On a gentle hill nestled on the Minnesota prairie, a group of like-minded home educators gathers annually to discuss the nature and direction of their children’s education. They focus on a philosophy built on a clear view of God, the importance of relationships, and the practical realities of teaching and learning. These educators are participating in the the Living Education Retreat (LER) at Shalom Hill Farm in southwestern Minnesota.
The profoundly Christian educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) is the focus of this two-day event. Mason said, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.” By an atmosphere, she means much more than the child’s physical surroundings. She is referring to the child’s relationships and thought-environment. By a discipline, she is referring to the wide range of habits necessary for successful, full living – intellectual, moral, spiritual and physical. By a life, she refers to the abundant life in Christ and all the ideas and richness that accompany such a life.
Charlotte Mason’s educational ideas are just as important today as they were when Mason first wrote them approximately 100 years ago. Sharing these ideas is why Karla Taber and Nancy Kelly organized a local conference that would be different and unique. They wanted to bring in experts, yet keep it accessible to everyone. Karla and Nancy both used Mason’s methods in their homeschools and were eager to share and discuss with others. In 2006, God led them to organize the first Living Education Retreat. Each year has seen the event improve and grow, meeting the needs of homeschoolers and other educators.
The retreat features speakers who are nationally recognized as Charlotte Mason experts, teachers and homeschoolers who are currently applying Mason methodologies. The first LER brought Sheila Carroll of Living Books Curriculum. She explained in a hands-on way how to teach subjects a la Charlotte Mason. Nancy Kelly was the keynote for the second year, sharing her decade-plus experience in applying the method in her homeschool. Art Middlekauf and Dr. Donna Johnson headed up the third year, sharing about Mason’s theological underpinnings and their classroom experiences. Last year, Dr. Carroll Smith of Gardner-Webb University presented his research findings on the importance of language development in children and how Mason’s daily use of narration as a natural learning tool strongly affects later learning success. This summer, Dr. Jack Beckman, co-author of When Children Love to Learn will be speaking on the theme: “Charlotte Mason – Education is a Life: Ideas That Transcend Time.”
Purposefully built in to the retreat is time for reflecting, processing and discussing. Meals are relaxed times of making new acquaintances and grappling with the ideas presented. The conference includes large-group plenary sessions and approximately a dozen breakout sessions, with speakers always willing to chat and answer questions informally. The Living Book Giveaway has become a favorite tradition. Of course, the beautiful pastoral setting is perfect for sitting and contemplating or hiking and exploring.
Sally Almodovar from Lakefield, Minnesota, said the following about last year’s event. “It was amazing to share the experience of an intimate setting on a peaceful hillside, listening to a leading Charlotte Mason teacher with other dads and moms who were gathered for the same purpose in mind. The retreat inspired me with fresh ideas to implement in my homeschool as well as challenging me on a personal level.” This year, the LER will be held on July 30-31. If you are interested in learning more about the Living Education Retreat, the flyer can be downloaded here.
*This article was written for the June/July 2010 issue of The Paper MACHE