Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Boundless Blessings

I often wonder .... did Miss Mason realize, many years ago, the gifts she would give to our family ? Did she know the treasure her writings would become for us ? She was "before her time" in so many ways ... a revolutionary ... and yet her methods are timeless.

Miss Mason said that children are persons in need of a good education, not vessels to be filled with information.

William Butler Yeats said, "Education is not the filling of a bucket, but rather the lighting of a fire."

Charlotte Mason lit a fire in the heart and homeschool of our family when she set us on this wondrous path called Home Education that has forever changed our lives.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life ..."

Education, she also said, is like the spreading of a great feast, only the feast is of great ideas. Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar, Arithmetic, Literature, History, Science, Geography, Natural Science, Shakespeare, Plutarch, Poetry, Artist Study, Practicing Art Mediums, Composer Study, Singing, Playing An Instrument, Foreign Language ....
So -- what are the ways in which Miss Mason impacted our family ?

"we talk of lost ideals, but perhaps they are not lost, only changed; when our ideal for ourselves and for our children becomes limited to prosperity and comfort, we get these, very likely, for ourselves and for them, but we get no more." - Charlotte Mason

We have always enjoyed being outside. And when our first few children were young, we encouraged them to play outside when there was time, on the swings or throwing a ball or perhaps taking a walk. But it was through Miss Mason's writings that we learned being out of doors is essential, and should be quite a different kind of experience.

For health she recommended sunshine and fresh air, regardless of the weather. She called for long walks outside, even in the rain. She advocated open windows and curtains pulled back. In school ? Can you imagine ?

For inspiration and learning the wonders of God, she recommended studying the works of Our Creator in the form of Nature Walks and the keeping of Nature Journals. These "studies" are our favorite "school" activities. We have discovered the fascinating world of spiders (yes - they are beautiful !). We have watched in awe as the bluebirds build their nests and raise their families every year. We have identified countless wildflowers and plants. We have watched the activities of ant hills and the nests of bees. We have observed from a distance the hatching of Eastern Phoebe eggs by a diligent mother bird, and we shed a tear as they fledged. We have caught, observed, and released many creatures - turtles, frogs, toads, lightening bugs, praying mantis, injured baby birds, butterflies, spiders, moths, lizards, just to name a few. We feed the birds so that we can watch them visit our feeders --- and we have listened for hours to their beautiful songs. These are treasures we store in our hearts and minds; treasures that might not have been discovered if it weren't for Miss Mason.

"We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own 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.” – Charlotte Mason

Who knew that Life Skills and Handicrafts can be taught even during the early years of childhood. Our family has classified so many activities as Life Skills, and included them in our homeschool adventures: vegetable gardening, planting flowers to encourage butterflies and hummingbirds, basic homemaking skills (clothing care, laundry, cleaning, etc), understanding and caretaking of the land, home maintenance and repairs, cooking, sewing (making clothing, alterations, repairing tears, stitching on buttons), raising animals, woodworking, among other things. One of our children once asked while we were planting our garden -- "are you sure this is allowed school too, because it's fun ?!?!"

"There are two types of education... One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live." -John Adams

Miss Mason insisted on plenty of "free time" for children -- time to create, time to wander, time to roam, time to wonder, time to explore. This is quite a contrast to the current idea that structured organized activities are to fill a child's days, from waking to sleeping. Classes, lessons, instructions .... what happened to those carefree wonder-filled days of long ago when children were filled with productive play, adventure, and imagination ? What happened to pick-up games of kickball or basketball where everyone learned to play as they went along ? What happened to "childhood" ? It seems Miss Mason was aware that the days of childhood were precious and of great importance. We use our afternoons for these "free time" activities.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." - Albert Einstein

Miss Mason also recommended "short lessons". So most subjects are studied with that in mind. We start school early-y-y in the morning. Our Formal Lessons are usually finished sometime in the early afternoon, shortly after lunchtime. And what is done in the afternoon, you ask ? More learning, during the "Free Time" Miss Mason advocated: Nature walks, finding new discoveries, going on adventures, picking wild berries, museum visits, pick-up games of kickball in the yard, research at the library, knights making daring rescues of fair maidens from the tree forts of bandits, visits with dear friends, using the microscope, building campfires, pitching tents, drawing, writing comic strips, tree climbing, helping feed the calves on the farm, authoring stories and tales, top secret missions, horseback riding, composing poetry, playing the guitar or keyboard, teaching the dogs new tricks, fishing for "the big one", building and launching rockets, careful study and construction of paper airplanes, "experiments" of many kinds, baking cookies and breads, cloud-watching, remote picnics, hikes, blazing new trails, birdwatching, watching the bumblebees, jumping rope, hosting dainty tea parties for precious "friends" (dolls and humans too), building catapults, target practice with slingshots, painting a masterpiece, swinging all the way to the sky, building a new fort, racing on bicycles, swimming in the pool or the lake, visiting the mountains, scaling the waterfalls, organizing a parade, re-enacting historic battles, making scientific discoveries, sewing, playing hopscotch and foursquare, sculpting new creations with clay, creating chalk cities for matchbox cars, hunting for buried treasures (which includes of course making a treasure map !), digging for artifacts. "If only the afternoons were longer", the children tiredly exclaim almost every day "after" school, just before dinnertime. "Just 5 more minutes" is often pleaded, in curious voices. Imagination was encouraged by Miss Mason, although not necessarily in so many words -- this free time in the outdoors has brought about the creation of games, the enacting of dramatic productions, the writing of songs, the taking of adventures, and the construction of many projects. Free time and a healthy imagination are vital to "childhood" and to "learning".

Wasn't it Mark Twain who said "I never let my schooling interfere with my education" ? I now understand what he meant by that, as do our children.
For "school", rather than the often dull, dry textbooks or workbooks, Miss Mason expounded on the value of Living Books. The understanding of Living Books set our homeschool "free". Our schoolroom shelves are nearly overflowing with old friends -- living books -- books about many subjects, written in literary language, by authors who truly loved their subjects. The impact of these books is incalculable, and the list is enoumous. Books of stories, quotes, poems, music, lives, fortunes, kingdoms, diaries, journals, battles, histories, scientific endeavors, and of course plenty of how-to books are there too.

When Miss Mason spoke of the importance of using Living Books, she also spoke of using the Bible as part of the homeschool. What a Glory to God that we can learn His Holy Word as part of our school day !! Rather than using a dry formulated study, we enjoy our bible readings all together with perhaps a cup of warm tea. In the early years we read aloud bible stories, and then gradually undertook deeper studies. We selected, from our readings, passages to memorize. And on occasion we study a new hymn, which we sing together. It is through these "timeless" methods that our children's hearts have been inscribed with God's Holy Word. "Thy word have I hid in my heart ....".

There are a few typical questions often asked by visitors and acquaintances - the first is usually "what curriculum do you use for our homeschool ?" And when I speak of using Living Books as the basis for our homeschool, they ask -- how can you be sure the children are learning ? Where do you get the tests and questions that prove they have learned the material ? There is a simple answer to that question -- Narration. No questions, no quizzes. I learned about the power and success of narration from Miss Mason's writings. The children retell, first orally and then eventually by writing, the "story" or the subject. They retell it in their own words, paying careful attention to the order or sequence, the informative facts, and details. I did not realize that when you read something, the information is stored in your short-term memory .. for a while. But when you recite it, tell it, teach it, or share it, that information then moves to your long-term memory ... forever. Isn't that fascinating ? Miss Mason said that children truly learn when they form a "relationship" with the subject -- they love it, hate it, create within it, identify with it, or are inspired by it. They see a situation through the eyes of a character in literature, or can imagine the scene described in a living science book, or can picture themselves witnessing a battle or "moment" in history. The book conveys some part of "life" to the reader ... the information "lives" in the memory through the relationship. And it is this "memory" that constitutes learning. No testing or multiple choice questions required -- no prompting from the teacher -- the teacher is to guide the lesson by providing good materials, then sit back and quietly listen to the child "tell" what he or she has learned. If correction is needed, it is made at the end -- we have found this to be rare, and usually only in the first year of giving narrations. Careful reading, and careful narration -- instead of worksheets, busywork, and questions on quizzes and tests. We do Exams at the end of each school year (and on rare occasions, the end of a Term), but the questions are like these:
(1) Tell me all that you learned about the Civil War.

(2) Describe what you learned from the dissection of an earthworm.

(3) Narrate the story of Creation.

(4) Tell me the story of Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott.

(5) Explain the American Presidential Election process.

Thank you, Miss Mason !

I was surprised initially to learn that Narration does not only apply to "books", but also to studies such as Music and Art, Drama and Poetry. It amazes me even today when on occasion a child will spontaneously recite a poem from memory, or share information learned some years ago. For example, we studied Mozart 3 years ago, but when buying school supplies just a few weeks ago, our son said with certainty "Hey - that's Mozart's Moonlight Sonata playing." And sure enough, it was. He went on to tell the cashier about Mozart's life and a few of his other compositions. That cashier (an older woman) was amazed that this young child knew about a Classical Composer. Another such occasion occurred when I overheard several of our children naming their favorite Artists / Paintings during a conversation with a curator at the Smithsonian -- she was amazed to hear named works by Jackson Pollack, Winslow Homer, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Rembrandt. Some of the children even "narrated" the works for her -- describing them in great detail. This curator spoke of her love for great works of art (and some of her favorite artists), and shared her joy with our children.

(1) Tell about the works of Giotto.
(2) Describe your favorite Chopin composition.
(3) Recite Old Ironsides (poem) by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr..

Miss Mason spoke of Habits often. She elaborated on the formation of habits, and more importantly the formation of Good Habits. This "advice" changed so much concerning the raising of our children, as well as the education of our children. We work on forming Good Habits continually - some examples of habits we have worked on in the past include being polite, independence, being well-spoken, table manners, social graces, patience, perseverance, diligence, having a servant's heart.

Even as I am the teacher of our homeschool, I learned many new "Habits" from Miss Mason. Her writings made me think "outside of the box". She taught me that to be a teacher did not mean that it was my job to talk, lecture, demonstrate, or inform. This was a challenge for me, as it was quite a contrast to what I had always thought. She taught me rather to be a guide; to prepare a "feast" for their minds. Her methods directed me to train our children to be life-long learners, rather than just "filled buckets", with wide and varied studies, interests, and experiences. I often stand in awe as a child scours books from many shelves, in a quest for an answer to a "wonder" he or she has had. And I love to be asked for a special trip to the library "so I can find about about ...." ! I am amazed when I see a child children research "how" or "why" without having been directed to do so. I am privileged to witness "lightbulb" moments often, as our children discover and learn lessons that will last a lifetime.

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Did she understand the impact her methods would have on children, parents, teachers, and families, so long ago ? Did she consider how radical her ideas were ? Did she truly realize the potential of a child, given this kind of education ?

Miss Mason recommended Copywork for many purposes. Our children have copied recipes, instructions, Scripture, quotes of noble persons, diagrams, passages of Literature, Poetry, maps, and so much more. This Copywork has provided a strong foundation for penmanship, spelling, punctuation, grammar, composition, and language, along with a wealth of knowledge in many many areas of study. We could have used workbooks, but why when Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Sara Teasdale taught our children to spell -- and to love poetry. Penmanship was learned with Scripture, which also strengthened the faith of our children. Reading is learned with the simple McGuffey's readers, filled to the brim with good wholesome stories and noble ideas. More advanced reading, grammar, and punctuation were learned and improved while reading the works of Louisa May Alcott, Margerite Henry, Madeline L'Engle, Ralph Moody, C.S. Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and A.A. Milne. History was learned from Genevieve Foster, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin. Natural Science learned from Edwin Teale. And of course, this is just to name a few of the "teachers" we have been blessed to have.

Who could have considered these things possible ?
Miss Mason did.

Our family has been blessed beyond measure by the methods of a certain school teacher named Charlotte Mason, who lived and worked in England, the the late 1800's and early 1900's. She changed our lives in so many ways, bestowing blessing after blessing ... boundless blessings. Her writings never cease to inspire and encourage me .... and for our children, her "methods" have provided a truly beautiful "childhood", Good Habits, a heart inscribed with the Holy Word of God, and an education second to none.
I only wish that I could have simply said, just once, "Thank you."


Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

Beautifully said. I really enjoyed reading your entry for the CM Carnival. I know that many other readers will be encouraged as well.

Thanks Tammy,
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

I really, really enjoyed reading your entry. :)

You express many of my same thoughts. I think the best way to say thank you to Miss Mason is to keep on living some of her principles. I'm sure she would approve.

Thanks for thoughtfulness and for submitting this to the carnival.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Jimmie said...

Wow. Miss Mason has greatly impacted your homeschool and even parenting style. I'm glad it's been a positive thing. I agree with a lot of what she said and respect her opinion a great deal. But I do part ways sometimes. That's natural, I think. We are not all cookie cutters. But she did offer a lot of common sense wisdom. I wish every HS family would read her works and make an informed decision about her methods.

MasterpieceMom said...

Wow! A wonderful read and great quotes! After one year of CM implementation, I'm beginning to see great results too. I can't believe how less stressful this all is.

Nabi said...

Very interesting and encouraging! Thank you very much for sharing :-)

Brittney said...

This post is fantastic and just what I needed to read. I have been up to my eyeballs reading everything I can about CM...again...but for some reason, this time around things are finally starting to click for me. I am incorporating more of her thoughts and ideas into our homeschool and so far it is working great. Still nervous about the narration part, but I am going to give it a try.

Anyhow, thank you for sharing your experiences, but most importantly, your heart!

Brittney (King Alfred Academy in the homeschool virtual world)

Craig and Phyllis said...

I was inspired by this post! I am about to begin homeschooling our newly adopted sons (3). Knowing what they have been through and looking for the best way to homeschool them, CM seemed to provide the best possible experience. Thank you for giving such a wonderful picture of what can be possible!

Shannon said...

Thanks for sharing your post. CM's methods have brought the love of learning to my daughter and our homeschool. For this, I also wish I could thank her.

Amber said...

Enjoyed this post, thanks. CM would have been an interesting lady to meet.

Keri said...

I can see that Charlotte Mason has been a great inspiration for you, she has for me, as well. There is so much to be gained from her wisdom.

sarah in the woods said...

This is a beautiful picture of education - and life. I especially liked reading about your Bible studies with your children. They love to hear Bible story books, and I often wonder if it's enough. Thank you for you encouragement.