A friend lent me two books introducing me to Charlotte Mason, and it has deeply impacted the way that I interact with my children (and other people’s children). What follows is simply the notes I took while reading (while reviewing and removing the notecards stuck all over the pages, actually):
1. See the child as a person. “Take a small child on your knee. Respect him… He is a separate human being whose strength lies in who he is, not in who he will become… In whatever condition you find him, look with reverence. We can only love him and serve him and be his friend. We cannot own him. He is not ours.”
2. Do not feel the need to “explain” everything the children encounter to them. Whenever possible, actually, stay out of the way. (But still present and knowledgeable to answer when asked.) Macauley describes it like this: “After narrating one if the great history stories if all time, I would have been reducing its breadth and interest by telling the children what I thought they should think and feel about it.” And later: “The education has to be self-education. The child’s mind is as good as the adult’s mind. Our task is to provide nourishment. We neither undervalue the child nor the knowledge. We provide a personal relationship, the source material, and the framework for this growth. He does his own learning, living and responding.”
3. Get to know a child simply for the sake of doing so (as opposed to as a menial or professional task). Macauley says, “I can assure you, the child will bring more to you than you can bring to him… They are so responsive. Their minds are challenging and wonderfully surprising…. This will be one of the most rewarding and stimulating relationships in your life… [T]hat youngster’s comments and questions are really going to make you think, think hard. You can throw away all the manuals. That child has an awful lot to teach you. Your mind is probably in a worse state than his.”
4. Macauley points out early on in the book: “Together share the struggles of knowing that we cannot perfectly follow God’s law. We are fellow-pilgrims.” And in a later chapter states: ” There is an atmosphere of friendship, creativity, and the security produced when human conduct is contained within the boundaries of God’s law for us. The moral atmosphere is not judgmental. The atmosphere is one where parent/child and teacher/pupil are all under the same authority.” (The book “Give Them Grace” by Fitzpatrick and Thompson has excellent examples of communicating this to your children. Book thoughts to come on this one…)
5. Help children establish good habits that will serve them throughout their lifetime. This includes the habit if doing certain positive things as well as refraining from doing certain negative things. The earliest habit, she says, is obedience. Macauley encourages the teacher or parent to “[m]ake the tasks easy, and only gradually harder.” In this way the habit of doing right is established. She asserts that “[l]ife itself is the best teacher in this. We have no need to invent extra burdens!” She encourages offering diversions in difficult situations to make them easier for children to respond in a way that is not inappropriate. I find that suggestion incredibly interesting and compelling. Macauley does a great job of admitting that habits alone are not the heart (reading your Bible and attending church do not make close relationship with God; eating meals together does not in and of itself create a close family), but they create the space for the relationship! How helpful the habits are in encouraging the meaning we are aiming for. Macauley says: “Children love routines. It frees their attention for the activity at hand.” And later: “Life at home and at school provides many areas in which helpful habits can be formed. Big moral efforts can then be saved for significant battles and choices, and not be frittered away on issues such as bedtime or TV.”
6. “As [habits] are established, care must be taken that is suits the child at that particular stage. Physical, emotional, and developmental aspects must be provided for. For instance, have you ever seen an insistent adult wasting time trying to secure cooperation from a small child who should have had supper, a story, and bedtime at least an hour previously? We help children when we spend time on understanding them. Are two children forever fighting?” Maybe it’s because they come home exhausted. Could they be helped by having a cozy story, with the littlest one being given a cuddle on your lap, and soon as they come home? Nutrition can be given with wheat-germ muffins and milk. Bolstered by having this need met, they will surely be helped to live together in greater peace. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ I believe all adults who have a office of authority over children should mediate on this regularly. These questions about the application of God’s moral laws require thoughtfulness, balance, and intuition. Love, common sense, and sensitivity to areas where freedom is necessary is needed. As a parent I find that I often need to rethink what I am doing and why.”
6. “The child should enjoy an atmosphere where life can be explored in a rich way. Little holy hedges are not what is wanted. Understanding the objective certainty of the truth of God gives an atmosphere that is free from fear. We can face up to people’s ideas. Questions can be asked. We can talk about them right in the open. Indeed, the child should be able to know, read, or listen to people who hold all sorts of ideas. As they mature, it is absolutely imperative that they be trusted to have access to current ‘worldly’ thought. Some of it has true greatness (say a play, essay, or book). They should be able to enjoy what is good, and yet be able to see what ideas are wrong.” I do appreciate her acknowledgement of our need to evaluate the child’s maturity. Some withstand pressure to do wrong easier than others. Those who stand at risk of being “sucked under by a tide that is flowing too hard for him” are to be removed by those of us responsible for them and placed in “calmer waters, while he develops maturity, thinking, and… education.”
7. Attention is a habit. Perhaps it comes more easily to some than others (I am not sure if Mason or Macauley ever say this; that is my thought), but it is a habit that can be worked on and improved on.
8. “Whenever possible, a child should partake in real work situations… In trying to give a child a carefree existence, we often leave him stranded with meaningless tasks.”
9. Whenever possible, take children to the places where this happened. And no fact-sheets!
10. Narrate, narrate, narrate. It struck me recently that I have unintentionally been doing this for a while. Sometimes when I give my children instructions (usually when I suspect I do not have their full attention, or when I think the instructions are a little more involved than I would usually ask of them), I ask them to repeat the instructions back to me. When the instructions were very short, they were repeated word for word. (i.e. “Get dressed and come back.”) But I have noticed recently that my instructions are repeated back to me paraphrased! They are narrating! In “When Children Love to Learn”, Maryellyn St. Cyr states that narration “is considered the sum total of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and practice of education.” And also: “Narration is retelling. It is not memorization or parroting. It includes feelings and reactions. It is not word for word, but point to point. It is a type of essay response to a broad open-ended questioning, a recall of information.” And some practical tips: “Never interrupt or prompt a person narrating even if a person mispronounces a word. Persons soon forget what they were going to say next when interrupted.”, “The child is told prior to the reading that he or she will narrate, to encourage careful listening/reading”, “The literature is read once”, “After the child is finished, read back to him or her what was written. Ask the child if he or she would like to say anything else.”
11. “Daily structured practice [is] best tackled as one of the first priorities of the morning. A regular ten-or-fifteen minute slot of one-to-one work”. I have had great success with this already. Any subject my children complain about or struggle with becomes the first task of the day (different for each of them) and I try to limit to 10-15 minutes (I could be better about that). The child only has the time it takes them to unpack their supplies for that subject to “dread” it, and the rest of the day to recharge and relax and enjoy whatever else they’re doing.
12. “[I]t is not a luxury to become- and stay- fit. We and the children are to see it as a duty! We cannot be prepared to serve if we are unfit and breathless soldiers… They should want to be as strong and well as possible so as to be useful in hard service.”
13. Preparing student for a “feast” includes acquainting them with the culture, the geography and history relevant, the author/artist, the atmosphere of the art form is that time and place, and, when appropriate, a children’s version of the story first, preparing them to receive the full version.
Curriculum material suggested that interested me:
“A Child’s History of the World” by Hillyer
“How Should We Then Live?” (film series)
“Whatever Happened to the Human Race” (ages 13-16, film)
Shakespeare at 9, 10, or 11
WCLTL: Simply Grammer by Charlotte Mason/Karen Andreola (age 9-10)
Poetry by Longfellow and Stevenson
WCLTL: “Our Island Story” by H. E. Marshall
**Picture study: “The child is given his first reproduction. He looks at it, and you let him talk about the picture. You don’t lecture about schools of painting or style. The child is allowed direct and fresh access to the picture itself… When the child has had a chance to look to his heart’s content, turn the picture face downwards, and get him to describe what he saw… He then turns it over and with interest checks the picture again. Next time, the skill will become sharper, the child more observant. He will regard the pictures as friends. Make it a happy warm time, just like when you enjoy a story together. The PNEU child was also given a blank piece of paper to sketch roughly what he remembered of the picture.” Also (more applicable probably to a museum visit): “Don’t hurry him off! Don’t try and get him to ‘see everything’. You’ll give him pictorial indigestion. One sure way of making a person hate apples is to take him to an orchard at 9:00 A.M. and force feed him apples until noon! Indeed, the revulsion may last a lifetime. So it is with pictures and museums.”
**Music: “How about Beethoven’s Fifth every Saturday morning as the children hop into their parents’ bed for a special cuddle?”
**Life Skills (My phrase. Mason calls it Handicraft): sew, cook, knit, embroider, work with clay, wood, metal, care for plants and animals
**Poetry: Charlotte Mason recommends daily.
**Art: In WCLTL, Bobby Scott says, “What about other areas of art [besides picture studies]? In our program, we have regular art classes, taught by a trained art instructor, beginning at third grade. These classes help develop painting, drawing, sculpting, and the like.”
**History: timelines and copybooks