I was introduced to Charlotte Mason when I was looking at Apologia science curriculum and found Jeannie Fulbright’s website. This was actually before I had ever even given birth to a child. I was a teacher and working at a homeschool co-op, felt the call to homeschool, and started researching curriculum (because I’m crazy that way).
A few years later, an experienced homeschool mom led me to Charlotte Mason Help and her description of Miss Mason’s methods at work in her home drew me in. One principle in particular resonated with me. The idea that you keep the lessons (especially in the younger grades) short, paired with the practice of varying subject schedule to use different parts of the body and brain just made so much sense to me. As Simply Charlotte Mason puts it, “Short, interesting lessons build the habit of attention.”
In my homeschool experience this year with a 5 year old and a 6 year old, I have especially seen the value of short, varied lessons. If a lesson or reading drags on to long, their attention wanes, their motivation dwindles, and their restlessness increases. I can see it in their bodies with the drooping of the shoulders and the glazing over of the eyes.
So how do we keep lessons short?
1. Proper Planning- It took a little trial and error, but I now know about how much we can get through in 15-20 minutes and make sure that I only assign as much as we can reasonably accomplish in that time frame. Of course, that means that it is all about to change, right?
2. Divide Subjects by Type of Activity– History as a whole subject might actually take 30 minutes, but it is divided into 15-20 minutes of reading followed by a change of venue and then 10-15 minutes of completing a history notebook page. Math might include a 15-20 minute lesson and then later 10-20 minutes of a math game.
3. Diligence Required- Sometimes my lessons ended up being long and drawn out not because I had planned too much, but because my children were not focusing on our lesson. They would ask questions or talk about this and that. The younger ones would have needs, the older ones would need bathroom breaks. Then I would get very frustrated.
So I took a look at what Charlotte Mason saidin Volume I, Part IV, “In the first place, there is a time-table, written out fairly, so that the child knows what he has to do and how long each lesson is to last. This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him in habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is not ‘as good as another;’ that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time; and this knowledge alone does a great deal to secure the child’s attention to his work.” (p 142)
Therefore, I told the children that I had a specific amount of material that we should be able to read in the time I have allotted for this lesson. If we do not get through it, we will stop this lesson at the appointed time and we will finish it during your free time. This sobered them up real quick and we have had much more success ever since.
4. Use a Timer (or keep an eye on the clock)- The timer keeps me accountable and reminds me to stay focused on the task at hand. It reminds my children to remain focused or whatever we don’t finish will be completed during free time. When the timer goes off, we can finish the sentence or a final stroke or item, and then we move to the next subject or task.
And how do we vary the order of our subjects?
I try to intersperse the reading type of lessons between the doing type of lessons. I tie our chunks of lessons around meal times and give them breaks between chunks of school.
Here, then, is a general schedule of how a typical school day tends to go:
Bible (with breakfast)
Chores & Exercise
History notebook page
Geography/Art/Composer/Poetry (with lunch)
We do not do all of these every day and sometimes we switch the order of things. But I never put two different reading subjects next to each other. And I never put two subjects that are heavy on writing next to each other either. That way, my children stay fresh for each new subject and do not get bogged down by fatigue or discouragement.
Short, varied lessons have really blessed us in our educational pursuits! Thank you, Charlotte Mason!