Jesus' Precious Little Lambs

A Charlotte Mason Christian Home School: Preschool – 5th Grade :)

Is Kindergarten the Best Training Ground for a Child?

on April 16, 2013

Charlotte Mason Friends Book Club, Home Education (Vol. 1) pages 150-225

  • This post dovetails my To Preschool or Not to Preschool post–one of my very favorite posts ever written!! If you have, or will have, a preschool age child please read it!
  • FYI, when Charlotte Mason refers to kindergarten, she is referring to nursery school, a pre-school: a place intended to get 2 to 6 year olds ready for school (Charlotte’s kindergarten years 2-6 = American preschool + kindergarten years). Charlotte Mason’s methods recommend beginning formal lessons at age 6.

Kinder-Garden, A False Analogy

The first kindergarten was established in Germany in 1840, and “kindergarten” originally meant “children’s garden” because it was intended to be a place for children to be taken care of and nourished like plants in a garden. No doubt kindergarten, or preschool, was originally intended to be an out of door life in the garden for children. A beautiful idea in theory, however, we must admit that modern kindergartens and preschools resemble nothing of the sort.

Charlotte notes the homogenizing effect on children in a kinder-garden tended by a teacher: “the exactly due sunshine and shade, pruning and training, are good for a plant whose uses are subordinate, so to say, to the needs and pleasures of its owner.” Plants are not created to have purpose, but children are. Learning is hampered in the traditional learning environment where twenty children are focused and dependent on the teacher, and where children become dependent upon her constant direction. Everything is planned, expected, suggested by her–nothing gets to the children without her processing it first. Children lose a lot of their individuality and purpose. On the other hand, learning at home is more spontaneous and child centered, rather than teacher centered; individuality is inherent in a homeschool environment because children direct much of their own learning. The habit of self direction over the years becomes a powerful momentum in their education and lends to a very gratifying sense of purpose.

We are so proud when our preschooler comes home from preschool able to identify a rhomboid from a pentagon, a primary color from a secondary color, when he can cut and fold paper–we feel like “my child is learning!” But Charlotte believes “this is at the expense of much of that real knowledge of the external world which at no time of his life will he be so fitted to acquire.” Real learning for our young ones is giving them as much outdoor time as possible, and to guide them toward developing powerful habits of attention during that outdoor time. Spending hours in nature every day far surpass the results of the organized academic work they get in even the best kindergarten situation. Developing powers of observation in young children is the main goal of early education, and home is the growing place that provides countless observation opportunities–like straightening a tablecloth or a picture, or wrapping a package–which would never present themselves in a classroom setting. Unfortunately, the contrived lessons taught in the artificially controlled environment of a classroom make for a poor growing place with much less opportunity for real life observation skills to be honed.

Masterly Inactivity

Children must be given the freedom and time to learn to direct themselves and think for themselves. The direction parents give in the continual guarding of habits and guidance of character is very important. However, the other part of raising children is leaving them alone, or what Charlotte Mason calls providing “Masterly Inactivity’. Children should be left alone to develop according to their own nature as long as they do not become spoiled. They should be left alone to create their own games and imaginary play with no adult influence. A few good quotes from Charlotte on Masterly Inactivity:

“Children must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this––that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder––and grow.” 

“Children need time to make up episodes, carry on pretend adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and defend forts, even if the fort is only an old armchair. Adults must not interfere or tell the children what to play. They need to accept the fact that this is something they don’t understand, and, even more, their very presence carries the cold breath of reality that makes the pretend illusion dissipate and fade away. Think what it must be like for a commanding general leading his soldiers when some intruder into his play-world tells him to tie his shoes!”

“The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators. Now, Nature is her own mediator, undertakes, herself, to find work for eyes and ears, taste and touch; she will prick the brain with problems and the heart with feelings; and the part of the mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted. Mothers shirk their work and put it, as they would say, into better hands than their own, because they do not recognize that wise letting alone is the chief thing asked of them, seeing that every mother has in Nature an all-sufficient handmaid, who arranges for due work and due rest of mind, muscles, and senses.”

The Perfect Teacher

Imagine the perfect kindergarten teacher–a sweet voiced goddess, a joyful singing enchantress who makes the classroom like a little piece of heaven below. She lulls children into nice little games of frisking like lambs, flapping their fins, and flying around the room like butterflies.” Its not exaggerating to say that the direction exerted by preschool/kindergarten teachers over the children even extends into the area of play. (“However, put the commonplace woman in charge of a large group of children, and “the charmingly devised gifts and games and occupations become so many instruments of wooden teaching.” So true!)

Ah, but the children in a good preschool classroom look so happy! Charlotte says, “It is a curious thing about human nature that we all like to be managed by persons who take the pains to play on our amiabilities.” It is little wonder that children can be wooed to do anything by someone who charms them. Be assured that there is a kindergarten teacher even more perfectly suited for your children than that singing goddess……….and Charlotte asserts that it is you: “If the very essence of the Kindergarten method is personal influence, a sort of spiritual mesmerism, it follows that the mother is naturally the best Kindergarten teacher; for who so likely as she to have the needful tact, sympathy, common sense, culture?”

Small Children Have Great Powers of Mind

Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher once said, “I don’t want any more Kindergarten materials . . . I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think, whereas if the child is left to himself he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things, and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”

The biggest problem with preschools is that they are notorious for having a great deal of twaddle in song and story and projects–stripped down, dumbed down, spoon fed ideas and language. In preschool, not only are ideas and information constantly distilled and interpreted by the teacher herself, not only are children taught how to play by adults as if the child’s whole job was continual imitation, but children are exposed constantly to very simply worded books, poems, and songs. I never realized how much people undervalue the intelligence of little children until I discovered how uneasy I felt about replicating what other children are learning at preschool in my own homeschool preschool. Charlotte says, “Generally, children who grow up with adults and never have juvenile books are better able to glean from the literature of adults.” I believe that more and more as I follow Charlotte Mason methods. I just read the original tale of Beauty and the Beast to my children during story time at school and was thrilled that they enjoyed the beautiful fairytale while being exposed to incredibly rich literary language and wonderful examples of moral character. Try reading more classic literature like this to your young ones, and then decide for yourself if anything offered at preschool or any other school could ever equally lay the foundation for one day forming a highly educated young person.

Instead of being taught how to play at baaing like lambs with a teacher at preschool, little children can join in the play of older siblings at home in complicated imaginative play like Robinson Crusoe or Treasure Island. Instead of learning from the weak literature presented at preschool, little children can benefit from joining in with some of the higher studies of older siblings at home–poetry, history, nature study, Bible, art, and foreign language–family friendly subjects (rather than skill dependent ones like math and handwriting). Or in homes where all the children are still young, they can thrive from intelligence valuing homeschool lessons developed just for them– like the lessons we do at Jesus’ Precious Little Lambs :).

Give Your Child Free Growing Time!

Preschool at home is anything but a scene of orderly peace on some days, but it is the better growing place. The children grow with vigor and individuality apart from the preschool environment where there is no letting alone, no immersion in rich literary language, no influence of older siblings, no significant time in nature, no masterly inactivity, no thinking for themselves, no growing time. Provide your little ones with a quiet growing time at home.

In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet and growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it for the most part spent out in the fresh air. ~Charlotte Mason

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  • Reading instruction was another important topic covered in this month’s reading. It is too technical to cover here, so I encourage you to read for yourself Charlotte’s methods for doing reading lessons with children ages 5-6 (p.199-230). Especially helpful if you are not sure how to teach reading at home or if the method you are currently using is drudgery! I personally will be using Delightful Reading by Simply Charlotte Mason, a great curriculum that follows Charlotte’s methods to a tee.
  • Do you want to be a part of my Charlotte Mason Friends Book Club? Read pages 225-300 in Home Education and bring some thoughts to share on the Little Lambs blog by May 15th. Together we can inspire others to bring the atmosphere of a living education into their home too!

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Rainy Day Art

Yay, Noah made something besides “traffic” (scribble)!!


Watering the Radishes


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