I Tried Charlotte Mason’s Schedule for 30 Days

I Tried Charlotte Mason’s Schedule for 30 Days

I was a mess. Between the global pandemic, a cross-country real estate search, getting our house listed, sold, and the subsequent move, all sense of normalcy and routine had eroded. One by one, I’d allowed a slew of bad habits to creep into my life that turned my daily rhythms into a cacophony. With work deadlines and senior year for my youngest on the horizon, it was imperative these bad habits be supplanted with good ones as quickly as possible. Though I’d previously found freedom in a daily schedule, my recent attempts at organizing my time had failed. I needed a routine that offered enough flexibility for the people in my life and the various hats I wear while being powerful enough to waylay procrastination and unhealthy habits, such as a late bedtime and inane scrolling.

I turned to people I admire—like Madeleine L’Engle, Maya Angelou, Benjamin Franklin, and C. S. Lewis—in search of principles in their daily routines that could be incorporated into my own.  Watching Nathaniel Drew’s video log while he followed Maya Angelou’s daily routine for 30 days inspired and motivated me to try something similar. The author and activist’s practice of checking into a simple hotel room with a legal pad, thesaurus, Bible, deck of cards, pens, and a bottle of sherry to work until 2 p.m. wasn’t viable for me as a homeschool mom.[1]  Suddenly, an idea struck. I remembered reading about Charlotte Mason’s daily routine years before in Essex Cholmondeley’s biography, The Story of Charlotte Mason—I could try it out for 30 days, keeping a daily log to jot down any notes! What follows is a lighthearted look at my experience with some of my takeaways.

First came a small bit of preparation. Opening Cholmondeley’s book, I set to work diffusing Charlotte’s usual schedule into a simple timetable by which I would pattern my own. Looking over the daily routine made it clear that Charlotte Mason budgeted her time just as carefully as one should budget their money. As Elsie Kitching notes, “Her days passed with a regularity of employment, a fullness of joy in life and work that left no room for thoughts of self…”[2] Miss Mason’s schedule was synced closely with that of her teacher training college, the House of Education, making it viable for my home school. She had conducted the morning lessons and took nature walks with her own students in the early years of the school.[3] While her morning work changed as the school grew and her walks became carriage rides due to waning health, she continued to dine, converse, and read aloud with her students.

This brings me to the scheduled meals, which would prove to be my biggest adjustment. Breakfast was served at 8:00 a.m. followed by dinner at 1:00 p.m. (commonly referred to as lunch in parts of the U.S.), tea taken at 4:00 p.m., and supper at 7:00 p.m. No poetry teatime in the morning, no grazing throughout the day, no random snacking, no bottomless cup of coffee, no bowl of potato chips before bed. Having just read the witty lifestyle advice found in Bryan Kozlowski’s The Jane Austen Diet: Austen’s Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness, I knew this followed the Regency pattern of the largest meals eaten early in the day, teatime carrying one through the midday hunger, with a rather light supper to round out the day. Interestingly, it’s also the exact recommendation my nutritionist had recently given me. Upon hearing that my first meal of the day consisted solely of a slice of peanut butter toast she advised me to flip my meal pattern completely around to start with a protein rich breakfast. This also follows nutritionist Adelle Davis’s famous advice to “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and supper like a pauper,” as well as the old Russian adage to “Eat your own breakfast, share lunch with a friend, and give your supper to an enemy.”

While sorely tempted to dig into the archives in an attempt to find the shopping list or menus for the House of Education, I reminded myself that I had more pressing work and a mindless replication of turn of the century England wasn’t the point. I’d simply cook a large healthy breakfast and prepare for dinner (or lunch) what I would have normally made for supper. I determined our food at teatime would consist of at least one savory and one sweet. Having had a British roommate for a few years, I knew how to make a proper “cuppa” but the light supper had me stumped so I called my friend from Devon, Jo Downing, who wisely suggested “leftovers”—a few slices of remaining meat or fish with a bit of salad would do nicely.

Meal plan finished, I was ready to attend to the really fun part—the books! Charlotte Mason had four to six reading or read-aloud times throughout the day and evening. My time of morning revival already consisted of Bible reading and The Cloud of Witness, to which I added a few pages of Idyll Challenge reading. In addition to spending time in the Word, Miss Mason’s daily reading consisted of a pinch of social satire, a biography or travel book, some Sir Walter Scott, and a favorite novel. Following her custom, I went with a bit of Babylon Bee, the memoir My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas, Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Scott’s epic poem, Marmion. Just the thought of all this reading made my toes curl in ecstasy!

Thus prepared and full of hope, I began my experiment. While I couldn’t find Miss Mason’s exact time of rising, I knew her teachers in training began their day at 7:00 a.m., breakfasted at 8 a.m., with lights out at 10:15 p.m.[4] At first I used James Clear’s advice and designed my environment for success, placing my alarm in another room so I wouldn’t be tempted to hit the snooze button.[5] Within a week this early (for me) bedtime meant I could begin my own day a bit earlier and awoke naturally between 6:00 to 6:30 a.m., heeding Miss Mason’s advice to children and drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning.[6] Showered, dressed, and with my personal reading finished, I prepared and ate breakfast then cleaned up the kitchen and tidied my bedroom. A few times a week I even baked something for our afternoon tea, painted, or did my grocery shopping at the farmer’s market. It was energizing to have accomplished so much so early! I’d forgotten that pre-lockdown-moving-frenzy feeling and enjoyed it immensely.

Next came the morning’s work, a block of time running from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. with a 20-minute break as needed. This time would have been used almost wholly for my children’s formal lessons when they were younger but, since my youngest is now a senior, I was able to begin the time as Charlotte did—attending to the mail. In my case, that meant mainly reading, writing, and answering electronic communications. Allotting 20-minutes to this endeavor meant I was fairly well caught up by the end of the week and had only to keep the momentum going. After this came a short time of household duties which I used for things like paying bills, looking over the household budget, and a bit of housework or cupboard organization that also served as a good stretch from sitting. Then came a period of deep work that consisted of presentation, book, or article writing, as well as revisions. I rarely felt the need for the 20-minute break to rest but sitting for so long meant I needed it to relieve my back with stretching exercises. 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and 12:25 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. were taken for lessons with my son. This was punctuated by my own 10-minute reading of a classic novel that I found absolutely refreshing.

At 1:00 p.m. I prepared dinner (still calling it lunch) and ate together with my son. Although now a fluent reader, he is dyslexic, so I often used the subsequent read-aloud time to read a chapter from one of his books for the term, which we’d then discuss. Dinner and supper cleanup were assigned to him.

Such a wonderful part of Miss Mason’s routine is daily time in nature—all one hour and forty-five minutes of it! Time out of doors is one of the few good habits I’d retained but moving from the mild summer temps of Massachusetts to the blistering temps of Tennessee made being outside from 2:15–4:00 p.m. almost unbearable the first two weeks of the experiment. My son and I made a valiant effort walking the first three days on our greenbelt bike trail but then agreed it best to either hold off on our walk until after supper or make the drive to Bays Mountain to hike in the slightly cooler woods on those days when the temperature was above 95° F.

Returning home, next on the schedule was 4 o’clock teatime. When living and working in Russia, everything stopped multiple times a day whenever anyone suggested tea, but in the States I’d usually only have tea in the morning and in the evening. The first few days of my new practice I kept forgetting I’d even poured myself tea—realizing it only after spying the lukewarm cup. Happily, it quickly became a routine with something savory, such as an open-faced sandwich; seafood, chicken, or egg salad; or cheese and crackers served alongside something sweet, such as traditional oat biscuits, flour-free peanut butter muffins, or an American biscuit with jam. Teatime, whether by myself in quiet contemplation, or happily chatting with my son, became such a welcome and wonderful part of daily life that I now feel off if I miss it.

Following tea, I had another time of concentrated work until 6:00 p.m. This usually amounted to an hour and a half in which I fulfilled my duties for Charlotte Mason Poetry, wrote, or worked on assignments for an art class.

Then came the glorious 6:00–7:00 p.m. timeslot made up of a full hour of reading a favorite novel! Admittedly, I had to set an alarm so I didn’t get lost in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and miss the 7:00 p.m. suppertime. Though I rarely felt hungry at this point, I was in the minority and a light supper was always served.

No one wanted to be read aloud to after supper so I used the time before bed to tidy my desk, make any necessary preparations for the following day, fold laundry, nature journal, or catch up with a friend or family member. Miss Mason “never worked out of hours nor let herself think of problems at night” and I followed her example.[7] When 8:45 p.m. rolled around I was definitely ready to crawl into bed with my book and turn out my light by 10:15 p.m. in order to be up and at ’em early the next morning.

Not every day followed Charlotte Mason’s usual schedule. For example, my son takes blacksmithing classes so there were days we’d make the long drive to the forge then I’d sit in a café to work until his class time ended. My other son’s girlfriend comes over every Wednesday late in the afternoon to watercolor together followed by take-out sushi. There were times my nieces needed a ride home from school or my sister would stop by.  One thing the lockdowns underscored for me was to always take time for people so, if someone wanted to visit or needed a helping hand, I said “yes.”

In general, though, most of my waking hours followed the same regularity of Miss Mason’s time of work and leisure. I’d accomplished more than I could imagine, my phone lived the better part of a month in a kitchen drawer, Sundays became that “day of delicious leisure,” I was able to stay focused on the task at hand, and nature, good conversation, and my books were a constant source of refreshment.[8]

My thirty days ended just in time to begin a season of travel and houseguests. While my days won’t return to the same regularity for some time, there will always be 4 o’clock tea.

Charlotte Mason’s Daily Schedule

Time Frequency Occupation
Pre[9]-9:30 a.m. Daily Morning preparation, Bible reading and personal time of prayer; breakfast possibly at 8 a.m.
9:30 a.m. Daily Morning post. Read, answer, and write letters.
As needed Household details, accounts, menu.
First week of month Parents’ Review considerations: articles submitted, read and accepted or not, submission requests for particular articles.
2–3 mornings per wk Write or dictate book reviews, articles, and conference papers.
Thursdays Crit. lessons (observation of student teachers giving lessons)
# of weeks per term Write exam papers. Read exam papers. Choose books and prepare new programmes.
11:00 – 11:20 a.m. As needed Rest break with social satire (Punch or Trollope)
11:20 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Daily Continue morning work.
12:15 – 12:25 p.m. Daily 10–minute reading of classic author.
1:00 p.m. Daily Dinner with students.
After dinner Daily Read aloud travel book or biography. Occasional interviews.
2:15 – 4:00 p.m. Daily Time in nature.
4:00 p.m. Daily Tea
After tea 1 hr. Daily Meet w/ vice principal to place teaching grads.
Daily Reading or proof correcting.
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Daily Read old favorite novel, e.g., Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Thackeray, Meredith, Jane Austen.
7:00 p.m. Daily Supper
After supper Daily Read aloud, newspaper, books of travel, literary essays, memoirs.
Tuesday Eve Weekly “Scale How Tuesday” enjoyment. Student from the training college gives a biographical sketch of her favorite author, artist, or musician while her peers supply accompanying illustrations from the chosen artist’s works.
8:45 p.m.[9] Daily Ready for bed. Evening reading of Sir Walter Scott.

Endnotes

[1] Drew, Nathaniel. “I Tried Maya Angelou’s (fantastic) Daily Routine.”
[2] Cholmondeley, E. The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 61.
[3] Coombs, M. Charlotte Mason, Hidden Heritage and Educational Influence, p. 169.
[4] Cholmondeley, E. The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 148.
[5] Clear, J. Atomic Habits, p. 85.
[6] Mason, C. Home Education, p. 26.
[7] Cholmondeley, E. The Story of Charlotte Mason, pp. 64–65.
[8] Ibid., p. 149.
[9] We know the students of the HOE arose by 7 a.m. and lights out was at 10:15 p.m.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.