S6 E13 | Scheduling a Successful Homeschool Day (Jeannie Fulbright)
This one single Charlotte Mason method, more often neglected than implemented, could be the answer to all your homeschool struggles with your children. Following this seemingly unimportant but actually all-important teaching made all the difference for me and my children. It all boiled down to the length of time I allotted for each lesson. My entire homeschool was transformed when I scheduled my homeschool as Charlotte Mason suggested. In this podcast, I will share the whys and hows of scheduling a successful homeschool day--and training your children in two extremely important habits as a by-product.
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
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Jeannie Fulbright [00:00:04] Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show, a show that discusses Charlotte Mason's philosophy, principles, and methods. It is our hope that each session on the Charlotte Mason Show will mentor you in the Charlotte Mason model, inspire you with ideas, and offer practical ways to implement Charlotte Mason's unique and effective methodology in your homeschool. I'm your host, Jeannie Fulbright, and I am so glad you joined me today. Today's episode is brought to you by Medi-Share. Find out how this affordable Christian alternative to traditional health insurance can help you at MediShare.com.
[00:00:36] When it comes to educating children, homeschool parents are the very best. Why? Because we care so much about our child's education. We care about their future. There is nobody, no teacher in the world who cares more about each individual child's success than you. Really, nothing rivals the homeschool parent. We diligently, diligently research the latest methodologies and put to the test the newest curriculum. We're doing this all the time, every year. We devour books on education and we create sophisticated lessons based on our new ideas or things we've just learned, and we're implementing these approaches. And yet Charlotte Mason has figured out most of this for us already. And one key factor, one key element to a Charlotte Mason education is often neglected by those who practice a Charlotte Mason education, and that is the age old and time tested concept of short lessons.
[00:01:52] What are short lessons? Short lessons are lessons that teach a child within their attention span. And so often we are asking our children to learn and retain new material, to work on a project or an assignment longer than their actual attention span can do. Yet Charlotte Mason advocated for short lessons because short lessons not only train a child's attention—the ability to pay attention and keep focused on the lesson—but it increases the child's retention of the material learned because a child cannot retain anything learned or done or cannot do well things beyond their attention span. And like she usually is, Charlotte Mason was right based on scientific research that has come out recently. Studies show that the average human cannot pay attention for more than 8 to 10 minutes, and that's talking about adults as well. And so when our lessons go beyond 10, 15, 20 minutes, we're expecting more than a child especially has the human ability to focus and stay attentive and to do well.
[00:03:20] So they did a study of a medical school and they divided the medical school into two groups. One group, they kept the classes doing what they'd always done, which is they had an hour lecture and then an hour break for the students to study what they just learned or to study for the next lecture. And so it was an hour learning, hour break, hour learning, hour break, and that's what happened all day long. And then they took half of the medical school and they changed the format. These students had a 30-minute lecture and a 30-minute study period. And the 30 minute lecture—which was the rest of the lecture that was cut in half—and another 30 minute study period. And so essentially these medical students, age 20 to 23, were learning in 30 minute increments and had a 30 minute break between learning. At the end of the year when they took their boards, the medical students who had done the 30-minute periods of new learning scored significantly higher on their boards than the medical students who had done what they always do, which is spend an hour learning new material and an hour studying for the next class. So what this is telling us is that the attention span of 23 year olds is really 30 minutes or could be less. But at least we do know that a 30-minute new learning period is actually substantially better than an hour of new learning period.
[00:04:58] And I think that sometimes as homeschool moms, we get confused about what's happening in the school system. And many times in the school system, they've done studies and they found that new learning in each class is actually between 4 and 15 minutes because the rest of the time is spent discussing expectations, talking about things irrelevant to the new lesson, putting away things, taking out things, walking to new classes, or walking here, doing things, moving from one subject to the next. There's this whole period of getting ready for it. And so the actual content that children are— when they are getting new learning is a lot shorter than we imagine. We imagine they have an hour of English and an hour of math when actually they do not. They do not have that long of a period of time for new learning and also for doing work in the class. And so we need to change our mindset. I think a lot of implementing the Charlotte Mason model is changing your belief system. And truly, that is a belief system which we've gotten wrong. And even if they were getting a full hour of new learning or even 30 minutes of new learning in an elementary middle school or high school, that's more than they need.
[00:06:20] We really need to teach to a child's attention span. And if we find that our children are retaining much of what we're teaching and what they're learning— and how do we know whether they're retaining it or not? Pick up something from last year that they learned and ask them a question about it. And if they don't remember, then they were not being taught within their attention span, and also the methodologies used in the lesson that they learned were likely not the type of methodologies that Charlotte Mason advocated which actually do cause the child to retain, to remember, to enjoy, and to love learning.
[00:07:00] The problem is that our lengthy lectures— and truly, let's just even apply this beyond education. Let's apply this to discussions about behavior or situations that we need to talk about. If our lectures and our discussions and our monologues go beyond 20 minutes—I mean, really even 10 minutes—we can be certain that the child has tuned us out not because they're being disrespectful, but because their attention span does not— the human attention span does not have the ability to sit and and digest and take in new material longer than 10, 15 minutes. And so it's really important that in everything we do, in everything that we teach our children, that we apply this principle of short lessons.
[00:07:52] I can honestly say that I did not apply this methodology when I first began educating my children using the Charlotte Mason model, which really for most of my children was from the very beginning. For my oldest, I had been educating her with various curricula and ideologies until I was dragged by one of my closest friends to a Charlotte Mason seminar, which lasted four days, and it was Charlotte Mason by fire hydrant. And it was wonderful. But I didn't remember her teaching about short lessons, and I'm sure that she did at this event that I went to. So I didn't know really about it, and I had all Charlotte Mason's books, but I hadn't really— I mean, you know how they are. They're just very intensive, let's just say. There's a lot in there. And to sit down and read an entire book is really hard to digest all the information. There's so much information on every page of the Charlotte Mason homeschooling series books.
[00:08:55] And so when I finally did, one day, stumble upon her teaching this tool of implementing short lessons, I had been at my wit's end getting my children— not so much my oldest, but my boys. They were the second and third. I thought I was such a great mom when I had my first child because she was just "Mrs. I want to please Mama and I want to be obedient". And then I had these two little ruffians afterwards which showed me that it really wasn't so much nurture. It was nature. Nature versus nurture, and nature won out. Of course, I always thought it was nurture was my first one. And then God humbled me and brought along my other children. And so my boys just— of course, their attention span was much shorter than my oldest child. And their their desire to learn was greatly less than my first child. And they really didn't want to do their work. And I just realized that it was really hard. It was it was frustrating for me. I would give my child—my son—a worksheet. I would teach him how to do this certain problem. He understood it. And then I would give him the math sheet to fill out the math sheet, and I would come back and look at his math sheet, and I couldn't find any work done on it because it was covered by a giant dinosaur, which was a well-drawn dinosaur, let's just say. Artistic skills were high; math skills were not being implemented in this time period. Then I would say, "Okay, you're going to sit here until you finish this math sheet. I want you to erase that dinosaur, and I want you to— I'm going to wait until— you're going to be here all day until you finish that math sheet.".
[00:10:39] Of course, that is the absolute opposite of what one should do, and that is actually training inattentiveness. It's training them to dawdle over their work. And that was a huge Charlotte Mason concept is do not let your children dawdle over their work. Charlotte Mason philosophy, I should say. Dawdling over their work, allowing them to just sit there and moon over the assignment, she called it. And that is essentially allowing them to sit there and think about other things being inattentive to their work. And Charlotte Mason says attention is the act which the whole mind and mental focus is on the subject at hand. The lesson is completely— they're absorbed with it. And so really my children had been— I had done a very good job of training them in the habit of inattentiveness, training them in the habit of not focusing on what they were given to do.
[00:11:39] And in fact, I would give them a reading assignment, and I would say, "Okay, you read this, this little book here, and you're going to read this book, and I'm going to work with the younger one on this, and I'm going to come back." And I would come back or turn around and look at where they what they were doing, and the book I had given them was missing. Looking on the ground. It was upside down under the chair. Or the child was missing. Where was the child? Probably upside down under the chair. There was a lot of not focusing, giving them something to do, and not only were they not doing it, they were completely off in another land, and they didn't take the assignment that I gave them seriously. And even if I got mad at them and punished them or threatened them or whatever it was, it was ineffective because I had already trained the habit of inattentiveness by giving them too long of a period of time in which to do their lesson. Or perhaps the learning of new material had lasted beyond their attention span. And they really just were not focused on what we were doing to reinforce the lesson.
[00:12:49] So new learning really should have been about 10 to 15 minutes. And so I would read to them or have them read for 10 to 15 minutes. And then the exercise or activity which related to what they would read was using a different part of the brain, and so it's a different focus. And so a lesson could last 30 minutes, but it was 15 minutes of new learning, 15 minutes of the activity. And really for children under the age of nine, it should be 10 minutes of new learning and 10 minutes of an activity that reinforces the learning. And so here I was making my children to sit and listen to me reading aloud new material for longer than they could focus and pay attention. And when you're doing that, you are training them in inattentiveness. And they have lost attention. And then even when you give them a new assignment to do—to draw a picture about what they've learned or make a clay model of what they've learned or whatever it is you're giving them to do—they're already not paying attention. So it is, again, reinforcing the habit of inattentiveness.
[00:13:59] And so really using short lessons— it's so important because it does train our children in the habit of attention. And so when I stumbled upon this Charlotte Mason truth, I thought, "Okay, it's hard for me to untrain my mindset." And I did some research and realized, oh yeah, they have done a lot of studies about what children are learning in school, and 4 minutes is really the average of how much children are getting new material, what the teacher is taking time to give them new material. And so I thought, "Okay, I need to implement this. This is really important." And so I thought, "Okay, what I'm going to do is I'm going to give my children an assignment—something that they need to read or do—and I'm going to put the timer on for 10 minutes." And my children were young. They were in elementary school. At least my boys were, at that point. And we had obviously been in—for, I mean, really years—the bad habit of attention. It was like homeschooling was so hard, and I had made it hard. I had not implemented this really important approach to education.
[00:15:07] And so I set the timer. I said, "Okay, here's what you're going to be reading in literature. Everybody sit down and read your book that you're assigned for this historic fiction or whatever it was. And I'm going to put the timer on because we only have 10 minutes." And what was great about doing the 10 minute increments of new learning and activities is that I could fit a lot more into my day. When you don't implement this, if you have an hour for math and an hour for history and an hour for language arts, it's really hard to get a lot done in a day. But if you break it up into 15, 20 minutes of new learning, then you have 30 minutes or 10 minutes—even better for younger elementary students or even, you know, on the verge of form one and two elementary students—10 minutes. So that would be 20 minutes for math, 20 minutes for language, 20 minutes for reading literature. And so you break it up into smaller segments. Of course, as they get into form two and three, which is later elementary and middle school, you might do closer to the 30 minutes. Again, that might be too long, honestly, for attention span to do 15 minute and 15 minute. But probably if you're implementing 10 minutes when they're younger, you're going to be able to add more minutes as they get older. And so by the time they're in middle school, a 15 minute, 20 minute learning period isn't going to be too much for them because you have trained the habit of attention.
[00:16:41] And I think those medical students probably could have done even better if they had been trained in the habit of attention. But we are constantly— I mean, especially in this day and age, we are in the habit of even shorter attention span. I saw several studies done that humans today only have the attention span of a goldfish, which is 2 minutes. And hopefully that's not true and especially if we're training it in our homeschool. But when I implemented this with my boys, I sat them down, ten minute timer—and it was like one of those little egg timers—and my boys, I gave them their books to read, and they sat down and they did what they always do. And the timer went off, and they knew what to read. I had shown them what section to read and the timer went off and they're like, "Wait, wait, wait. I haven't even opened the book. I haven't even started yet." I'm like, "Well, that is too bad. That's all the time we had today for literature. That's all the time we had today for history. Now we're going to do this assignment, this worksheet, this math worksheet," or maybe it was a math reading, a learning assignment, whatever it was. "We're going to do this this page, we're going to do a notebooking page," or whatever it was. "We have 10 minutes to work on this.".
[00:17:57] And they of course— I mean, all day long, the timer went off before they even got started because they were so deeply embedded in this habit of inattentiveness. They realized pretty quickly that 10 minutes wasn't very long. And also they could tolerate this learning for 10 minutes. And I taught them to kind of not enjoy learning because it could be so long for them to have to sit. And so when I did give them a math worksheet, they started focusing when they knew it was 10 minutes. And really it took a few days for them to realize 10 minutes is such a short period of time. I'm going to see how much I can get done in 10 minutes. And, you know, they don't do their best work, again, when you have given them a longer time to moon over their work. When a child has 10 minutes and they can focus—their full attention is focused on it— their whole mind will be on the subject at hand, and they will do their best work. That really trained them in the habit of attention, and it actually took a lot longer because it's harder to untrain a bad habit than it is to train a good habit.
[00:19:08] So those of you who are just starting out or have younger children— just start out with a ten minute new learning. And you feel like you want to teach them more. You want to go beyond what the reading material gave you for 10 minutes. You want to teach longer than that because half the time we're so excited about what we're learning that we want to go beyond their attention span and continue with our attention span. And the problem is that children truly do have a physical inability to pay attention longer than 10, 15, sometimes 20 minutes. Now, they can get absorbed in a book if they're good readers and read longer than that. But it is really rare for a new learning to be able to focus beyond that attention span.
[00:19:55] And so that's what really short lessons are about— teaching our children to be attentive to their work. And if a child— we only give them— Charlotte Mason talks about perfect execution. Perfect execution sounds so lofty, but really what she just means is give them only what they can do their best work in the time allotted. For example, if it's copywork and you have a seven-year-old that is really, really just learning how to write, you don't make them copy the whole sentence if it's going to take them 15—or the whole especially paragraph—if it's going to take them beyond 10 to 15 minutes to do. Have them do their best work, do whatever you can do copying this paragraph or this sentence perfectly to do it as best you can. And when the timer goes off or when 10 minutes has passed, then whatever you have done is— if it's done with excellence, that's what we want even if you didn't finish. We can go back and finish the sentence tomorrow or we can add more to it tomorrow.
[00:20:52] And that's where we're teaching our children not only attention, but we're also teaching them perfect execution. We're not requiring them to copy out a paragraph that's beyond their attention span and beyond their ability to do with excellence. And what we're doing when we give them less to do and we're not requiring more than they're capable of doing with excellence and more than they're capable of doing with focused attention, we are giving our children— we're training them in good habits. This is an easy habit to train—attention. And it's really implemented with short lessons. And it's an easy habit to train—perfect execution—by allowing them only to do what they can do with excellence in the amount of time that they're allotted and their attention and their focus can handle.
[00:21:44] So that is really the essentials of the short lessons and why and how we want to implement it in our homeschool. And just remember, this applies not only to the young learner, this applies to the high school students as well. They also have a shorter attention span than we believe. And as was evident in the study done with medical students who were much older than your high school student, they did better, retained more, did better on the final exam with a 30-minute new learning period. And so if we ask our child, "You need to spend an hour on learning this material," we're expecting the impossible even with our high school students. So shortening the learning period is such an important part of having a successful homeschool day and causing all of their wonderful curriculum that we researched and chose to be successful in our homeschool.
[00:22:49] Yes, we may not finish the curricula, but here's just a little secret I'm going to tell you—actually, I tell everybody this secret, so it's not really a secret—is I don't remember any curriculum that we ever finished in our homeschool. We didn't finish anything because it was beyond their attention span and it wasn't necessary to finish a curriculum. In fact, most public school and private school teachers, they flip through and they skip entire chapters, and most of the time they finish only 75% of the curriculum. And so that's why we need to change our thinking and not think we have to finish this curriculum in order to be successful. That is not true. We did not do it. And guess what? All my children went to the University of Georgia on scholarship. My oldest graduated magna cum laude from the University of Georgia, had never finished a curriculum. And I have a computer science graduate and two more computer science graduates on the way. And that was fine. They didn't finish curricula. That's not required for an excellent education. What's required is that they retain what they're learning, that they remember what they're learning. And how can they remember what they're learning if what we're giving them is beyond their attention span? Retaining the little or maybe 75% of the curricula that they did is more important than getting through the curricula and not remembering any of it. This is a philosophy and a tool that would be such a blessing for your children, for their education, for your family, for your schedule, if you implement it.
[00:24:28] So that is my short lesson encouragement for you. And I know it's hard. I know it's hard to change what you're doing and how you do it. But I think you will find this to be the key, the key to homeschool success and your children loving learning and your children retaining what they learn and keeping the joy in your homeschool day.
[00:24:54] Thank you so much for listening and I hope to hear from you. You can find me online on my website and I just always look forward to getting your emails and your messages on Instagram and Facebook. And I am always available to you and I look forward to hearing from y'all soon. So thank you so much and have a blessed week.
[00:25:17] Thank you for tuning into the Charlotte Mason Show. If you want to learn more about Charlotte Mason, go to my website at JeannieFulbright.com. There you can find my blog where I discuss so many of Charlotte Mason's principles and how to implement her philosophy in your homeschool. You can also take a peek at my Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, which is much more than a planner. It's a Charlotte Mason mentor that not only teaches you Charlotte Mason principles, but it keeps you focused on the things that are important each week, such as habit training, nature study, and scripture, read-alouds, prayer, and self-care, which often gets neglected. And I would love to meet you in person a Great Homeschool Convention where I'll be sharing a lot of different Charlotte Mason topics. To sign up, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. Thanks again, and have a blessed and bountiful week as you fulfill your call to educate your children at home.