Laurie Duckworth, Christy Hissong, and Anne Phillips – three seasoned homeschooling parents who are passionate about sharing this wonderful method of education with your family!
You might be wondering– how can Oak Cottage help your family live out a Charlotte Mason education? And how did we get here ourselves? So we’d like to share our own homeschooling journeys with you. Can you relate to our stories?
As a high school student, I discovered and read Susan Schaeffer Macauley’s For the Children’s Sake. I was fascinated, and it woke me up to what education could be! So when I began homeschooling ten years later, I was prepared. I’d read Karen Andreola’s The Charlotte Mason Companion, much of the Charlotte Mason six-volume series, and almost every article on the Ambleside Online website. I had a CM-approved math program and child-sized art cards. I was comfortably certain our school time would include a lot of rich literature, classical music, and picture studies. I was eager to read Shakespeare stories and teach my children poetry. In addition, we’d spend plenty of time outside becoming familiar with birds and wildlife, and identifying wildflowers and plants on our walks together.
That was the goal. Over the years, my four children and I did read hundreds of books together and I’ll give myself a pat on the back for that. But what happened to the so much of the rest of the beautiful Charlotte Mason vision I’d had for our homeschool?
Well, life. In my idealism I hadn’t realized how many hours would be involved in the basics of education: teaching a child to read (times four, and one of these with a learning issue), teaching math skills (times four), or how often narrations would be interrupted by the sudden realization that a toddler was much too quiet—and probably up to no good. If I took the time to work through a history lesson with an older child, as I badly wanted to do, there would have to be compromises. Dinner might be late, the baby had to go into the playpen, or the living room went unvacuumed again. I lived in a near-constant state of guilt over not living up to my own expectations.
I never stopped wanting the same things I’d begun with, but I couldn’t achieve them at home on my own. My husband worked a demanding job with a lot of travel and wasn’t available to help. I didn’t have relatives nearby who could help pick up the slack, and something had to give. It couldn’t be the basics, and it couldn’t always be the living room carpet. What fell by the wayside out of sheer necessity? The trimmings of a Charlotte Mason education.
And we were all lonely. I knew the kids and I needed the accountability and companionship of working together with other homeschooling families. We joined a local classical coop, which was the best choice at the time and one I don’t regret. But what I kept wanting for my children was community along with the paradox that is a Charlotte Mason education: Great Books and the time to digest them.
I couldn’t forget my earlier vision, but why couldn’t I move on? After all, hadn’t my older two children excelled in college? They had. Didn’t all four of them love to learn? They did. But I’d also learned something about life along the way. The things that I let go in homeschooling—poetry and Scripture memorization, great music, art, and literature, studying the beauty of God’s creation—these things fill a storehouse to draw on, in good times and bad. These “extras” were not extra to me. They contributed greatly to my happiness as an adult.
With joy, I’m returning to the Charlotte Mason method, this time in community and with much more experience and education behind me. During my time in the classical coop, I discovered I loved teaching groups of children, and I have a unique perspective to share. Over my adult life, I’ve had the great privilege of traveling overseas a dozen times. These trips have reinforced my passion for history and geography, and expanded my interest in art and music history. They’ve also inspired me to write two children’s novels (The Lizard Garden, and Verbania Treasure). I love learning alongside my students at Oak Cottage.
At one point in my life, I was the child of six parents! Knowing this about me will make it easy to see why the idea of marriage and children were nowhere in my future! I was smart, motivated and eager to make my career my whole life. Graduating from Texas A&M with an engineering degree seemed to be the final step in laying the foundation for my lifetime goals.
After being hired by Texas Eastman and working two years in my chosen field of Safety Engineering, I was ripped from my beloved position and dumped into the Training Department. Aaaahhhh!! There was NO JOY in this move, and I was ready to quit. But to my astonishment I found that I LOVED this job! From leading problem-solving, stress management and decision-making classes to developing coursework and building curriculum – I loved being in the thick of it!
It was there, between Engineering and Training, that I was swept off my feet by my “knight in shining armor” who was not afraid to walk into my extended family’s messy world and love me enough to convince me to marry him. Two years later, our first child was born. Isn’t it strange how God works? As this new life was coming into the world, I was moving into a new world, too. Since I was “low man on the totem pole,” I was laid off by Eastman.
Determined to keep my hands on the fulfilling career I had longed for all my life, I decided to use my skills as an independent consultant. After one year of attempting to wear the hats of wife, mother, business owner and consultant, I realized I had bitten off more than I could chew and this, too, was set aside.
Little did I know that this was the beginning of yet another LOVE of my life. As a full-time mother, I found myself deeply immersed in the world of learning. What a thrill to be there alongside my three children savoring every moment of discovery and wonder! Here we began the beautiful world of homeschooling. From the My Father’s World and Five In a Row programs, I discovered my favorite and final destination: The educational ideas of Charlotte Mason.
It was a delight to find that the local Charlotte Mason Support Group moms were as lovely as this method of education! At my first meeting, they all set aside the materials they had prepared and spent the entire evening answering MY questions! We shut down the restaurant and moved outside to continue our discussions. Even the rain that later began to pour could NOT stop these ladies! We simply moved to a covered outside dining area and continued the most beautiful flow of inspiration, information and laughter far into the night! Their support, friendship and passion for this method of learning have molded and shaped my life ever since.
It’s easy to see how it was LOVE at first sight with Charlotte Mason for me! This method is where everything I had learned in corporate training, church teaching and homeschooling came together in perfect harmony. So far from the career I thought I wanted, over the last 23 years I have been immersed in the world of learning and have been blessed to find my feet set in an ever-growing “large room.” I look forward to sharing this beautiful way of living with your child!
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” So said Charles William Eliot, a leading academic and former president of Harvard. I couldn’t agree more. I grew up in a literature-rich home, surrounded by bookshelves and parents who loved reading aloud, learning and discussing big ideas. In high school I discovered a love of writing and speaking, and earning my degree in Public Speaking was the perfect fit. After college I worked in Washington, DC for several years as a legislative and regulatory liaison for the banking industry, and loved attending Congressional hearings, White House press conferences, and Federal Reserve meetings. Although my life was busy and full, I still found plenty of time for reading (thanks to a 4-hour daily commute). My husband and I wanted to start a family, but knew the hectic life we were living didn’t mesh well with that goal. When he was offered a position in Kingsport, TN, we leapt at the chance and immediately knew we had come home.
Before our son was even born we dreamed of educating him at home: Experiencing through his eyes the joy of learning to read, watching as he discovered the wonders of nature, and seeing his spirit blossom as his character gradually formed. I explored numerous educational philosophies, methodologies, and curricula but something was always missing. Where was the joy? Where was the wonder? I well remember the night I was forlornly searching the internet for the answer to those questions and stumbled upon an educator and a website: Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online. Little did I know how my world was about to be shaken!
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on everything Charlotte Mason ever wrote and quickly devoured her six-volume series of educational philosophy. Here was a woman after my own heart who believed that knowledge is passed, like the light of a torch, from mind to mind, through “living books” of high literary quality containing worthy and inspiring ideas. Here was a visionary who believed the main point of teaching any subject was for the joy and wonder inherent to the subject itself. Mason said, “The question is not – how much does the youth know? When he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
I joined our local Charlotte Mason homeschool support group and soon began leading the discussions as we read and grappled with the ideas in her writings. We formed a co-op for our families so we could share this beautiful way of learning together. I began attending Charlotte Mason educational conferences and retreats where I found myself surrounded by a community of like-minded souls. Since then I’ve been privileged to speak and lead discussions at these conferences, guide other homeschooling parents as they plan out their educational feasts, and serve as a moderator on the Ambleside Online Forum. Each day I learn a little more and have a little more to share with my son and other families seeking to implement a “living” education.
My son is now approaching high school where he’ll continue to actively engage with ideas of the past and present – not just reading about them, but evaluating them, tracing their development, and comparing them to other philosophies and opinions. I firmly believe that a huge part of a good education is being able to articulate one’s thoughts and beliefs to others clearly and to be able to defend them coherently, and the more opportunities we have for interaction with others, the more developed those skills can become. That’s one of the many reasons I’m thrilled to be part of the Oak Cottage community sharing this beautiful journey with your children.