Finding our Homeschooling Identity

By: Audrey Gross


            I began my journey in homeschooling with certain expectations.  I had visions of well-dressed children sitting gleefully around our kitchen table, listening with eagerness as we worked through a textbook; much like the cover a curriculum catalogue!  I would be the smartly dressed mother, smiling down on my cheerfully engaged offspring.  In my now 7 years of homeschooling, I’m not sure this particular scenario has played out even once.  Not only were we not often sitting gleefully around the table poring over workbooks, I can assure you, I was very rarely smartly dressed.  Much like how you picture motherhood in general before you actually have children, so homeschooling was for me . . . uncharted territory. 

            When I began this adventure, my oldest was five, followed by a 3 year old, a 1 year old, and a 1 month old.   I suppose this seemed like a daunting task at the time, but really…  I only had one child to teach.  Easy enough, right?

            I was pleasantly surprised that in the early days, my homeschooling went beautifully.  I read many a homeschooling guide and talked to all the homeschooling families I could, all while diligently searching the different curriculums and methods.   Of all the methods I learned about, there was one that seemed to encompass the kind of education I was seeking quite perfectly.   It was love at first Charlotte Mason book.  (In this case it happened to be A Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola).   I embraced Charlotte’s philosophy, read her books (with excited, new homeschool mom fervor), and devoted myself to implementing her methods.  In a nutshell, the Charlotte Mason method can be summarized by Charlotte’s own description:

 “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.”  This ‘atmosphere’ of learning included a heavy dose of ‘living books’ (as opposed to dry textbooks), nature study (along with ample time in the great outdoors), and also a heavy emphasis on the arts (particularly poets, composers and the great works of art.)

            From the very beginning, we kept our nature journals, took long walks through the woods to observe the birds and other creatures, listened exclusively to classical music (studying a new composer each month), studied the greats in art, and delved into some pretty heavy literature for a 5 year old.  Charlotte’s philosophy also included not “dumbing things down” to a young child’s level, but to expose them to the great literary classics from the beginning.  In her words, “no knowledge should be so precious as that gained in childhood, no later knowledge should be so clearly chronicled on the brain, nor so useful as the foundation of that to follow…. Therefore it behooves parent or teacher to pour in only of the best.”  What is better than Plutarch, Shakespeare, Kipling and Longfellow?  

           I recognized my oldest child, at an early age, as a highly artistic individual who needed ample freedom of expression.  The Charlotte Mason philosophy seemed to fit her completely and she thrived on the art and literature studies.  We were happy! And even better, learning things! 

           Things were going along just pleasingly.  I spent hours a day reading complex passages from beautiful books to my daughter, learning Latin, and painting pictures.   Eventually, as my next child became school age with his two siblings a couple of years later, I realized I didn’t have the time I wanted to spend on each child’s lengthy and individualized curriculum.  Each year that I received a new student, I began to feel it was difficult to keep up with the relaxed, learning lifestyle, when our lives seemed to be pulling in so many different directions. 

           We accumulated a packed schedule of extracurricular activities; sports, field trips, church activities.  Basically, we were getting our socialization on… a lot!   Although this was all fun and productive, I began to feel crunched for time.   I also started feeling the pressure that my children may not be “keeping up” with all they needed to be learning. Doubt began creeping in.  Finally, after my husband and I agreed that I needed something more structured (and simple); I bought my first boxed curriculum. This was sure to help me keep it all together, and ensure my children were learning everything their active little brains required, right?  In many ways it did help.  I was able to see just how much we were accomplishing, where we were in the grand scheme of that intimidatingly thick workbook, how many more lessons we had to go, etc.  But, something I didn’t anticipate happening did; I felt like our family’s love of learning had turned into a check list of workbook pages and dry textbooks.  It felt as though our collective creativity was being stumped, school had become a chore - something to “get done.”

            After a semester of trying more rigid curriculums, I would always come back to my Charlotte Mason favorites;   The Blue Fairy (and all the other colors of the classic fairy tales), Fifty Famous Stories Retold, The Beautiful Feet Books, and our poetry favorites.  These are the books that Charlotte Mason refers to as “The great tales of the heroic age {that} find their way into children’s hearts.”

             I found that when we became rushed or overburdened with outside activities, workbook/textbook curriculums seemed easier.  This made me realize I would rather scale back on these excess outside activities, to allow more time for my kids to pursue what they love through literature.  We belonged in the great outdoors, hunching over a lovingly worn copy of The Handbook of Nature Study. (By, Anna Botsford Comstock, check it out, it’s great.)   There were gaps in our education that our nature notebook and composer study once occupied.

           Slowly, Charlotte Mason returned back into our lives.  My oldest child’s science textbook got replaced with a book on marine biology (one of her new found passions.)  My 10 year old son’s science book was replaced with a book on rocks and minerals, along with the materials for him to pursue the study of geology.  Outside.  In the dirt.   I realized I had been failing to keep in mind the kind of education they needed; a kind that I preferred myself.   Isn’t this the unique and amazing thing about homeschooling, that we are able to cater to our individual child’s educational needs?  I knew that my children flourished in creative and natural environments.  Does this mean we never do core subjects such as math and language arts? Not at all.  It simply means literature, art and nature need to play a pivotal role in our homeschool. 

          So Charlotte came back to our homeschool in full force, with all her linguistic beauty.  Karen Andreola said the two words that best describe “the educational ideals of Charlotte Mason” are magnanimity and enthusiasm.  That came back too. 

          It was an affirming moment when my 12 year old told me “Today was the best school day I've ever had!  I never realized how the tilted axis of the earth affects our seasons.”  This realization was delivered to me as she sat at the kitchen table, hands covered in paint, affixing a foam model of the earth to her project.  She had spent the day poring over books and articles about the earth’s polarity, axis and tides.  My 10 year old son showed similar zeal for his school day, telling me (cheerfully engaged and all)! “I learned so much today about the rock cycle!”  He had spent hours that day in 40 lbs of assorted rocks and stones, sorting and labeling his geological finds.  Obviously, finding something to pursue that piqued their interest and allowing them more time to pursue it had brought the joy back into their learning. 

          We still have days when they slink down in their kitchen chair in math rebellion, or a battle of wills will rear its ugly head during a writing assignment.  But, for the most part, peace and learning have settled themselves back down upon our little classroom. 

          For my 12 year old, incorporating art into anything she does makes her happy.  The lasting lessons of great literature and art they have learned over the years have been remembered, tucked away lovingly, as a building block of who they are. 

     Charlotte Mason,  in A Philosophy of Education, said “Every child should leave school with at least a couple of hundred pictures by great masters hanging permanently in the halls  of his imagination,  to say nothing of great buildings,  sculpture , beauty of form, and color in things he sees.  Perhaps we might secure at least a hundred lovely landscapes too, --sunsets, cloudscapes, star-light nights.  At any rate he should go forth well- furnished because imagination has the property of magical expansion, the more it holds, the more it will.”

            What do I want to hang in the halls of my children’s imaginations?  They already know what they love.  I just need to give them room and the tools to explore for themselves.

             I know this sounds like an ode to the Charlotte Mason method, and in a way it is.  But, it’s also a story of finding our homeschooling identity.  It’s a story of rediscovering the freedom that is possible when a family chooses to homeschool.  It’s the story of how our family realized the potential to let our interests and passions guide us to a more effective type of learning.  It’s a story I love to tell, and I don’t want to ever forget the reasons I fell in love with homeschooling to begin with.


*All Charlotte Mason quotes were extracted from the (amazing) books from her original homeschool series.

*For free Charlotte Mason curriculum and lesson plans, check out  (You won’t regret it.)