It’s not uncommon for me to receive one or two emails each day from overwhelmed homeschooling mamas. They’re usually in their first year or two of home education and have just stumbled across the beautiful Charlotte Mason homeschooling philosophy—one of the more popular preschool curriculums for homeschoolers. The common lament is that, while the gentleness of Charlotte Mason’s methods drew them in, it now feels like they’re drowning in the many feasting opportunities.

I could have written an email like that myself, several years ago. Even though I did not dive into the Charlotte Mason philosophy in full until I was at least five years into homeschooling, I could not figure out how any mother of many children could tackle this feast in her homeschool—and in everyday life.

As I began to dig very deeply into Charlotte Mason for my own preschoolers, I thought, “this is ridiculous. The early years will never be able to be filled with such richness. I would be overwhelmed if I tried. I can’t even get eight hours of sleep.”

Sound familiar?

But as I continued reading Miss Mason’s words for myself and studying those ahead of me that had been implementing her programs for years, a light bulb went off!

This feast is a buffet!

An bounteous analogy

How do we approach a buffet? Carefully. Thoughtfully. Judiciously. Prudent partakers do not walk up to the buffet and literally put every food available onto an overloaded plate that we teeter back to our table—only to feel gorged halfway through and quite sick the rest of the day.

We approach a buffet with our needs and our desires balanced in mind. We look at all that’s available and ask ourselves, “Which bits of this bounty will fill our needs best today? Which options will nourish and satisfy?” We also trust that if we don’t overfill our plates, and if we still hunger for more, the buffet will remain there still—ready for us to partake in a second or third course.

A Charlotte Mason education in the early years has ample opportunities for feasting: artist study, nature explorations, introductions to letter shapes and sounds upon readiness, musical training, physical play, living books, and handicrafts. This is a buffet, my friend!

We need not partake in each of these, every single day. We might just burst.

Rather, as we approach our week, depending upon everyone’s needs and preferences at the time, ask which items from the buffet are filling and needful for the day. Which will fill our hearts and souls best? Which can we leave for another day—when the appetite or the season suits it?

You’ll make different selections each day, and over time, with intention and perseverance, you’ll enjoy the bounty of the full feast—without being overwhelmed.

I want to share how we order our own preschool days from my own Charlotte Mason and classical education K4 and K5 program experience. No matter what program you’re using, I hope you will find inspiration in the bits and pieces presented in our schedule. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you plan your own preschool days:

  • A change is as good as a rest. Little minds tire easily, and attention can lapse in a moment. Since we want to train the habit of attentiveness early, we want to avoid practicing fatigue and inattention. Keep lessons extremely short, then shift to a new type of activity altogether.
  • End each lesson happily. If you begin with reading, set a short timer, and stop the lesson when the timer ends—this helps end the lesson on a positive note. Again, don’t persist past engaged attention into frustrated and tired inattention. They will begin tomorrow’s lessons with the same attitude with which they ended today’s.
  • Have realistic expectations. If you and your child are reading aloud, learning letter sounds, practicing counting, looking for toads, or finger knitting, expect your preschooler’s attention to be countable in moments. Forced attention is typically wasted attention. We want their wonder, and once we lose it, it’s time to move on. However, we don’t want to create a habit of inattention, so it’s important that you intentionally decide when the lessons begin and when they end; when it’s time, move to the next topic that will engage your little one anew.

A look at our typical schedule

Each day, we partake in a morning basket. Our morning basket has lots of content, but we move through each subject rapidly so as to not lose focus. We also alternate “areas” of the mind (focusing on listening vs. focusing on singing, speaking, or moving parts of body), as Miss Mason suggests, so as not to fatigue too quickly. Our morning basket includes various topics in the following order, but we are always flexible and responsive to energy and attention levels:

  • Hymnal (singing)
  • Nature Lore Reading (listening)
  • Poetry Recitation (speaking) 
  • Handicraft Practice (using their hands) 
  • Bible Story (listening) 
  • Memory Statement Practice (speaking)
  • Nursery Rhyme (listening and chanting)
  • Math Circle Activities (moving and thinking)
  • Wonder Tale Reading (listening)

Each of these activities is only three to seven minutes in length. We then spend the remainder of our day in one of many activities: creating art, studying art, playing with instruments, enjoying a handicraft, and—most importantly—spending much rambunctious time out in nature, chasing tadpoles and collecting roly-poly bugs.

Preschool at home does not have to feel as if you’re drowning. Approach the buffet with discernment, measuring and weighing the benefit of each option in your mind.

You’ll make different selections each day, and over time, with intention and perseverance, you’ll enjoy the bounty of the full feast—without being overwhelmed. No life jacket needed!