I love retreats. And I love Charlotte Mason. So you can see how I have ended up planning over 2 dozen retreats and speaking at dozens more. It all started with the Living Education Retreat that I began with my friend, Karla Taber, many years ago.This retreat and others like it are just one way that Charlotte Mason’s legacy and work is thriving in the United States. From this experience, I will share with you tips for planning your own Charlotte Mason retreat.
Years ago when I first began home educating my children (around 1994) using the methods of Charlotte Mason, I longed for more community, more support, more instruction. Where I live in southwest Minnesota (Laura Ingalls Wilder country!), very few people had heard of Charlotte Mason. Nobody, actually, except for a small handful of home educators.
Around 1999, I helped lead a book discussion on Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion. Interest was high! We thought it might be nice to present a little one day gathering for others wanting to learn more. So we contacted Ambleside Schools International and Mary Ellen Marschke (now St. Cyr) agreed to come and talk to us. She came all the way out to Shalom Hill Farm, along with her then-colleague who just happened to be Dr. Carroll Smith (Charlotte Mason Institute.) The gathering didn’t have a name and was simply organized without any bells or whistles. As it turned out, it was an enthusiastic gathering of school and homeschool teachers – about 40 in all – and we devoured what they shared with us about the Charlotte Mason method of education.
So it took five more years before Karla and I decided that we really needed to do this on a regular basis. We wondered if others felt the same. So, in 2006, we held the first Living Education Retreat. We invited Sheila Carroll from Living Books Curriculum as we had met her at the first Charlotte Mason Institute conference. There were about 35 attendees. We considered it a success but unfortunately lost money. So, the next year we met in the library of an old middle school. I did all the speaking (5 talks) so we could save money. It worked and we had money for the following year when we met in our church. More people came and more money was saved.
Our fourth year, we hit our stride. We started asking questions about what others would enjoy at a retreat. We added many extra touches. We practiced what we preached with handcrafts and nature study. And next year will be our 16th gathering! The retreat has sold out every year since, even after expanding it to 150 attendees with people attending from all over the world. Our original purpose was to help local people learn and build community but clearly, God had a bigger plan that we couldn’t fathom.
Tips For Planning a Charlotte Mason Retreat
Here are some things to think about when deciding on whether or not planning a retreat is for you:
- Pray – you have been given this idea. Charlotte tells us that ideas are of spiritual origin. Be walking with and listening to the Holy Spirit as you consider what you might offer to others.
- Start small – will this be a meeting for a day? An immersion? An overnight retreat? A conference? Be able to describe your type of event clearly. (A conference and a retreat are two very different things.)
- What is your purpose? It’s possible your purpose will change, but it’s helpful to begin with a clear purpose.
- Who is your target audience? Moms? Dads? Teens? Couples? Everyone? Are children invited?
- What will you call it? A good name is important.
- Who will help? Form a team to come alongside you. To begin with, that might only be one other person as we started out with. Now we have a planning team of 5, helping team of 5 (the Friends of the LER), and countless other volunteers.
- How will your schedule for the event reflect CM’s philosophy?
- What will you do locally to cultivate a sense of place? Bringing in local geography, history, and culture will delight everyone.
- When attendees go home, how do you hope they will think about the event?
Logistics to Consider When Planning a Retreat
- Where will you hold the event? What about housing?
- How will meals be handled?
- Who will take care of handouts?
- Who will be your speaker(s)?
- Will you need sound?
- What about signage? Graphics? Social media? Advertising?
- Who is gifted in decorating?
- What will you charge to carefully handle all costs?
- How will you handle the registration process?
What Charlotte Mason Says About Gatherings
Read what Charlotte said about one of her conferences:
“ All other bodies of workers, whether of hand or brain, enjoy the help and profit of association; commonly, of cooperation. Thus the wisdom, the experience, the information of each is made profitable for all; enthusiasm is generated by the union of many for the advance of a cause, and every member is cheered by the sympathy of his fellow workers.”— from“A Draft Proof” pamphlet, 1888
Wisdom, experience, information, and sympathy are all things one experiences at the Living Education Retreat and what we hope to continue as long as the Lord wills.
There are other things to consider when planning a retreat but my best advice is to keep it simple, especially if you are just starting out. Remember to keep her philosophy and method in mind as you consider your schedule. See the good and giftings of others and ask for their help. You might just end up refreshing others for 16+ years!
Teaching from Peace,
Read a little about the 2023 Living Education Retreat here and sign up to be on the email notice list! I speak at about seven retreats per year and am happy to share any tips or help plan when asked. Here’s my itinerary and speaking topics. To see pictures and meet some of the people of the LER, join us on the LER fb page.