My Experience Doing the Idyll Challenge

I first found Charlotte Mason back in 2013 (you can read more about that here), but it wasn’t until this month that I finally finished reading all six of her volumes in their entirety. Today I’m sharing about my experience with the Idyll Challenge and how it allowed me to finally complete this goal!

What is the Idyll Challenge?

The Idyll Challenge is a bi-annual event hosted by Charlotte Mason Poetry in which groups of people read through all six of Charlotte Mason’s books on education together. This worked out to be about 90 pages per month (3 pages a day), and once per month, we gathered together on Zoom in small groups to discuss what we had read that month. You can read more about the history of the Idyll Challenge here.

Why did I choose to do that Idyll Challenge?

I had tried to read through the books a few times prior to doing this challenge. The first time was on my own in 2014 when I had a three-year-old and a newborn. I found a group on the AmblesideOnline forums that was starting with Home Education and then having discussions online after we read assigned sections of it. I kept this up for a few weeks, but I think my sleep-deprived brain and the fact that I really only read modern fiction at the time made it hard for me to understand a lot of what she was saying.

Two years later, we moved to a new town and I was within reasonable driving distance (ie. 30 minutes instead of over an hour) of an in-person Charlotte Mason book group. At the time, they were reading through Ourselves, which is the fourth book in the series, but I joined anyway as an opportunity like this was probably not going to come along again any time soon. The women were warm and welcoming and the discussion was good and rich, so I decided to keep going and I’m so thankful I did.

Over the next few years, we finished reading Ourselves (only part of it for me as I joined later in the year), School Education, Formation of Character, Parents and Children, and Home Education. I attended nearly every month, especially in the beginning as it was the only time I had a chance for the first year to spend with these new women who ended up becoming some of my very closest friends. When my son was old enough, we joined the attached homeschool co-op group and got to see them more often, but those monthly evening meetings were still very special to me.

While I did attend the meetings regularly, sometimes I didn’t get all of the assigned reading done in time and then wouldn’t catch up later. So while I read the majority of those volumes, there were bits and pieces here and there that I had skipped. I really wanted to get through the entire series, but when the book group ended in the summer of 2020, I wasn’t sure how that was going to happen unless I did it on my own.

In August of that year, my friend Dawn (who I met through the book group) mentioned that she was going to be co-leading one of the Idyll Challenge 3 groups. It was honestly a little intimidating to me to think about reading through all six of the volumes in two years when I hadn’t been able to get through five of them in four years. However, since I wasn’t part of any kind of book group anymore and did have the goal of still getting through all of the volumes, I could at least give it a shot. And here I am, two years later, having read through every single word of each of the six books.

My Experience Doing the Idyll Challenge

Though the idea of reading through the books in two years by itself sounded intimidating, when I broke it down to pages per day (three), it felt a lot more doable. And that’s exactly what I did. During my morning reading time each day, I read three pages from whatever our assigned reading was for that month. In this way, I was able to get through at least most of the reading in a month (as I do sometimes miss that morning reading time) so when I had to catch up just before the meeting, it wasn’t too much. In the past, for our in-person group, I often waited until the week before we were going to meet with the intention that the content would be fresher in my mind for discussion during the meeting, but this meant that I often didn’t give myself enough time to get it done.

Re-reading large chunks of the books (and Ourselves in its entirety as I read that by myself in 2018 during my morning reading time) was an interesting experience and almost like a trip down memory lane. At some point over the last few years, I got into the habit of writing down the date next to a section I had underlined or highlighted and I was able to think back on where I was in our homeschooling journey at that point. It was also gratifying to find that I had so much more to underline and relate to now as my kids have gotten older and we’ve been homeschooling using Charlotte Mason’s philosophies longer. In this way, I feel like her books truly are living. I also confirmed that Ourselves is my favorite, though I also really like the first half of Philosophy of Education.

What I appreciated about the monthly group meetings was that they offered a certain level of accountability so if we hadn’t finished our readings by the time the meeting rolled around, we probably wouldn’t be able to participate much. Our group did shrink quite a bit from where we started in August of 2020, but for the ones who were around for most of it, it was fun to see their faces each month and get to know them at least a tiny bit. And though I still miss my in-person meetings because I miss seeing my friends (especially as our co-op ended last year), meeting online was a lot more convenient.

Overall, it was a great experience and I’m so glad I did it!

What’s next?

Now that I’ve finished, I do plan to read through the books again. I thought about taking the Idyll Challenge 4 schedule and doing it on my own, but a slower pace also sounds appealing. We’ll see what I’m inspired to read!

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