By Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
This is a short book that gives a simple outline of what the Charlotte Mason educational model looks like, and the key principles needed to be understood to educate using her Educational Model. Even though this is a short overview, reading the book will be able to fill the reader with examples and better explanations of how this model of education works.
Chapter 1 - What Is Education
When parents are looking for an education for their children, they often have to settle for what is available, not what is considered best or desirable. A majority of schools have a one size fits all approach to education and are unable or unwilling to develop or adapt programs around the needs of individual students. The author was able to send their children to a small school that looked at education differently. They used ideas from a person who lived over one hundred years ago. These ideas are as not just relevant then but give a view of education and children from a Christian / biblical worldview.
Charlotte Mason lived from 1842 to 1923. She had teaching experience and was passionate in her view that children are ‘persons’ who should be treated as individuals as they are introduced to the variety and richness of the world in which they live. She believed biblical Christianity is truth". Charlotte loved the children she taught. Her thoughts on education came both from the study, observation and practical experience as a teacher. She wrote publications, journals and specific curriculum guides to help both home school families and schools run by parents.
One of Charlotte's views is that education to be biblically centred cannot start with the aims and views of our prevailing society and then just add a "Christian message" or view. Instead, we start with a "people" view. She believed education was the responsibility of parents and flowed from all that a child experienced at home. It was the basic educational environment. Education was not just for a short period of time but was a continual experience. It is a seemingly impossible task but as we follow the words in Matthew 7:7-11 we humbly ask God for answers and seek and knock. God will help us find when we earnestly seek the truth and answers.
Finally, a key to education is about setting priorities about what is best for their children. For example, what is the importance of reading daily together, hiking and camping regularly etc... Reading the Word of God is essential.
Charlotte Mason's ideas are not only for parents, but as we see each child as a God-designed and created individual, we can start to speak to and treat them in a way that brings change to their lives and helps them see that they matter to both God and us. Charlotte is calling us to give, serve and sacrifice for each of God’s children.
Chapter 2 - Children Are Born Persons
This is an obvious but extremely important proposition of the educational philosophy Charlotte Mason has formulated. Each child is a separate human who is to be seen for who they are now, not treated as someone needed to be shaped into the person, we believe they should be. We are to be very careful not to brainwash them into our way of thinking and plan their life for them. As a result, education is about serving the actual needs and capacities of each individual child where they are now and supporting them as a person. This could be interpreted that education being about doing what is right now to support them as a person. Charlotte used her invented word "twaddle" to describe the activities that were written for children that were mentally inferior and useless.... they actually devalued their minds and adults undervalued their intelligence. Children were spoken to on an eye to eye level and were not spoken down to. Children were not asked questions but allowed to question the world through their self-interests. To educate children we need to serve the person as they are now, what they learn must be based on biblical truths and be appropriate to the needs and wants of the child.
Play is a natural and important process through which children grow and develop. There is a danger that children do not learn to naturally play but adults give structured activities that are called "play". It is important that play is unstructured and children have freedom of choice in what they play about and how they play. Allowing initiative and creativity in play is essential. What are some key factors that will encourage children to play? They could include many hours uninterrupted outdoors, being able to make noise and mess, having costumes and privacy from intruding adults. There is no perfect play space, but children need to learn to make do with what they have. They also need food, help to find solutions when quarrels occur and help to debrief and come back to the real world.
Boredom is a common issue among children. Children are born with an appetite for learning, knowing and having experiences. This ability to learn is greater in their first five years of life. This is blunted by school institutions as children move from doing to having their lives centred on mastering skills.
As children are waiting to have the world opened to them, Charlotte developed a plan for teaching reading writing, reading and maths. These lessons are to develop mechanical skills, and each skill is mastered before moving forward. In conjunction with these lessons, children are to read good books read out loud that are accurate, interesting and ones that they can have fun retelling (narration). When they do this creatively and in their own words, they remember most effectively what has been learned. It is important here that they are not read small segments but whole books that are well chosen.
For books to be effective they need to contain "literacy power". This means books that are not watered down and contain words and ideas that are powerful and meaningful for the child. Starting with listening to good books and then developing a habit to read themselves with both interest and pleasure. This contrasts with current education where remembering lists of knowledge is the focus. She gives a list of living books that include the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, The Chronicles of Narnia etc...
One aspect of a Charlotte Mason education is the idea that children are free to learn and progress at their own speed. Mastery of skills is the endpoint and students are happy when they can do something well and move on. Working with excellence in their work, attention and effort becomes a habit and is to be expected.
It does not matter how challenged a child is, if they are stimulated by good books and literature, they literally come alive and desire to learn and grow. Remedial programs full of "twaddle" just turn students off learning. They need to be stretched and think and function at the level they are capable of.
Chapter 3 - Authority and Freedom
There are many theories on whether children are good, bad or a mixture of the two. Charlotte Mason viewed children the same as an adult. The bible teaches we are all made in God's image and there is a positive and good side to human nature. She believed the first task of education is moral, with the Judeo-Christian framework as the foundation for these morals. Guidance from right and wrong needs to be read to the children directly from the Bible. Despite the evil in the world and ourselves, through and in God there is righteousness, goodness, holiness, fairness and wholeness. This is found not inside us but through Jesus, our Saviour. When we read the Word, both adults and children are under its authority. As the truth is revealed to both adults and children, we then choose whether to obey or disobey. When appropriate consequences follow a wrong choice, children respect the process.
As we work with children, we are developing habits while they are young that will help them when they are adults. The first and most basic habit is obedience. Sometimes, when a child is too tired or upset, forcing a child to obey is disrespectful. It is better to divert their attention and deal with the matter later if needed.
Chapter 4 – A New Perspective
One thing that stood out from the education process for Charlotte Mason, was that most children were unchanged through being at school. Those who had struggles finished schooling with the same struggles and those who were doing well mostly finished school continuing to do well. She saw that education was not just needing to rise above what was happening now but also having a vision for intentional step-by-step development of the individual and the nation.
The teaching of religion was also very important for children. It gave power and motives for children to give continued effort. The revealing of the law restrained evil, and love drew students towards good. She continued to be concerned about education labouring in the dark and moral and intellectual progress was haphazard, even as the work continued to get harder each year. Charlotte found that children contained goodness, but sadly, students were incapable of steady effort, had struggles with their will and really found it hard to do what they knew that they needed to do. Having an adult exert their personal influence to get students to do things gets things done but does not train them to take personal initiative and responsibility for their world.
Charlotte gave 18 points that showed her educational philosophy.
The key points are: -
1. Children are born persons.
2. Children have the possibility for good and bad but are not born either good or bad.
3. The principles of authority and obedience are natural, fundamental and necessary.
4. There are three educational instruments. These are the atmosphere of the environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.
5. The natural home atmosphere is essential. Bringing the world to the child's level is important.
6. The discipline of habits is formed definitely and thoughtfully including the mind and body.
7. Education needs to include intellectual, moral and physical sustenance.
8. The child's mind does not hold ideas, but it digests and assimilates knowledge and ideas.
9. What a child learns is less important than how he learns it.
10. Education is about forming relationships as knowledge is offered and presented to help the child develop their own ideas. Being trained in physical exercises, nature, handicrafts, science and art and through many living books is very important.
11. There are two secrets of moral and intellectual self-management that we are to offer to children. This is:
§ The way of the will - Children should be taught how to tell the difference between what I want, and I will. This involves consciously turning our thoughts from what we desire but not will. We turn our thoughts to doing something entertaining or interesting. Using diversions is important.
§ The way of reason - children are taught not to be too confident in their own understanding. Checking ideas to see if they are right or wrong is an important skill. Learning to assess ideas and accept or reject them is a very important skill. Children can then live at the highest level possible.
12. There should be no separation between the intellectual and spiritual life of children. The Spirit has constant access to their spirits and helps them in all aspects of their lives.
An interesting change in thinking in the secular world is that the person is not sacred. They are not worth anything on their own. This is diametrically opposed to what the Bible teaches. Christians believe the Bible reveals Truth which is the final authority. This includes moral law. How our personality is constructed, and works are revealed including it is moral, has a free choice, has ideas, love and is creative. God has given us duties, responsibilities, aims and joys. God has made us with value. Children can therefore not be conditioned like a dog, but we show them dignity and allow for weaknesses. This world view of the person is totally different to the secular.
As we look at the moral law contained in the Bible as set truth, we must be very careful not to force children to do what is right and encroach on the personality of the children through fear. They must never be forced into doing their duty but be enticed and learn to do what is right because they know it is the right thing to do. The greatest motivation to do what is right is love, but this is also dangerous. It is also dangerous to use power and ambition. Doing things because we love someone may not help a child become self-dependent, and self-ordered. This is essential for developing good character. As teachers and parents, we must allow the Holy Spirit to speak to and direct students and not try to be the Holy Spirit ourselves.
With education, students and families see the goal is to pass exams and achieve the highest incomes possible when leaving school. There is an epidemic of students who are caught in a failure cycle and need a new way of doing education, so this cycle is broken. Allowing students to find joy in using their own minds, time to learn new skills, and enjoying what others have produced including literature, music and art. We are responsible for helping normal children to read, spell and be mathematical literate. The focus here is working with students as individuals and finding out what works for them. A key is finding learning content that the student is keen to engage in and teaching skills that are useful for the student for life, not just an intellectual pursuit.
There are three instruments of education: the atmosphere of the environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. This combination is powerful and works.
The Atmosphere of the Environment
When the Christian World View is applied, children are accepted just as they are. They do not have to prove themselves or show that they are of worth due to particular talents or skills. An atmosphere of hope and sure expectations are created. Instead of an atmosphere of fear and failure, it is replaced with respect for the child's ability to achieve a proper task or skill. The boundaries of God's Law produce security when people act inside this law. As people enjoy knowledge in the community, the atmosphere is stimulating and positive.
The family is of prime importance in all child development. The atmosphere in the family always comes first. Sadly, many children are living in single-parent families or families where both parents work which can make it much harder. No matter how the Family is structured, an atmosphere of love and forgiveness needs to be created.
A special atmosphere that is friendly, purposeful and relaxed can be created when teachers value and trust the individual. When they are pleased with their level of skill and are not in a competitive environment, they are more able to communicate what they have learnt. Children need to not be cooped for too long but have time to run, jump, explore, play and do, especially outdoors.
Education is a Discipline
Attention and concentration are habits. Developing healthy habits is an important part of the growth of the child. Some habits that are essential for children include: -
1. The Habit of Attention - Concentration: This habit is formed as a child grows up and participates in book reading, and games and connects with people who love and care for him. Storytime extends as they get older and they then learn to read independently. For some students, learning to concentrate is harder than for others.
2. The Habit of Truthfulness: Children need an environment where it is easy to tell the truth. They need to learn to be exact and particular. The basis for human relationships is trust. Our Heavenly Father demonstrates Truth. Jesus is referred to being the Way, the Truth and the Life in the Bible.
3. The Habit of Self Control: When an adult is depressed, they are often helped by doing something physical including jogging, riding a bike etc. This also gives the adult a sense of control. We move from doing things because we want to and instead focus on what is right in each instance.
4. The Habit of Unselfishness - In our culture, what happens for us is that we come first and we are at the centre of the universe. It is important for children to hear how we are feeling and become aware that others around them have different feelings and emotions. They also learn best when they are noticed and then act unselfishly towards others and are praised.
5. Structure and Form: Students are aware of routines and are able to focus on central skills of reading, numbers and writing, for example. Free time is also an important routine that students can look forward to. When making routines, priorities must be made. For example, we need time to talk, read, relax and work together. Time with God is essential. There are at times it is OK to drop routines. Life is short and there are golden moments that must be snatched and treasured.
Education is Life
Life is sustained on ideas that are spiritual in origin. When we get ideas, we learn to convey them to others. Children need to feed on the good, excellent and the great. Instead of being told everything, the child needs to be able to look, enjoy with others and respond to what they experience. Children need to experience good books. Children need time to wonder at the incredible structure of the world God has made.
Part of a child's life should be the mixing with people who live outside their normal experiences. This could include old people, handicapped and those who are not as well off as they are. Mixing with people outside their age group is also very important to allow them to develop skills in relating to people of varied age groups.
Being responsible through working is a key aspect of life. Children should take part in as many real-life activities as possible. Tasks must have meaning attached to them.
Creativity is not taught but is developed as children respond to life in their individual ways. They benefit from the time and a space to be creative. Children need space to make music, have their stories listened to, work in kitchens and be creative with food. They need to handle and work with clay, wood and other tactile materials. Through free time, children learn to develop ideas, plan and play with imagination. They learn to solve problems, think and grow.
Education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.
Chapter 5 – Education: A Science of Relationships
Charlotte Mason's view on education is much different to what most people have experienced. Children are not blank slates that need to be written on. Education should be a door that opens opportunities for relationships with God, other persons and the universe. A wide variety needs to be presented in the curriculum, so the child has the best ideas, culture, literature, science etc.
The idea of a rich curriculum is counter to the current divide between schools at home. Education encompasses all experiences both in school, at home or wherever the child is. Every waking hour is part of the child's education.
The first and most important priority is to give the child an understanding that God is real and desires a relationship with them. This understanding comes as they watch parents, teachers and significant others modelling a relationship with God. As they listen to and take part in conversations, they develop their view of the world from a biblical perspective. They become secure in the framework God has given as they are immersed in this worldview. As parents or teachers are asked questions and do not know, letting the child know this is extremely important. Reading the Bible and learning about a biblical worldview through everything they study is very important. Learning about Jesus, His Father and the Holy Spirit, the helper, is essential. Reading the Bible and discussions should be a natural and enjoyable part of the day.
The message society is giving is one of a post-Christian culture. Children need to explore and talk about ideas, and they need to be given space to think about how important they are and how it is connected to or opposed to the biblical worldview they are learning. They need to meet all sorts of people and learn to engage with people with alternative views and learn to question them. Living life with a grounding in the truth and not on the emotional appeal that many people see as important is vital. Learning to live a life that is undivided between the spiritual and secular. They both need to be closely linked.
The question is raised about whether to use Christian-based learning texts and materials. Charlotte Mason believes students do best on the best available materials in their field. Too much religious content will overwhelm the student and cause them not to wonder, puzzle and ask as much as they need to when developing their own worldview. Children need to learn to think, understand and see the central truths explicitly and clearly. Children need answers; they need to know how what they see, experience and discover fits into their own worldview. Seeing a wide range of concepts and ideas from different viewpoints, asking questions and exploring the ideas will cause them to not just feel it is right but have come to a deep understanding of why it is correct.
Teaching about the objective truth of Christianity is very important. There are three instruments of education to this branch of the curriculum:
The Atmosphere - Not just learning intellectually about God but developing a relationship with the King. There needs to be an atmosphere of love, truth, humility and forgiveness. Individuals need to be accepted despite their limitations. An atmosphere where all things are open to being discussed and everything matters and links to God's truth is needed.
The Discipline - Contact between the student and truth is planned. The Bible is read, and prayer is regular, simple and with purpose. We worship, serve others and acknowledge God's Truth.
The Life - Right from the beginning the students have access to the "objective source material" which is the Bible. Worries, concerns, questions, failures and joys are shared and adults and children walk alongside each other on the journey we are on. God's Truth makes a huge difference in our lives and impacts every relationship.
Knowledge of Man: Putting A Child In Touch With The Human Race
Children need a comprehensive, intelligent and interesting introduction to history. We need to go deeper than just the history of our country and see our we are part of the history of the world. The Bible teaches history seriously so we can learn about people and how to make the best choices for the future. To ensure children do not feel isolated, they need to see how they fit into the flow of history. History needs to be taught from the perspective of different people, not from the teacher's opinions and conclusions. History is not just a series of dates and facts. Connection to real people who lived at the time in history that is being studied is essential. Visiting places where things happened is very helpful for children to connect to the historical story in a greater way.
Education must include good books and literature. Children love a good story. Learning skills to read and enjoy good literature must be separate. Children develop a series of relationships with other persons, places and historical times directly. They get into the shoes of other people and see things from their perspective. The habit of reading must be established early, and time must be put aside for reading regularly. Reading is the base of education.
Morals and Citizenship
Charlotte Mason valued the use of living books, not books with facts and outlines of the past. Books chosen needed to also contain morals, economics and citizenship. Effective teaching gains the child's interest and sympathy. Linked closely with citizenship is morals. All countries have laws that have a huge influence on society. What is important is that parents have the greatest influence over their children by taking time to talk, listen and share ideas with them. Good schools are needed to support families who are unable to give the time and support needed for children. Time is needed to discuss, verbalize and judge for themselves. There is not a formula used to help a child mature, but we must pray for the individual, choose priorities and pray for Godly wisdom.
Charlotte Mason believed that all subjects are interrelated. The art of speaking or 'telling' is the art of composition. As a child learns to think they develop natural, individual, creative language skills. The skill starts with recalling the basic storyline verbally and then as they learn the skills of spelling, writing and punctuation etc, they move on to put their ideas in writing. They also engage in the literature that is above their level and are able to learn from engaging with the different texts. As they learn the curriculum, they are then able to relate it to personal life, culture and other subjects studied.
As we understand the value of children learning, engaging in and developing opinions and ideas through their engagement in literature, discussion of ideas developed around the meal table would be beneficial. Sharing plays, books and other important types of literature together is an important activity.
The most effective way of connecting with people of the past is to learn different languages so students can speak, enjoy and communicate with others in daily life. The teacher of other languages is important and must both speak the language fluently and be able to listen well to the students.
Art is one of the basics of education. Learning to lead children to great art was important to Charlotte Mason. Children need examples and role models and good materials and time to experiment and express themselves. Learning to look deeply at a picture enables children to see the world through different eyes. Having the adult complete art projects with students is invaluable.
When children are disciplined early and learn an instrument, they create foundations for enjoyment and creativity later in life. The music they learn must be good music. Group singing is very good for the students and includes music as part of life on many different levels. As they are immersed in music, they can learn to be creative with music including creating songs, dance worship and music.
Knowledge of the Universe: Putting A Child in Touch With His Planet
We teach science so the child can enjoy and understand his relationship with the world and universe he lives in so they know they belong. By looking at the world through a biblical lens we see the world as God's handiwork which is wonderful. Direct observation, accurate recording and treasure books that reveal the wonder of the created world is part of the study of science. Starting off just being in nature and observing and then moving to asking questions and exploring is essential. Personal connection with nature is essential but as this can be limiting, the use of good resources to immerse them in new ideas, knowledge and the exploration of things outside their experiences is vital. Science is not the accumulation of facts, but a time of asking questions and thinking, especially relating what they learn back to their biblical framework.
Going on a journey and having adventures is exciting for most people. This time lets them see things firsthand and helps them become aware of the world around them. Seeing the world through the eyes of a traveller or explorer is exciting and fires up the imagination. It is important for students to have a clear picture of both the country they live in and of the world. This was linked to economic, political and social factors. With the testing of students, questions are open for them to write about what they know. Linking current events to geography studied and with books that involve history, literary descriptions and books of adventure and travel creates interest and connection. The use of videos can be useful.
Teaching mathematics requires the teacher to have both an ability to quicken interest and the imagination of the students. Children should be able to progress at their own pace. Skills need to be taught incrementally and care needs to be taken so they have a deep understanding of the basics. Linking Mathematics with life skills such as cooking, building etc allows children to both understand how Mathematics is used in real life and to make deep understandings of concepts taught. Ultimately, Mathematics must serve the student and they must see how it benefits them practically.
Physical Development, Handicrafts
Charlotte Mason believed students should not be in the classroom for long periods of time. The afternoons were for students to play in an unstructured manner. Children require time to participate in a variety of activities including swimming, rowing, riding, skating and skiing. Organized games had some benefits, but the ones that allowed all students to be successful were of most benefit to all students. Getting out into nature was essential and camping in nature had great benefits. Becoming and staying fit is very important as it allows us to serve where God has us most effectively, even hard service. Boys and girls benefit from learning the same skills.
Chapter 6 - The Way of the Will, Reason and the Unity of the Whole
The author gave an overview of her PNEU school and used four words that she believes are a key to a successful human life. They are: -
I Am - The child needs to know their worth, their unique place and that they have been created for a relationship with God. They understand who they are, they know they have the ability to choose, they matter, are accepted and are valued. They should love themselves, accept their own limitations and be creative within their limitations. Understanding who God is allows them to love, accept and serve others. They should be treated with respect, politeness and truth. Adults need to be free to admit they do not know everything. This can only be established through a Christian worldview. With the "I Am" way of viewing the world, we cannot compare children with other children and each child is respected because of their unique worth. I am finite but made for eternity. He has made a unique path in my life.
I Can - I can believe in myself in a balanced, realistic way. From small to large goals, I can approach them with confidence when they are appropriate. Some things are easy for us and some things we need perseverance which require the help of the Holy Spirit. We must discern clearly which goals are ours and which are not. We build up children to become "can" adults.
I Ought - This is totally different to the "I Want" society. We help children by letting students know what they should do through understanding His Word and that we live under God's authority. Knowing what is right and then doing it is key to being a successful human.
I Will - After clarifying what is right then we can choose what is right. I will choose to do the right thing even when others around me are not or I do not feel like doing it. Making decisions as a family to have healthy habits and options that are more attractive than what is pushed by culture is essential. This could mean having creative sessions instead of watching TV. What is right should be more important to children than peer pressure.
As we look at these four words, it is important that sometimes children fail, and it is OK. We need to be realistic. Charlotte Mason's plan is to have half a day of structure where basic skills are learnt, the reality is explored, and the second half of the day is set for play. The goal is to have children educated in real life, so they have clear, realistic and clear thinking and how they act is based on clear, realistic, and true thinking and action based on clear and solid principles. For children to have strong personalities is healthy, where they are free of self and pressures allowing them to do what is right.
In conclusion, we are to look beyond what is presented by society to our children and seek abundant life. We are encouraged to change our homes, schools and churches by providing children with the best materiel and start by envisaging what children could be and work towards this. As we grow children into adults, our focus is on creating a process of self-education. It is time for us all to stop, think, get our priorities right and see education as ongoing and not once-off. We need to move away from basing our lives on the culture around us and build our lives on the biblical foundations