Monday, August 31, 2015

Keeping My Balance: What I Learned from AO Year One

Some things just have to be learned through experience. I knew that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. And yet, somehow I became consumed with getting through all the Ambleside Online readings and ticking all the boxes on my weekly checklist. I got so busy with "life" --the broad curriculum of living books -- that I began to neglect the other two-thirds of education: the atmosphere of our home and the discipline of habit.

Charlotte Mason compares the education we offer our children to a feast of ideas. A feast is a joyous meal, beautiful and satisfying. A feast is not meant to be crammed down one's throat. And yet I sometimes felt like I was dragging my oldest son to the feast to force feed him every day. I needed to stop and take stock.

At a conference this year I heard Sonya Shafer present a basic introduction to Charlotte Mason and her ideas. One of them was "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." Shafer compared this to a three-legged chair. It was such a simple idea, and yet it arrested me. I thought of my last year of homeschooling and realized that my chair was unbalanced.

I know, everyone has bad days once in a while. But my interactions with SA were beginning to be characterized by conflict as I tried to pull him through his lessons each day. I had to realize that this new conflict in our relationship was becoming the atmosphere that was educating my child. I also had to realize that a few new good habits formed could change the dynamics completely.

A Charlotte Mason education is not about making sure all your curriculum's boxes are ticked. Curriculum is a tool in your hands as you educate your child. It is not your master. It is okay to slow down or even stop to deal with another aspect of your child's education.

I was not ready to hear this idea when I first read Christy Hissong's post on Scheduling for Peace at Afterthoughts last year. She quoted Nancy Kelly: "Keep cutting back until there is peace in your home." At the time, I skimmed over it and vaguely thought, "But how would I get everything done, then?"

I didn't really get that Ambleside Online is meant to be only a tool to help me implement a Charlotte Mason education. I know, it says it right there on the website, in bold letters, explained several times! I seem to remember Charlotte Mason saying that even a good method can be turned into a system, and that's what I was doing. I was crossing all my AO checkboxes, but I was losing my balance.

I'm sure this is a lesson that I will learn over and over again. I know what to do now, though. In the midst of a multitude of details of education in daily life, I need to keep going back to the principles I believe in. I need to ask myself, again and again over the course of this homeschooling life, "Is what I'm doing true to my principles?"

Practically speaking, this has meant that I have slowed the pace down a little now at the beginning of Year Two. I am trying to be more mindful of good habits that need to be formed, one at a time. I am more conscious of the atmosphere in the relationships within our home.

Some of you are reading this and wondering how I will get it all done now, how we will read all the books, how we will get through all the curriculum. My answer is that it doesn't matter quite as much to me now. We will continue to walk through it at the pace that works for us. We will probably not skip could we miss any of these wonderful books?! It may be, though, that in the end we will not end up completing all the years AO offers, and that will be okay.

This is the lesson I learned as a homeschool mom from Ambleside Online Year One:
Don't let the need to get everything done rob you of the balance of atmosphere, discipline, and life.