At the beginning of our homeschool journey, I started coming across the name Charlotte Mason, over and over and over. Unfortunately, I had no idea who she was.
I finally turned to Google and came across a series of articles explaining Mason's methods of education. I skimmed over articles on narration and nature study and then stumbled on one about short lessons.
The concept wasn't hard. Charlotte Mason advised that lessons for children should be challenging, varied, and short. A short lesson meant that a child could give full attention to the lesson without a wandering mind. A short lesson wouldn't burn out a child which also meant that the child would be left eager for the next lesson.
Mason's concept of short lessons was so different from how I was organizing education in my mind. I had latched on to a block schedule, thinking it would be easier in the end. Our early block schedule included a substantial block of time for language arts, almost an hour for a math lesson and practice, and then another substantial block of time for either history, science, or art.
To me, it made sense to to get out the books for a subject once and then work with them for a good amount of time before putting them away again. If we only did history twice a week, I only had to get out the books, notebook, and other materials twice a week. It made less sense to get out the history book read a little then put it away and get out the math book for a lesson then put it away then get out a poetry book to read a poem then put it away then get out the spelling book and do an exercise then put it away... Unfortunately my ideas about what made sense had everything to do with efficiently getting out and putting away materials and not much to do with effectively educating a young mind.
It turns out, that spending longer amounts of time in a block type schedule wasn't working even though it seemed to be so common sense. I may not have spent as much time pulling books off the shelf, but I was spending way too much time pushing my son to just get to the end of the lesson.
Unfortunately, my ideas about what made sense had everything to do with efficiency and nothing to do with effectively educating a young mind.
Something had to change, and short lessons was a method that I knew I had to put to the test to see if it would actually work. I began by writing out a long checklist for my son so he could see what we were going to cover during the day. I made a point of making sure no two like activities or subjects were right next to each other. It looked something like this:
Story of the World
Black Ships Before Troy-1 Chapter
Chore of the Day
Of course, I didn't show him the list until he could check a few things off. He would have seen so many things scheduled before lunch instead of the usual three. I finally showed the list to him and of course he grumbled when he saw it. Why did he have to do so much today?
However, we were done with school in record time. We had hit every subject and I never once had to say, can you please just finish this page first and then you can have a break?
At the end of the week, when I added up everything that he had accomplished, more had been done in a dozen short lessons four days in a row than in four days of block scheduling. Also, we had accomplished more in less time.
Switching to a new schedule is hard, and it took me a few weeks to convince my son that what we were doing was better. The familiar pattern of doing things that we inherited from public schools was just that, familiar. We are comfortable with the familiar even if it isn't good for us. "Shouldn't I do more spelling exercises?" I'd see the question in his eyes, but he didn't dare ask.
My son had to build new habits, but I had to build new habits too. Pulling out three books for three subjects at a time and setting them on the table to work through one at a time became necessary because as soon as I turned my back to put one book away and take another out, I'd find myself alone at the table and my son already engaging his sister in a game. I have learned to pull out at least three books at once if I don't want a break between each and every short lesson.
Now that my son is older, I write out his schedule out in the order I want him to accomplish his lessons and he is no longer daunted when he gets a list of 12 tasks in the morning because now he knows that he can accomplish a lot in a little amount of time.
Charlotte Mason's short lessons have transformed our school mornings. We hit every subject between 8:30 am and lunch time with breaks in between. I do save activities that my kids like to dwell on, including science labs, art projects, and PE for after lunch. They have hours of free time for playing, reading, and personal projects.
Short lessons are the first area that I put Charlotte Mason's philosophy to the test, and I am so glad that I did because they just may have saved our sanity during our first year homeschooling.
Linked to The Homeschool Nook, Monday Musings, Finishing Strong and Hip Homeschool Moms