Child-led Learning Fits Charlotte Mason?

It seems that the Lord is really speaking to me about stepping out of my ‘teacher’ control mode, let go of my preconceived ideas and allow my child to make her own connections, direct her own learning and follow her own approach.

It started in November last year.  I was planning my youngest daughter’s new year of schooling.  I had prayed.  I had a few ideas lined up and my blank Overview Planner sheet on my clipboard.  I simply asked Miss. L11 what she would like to learn.  She enthusiastically requested that we do more Science, and she especially wanted to do experiments.  She asked to study Astronomy, do Nature Study, learn Geography, and participate in Sketch Tuesday. She selected the Bible study program and themes she wanted to do this year.  I had created an amazing Unit Study/ Lapbook/ activity pack for Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne which she was excited to start with me. (I can’t wait to share more with you all… but that will have to wait for another post! ) Around the World1

As we started our official homeschool lessons, I laid out her course materials and gave her a brief “bird’s-eye view” of each subject.  She was so thrilled that she jumped off her chair and ran to hug me.  “Thank you! Thank you, Mommy!” she kissed me.  I sat stunned by her response.

Now, several months later, we are having a blast!  She does her own Science experiments!  Sometimes 3 or 4 a day … sometimes every day!  I have had to scratch around for more books and ideas.  It is such fun!  Now and then I ask her to make “proper” scientific notebook notes, but mostly she enthusiastically tells me what she noticed and discovered. Science Experiments

In our Bible times, I have discovered that she enjoys preparing the lessons, like our Easter hands-on activities.Easter15

For Art, she  decides which painting she narrates, and which artwork and medium she paints.

Some days we do not have any tangible evidence of our lessons.  There are days with no notebook pages!  But, boy, we are learning!

Despite all my fun suggestions in the Around the World in 80 Days Unit Study, I noticed that my daughter became rather lack-luster.  She wanted to act out the story.  She had suggested this, but I had ignored her … yep, I’m still in control.  I wanted to do my activities.  When I finally agreed to let her act out a scene, we  had an incredible time!

  • We “climbed out of the steamer ship (we got off her bed where we sat reading in the sunshine)
  • clambered into a row-boat (sat in her rocking chair) and rowed to the quay (we had looked up this new word and listened to the correct pronunciation on my smart phone dictionary beforehand)
  • We maneuvered our way through the crowds on the wharfs (and she described all the characters and different people in the story who were “in our way”)
  • Finally we made it to the British Consulate (at the kitchen doorway) and we had our passports visaed (she pasted the stamps in the passport)

Our story had come alive — literally!

Working one-on-one with my child allows for any and every kind of creative flow.  It has made our school times absolutely amazing — way more than I could have invented!

I loved Celeste’s post –  “The Living Page :: How to Be an “Awakener and the mother’s role in “masterly inactivity”

Charlotte Mason says:

“‘Masterly Inactivity.’––A blessed thing in our mental constitution is, that once we receive an idea, it will work itself out, in thought and act, without much after-effort on our part; and, if we admit the idea of ‘masterly inactivity’ as a factor in education, we shall find ourselves framing our dealings with children from this standpoint, without much conscious effort.” (Volume 3, p. 28)

Celeste expounds, “So masterly inactivity is something the teacher does, not the student.  It’s a small but important distinction.  The teacher restrains herself and stands aside, letting the child make his own connections, form his own ideas, and progress toward self-education.  Outside of lessons, that means the teacher leaves the child to his own interests and play for part of the day; during lessons, the teacher makes a point of stepping back at times to let the child take possession of the ideas presented for himself.
She is not involved in the digestion of ideas; she doesn’t do the child’s mind-work for him.  She doesn’t force connections–she lets the student build his own.  She doesn’t coax, cajole, bribe, or use other methods of persuasion or suggestion.  She makes sure to let the child alone when necessary.  She doesn’t try to determine and guide every part of the student’s learning experience in order to get a particular result.  She must practice self-control to keep herself from intervening.”
It seems that unschooling in the sense of delight-directed, child-led learning is not such a frightful concept!  It fits the Charlotte Mason approach perfectly!  The more I learn as we go along this amazing homeschool journey, and the more I trust the Lord’s leading, the less it looks like school-at-home-taught-by-ex-school-teacher-mom … and it is wonderful!  For everyone!
I realize that I must simply facilitate my children.  I need to know their learning styles and strengths, and provide the necessary tools, mediums, methods, skills and opportunities for them to develop and discover in their own way.
Although I charter the course, set up the goals, create some of the activities, I need to allow my child to steer the ship, pull into unscheduled ports and scenic stops, spend longer here, and move on quicker there.  We may even toss stuff overboard that weighs us down!
Wishing you the very happiest letting-go!

14 thoughts on “Child-led Learning Fits Charlotte Mason?

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  8. Sorry, forgot to say that I don’t unschool to the full sense of the word, but I give them the choice of topics, other than language and math, and then I try to facilitate with regards to their learning style. But if they prefer to build a crocodile with Lego instead of drawing a crocodile, or they decide that they are going to live out a whole scene in the bush where they want to watch a crocodile and then tell me about the habitat, etc. instead of writing or just tell me what I told them, then I let them. My oldest is now 7yrs and crazy about reptiles, especially crocodiles (at the moment). The youngest is 5yrs and in (a little bit of) awe of his brother, so he tags along and plays with. He wanted to learn more about countries and people of the world, so I introduced Expedition Earth. Anyway… thanks again for your article.


    • @elizevdm, you confirm your heart’s leading … and your children seem to be flourishing in the flexible and freeing approach you are using. May your homeschool journey continue to unfold and bless you and your family in every way! Blessings!


  9. Thanks again Nadene, this article was an answer to prayer. I have been trying to “let go” and let my boys lead the way and they blossomed, but the panick sets in when you see they struggle a bit with reading, and you wonder, and then you are pressured by (well meaning, but unhappy) family to push and force your child to learn to read, etc. etc. Now we are back at learning in their own way and enjoying it, and yes! it is amazing to realise just how much is being taken in and absorbed.


  10. Timely post for me–I’ve been leaning the same direction. Recently gave a vague “pick a topic for a project” suggestion and kids have taken off!


    • @Heather, it is fabulous to see our children’s enthusiasm when we give them choices! I don’t “unschool” my child like the unschooling folks do (I’m a bit too scared to go the whole way), but I still present her with the options, and she can decide what she wants to do. Perhaps I’m working in the ‘middle’ ground in facilitating her choices, but still providing my child with the general direction … figuring this out as I go along! [smiles]


  11. Wow, I love this post. It has come to me at the right time. The past few months, we have moved more towards “unschooling” than anything else. We still do our academic subjects like Math and Reading and a bit of grammar and dictation but with mostly everything else, I let my kids lead. It’s been a confusing and enlightening journey. There are days when I feel like a failure and wonder if I’m leading my kids astray and then other days when I’m astounded at what my kids can learn on their own. Like today, my 15-year old son is going through a university level computer programming course instead of the very dry Science curriculum for his grade which he hates. I feel regret for spending all that money on a curriculum for him which isn’t working yet I’m astounded at how well he can comprehend university level work with something he is passionate about. I’m more and more leaning towards the unschooling approach although at times it goes against logic and my own conditioning, coming from a public school education and working in a very formal curriculum as a teacher’s assistant as an adult. I worry that I’m taking the lazy approach.

    There are many times when I think my kids are doing nothing and just playing but then the things that come out their mouths prove otherwise. They know things about life that go beyond my own knowledge. Yes sure, I do worry that they don’t write enough. They’re not used to the very formal, stiff education of lots of worksheets and essays. They don’t do Afrikaans. There are some days when I’m a battle axe. I don’t like those days when I feel so inadequate and take it out on my kids. But, I pray and I’m believing for God to lead us every step of the way.

    I love the way you let your daughter lead the learning according to her own style. I want to get to that point where I’m less controlling and more trusting. I want to worry less and believe more.


    • @Kathy, thank you for sharing your heart. I sat nodding, agreeing and identifying with your fears and frustrations as I read your comment. Every home and family is unique, and each child is perfectly individual. It is wonderful to be able to learn to trust, lead, facilitate, support and encourage each child as they grow and learn. Sadly, I have found that towards the final 3 high school years, so much formal education creeps in as teenagers prepare to “fit the system’s requirements”. So, while children are young, they should LOVE to learn and cultivate an excitement in discovery and expression of their giftings and abilities.
      Be encouraged. The Lord loves to help us trust and believe more and more! Blessings.


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