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Combining Charlotte Mason and Thomas Jefferson Education In Your Homeschool
In my early days of homeschooling, I discovered the Charlotte Mason Method of Homeschooling. I loved the idea of reading to my kids, and it didn’t take much convincing to leave most textbooks behind and adopt a literature-based approach to raising my children. During the preschool years, we spent a lot of time reading together. As soon as the “real school work” started, we, like most new homeschoolers, bought textbooks and started “teaching”. Somehow we had less time to read aloud. I was introduced to the Charlotte Mason Method and enthusiastically bought “The Charlotte Mason Companion” by Karen Andreola. It was like a breath of fresh air, and I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with this more relaxed approach and the excuse to schedule read-alouds into our homeschool day. We started implementing Charlotte’s ideas:
o reading “living” books aloud
o Picture study
o Music recognition
o Learning science from nature (although ours is modified from the true CM approach described below)
o Mother culture
o The happiness of habit
After a few years I came across another approach to homeschooling through the book Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van DeMille. Like Charlotte, Oliver emphasizes the importance of self-education. He says that in order to learn, the student must take responsibility. The parent is not a “teacher”, but rather a “helper”.
Another important component of Thomas Jefferson’s education is the “classics” and “mentors.”
When classic books are read, studied, and discussed with a mentor, the student learns to think. He is not taught “what to think” (as in a fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice textbook), nor “when to think” (as in training for a particular job or profession), but “how” to think.
As the child’s mentor, the parent should think about the book they read and ask themselves the questions they will later ask the student. These questions should be open-ended and suitable for discussion with the student. The student should be guided to think independently and not just get away with the “correct” answer.
The student learns to express his views and present them in a group discussion or even in a debate.
This growing ability to think – to ask questions of oneself and others – prepares the student for self-determination. In whatever sphere you find yourself, you become a leader – one who thinks “outside the box”, not lamely following the crowd like the “filler, multiple choice” student.
I have found that the Charlotte Mason method and the Thomas Jefferson model of education work very well together. I lean more towards Charlotte Mason for younger kids (when TJEd says they should be in the “love of learning” stage – laying the foundations, good habits and values). Once you have the basics of reading and writing, it’s time to add some “meat” with TJEd. Of course, even as a young child, many of the books you read aloud will be “classics” and of course you will discuss the books as you read them and they will tell you stories. The books become more difficult as the child matures and the discussions become more challenging. Wonderful spiritual insights can emerge as you and your student delve deep into the classic books. The characters’ values and morals (or lack thereof) and their consequences are great springboards for discussing the Bible and our culture’s worldview. Your child will benefit from learning from the good and bad choices made by the characters. He will rejoice in the victory of good over evil and sympathize with the fallen.
Especially for young people who choose to question their parents’ views, classic books will speak volumes into their lives without you having to show them the lesson.
So I advise you to start with the methods of Charlotte Mason, read, tell, talk, learn the basics of the Bible, the basics of learning, the habits and values of discipline. Begin exploring Thomas Jefferson Education when your student is ready—continue reading and discussion, and gradually require more of your student’s expression—both oral and written. Watch your children flourish and grow into thoughtful, intelligent, excited young adults who love life-long learning.
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