Today, I have another person to thank, and this time it is Lizzie. Thank you for taking the time to craft today’s post!
Lizzie Smith is a second generation homeschooler who is seemingly allergic to shoes. She lives out in the boonies with one long-suffering husband, four barefoot children, a wide variety of animals and a glorious view of the stars. Her discovery of Charlotte Mason has resulted in addiction to the AmblesideOnline Forums, an increase in her book collection and a solid educational path for her homeschool. She is slowly learning how much she doesn’t know.
At what age should children begin school? For many parents eager to take advantage of the blossoming intelligence displayed by their children, the answer is “As early as possible.” KinderCare offers a Discovery Preschool Program for 2 and 3 year olds, where they are introduced to “a world of learning, sharing, and exploring.” A view of their website reveals a daily schedule that reveals carefully planned group times, rest times, meal times and learning times. During Outdoor Play children can “select from a variety of outdoor activities.”
Charlotte Mason would not have approved. In her book Home Education she states that:
In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air.Vol. 1, p. 44
Why six years? Why not five, maybe even four if a child is particularly gifted and eager to learn? The answer lies in her motive for the delay of formal academics. These years lay the foundation for life, and will prepare a child to do better irregardless of their level of intelligence. Gifted, average, or slow to develop, all children need these six full years of growing time before they embark upon the more serious work of “school.”
The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer’s day is worth more in after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons, and this comes, not of continual intervention on the mother’s part, but of much masterly inactivity.Vol. 1, p. 193
How should these early years be spent? Ms. Mason warns us against “shutting up a child, blessed with this inordinate capacity for seeing and knowing, within the four walls of a house, or the dreary streets of a town” Lest we should assume she means our children should be unrestrained, she goes on to say that if “he is let run loose in the country where there is plenty to see, it is nearly as bad to let this great faculty of the child’s dissipate itself in random observations for want of method and direction.”
A great deal has been said lately about the danger of overpressure, of requiring too much mental work from a child of tender years. The danger exists; but lies, not in giving the child too much, but in giving him the wrong thing to do, the sort of work for which the present state of his mental development does not fit him. Who expects a boy in petticoats to lift half a hundredweight? But give the child work that Nature intended for him, and the quantity he can get through with ease is practically unlimited. Whoever saw a child tired of seeing, of examining in his own way, unfamiliar things? This is the sort of mental nourishment for which he has an unbounded appetite, because it is that food of the mind on which, for the present, he is meant to grow.Vol. 1, pp. 67-68
So what is a mother to do? She should start sowing.
The part of the mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted.Vol. 1, p. 194
First, go outside. This theme is repeated often throughout Ms. Masons’s writing, but nowhere does she say it more clearly than this.
It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.Vol. 1, p. 61
The benefits of outdoor time are many. Here a child can
- Develop a sense of the truly beautiful
- Exercise their powers of observation
- Indulge in exuberant physical activity
- Learn a reverence for life
- Discover many “things”
Coming into contact with many things is important at this age.
A Child learns from ‘Things.’ — We older people, partly because of our maturer intellect, partly because of our defective education, get most of our knowledge through the medium of words. We set the child to learn in the same way, and find him dull and slow. Why? Because it is only with a few words in common use that he associates a definite meaning; all the rest are no more to him than the vocables of a foreign tongue. But set him face to face with a thing, and he is twenty times as quick as you are in knowledge about it; knowledge of things flies to the mind of a child as steel filings to magnet. And, pari passu with his knowledge of things, his vocabulary grows; for it is a law of the mind that what we know, we struggle to express.Vol. 1, p. 67
Second, order your home life. Ms. Mason states that
Cleanliness, order, neatness, regularity, punctuality, are all ‘branches’ of infant education. They should be about the child like the air he breathes, and he will take them in as unconsciously.Vol. 1, p. 126
It is well nigh impossible to instill good habits into children in the midst of chaos, for:
The whole group of habitudes, half physical and half moral, on which the propriety and comfort of everyday life depend, are received passively by the child; that is, he does very little to form these habits himself, but his brain receives impressions from what he sees about him; and these impressions take form as his own very strongest and most lasting habits.Vol. 1, p. 124
*gulp* This is an area in which I fail rather extensively. My vision of a well ordered home is one in which everything has a place, the day flows by in a predictable fashion and my belongings are kept in functioning order. I’m trying …
In her writings on Infant Habits, Ms. Mason addresses several ways of ordering your home life so as to instill life long habits that will bless your child. A few of these are:
- Teaching children to attend to their own personal hygiene
- Encouraging modesty of person
- Insisting on obedience and instilling a sense of honour
- Keeping possessions in good shape
- Teaching children to put away their playthings
An ordered home life leaves ample time for learning.
Third, educate yourself. Be ready to answer their questions, show them a new way, and make a wise observation from time to time.
The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observations … the children will adore her for knowing what they want to know, and who knows but she may give its bent for life to some young mind designed to do great things for the world.Vol. 1, pp. 65-66
Some ideas are:
- Learn a healthy way to feed your family, so that their bodies and brains will have the physical nourishment they need.
- Read books on education and decide on your educational philosophy.
- Keep a nature journal.
- Practice the art of story-telling.
- Learn a foreign language.
- Acquire a taste for poetry.
- Brush up on your rusty craft skills and create something beautiful.
- Memorize some nursery rhymes.
Fourth, remember that learning should come by interacting with the world around them.
The notion of supplementing Nature from the cradle is a dangerous one. A little guiding, a little restraining, much reverent watching, Nature asks of us; but beyond that, it is the wisdom of parents to leave children as much as may be to Nature, and ‘to a higher Power than Nature itself.’Vol. 1, p. 186
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