Charlotte Mason Unschooling – Is That A Thing?

Have you ever wondered if Charlotte Mason Unschooling was possible? Do these two methods work together?

In the primary years, we would get most of our work done by lunchtime. Even though our academic goals were achieved I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing enough school work. I knew schools still had three more hours of work for their students. What was I meant to do with those other three hours? I’d had enough of lessons and so had the kids. I had work that needed to be done. The kids would help me with some chores but then my kids wanted to play and I was glad to be left alone to do my own thing.

We live in suburbia so there was no farm to explore. Some days, I would set up painting (which they would do for 10 minutes), or we would go out on excursions but quite often it was just free play.  They would, impersonate super heroes, have mock battles, film home movies, play drawing and writing games, cover the floor with blocks, toy animals and blanket forts. Creative mess making was their specialty. There was minimal TV (in fact we didn’t have one at all in the early years) and electronic entertainment was restricted to 1 hour a day but as they got older the computer was also used for photo and movie editing, making websites, math games, and writing on their blogs. They were exploring their interests and my input was minimal. While I was feeling guilty for “doing nothing with the kids” in the afternoons my children were learning and enjoying their freedom.

“My Kids Are Doing Nothing!”

In 2007, John Gatto, came to Australia for a homeschooling conference. He helped me to see that my “doing nothing” approach was a form of natural learning. And even though I knew my kids were having experiences that enriched their learning I could now feel confident that the “free time” was just as (if not more) important to their education as their morning academics. They weren’t doing nothing!

Natural learning, or unschooling as John Holt called it is an educational philosophy that centres around child led learning. There are various interpretations of natural learning from the radical unschoolers to those who scatter resources and books around the house to capture their child’s interest.

Do Unschooling & Charlotte Mason Work Together

I’m not a Charlotte Mason purist and so I wondered was a dual philosophy operating in my home? Was I a Charlotte Mason natural learner or an unschooling CMer? And is that even a thing?

Charlotte Mason used a term masterly inactivity which in some ways could be thought of as encouraging natural learning. She also used a term called the science of relations which is also a child focused idea to let children make a connection with related fields of learning. However, the big difference between unschooling and the Charlotte Mason method is that the Charlotte Mason educator remains in control and still has authority to lay out a feast of ideas for children. Ordering the sequence of a child’s studies is part of that authority. Within the scaffolding of their education there is still time for child led discovery. Her ideas on natural learning are discussed in her book School Education, ironically subtitled “Developing a Curriculum”. She saw education as a lifestyle encompassing the whole of life. Academics was important but natural learning and a parent’s passive observation would continue a child’s education without formality.

Masterly Inactive

As Sonya Shafer says, “Both words — Masterly Inactivity — are important. You must have control of your children and have your authority in place first (masterly) before you can practice wise passiveness (inactivity) in allowing them breathing room — room to explore, learn, and grow within your boundaries.”

Charlotte Mason set aside morning times for academics. Creativity was encouraged and not crushed. Academics allowed freedom of expression as children presented work in their own way. Narrations, nature study, notebooking were all meant to be done as the child desired and not as the parent teacher would have it done. She wanted children to show initiative and not be stifled by well-meaning adults who had a better way. Suggestions could be offered but not insisted upon.

The afternoons were for natural learning. The children were trusted to “do their own duty or to seek their own pleasure.” Charlotte counselled mothers to show good humour, or to happily allow children to pursue their non-schooly activities. Helicopter parenting – as we call it today – was discouraged; mothers were asked not to display “nervousness” or be “too engrossed with their children” because she believed this would result in children becoming anxious. Play was important and parents were encouraged not to crowd out their children’s time with work or structured activities. Charlotte Mason said, “organised games were not play”.

I’m probably not Charlotte Mason unschooling. Inspiration comes from various sources and is not restricted to one educational philosophy so it’s fun to explore ideas. Academics and natural learning can both be a part of your curriculum.

Practically Speaking

When we register for homeschooling there is an expectation that, the time allocated to homeschooling is comparable to schools.  However, academic work can be done in much less time than school and your children will probably have a lot of free time. But when you encourage natural learning throughout their day you begin to understand that learning never actually stops.

Over the years I have met many mothers who are trying their best but they’re exhausted. They have a guilty secret that gnaws away at them because the time they spend on formal academics is less than they expect from themselves. Stamina and will power fail them and they are convinced they are letting their kids down. But it’s okay! you don’t need to be managing your children’s time constantly. Boredom can lead kids into enriching experiences that add to their learning. Find the happy mix between academics and free time!

What Would Charlotte Say.

Let me finish with these encouraging words from Charlotte Mason.

“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children…we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents. The mother would be able to hold herself in ‘wise passiveness,’ and would not fret her children by continual interference…she would let them be.

Charlotte Mason

School Education, p.33-34