Short lessons are instrumental in a Charlotte Mason homeschool and will prove to be what keeps focus and attention in each lesson for your children. It is also the key to getting all your subjects covered during a week, and giving your children a well balanced education which could also include the arts.
Short Lessons: The Charlotte Mason Way
Does your Charlotte Mason homeschool feel overwhelmed and missing something, but you haven’t really been able to put your finger on it? If you haven’t been implementing the short lessons, based on age, then you may just be surprised just how amazing this one element of the Charlotte Mason way can really do for your homeschool.
There has been a few times in our nearly twenty years of homeschooling that I have swayed from the short lessons, and I can always see that it was during this time that stress and frustration made its way into our homeschool days.
Our children lose attention and focus when lessons drag on, and once that happens, the quality of work goes out the door with it as well. One of the things that is so important in a Charlotte Mason homeschool is to be sure that you are focusing on quality over quantity, and keeping a call to excellence in your children’s assignments.
I have found that it is always best to train my children to focus using a timer with a set time for each subject that he or she is working on. Depending on your child’s personality, you may need to stress that the timer isn’t to stress them out, but to help then remain focused on the task in front of them.
When I first introduce the timer, I sit with my child and cover the timer. My presence is more of an accountability to them, then the timer itself. At times, I make it feel like a game and remind them to see if they can ‘beat the clock’ while doing their best work.
If I see their attention drifting, I will simply look at the timer and remind them how much time as gone by and remind them to concentrate. If one of my children struggle with a subject, and stress about the time restrains, I offer them the concentration oil to help them conquer their hurtle.
As my children grow, their time changes (more about that in a moment). When I see that this time is coming close for longer lesson times, but still short lessons, I ask them to set them timer for the amount of time they feel they could get the task done. It has been amazing to see that they may only increase the task 3 to 5 minutes on their own, even if more is required from them.
As always, the goal is for the child to do their best work, not their best time.
The timer is there to help you as the teacher train the child in concentration, focus and attention, while staying true to the Charlotte Mason method of short lessons. Your whole family will learn to love these short lessons, and the accountability of a timer because it only helps to open up more time for outdoor exploring, physical play or even creative play or handicrafts.
What did Charlotte Mason mean when she said ‘Short Lessons’?
Let’s look closer at what Charlotte Mason meant when she said ‘short lessons’ and how to assign the times to each of your children, based on their age (or skill).
Charlotte Mason believed that children should be able to finish their assignments with the time allowed, and that only with children ages 14 and up, should additional time be given in way of ‘home work’ that would be part of the evening hours if not finished during the lesson time during the day.
The one thing that I love most about the Charlotte Mason homeschool is that it is so balanced, and exposes a child to so many opportunities to ignite interested often lost to children that attend a brick and mortar school because of the work load on the children.
What has worked for me, as we have implemented the Charlotte Mason method from preschool through high school, is to focus on one subject for 5-10 minutes at the beginning of their formal lessons.
I would do this by watching my child and looking for signs of losing full concentration and attention to the lesson. This will be different for each child, based on their skills and needs. If they were beginning to sigh, or wiggle more, it was a good indication that I was losing their attention for that subject.
I would make a written or mental note of their attention span for that subject, before moving to the next one, and making the same notes for each subject, for each child.
My goal was to build their attention more and more through each year, while cementing a habit of excellence in their work.
Charlotte Mason reference this best when teaching a child to write the alphabet. She would expect them to write the whole thing in the time span allowed them based on their age. Instead, she was focused on them making their best A’s, or B’s only, even if it were only a few letters in a 5 minute window, verses a full page of poorly written letters in the same time.
This same principle plays through to all subjects.
As the child grew, and matured in their attention, more time was given based on their grade or skill level.
Math could be done in 5-10 minutes when formal learning first started, and would increase to 15-20 within two years or so, then by middle school be up to 20-30 minutes, and at high school up to 45 minutes.
This is about the same for each subject, however I have heard of some families instituting a number of minutes per year for reading daily. A reading 1st grader could read for 20 minutes from one book, and then narrate in between (or at the end if good narration skills were formed), and then each year added 5-10 minutes of reading.
In all of my years of homeschooling different personalities, skill levels and genders, I have found that by evaluating each child based on their own individual skills for what short lessons mean to them, that I found the right formula for our family.
If you are teaching high school ages, you may want to discuss their lesson times with them personally. You will have to do a certain number of hours a week to earn a credit hour, but what we found to be true with our high schoolers is that they would prefer to work for 1 1/2 hours on a subject verses two – 45 minutes twice a week.
I always gave our high schoolers the opportunity to work on personalizing their lesson scheduled, as long as they demonstrated concentration and excellent work weekly.