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    Educational Philosophy

    Lessons from Charlotte: Life Out-of-Doors {Part I}

    June 10, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]P[/dropcap]art I, because the chapter is just long enough to require two parts. I’ve read it all, but my husband cautions me against too-long posts. Occasionally, I remember his advice and heed it. Today is one of those days! So, let’s get started.


    Lessons from Charlotte: Life Out-of-Doors {Part I}


    First, let us recall the subtitle of this book, just so we have some boundaries on where these particulars of the method begin and end: Training and Educating Children Under Nine. So we see that Mason is not telling us what to do with our Year Eight students, for instance. But we also have a couple caveats:

    1. Though Charlotte is putting this up as an ideal for students aged eight and under, her school admitting students as young as six. I noticed this when I was studying up for writing our first exam. Some of the sample answers were given by students under seven. So there is room to move here, and likely we could do so according to each child’s personality and readiness for more formal lessons. {Also, we need to consider state laws.}
    2. Charlotte is assuming that there is a point that some of the children would be sent away to school. {Boarding school, actually, which causes me to shudder, though I understand that this is how it was done in the era.} With that said, she is holding up an ideal that will be difficult to attain for mothers of multiple children at home, all requiring a diligent and thoughtful education, some of whom are in the over-eight crowd. There is going to be a tension in my life at some point. My boys are six years apart in age. This means that when my little guy begins Year Zero, I have one boy who will be eleven-years-old and will require a rigorous course of study. This will require wisdom and balance, and all I can say is that I’m happy I have a number of years to prepare for it!

    Part II of Volume 1: Home Education is called Out-of-Door Life for the Children. Essentially, Charlotte makes the argument for why children should be raised outside as much as possible, and then gives all sorts of ideas of what could be done, what that sort of life would look like {this latter part will be discussed in my Part II post} — it is, to some extent, an elaborate list of ideas; elaborate because Charlotte was Victorian through and through, and I love her for it, even if it does tempt me to skim!

    Here is what Charlotte insists upon:

    ‘I make a point,’ says a judicious mother, ‘of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months.’ That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October.

    That’s right: four to six hours out-of-doors on every nice day.

    This is somewhat intimidating if you live where I live and it is not “April till October” but rather “February till November” and then only touch-and-go the remaining two months! With that said, Charlotte acknowledges that this puts some pressure on the mother. But Charlotte believes in strong women, and she replies:

    I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.

    Charlotte believes in capable, competent mothers, and reading her calls to me to do my best in a way unlike most mothering books I’ve read.

    For me, the wonder is not that the children must go outside, but that I must take them, and she suggests taking them “to the country” or some such wilderness. If I’m going out there alone with four small children, I best practice using the shotgun again, is all I’m saying.


    Since it would be a wonder for me to pull off even half that amount {away from home, at least}, I’m going to be stretched by even attempting this. But I am convinced not only of the wisdom in Mason’s methods, but also that out of all my children, my second child will be most blessed by them. She, more than the others, requires just such a gentle and generous hand.

    Last night, I found a link that reinforces everything Charlotte is saying. The article is out of the UK and titled Failing to teach them how to handle real life, and the assertions are, to my mind, predictable considering how the vast majority of children are being raised and educated:

    Far from getting cleverer, our 11-year-olds are, in fact, less “intelligent” than their counterparts of 30 years ago. Or so say a team who are among Britain’s most respected education researchers.

    I don’t believe we can narrow this down to any one cause, for modern life is notoriously complicated. However, comma, the article gives us a lot of insight:

    But what exactly is being lost? Is it really general intelligence or simply a specific understanding of scientific concepts such as volume and density? Both, say the researchers. The tests reveal both general intelligence — “higher level brain functions” — and a knowledge that is “the bedrock of science and maths” says Ginsburg.

    The researchers go on to say that we no longer have children who are … are you ready for it? … raised out-of-doors. They no longer play with mud and sand and water. Xboxes do not prepare children to understand basic scientific concepts like weight, volume, and density. They are “relentlessly drilled in the three-Rs and cramming for national tests.” So, they are indoor kids, something encouraged by their home lives {the Xboxes, computers, and televisions} and their schools {tests and drills}. Researchers offered some creative remedies, like debating issues around the family dinner table and going outside to make mud pies.

    You see, Charlotte understood the order of learning. She doesn’t say that children should be outside this much {though everyone, she asserts, should be out-of-doors with great regularity} in their later youth, but that this outside life for children under nine is foundational to their proper education in the future. Besides the gaining of “scientific concepts” like those mentioned in the article above, she also explains that academic education works with the signs of things rather than the things themselves. What does this mean? Well, words and numbers are symbols for things. The word “run” is a visual symbol we use in writing to represent the concept of the physical action of running. The number one, as we have discussed before, is a quantity. So numbers {1, 2, 3, etc.} are the signs of quantities.


    Time to Talk “Learning Styles”

    This is one of the {many} ways in which Mason really parts ways with modern education. I know that she discusses learning styles in one of her books, because I remember reading it; hopefully we’ll come back across it sometime and do a full discussion. For now, it is sufficient to say that she does not believe in the relevance of “preferred learning styles.” She agrees that some children will want to learn something a way that is inappropriate to the nature of the subject. But she does not allow that, and instead spends time helping them tackle the subject in the proper manner.

    However, comma.

    This does not mean that she rejects tactile/kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learning. Rather, she seems to encourage an order of learning styles, rather than catering to any particular child’s preferences. In this out-of-doors time, the children are supposed to be engaging the senses. Most everything is concrete in nature, and the children are going to take in all of it — the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the feel of it all. For hours every single day.

    This is the means of filling their little minds and souls up with the things, of which later they will learn the signs.

    In other words, she believes that concrete learning precedes abstract learning, for the most part. The irony is that the solution to the difficulty in learning these days has been to put them in classrooms at earlier ages and for longer hours, and apparently the result has been that children are … less intelligent than ever. We try to make up for this by giving them, for instance, math manipulatives, which are better than nothing, but not equivalent in efficacy to the hundreds and possibly thousands of hours of outdoor playtime that they are missing.


    It All Goes Together

    I think that if someone were to try to jump in to a Mason-styled education in the later ages, they would find it challenging, because the later years assume the earlier years. She built her methodology on a continuum. It’s not that folks won’t benefit from jumping whenever they can–repentance is better late than never, and education is a form of repentance.

    At the same time, I think a sense of gravity is in order. The path we are on today is taking us where we’ll be tomorrow and the next day and so on. Mason is headed in a certain direction, and the sooner we jump on board, the more easily we’ll head the way she’s going. A child expected to read Plutarch at the age of 9 needs to have spent a thousand of hours in the mud and sunshine first.

    That’s just the way it works.

    This is why AmblesideOnline, from what I’ve heard, suggests taking a “rest/nature month” {a month of poetic knowledge} for each year the child has spent in a modern classroom. It’s a time of healing and softening and preparing for the new road.

    If Mason is nothing else, she is orderly, and I mean orderly in a way that is in accordance with the ways of Creation — in submission to Nature and Nature’s God.

    All of this to say, I’ve got some thinking to do when it comes to pulling off Year Zero with one child, and doing rightly by my Year Three student. Of course, as I’m reading all of this, I feel a bit of repentance on how I did kindergarten — too much time indoors, I think. Perhaps my Year Three student will be joining us on this path.


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  • Reply Melissa D May 25, 2015 at 4:13 am

    I wonder if this isn’t also *somewhat* predicated on having cheap domestic help at home? Most households in the 19th & early 20th centuries had a “hired girl” (or man) at the very least.

    I’m just trying to picture how the work of the home gets done in addition to the outside time. My kids are finally getting old enough to be helpful, but keeping house is still an uphill battle. At least if they are outside, they aren’t messing up the inside. But if I’m outside, I’m also not cleaning up, or prepping & cooking meals.

    That said, I’m planning on lots and lots of outdoor time this summer, with hikes and jaunts far enough away from the house that we’d be out for hours on end at least a few days a week.


    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 26, 2015 at 8:10 am

      I have wondered this, too. I’m undecided. On the one hand, TOTALLY — having someone cleaning while I’m gone would feel like magic. 😉 On the other hand, everything they did was much more time consuming because of the lack of technology, so was it a wash? I don’t know…

  • Reply Mystie June 11, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    I am ripe for these observations now. It’s taken some growing and stretching for me to be open to CM’s nature ideas, but I am receiving them now. Thanks for this summary — I think it & part two were more helpful for me than HE itself. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 10, 2010 at 9:40 pm


    I totally empathize! I am an indoor girl, also. I have to be very deliberate about my personal time outside or it toally doesn’t happen. Pregnancy really does throw a wrench in things. I don’t know about you, but I was sick and unhealthy through the entirety of my pregnancies. The primary reason I taught my son his letters right after his second birthday was because I was on bedrest and couldn’t figure out what else to do with him!

    Reading CM makes me resolve to work those wonders, yes. But I could not have done it while pregnant. All of that to say: Yes, my friend. There is always September and next year. And that’s a relief, isn’t it? 🙂

  • Reply Kansas Mom June 10, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    We always spend too much time inside! Partly it’s because I feel like there are so many things to do inside (laundry, dishes, vacuuming), but mostly it’s my own fault. I prefer to be inside. I just do (and I had plenty of outside time as a child). First Son also likes to be inside, or to take a book with him outside.

    And then I got pregnant and just totally let it slide. I barely had energy to feed the kids lunch, let alone bundle them all up for some outside time in December or January.

    Now it’s hot hot hot and I’m seven months pregnant. So we’re inside a lot even now (though we try to go out with Kansas Dad when he’s gardening).

    There’s always September, though, and next year. Right?

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