Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Isn't Charlotte Mason Attractive?

Well, I have finished the reading I wanted to get through before the New Year. With Christmas coming up fast, I won't likely be blogging much this weekend. I just wanted to take a moment to "recap" my experience this fall with Charlotte Mason and her teaching method. Before I say anything else, I just want to say that I already feel extremely blessed by the wisdom that the Lord shared with Charlotte over a hundred years ago. I have no doubt that she was a sister in Christ, and one uncommonly blessed with insight into children and their upbringing.

The most attractive thing to me about a Charlotte Mason education is that it seeks to teach the whole child. Wise parenting coupled with many different educational approaches could produce the same result, but how wonderful to have such a kind, thoughtful guide to help the young mother through such a potentially overwhelming task as that of educating her own children at home. Charlotte Mason was a homeschooler at heart, encouraging parents with the firmly held belief that a loving, nurturing home and family provide the best learning environment for a child.

I am also deeply encouraged by the purpose behind her method. Education is not pursued for education's sake. Charlotte Mason believed that a proper education must be sought out for the children's sake. And to what end? That they be well-educated and live successful lives on the earth? Certainly, those are benefits. But, Charlotte again and again reminds us that children must be well-educated and well 'brought up' for the good of others - that they may be useful in the kingdom, a blessing to others, and glorifying to the Lord Jesus Christ. Character is highlighted. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is paramount. Education strives toward these ends. Not that they speak 5 languages or even that they score such and such on their SAT, but that others maybe be blessed and that the Lord may be glorified. What a vision for noble, God-honoring parenting!

Now that I have passed over into the Charlotte Mason recruitment ranks, let me stop there, LOL :) The following are some highlights of what I find to be The Best of Charlotte Mason in the practical, teaching sense (as much for my own notes as for the benefit of anyone reading):

Time Out-of-Doors:

I think this is a critical component for a healthy childhood - especially for the pre-school and early elementary grades. With this priority, the "whole child" is considered, not just the child's academics. Children must run, skip, holler, imagine, observe, feel, see, and smell outside. Here is the time for a child to "consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air"...

Short Lessons:

This one is a bit more controversial, and there are many convincing arguments for and against short lessons. Simply put, it makes good sense to me. The idea is NOT to make school overly easy for the children, nor is it stemming from the belief that children cannot be expected to sit still for long periods or attend for more than a few minutes. Basically, the idea of short lessons is to ensure that the child gives the whole of his attention, energy, and effort to the task at hand. Everything is to be done to the very best of his ability. Sloppy carelessness is not tolerated. Half-hearted work is not acceptable. He must give his best. Here's a good illustration to explain the idea: Charlotte asserted that a child who writes only six or so "h"s in his very best writing with careful attention is better off than the child who writes 30 letters, becoming tired and sloppy by the last line - allowing him to write part of his lesson without neatness, without the desired outcome. What good is a row of sloppy "h"s from a tired, distracted child? At this point he is learning little more than how to slack off and make sloppy letters. Better to never let his hand make the sloppy letters at all, and to keep his energy fresh. There is also bound to be less conflict between the mother and her children as the children are kept positive and interested in short lessons. As the child matures, his lessons gradually increase in length. Never so long, though, in the early years that plenty of time outdoors would be prevented.

Living Books:

I don't think I've mentioned the idea of living books, yet. Sometimes they are also referred to as "whole books". This is a central idea in CM's method. Basically, dry textbooks are to be avoided. They are written by scholarly committees usually far removed from actual children as well as from a true love for their subject matter. Whole books are written (usually) by one author, an author who has a passion for his topic. They are filled with information, yet personal and engaging. I've been looking over some "real books" for first grade science. Here's the dedication written inside one of the books I plan to use on Birds:

"To the children and the birds of America - that the bonds of love

and friendship between them may be strengthened..."

Isn't that beautiful? This author wants children to have more than just a memorized list of birds in this family and that family, more even than the ability to name a bird on a flashcard. He wants the children to learn to love the birds, to become friends with them. This book is a living book. Textbooks are not going to give the same response. Whether we do an official Charlotte Mason education or not, real books are a must for our family.


This is a bit harder to explain. For brevity's sake, I'll just say that narration is a child's verbal response to something that has been read in a book, either alone or as a read-aloud with the rest of the family. It is "telling" a short book report, or verbally answering a leading question about a passage. Sometimes it can be accompanied by an illustration. Sometimes Mama writes down the child's narration for him; he may or may not copy it afterward. Narration begins in first grade, and completely takes the place of written tests or reports until the second half of elementary school. The idea is that asking a young child to write down an original composition concerning a book or passage requires him to not only organize his thoughts, but pay attention to his still fledgling spelling, handwriting, grammar, and punctuation. He is not able to fully give his mind to any of it. By verbally "telling", the child is allowed to focus in on the content of his words and the content of the passage. He is composing verbally, without the distractions of mechanics he has not yet mastered. Mama knows if he "got it" when she read to him or when he read in the living room for ten minutes, because he is able to verbally tell her all about it - often with a great deal of detail and enthusiasm.

The Humanities:

This is purely my preference. I love how much Charlotte Mason focuses on literature, poetry, music, and art. Certainly, the more mainstream subjects are not ignored. CM students follow a rigorous science, history, and mathematics "curriculum" in their school years. How often, though, is a school-aged child exposed to the beauty and great thought in the humanities? The best art, music, poetry can only add beauty to a child's life - a real sense of God's gifts in all things good.

There's much more, really, but these are my closing thoughts on a wonderful Charlotte Mason semester. The 'method' that can lift my mind and thoughts higher is certainly welcomed to do so.