As time goes by, I’ve come to appreciate the numerous methods Charlotte Mason used with her students. But when I first became acquainted with the name Charlotte Mason, I really wasn’t aware of many of the details.
As I think many of us can attest, I was initially drawn to Charlotte Mason’s ideas after reading Susan Schaeffer MaCauley’s book, For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School (referred to on this web-page as: FTCS). This gentle, insightful book opened my eyes to the joy that I could find within our family and our homeschooling endeavors. I’ve re-read FTCS many times, and each time it refreshed my soul and restored my vision for what homeschooling can be about.
Since I was already committed to home education when I first read FTCS, the book helped to cement my dreams and visions for our family, and gave me reassurance that I, as my children’s mother, could provide not just an adequate education, but a rich and full educational experience for my children.
I remembered all too well the long hours spent idly during my own childhood sitting in school reading dry-as-dust textbooks, studying only to pass the test, learning to play the “game” of pleasing the teacher, and always feeling that there was more out there in life to learn about, ponder and experience.
I wanted so much more for my own children. I wanted them to feast their hearts, souls and minds on fine literature, awe-inspiring art, majestic music, and great thoughts.
I wanted them to learn how to think—not just learn to pass a test. I wanted them to be prepared spiritually, intellectually, morally and academically to pursue wholeheartedly whatever passion would be on their hearts for the future, whether in the field of science, art, missions, homemaking, academics, or whatever.
CHILDREN ARE BORN PERSONS
They are not possessions, nor a cog in the machine, nor simply a warm body to feed and clothe. They are individuals with a spark of life all their own—their own dreams, desires, spiritual hunger and giftings. Children have capable minds to be respected, not devalued with “twaddle” or dumbed down literature.
I remember as a child being frustrated by Sesame Street when it first came on the air back in the sixties. I was only about seven or eight at the time, but I can remember sitting in front of the television with my two younger next-door neighbors and feeling horrified by the twaddle being paraded in front of my eyes. Why should I watch something ridiculous like that when I could curl up with Beatrix Potter or any number of favorite authors and have my imagination encouraged and my heart enlarged?
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAY
Play is an important—no, essential—part of childhood.
A quote from FTCS: “One of the saddest things I know is to watch students at L’Abri look at a group of children, involved for hours in satisfying play, and comment, ‘I’ve never seen children playing like that.’ No? Then weep. Even childhood is robbed of the richness of humanity.”
I remember the long afternoon hours of play on our street where I grew up. Mud pies were the feast of the day, impromptu races of various sorts kept us active and healthy, relaxed ball games that included everyone (even the youngest or least coordinated of the children), building forts, driving our “motorcycles” (ie: tricycles), and even acting out our own made-up scenes from Gilligan’s Island with all the neighborhood children playing their favorite characters. I know I could rightly argue that watching Gilligan’s Island in the first place was a rather non-educational event, but the natural play that occurred as we acted out our roles was important.
I always wanted to play the Professor. He was one of my childhood heroes. Any man who could make a radio out of coconuts and spend his day surrounded by test tubes and beakers, never losing his logical take on life, was someone after my own heart (I was a rather odd kid!).
Odd, maybe. But I was me—totally individual in my thinking and make up. And I think that takes us back to the idea of children being born persons. Fortunately, no one came and interrupted our well-developed game and said that I couldn’t play the Professor since I was a girl. I was allowed to give free reign to my imagination and fully explore, through the simple joys of play, what I thought it would mean to be a scientist as an adult (by the way, as an adult I did end up working in a medical laboratory—surrounded by test tubes and beakers!). Maybe playing Gilligan’s Island seems a bit silly, but we played with all our hearts and it was a game totally of our own devising, no adults telling us what to do or how to do it.
Now-a-days, the myriads of organized sports and outside activities that children participate in from preschool on up seems to be almost the antithesis of that healthy, hearty, spontaneous and child directed play that goes into shaping the character, dreams and thoughts of an individual, growing person.
One of the most valuable activities in our home was reading often and at length from good books, “living” books, chosen carefully for their literary value—interesting, educational, and pleasurable to read.
I remember my grandmother baby-sitting me often when I was quite young. Each night she’d read one of the Beatrix Potter books to me. Those moments curled up, warm under the covers with Grandma sitting on a chair beside the guest bed reading delightful stories about Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten and Benjamin Bunny are some of the warmest and fondest memories I hold dear from my childhood. Years later, as an adult myself, reading those books to my own children evoked happiness in the deepest part of my being.
I started reading aloud to my children when they were just days old. I know they couldn’t understand what I was reading yet, but I knew that the love and care communicated to them by being held in my arms as I read softly to them was a gift beyond measure. By the time my children were about three-years-old, they were all able to sit and listen to chapter books like Charlotte’s Web or Winnie-the-Pooh (not the “Disney”-fied versions of the Pooh books, by the way, but the original A.A. Milne classics).
I kept on reading aloud to my children for as long as they were living in my home. And someday I hope to be able to read to my grandbabies, as well.
Once my children were reading fluently on their own, they did their school work from their own books, but we still continued our family read aloud times just for the fun of it. I think all the reading aloud in our home did wonders for our family. It served as a treasured family activity, a foundation for a love a great literature in the children, a means for developing a stronger command of the language, and an avenue for increasing listening skills.
Narration is essentially just retelling what you’ve heard, seen or experienced—thus cementing the learning process. The whole idea of narration made sense to me right away since I saw how natural it was to want to tell someone about a good book or a fun movie, and then in the retelling, the story seemed to come alive all over again, living in the memory in a new way because of the retelling. I also saw clearly that if someone knew they would have to retell something they’ve read or seen, they’d listen intently.
Well, that’s the quick version of what first drew me to a few of Charlotte Mason’s methods and philosophies. But the more I’ve learned about her methods and the more of her ideas I applied with my own children, the more convinced I became that these ideas were the right method for our family. The application and adaptations of her methods shared here are solely mine, and I don’t claim to speak for Charlotte Mason.
One thing I’ve discovered with home schoolers in general, is that we tend to be a pretty independent-minded group. Since each family is made up of a group of unique individuals, it makes sense that my applications of these ideas in our home would be different from someone else’s applications. As Catherine Levison so humorously states in her seminars, the “Charlotte Mason police” won’t be showing up on anyone’s doorstep, so I always felt the freedom to educate my children with the combination of methods and philosophies that we thoughtfully and prayerfully decided were best for our home.
I want to be sure to give Charlotte Mason full credit for being a such great inspiration to me. Our family’s home education efforts have been greatly enhanced by many of the methods and ideas revealed through Charlotte Mason’s writings.
(Excerpted and adapted with permission from A Twaddle-Free Education: An Introduction to Charlotte Mason’s Timeless Educational Ideas.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough is a long-time homeschooling mother of three (now adult) children as well as a freelance writer and the author of a number of books including the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series (SourceBooks) and Frugal Living for Dummies (Wiley). Visit Debi at A Frugal, Simple Life.
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NOTE: People often ask about our family’s homeschooling journey, so I pooled together some of my responses from several online interviews which you can now read here: Interview with Debi
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