This summer I find myself re-reading some of the earliest books I ever read on home education. Turning the pages of these old friends makes me nostalgic. My level of ignorance in the homeschooling department was matched only by my fear of pursing it in those early years. I hardly knew how to parent, let alone, teach. These book mentors taught me so many principles that were not simply for “education” but for nurturing people.
In my ignorance, I was looking for the “right way” to teach English or Math, but God redirected me and taught me big picture stuff about reaching hearts before minds. I learned that education is a misnomer without nurture and I had five little image bearers to consider.
Let’s start at the very beginning.
You are educating a person and their personhood is worthy of respect and love. That’s what Susan Schaeffer MacCualey explains in For The Children’s Sake. She gets this truth from one of the core tenants of the Charlotte Mason method: children are born persons.
Children are born persons.
This principle that a child is a person and deserves respect as a fully functioning, capable person permeates the Charlotte Mason method. Schaeffer explains that in order to truly educate a person, you have to respect them enough to give them excellent information and assume that they can digest, process, and draw their own conclusions based on that relationship with the idea.
So correct information alone is not enough.
A perfect curriculum in a toxic environment will “educate” a child as the school of hard knocks will educate surely enough. A stove that burns can educate a child. The facts might be correct but the methodology matters and must be right as well. We’ve all heard or lived the horror stories. Teachers who wield fear or humiliation as a weapon. I’ve seen it too many times to count. “Excellence” on the altar of results and the child’s personhood is sacrificed and spirit crushed.
If the atmosphere in the home or school is not filled with love and respect, then what exactly are you trying to teach the child? What’s the point?
Take a small child on your knee. Respect him. Do not see him as something to prune, form, or mold. This is an individual who thinks, acts, and feels. He is a separate human being whose strength lies in who he is, not in who he will become. If his choices made now and in the future are to be good ones, this person must understand reality and see the framework of truth. In the shorthand of language, we call this “knowing.” The child is a person who needs to grow in knowledge…
We are told by many in our generation that this small child is cog in a machine, or even that he is a possession like a pet animal. Many adults now “have” a child in the same way they “have” a washing machine or a collie dog.
We must answer: NO. You are holding a person on your knee, and that is wonderful…
Look well at the child on your knee. In whatever condition you find him, look with reverence. We can only love and serve him and be his friend. We cannot own him. He is not ours.
For The Children’s Sake, pg. 13
Trusting the Method
Looking back, I am so thankful I trusted the wisdom of Charlotte Mason and Susan Schaeffer MacCauley. And if you have young children, I’d encourage you to read For the Children’s Sake, because no matter what type of education you pursue, the atmosphere must be conducive to the child flourishing. Institutions of learning that seek to control, conform, intimidate, bully, or simply don’t allow the freedom of thought apart from answering multiple choice answers is not nurturing a mind that is interested in the world around them. The WHY of education is as important as the WHAT of education.
What this looked like on a daily basis.
Now that my children are all older and I only have two students at home, I’m more convinced than ever that the Charlotte Mason method works beautifully. It’s a natural and nurturing approach to learning. It still requires careful work and rigorous reading, but it’s never shoved down a child’s throat.
Charlotte Mason wanted the child put in contact with the best books. Nothing dumbed down. First hand accounts and living books were a must. After short lessons, the child was to tell back what they learned from the interaction. She called this narration. It was the precursor to written and oral reports. She insisted that children be exposed to music, nature, and art, things that many children in 19th century London were deficient in. (Amazing that art is still seen as an extra in many schools today!) The goal was education as a life.
It gives me such joy to see my adult children pursue many areas of interest.
My oldest daughter (my homeschooling guinea pig, poor thing!) excels in calligraphy, creative homemaking, and practicing hospitality in her home.
Years of music practice (okay, violin practice was OFTEN painful!!), enjoyment, and exposure produced kids who were interested and who enjoy singing, composing, and practicing together on the piano, violin, or whatever instrument they pull out of the closet.
My son and husband landscape our home and make it beautiful for all of us. My younger daughters enjoy writing, decorating, art, nature, photography, etc…
Early Attempts Were Messy
In the early years, like learning to ride a bicycle, our artistic attempts were messy. Violin intonation was off, sketches were unrecognizable, muffins were burnt, tea cups were broken, milk was spilled, tempers flared, and table manners less than exemplary.
But every shared attempt was accepted, acknowledged, and appreciated as “relationship building.”
(One of my favorite memories is of Matthew as a cute toddler surprising me with a chubby little handful of my red geraniums that he had picked from my planters! Eek!)
If it’s shared, appreciate it, moms. (Your kids don’t have to share their ideas or attempts with you, you know. That’s a trust. Steward it well.)
Simple things are the big things.
Simple things like tea time or reading time allowed us to exchange ideas and see where our kids were coming from while enjoying great literature.
Small actions that showed care were encouraged. Cookies were baked, and lemonade squeezed. We oohed and ahhed over ideas and someones attempt at drawing.
Little by little, small interactions cement relationship norms, for good or for bad.
We encouraged family times and traditions. Decorating for holidays together. Traipsing through the woods for Christmas greenery and picking the perfect plaid ribbon for our front door.
We ate dinner nearly EVERY night, making time in our schedule because we believed dinnertime to be sacred.
Ideas were talked about and our values passed down around dinners of spaghetti or garlicky roasted chicken, or bowls of beef soup with LOTS of cheese. We spoke of God in terms of friendship and glory and goodness and read the Bible at the table with our kids.
Of course, our Christian worldview was the basis for all we did (and still do.) We prayed “Thy kingdom come” in general, yes! But we prayed “thy kingdom come” to our family specifically as we lived and honored the teachings of our Savior, Jesus Christ. (We are FAR from perfect so with seven sinners living under one roof and bumping into each other, we really needed grace and enablement and forgiveness many times a day!)
Hospitality was intentionally practiced so we could share our lives and hear stories from different people with different life experiences. Outsiders were always welcomed in.
We’d have missionaries stay with us for days or weeks and our kids would pour into their kids. By their teen years, our kids could entertain without us if someone dropped by. I recall coming home to Emily who had prepared and served shortbread and tea for grandma when she stopped over while I was out.
What does any of this have to do with education, you ask?
Nothing if you’re talking in terms of textbooks or SAT scores.
Everything if you are talking about nurturing children while they learn. Over 20 years of “home education” has taught me that education should be about life and should never suck the life out of children. Education should leave the child wanting to know more, wanting to care more, and interested in the world around them.
Additional books you might enjoy::
Educating the Wholehearted Child
Charlotte Mason: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning
What have you learned about homeschooling that you could share with our community?
*Next post, I’m going to talk about adding the arts to your day, even when you feel unqualified and artistically challenged.
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