I have written about this before, but every time I read this article I am reminded of something I had forgotten, or I see something new, or I am inspired again.
“In every undertaking it is well to have an ideal end, and a scientific means for realizing that ideal.”
Goal: training our children to at least be “their best,” and as much as possible to fulfil their relationships with God, the world, and themelves.
To do this, we must look at the child as a whole, his or her entire personality or character as it is, not as we wish it were.
“Character is the result of heredity, environment, and ideas, worked out, and exemplified, as habits of thought or action.”
Education is the building of character. If you think of character, our goal for education, as a house, understand that we are probably spending all our lives building and designing our own ‘houses,’ and with our children, ‘we do not enter into possession of our house, we build it, and our inherited possession is no more than the soil.’
Spend some time in prayer and in working and playing with your children, attempting to discern each child’s character, again, as it is, not as we wish it would be. See their strengths, weaknesses, the defects of their qualities and the qualities of their defects. What do you have to work with? Where are you beginning, and what can be done? What habits might help your children temper his faults, protect him from the outcome of those faults if they were left unchecked?
“Secondly.–Environment is one of those subtle influences which train the unconscious mind, of which we have been lately led to think so much.
The whole surrounding are in themselves an education.”
What is the environment where your children spend most of their time? Where you spend most of yours? What does it communicate?
Is it ‘bright, well furnished and cultured-looking… with good pictures…’?
Have you, ‘Good apparatus, clean school books, and perfect order?’ Well, I don’t, either. But some kind of order is better than no sort of order at all. I leave it to you to decide what kind of order is suitable for your home.
“Our last and greatest materials for “mind-building” are ‘ideas.’
These spiritual things of the mind come to us in a vast variety of ways, but we cannot leave their advent to chance and the most ready method of imparting them in early years is through the medium of “lessons.”
As our mind-builders tell us, ideas are added to one another like to like, and experiences are aggregated and grouped, until the sum of our ideas becomes “a dome more vast,” namely, character and active force for good or bad.
We believe in an “open-door policy” for our children; the larger and nobler an idea, the more fit are the children to receive it, for their hearts and minds are like a great open porch, not yet bricked up by prejudices.
We therefore adopt a time-table calculated to give ideas and experiences in as many branches of our relationships as possible.
We don’t want, for example, to teach children “all about Africa” in their geography lessons, we want to give them such ideas of the dawning continent as will send them to books of travel, and later to the place itself, to view its panoramas or take their share in its future destinies.
Therefore, for each group of subjects, as for each lesson given from them, we have an idea to give, a habit of mind or body to initiate or strengthen.”
When you introduce your lesson or reading:
“First.–Proceed from what is known to what is unknown, in other words touch upon old associations with former lessons or experiences before plunging into something fresh.”
You might say, “remember when we saw a toad outside by the porch? I want you to picture him as clearly as you can. Now imagine he could talk and wanted to sit by you at table and share your fork and plate?” and then begin reading about the toad and princess and the golden ball.
Or ‘You know the old cannon on the courthouse square? I want you to picture a cannon maybe 3 times larger than that, and place it on a hot brick platform in a hotter city in India where palm trees grow, and monkeys climb, and children play freely in the road because it is a hundred years ago or more, and some of them have no parents who care anyway,’ and then begin Kim.
Or maybe, “Remember when we found a dead squirrel at the park, teeming with small white grubs? We’re going to find out where they came from and how they got there,” and then begin reading Fabre’s Life of the Fly, chapter 14.
Or merely as, “Where were we? What had happened last time we read?” and when they answer, tell them ‘we are going to read about what happened next.
I have shared fairly simple ideas here, but you will know what your children already know, which you can use as a peg upon which to hang some ideas from the reading, which you will have skimmed rapidly as possible ahead of time.
“Secondly.–Give simple ideas before complex.”
“Thirdly.–Work from the concrete to the abstract, or don’t fly before you can walk.”
“Fourthly.–Illustrations are the hooks which fasten ideas to the mind.”
“Fifthly.–Reproduction is the only proof of retention, therefore narration or recapitulation must form a part of the each lesson.”
I will insert here that I have been told by more than one person that there are certain people charging money for educational advice and calling their advice ‘Charlotte Mason’ who also say that narration is not a required part of a CM education. Now it’s one thing if you don’t want a CM education. But you can’t call anything a CM education if narration isn’t required. It’s part of every lesson.
“Sixthly.–An idea is valuable in proportion as it enlarges the mental vision, forms the ground-work of a valuable habit, and is simple, clear, definite and suitable to the degree of experience in the pupil.
One other condition will affect our choice of ideas; they must be “interesting” in their nature or in their method of presentation.
This doctrine of interest explains why we should omit dry areas of foreign countries, strings of parliamentary enactments; what is interesting to us and therefore to the children, is the nature of the scenery of a country or the spirit of a bygone age.
But the children are not to sit still and merely passively receive ideas.
No lesson is valuable which does not promote self-activity by making the child think, exercising its powers of narration or reproduction, or laying the ground-work for some future mental habit, making the idea given a well-spring of activity.
We can judge then of the value of a lesson by the amount of work which it gives the children to do.
There is therefore in a really good lesson only one place for the teacher, and that is the background.”