. The change was possible. But then, I cried when I eagerly picked up Tennyson’s Idylls of the King at the library only to find it was an over 300-page poem. Contraband Cliff Notes and SparkNotes were purchased in secret. Math was a holdout. Multiple subjects were not even attempted. It was not an easy transition. Days were long. Patience was low. Tears were frequent. Charlotte Mason is not conquered in a day.
The next year was spent continuing to grow in my understanding and knowledge of Charlotte Mason. Days were long as I pushed ahead and a fourth child formally began schooling. How did anyone get it all done by noon? How did anyone spend hours each day outside? Frugality continued to clutch my decisions; cheap, ugly journals were purchased. A box was checked, or was it? I finally got picture study selections up on our wall. Somehow, even with CDs, YouTube, Freegal, and an IPod, I could never seem to manage to listen to our composer. My local book group moved on to Volume 4. I learned how to find an article on the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection. I fell in love with Shakespeare via an Ambleside Online book discussion on Hamlet and even, gasp, led Shakespeare in my local learning community. I learned Watership Down was not about a sinking ship, and for my very own, I read a book about a sinking ship: Erik Larson’s Dead Wake. I attempted to lead a book discussion on When Children Love to Learn and fizzled out about half way through the book. Our local retreat was a joy, and I spoke on story-telling, Charlotte Mason apologetics, and narration. Who was I? I hesitated. But there was a vacuum, and it was once said of me, for good or for bad, I ooze into vacuums.
With hours poured into a crazy Excel spreadsheet and a fifth child added to the school mix, school was finally ending by lunch for the youngest children and by early afternoon for the older. Plutarch, with Anne White’s guides[xii], was attempted, and a life was finished. I realized how important a step recapitulation is for narration. Further embracing that Education is an Atmosphere, with the help of friends who come every Monday, I have attacked a cluttered and dirty house. Foreign language is not happening. I have not managed to figure out how to read poetry every day. Right now there is no solfa or special studies. One child is using Teaching Textbooks, and three are using Rightstart. I keep forgetting my older children need to be doing a daily written narration. Nature study remains an elusive mystery, but I have a son who knows all the birds in the neighborhood, takes daily walks on his own, and just showed me a reconstructed elk skeleton spread across his bedroom floor. A daughter has blessed many with her amazing crochet creations. A son is giggling his way through Wind in the Willows. A daughter is humming hymns throughout the day. My youngest has thrown her whole being into learning her lines as the jailer for our upcoming production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.
There is still impatience and tears and fighting. There is still a daily need for repentance and forgiveness. Small children are becoming teenagers. The sanctifying process of parenting and marriage is real. But God was good when he allowed Charlotte Mason into our lives and introduced us to an Education which is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, and a Life. Above all, to God be the Glory. There are things I know I’m doing wrong and there are things which I have no idea I’m doing wrong. But I will continue to learn and grow, and I can continue to contemplate,