S6 E17 | Practicing Masterly Inactivity Makes for a Happy Homeschool (Jeannie Fulbright)
Masterly Inactivity is probably the least discussed Charlotte Mason principle, though it is quite vital to a thriving, joyful homeschool. If we could master Masterly Inactivity, we would find our homeschool a more peaceful, happy place and our children more self-sufficient and self-motivated. Charlotte Mason gives us seven primary tools for practicing Masterly Inactivity and they all hinge upon the foundation for a Charlotte Mason Education and that is faith that the Divine Life at work in our children at all times, in all circumstances. Tune in to learn how you can implement the seven tools for Masterly Inactivity and watch your children blossom under the loving care of our Father in Heaven.
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.
The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud
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Jeannie Fulbright [00:00:04] Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show, a show that discusses Charlotte Mason 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.
[00:00:34] Hey, everybody, welcome to another edition of The Charlotte Mason Show. This is Jeannie Fulbright, and I am so excited that you joined me today because I feel like this topic that I'm going to talk about is going to be foundational and life changing. If you can begin to apply the principles of the masterly inactivity, the tools to developing a self-motivated child. And this is something Charlotte Mason talks about a great deal in her writings, and she actually has several tools that she mentions in developing a self-motivated child, a self-driven child. And this is all kind of is encompassed under this big umbrella of masterly inactivity. And I want to share with you what I consider probably the seven tools that Charlotte Mason talks about.
[00:01:28] She does have a long discussion about this in several of her volumes, and her teaching gives us such great principles. It is just incredible and a lot of it is really not intuitive, but it's been tested. It's been tested for hundreds of years. John Locke talked about this, Rousseau talked about it, and of course, Charlotte Mason talked about it a lot. And they've actually done research and as is as it always happens, Charlotte Mason's philosophies and her teaching models, often they do research in our day that actually prove what she believed was true. And so this is true. This need for practicing masterly inactivity with your children to develop self-motivated children is something that actually has been shown in science.
[00:02:16] So let me just give you a just an overview. This is a really brief overview of what masterly inactivity means. Masterly inactivity revolves around the parent's power to act and the desire to act, but the insight and self-restraint which forbid action. So you want to act. You want to intervene. You want to fix it. You want to help it. You want to make it. You want to redirect the child. You want to get them going. You want to you want to make things happen. But you use wisdom and self-restraint that forbid you to act and to allow your children autonomy.
[00:02:55] And modern research shows that autonomy— there is a book written by a man named William Stixrud— I've got to figure out how to pronounce that, but it's called The Self-Driven Child. And he was a researcher on self-motivation, and he found that— he says that "Autonomy is built into our wiring in the same way as hunger or thirst. When we lack this basic need, we experience decreased motivation." He says, "You can't become a self-driven person if you don't have a sense that your life is your own." So part of being self-motivated is feeling as though your life is your own. And as homeschool parents, we have a huge responsibility in our children's education. But the truth is, the more autonomy we give our children, the more they will take their education into their own hands and run with it.
[00:03:53] Self-motivation is really the force that keeps us pushing to go on. It's like our internal drive to achieve, to produce, to develop, to make things happen. The researchers have found that self-motivated children have a strong sense of control over their lives. And they also found— another incredible thing they found in research is they found that most children are naturally self-motivated until about seven years old. And if you think about it— if you think about what happens to most children by the time they're seven years old— most children, by the time they're seven years old, have been in school for two years. And their drive, their sense of autonomy, their sense that their life is their own, has been robbed from them. It's been stripped from their lives. And they lose that self-motivation, that natural self-motivation, because as the research shows, it's as natural as hunger and thirst.
[00:04:50] And the neurological data shows that people who have a healthy sense of control over their lives, their prefrontal cortex is in charge, which is the decision making part of the brain, the logic and reason, the smart part of the brain. But the amygdala, which is the threat detection system, is in charge when we feel anxiety, overwhelmed, and unmotivated. So the amygdala is in charge and the prefrontal cortex is subordinate when we feel anxiety or overwhelmed or unmotivated. And so that means that when we feel in control, we are in our right minds. But when someone else is in control of our lives, we are not in our right minds. We feel unmotivated.
[00:05:38] And, you know, you think about it just when it comes to doing things, when someone does something for you and they constantly do something for you, you begin to not only— well, first of all, you never learn how to do it yourself. Number two, you begin to expect them to always do it for you. And number three, you don't want to do it. You don't want to learn to do it. You don't want to put the effort to learn to do it. So we need to, as parents, we need to— whenever there is something that our children can do for themselves like read the directions on an assignment, like make themselves breakfast or lunch or do their laundry— there are so many things that children are able to do and we can empower them by creating an environment where they are able to do— they have more autonomy over their lives, and when they want breakfast, they can make it. And when they want lunch, they can make it.
[00:06:39] And it's funny because my son, when he was about I think it was fifth or maybe sixth grade, he went away to a Boy Scout camp. It was one of these Boy Scout camps where all the Boy Scout troops came and they congregated into this big camp area. And his Boy Scout troop, they had kitchen duty— I can't remember what they called; they have a word for it. But it was kitchen duty one night, or I guess it was a few nights when they were there, and he came home and he said, "Mom, do you know that most people—most boys—don't know how to sweep?" They were given the broom to sweep, and they just started just swooping stuff around, like swooping it all over the kitchen. They had no idea how to sweep up things into piles and throw the piles out. And I thought that was so funny, but I also thought it was sad because guess who's doing all the sweeping? It's mom. And so my son had the knowledge not only how to sweep, but he was very quite an expert at it because that was one of the things that was one of his jobs. And so I think that we need to learn how to give over some of the responsibilities of life and living to our children, especially that's things they're going to need to do for themselves.
[00:07:55] And education is really, really the most important aspect of our lives with them, our homeschooling lives with them because Charlotte Mason says self-education is so important. It is the only kind of education. Children remember and they love more what they have gotten for themselves. And so let's just go through some of the keys and some of the tools of making masterly inactivity a regular part of our homeschool.
[00:08:23] And I would say the first key and the most important key is that we have to have faith. And really what that means is we have to know that the divine life is at work in our children's minds and in their hearts and in their education. Charlotte Mason said, "We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and spiritual life of children, but should teach them that the divine spirit has constant access to their spirits and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties, and joys of life. And she tells us also—I love this quote—"When we recognize that God does not make over the bringing up of children, absolutely, even to the parents, but that he works himself in ways which we must not hinder in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble, and wise.".
[00:09:18] That is really where it all boils down to, is knowing that God is the teacher. He is the teacher of our children. He is the mover of their soul and their spirit. And if we lead our children to him, if we lead our children to the Lord, they will do that which they need to do. They will do that which pertains to them in their education all the other duties of life. I know this is something that we have a hard time letting go of and believing that God's going to do that, but I'll just tell you a story.
[00:09:56] There was one point in my homeschooling when I was overwhelmed. We had stopped doing our daily morning devotions because we were falling, supposedly, you know behind. I thought we were behind. We were falling behind. We were so behind. And I had purchased a curriculum that had a schedule— which I just will say here and now, I'm not great at following schedules. I like to have my own schedule and like to have freedom to, "Hey, let's go to the botanical gardens today," and just "Let's go outdoors." We took a lot of field trips and that was a lot of fun, but if you choose a curriculum that has a schedule, well, if you're me, you're going to feel behind. And so I was feeling so overwhelmed. I was feeling behind. I felt so pressured, and every day was just a drudgery. My children were crying, complaining, and hungry every 10 minutes. And I would come back to– I'd set them down to do some math sheet, and I'd come back and there was just a big dinosaur covering the math sheet or the math sheet was completely missing, and the book I gave them to read was under the table and they'd never even opened it. It was just constant. I was just overwhelmed and I thought, "I don't know what to do anymore. I don't know if I can continue homeschooling. I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I'm doing any good. I don't feel like we're getting anything done."
[00:11:14] And so I sought the Lord and I said, "Lord, show me what to do. I don't know what to do. I don't know if I can even continue homeschooling." And God just reminded me about our devotions, and we had had such sweet devotions back when I was less stressed out. And so I said, "Okay, I'm just— you're right. I'm going back to devotions. That's all we're going to do. We're just going to do devotions. I can't do this school thing. It's not working out. I don't know what to do. I don't know if it's the right— I don't know what. But I do know the devotions are the right thing to do, period." And so when I called the kids after breakfast to school, I said, "Okay, we're going to start with devotions. Let's go meet on the couch," because we always did devotions on the couch, and we did school in the school room. We had a little school room.
[00:12:00] They marched to the couch and they were so excited like, "Oh, yay, yay. I remember when we used to do this back when life was a lot less stressful." But we all sat down and we started. I read from a book that I loved reading to them. It was a devotional for children and it was one of those devotionals for children that's so good that it's a devotional for you, too. And then I read from the Bible, then we decided we were going to memorize a scripture verse. I think it was John 15 about the vine, and we started working on the first verse of that.
[00:12:33] And then it was around Christmas time, so we had gotten a bunch of cards in the mail and I said, "Everybody pick out one of the cards, the Christmas cards from your friends, and pick a family you want to pray for." So everybody got to pick a family. And so we went around and prayed for everybody, a different family, and we prayed for each other. And we just had a really special time with the Lord. My children's hearts were tender towards God. And I felt like this is who they are, this is who my children are, this is what we are about.
[00:13:01] And so I was like, "Okay, kids, I'm going to go and start making lunch." And that was kind of it. I was done. I wasn't doing anything else. I didn't tell them. I didn't even think to tell them that we weren't going to do school. I mean, I knew if I told them anything about school, it was going to be moans and whines. And so I got up to go start making breakfast and lo and behold, all four of my children, even my three-year-old, got up from the couch and trotted to the school room and went and found their work, what they were supposed to be doing, and started doing school on their own without my requesting of them to do that.
[00:13:42] That was the power of God working in my children's lives. And I just realized, you know, focusing on academics is not going to produce spiritually mature children, but spiritually mature children will accomplish the academics that they need to do. God will give them what they need if they are led to God. God will show them which way to go if we lead them to the Lord. And so our job as parents—our number one job—is to present our children to the Lord, to give our children a foundation and a walk with God.
[00:14:22] And Charlotte Mason says, "But this holy union, this holy mystery, this union and communion of God in the soul, how may parents presume to meddle with it? How can they know? How can they promote it? What can the parent do? Just this and no more: he can present the idea of God to the soul of the child." And truly, that's really where it all begins is the Lord has a purpose for our children. And in Psalm 138:8, it says, "The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me." The Lord will fulfill his purposes for me and my children. He will fulfill them. Our number one job is to walk in that faith and to believe that and to believe that everything is going to come together. That we don't have to be fussing over our children and constantly be redirecting, reminding, worrying, and lecturing, and moralizing, and overexplaining everything and mediating in every problem and telling and telling and telling and worrying and worrying and fussing and fussing. We don't have to do that because we can trust in God. We can trust that God is going to work it all out.
[00:15:28] And all of that comes out of fear. It comes out of a fear of our children not succeeding and us not succeeding. Just fear of man, fear that God doesn't have the best plans for our children. That it's all in our hands. That God's purposes for our children won't be. That we have to fulfill God's purposes for our children. And that's a lack of humility, but it's also really a lack of faith. And Charlotte Mason tells us that we need to be wisely passive. We need to be— the wise passiveness is the ability and the desire to intervene, but to choose wisely to refrain from interference even when we believe it would help our children if we interfered.
[00:16:14] What happens when we're constantly intervening in everything they're doing, we're constantly fixing things so that it all works out perfectly is we rob our children the ability to learn problem solving skills and resourcefulness. And this hinders their confidence. And confidence is required for self-motivation. So what we do is we arrest the development of their own self-initiative, their own self-motivation, when we are constantly doing things for our children, or fixing things for our children, or reminding them, or doing things for them, or helping them in a way that they don't need our help, but we want it to work out well.
[00:16:56] So we have to step back. We have to allow our children more freedom, more autonomy, more liberty in their lives because this is going to help them to become more autonomous and more in their right minds and more capable of doing what it is that they know that they should be doing. So, in the masterly inactivity, we are the authority, and our children know and respect our authority. But we as parents must wield this authority wisely and sparingly and be disciplined in our desire to intervene.
[00:17:37] And another thing Charlotte Mason talks about is cultivating an attitude of good humor, just having fun. I talked to Julie Ross. We had a fun podcast, and I mentioned masterly inactivity there. And so one of the things she said, which was so brilliant, was just about how she schedules fun, time to do fun things every day, and how you want to be a fun mom. And I love what she said about scheduling it. Yes, you want to be fun. But so many times we are a slave to our schedule and our curriculum. And if you schedule in we are going to do these fun things every day, we will actually be more likely to have a good attitude. That attitude of good humor that Charlotte says is essential for masterly inactivity.
[00:18:21] And so we're not a slave to the curriculum. We are the master of the curriculum, and we choose to have an attitude of serenity and trust and faith in God. It all ties together. All of this ties together, being wisely passive because we have faith in God. We have a good attitude because we have faith in God. And we also need to develop confidence in ourselves. Because here's the thing is God chose you. He chose you to be the parents of those children. Those children were chosen to be your children. And he chose you to be the homeschool parent of those children, which is really amazing. Before time began— Psalm 139 says every day of your life was written in the book before one of them came to be. That's really powerful.
[00:19:11] And so if you understand that every single day of your children's lives was written in the book, then you know that God's in control and you can have confidence that He's chosen you for them. And you have weaknesses, of course, but rejoice in your weaknesses because 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that Christ's power may rest on me." And so, as homeschool moms, just trust in the Lord. Know he will instruct us. He will fill every gap. He is the master teacher of our children. He is the one who has a plan for their lives. And it's far greater than our plan for them. He loves your children far more than you could ever love them.
[00:19:58] And so, therefore, we need to hand that responsibility of our children's future over to him and have confidence that God is going to guide us and lead us and give us everything we need to teach our children when and how. It's all in his hands. And as we seek him, he will give us wisdom and guidance. He promises to. He says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you." Psalm 32:8-9. So we know that God, he is going to counsel us. We just need to trust in him. And, you know, if any of you lacks wisdom, you must go to God who gives liberally to all, abundantly to all without finding fault. And he will go. He will show you. He will give you wisdom on every curriculum you choose, every activity you choose, every issue you face, everything you confront. He will give you wisdom. And a lot of times is to allow him, him to do the work because that's really what he wants. He wants us to let him work and let him be the one who leads our children. Just as he led my children that that one morning, I realized he was much better at getting my children to do their work than I ever could be.
[00:21:08] And another tool that is, I would say, the fifth tool of masterly inactivity is having confidence in your children. So that just simply means really believing in them. If we're constantly correcting them, this conveys a lack of faith in them. If we constantly are fixing or doing things for them or fixing what they did because they didn't do a good enough job or didn't load the dishwasher right, or you didn't fold the clothes right. If we're constantly fixing things, we're showing a lack of faith in them. And we need to show confidence in them, not being amazed when they complete their work because we knew they would complete their work. It's a confidence in just I believe that God has great plans for you, and you are designed to do great things, and you are going to do great things. And I just sit amazed and watch all the things that you do, and just it's conveying a belief in your children, knowing that they are persons, treating them as persons, treating them as the adult that they will one day be.
[00:22:09] I tried to—when my children were little—remember that they were going to be grown-ups and it was actually going to happen really, really fast. It did happen really, really fast. And when they're grown-ups, they're not different people. They're the same soul. And so we need to treat the little children as we would the grown-up with the same respect. It's really a foundation of knowing that our children are eternal. They're eternal beings. This is a powerful truth that Charlotte Mason talk so much about is that they are eternal, and if we can see them as eternal beings and their soul as eternal and fully formed, then we will treat them with the respect that that God wants us to treat them with, that God treats them with.
[00:22:52] And the number six tool for masterly inactivity is taking care of yourself because you need to fill up your soul, your bucket before you can give to your children. And we need to allow ourselves time to develop ourselves— own time with the Lord, which can be any time during the day. Even if it's 10 minutes, it's still time filling up with God. We need to fill up our cup so that we can be overflowing with joy with our children. And we also need to practice self-care in just doing things that are interesting and fun for you. Don't overschedule your weeks with kid stuff. Make sure that everything you add to your schedule is prayerfully considered and not added because of fear of man or fear that your children have to do this activity in order to have a great life.
[00:23:44] Just don't let any fears guide you in choosing curriculum. And anything you do, choose everything you do with peace and with faith that God is leading you to this. And guess what? If it becomes overwhelming, you can pull out of it. It's okay. Your life and taking care of yourself is so important. Some of the ways that we can take care of ourselves is also just finding things that are fun for us to do, like learning a new skill, or maybe starting a side hustle if there's time, of course. And maybe joining or starting a Bible study. Or just scheduling a weekly self-care activity, but don't feel guilty about practicing self-care because you must be the best version of yourself to be the mom and the wife that God created you to be. And God will help you to show you what you need to do in order to refill your bucket as well.
[00:24:36] And number seven, the last of the seven tools for a self-motivated child in the masterly inactivity toolbox is to allow our children to stand or fall by their own efforts and not constantly prod them. Charlotte Mason says, "We prod them continually and do not let them stand or fall by their own efforts. It would be better for boys and girls to suffer the consequences of not doing their work now and then than to do it because they are so urged and prodded on all hands that they have no volition in the matter." So, you know, we do learn more from our mistakes than our successes. And so allowing your children to make that little mistake that you could have helped them not make.
[00:25:17] It's better to learn these lessons when they're under your roof, under your own guidance and when you can teach them how to how to get back up from a failure, how to stand up and go at it again and how to be overcomers. And then just point them to God who will help us in all of our needs and especially when we've made mistakes or we've failed in some way. We need to help our children learn that they can be overcomers. And I just believe, you know, you'll have children who will not only believe in themselves, even though they failed at times, but they're more self-confidence and have a can-do attitude. If we give our children more autonomy, they have self-initiative to get started and complete what they put their hands to.
[00:26:01] And if we practice these these tools of masterly inactivity, we will find that our children are mentally prepared for the ups and downs of life. Their prefrontal cortex will be in charge and not their amygdala. And God has a plan for our children. He promises us that he does. He says they are God's handiwork, they are his poema, his masterpiece, his poetry, his poem. Our children are God's poem. And they were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he planned in advance for them to walk in. And He has a plan for them. And he says in Isaiah 46:11, "Truly, I have spoken. Truly, I will bring it to pass. I have planned it. I will certainly do it." And he will certainly do it for your children as well.
[00:26:46] Thank you again for joining me today. And I hope that this was motivating for you to be more motivated, to be disciplined in letting your children have more autonomy and practice masterly inactivity. Have a great day. God bless.
[00:27:05] 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, and nature study, and scripture, read-alouds, prayer, and self-care, which often gets neglected. And I would love to meet you in person at 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.