The Life-giving Habit of Mother Culture

Mother culture

There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth.

from “Mother Culture” by “A.” in The Parents’ Review, vol. 3, no. 2, pgs. 92-95

I had never heard the term “mother culture” until about two years ago when I was listening to Leah Boden talk about it in one of her Periscope broadcasts. At the time, I was knee deep in the duties of caring for a young infant—diapering, nursing, feeding, bathing, soothing, and all the rest. I was also in the infant stages of homeschooling our son, and that in itself felt like a full time job. The rest of life did not stop, either, just because I had many demands at home. There were outside commitments snd situations that also depleted my physical and emotional energy. I was definitely feeling “used up” in those days!

Thankfully, since I had so much time to sit while nursing a baby, I started to read during those many hours each day. I don’t remember how intentional I was about it at first, but I knew I needed to give my mind something more nourishing to chew on than Facebook, Instagram and random blogs. I am not sure I had read Brandy Vencel’s wonderful post on Mother Culture then, but if not then, I know I read it sometime not too much later. She does a great job of pulling the meat from that article in the PR magazine from which I quoted earlier and distilling it down to give us a good working definition of this thing called “mother culture.”

Basically, mother culture is another way of saying that we as home educators, and arguably, even parents who do not keep their children home for their schooling, must continue to education ourselves even as we teach our children. If we do not, our minds will certainly stagnate, and lapse into unhealthy patterns of thinking. I do wonder if I had developed this habit of mother culture when my first child was born, perhaps I would have lessened the degree of my postpartum depression. We will never know, I guess, but I certainly believe it helped keep me out of the doldrums with my second baby! And now that my children are older and learning and growing in their education, wide reading and other habits of self-education are important for me to continue feeding my mind and growing as I pour out to teach and train them. Perhaps this will become even more crucial as they enter the high school years and are encountering books and ideas that I never had the chance to explore in my own formal education (Latin, for example).

There is no education but self-education.

Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.

Charlotte Mason

If the above statement about self-education are true for our children, how much more so are they true for us as adults, when we are no longer under a formal course of study? It seems that as mothers we must form habits of tending our own minds and hearts as much as we help tend to those of our children. Also, even though the original article on Mother Culture only mentions wide reading, I do think that these habits of self-education extend to other areas of study. I have found for myself that it is equally life-giving to practice handwriting, drawing, nature study, and watercolor as to read a book. It is refreshing to my soul when I listen with attention to an opera or symphony, when I knit or crochet or do needlework, and when I commonplace quotes from my own reading. The important thing is to do something which is expanding my mind and my skills, not mention my own habit of attention, so that I do not stagnate or drain myself dry.

So now I want to encourage you, whether you are in the toddler years, or the teen years, do something that gives life to your mind and soul. Read a stretching book to challenge you to think deeply. Learn a new skill to do with your hands. Take in a piece of art or music, paying close attention to the beauty in its details. Walk out in nature and take notes on what you find. Whatever small habits you can begin to cultivate your own education, I do believe that developing your own mother culture will be well worth the effort! What will you do to fill yourself up today?

Podcast Round-Up: Classical Charlotte Mason Education Edition

Here we are back at last with the second post in my Podcast Round-up series! If you are a podcast addict like me, you are always looking for new listening material. And if you are anywhere on the classical homeschooling spectrum, you are going to love this list!

If you missed the first post in my Podcast Round-up series, it was focussed on some of my favorite podcasts for homeschool mom encouragement. This time around, I am narrowing that focus even more to podcasts specifically geared toward the subject of Classical, Charlotte Mason style home education. Some of these are more for the purpose of the mother’s education (I’m looking at you, Close Reads and Scholé Sisters!), while others are a bit more in the vein of how to actually teach using a classical or Charlotte Mason approach. In the end, though, that’s all educational for the homeschooling mom, no? I highly encourage you to give these folks a listen and let me know which ones are your favorites!

Circe Institute Podcast: Close Reads with David Kern, Angelina Stanford and Tim MacIntosh

The Classical Homeschool with Jennifer Dow and Ashley Woleben
The Delectable Education Podcast with Emily Kaiser, Nicole Williams, Liz Cotrill
The Simply Convivial Audio Blog with Mystie Winkler
AfterCast, an AfterThoughts audio blog with Brandy Vencel
Scholé Sisters with Brandy Vencel, Pam Barnhill and Mystie Winkler

It’s your turn! What are your podcast recommendations for mother’s education or classical Charlotte Mason homeschool helps? Did I miss any? Please leave me a comment and let me know!

The Reading Report, Vol. 2

Welcome to Volume 2 of “The Reading Report!” I am so glad to have you here to discuss books and reading with me! In Volume 1 I listed all the books I have read over the past year or so, but now I am ready to write about my current reads. So fix your favorite beverage, pull up a chair and let’s chat about books, shall we?

What I am currently reading. . .

First up, because it is the book I was reading most recently, is The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I started this one to participate in a discussion group on the AmblesideOnline Forums, and it has been really helpful to read along with other people. We are reading it very slowly, just one “book” every month, which is good because it is pretty meaty. At first I had a hard time keeping all the characters and their relationships to each other straight, but now that we are halfway through, I feel a lot more comfortable with all that. I am still trying to figure out how I feel about this book. I like it, but not in the same way I like, say, Pride and Prejudice. The Brothers Karamazov is the first Russian novel I have read, and the pacing and structure is very different from my usual reading. I am finding that I do not always understand the deeper themes and ideas that are being developed in the conversations alongside the plot, but I decided that for my first reading, I don’t need to worry about that. I am just trying to enjoy the ride and see it through to the end, which should not be too hard since I really am curious to find out what happens to the various characters!

The other fiction I am actually really reading right now is Brideshead RevisitedThis is another read inspired by a group discussion, this time on the Close Reads podcast from CiRCE. I find it interesting that this is one of several books I have read this year that are either during or shortly after World War 1. This was a time period I have virtually no knowledge of, but reading fiction from that era of history has given me a desire to know more. The prose in Brideshead Revisited is truly some of the most beautiful I have ever encountered. Waugh is a master wordsmith. I have also really benefited from the podcast discussion as it has helped bring out a lot of ideas I would have otherwise missed because I am so new to the concept of reading closely.

In non-fiction, which is usually my weak spot, I am dipping into three different parenting books right now, all of which I have enjoyed and gleaned wisdom from thus far: Heartfelt Discipline by Clay Clarkson, Grase-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel, and Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake. I will write in more detail about each of these later when I have gotten closer to finishing them!

What I have finished reading recently. . .

I actually FINISHED a whole book! And in just one short week, too! It has been a while since I read through something that quickly. I am on the launch team for a brand new book called More Than Just Making It by blogger Erin Odum of The Humbled Homemaker. I will have a post dedicated to my book summary and review, but suffice to say that it was an excellent read! Part memoire, part practical tips on how to go from financial frustration to financial freedom. If you are at all interested in getting the book, I highly recommend you check out the preorder bonuses because they are amazing!

What’s on the back burner. . .

So, I sometimes have a problem with a little “start-itis” in which I begin reading too many books at a time. Some of the books I was gung-ho to start in the winter and spring have had to take a back seat. I fully intend to read them in the very near future, but for now I just don’t have the bandwidth for them. Back burner books, in no particular order, are: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (I was mostly listening to this on audio, but probably need to switch to print because I was tuning it out too easily); Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (again listening on audio); Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (another audio book I haven’t had time for); The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain; and A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola.

I was considering sharing a bit of my “To Be Read” list, but I think this volume is quite long enough already! What are you reading right now? Have you finished any great books lately? I wouldn’t mind adding a few more titles to my own wishlist! 😉

Homeschool Basics Series, Pt. 2: How We Homeschool

Welcome to Part 2 of my Homeschool Basics series, “How We Homeschool.” If you missed Part 1, “Why We Homeschool,” you can go back and read that post now, then head on back here when you are finished!

I cannot tell you how many times I tried to start writing this post. The theme seemed simple enough. I just wanted to write about what style or method we are currently using in our homeschool. But for some reason I kept trying to come at it from the angle of retelling our journey and how we got where we are today, and that was just not working. But I still do want to tell that story, just some other time. So, without further ado, let’s dive in to how our family is home educating!

 We are human beings, persons, created to live. To have life more abundantly. Wonder together; grow together. Together share the struggles of knowing we cannot perfectly follow God’s law. We are fellow pilgrims. We walk side by side as human beings under the love and authority of Him who made us.

~Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake

If you are familiar with the book For the Children’s Sake, you may have already guessed our preferred approach to homeschool. In it, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay discusses her own family’s journey to finding the Charlotte Mason method of education for their children. And that is the method we have chosen as well. If you have not heard of Charlotte Mason before, she was a British educator, teacher trainer, and author in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Miss Mason looked at the trends of the education system at the time and felt that they were not truly meeting the needs or the abilities of student, nor their God-given human nature. So she set out to craft a philosophy and methods based on both classical and modern insights. She then trained parents and teachers to use these ideas and methods with the children under their own tutelage. With the advent of the internet, Charlotte Mason’s own writing as well as several curricula are now readily available to today’s homeschool families as well!

What I love about Charlotte Mason education:

  • The emphasis on valuing the relationships and persons in the home classroom, not just the academic material.
  • The basis of texts called “living books” and hands on materials forming the curriculum rather than textbooks or workbooks.
  • The centrality of the fine arts (music, visual arts, poetry and plays) as parts of the curriculum rather than extra-curriculars.
  • The importance of nature study and time outdoors observing and interacting with creation as a foundation for the sciences.
  • The foundation in biblical Christian principles (although there are many secular CM-style homeschoolers out there, as well!)

Miss Mason’s ideas were both rooted in her understanding of classical education from the Greeks and Romans to Medieval times, as well as forward thinking using the latest theories in child development. When I look at the list above, it makes me chuckle because Mason was a huge proponent of a “multi-sensory” approach to learning before that was even a buzzword!

If you are interested in learning more about the Charlotte Mason method and her philosophy of education, there are a few great online resources you should check out.

  1. This fabulous (and free!) website has not only the full text of Mason’s 6 volumes (her books on education) available to read online, as well as modern paraphrases of each, but also a vast number of articles published by her magazine “The Parents Review.” Even more than that, AmblesideOnline has a complete curriculum for FREE online! This is the curriculum we have been using over the past year, and I absolutely love it. Another great resource is the AmblesideOnline forum, where you can ask questions and have discussions with other AO parents, including the amazing women who created the curriculum in the first place. I really cannot say enough good things about AO!
  2. Charlotte Mason Institute: CMI seeks to promote education about Charlotte Mason and her principles to people all over the world. They host conference and retreats, have an informational blog and also have a new curriculum for sale. Although I personally have not used many resources offered by CMI, I know many homeschool families find it to be a help.
  3. Simply Charlotte Mason: Another great place to find not only information about Charlotte Mason education, but also curriculum for sale, as well as a discussion forum for parents using their curriculum.
  4. Charlotte Mason in Community: This is a little different than the previous 3 resources in that it is no much a place to get information, but rather a place to find other CM families in your local area. Whether you are looking for a nature group, book study group, or just a group to get together and chat with while your kids play at the park, this is one of the first place to check and see if there is a CM community established near you!

Those are just the beginning of the wealth of knowledge that is out there for those of us trying to incorporate Mason’s principles into our homes and lives. Sometime I will probably write a post including my favorite podcasts, blogs and other places online to get inspiration for a classical, living books education at home. But I think that will be all for today.

Thanks for joining me here at Tuning Hearts today! See you back here again next week for Part 3 of our Homeschool Basics Series all about how we schedule our year. In the mean time, I would love to hear from you about what style of homeschooling you follow!

P.S.–There are now a couple of new printings of Miss Mason’s original volumes available for purchase! One is from Simply Charlotte Mason, and the other is available via Amazon, reprinted by Living Books Press.

Read the next post in this series, Year-Round Schooling, here.