[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m going to admit right now that I was a bit wary of a book on notebooking. The word notebooking has generally made me shudder. (My apologies to those of you who notebook.) The word notebooking calls to my mind a flutter of activity which a person like me simply cannot maintain. It evokes images of something that looks suspiciously like a workbook page, with boxes and prepared clip art and writing prompts and … did I mention I could not maintain that sort of activity for long?
Imagine my relief to learn (courtesy of Laurie Bestvater’s wonderful book, The Living Page) that real, true Charlotte Mason “notebooking” begins with nothing but … a blank page.
The blank page countenances this relationship to the material and respects personhood, mind, and creativity. On the other hand, if I structure your page with blanks to be filled or draw the diagram for you to label, or photocopy the map, I rob you of this work of the mind and ultimately depress your ability to imagine and respond for yourself. (p. 101)
A blank page? Even someone like me can provide that!
One of the things I love about giving my children a Charlotte Mason education is that it is inherently doable. Not everyone can keep up with the levels of frenetic activity associated with superhomeschoolers. But everyone can offer a child a simple, untarnished, blank page.
Of course, once we do that, it can feel like we’re falling off the other side of the horse. Are our children are now being unschooled? After all, we just handed them a blank page.
“Self-activity” should not imply, however, a lack of structure. Each notebook has its impetus within the method, and habit is no less a feature of this aspect of a Mason education. Students will not naturally know how to keep a Commonplace or a Book of Centuries. They must be prepared by the teacher and maintain certain habits with their notebooks if these are to give pleasure and do as they are meant to do. (pp. 75-76)
Years ago, I was homeschooling a friend’s little daughter. She was very bright, and highly creative. One sunny day, my little brood of students ventured out into the garden to examine some corn that I had planted earlier in the season in order to provide a source for nature study. On that day, the corn was glorious.
My students all had their blank notebooks with them, and they began to draw. When I brought them inside, we all shared what we had drawn. One by one, they each showed me their best attempts to duplicate the corn. One child had drawn close-up images of elements of the corn — the stalk, the leaves, and so on. Another had stood back and drawn the whole thing.
The latter is what my adopted student had drawn, and up on the tip top was … a purple crown. She named her drawing Princess Corn or something along those lines.
How hard it was to restrain my laughter that day! I had forgotten the need to give instructions! Whereas my own children had previously done nature journal entries and knew that we were attempting to observe the world around us and not what was in our own imaginations, this little one had no idea. She had never done a nature journal entry. The purple crown — lovable as it was — was entirely my fault.
In giving instructions, we provide the form within which structure the student has the freedom to provide the content.
As with any friendship, introductions must be made, etiquette attended to, if the relationship is to be gratifying… These are not meant to be a Mason legalism, rather to release the students and teachers from the burden of a sad experience or a less than satisfactory result. (p. 76)
Once we provide the “introductions,” a whole world opens up to our students. This is something I already knew. I adore our Books of Centuries. My oldest child has his own, and, of course, I keep one myself. I tell him that he is required to make one entry per week, but can make as many as he likes. Some weeks, he makes one per day! He and I are reading the same books, and yet our Century Books contain such different information; we both have our own relationships with the material.
My Commonplace Book (my oldest child will be getting one very soon) has a form. It consists almost entirely of other people’s words, with only an occasional note from me. That is the form of the thing. But no one tells me which words to choose. I choose the ones I love and enter them in the pages. Within this form, there is great freedom, great delight.
This is so different from what is generally called “notebooking” in homeschool circles that Bestvater has coined a new name for it. She calls it Keeping. I cannot tell you how much I love this word. It points to the purpose, I think.
The blank page whispers “once upon a time…” and the child supplies the rest in words and symbols fresh from his mind and heart. The page becomes a live thing, the shape of his own unique essence, a personal response to the Grand Invitation. (p. 101)
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