Jesus' Precious Little Lambs

A Charlotte Mason Christian Home School: Preschool – 2nd Grade :)

Meet Miss Mason

on July 26, 2012

Traditional Curriculum vs. A Living Education

After working for several years in the elementary school system as a substitute teacher and also while student teaching to get my credential, I formed quite a distaste for curriculum. I would open up a Houghton Mifflin or Open Court teaching manual and follow a scripted lesson with the children during Language Arts. The dryness made me want to gag and made the students want to get on to better things like recess. After looking over lots of homeschool curriculum recently, what I have come to realize is that the majority of curriculum is still traditional (workbook and textbook) which by nature is static, impersonal, and largely unrealistic in general. They all seem to be focused on the regurgitation of information and facts at a pretty low level of comprehension (Bloom’s Taxonomy, one of the best things I learned about in my teaching credential program, is soooo good to be aware of when teaching, or to use for evaluating the curriculum you are using or thinking of buying–does it use all low level thinking questions, or are there high level thinking questions too?). There happens to be lots of money in text book publishing, and sadly, literacy has been reduced to consumerism and instant gratification. School books, readers, textbooks, and the typical homeschool workbooks are dry as dust, dead as a door nail; a meal of saw-dust.

Rather than finding the perfect package of curriculum that simply does not exist, I have come to find and admire a role model, Charlotte Mason, whose educational principles seem to replace much of the need for store bought curriculum. What a relief, seeing as I seem to dislike curriculum’s pre-digestion of information approach so! Charlotte Mason lived and breathed the principles of a true education, education as a life, and was a pioneer in home education and major school reform in the late 1800’s. Charlotte Mason’s philosophies that live on in her 6 volumes, strike me as so right on as I continue to read about them. In her method of education, popular with homeschoolers, children are taught as whole persons through a wide range of interesting living books, firsthand experiences, and good habits. When I became sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that homeschool would be the vehicle of real learning in my children, and knew that it was going to have to look radically different from anything I knew of in the school classroom, my research discoveries revealed that Charlotte Mason’s philosophies and methods are rare gems of truth–perhaps the best thing out there to accomplish my goals. I want to share with you some of the things about a Charlotte Mason education that draw me in the most: living ideas, living books, and narration. I think Miss Mason’s philosophies will inspire you as a parent teacher eager to be able to better nourish your child’s mind.

SimplyCharlotteMason.com, A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola, or A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison are great resources for more information about Charlotte Mason methods.

Living Ideas

One problem in school classrooms is that children are taught at. Did you know there was a time when books were so expensive that schools did not use them? The lecture system of classroom education came from that situation. The teacher had to convey his knowledge to the student without any books. Even though books are available now days, unfortunately we have not departed from the lecture system–we teach at our children, spoon feeding them all the things they are to think, instead of coming along side them to grow them into deep thinkers. Most likely our own school experiences taught us that “we learn that we may know, not that we may grow; hence the parrot-like saying of lessons, the cramming of ill-digested facts for examinations, all the ways of taking in knowledge which the mind does not assimilate” (CM, Vol. 1)

I agree wholeheartedly that we should educate our children so they may grow. And just as their physical bodies grow on the food that is good for them, so their minds grow on a certain type of mind-food. “The mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body” (CM, Vol. 6). Those who believe we learn in order to know emphasize information. But those who agree with Charlotte Mason that we learn in order to grow, give their children ideas. If our children are going to stand against the ideas of the 21stcentury, this is how we must approach education. Ideas are so much more than mere facts or information. Ideas plant a powerful seed, that captivates thoughts, motivates deep pondering, and produces true learning that becomes a part of you. To really know something, it must penetrate past the outer court of the mind and gain access into the inner place where it stirs the imagination, touches the feelings, and affects the person. This outer court is where we keep facts that don’t seem to affect us personally. We may memorize them and spit them back out when required, but they don’t truly educate us. When something influences our lives, that’s when it has truly educated us. That’s when we truly know. (simplycharlottemason.com)

Oh my, in light of that, I think my education really started once I graduated from school. How about you? All I used to do was numbly regurgitate information only to be forgotten later, but now my mind is hungrily feasting on the grand ideas of well-worded books. I think I am finally learning something that I won’t soon forget.

“The difference between educated and uneducated people is that the former know and love books; the latter may have passed examinations.” –Charlotte Mason

Living Books

The most enticing aspect of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy to me is the idea that children’s minds should be fed with only the best ideas from the best books. Books that challenge the mind and soul with deep and noble thoughts and whose literary style leaves “beautiful impressions”. Books that help teach us about the moral world around us and inspire us to be better than we were. Living books are high literary quality books, first hand sources, classics–not the abridgement of an abridgement (as in Houghton Mifflin and open Court) so stripped down that it hardly bears resemblance to the original work, drained of its drawing power upon the reader. “Let all the thought we offer our children be living thought; no mere dry summaries of facts will do; given the vitalizing idea children will readily hang the mere facts upon the idea. . . . Let their books be living books, the best that can be found in liberal supply and variety” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 51).

What taste are we cultivating in our children over time as we allow them to read what Mason called “twaddle” (books written down to children)? What enthusiasms are cultivated by silly stories unable to grow a person? Dumbed-down literature is easy to spot. When you’re standing in the library and pick up modern-day, elementary-level books, you’re apt to see short sentences with very little effort applied to artistically constructing them to please the mind. Miss Mason said, “They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told”. (CM)

Give children fruitful ideas, rather than bushels of information (as most history and science texts for example shove fact after fact at you). Miss Mason said, “An idea is more than an image or a picture; it is, so to speak, a spiritual germ endowed with vital force–with power, that is, to grow, and to produce after its its own kind.” (Wow, that is powerful. I can hear my Pastor, Bishop Carl Smith’s, voice in that statement as he has taught us over and over again on the power of the Word of God being able to produce after its own kind as we think it and speak it) What you want your child to become, is what you should be giving them to read–the ideas in the books planted like seeds in their minds will “produce after their own kind.” Give them the Bible, the living Word, and other “living” rich literature for learning the great ideas of life from the greatest minds down through the centuries. Yes, mom has to read the books too in preparation for rich discussions in which these ideas will be worked out. As you and your child’s mind feasts upon the ideas of C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Dante, Mark Twain, John Bunyan–who will you become together?! Its unfathomably exciting.

Charlotte Mason used literature and adult level books as early as first grade. This is one reason the parent reads aloud to the student much of the time in this method. It is an excellent way to bring the best and most vital books to children long before they are capable of reading such things as Shakespeare on their own and without our help. Another advantage is raising the child’s vocabulary level at an early age while exposing them to good sentence structure and content.

When selecting living books for your child, its easy to feel overwhelmed by all the choices, but look for ones that will reinforce your priorities. Many people recommend a myriad of books for various reasons, but your choices should ultimately reflect the ideas that rule your life. Its entrusting a lot to a school to allow them to choose those books for you, ones that will reinforce what is uniquely important to your family. Ultimately I feel that only parents can truly choose the reading materials that will shape, form, and grow their children’s minds in alignment with the family’s values, priorities, and interests. I think parents should really weigh whether they want to give the school system, Christian or not, the privilege of feeding their child’s mind, and thereby owning that mind. At my well respected high school, I was reading about homosexuality, incest, and rape in The Color Purple at school under the tutelage of my gay and lesbian Core teachers–my parents totally unaware. What will be fed to your child’s mind at school?

Narration

Great Literature is to be used in every subject according to Charlotte Mason. In schools, classic novels are snacked on here and there in one subject only–Language Arts. But then the story is staled by focus on comprehension questions, vocabulary, and analysis. It is the person forming the question who is actually doing the most thinking. When a book is “taught” and then “tested”, the reading becomes mechanistic as the student tries to guess what the teacher wants in order to get an A.  At the end of the test, the book may be either remembered fondly or dumped completely by the child’s mind.  On the contrary, when literature is savored for its own sake, narrated through the individual personhood of the child, and shared in an intimate way with others, the book becomes a permanent part of the child’s life.  It becomes a way to build good character and healthy relationships as children are invited into the “great conversation” of mankind that transcends time and place.

If you don’t test the reader, how do you know that all this noble well written literature is indeed growing his mind? Let your child narrate, or tell back what she has heard. So you read a portion of a living history book. Then you require your child to narrate. He should tell back in his own words everything he can remember from the reading. Narration demands a much higher thinking level than true/false, multiple choice, or fill-in-the-blank questions. You are asking your child to pay full attention and compose a mental essay, in a sense. Narration may seem easy until you try it for yourself. Charlotte encouraged adults to use this method to help them learn too. When you understand its potency, you will see why Charlotte used it in teaching many subjects. Since our children are unique individuals; they will form their own relations with what they read. Narration is the peephole that gives us a peek into our child’s “inner court” and lets us see what has been admitted there. Read this article for a really clear example of the excellence of living books over textbooks, and the wonderful advantage of narration.

I think that one of the most difficult things of the paradigm shift required to implement narration is that we are not the center. Teachers and parents are not the fountain from which knowledge springs for our thirsty students.  It is not the parents’ jobs to provide all the answers.  When we do, we rob our children of an opportunity to exercise their own minds, and a lack of exercise leads to atrophy.  It is not for us to draw all the connections for our students through the development of units. It is also not for us to determine which ideas are most important from our reading. Mason stressed the importance of laying out the feast of ideas for children and then allowing them to deal with it as they were able.  This means they may not get every point that we think is important. One of the hardest things to let go of is the need to ask questions that points them to our way of thinking. However, to raise your child to be a thinking, articulate individual, child produced narration is an excellent means.

Your Child, an Image Bearer

The reason Miss Mason had such lofty educational standards is because she understood that children have very capable minds to learn, think, and read. Unlike the modern behaviorists who believe that children’s minds are like an empty vessel to be filled with information (the same devaluing premise of our lecture style based modern education; the same beliefs in the mind of many a teacher), Miss Mason believed what the Bible says: children are created in the very image of God himself. Children come to us with compelling inborn powers of mind in place, yet also with ignorance, which like an appetite, must be fed on mind food from living books and ideas, life and experiences. Children are already born a person–not an object to be manipulated as the behaviorist believes. Not a rudderless and morally neutral explorer, or an animal at the mercy of drives beyond his control. If your child is not being read literature way above grade level at school, or is being “taught at”, seriously consider which premise your child’s school is functioning on. Don’t allow anyone to devalue the personhood of your child. Education must be built upon a Godly understanding of our little people, or it will be devoid of the real mind food children are ravenous for.

A No Curriculum Home School

I am pleased to point out that the Charlotte Mason method need not involve the purchasing of a curriculum and once understood, could potentially be done solely through the library at no cost. It allows you to be Spirit led as you pray about the just right book selections you will make for growing your precious child’s impressionable mind. A Charlotte Mason education is not structured or unstructured—apply the method in the way that works best for you. School recommended by Charlotte Mason starts at age 6 and is typically during the morning hours only (9 to 11:30 or 12 up through 6th grade, 1 pm for upper grades). Children are encouraged to learn constructive entertaining things such as pottery, wood working or painting in the afternoons. There is time set aside everyday for this type of enjoyment, time to follow their own interests, along with plenty of time out in nature. Miss Mason loved children, and wanted them to enjoy that special time of their lives and not have it pass by in a blur.

If you research the practical application of Miss Mason’s methods in subject areas of spelling, grammar, composition, etc., you will see why no curriculum per say is needed. You can find sample schedules of a morning in a Charlotte Mason home school to see how it all falls into place. You can buy the aforementioned books which will include philosophy, practical application or “how to”, schedules, and living book lists. Basically little store bought curriculum is needed because living books are the content of a Charlotte Mason curriculum, and skills are taught in a very simple systematic way directly out of the literature currently being read.

Homeschool does not have to look anything like school with its traditional ways of teaching and high dependence upon curriculum. If you toss the age leveled curriculum, you can teach your children all together as a family in several subject areas. As for the “helpful” scope and sequence (what to teach and when) that curriculum tries to offer, I contend that the one size fits all nature can actually only complicate matters. Being free from this type of timeline is very important in order to match what your child is learning to what he actually needs to be/is ready to be learning. A 1st grader may be above in some subject areas, and below in others, making a 1st grade curriculum package a pretty good waste of money. Its really hard to find the just right fit in every subject area for each child. Besides, where can you find curriculum that teaches Charlotte’s Web to a preschooler; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to a second grader; and Shakespeare to a 5th grader like a Charlotte Mason school would?

Raise up a Daniel!

It is in the rare homeschool that wholeheartedly believes in the incredible God given abilities of a child created in His image, and feeds his mind accordingly, that I think we will find our future Daniel’s of the Bible. Youth of deep conviction, wiser in understanding and knowledge than their peers, chosen and favored by man and God. Its a great privilege and responsibility to raise up a Godly generation of Daniels in the 21st century!

Aim high my friends! Train up your children’s minds in the way they should go, and may your children be found as….

“Youths without blemish, well-favored in appearance and skillful in all wisdom, discernment, and understanding, apt in learning knowledge, competent to stand and serve in the king’s palace.” Daniel 1:4

A Twaddle Book

Noah’s first real attempt to read a book captured on camera. Mommy is so proud! Perhaps we shall decide to allow a little twaddle only for the purpose of decoding practice.

………………………………………………

A Living Book

Most of our reading time is spent with mommy or daddy reading aloud out of living books like The Velveteen Rabbit. My favorite book from childhood! The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic story from 1922 about how toys and people become real through the magical experience of loving and being loved. The message of this story is heart warming and one that is never forgotten. I recently checked it out from the library after reading about Charlotte Mason’s beliefs that children need to be read to from the best books. It didn’t occur to me to read a book of this level to my 3 year old or that I would find him captivated enough to finish the whole book in one sitting together. Thank you God for raising my sights through my acquaintance with Charlotte Mason.


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