The child’s mind is the instrument of his education; his education does not produce his mind.
A broad overview of the Charlotte Mason philosophy can be stated in three parts.
Part 1. Children Are Born Persons.
Each child is created in the image and likeness of God. Children’s minds work as ours do. We are created to live. To have life more abundantly. To share struggles together, to wonder together, to grow together. We are fellow-pilgrims. We are to walk side-by-side as human beings under the love and authority of Him who made us. Respect the children’s thinking and let them come to any conclusions themselves.
To treat a child as a person in an educational setting, share the good things of life with the eager minds of children, deal with them on an eye-to-eye level when choosing ideas to share, remembering that children are never too young to appreciate what is good, introduce them to all aspects of reality with a positive joy, and delight in their separate individuality. (Susan Schaeffer Macaulay)
Part 2. Education Is the Science of Relationships.
The child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts help him make valid “those first-born affinities that fit our new existence to existing things.” (Charlotte Mason)
A child retains knowledge about those ideas with which he first develops a relationship. Without relationship to an idea, the opportunity for real knowledge is lost.
A child explores and experiences life to gain knowledge in three areas. His relationships to ideas fall under the following three categories.
Knowledge of God Knowledge of Man Knowledge of the Universe
To develop a child’s Knowledge of God, he hears the Bible read to him, he prays with his parents, he worships with other believers, and he acknowledges God’s truth. He works out his own relationship with God. He lives in an environment of love, truth, humility, and forgiveness.
To develop a child’s Knowledge of Man, he hears great literature read to him expressively and he reads about the lives of historical figures in the context of their culture to learn history, morals and citizenship. He listens to great composers and views great artworks. He develops skills in languages and composition. A feast of ideas is spread before the child.
To develop a child’s Knowledge of the Universe, he explores it and tests for himself the theories of science, the wonders of nature, and the truths of mathematics. He develops physical skills and abilities in handicrafts. Experiences, mistakes and successes, characterize learning in this area.
Part 3. Education Is An Atmosphere, A Discipline, A Life
Three tools are used to present ideas to and practice skills with children as they develop relationships.
Atmosphere…Do not create for the child an artificial child environment, but let him live freely among his proper conditions. (Charlotte Mason) Let the children use real tea cups and real tools making items that are useful or beautiful or both. Take advantage of the situation or circumstances in which the child finds himself, whether city, country, suburban, or the mission field. Surround the child with an environment where the items with which he interacts daily are useful or beautiful — or both! Most importantly, he needs to be surrounded by love, truth, humility, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Discipline…Give to the child the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully — habits of mind and body. The effort of decision is the greatest effort of life. (Charlotte Mason) A gift of good habits, given to a child when he is young, will be treasured his whole life.
Life…Give the child intellectual, moral, and physical sustenance needed to feed the mind on ideas. (Charlotte Mason)
When looking at a program which incorporates a full Charlotte Mason method, you will notice the following:
Short Lessons…are held in the morning hours and contain a wide variety of many subjects. Subjects are rotated and varied, so that not every subject is taught every day, alternated between skill lessons and the reading of a feast of ideas, using different parts of the brain to prevent day-dreaming and mental fatigue. Full attention is required for 10, 15, or 20 minutes, depending on age and topic, and then the topic is ended with the children still engaged, before their interest is lost, switched to a new topic as completely different from the previous as possible. Afternoon hours are spent in Masterly Inactivity, a very important part of the method.
Living Books…are biographies, entire works of fiction, an accurate historical novel, or other books by gifted authors where the child becomes a student of the author. Living books convey ideas in the form of a good story, with emotion, and “clothed in literary language.” (Charlotte Mason)
Narration…verifies knowledge by having the student “tell back” what was read. By formulating the expressive language to convey his recollection, the child passes the ideas he read through the filter of his life’s experiences and unique personality. This practice exercises the brain and produces lasting knowledge, unlike comprehension questions and workbooks.
Many Hours in the Out-of-Doors…helps the child learn to be observant. In any weather, take the child out for hours daily. The object is not a science lecture, but rather, an opportunity to observe. And real observation takes time.
Masterly Inactivity…is an afternoon to be “free under authority, which is liberty…. Perhaps the idea is nearly that conveyed in Wordsworth’s even more happy phrase, ‘wise passiveness.’ It indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action.” (Charlotte Mason) The child has all afternoon and evening free to enjoy being a child, to pursue hobbies, and to read. During this afternoon time, the mind does not rest and the education of the child does not stop. The child’s mind mulls over the ideas presented earlier in the day. He has time to contemplate that which he has heard, read, and experienced. Ideas are accepted and ideas are rejected. Permanent knowledge is formed. This time of the day is crucial to a child’s education.