Part I––Some Preliminary Considerations pages 1-6
As education is more available to all classes of people, we see more women enter the workforce. Not all of those women work because of financial necessity, some just love the satisfaction of doing something really important. But the work that is most important to society is raising children, not just in schools, but, even more, in the home, because early home life influences the character of the future man or woman more than anything else. "It is a great thing to be a parent: there is no promotion, no dignity, to compare with it. The parents of but one child may be cherishing what shall prove a blessing to the world."
Charlotte Mason is correct, there is no higher calling than raising the next generation, and it is good to enter into it with some knowledge, and to realize that we don't just raise them to be a blessing to ourselves as parents, but to all of society as well.
There are natural laws that govern everything, including raising children. Parents have to observe certain laws (feed it, love it) just to keep a child alive. So long as the parent provides love, nutritious food, wholesome playmates and diversions, the child does well left to himself––for awhile. He will grow up perfectly happy. But parents, and indeed, all the adults in society, owe the child more than that––they must also train him to be a useful member of society. Ideally "it takes a village," to raise a child, although the 'village' today isn't what it used to be––remember back when adults used to watch their language around children? Sadly, society isn't the positive force in modeling and protecting children that it should be.
I––A Method of Education pg. 6-10
Child-rearing has gone from one of two extremes––from a Spartan-like existence designed to toughen kids up for the real world (did parents ever really think that food should be so plain as to neglect the nutrition of the diet?? That's what it says on pg 7!) to almost child-worship, where the parents bend over backwards to please the child's whims. In our society, we seem to have a bit different variation of the Spartan extreme. Some children are neglected and some are over-indulged. She mentions that using a slipper in her day was pretty much "disallowed," leaving us to assume that corporal punishment was discouraged then as it is in our society today.
Raising children, like any venture, is best done when you have some idea or vision of the end result you desire. It's easy to get so focused on one aspect of child-rearing that everything else is neglected (this reminds me of parents who push so much academics that their children never have a real childhood!) It's much harder to keep the whole child in our vision, to be balanced and not get obsessed about one area. A CM education, I think, comes the closest to keeping our eyes on the whole child (although it's hard to keep all those subjects juggled!) Our end goal is a child who is useful to his world, is trained to choose rightly, and whose love for many different things brings joy to him all his life.
Once you know what you desire as your end result, you just have to plan how to get there. Since children are living beings with minds of their own, a rigid system where the teacher follows steps A, B and C to get the result of Child D, won't work. What's needed is a method, a plan to arrive at the desired destination and some guiding principles to keep in mind along the way. That is just what a CM education provides.
II––The Child's Estate pg. 10-13
It is inaccurate to view children as a blank slate––they are not born as blanks, but as fully formed people with the mark of divinity on them, as we all are because we are made in God's image. In fact, children may have insights that adults don't because of their childlike innocence. As we educate our children, we must remember Jesus' command, "Take heed that ye offend not, despise not, hinder not one of these little ones."
III––Offending the Children pg. 13-17
We offend children when we take their inborn sense of justice lightly and, instead of confirming it by encouraging right and discouraging wrong, we laugh at their little offenses because they're so cute, and let them get away with wrong behavior. In this way, their conscience and sense of right and wrong is weakened. They learn the law of doing whatever they can get away with, rather than doing something because it's the right thing to do. Parents must teach their children that they must not misbehave because it isn't right, regardless of the mood or whim of the parent. Children are also offended when parents don't feed them properly, when they let them sleep in too late and let them indulge in intellectually unchallenging pursuits, making children lazy. Playing favorites can also offend children and cause friction and rivalry between siblings.
IV––Despising the Children pg. 17-19
Mothers despise their children when they don't give them their best––the times when they are fresh and not too tired to spend quality time with them. Their best also means taking care to find caretakers who are good influences and treat the children fairly. Mothers also despise children by overlooking bad characteristics in the hopes that children will outgrow them instead of nipping them in the bud. The result is that children have ugly faults that become part of their personalities forever.
V––Hindering the Children pg. 19-20
Children should not be thought too young to learn about the love of God, nor should parents use the name of God as a threat when the child misbehaves. Children should see their parents' love and respect for God, and their parents should help them enter into a relationship with Him.
VI––Conditions of Healthy Brain Activity pg. 20-37
Having just explained what not to do, Charlotte is now going to tell us what we should do.
The brain is a living, active organ and needs exercise, rest, and nourishment:
Exercise––A mental challenge every day helps keep the mind muscle in shape, but a mind that isn't given regular tasks will become lazy and ineffective––which perhaps might lead to depression and derangement.
Rest should come after vigorous mental exercise, and also after any other bodily task that requires bodily energy. A child who has just eaten a big meal needs his body's resources to digest his food and shouldn't be sent outside to walk or given a mental task––his body needs to focus on one job at a time to do it well. Mornings after a light breakfast which doesn't require heavy digesting are the best times for the mental work of school lessons. After lunch is a good time for outdoor activity or light tasks such as handicrafts. After dinner, which is usually the heaviest meal of the day, children need all their energy to digest the meal and process the day's information (to sleep, perchance, to dream?) Breaking up mental work––by having the child do short, varied lessons––spending 15 minutes on reading, and then 15 minutes on math to keep the mind fresh, is a form of mental rest. (By the way, this is one area where CM differs from Classical Education, which has children spending a long time on each lesson for the purpose of building mental endurance.)
Nourishment––As bodies expend energy by living, moving, doing, so minds expend energy by living, thinking, working––and need energy put back in. A body needs a varied diet to put energy back into the bloodstream, and the mind, being a physical part of the body, benefits from the same care that is good for the rest of the body.
Mealtimes should be pleasant so as to create a good environment for food digesting. The stomach doesn't work as well under stress. Children's food should be varied enough to keep them interested.
Children need an abundance of fresh air in their bloodstreams to be at their peak, and by this, Charlotte means more than an hour's walk every day, and she means fresh, pure country air, not dirty city air. Rooms should be ventilated even at night (in Charlotte's day, fire was the source of heat and light, so it was more important to keep houses ventilated because of the smoke.) The skin should breath by having perspiration cleaned off daily and wearing porous clothing (she preferred wool, flannel and serge, which is twilled fabric, rather than cotton and linen.)
The body's organs––blood, stomach, brain––are connected. Bodily health doesn't guarantee mental strength, but a well-working mind can't be at its best if the body is weak.
VII––The Reign of Law in Education pg. 38-42
Good intentions and common sense aren't enough to insure a good education––we also need to know the laws by which learning is achieved.
Children will undoubtedly notice when a non-Christian they admire is more law-abiding and decent than some Christians they know, and that can be difficult to explain to children. It may help parents to remember that God's laws (like the law of gravity) work for both believers and non-believers. Even a secular person who goes out of his way to find out what works (and it is those laws that are divine that work, after all) and does that will receive the natural result of abiding by those laws in the same way that a man, believer or not, who ignores the law of gravity, will fall. The divine law that "An honest man will be trusted" isn't a law that just works for Christians.
By the same token, there are some who profess Christianity yet ignore those laws that are outside of blatant religion (such as Christians who scoff at the idea of environmental conservation or even good stewardship over earth's resources because "it's all going to burn, anyway!") I think what Charlotte is specifically referring to are people who pride themselves on being spiritual enough to love God and follow His spiritual laws, but go about education in total willful ignorance of the way the brain works because, to them, that's secular knowledge and unworthy of them. Therefore, it is possible for a secular person to do a more successful job educating his children than Christians who may think they have a handle on success because they rely on God's blessing without doing their homework (and there are some secular unschoolers whose homeschooling is much more attractive and appears more successful than some Christians who severely limit curriculum to "Christianized" materials with no thought to its value outside of its religious-ness!)
Parents also can't pray that their children will grow up to be honest, good, etc. without finding out ways of actively bringing those characteristics about in their children. Raising children takes more than wishful thinking and praying!
Part II––Out of Doors Life for the Children
I––A Growing Time pg. 42
Charlotte extols the virtues of life lived outdoors and meals eaten in the garden for the refreshing of the soul. (I don't know how refreshing this would be without a screened-in porch, dealing with flies and bees competing for your food, not to mention mosquitoes and cancer-causing UV sunlight!)
To the mother who is careful to be sure her children get an hour outside each day, Charlotte responds by saying that a mother's first duty is to make sure that her child spends the first six years of his life mostly outdoors with no pressure, just taking in the fresh air and impressions of nature. This isn't just because fresh air is healthy for his body, but because a low-key, low-stress existence enjoying the pleasures of the great outdoors inclines children to be happy and good.
That means no early academics, but freedom to enjoy God's creation. This is an example of what she called 'masterly inactivity'––letting the child alone to collect experiences and make his own connections. The observations the child receives when he's young form the basis for everything else he'll ever learn for the rest of his life. The more connections he makes as a child, the more he'll have the background and experience with things to make new information relevant.
Better than just sending them outside is to accompany them, and 6 hours a day every day isn't too much (though it does it make it hard on a mother who doesn't have a laptop to keep up with her email...) If outside is all concrete sidewalks, then taking a trip to some nearby park or countryside is a good idea.
And how are these hours outdoors to be spent? There should be a plan, otherwise the mother will be overwhelmed and the children will get bored. There's a lot to get done with the children. "They must be kept in a joyous temper all the time, or they will miss some of the strengthening and refreshing held in charge for them by the blessed air. They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens..." A little bit of guidance from the mother is needed to keep the day fresh and interesting, but mostly the children are to be left to their own devices. There should be an hour or two of "vigorous exercise" and "a lesson or two." It is during this time outside that the mother trains her children to be observant. There should be no storybooks, because the outdoors provides its own entertainment.
II––Sight-Seeing pg. 45
After the children have played for awhile, the mother should "send them off on an exploring expedition––Who can see the most, and tell the most, about yonder hillock or brook, hedge, or copse." When they return, their responses can be turned into a lesson about precision and narration as she encourages them to tell what they saw in more detail, or more accurately. The children learn to be more observant when they know she will expect thorough accounts of what they saw. Their 'narration' imprints the scenic picture in their minds, to become an image they may recall with pleasure when they're old.
III––Picture Painting pg. 48
Another exercise that is useful is directing children to look at a view, then close their eyes and try to recreate that image in words. They will enjoy hearing their mother put the surrounding view into picturesque words, or remembering aloud a scene or painting she saw once before, and this helps model the skill of oral 'picture-painting' to them.
IV––Flowers and Trees pg. 51-56
Children should be familiar with the plant life in their own community––what grows there, where to find specific wildflowers, and should know what they look like in detail from collecting or drawing them. They can learn about the trees in the area by picking out 6 trees and watching them change through the seasons. Even trees have flowers, and observing this never gets old to children.
V––Living Creatures pg. 56-62
Children can keep a calendar of nature events––when they spot "the first oak-leaf, the first tadpole, the first cowslip, the first catkin, the first ripe blackberries, where seen, and when." They can use this calendar to help know what to look for the following year. Children can also keep a nature diary to write down interesting things they see in nature: "three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb." They can illustrate their diary with paints starting as young as five years old. They may need some help learning to mix colors, but should be left to work on their own after that. Giving children this kind of task will prevent boredom.
Children should be watchful observers of wildlife around them as well––they should spend enough time watching tadpoles, ants, bees, squirrels, etc. to learn something of their habits. Perhaps they might make an ant farm. Even town children can watch sparrows. They can record their findings in their nature diary. Children will pick up the enthusiasm of parents who are excited about nature (or they will pick up disinterest if their parents don't care about nature!) They will learn more from seeing first hand than they can ever pick up in books.
Besides this kind of observation instilling the gift of a life-long love for the natural world around him that will entertain him for years to come, the practice with careful observation is great for helping children develop a good attention span. It also serves to focus children's attention away from themselves and onto something else.
VI––Field Lore and Naturalists' Books pg. 62
Reverence for life and awe for the beauty of nature should discourage the dissection of plants and animals for young children. Tearing things apart for deeper scientific investigation should be saved for later years. Children should learn to note differences in shapes and types of plant parts, and should know proper names for these parts. Charlotte says that classifying by type is one of the higher functions of the brain, which makes it a useful exercise for the sharpening of the mind. Children shouldn't memorize these classifications just from books, though––they should make the associations for themselves by seeing the similarities and differences in their own observations. Field guides can help, but shouldn't be the base of their understanding of the classes of the natural world. Reading books about nature (she names a few including books by William J. Long, who details his own fascinating observations of animal habits) can help a child to "catch" the appreciation for the wonders that happen in the natural world.
VII––The Child Gets Knowledge by Means of His Senses pg. 65
Children watch everything––it is their first way of taking in knowledge. Babies bang things and watch the result, they pick up and feel things. Perspective (learning that things which are seen may be far away or near) is something the child has to learn from experience. This is the child's work and is why formal learning is discouraged before age six––a younger child already has his work cut out for him in observing the world and making connections in his mind! The book Endangered Minds by Jane Healy explains that the mind grows along a set pattern with windows of opportunity. If the mind of a kitten is deprived of seeing vertical lines, the kitten will never be able to make up for that and will be handicapped from seeing vertical lines all its life. In the same way, children's minds are designed to observe and learn from seeing and doing in their own environment. A child is deprived of that necessary "school" if he is made to sit at lessons too early. A child may not seem to be gaining much from what looks to us like "doing nothing," because he hasn't got the words to express all he sees and is finding out––but those experiences are developing his mind nevertheless. Love for nature is going to come at this early age, if ever.
VIII––The Child Should Be Made Familiar With Natural Objects pg. 69
Since children pick up and internalize everything, they should be given real things to observe, nature things rather than city sights. Cities have their own sights, and there is a certain amount of knowledge that one needs to survive in a city. But such practical knowledge as knowing where the stores are doesn't really broaden a child's mind and enlarge his soul. A child's mind is much better off becoming familiar with the ways of nature, which are always changing, always new, and always have something subtle yet interesting to show him. A child who is familiar with the ways of nature is developing a scientific mind and learning the laws of nature that may make him more patient and kind as an adult. And a child impassioned with nature will have enough to excite him without having to get into mischief.
IX––Out-of-Door Geography pg. 72
Nature can afford an opportunity to teach geography. Observing his own environment primes a child's mind for geography by providing illustrations of geographical things in faraway lands. For example, a duck pond can help a child understand what a great sea is like, and being familiar with a creek will help him to understand the great rivers of the world. He will know what things like plains and hills are in other countries if he's familiar with the same natural elements in his own local landscape.
Children should learn how to find direction and time of day by the position of the sun. After they have learned to tell north, south, east, west using the sun, they should have a compass and learn how to use it. They should learn about clouds and weather. They should learn to approximate distance in how far they walk, and how far things are from each other by measuring the length of their own steps and calculating by counting steps. They can start with small distances––across a room, or around the yard. This should be done as a game.
Children can learn the concept of boundaries by seeing the boundaries of streets, fences, etc, that set apart a field or property. They can try to map out an area by drawing a bird's eye view of its landmarks.
X––The Child and Mother Nature pg. 78
Children should be left to observe for themselves with only a small amount of guidance and lessons from the mother––too much lecturing keeps them from their first priority, which is watching. A very few lessons and pointing out some interesting object to look at should be about the extent of the mother's interference.
XI––Out of Door Games pg. 80
If there is time, foreign language can be incorporated by spending ten minutes naming plants and things in the language the child is learning.
Children should be allowed to run and make lots of noise, which is good for their lungs. Dancing and singing freely are great for children, and singing games and nursery rhymes should be taught to them––though these should be passed on from children to children in natural play rather than as a lesson from a kindergarten teacher. They should learn games to play. Organized sports are great for older children, but children nine and under should be playing games they devise themselves: "races and chases, tag, follow my leader, and any romping game they may invent." Jumping rope is perfect for this age. Fear of injury shouldn't make us discourage children from climbing rocks and trees––it's better to teach a child climbing, leaping (and falling?) skills and let them climb.
Charlotte comments about the clothing children should wear on these outings, and states a preference for wool, which breathes. Whatever is comfortable and allows the skin to breathe so that the child doesn't get over-heated would suit the purpose. In her day, I imagine children dressed in more layers than we do today (I'm envisioning little girls trying to climb trees in Victorian dresses and petticoats!), so the necessity for something that breathed may have been more important.
XII––Walks in Bad Weather pg. 85
Even walks in the winter can be interesting––trees without leaves show their structure better, birds are out, and there are other animals about in search of food. Since sights are less visible, it can be an opportunity for children to look harder and sharpen their powers of attention. Charlotte talks about a father and son who would pass a shop on their daily walks and have contests to see who could remember the most items in the shop window, and she suggests this kind of a game for winter walks. (Surely we've all played a version of this at baby showers?)
In wet weather, children should not be encased in waterproof clothing that doesn't breathe. They should be allowed to get wet and change into dry things when they get home. Children love to be out in the rain, and being wet will not hurt the child unless he has a cold, and as long as he doesn't sit around in wet clothes when he comes in.
XIII––Red Indian Life pg. 88
Learning tracking skills that Indians used to have is great for anyone. Charlotte recommends Baden Powell's book about Scouting. Bird stalking (serious bird watching) is also an educational experience. One must be very quiet to be able to sneak close enough to a bird to see him up close and observe his habits.
XIV––Children Require Country Air pg. 92
In Charlotte's time when heat and light depended on open flame, inside air was smoky, so it was even more important for children to get outside. We don't have the smoke, but we do have toxins from our floor adhesives, plastics and other chemicals in our homes. (We also seem to have a higher rate of people with allergies who have to stay in sealed homes away from pollens and other plant allergens. I wonder what she would have suggested for a child with allergies?) Children also need solar rays from the sunlight.
She says that parents shouldn't think that "a fat child is a fine child;" presumably she means a pleasing plumpness stemming from well-to-do parents who could afford healthy food and give their child an easy life. Better, she says, is a child with an alert mind and bright eyes quickened from the interesting things outside.
In our day, we have a very high percentage of children who are obese (I don't know if this is just an American epidemic, or in all wealthy countries.) I imagine Charlotte would be horrified to see so many children living on fast foods, candy, snack cakes and soda and spending their time in front of TV and video games.
Part III––Habit is Ten Natures
I––Education Based Upon Natural Law pg. 96
A CM education works in accordance with the way humans learn best. CM's first priority is making sure that young children's first educational experiences are familiarity with his environment outdoors. Next is helping parents to understand the power of habit as a tool in training children. In fact, the formation of habits is education, and education is the formation of habits.
II––The Children Have No Self-Compelling Power pg 98
Charlotte saw how children did well enough in the classes she taught as a young schoolteacher just starting out, but the faults they were born with seemed to stay with them in spite of their education. Religious training teaches children the law and may motivate them to want to obey it, but even though children want to be good, few succeed at really gaining control of their sinful impulses. They lack power and strength of will. Surely education should be able to give children the ability to gain mastery over their own impulses. Part of the problem is that each impulse must be considered and decided upon––but children can be trained so that many of these decisions are removed because doing the right thing has been trained in them as a habit that they no longer even have to think about.
III–– What is Nature? pg. 100
Charlotte remembered a sermon she heard that said "Habit is ten natures." To her, understanding that concept was an "Aha!" moment.
All people, regardless of race or position in life, are born with the same desires. Curiosity and the desire to know, and to see; the desire for esteem that makes us enjoy praise, are inborn in everyone. All people also crave affection and have joy, grief, fear, etc. We are also born with a conscience––a sense of duty. Even the most savage tribes know that lying, disloyalty and murder are wrong.
People are also born with personal tendencies towards specific faults and talents, and she says these are inherited in the genes. People have physical traits that may help or limit them and affect the strength of their passions and will. Should a child born thus be left to himself to grow up according to his own whim? Shouldn't parents help their children to make the most of their good traits and overcome their less desirable ones? The parent's task is to "give the child control over his own nature," so that he can overcome his bad traits, but also so that he doesn't allow his good traits to become imbalanced and ruin his life. Even something good, such as generosity, can go too far and become detrimental to a person. It is not fair to let a child grow up wild and free, trusting to the grace of God to weed out his faults––yes, God can do that, but it is a rough, rocky life for a child who must learn the hard way to rule himself without guidance from his parents.
IV––Habit May Supplant Nature pg. 105
If a child's inborn nature is a strong influence on him, habit is ten times more so. A child's nature may determine his habits (a selfish child develops a habit of greed, a dishonest child develops a habit of lying, etc.) But a mother can train her child to have habits that can overcome his own nature. Mothers do train their children in habits even when they aren't aware of it––her attitudes on impressing neighbors will train her children to judge by appearances, for instance––and most children have at least a couple of house rules they would never think of violating. This shows the mother's capability to train habits into her children. And we all know how much we are creatures of habit, and how habits can stay with us all our lives.
That's how strong habit is in individuals. If a parent can deliberately choose which actions becomes habits in her children, she can affect their behavior for the rest of their lives.
V––Laying Down of Habit pg. 107
It is wonderful to see the spark of an idea develop and grow to fruition, such as an inspiration that becomes a novel that seems to write itself. One doesn't even know where the initial idea came from. Not all ideas are so inspiring, though––bad ideas can get into the mind as easily as good ones and can also grow to fruition. Habit is at work here, too––we tend to think along the lines we're accustomed to. We adults may foresee a train of thought before us and stop it from going any further, but a child doesn't know how to do this yet. "He depends upon his parents; it rests with them to initiate the thoughts he shall think, the desires he shall cherish, the feelings he shall allow." But once they initiate them, those thoughts take on a life of their own within the inner chambers of the child's mind. As we are such creatures of habit, it is up to the parents to develop in the child the habit of thinking worthy thoughts so that it's more trouble to the child to break that habit to think evil thoughts, and these habits can become part of the child's nature. Charlotte likens this training to laying down railroad tracks in the child's mind for the locomotive of his thoughts to run on.
But if parents lay down the habits of thought and action in a child, and habit governs most of what we do, isn't that like taking away the child's free will? Not really, because habits will govern most of the child's life anyway, whether they are the ones he picks up by chance or the ones the parent trains in him.
VI––The Physiology of Habit pg. 111
Charlotte uses a book by Dr. Carpenter to illustrate how habits can become second nature––brain tissue is always growing, and new tissue tends to grow in accordance and according to its current needs. By creating a habit, new brain tissue will be formed that accommodates that need, and then it's as if the habit is a tangible part of the brain. The brain of a child learning the skill of writing will grow new tissue to meet the needs of that skill in the same way that the muscles in his hand grow to meet that new need––and children should learn all kinds of active skills such as dancing and swimming so that new brain tissue and muscle will form, providing the child with lots of physical options to accommodate new activities and interests. Tissue is easiest to grow in a young body, and a child who doesn't develop various muscles and brain tissue will have a harder time of it later in trying to acquire a new skill, which becomes evident when trying to teach someone who has done nothing but farm-work how to handle a pen.
Because habits cause the body to grow new tissue, it is very important that children use correct posture and anunciation––bad habits not broken early will cause the body to form itself to those bad habits.
Not only physical habits but habits of thought also affect tissue growth. The child who has a habit of being flippant or slovenly or dishonest will find it nearly impossible to change later in life. The time to correct those bad habits is during childhood. Imagine the possibilities if thinking worthy, loving thoughts forces the brain to grow tissue developed for those thoughts!
Thus, it is the duty of anyone educating children to consciously train good habits of behaviour and thought in children rather than assume children will grow out of bad habits, or allow children to pick up the careless habits of others.
VII––The Forming of a Habit: "Shut the Door After You" pg. 119-124
It isn't doing a thing that's so difficult, but deciding to do it. Putting off the making of the decision leads to a habit of dawdling. Dawdling isn't cured by punishment or reward, and it isn't outgrown. A new habit must be learned to take its place. A good mother will take the time (it may take weeks) to cure the bad habit with the same diligence she would to nurse the child through the measles.
In breaking a child of dawdling, the mother should briefly make the child see the "miseries that must arise" from dawdling, so that the child wants to overcome the bad habit. Once she has the child's willing cooperation, she only has to give the child reminders: "The child goes to dress for a walk; she dreams over the lacing of her boots––the tag in her fingers poised in mid air––but her conscience is awake; she is constrained to look up, and her mother's eye is upon her, hopeful and expectant. She answers to the rein and goes on; midway, in the lacing of the second boot, there is another pause, shorter this time; again she looks up, and again she goes on." After a few weeks, the child no longer dawdles and the bad habit is cured with no nagging or punishing from the mother.
"After that first talk, the mother would do well to refrain from one more word on the subject; the eye (expectant, not reproachful), and, where the child is far gone in a dream, the lightest possible touch, are the only effectual instruments. By-and-by, 'Do you think you can get ready in five minutes to-day without me? 'Oh yes, mother.' 'Do not say "yes" unless you are quite sure.' 'I will try.' And she tries, and succeeds."
Once the habit is established, the mother must be very careful not to allow even one slip that would reinforce the old habit. "Now, the mother will be tempted to relax her efforts––to overlook a little dawdling because the dear child has been trying so hard. This is absolutely fatal. The fact is, that the dawdling habit has made an appreciable record in the very substance of the child's brain. During the weeks of cure new growth has been obliterating the old track, and the track of a new habit is being formed. To permit any reversion to the old bad habit is to let go all this gain. To form a good habit is the work of a few weeks; to guard it is a work of incessant, but by no means anxious care."
The new habit is enough satisfaction for a child, so no reward should be given over and above the joy of the new habit itself. "A habit, even a good habit, becomes a real pleasure; and when the child has really formed the habit of doing a certain thing, his mother imagines that the effort is as great to him as at first, that it is virtue in him to go on making this effort, and that he deserves, by way of reward, a little relaxation––she will let him break through the new habit a few times..." and then her work is undone and she has to start all over again.
This same method is illustrated in teaching a child to always shut the door when he leaves a room. Rather than summarize, I'm including that entire section:
'Johnny,' she says, in a bright, friendly voice, 'I want you to remember something with all your might: never go into or out of a room in which anybody is sitting without shutting the door.'
'But if I forget, mother?'
'I will try to remind you.'
'But perhaps I shall be in a great hurry.'
'You must always make time to do that.'
'But why, mother?'
'Because it is not polite to the people in the room to make them uncomfortable.'
'But if I am going out again that very minute?'
'Still, shut the door, when you come in; you can open it again to go out. Do you think you can remember?'
'I'll try, mother.'
'Very well; I shall watch to see how few "forgets" you make.'
For two or three times Johnny remembers; and then, he is off like a shot and half-way downstairs before his mother has time to call him back. She does not cry out, 'Johnny, come back and shut the door!' because she knows that a summons of that kind is exasperating to big or little. She goes to the door, and calls pleasantly, 'Johnny!' Johnny has forgotten all about the door; he wonders what his mother wants, and, stirred by curiosity, comes back, to find her seated and employed as before. She looks up, glances at the door, and says, 'I said I should try to remind you.' 'Oh, I forgot,' says Johnny, put upon his honour; and he shuts the door that time, and the next, and the next.
But the little fellow has really not much power to recollect, and the mother will have to adopt various little devices to remind him; but of two things she will be careful––that he never slips off without shutting the door, and that she never lets the matter be a cause of friction between herself and the child, taking the line of his friendly ally to help him against that bad memory of his. By and by, after, say, twenty shuttings of the door with never an omission, the habit begins to be formed; Johnny shuts the door as a matter of course, and his mother watches him with delight come into a room, shut the door, take something off the table, and go out, again shutting the door.
The Dangerous Stage.––Now that Johnny always shuts the door, his mother's joy and triumph begin to be mixed with unreasonable pity. 'Poor child,' she says to herself, 'it is very good of him to take so much pains about a little thing, just because he is bid!' She thinks that, all the time, the child is making an effort for her sake; losing sight of the fact that the habit has become easy and natural, that, in fact, Johnny shuts the door without knowing that he does so. Now comes the critical moment. Some day Johnny is so taken up with a new delight that the habit, not yet fully formed, loses its hold, and he is half-way downstairs before he thinks of the door. Then he does think of it, with a little prick of conscience, strong enough, not to send him back, but to make him pause a moment to see if his mother will call him back. She has noticed the omission, and is saying to herself, 'Poor little fellow, he has been very good about it this long time; I'll let him off this once.' He, outside, fails to hear his mother's call, says, to himself––fatal sentence!––––'Oh, it doesn't matter,' and trots off.
Next time he leaves the door open, but it is not a 'forget.' His mother calls him back in a rather feeble way. His quick ear catches the weakness of her tone, and, without coming back, he cries, 'Oh, mother, I'm in such a hurry,' and she says no more, but lets him off. Again he rushes in, leaving the door wide open. 'Johnny!––in a warning voice. 'I'm going out again just in a minute, mother,' and after ten minutes' rummaging he does go out, and forgets to shut the door. The mother's mis-timed easiness has lost for her every foot of the ground she had gained.
VIII––Infant Habits/Physical Exercise pg. 124
I'm going to summarize the section on infant habits without too much comment. Science has shown that children need more touch than the rigid, sterile practices that Victorian parents were taught, but Charlotte is reflecting the times she lived in, and this section should be read with that in mind.
Babies should be raised with an air of cleanliness and order, frequent baths and windows open so that the baby grows "without the faintest odour" in his environment. This trains the baby to have a sensitive nose and to be alert to even the most subtle new smells, which may save his life if he someday enters a room with a gas leak.
The baby's things should be tidy and in good repair so that the child learns to expect neatness as normal. Broken toys should be discarded. The child should learn to pick up his own toys from 2 years of age. Their things should look nice, and artistic arrangement should be encouraged because, although it's tempting to think a child won't notice, his tastes are being formed. Toys and books should be tasteful rather than common, cheap and sentimental (what Charlotte calls "vulgar.")
The baby should learn from the start that modesty is normal and running around "in Eden-like simplicity" should be forbidden. The child will learn not only modesty, but obedience and honour from complying with this rule.
The child should be on a regular schedule of sleeping and eating.
IX––Physical Exercise pg. 132
Physical exercise such as dancing, Swedish drill, calisthenics, are good for building coordination, attention and quick response. Good manners can be practiced by running through practice plays: "Mary, the lady asking the way to the market; Harry, the boy who directs her, and so on." Children can play 'position drills,' which sounds similar to Simon Says. They should practice saying difficult words: 'imperturbability,' 'ipecacuanha,' 'Antananarivo,' for annunciation drills. They should be taught to sing on pitch and distinguish musical notes.
Once good habits are in place, a mother can relax because her children will behave properly as a matter of habit and she won't need to go behind them with constant reminders and nagging. Habit training makes her job easier and more pleasant.
Part IV––Some Habits of Mind––Some Moral Habits
Charlotte admits that parents have an advantage in teaching their own children because they know them better than any outsider could. Still, knowing your children isn't enough, there must also be some understanding of how education works, which she refers to as 'the science of education.'
When it is realized that training good habits is of scientific merit and that habits are best learned early in life, what parent wouldn't want to make the most of this tool? Training children early makes life easier for everyone forever afterwards, so that no mother need spend her days nagging her children to do the same thing again and again. It may seem like a huge task, but if done little by little, one day at a time, as each tick of a clock counts away days and years, it can be done with less effort than one might think initially. In fact, teaching habits can itself become a habit!
I––The Habit of Attention pg. 137
Of all the mental habits, this one is given first priority because "the highest intellectual gifts depend ... upon ... the habit of attention." Our minds are always busy––when awake, we flit from one idle thought to another, and, even when sleeping, our minds are at work dreaming. A chattering child may move from one thought to another at whim, following the associations as he prattles. This kind of thought association can be a "good servant but a bad master." It can help in remembering things, but when the mind has no will to control which thoughts it focuses on, it has no power to stay with one train of thought (I think this is the source of the problem with ADD children––they can't stay with one thought even if they want to.) The mind becomes a slave to stray thoughts. Wandering attention must be nipped in the bud if children are to learn to control their flow of thought. But how can a mother do this?
The habit of attention can be cultivated in infancy if the mother attempts to keep her child's attention on a toy even while the baby's focus wants to flit from one toy to the next. The mother might tell a story to a toddler about the flower just picked before the child discards it for something else, which can create more interest (longer focus) in the flower. "Thus the mother will contrive ways to invest every object in the child's world with interest and delight."
Lessons should be kept short and interesting––don't give the child's mind a chance to become bored and wander. When his mind starts to wander, it's time to put the lesson away so that the habit of letting the mind wander doesn't take root. The child should know how long his lesson will be so that he is prepared to devote his full attention for that amount of time. For a child under eight, 20 minutes on one lesson should be the limit. Lessons should be varied––a reading lesson before an outside lesson, for instance, to keep the mind refreshed. If a child finishes a lesson before the prescribed time, he should have the remainder of the lesson minutes for his own leisure.
It is best not to rank children by rewarding one child for having the best performance, as this feeds a competitive spirit which can foster superiority in the best student, resentment in the others, and vanity in all of them. The desire to excel can even replace the desire to learn for its own reward. Affection should also not be used to reward good performance. Knowledge is its own reward, and the ability to focus the attention at will should be a skill that the child prides himself upon for its own value. It is not a difficult skill, and since it is the key to all the other mental disciplines, it should be the goal of every parent to train this habit in their children. Children should be given a sense of achievement for what they have accomplished rather than feel the pressure of what they haven't done––it's what we've failed to do that often wears us down. Children are no different than the rest of us, and lessons undone because their mind wandered will create the same unsettled feeling that undone tasks give us adults. Children should be given a set amount of time in which to do homework––perhaps one hour, and no more, so as not to develop a habit of dawdling over schoolwork all evening. When children know that a fun evening comes after that hour, they will prefer to direct their attention for the one hour, and make that time more productive. Better yet is not to have so much school work that it must be continued after school hours.
Children should learn life's lessons by natural consequences. Punishment shouldn't be contrived, but should fit the offense. The little girl pining for a purple jar may learn more from getting her heart's desire and doing without something else. (The Purple Jar story which Charlotte is referring to is by Maria Edgeworth and is posted online.)
II––The Habits of Application, Etc. pg. 149
Children should be trained to think quick on their feet by the teacher's expectation of quick, accurate answers.
III––The Habit of Thinking pg. 150
Children should be trained to think by practicing cause-and-effect type of thinking––drawing conclusions from what they see. Charlotte gives an example of a man who saw condors overhead and deduced that a lion must be nearby because only a lion would make condors afraid to land.
IV––The Habits of Imagining pg. 151
Children should have books that cultivate their imaginations––they should play at Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe. Charlotte says that the "ludicrousness" of comical books like Alice in Wonderland are a hindrance to the development of imagination. Funny books should be kept to a minimum so the child has more room in his mind for "real" adventures to imagine. Books about children like them living in the same time and conditions give them nothing to imagine; they are too commonplace. "The children know all about everything so well that it never occurs to them to play at the situations in any one of these tales, or even to read it twice over. But let them have tales of the imagination, scenes laid in other lands and other times, heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales in which they are never roughly pulled up by the impossible––even where all is impossible, and they know it, and yet believe." Imagination doesn't come from thin air––it needs daring ideas to feed on. Therefore, even books read in their spare time should be carefully chosen.
Thinking is a skill which must be practiced, so it's better to let a child think through some questions than to have a quick answer ready to hand him with every question. The parent should also present questions to the child, "Why does a pebble sink instead of float?" for the child to ponder. The parent can give the answer after the child has had time to think on it.
V––The Habit of Remembering pg. 154
All our thoughts and experiences leave some kind of impression on the mind, but it does little good if our minds can't recall it accurately at will. Teaching children to apply their whole attention to something will make its impression in the memory clearer and aid memory of it later. (I once read that labeling things with words is what makes memories indelible and is why children who were verbal early can remember farther back than children who spoke later. And attaching a name to something––a color, for example, will allow the mind to recall it better than if it had no name. In the same way, Charlotte's "mind painting," describing a scene in detail as an aid to remembering the picture later, may be working on this verbal principle which requires that full attention be used.)
Lessons should begin by recalling the previous lesson. If you read one chapter, recall the previous chapter before you begin the new one so that the story flows as one connected memory in the child's mind. Random disconnected facts and lessons won't be associated with much of anything and may not be retained well.
VI––The Habit of Perfect Execution pg. 159
Allowing children to turn in imperfect work with the idea that they will improve when they're older encourages a habit of mediocrity. "No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly." Expect excellence and the child will rise to it; he will also experience self-satisfaction from doing his work well. If he cannot write a line of letters perfectly, have him do it again the next day, and the next, until the work is perfect. Children should get into a habit of completing what they start; don't allow them to begin a new project without finishing the previous one.
VII––Obedience pg. 160
Obedience is "the whole duty of a child." The parent owes it to God and society to raise law-abiding children who are used to obeying. Children should obey, not because the parent 'said so' but because obedience is the right thing to do. Only when the child obeys willingly from a desire to do right is his obedience a habit; compulsive obedience that children are bullied into isn't enough.
The mother begins training a child to obey in infancy, and she shouldn't need to coerce the child; children will obey if she expects them to. "It is enough to say, 'Do this,' in a quiet, authoritative tone and expect it to be done." If she requires obedience and never once allows children to get by with less, they will never learn that obedience is a choice they can make; they will get into the habit of simply obeying. Once children learn that their mother doesn't always force the issue, it will be a struggle to get them to obey at the first request. Obedient children can be trusted no matter where they go. An older child should understand that the ability to make oneself do immediately what one would rather not do is a noble thing.
VIII––Truthfulness pg. 164
Lying has three causes––"carelessness in ascertaining truth, carelessness in stating the truth, and a deliberate intention to deceive." Parents tend to overlook the first two and focus on the third. But children should be held to high standards in all three of these––they should be expected to give precisely accurate details without exaggerating (such as saying "but everybody's doing it" as a generality or stretching the truth to make a story humorous), and they shouldn't repeat things they've heard without being certain of its truth.
Children should be considerate and respectful of people and property. Bad tempers––peevishness, sullenness, discontent, etc.––shouldn't be accepted as part of a child's nature. Parents must help the child to overcome such tempers and to look on the bright side of things. A habit of cheerfulness can be an antidote and cure for a child's natural tendency to be discontent. When a child begins to display discontent, the mother should distract him by giving him something to do––perhaps an errand, or something pleasant to do. Then the unpleasant thought will disappear as the child goes on his new task. Doing this every time the child shows any sign of an ill temper will get him into the habit of having pleasant thoughts and get him out of the rut of thinking negative thoughts.
Part V––Lessons as Instruments of Education
I––The Matter and Method of Lessons pg. 169
Parents shouldn't leave the decisions about what their child learns to 'the experts,' they should be knowledgeable and have an opinion about education themselves. Even if they don't homeschool, being informed can make them supportive of their child's teachers. Parents should also have a hand in their children's early upbringing rather than leaving them to governesses who may be unqualified to raise children. If a mother has no time to be her children's tutor, then she must find a governess or teacher who will teach them according to her standards. A mother must define what those standards are by asking herself what the purpose is in her children learning, what they should learn, and how they should learn it.
Children must learn new things because vital ideas inspire them and multiply in the child's mind and life. Their lessons must furnish ideas as well as knowledge. Many adults talk down to children, but mothers are intimate enough with them to know that children can handle real knowledge and ideas and talk with them realistically. In the same way, children do better with real (grown-up) books than books specifically written for children because many of those talk down to children and are no more than diluted twaddle. Twaddle is idle, trivial chatter, or witless drivel that tries to talk down to a child.
Charlotte suggests four tests of children's lessons:
1. They should provide material for mental growth
2. They should exercise the powers of the children's minds
3. They should increase the child's knowledge
4. They should be valuable in their own right and interesting enough to be recalled years later with pleasure.
Keep in mind that children must acquire knowledge first hand by experiencing the world and nature for themselves. Lessons should allow children plenty of time for free outdoor play. Children should be given something specific (a flower, a scene, etc.) in their outdoor experience to focus on every day. Play should be regarded as just as necessary as lessons. Children should be left to draw their own conclusions about their observations as much as possible with a minimum of adult guidance. A happy child will progress quicker, so lessons should be kept interesting and cheerful.
II––The Kindergarten as a Place of Education pg. 178
Kindergarten is wonderful for a child––depending on who is the teacher. Little kindergarten games and songs taught by a "commonplace woman" can be "wooden." The best teacher is the child's mother, "for who so likely as she to have the needful tact, sympathy, common sense, culture?" And she needn't turn the nursery into an organized school-at-home, for the child learns best, not with contrived activities, but by touching, seeing and hearing, learning about sizes of things, colors, numbers, copying precisely, and expressing himself. The child should should have first-hand experience with his world.
The mother should have the child do tasks precisely and not accept sloppy work because the child is young. He might straighten a tablecloth, hang towels, wrap a package. Games can be used, but they shouldn't be the bulk of the child's training, as they are an artificial means of education. Friction should be avoided since children need a pleasant environment. If he doesn't care to join in with the rest of the group's activities, let him do his own thing (perhaps this is why children under six should not be pressured to narrate?)
III––Further Considerations of the Kindergarten pg. 182
Children are much more complex and intelligent than their innocent, cute ways seem. Tolstoi wrote in 'Childhood, Boyhood, Youth' about writing a sentimental poem for his grandmother as a very small boy and then berating himself later for hypocrisy because he did not mean it exactly as he wrote. Children often don't tell their inner thoughts––they tend to think that grown-ups won't understand them. It may help if a parent remembers what it was like to be little and can help the child to see that they do understand, but children usually grow up fine in spite of not divulging everything as children.
Froebel is to be credited for making adults see the value and worth of children. Children who are destined to live adult lives out in the real world do not grow best in a hothouse environment, but in the real world. We see for ourselves what children are capable of when we see what street children can do to fend for themselves and survive. Children are too intelligent to be given sweet kindergarten twaddle––they need real ideas for their imaginations. Some examples Charlotte gives as books children love are Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and Ulysses. They prefer playing from such books rather than playing contrived little kindergarten games in which they "frisk like lambs, flap their fins, and twiddle their fingers like butterflies." They may enjoy such games to some extent, but it's not the stuff of which their imaginations are made.
Kindergarten teachers tend to mediate too much. Children in kindergarten aren't allowed to get ideas first-hand from great composers and writers and the natural world, but everything is filtered through the teacher who converts it all into sweet, sentimental talk that she thinks is fit for five-year-olds. It's not real, but contrived and artificial. It is much better for a child to learn about realness from a real person––his mother. He gets to know her moods and is encouraged by her to try new things as she goes about the daily routine of her life. This is much better than fabricated education. A room full of other young children who have as little control over themselves as they do may be too stimulating. Children do best within their own families.
Very young children need the freedom to play, watch caterpillars, and meditate more than they need every minute of their time directed by a kindergarten teacher. Healthy, happy children can invent their own games, and this will foster initiative in them, which is more valuable than what they may gain from organized school lessons. Their adult life will make demands on most of their time; it is good to let a child have free, unordered time to do as he pleases while he can.
We can learn from the way Annie Sullivan helped Helen Keller. She rejected formal kindergarten materials in favor of giving Helen time to herself to draw her own conclusions about the world as she experienced it, and Helen Keller grew up to be a sensitive writer. She gained more from dealing with real things than she might have by sitting at a table making contrived crafts. Such an artificial education leads a child to "a very pallid and unreal life."
IV––Reading pg. 199
Charlotte begins with a quote about how Susana Wesley taught her children to read at age five. She spent a few hours teaching them their letters, and then they would begin to read the book of Genesis until they had learned all the words. (I've heard that Chuck Smith, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel, learned to read this way. His mother, he says, opened the Bible to Genesis and started teaching him from the first verse.)
As difficult as we think it is to teach a child to read, most of us can't even remember how we learned ourselves. It comes so naturally––it is adults who stress over it more than children.
Children often learn the letters themselves, but a mother should nevertheless show the child how to form letters, recognize them on a page, and know what they sound like. This is not burdensome to a child, but will seem like a game. Children should be taught as long as it's fun to them. "But he must not be urged, required to show off, teased to find letters when his heart is set on other play."
Next, the child can have fun putting letters together to make three-letter words with short vowels, adding c or b or m to at to form cat, bat, mat. Then teach long vowels by making words that end in a silent e. Then progress to words with ng (such as "ing" endings), th words, and words using other blends. This early, the child should close his eyes and try to remember how to spell the words. This helps foster the skills of seeing words and remembering which make spelling easier later.
Then the child should be shown a familiar rhyme, just a couple of lines, and read the words slowly to see that each group of letters is a word he knows. This teaches sight reading, learning to recognize familiar words by sight. Then children can try to read real books (Gatty's Parables of Nature is one of CM's suggestions.) "Even for their earliest reading lessons, it is unnecessary to put twaddle into the hands of children." Children can hunt through text for words they learned to sight-read.
Children should enunciate clearly when they read aloud to develop the habit of good pronunciation.
Charlotte's method may take longer, but will spare the child from "blundering" through twaddly readers and learning to read without interest or expression. It's much better to read something interesting that will help the child develop good habits of reading with feeling. And it is no more difficult learning to sight-read longer words (like "twinkle" and "wonder") than it is to sight-read three-letter words, so there's no need to limit readers to easy words.
V. The First Reading Lesson pg. 207
Charlotte includes a conversation between two mothers discussing her method of learning to read, in which she cleverly disguises a plea to publishers to sell pre-cut words for teaching to read.
VI––Reading by Sight and Sound pg. 214
Although children seem to magically pick up the skill of reading as mysteriously as they do walking and talking, learning to decode the little black squiggles on a sheet of paper isn't a natural skill and does take some amount of work for a child to understand. Besides learning which sounds are associated with specific letters, the child must learn all the rules, exceptions and special circumstances that affect the sounds the letters make.
Charlotte says that a child should learn 1000 words by sight––which amounts to 10 new words a day for 20 weeks to learn how to decode new words he will come across.
Children love interesting things, like insects. They don't like uninteresting things, like meaningless combinations of phonetic symbols––nop, cla, etc. It is much better to let the child begin reading with something more interesting––real words and sentences rather than strings of sounds. A child who learns the word butter will have no problem exchanging an m for the b to read mutter, even if he hasn't gone through the list of bu, du, gu, etc. By learning to read all the words in a favorite poem, a child gains knowledge of a hundred words––"useful words that we want everday."
The parent should write one of the words on a board, have the child look at the word as she tells him what it is, and ask him to close his eyes and remember it. Then he puts together letters from his box (Charlotte used cut-out letters, but we might use magnetic letters) to assemble the same word. Then the child should be asked to locate that word on a page with the poem on it. In this way, the child learns a word at a time.
After the child has learned the words, he may assemble cut-out words in order to make the familiar sentence of the poem, which he will read with joy. This is all done in one day as the child's first reading lesson––the child started with nothing, but leaves knowing how to really read a sentence from a beloved poem.
The next day, the child assembles a word from the previous lesson (from memory if he can) and then a letter is replaced to make new words––coat is made into boat and moat, for instance. The child can use other words from the previous lesson to make up sentences with these new words.
A short sentence may be dictated for the child to assemble––"a goat in the boat," or something, which will include a word or two not yet learned. This will motivate the child to learn more. Sentences given to the child should make sense; don't use nonsense phrases that make no sense.
In a few lessons, the child will have worked his way through the entire poem and will have a real sense of achievement at being able to read a poem well with no stuttering or stumbling. This success will motivate him to move ahead enthusiastically with his reading lessons. In this way, reading is associated with pleasure rather than drudgery and frustration.
VII––Recitation pg. 222
Children are born mimics––imitating comes naturally to them. Using that natural skill to have the child memorize truly wonderful language and recite it back clearly will give him the skill of beautiful speech. Yet memorization is not the same as recitation––one can and should commit many wonderful poems to memory (and this can be done effortlessly just by the child hearing a poem as he goes about other activities), but working on reciting them back can be reserved for just a few of them. Young children should learn simple poems that they like, but their precious time should not be spent committing twaddle to memory.
VIII––Reading for Older (age 8 and 9) Childre pg. 226
Children should acquire the habit of reading by being expected to extract knowledge from books themselves as they are able––spoon-feeding children will make them lazy at reading on their own. Children should learn to read slowly and carefully the first time so that time need not be spent re-reading what was missed the first time. Narrating after only one reading builds this habit. A time limit of 10-15 minutes should be given, with no re-reading allowed to correct a bad narration.
Children should read some of their school books aloud clearly, including poetry. This teaches them how to read aloud well. Careless enunciation should not be allowed.
Reading aloud to our children should be a treat, as in sharing a family book at bedtime. Children should not require parents to read aloud all their school texts. Relying too much on being read to thwarts the skill of reading for knowledge oneself.
Children should not be coaxed to define every word they read––we all tend to figure out new words from context, and it is annoying for anyone to be tested on each and every word. Don't quiz a child on context or meaning of what he reads––let him narrate and get out of it what he will. Nobody likes to be asked riddles about what they read. However, open-ended questions that lead to discussion can be interesting, such as, "what would you have done in his place?"
Children's books should be interesting, and lesson books are no exception. Twaddle in textbooks has no place in a child's education if the child is to learn that learning is interesting.
IX––The Art of Narrating pg. 231
Children tell about their experiences naturally; narrating is not some odd skill that goes against their nature. It's part of the child's inherent creativity to talk about what's inside him.
Children under six should not be asked to narrate, but their voluntary willingness to tell us about things should be accepted with our interest. At age six, we may begin to harness this natural tendency for the child's educational benefit. The child is asked to narrate stories episode by episode, keeping excerpts short that he must tell back. By 7, children may be reading a little bit, but will still be having most of their literature read to them. Just because a child can read a bit, we shouldn't limit their material to their reading ability. Children should be fed the ideas that are in classics, but these will still be above their reading level. So their books should be read aloud to them in the beginning.
Narrations should be done from books that are read consecutively, and there should be a bit of discussion about the previous reading to get the child's mind ready for the current portion of the book. The parent might whet the child's interest by giving a hint about what will be read that day. The reading should be just two or three pages, to include a complete episode, and the child's narration should not be corrected for grammatical or other errors. The whole lesson (I take this to mean the reading and the narration combined) should be done within 15 minutes, after which some discussion between parent and child about the moral lesson of the reading may take place.
When children are able to read books on their own that are worthy of their schooling, they should read with the expectation that they will be called on to narrate.
X––Writing pg. 233
The child should complete something perfectly in every writing lesson, even if it's just one letter. This means that early lessons will not be long, 5 or 10 minutes. The emphasis should be on quality, not quantity. Young children should begin making their letters with paint (perhaps something resembling calligraphy??) He should start with straight letters, then move on to letters including what Charlotte calls a 'pothook,' n, m, v, w, r, h, p, y and then more complicated letters––a, c, g, e, x, s, q, b, l, f, t, etc. (is she talking about cursive? I would have thought "l" was a straight letter!) Once the child knows the letters, he should put them together in three-letter words, writing one short word in a lesson in which perfection is expected. An erasable medium (chalkboard, perhaps) is preferred so that the final result only shows the perfect copy and no errors.
Let the child see only good copies, and expect perfection, and he will have good handwriting. Writing huge letters is not necessary, nor is writing tiny letters––let him use medium-sized letters as long as he likes. Writing small too early encourages hurried, messy handwriting.
Charlotte mentions with enthusiasm a program called "A New Handwriting" by Monica Bridges; our modern Italics style is based on it.
XI––Transcription pg. 238
Transcription is the child's first spelling curriculum. Children should learn to spell by studying a word, closing their eyes, and then recreating the word from memory. They should transcribe (copy) favorite selections of poetry and passages. A whole poem may be a bit much and make the child feel less favorable toward the poem. 10-15 minutes is enough time for a transcription lesson. Attention should be given to the child's posture, hand position, and height of desk or table.
XII––Spelling and Dictation pg. 240
Dictation can be a cause of bad spelling if done to be red-lettered for errors. Dictation should have no errors to begin with. Children should learn to spell by seeing a word spelled correctly, closing their eyes, and imprinting the correct spelling into their mind. Using dictation to find errors causes incorrectly spelled words to become imprinted because the child sees them while doing his dictation assignment.
The child should study the passage to be dictated (a few lines for a younger child, a couple pages for an older child) and learn any words he isn't sure of. Then, when the child is sure how to spell all the words, the parent slowly dictates the passage (without telling the punctuation) while the child writes it.
If an infrequent word is spelled wrong, it should be erased from the paper and the correct spelling learned in its place. Children visualize spelling by paying careful attention as they read. A child who is a bad speller isn't taking time to visualize each word as he reads.
XIII––Composition pg. 243
Charlotte opens with a quoted passage from Thackeray's Vanity Fair where an essay about selfishness by a ten-year-old is mocked for saying not much of anything.
Asking a child to write a general essay is asking too much––children are still gathering and sorting information, they can't be expected to articulate it in essay form yet. And silly compositions in which children are to include answers to questions in order to write their piece can be intellectually demoralizing to a child. Charlotte uses an amusing example of an assignment about an umbrella to make her point. This kind of assignment does not inspire great literary work from students!
Composition should not be done before age ten––at younger ages, children are learning a grasp of their language from reading, narrating and copywork. They have been receiving ideas from their books and haven't learned to dread writing from too many tedious, contrived assignments. When they begin written narrations at age ten (or later, it seems, for most of our children today), that will flow into composition as narrations take on a natural style of the child's own.
XIV––Bible Lessons pg. 247
We are wrong if we assume that children are too young to enjoy the Bible unless we water it down for them. We don't know how God's spirit will work with each child, and we presume too much by keeping scripture from them because of their age.
By age nine, children should have been read "the simple and suitable narrative portions of the old Testament and, say, two of the Gospels." Paraphrases are not necessary, children can learn to appreciate the beauty of the King James text.
Children don't bring into their minds the kind of questions we adults have about the authenticity of scripture. They are able to take it at face value. They can work out their own perception of whether the stories are literal or allegorical later.
We must be careful not to overdo Bible reading so that it becomes boring to children, yet they must learn that, because we begin it earlier than history and other lessons, it has a higher priority.
How should we do a Bible lesson? Read an episode covering a few verses and have the child narrate it back. Then discuss it and its application.
Charlotte recommends a book of Bible lessons by Paterson Smyth.
Bible illustrations should be reverent and historically accurate. Bible pictures by great masters (Rembrandt comes to mind) can double as picture study/exposure. Children can study and then tell back what they saw in the picture, as in regular picture study lessons. The Bible itself should have a nice cover to emphasize its beauty and importance as not just another book.
Passages, a verse or two at a time, should also be memorized because we don't know what stored scripture God may use sometime later in a child's life.
XV––Arithmetic pg. 253
Arithmetic, of course, is valuable as a life skill for practical life, but its chief value is in its training of reasoning powers.
The child should be given word problems that have some meaning for him rather than long abstract sums to do which may take so much of his time that we hesitate to mark him wrong if the answer is close. Problems should be demonstrated with hands-on manipulatives, such as beans or buttons. (Or Math-U-See blocks?) The child should be able to visualize what he's doing before he has to write the abstract symbols. He should be able to add and subtract to twenty with ease before starting on division and multiplication.
Then he can start to work on word problems, using the manipulatives if he needs them, but he should be encouraged to try and learn to find the answer without them.
Then he may learn about notation and place value. Illustrate the use of symbols by showing him 25 pennies and how much more convenient it is to carry around a quarter. Teaching the value of coins and letting him practice at buying/selling will teach him the concept of math. Show that we use nine symbols and that we use place value to make them tell us the correct value of a number. Place value can be compared to coins that signify a particular value.
Let the child use real weights and measures to learn how many inches make a yard, how many cups make a gallon, etc.
Charlotte recommends a book called ABC Arithmetic by Sonnenschein and Nesbit, which takes its method from a concept of John Stuart Mill's Logic. The mind needs to understand the objects and how they are added and subtracted before grasping the concept of symbols (numerals) and being able to work with them. Working with symbols and geometric shapes without real understanding in the mind of what they represent is boring for anyone, including children. Charlotte also recommends reading a paper by Mr. Sonnenschein on The Teaching of Arithmetic in Elementary Schools.
XVI––Natural Philosophy pg. 264
By natural philosophy, Charlotte means nature study and a familiarity with the world of nature. Children should ask "why" questions and observe to see how nature works. She uses an illustration of two people on a walk in the same area; one found it a bore, but the observant one found all kinds of exciting sights and discoveries. The only difference between the two was their interest and curiosity. It's possible for a person to be blind to the poetry in nature all around us. Charlotte recommends a book called The Sciences by Edward Holden. (The text is online.) Nature runs on very ordered and logical principles rather than magic, and The Sciences seeks to help children understand those principles in elements such as steam, sound, light, air, etc. Children should also do simple experiments to help illustrate how nature works. Understanding the laws of nature not only removes superstition about the world, but is fascinating enough to provide a lifetime of delight as the vast world is observed and shows its wonders.
XVII––Geography pg. 271
Children, like adults, don't care to learn the capital cities of nations, numbers of miles and import crops. They find the same thing interesting that we do: stories and images of far-away lands that bring a place to life.
A child's first exposure to geography will be the years he spends outside being a child. How will he know what tall mountains and icy lakes in foreign lands are if he isn't familiar with hills and ponds in his own environment? The child should make and see maps made in the dirt of his own backyard to understand a map of foreign lands. He should also be given a map when the family goes on a trip so he can trace their journey.
Then he should become intimately acquainted with one place or traveler––perhaps a favorite country and its people through books (Livingston's Missionary Travels is one that Charlotte recommends; she doesn't recommend Lady Annie Brassey's Voyage in the Sunbeam because it covers too much and will only confuse a child with too much information.) He should keep track of this reading on a map, marking places he reads about. This reading can be done in the child's free time when he has time to let his mind wander idly to the faraway places in the book, rather than during a timed school lesson.
It is important that children be familiar with maps. They might map out their schoolroom, their yard, their own town. They should know north, south, east and west and how to use a compass. They should be able to see where countries are on a globe. Then they will want to know about the sea––currents, longitude and latitude.
With this basic knowledge, children will enjoy geography lessons. If geography is presented first as dry facts and figures, the subject will be lost on children.
XVIII––History pg. 279
Like geography, a child's first exposure to history should be with ideas on which to hang history facts that will be learned later. Dry facts and dates will not interest a child, but thrilling and inspiring stories of heroes and noble deeds will.
Rather than try to provide a child with too much at once by giving the whole history of a nation or the world, he should become intimately familiar with one time period, or even one historic person. This provides a center point from which to relate other times and places. Better than history books written down to children is a literary volume that the parent reads to the child, skipping and editing as needed. Earlier histories are more interesting than more recent ones (because you get more stories and less politics??) and best of all is an early history written as a first hand account by someone who was really there. Charlotte recommends Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England and Asser's Life of Alfred. Once children know these stories and can relate to the people in them, they will be better able to grasp dates and places.
Myths and legends of even earlier history are very interesting to children and will help them to understand literature they will read later that makes references to these old tales. Plutarch's Lives is a memorable way for children to meet historic Greeks and Romans.
Children love details about what happened; they can form their own conclusions and opinions about historical events later. Charlotte recommends Old Stories from British History by York Powell as a book children love. (This books sounds from her description like Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin.) She recommends for older children (age 8 or 9) A History of England by Arnold Forster.
Charlotte suggests that a child keep a century book, writing down names of people he comes across in his history books in the correct century in his book. Exact dates aren't as important as the child forming a sort of timeline in his mind with events and people placed relatively close to when they were.
Children who receive their history by way of stories about people will have no trouble narrating, illustrating and even acting out the stories in their play. How much better this is than a child who learns that history, with its endless dates and meaningless events, is "dull."
XIX––Grammar pg. 295
The nature of grammar––studying the abstract position of words––is not something that will appeal to children. It is a study of logic. Students should learn to divide sentences into subject (the thing we speak of) and verb (what we say about it) before learning to parse them into parts of speech.
Students should learn that a sentence has two parts––a subject and a verb. A collection of words (cup, ball, spoon) does not make a sentence because a sentence needs a subject and verb. The subject is what we speak of (My brother Tom, the broken flowerpot) and the verb is what we say about it (cut his finger, has been mended). Charlotte suggests that students do exercises in which they match up given subjects with given verbs, and identify subject/verb in sentences. Simply Grammar has these kinds of exercises. Verbs may tell either what the subject is (I am hungry.) or what the subject does (Mary sings.) Charlotte gives more suggestions on exercises to identify subject/verb variations in this section.
XX––French pg. 300
Children should learn to speak French (or any other foreign language) in the same way they learned to speak English––not by studying books, but by speaking it. Getting over the self-consciousness of making new sounds, as one does when speaking a new language, is best overcome at a young age. If children learned six new words in French every day, they would have an impressive vocabulary of 1500 words by the end of a year. If some of these words are taught in groups as idioms/phrases, the child will end up with the ability to say things as well as the ease of making the sounds needed to speak French properly (assuming his role model is a native speaker!) Charlotte suggests that six families might employ a French speaker to spend a half hour a day with each family.
Charlotte mentions a writer of a foreign language program, Francois Gouin, who said children should not learn words, but sentences, if they were to speak a language fluently. Being able to use verbs will allow the child to put his thoughts into words and even begin to think in French, where a list of nouns will do no more than allow him to label things. Since children pick up language effortlessly by hearing it, that is the method we should use to teach a foreign language. Reading and writing in the language can come later, after the student is at ease using the language. (Berlitz might be comparable today.)
XXI––Pictorial Art pg. 307
Children from age 6 should not only be encouraged to create art, but to appreciate works of the masters, too. Children will develop a familiarity and fondness for whatever they get used to––so why not make sure that what they're used to is something of quality rather than cartoon-ish illustrations or cutesy pictures?
"We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child's sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture. It is a mistake to think that colour is quite necessary to children in their art studies. They find colour in many places, and are content, for the time, with form and feeling in their pictures."
Charlotte details children's lessons in Picture Study to show how it was done at her schools. In the first lesson, children were told that the artist liked animals and studied his pets to become proficient at painting them. Then they were shown the picture to be studied and allowed to really look at it for a few minutes. The picture was taken away and the children were asked what they had noticed about it (narration) and asked what characteristics the dogs in the picture may have represented. Then the title of the picture was read to them and, perhaps, some background about the picture, maybe the story the picture illustrated. Finally, children might be asked to draw "the chief lines" of the picture in 5 minutes.
Children get their first experience at drawing from their nature notebooks. They should be allowed to create their pictures as they wish without suggestions and corrections from the teacher/parent. Charlotte says that children will have an easier time drawing with paint and charcoal than with a sharpened pencil.
Children should also work with clay, modeling the shape of an item placed before them––perhaps a piece of fruit or nut, not by shaping the lump of clay but by building up––adding morsel after morsel of clay until it looks right.
Children should also learn about music. Charlotte recommends the Sol-fa method (you can read a little about what that is here) and Mrs. Curwen's Child Pianist based on the Sol-fa method.
Children should also do drill, such as Swedish Drill (calisthenics), dance or various musical drills for physical training and grace of movement.
Handicrafts should be taught with the goal of having the student make useful and high quality things within his capability rather than to provide busywork to fill his time. His work should give him a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at producing something of real worth.
Now that Charlotte has run through a list of what children should learn and how, parents should see how important it is to take their children's education seriously and to be careful to whom they entrust the job.
Part IV The Will, The Conscience, The Divine Life in the Child
I––The Will pg. 317-329
The mind/spirit of a person can be seen as an independent kingdom––the Kingdom of Mansoul. In Volume 4, Charlotte writes directly to students detailing this allegory and explaining how to maintain control of your own Kingdom of Mansoul by limiting those subjects that may try to usurp the government (appetite, greed, etc.) and building up those that strengthen the Kingdom (duty, beauty, truth...) This Kingdom is governed by The Will, The Conscience, and God's guidance.
The Will is like the front line supervisor––if The Will is strong, he will be able to keep the subjects under control. But if he is weak, the Kingdom will be ruled by petty members of the body and chaos will be the result.
Each person has passions, appetites, emotions and desires that can either be allowed to run rampant and run things, or brought under control by The Will. Some people (phlegmatic personalities?) manage to go through life without ever exercising their will, they just sort of drift along, carried by whatever whim comes along. But a person of conviction and strength of character has a well-developed will that enables him to choose his course of action and follow it through.
Willfulness should not be confused with The Will. A child who is prone to stubbornness and temper doesn't have a strong will, rather, he doesn't have a strong enough Will to get his passions and temper under control––he is ruled by them because his Will is weak. One can have a strong Will without being moral (think of a person who puts aside every human comfort to attain the goal of becoming rich), but one cannot be moral and a person of "heroic Christian character" without a strong Will. The Will enables us to do that which we know is right but which we may not feel like doing.
A mother who wants to train her child's Will should get the child into the habit of changing his thoughts as a distraction when injured, slighted, bored or tempted. A child who can change his thoughts at will is able to turn off evil thoughts later in life by thinking of something else rather than dwelling on the bad thoughts. "This is the sole secret of power over himself which the strong man wields––he can compel himself to think what he chooses."
This power requires an ability to concentrate––the power of attention. Therefore, training the child's habit of attention is a first step in training his Will. Obedience isn't for the parents' sake but for the child's sake. A child should understand that every act of obedience, no matter how small, is an opportunity to conquer his own inclinations. He should be praised for each success in overcoming dark moods, dawdling attention and in completing tedious tasks because these show his own power over his own self. Each is a step toward the child learning to control himself.
II––The Conscience pg. 329-341
The Will enables the child to follow through his course of action, but The Conscience is what tells him which course of action to choose. A well-developed, instructed conscience isn't automatic––we know how prone humans are to call what is evil good and what is good evil, and then justify it in our minds until we believe it. A good conscience requires intelligent knowledge of right and wrong, and the habit of choosing the good.
Rather than have children dwell on difficult theoretical moral questions (such as whether to save a capsule containing all the knowledge in the world, or a handicapped child from a burning building...), the child should be steeped in Biblical teaching. The child doesn't need the Bible stories explained or moral lessons brought out––he will discern them himself from the stories.
Children should be discouraged from condemning the conduct of others, as this teaches him to be judgmental and actually dulls his own conscience. Rather, he should judge his own conduct according to Biblical standards. Yet he should not get into the introspective habit of discerning his own motives, as that will make him too self-absorbed. All he can control is his behavior, and that's all he should focus on.
The mother might briefly talk to the child about an attribute such as kindness and how it is love in the heart which can not stay hidden but must bubble out into action. But such talks should be kept short. They should hear about positive attributes (being candid, courteous, true, grateful, considerate) rather than examples of evil deeds to stay away from (which might put ideas into their heads!)
III––The Divine Life in the Child pg. 341-352
Charlotte has covered habits, feeling, reason, will, conscience––all of these, if well-trained, will produce a well-behaved citizen, but there is still something crucial missing. A child is more than a citizen destined to abide by the rules of the land. He has a divine soul that thirsts for contact with the Living God. Introducing God to a child is a parent's highest calling, and blunders should be avoided. God should not be presented as one who only punishes misdeeds and is owed good deeds. Instead, God is gentle, forgiving and loving, and the child should get to know this aspect of Him. Parents should teach only what they are convinced about and not bother sermonizing about what they aren't sure of. Bible lessons shouldn't be so frequent that the child dreads them as common and boring. Better to wait for an inspired moment to share a precious truth; that will stick with a child more than tedious, overdone lectures. Parents might mention God when commenting about blessings: "Look what a beautiful day God has given us!" This more casual approach makes God's presence as a Blesser almost a given and is not tiresome for a child.
Bible reading also shouldn't become wearisome by reading too much, over-sermonizing and using texts as opportunities to chide the child for his faults. That will make the child dislike scripture. Instead, keep it simple and let God's word speak for itself.
The focus of religious training should be on Jesus, since the essence of Christianity is loyalty to a person--the person of Christ. In olden days, subjects brought their children up to be loyal to local Royalty by living as loyal subjects themselves, bringing up the king's name with reverence. In the same way, we teach our children to love Christ by being loyal to Him ourselves.
2004 Leslie N. Laurio
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