A big thank you to Amy for taking the time to share her heart with us!
Amy Hines is a homeschooling mom of three rambunctious boys and one talkative girl. She loves words: reading them, writing them, and learning them in other languages. She lives at the end of a dirt road in Montana, with a few dogs, cats, ponies and chickens. The whole family enjoys nature and the outdoors, and are currently obsessed with The Hobbit. Amy is a moderator at the AmblesideOnline Forum. She blogs about homeschooling at Crossing the Brandywine.
The Desert of the 3Rs
Last year my children and I fully embraced a Charlotte Mason method of education. Before that, we had been floundering; I had an older child who could not read. When you are having issues with reading, the general advice seems to be focus on the basics — the 3 Rs. Get the child reading first. So we dutifully plugged along, tackling one reading issue after another.
Now, that minimal, focused approach is good advice to a point. But you can’t stay in emergency mode forever. As my dear Charlotte Mason says, it will cause the mind to go stagnant and dry. During one of those homeschooling mother moments of despair, when it seemed we were just spinning our wheels, I asked myself “what if he is never a fluent reader?” At the same time, I’d been digging into education, trying to determine what we should focus on. And I knew the answer: the true, the good, and the beautiful. And my son wasn’t getting it. Our focus was wrong.
Seeking a new direction, we came back to our starting place: AmblesideOnline and Charlotte Mason. Between public domain books and what I already owned, our cost to switch was minimal. And there were audiobooks for my son, free on LibriVox. Despite the usual issues that come with changing gears, everyone flourished with AO. The depth and richness broke over us like a summer rain. Joy flowed from everywhere: literature, biographies, hymns & folksongs, poetry and nature study. There was singing and laughter. We’d been in the desert, and until we felt the difference, we hadn’t realized how much we were missing. The 3 Rs are important, but they are not education.
Education is …
There are many different definitions of education in the world today. Practical or utilitarian definitions seem to rule in our age. But here is Charlotte Mason’s goal in education:
Our goal is to produce a human being who is the best he can be physically, intellectually, ethically and spiritually; a person who will have the enthusiasm of religion, full life, nature, knowledge, art, and physical work.Vol. 3, p. 99
The goal of a CM education is a well-rounded person with a zest for life. And the tools are atmosphere, discipline (habits), and life (ideas). Ideas are so important in a CM education that Charlotte draws a parallel, comparing the need of the body for wholesome food to the need of the mind for fresh ideas. She also writes:
Lessons should have two goals. They should help a child develop the right mental habits, such as attention, accuracy, promptness, etc., and they should provide the nourishment of ideas that might bear fruit in his life.Vol. 2, p. 228
I love how Charlotte breaks everything down so simply.
Some ideas can be found by the senses, but many ideas, especially those influencing character and behavior, travel from one mind to another. Of these, some are certainly passed by word of mouth or family traditions. But just as providing three proper meals a day requires planning, Charlotte urges us to focus on quality and intentionally put our children in touch with ideas the best minds, which can be found in living books.
As soon as a child begins his education, he begins learning as a student. Our role is to make sure he has plenty of food for his mind. He needs intellectual nourishment of good quality, and he needs lots of it. Each of us naturally has a limited amount of ideas in our minds, but we know where to get more. The best thoughts that the world has are stored in books. We must introduce our children to books — the very best books. Our concern as educators is to have abundance and orderly serving of them. (Vol. 6, p. 25-26)
In considering what these best books might be, don’t limit your thinking to literature and biographies. Charlotte Mason tells us to seek living, striking ideas across subjects. Not only religion, history and geography, but also Latin, math and grammar should be taught in a living form.
The Role of the Teacher
As we’ve said before, parents and teachers are only allowed to play a minor role in the great work of education after all. You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. In the same way, you can bring the most suitable ideas to the mind of a child, but you have no way of knowing which he’ll take to, and which he’ll reject. And it’s a good thing for us that a child’s individuality is protected by this safeguard that’s within each of them. Our job is to make sure that his educational plate is always refilled with appropriate and inspiring ideas. (Vol. 2, p. 127)
So we as teachers need to lay out the best ideas which are appropriate and inspiring, and trust the child to take in only what is needed. We cannot push the ideas into the child. Children are not vessels to be filled. The whole process of a Charlotte Mason education respects the child as a person. We also need to stay within the child’s ability. By watching our children, we can detect when they are ‘full’ of ideas, and take a break or switch to a different type of subject. But the role of the teacher, while important, is limited. Lay out the feast, and let the child take what they need.
Education is a Life
Education is about developing the whole person. And lessons are to develop correct habits and provide nourishing ideas. They go hand in hand: the ideas sparking an action that can be developed into a habit. The mental habits improving the child’s ability to take in ideas.
Both the generous feast of ideas and the habits they inspire work to build a child of character. And yet they work gently, inspiring rather than cajoling, molding the heart of the child to right thinking. That’s what we found last year, when we returned to a CM style education. A deep joy and contentment.
Oh, and my struggling reader? He’s improving, we’ve finally found a reading program that works for him. But more importantly, he is growing in wonder, compassion and confidence from the living ideas found in Charlotte Mason’s generous education.
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