Are you ready to continue the conversation about community? Let’s begin with the following quote from an 1888 pamphlet called DRAFT PROOF written by Charlotte Mason:
No other part of the world’s work is of such supreme difficulty, delicacy and importance, as that of parents in the right bringing up of their children. The first obligation of the present — that of passing forward a generation better than ourselves — rests with parents. As every child belongs to the Commonweal, so his bringing up is the concern of all. Yet parents, with the responsibility of the world’s future resting upon them, are left to do their work, each father and mother alone, rarely getting so much as a word of sympathy, counsel, or encouragement. All other bodies of workers, whether or hand or brain, enjoy the help and profit of association; commonly, of co-operation. Thus the wisdom, the experience, the information of each is made profitable for all; enthusiasm is generated by the UNION of many for the advancement of a case, and every member is cheered by the sympathy of his fellow workers. (In Memoriam, pp. 129-130)
This quote speaks clearly to me of our need for community. Charlotte Mason was not merely speaking to peers in 1888; rather, this is a timeless truth that rings just as true today, does it not? While the tide is definitely turning, it wasn’t long ago that the idea of homeschooling in and of itself was an anomaly, and the idea of a “Charlotte Mason” homeschool education just took the weird factor up a notch. This is why we need each other: we need the support of a strong community to support each other in our efforts to raise heroes and world changers. Ours is arguably the most important mission the world has ever seen, yet many parents feel they exist in an isolated vacuum and crave fellowship and guidance as they engage in their mission day-to-day. The In a Large Room Community of Central Maryland was born in an attempt to fill such a need.
First and foremost, the foundation of our community is our monthly discussion group in which we explore Charlotte Mason’s volumes together. Due to the nature of our geographic area, our original group recently inspired the introduction of several other discussion groups — one that meets an hour north as well as another that meets an hour to the south of the original group, while yet another meets on a different day and time that may prove more convenient for some members. It is exciting to see the hunger in our area to learn more about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy in her own words rather than through the voice of an interpreter.
As mentioned in a previous post, our smaller Feast community is the core of the larger one. When we first started meeting together we had no desire to expand beyond our few families. However, while we were enjoying our private bubble, the Charlotte Mason philosophy seemed to be experiencing a boom in our geographical vicinity.
I initially began to sense this growth when I learned from a friend about another local Charlotte Mason enthusiast who wanted to host a retreat in our area. I immediately reached out to her and offered my services to assist with this endeavor, knowing that I had found a bosom buddy. (This friend was the fourth family to join our core Feast group.)
Once the In a Large Room Retreat came to fruition, it became obvious that there were many more homeschooling families locally who embraced the Charlotte Mason philosophy than I had originally imagined, and the email list for our local discussions began to expand at a rapid rate. We brainstormed more offerings and began to offer quarterly Maker Workshops, sessions for parents focused on learning and teaching handicrafts in such a manner that we are able to become proficient before introducing it to our children at home. We have enjoyed learning Calligraphy and Quilting, as well as an overview of Nature Journaling practices. Another offering of our community includes quarterly dinner parties for couples that we call An Evening in a Large Room in which up to 6 couples join together and share in a literal feast via a 5 course meal “peppered” (tee hee — pun intended) with short lessons between courses in several subjects that might be found in a Charlotte Mason homeschool, including singing a hymn, recitation, picture study, folk song, and composer study.
We soon began to realize that there were numerous opportunities for community among parents but nothing available for families with their children. We set out to rectify this with the introduction of our Natural History Club. This Club was enthusiastically received and well attended, and we were encouraged to offer more “for the children’s sake.” Our Shakespeare Club was born to fill this need and was also an immediate hit. Another local friend had the vision of starting a weekly Charlotte Mason co-op that is finishing up its first year and has seen great success.
Based on the success of our Club last fall we began offering a Plutarch/Shakespeare Club this spring that includes opportunities for recitation and Swedish Drill (naturally!) as well as debate. In addition, we will also be hosting our Inaugural Recitation event — Truth, Beauty, Goodness Hour — so that our young scholars can have the opportunity to practice the art of recitation in a more formal setting involving their peers and local families.
Finally, the vision of another dear friend has brought a Maker’s Market to the area and we are already looking forward to the second annual event this fall.
Our local community is 50+ families strong according to my email list. However, not every family on the list engages in every opportunity for community. Some people only participate in
Natural History Club, while others are engaged on multiple levels. My desire was to create opportunities for other Charlotte Mason families to engage in locally, and we have successfully done that. There are still areas in which we need to grow and over time we may see some offerings fall away, but we are enjoying the learning process and the benefit of each other’s support in the meantime.
The challenge for myself is to make sure that my family doesn’t personally overcommit to all of the wonderful opportunities that exist in our community. We are learning to limit ourselves to one weekly outing outside our home with community. This sometimes means we have to say “No” to something pretty wonderful, but the peace in our home and the success of our homeschooling efforts require that such boundaries be set.
Please don’t think, “They’re so lucky to have all of those opportunities in that community, but it will never happen near me.” Know that this didn’t happen overnight: it was the result of much prayer and preparation. This local community is my personal ministry, and I pour a lot of time and effort into fostering it. Even so, I can’t do everything on my own. A core group of women help with operations, and we try to build leadership in our members by offering opportunities for them to lead activities. The long-term success of this community will depend on how invested our members are and whether they contribute via participation, planning, and leading as time progresses.
The encouragement I wish to offer with this series of posts is to show that you, too, can have local community to support you in your Charlotte Mason journey. It won’t look the same as our community does, but it will fit the needs of your community and its members. It will grow slowly and organically just as ours has done. But it is not impossible: if you build it, they will come.
Now, please tell me: which aspect of our community are you most interested in learning about next? Let me know in the comments and I will do my best to address it in a future post.