BY JENNIFER DOW
It is clear to me that this myth is quite far from the truth. In fact, I am convinced that a Charlotte Mason education is the perfect education for a child with special needs. I have experienced the power of this kind of education in my family firsthand and have found myself and my home forever changed for the good because of it. There are three main ideas that come to mind when I consider the reasons for this conclusion.
First, Charlotte Mason’s philosophy sees a child as he is.
This is the first principle of a Charlotte Mason education. Miss Mason was a voice in the darkness, who said all children are born persons — complete humans, made in the image of God.
In a world where lies are coming at us from every angle, there desperately needs to be a voice that proclaims this truth to our children. Special needs kids are bombarded with these false messages through glances, well-meaning statements, and not so well-meaning statements. I have found that many times the education my children need is to be reminded over and over again who they really are. In fact, I cannot be content with an educational philosophy that fails to make this the very foundation of its program. A Charlotte Mason education does that with beauty, grace, and consistency. It is in the very marrow of her methods regarding education. They cannot be separated.
I cannot forget that my sweet son is a complete human. He has a soul, a spirit, and a body. Sometimes the issue is physical, sometimes it is intellectual, and sometimes it is spiritual, just like with any child. If my first thoughts about his education do not encompass this idea of his whole human nature, I will miss the mark on what he needs. A Charlotte Mason education is the perfect solution in this regard. First, before anything, my child gets to begin his day knowing that who his is, is enough. There is nothing more important than this for our children’s education.
Second, Charlotte Mason’s philosophy allows a child to be where he is.
As a parent of a special needs child, I know how much the issue of adapting curriculum and life comes up in the course of a day. Truly, it can be exhausting. At times, there is so much adapting that goes on that the thing we were adapting becomes an entirely new thing or an entire waste of money and time. One of the most beautiful things about a CM education is that it is flexible in its nature. A CM education flows with the ebb and flow of real life and real children. Instead of compartmentalized tasks and subjects, there are integrated milestones all moving towards a fruitful end, for example, narration.
Narration is one of Charlotte Mason’s most famous methods. It is where the listener hears a reading and then is asked to “tell back” the reading in his or her own words. The student hears a story about something worthy, whether it is a science topic, a history story, some literature or the like. In addition, the habit of attention is being cultivated, and integrated thinking is dancing all over the child’s mind as he wrestles through his narration. If a child cannot narrate a whole paragraph, then you can begin with a sentence. If a child cannot speak, he can use the skills of art or anything else that the child has gained to express the story he has just beheld. It is all the same method but is perfectly adaptable to where the child is. Each child is met where they are in their development without harm to the child, the teacher, or the program. Consider one other example from history and straight from Miss Mason’s pen.
The fatal mistake is in the notion that he must learn ‘outlines,’ or a baby edition of the whole history of England, or of Rome, just as he must cover the geography of all the world. Let him, on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age. Let him spend a year of happy intimacy with Alfred, ‘the truth-teller,’ with the Conqueror, with Richard and Saladin, or with Henry V. — Shakespeare’s Henry V. — and his victorious army.Home Education, pp. 280-281
With special needs children, we have to pick and choose what is important. Sometimes this can leave a parent feeling like a child is missing out. This does not need to be the case in their education. Through the use of living books in a synthetic way so much is gained, beyond what we could ask or imagine. This leads us to the next reason a Charlotte Mason education is perfect for a child with special needs.
Third, Charlotte Mason’s philosophy leads a child to where he can be.
Consider this for a moment:
Let him, on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period.
“Thinks the thoughts of that man” and “is at home in the ways of that period” — what a gift! Imagine it. By reading and narrating and staying on a topic long enough, the story can in fact transport and transform us. There is something in the nature of a story that carries the truth within it. In turn, the story gives the truth to the reader in a non-intrusive way. It is a warm and irresistible invitation. In fact, it was just last week when my son and I were discussing The Hobbit. He said to me that he wished he could go to Middle Earth. For weeks, we have been talking about Middle Earth and what each of the characters should have and should not have done in the various dilemmas of the story.
He is being changed by it. I can see it in his eyes. He desires the virtue of Bilbo in the face of the dragon, and of Thorin in the face of the Goblin King; I think the food sounds pretty good to him as well. That is not something I could have handed him straight; he would never have been attentive enough for it. He had to be invited to it through the thrill and beauty of the story. Through these living books and great literature, a Charlotte Mason education sets an example and vision before each child of what he too could rise to. As each child accepts it, he begins to be transformed by it. No longer does he just wish to be in Middle Earth, but he sees how his world is already like Middle Earth and how he can be like and is like Bilbo or Thorin or Frodo today.
It is through the combination of attending to who each child is, where each child is, and where each child can be that a Charlotte Mason education leads all children to these wonderful ideas and ultimately to the most wonderful idea.
The indwelling of Christ is a thought particularly fit for the children, because their large faith does not stumble at the mystery, their imagination leaps readily to the marvel, that the King Himself should inhabit a little child’s heart.Home Education, p. 352
I cannot imagine participating with any other educational endeavor but this one.
Expanding wisdom, extending grace,
Jennifer Dow is a fellow homeschooling mother deeply committed to the pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful. She has completed the CiRCE Apprenticeship program as a CiRCE certified Classical Teacher and has taught several literature, writing, fine art, and nature study classes throughout the local homeschool community. Currently Jennifer teaches for the CiRCE Online Academy, her local classical co-op, and maintains her blog, Expanding Wisdom: A Christian Classical Homeschooling Blog. Most importantly, she is married to Ernie and mother to three children, Josiah, Sierra, and Kathleen. The Dows are a real family with stains on the carpet and writing on the wall. They are in process and learning to love what they ought.
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