In Anne White’s wonderful little book, Minds More Awake: The Vision of Charlotte Mason, there are little micro-chapters (she calls them “lost treasures of Charlotte Mason”) in which she highlights some idea of Charlotte Mason’s that might otherwise fall to the wayside (or fly under the radar). In one of these, she touches on Charlotte Mason’s approach to gifted kids. Now, granted, Charlotte Mason says a lot more about teaching gifted children than this — I’ve often thought about writing a series of posts on it — but what Anne says here is a great starting place:
Charlotte Mason had her own Gifted and Talented program: Exercise, Nourishment, Change, and Rest. She said not to discourage a gifted child from doing what comes naturally; if he wants to play the violin or learn Latin at three, he’ll let you know. (p. 68)
And then she quotes Parents and Children:
Let him do just so much as he takes to of his own accord; but never urge, never applaud, never show him off.
Today, we’re discussing just this sentence. These are The Rules. We’ll get to the other ideas some other time.
But first: What is a gifted child? Yes, all children are special. But not all children are gifted. I ascribe to Colleen Kessler’s definition:
Academic giftedness is an identification — and a learning difference — that is given when a kiddo tests (or is suspected to be) two or more standard deviations above average IQ (or ability).
So, if the average IQ is 100, two standard deviations above the mean would be 130 (approximately — it varies a bit by test). Of course, not all children are tested. Many times, we’re just guessing, and that’s okay.
Now, let’s walk through The Rules, one phrase at a time.
“Let him do just so much as he takes to of his own accord…”
The policy at my house was that I would begin formal lessons in reading right after a child turned six. At the same time, if a child taught himself to read — or forcefully demanded for longer than 15 seconds that I teach him — before then, I acquiesced.
This means that my firstborn read at age three. My second born started lessons at four — because she was fiercely insistent — but wasn’t very fluent until eight or nine. (“Are you sure you want to keep practicing?” I asked when she was five. “Yes!” she declared.) My third read at age four. My fourth demanded reading lessons a couple months before his sixth birthday and took around two years to arrive at fluency.
Charlotte Mason mentions in this context children who want to learn their Latin declensions at age four. Let them, she says. (Presumably they heard about it from an older sibling?)
Maybe your child’s early thing is math? Piano? Or both? That’s okay, too.
Over the years, I have gotten many questions about children who want to start early. Doesn’t doing Charlotte Mason mean I don’t let him? That’s the general gist of it. And the answer to that is: NO. No, it doesn’t mean that. It just means you don’t initiate these things until the appropriate age. Charlotte Mason never says to deny them.
“… but never urge …”
I rewrote this as, “Don’t require more — be okay with him stopping.”
It’s easy to think that children should keep progressing. If they were initiating third-grade math in preschool, but not in kindergarten, we start pushing even though we wouldn’t have even begun math at this age with a “normal” child.
This is a rule I broke. I let them start when they were ready, but then I wasn’t willing to let it go if they lost interest.
We have to be willing to lose the entire lead, if need be. This quality is, I think, a blessing to gifted children when their parents have it, but my how few of us do!
“… never applaud …”
I rewrote this as, “Don’t indicate how ‘special’ he is — no clapping our praises at his every new trick.”
This is a hard one, isn’t it? We’re so inordinately proud of our children, and then they go and do something amazing. We want to heap praise on them! It’s natural!
But it’s also deadly.
Praise, especially excessive praise, shifts the child’s focus from the things he’s interested in (healthy) to himself (not healthy, and a recipe for hubris). It’s so tempting, but it really needs to be kept between the adults in the family. There’s plenty of time to exchange stories after the children are in bed at night.
“… never show him off.”
This one? There’s no need to rewrite it. We know what this means, and we hang our heads in shame.
We start down this homeschooling journey, and people start to question us. You’re educating your child at home? And this in a tone of judgment and dismay. It’s not as common now, I don’t think, but when we were announcing such things over a decade ago, and having to defend to some people why we weren’t sending our oldest to preschool, his precociousness came in handy. Look at what he can do! Who needs preschool? He’d be bored!
It was easier to point to how well he was doing instead of defending our choice in the realm of ideas. He was the convenient example of our success. And he knew it.
It was then natural to show off the next big thing, and the next. Suddenly we had a child who seemed puffed up about himself. Thankfully, the Lord corrected our error before we were too far down that road. And thankfully he’s recovered nicely and seems no worse for the wear of our parenting faux pas.
Playing by the Rules
There’s a lot more to say about how Charlotte Mason approached gifted children, but for now, we’d do well to play by her rules, don’t you think?
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