I’m so excited to start again my series of interviews Mothers’ Voices that I have initiated in 2015 and delighted to have Charlotte from Hello, Maman as my first guest after such a long pause.
The purpose of these interviews is to share about the joys and the challenges of motherhood and to hear the voices of wisdom of mothers around the world. They are all unique, with a unique story and might raise their children in different ways. They live in different countries and sometimes they move around. They might have made different choices for their families or for their children’ education. But they all have in common is their love for their families and passion for what they are doing.
I came across Charlotte on Instagram and we have been following each other for a while. I love Charlotte’s serene and peaceful way of organizing her life so that she can homeschool her son and continue her work as language therapists throughout France. In this interview we talk about how she manages this nomadic life and homeschooling, how homeschooling works in France, her sources of inspiration, how she takes care of herself as a mother and much more.
Charlotte and I had this conversation in French and I have translated it into English. If you want to read it in French, you can find it here
Charlotte, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family? What is your story?
I’m Charlotte, I’m 34 years old, I’m French and I live close to Paris with my son Aurèle who is 33 months and his dad Frédéric, 48 years old. One week out of two Frédéric’s daughters (11 and 12 years old) live with us as well. I’m a speech therapist since 10 years and I’m self-employed, specialized in children’s disabilities. After Aurèle’s birth I stopped working in a private practice because, in my view, the consultations hours where not compatible with a baby. I carried on doing the trainings I have started before Aurèle’s birth. I am training speech therapists and teams that work with disabled people. I travel throughout France and I take Aurèle with me. When I don’t travel for my work, we travel for pleasure, play, read or go for a walk.
You are homeschooling your son who is 3 years old. In France school starts around this age. What made you choose homeschooling? How long are you planning to do this?
In France school starts at 3 years old, indeed. Before I got pregnant, I didn’t think about stopping work to be a stay-at-home mom, even though I was already doubting about the classical methods of teaching. During my pregnancy, I have received a Montessori training and started reading a lot of books and blogs about the alternative pedagogical approaches, the self-directed learning. I met on Instagram a “homeschooling mums” community. The decision became more and more obvious and I found in my readings and the homeschooling community the support to take this step. I wanted something else than the classical learning approach for my son and I wanted to stand by him and offer him a childhood as free as possible. Aurèle’s dad and I have discussed this together and he decided to trust me even if he would have chosen a more classical approach and, if it were just him, he wouldn’t have contemplated homeschooling. Thus I haven’t decided yet how long we will be homeschooling, we will see in the next years if this continues to suit our family.
What philosophy or approach(es) influence(s ) you in your homeschooling journey? Where do you find inspiration?
Like I said, I have a training in Montessori education and this was for me the entry point in the world of the alternative pedagogies. I particularly like Montessori’s approach to child’s autonomy, because this is something I have wanted to cultivate since Aurèle was very young. Then I have discovered the Steiner Waldorf philosophy, that I particularly appreciate for its link to Earth, to nature and the meaningful work with the hands. I have also discovered the project-based approach and more recently I have been researching more on Charlotte Mason pedagogy that also includes many interesting aspects like the ubiquity of books and of nature.
More generally, I think that these learning approaches make more sense than those encountered in the traditional schools. In my view, they lack coherence, general knowledge and autonomous logical thinking.
I find my inspiration on Instagram, my favorite social media. I follow inspiring mothers who lead me to blogposts, books, exciting discussions, podcasts and even online trainings.
How “easy” is to homeschool in France? How does this work?
In France schools starts at the age of three but education is mandatory from six years old onwards. This means that from the age of six children need to be educated, but not necessarily in a school. When children don’t go to school, the government carries out an inspection to make sure that these children receive an appropriate education. The new administration is considering to make instruction mandatory from three years old on, instead of six. This won’t impact our decision to homeschool but it would mean that the inspection would start earlier which is always stressful! The choice of the learning methods is a free choice and theer are many distance courses. This is for the administrative side. It’s still a choice made by very few families in France so it’s very much unknown by the general population. And when you say “unknown” you often say “value-based judgment of something that is different”…So we constantly need to explain that yes, homeschooling is legal, yes, Aurèle is socialized and no, we don’t do this to cut him from the outside world, etc.
What are the challenges and the precious gifts of homeschooling?
We are only at the begining of our homeschooling journey.
The most precious gift of our life choice is of course being able to be with my son, being present for all the awe moments, all the learnings, allowing him to wake up when he wants, to take his time, to acquire a maximum of independence. For example, if he needs 10 minutes to get dressed, he can take his time. I love following his interests and allowing him to learn at his own pace. He can decide for the topics he wants to explore. Recently he got a strong interest for dinosaures. We went to the library to choose books about this topic, we went to the museum, we took the time to talk about dinosaurs , play with miniatures…
I am so happy that we were able to make this choice and I don’t see any challenge for the moment. I am aware that I have the luxury to adapt my work in order to spend as much time as possible with Aurèle. I know that many moms would love to homeschool but they can’t so I consider myself very lucky!
You are also working on projects that you are passionate about. Tell me a bit about them.
For now, my paid work is my job as a trainer. Nevertheless, I have several projects that are linked to my blog: coaching and trainings for parents on themes like simplicity and rhythm, a magazine about alternative education methods (the first issue will be published in autumn), workshops organized in shops…
How do you find balance? How do you manage to homeschool and at the same time travel for your work?
It’s hard to find balance because I have many different ideas and desires but little time to carry them out. And I don’t want Aurèle to be affected by my lack of availability. So I take one step at a time, and, even if it’s difficult for me, I take the time to reflect on the consequences before I take the plunge!
Aurèle and I are usually traveling for 5-6 days and I work 3 days out of them. When I’m working Aurèle is with a babysitter that I recruit on Internet or by recommendation from acquaintances. The days I don’t work we take the time to discover the city and its surroundings, take a walk or just play, cook, read, discuss, just as we do at home. I often say that home is where we are together, him and I. The objects around us don’t really mater as lons as there is an emotional stability and that he lives in a serene environment that responds to his needs in terms of learnings, sleep, rhythm…
We have all heard that “it takes a village to raise a child” but nowadays most of us are raising children in nuclear families. What challenges do you face as a mother “without a village”? What gives you strength?
What I love about the freedom to homeschool is to be able to take the time. We take the time to discuss with the merchants in our neighborhood, the gardener in the park, the people we meet in the train. We have time to meet up with friandes and visit our families. At the end, Aurèle is in contact with more people from different backgrounds than if he was in school. The challenge are the questions around homeschooling from people who don’t know us and have a negative a priori. But I have learned to only listen to myself and my son’s fulfillment is my biggest strength. My village are all the mothers around me. They come from all over the world, thanks to the magic of Internet and they support me every day in my conviction that we are doing what is right for our children, even if we are not following a roadmap laid out in advance.
We also talk a lot about “self-care”. Every mother in this world says it’s important and very often they add “but.. I’m not good at it” or “but ..I have no time for it right now”. I believe that more than self-care, mothers need to be nurtured. How does that look for you? What nurtures you?
Aurèle is now playing independently and I can fill 30 to 45 minutes of yoga into my days, in the morning. If I don’t manage to have a yoga session in the morning because I need to work or we have to go out, then I do it when he is napping or in the evening. I don’t really feel like I don’t have time for myself: I don’t watch television, I have uninstalled the Facebook app on my phone, I always take a book when we go to park. I decide what I do with my free time. Aurèle goes to sleep around 9 p.m. and I don’t get to bet before midnight so I have enough time to read, work or watch a TV series. I research a lot on simplicity, minimalism, slow living and I put these principles into practice. This allows me to free up mental space in my daily life. The travels, even if I’m with Aurèle 24/24, nourish me as well. The key for me is to constantly learn something new and have new projects. Even if they don’t all come true, it creates an excellent dynamic.
What book(s) had the biggest impact on you as a mother, as a woman?
Maria Montessori’s books, “Simplicity Parenting” , “How to raise a wild child”, ”Learning all the time”, How to live more with less”
And finally, if you had to ask yourself a question, what would that be?
Maybe this one: you live in a city, how to you deal with the lack of nature when you seem to be so inspired by approaches like those of Rudolf Steiner and Charlotte Mason who advocate for being in nature? My answer: badly :) I would love living in the countryside, having a garden but the real estate prices in Paris don’t make it possible for us. Maybe we will move away outside Paris, we are contemplating this option…