“When a baby is picked up, spoken to, and loved, he is starting his education as God planned it. For all our lives we are human beings, in an active state of learning, responding, understanding. Education extends to all of life.”
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake
I love this quote because it embodies what I believe about education, and describes what I want for my children.
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote this book to explain to parents what a Charlotte Mason education is.
Who Was Charlotte Mason?
Charlotte Mason lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s in England. She made great strides in reforming education in her day.
One of her main premises is that children are born persons. They are born endowed with minds capable of receiving and assimilating knowledge, just as they are born with stomachs capable of digesting food. They need no special training to make them ready to learn.
For this reason she advocated a curriculum rich in literature that engaged the whole child, captured their imagination, and inspired them to greatness. She believed we need to set before children a buffet of delightful topics and interests. We owe it to them to provide a feast for their minds if they are to be truly educated.
Two aspects of a Charlotte Mason education that were especially appealing to me initially are:
The use of “living books”
- The use of narration as a tool for children to assimilate what they have learned.
Have you ever been “hooked” just by reading the first few lines of a book? What made that happen? Let me venture a guess that it wasn’t a textbook. It was mostly likely a book written by an author with a passion for the subject matter he or she was writing about. Whether they be fiction or non-fiction, books written in such a way as to engage the reader, to make him want to know more, are very effective as a means of imparting knowledge.
A child can learn so much just from reading, provided the book he reads is one that is masterfully written and engages his whole person. The use of living books is a major part of the way we learn at our house.
“I think we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge, of whatever
subject, for themselves out of the fit book; and this for two reasons: What a
child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle
song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely
assimilated.” Charlotte Mason
Narration is simply telling back what you have just read, or heard, or seen. We do this all the time. Kids in particular do this all the time. At least mine do. . . they love to TALK!
When children are asked to narrate a short passage or a chapter from a book they have just read, they must sort through many, many words and present to the hearer the essence of what they read. Narration is not parroting back, or re-reading something from what was read. Instead it requires the child to take what he has read and make it his own. Then he will be able to tell it back, and in the process, he will cement into his mind the knowledge he gleaned from that passage. That’s right, what a child (or anyone, for that matter) narrates, he owns as stored knowledge, whatever the topic.
Charlotte said, “But one who tries this method on himself will find that in the act of narrating every power of his mind comes into play.”
So narration is used in our homeschool as the primary means of storing up knowledge, and as a very effective tool to learn how to communicate. In fact, narration lays the foundation for composition. As a child becomes more and more comfortable narrating what he reads, he will more readily be able to transfer that skill to writing it down on paper.
More to Come
There are other distinctives of a Charlotte Mason education, but these, in my opinion, are the main ones. I’ll share some of those other distinctives and how our family works them out in our homeschool. . . in a future post.
In the meantime, here are some links and resources for those of you who want to find out more:
Three fantastic web-sites that are my g0-to places for how to “do” Charlotte Mason —
Some books I’ve found helpful in understanding both the philosophy and the how-to —
For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison