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Do you ever struggle with deciding how something fits with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy? It could be a parenting book, a curriculum, or even an extra-curricular activity. “I’m not sure how Charlotte Mason this is, but…” is a statement that I hear a lot. I know I’ve said it! Sometimes it’s hard to tell if modern-day curricula upholds the beautiful principles of a Charlotte Mason education. Thankfully, Charlotte Mason gave us four tests for lessons in Home Education.
I realize I’m jumping ahead of the early years again. But I think this is important so we can learn to analyze not only curricula that we come across in the future, but educational ideas that we are confronted with now. I also think that knowing these things helps us have a better understanding of her entire philosophy. It’s important that we are able to discern what fits into the method for ourselves instead of strictly forcing her inspiring wisdom into a system.
Four Tests for Lessons
Four Tests which should be applied to Children’s Lessons.– We see, then, that the children’s lessons should provide material for their mental growth, should exercise the several powers of their minds, should furnish them with fruitful ideas, and should afford them knowledge, really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of the kind that the child may recall as a man with profit and pleasure.” Home Education, page 177
1. Provide material for Mental Growth
Why must the child learn? Why do we eat? Is it not in order that the body may live and grow and be able to fulfil its functions? Precisely so must the mind be sustained and developed by means of the food convenient for it, the mental pabulum of assimilated knowledge. Again, the body is developed not only by means of proper sustenance, but by the appropriate exercise of each of its members.” Home Education, pages 171-172
2. Exercise several powers of the mind
Doctoring of the Material of Knowledge.–Specialists, on the other hand, are apt to attach too much importance to the several exercise of the mental ‘faculties.’ We come across books on teaching, with lessons elaborately drawn up, in which certain work is assigned to the perspective faculties, certain work to the imagination, to the judgment, and so on. Now this doctrine of the faculties, which rests on a false analogy between the mind and the body, is on its way to the limbo where the phrenologist’s ‘bumps’ now rest in peace. The mind would appear to be one and indivisible, and endowed with manifold powers; and this sort of doctoring of the material of knowledge is unnecessary for the healthy child, whose mind is capable of self-direction, and of applying itself to its proper work upon the parcel of knowledge delivered to it. Almost any subject which common sense points out as suitable for the instruction of children will afford exercise for all their powers, if properly presented.” Home Education, page 172
3. Furnish with fruitful ideas
“The child must learn, in the second place, in order that ideas may be freely sown in the fruitful soil of his mind. ‘Idea, the image or picture formed by the mind of anything external, whether sensible or spiritual.’–so, the dictionary; therefore, if the business of teaching be to furnish the child with ideas, any teaching which does not leave him possessed of a new mental image has, by so far, missed its mark.” Home Education, page 173
4. Provide valuable, accurate, and interesting knowledge
Diluted Knowledge.– But, poor children, they are too often badly used by their best friends in the matter of the knowledge offered them. Grown-up people who are not mothers talk and think far more childishly than the child does in their efforts to approach his mind. If a child talk twaddle, it is because his elders are in the habit of talking twaddle to him; leave him to himself, and his remarks are wise and sensible so far as his small experience guides him. Mothers seldom talk down to their children; they are too intimate with the little people, and have, therefore, too much respect for them: but professional teachers, whether the writers of books or the givers of lessons are too apt to present a single grain of pure knowledge in a whole gallon of talk, imposing upon the child the labour of discerning the grain and of extracting it from the worthless flood.” Home Education, page 175
The common thread of these four things is that your child should be encouraged to think. Many modern day curricula do the thinking for your child! They do this through talking animals that give tidbits of facts, or by holding your child’s hand through a thought process so that they are led to a precise conclusion. Curricula like these often lack ideas behind the information, so children are uninspired and left with several unrelated facts that they soon forget.
Also Consider Outdoor Time and Free Play
Lessons and activities that involve a lot of indoor time sitting down also don’t pass Charlotte Mason’s test.
Before applying these tests to the various subjects in which children are commonly instructed, may I remind you of two or three points which I have endeavored to establish in the preceding pages:–
Resume of Six Points already considered.–
(a) That the knowledge most valuable to the child is that which he gets with his own eyes and ears and fingers (under direction) in the open air.
(b) That the claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.
(c) That the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes–moor or meadow, park, common, or shore–where he may find new things to examine, and so add to his store of real knowledge. That the child’s observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis of scientific knowledge.
(d) That play, vigorous healthful play, is, in its turn, fully as important as lessons, as regards both bodily health and brain-power.
(e) That the child, though under supervision, should be left much to himself––both that he may go to work in his own way on the ideas that he receives, and also that he may be the more open to natural influences.
(f) That the happiness of the child is the condition of his progress; that his lessons should be joyous, and that occasions of friction in the schoolroom are greatly to be deprecated.” Home Education, pages 177-178
Questions to ask
Where I struggle with this in the early years is “extra-curricular” activities. My social butterfly loves to do Vacation Bible Schools and little classes at the rec center. These questions will help me decide on the value of these opportunities.
- Does this allow my child to think, or does it do the thinking for them?
- Does this give inspirational ideas that will grow with them?
- Am I allowing plenty of time for my child to enjoy the outdoors and play freely?
- Does this leave room for masterly inactivity and freedom in learning, or is my child constantly being hovered over?
- Are the lessons joyful, or dull and boring?