Monday, March 20, 2017

My Grand (Unrealistic?) Charlotte Mason Outdoor Life Challenge!

The more I've been reading Charlotte Mason on "The Out-of-Door Life for the Children," the more I've been thinking.

March branches

This emphasis on outdoor life and nature study was one of the major attractions of the Charlotte Mason method for me in the first place. I've always loved nature. (Well, maybe not the bugs, as those of you who know me well can attest to!) I've known its power in my own life, both as a child in the wilds of the Northwest Territories, and as an adult now in Prince Edward Island. I'm convinced of the need for our family to be more connected with the natural world, and this not only from Charlotte Mason, but from others. I've seen the crippling effects of what Richard Louv calls "Nature Deficit Disorder," and I do not want this for my kids.

And I've been thinking, what would I look back on and wish we had done more of this year? More math? More narration? More read-alouds? (All good things, yes.) What element of a CM education would I kick myself most for not fully trying to implement?

I keep coming back to this: outdoor life.

Yes, that involves "nature study," but it's so much more than that. Mason's vision goes way beyond a once-a-week nature walk. (And yes, I'll admit, there are weeks we haven't even done that. Many weeks. Try most of the winter!) I don't want to get the guilt train going for anyone. But when I think about what I really want for our family, and what I'm really willing to put some effort into, it's outdoor life.

Ah, the wonder of spring... coming soon to a backyard near you.

Much as I love nature, I also have bookworm tendencies. Bookworms like cozy fires, in my experience, and warm mugs of coffee. Indoor inertia can set in all too easily. It's nice in here, after all, with our blankets and books, and coffee and books, and computers and books...

But I know there's more! And I want more! How much more?

Well, that's actually a scary question, because I know Charlotte Mason's answer. Gulp.

Let me quote:

"'I make a point,' says a judicious mother, 'of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months.' That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October. 'Impossible!' says an over-wrought mother who sees her way to no more for her children that a daily hour or so on the pavements of the neighbouring London squares."

Impossible! says an over-wrought mother with a baby who needs a nap, and kids who need clean underwear (again!), and a family that needs supper on time, and errands to run in town, and Facebook to check . . . not to mention Canadian "spring."

This was last April at the beach. Oh boy, we look cold!

WHAT?!? Charlotte, are you kidding me? FOUR TO SIX HOURS?!? You have no idea what my life is like.

{Insert firm but kind British voice here}

"Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them."


To be honest, if this was just a "Charlotte Mason thing," or me wanting to uphold the purity of some hundred year old method, it would probably not be enough to get me in the business of wonder working. But, like I said, it's not just Charlotte Mason. She's just one more voice encouraging me in the direction I think we need to go.

Let me say that I am quite interested in Charlotte Mason's particular method of living the outdoor life and educating the children in nature study. I feel like I want to give it my best shot, her way, and see what comes of it. However, I make no promises. (FOUR TO SIX HOURS?!?)

And I am actually rather hesitant to put myself out there (here) and announce to my half dozen readers my grand plan of nature study. BUT, I'm doing it in the hopes of some accountability, if only for myself.

So, this is what I'm thinking. Our next, and final, term of this our inaugural year of formal lessons begins in April, which also just so happens to coincide with that whole "April to October" guideline of Ms. Mason's. (Weather differences between the UK and Canada aside. At least we have the "tolerably fine day" clause to fall back on. Phew.)

We are going to begin our very own "Charlotte Mason Outdoor Life Challenge" from April till June. Yay! 

(Just so you know, I am literally making this up as I type.)

Looking ahead to June green. . . 

The Challenge will include the following goals:

1. Spend a portion of our day outside together. 

(Note, I did not say spend 4-6 hours outside every day! At least not at first!) Part of this will be for free play, and part of it for learning, or "nature study," gradually implementing more of Charlotte Mason's methods as we go.

2. Have a snack or lunch outside on fine weather days. 

This is one way Ms. Mason suggested upping the outdoor hours and increasing joy in our lives as a family. As long as the scary bugs stay away, I should be ok...

3. Dust off the nature journals and make regular entries. 

We haven't made many entries since last fall. I make no commitment to dry-brushing or any particular technique. Only to developing the habit of regularly recording our observations. (I would love to learn, but I also know that my learning curve has its limits! Slow and steady wins the race, to quote a tortoise.)

4. Make outdoor play our default play. 

I have a hunch that going out to play will reduce the amount of tidying needed in the house! Bonus! As well as providing the kids (and myself) with the many benefits of outdoor play, of course.

5. Continue my own nature education. 

I will continue reading through Ms. Mason's thoughts on the subject, as well as choosing one nature study book that I will read for my own insight and enjoyment during this term. (In addition to the kids' lesson books.)

June! It will come!

Don't worry, there will be more details to come on just how I plan to go about doing this. (I am still very much thinking about just how I plan to go about doing this!)

What I really want to know is, are there any other homeschool moms out there that want to do this with me?!? It doesn't have to look exactly like my challenge! Your goals may be different! But does anyone else want to have more of an outdoor life to finish off the school year? If so, comment below! We can do this. :)

(And if all I end up doing is talking to myself over here, I'm totally ok with that too. Right? Yes.)



  1. By the way, I looked for the website I mentioned to you about this, and it's no longer there. I found it in the wayback machine, though! (I hope this link works.)

    1. Thanks for this! It's inspiring for sure...

    2. Hi Christine! Great to have you joining in! :) I hope to post a few more details this weekend of how I'm going to go about it. I'm really looking forward to the benefits I know will come of more time outside.


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