Tag Archives: educational methods

Alex’s Year 0 In Review- Geography

Yesterday I sat down to look at our schedule to see where exactly we are in our school year. Imagine my surprise when I discovered we actually aren’t behind (regardless of how I felt about the schedule the night before). We’re currently in week 34 of our 36 week ‘regular’ school year.

So now I’m reflecting on the work that we’ve done this year- how far we’ve come, what worked and what didn’t. Since this was a kind of ‘practice’ year of the Ambleside Online curriculum (as will be next year- Year .5), it’s so nice to be able to sit back and think everything through so I can make adjustments for next year (even though we’re schooling year-round and will beginning a summer term soon)…

Geography is exciting to me personally. I enjoy learning the topography of countries and regions and about the culture of the people who live there. I’ve been excited to introduce geography/cultures/social studies to my son (and daughter- Fae always follows along).

This year, I decided to slowly read through Jane Andrews’ ‘The Seven Little Sisters Who Live on the Round Ball That Floats in the Air’. Yeah, it’s a mouthful. Seven Sisters contains stories of little girls & their families who live in different regions of the world. The regions covered include those belonging to:

  • The Little Brown Baby- South America OR South East Asia/jungles (we chose South America)
  • Agoonak- the Arctic circle
  • Gemela- Arabian desert
  • Jeanette- Switzerland/mountains
  • Pense- China/rivers
  • Maneko- Africa/grasslands, and;
  • Louise- Germany/river valley

We would begin each section by looking at a huge map of the area. We’d discuss the physical characteristics of that area (climate, flora, fauna, natural resources which are all conveniently pictured in our atlas) and we’d compare the location to where we live on the little globe we own (I’d use words like ‘moving east’ or ‘south of where we live’). This generally took about ten minutes, but the kids enjoyed looking at the maps and talking about what animals could be found in the area. Then I’d begin reading about that Little Sister- each section begins with a short description of the Sister herself. After the first reading, I’d print out a picture from the internet of a girl in cultural dress that could be the Sister we were discussing.

This picture was placed in a manila file folder- we wrote the Sister’s name and her region next to the picture. This is the beginning of a Charlotte Mason-friendly ‘lap book’ (my apologies to those who create *real* lapbooks. *Real* lapbooks are beautiful, detailed and very directed. Ours is none of those things.)

Our first ‘lapbook’

We’d read for about 5 minutes twice a week. When we finished, I’d ask Alex what he remembered from the reading (proto-narration) and we’d jot down words around the picture. The next time we would read, we’d look at our picture of the Sister and would read/discuss the words we’d selected thus far.

I supplemented/supported geography lessons by selecting story books from the library about or from each region. I genuinely enjoyed some of these books and will have to write more about them later. We also have a world folk tale treasury- I would select a few folk tales from each region and would read those as well. This worked well as these picture books became our ‘Free Reading’ for the year. Sometimes, we’d watch a cooking or travel show that focuses on cuisine from a particular region (the cooking and travel shows on CREATE/PBS were wonderful for this purpose!)

What did I like about Seven Sisters? It’s written beautifully directly TO the child and my kids began talking about each Sister as if she were a real child they know. Used as I described above, I found this book a good ‘spine’ upon which to begin discussing world cultures with my kids.

However… I do not think I will be using this resource the next time around with Fae. In my opinion, the book stereotypes each region/culture and is, in some places, blatantly racist (for example foot-binding of little girls is discussed in the China section and in the African section, the narrator says that ‘we’ should not consider Maneko’s “wooly” hair beautiful. In fact, if Maneko knew any better, she’d want to be just like us). Yikes. It’s even worse when I write it out like that… And yet, that’s how the book reads. I found myself editing SO much and being genuinely disturbed by the way other cultures are presented by the narrator.

If I had it to do over again (and I do with Fae), I am going to use the supporting resources as the main resources. We’ll select a region, look at the map/atlas and will read lots of picture books and folk tales from that region. For Year 0, that’s plenty as far as geography is concerned.

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Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Masonian Educational Methods

HDJT?: Thinking Through Biblical Education and Charlotte Mason

Since we decided to homeschool many years ago, I’ve run into many different kinds of homeschoolers. Some of these wonderful ladies have very passionate views about their preferred methods and I’ve listened carefully as they explain their way of seeing things. Some of these moms (I don’t spend much time chatting with the dads!) are very ‘school at home’ having text and work books for just about every subject with the odd activity thrown in here and there. Others come from a very ‘unschooling’ point of view and have deep convictions about that life philosophy.

But, as we’ve just recently begun ‘formally’ homeschooling Alex, I find myself paying much closer attention to the educational opinions around me. Within the last month, I came across this article and this one both of which beg the questions ‘what does it mean to be educated?’ and ‘what kind of education best educates?’. I am absolutely the kind of person who takes information in and then lets it simmer for a while. Often times, I will suddenly come to a resolution about something I didn’t even know I was wrestling with. Perhaps this ‘eureka!’ moment is actually the small voice of a loving God who whispers in my ear telling me to go this way or that?

So all these conversations, blog posts, and articles spinning around in my mind came to a screeching halt when I asked the question: ‘HDJT?’

How Did Jesus Teach? Jesus, our Master, our Teacher, our Creator has certainly done some teaching. Surely, if the question is ‘What is the best way for humans to learn and grow?’ the answer must be found when we ask ‘how does God teach us about Himself?’

So then some verses that might be applied to education came flooding into my mind (not exhaustive, of course):

Deuteronomy 6:6-9: And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Ephesians 6:4: And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

And we not only have the ‘command’ verses above, but the example of our Master Himself when He walked among men. Here’s an excellent blog post that discusses Jesus’ method of teaching. Jesus taught in parables. He purposefully sat in a position of authority to teach the masses and then intimately explained the truths He wanted to communicate to the disciples in a smaller setting.

Jesus’ teaching method was both didactic and exemplary.

Jesus had certain truths He wished to communicate. He was specific, purposeful, intentional. There were truths about Himself He wanted to teach and He made a point of doing so, the best examples of which are the Sermon on the Mount and His many parables. And God has always done thus- in the garden, He told Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit; He wrote out the Ten Commandments for Moses and the children of Israel; He sent prophet after prophet to specifically instruct kings in what they should and should not do. God instructs purposefully.

God also teaches by example. He sent His Son- God With Us, Emmanuel so we could know Him. He walked with the disciples for years teaching them how to respond to the world around them and how to do right before Him. He used every moment and the happenings of the day to continually reinforce to His followers how to belong to Him. God uses life to teach us about Himself.

So what do these truths mean to someone attracted to homeschooling in general and to Charlotte Mason specifically?

Some educational methods assert that the best way to educate a child is to simply get out of the way. Do absolutely nothing to purposefully influence the development of this unique human being- God has gifted children with a ‘personality DNA’ in which is written the kind of person that child should be and no one should disrupt the emergence of that person. In these methods, there shall be NO formal instruction. The child shall learn whatever s/he will because they are following that ‘personality DNA’ and will learn as God brings into their lives the things they will need to know in order to follow His calling on them. These parents read Proverbs 22:6 as “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  The focus of education here is the child’s pursuit of self-knowledge and self-expression. Parents who subscribe to these methods believe that children will live what they see- children of Christian families will soak up that atmosphere and will follow the examples set before them, eventually- Lord willing- coming to know and serve Him. This sound a lot like Charlotte’s ‘Education is an atmosphere’ and I can’t argue with this idea: Children will learn what they live.

I have concerns about this method, however. How can a fallen being follow their own personal inclinations with no purposeful instruction and be led toward God? Does flesh lead to God? What about learning self-discipline? Self-sacrifice? Respect for others? Humility that others have something vital to teach? Does this method live up to the fullness of education that God uses? HDJT?

If I am asking the question “How should I educate my children?” and scripture gives answers like: diligently, nurture, admonish, train- well, how does this kind of philosophy fit with those scripture? The specific verses above reveal that the parent has an active role in a child’s education. WE are to be diligent. WE are to nurture. WE are to admonish. WE are to train. There are things that we are to be doing concerning raising/teaching our little ones. Any educational method we adopt must fit these descriptions or we are not in line with Biblical commands to parents concerning the raising of children.

Other educational methods assert that children are blank slates- they will become what they are molded to become. So drill commences and the child is instructed not only on facts, but also on how to think about those facts. Their learning is carefully constructed to the point that the child’s mind doesn’t really interact with the provided material- the child is only expected to memorize and regurgitate the information at the appropriate time. They follow the instruction in their text books and fill out all the blanks in the workbooks and once that has been completed, they are left with no other instruction. How the information applies to life is not explored. Parents who subscribe to these methods read Proverbs 22:6 as “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

My concern about these methods is that they are focused on only the academic portion of a child’s development. Spiritual development can be woefully overlooked to the point that a child could be performing in school masterfully and yet not be learning the lessons of how to live for Jesus. Does this method imitate God’s educational method? Again, HDJT? Will we allow our text books to be ‘christian’ and our words, attitudes, entertainment be whatever pleases the flesh? Do we think we are teaching our kids about God because we have purchased a Bible curriculum from a Christian homeschooling company? Remember that in the Deuteronomy verses above, we see that it is NOT only instructional time that teaches our children. Every moment of the day- what we do when we wake, what we talk about as we go through our day, the attitudes we display and revel in- all these are our children’s teachers as well. If we are to be educating our children, if we are to train them toward the Lord, we need to be diligently guarding what they take in from their environment. We need to be sure WE are walking rightly with the Lord so they have a good example to follow, just as the disciples followed Jesus…

Will it be any surprise to you, dear reader, that I find Charlotte’s methods of education most like that of our Lord’s?

A Masonian education is both didactic and exemplary. We are specific in that we select materials for their ability to teach both facts and morality. Children are taught to trust their own thoughts because we do not prescribe what MUST be thought by them. The creativity and ideas of others are respected and are celebrated. The spiritual development of our children is the foundational lessons Masonian parents see to in the forming of good habits in preschoolers. We also ensure that the child’s environment is optimal for their development, filled with things that are intended to shape the child’s experience. And we allow for lots of free time so the child is free to explore the unique callings and giftings God has placed on his life.

A Charlotte Mason education looks the most like Jesus’ discipliship method as revealed in scripture; it is both intentional and exemplary honoring both that the child must receive from others and also that the child innately has much to share with the world.

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The End of Term I Review

Now that we’ve started Term II, I wanted to share a quick run-down of what I feel I did well during Term I and what I need to work on this Term:

The Good:

*We actually did school- we followed a daily/weekly routine and completed just about everything I’d set for us to do. We didn’t rush, the days seemed well-paced and the kids (mostly) enjoyed the material we’re using.

*The kids LOVE having things to do each day- they love the stories, the music, the specific time spent pursuing learning & the Lord together. They like that we have a ‘plan’.

* We got the basics in AND I was able to keep up with a lot of the things sometimes considered ‘extras’- fine art, classical music, hymns, folk songs, nature study.

*We had fun!

The Bad:

* I totally failed to teach any Art this past Term. I had ‘Drawing with Children’ carefully scheduled and just never did it. I had it planned for Fridays when Brian is home and would be able to watch Fae so I could concentrate on helping Alex with his markers. Somehow, Fridays became ou ‘running around’ day filled with nature walks, gym classes, doctor appointments- all the things we aren’t able to do throughout the week. There never seemed to be quiet time for us to take a breath and focus.

*Although we did nature study regularly, Alex rarely journaled it. What is it that dear Charlotte says?- a lesson not narrated is a lesson lost? Well, I’d wanted to have Alex journaling his nature observations and eventually adding pictures of his finds. But again, see above. There never seemed to be time on Fridays for ‘seat work’.

*Didn’t complete a single handicraft with the kids. Had a goal of helping to improve Alex’s pre-writing fine motor skills using handicrafts. I had decided to have him carefully color a beautiful coloring book of forest life, but… well, see above.

*We never included reading a book together into our evening routine. Admittedly, this time is packed with scripture reading and seasonal activities, but I just envision us all snuggled up together reading a ‘family’ book.

The Plan:

*Am going to drop art for now. Perhaps next year when Fae is older and I can direct her attention more fully, I can attempt to do art with them. The ‘Drawing With Children’ classes have been taught to children as young as 4. Hopefully, Fae will be able to do her own version of what I work on with Alex and we can do art together.

*Am going to encourage Alex to use more photography to note his nature finds. If we can get into a habit of nature photography now, in the future, he can use his own photos as a way to populate his nature journal with drawings later.

*Am going to focus on family handicrafts instead of something Alex does himself. We made chocolates together today and I’m putting together a handicraft plan for December. Think we will perhaps choose one type of craft to work on together each month and will go with that.

Sigh- Can't you just see yourself melting into this?

*Just spoke with Brian this evening about changing our bedtime routine. After the kids are in PJs and have had their teeth brushed, we’re going to snuggle up in our bed to read to them each night before we put them down. I have several beautiful Childcraft story books that Alex has been enjoying. I also think that Andrew Lang’s ‘Fairy Books’ would be wonderful- I know Ambleside has the Red & Blue books scheduled, so we can concentrate on the 10 other books Lang collected.

Anyway, that’s my take on this past Term & my plans for improving our time together! How are things going in your homeschool?

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Holiday Activities for the Coming Months

Well, here we are in the first half of November. This is the perfect time to begin discussing holiday traditions and how they influence a child’s education. I wanted to bring this up early  so you have a chance to plan ahead if you would like to use some of these ideas in your holiday celebrations or if you would like to research your own…

Holidays are very important to my family. We enjoy all the trappings of the winter holidays- red and green, ribbons and bows, trees, holly, candles, lights… These decorative changes in our home mark this time out as set apart- holy… We are a liturgical family- that means, for us, that we always look for ways to use symbols and cyclical traditions to reinforce Biblical/Spiritual truth. Here’s how we use the winter holidays to point our children toward Jesus…

Thanksgiving-  This year, it seemed good to Brian and me that we celebrate a whole season of gratitude. Having only one day of the year in which we purposefully give thanks to the Lord just seemed- well- weak to us. We wanted to find a way to point our children toward counting blessings and remembering to be thankful on a daily basis and to celebrate gratitude. Of course, we can give thanks every day (and we do), but using a season/holiday to focus on this aspect of our relationship to the Father will, we hope, show our children just how important gratitude is to us.

So this year, on November 1st (All Saints Day for those of you who follow traditional liturgical calendars), we created a ‘Thankful Tree’. It’s a very simple creation- a basic tree shape cut out of foam board and colored brown with crayons. Then we cut leaf shapes out of construction paper. Each night, at dinner we talk about what we are grateful for and we write this on a leaf. The leaf is then taped up (using painter’s tape) to the tree.

Our Thankful Tree on the first night...

To give us some direction, we decided to have a different focus each week. Week 1 was ‘People we are thankful for’.  Options in the category included family, friends, influential Christians from the past & present, Apostles, professions, etc. It was sweet to me when Fae answered our “Who are you grateful for?” question with, “God and People”.  Amen, baby…

Week 2 has been focused on ‘Bible verses/history we are thankful for’. I’ve been focusing on Romans, first being thankful for the book and then selecting specific verses to highlight for my children. Brian noted his thanks for the Sermon on the Mount. Alex has been thankful for the Bible history Noah’s Ark and Daniel in the Lions’ Den. Fae was thankful for “animals” in scripture, which I think is totally valid (grin).

Week 3 will have us thanking God for ‘Answered Prayers & Unexpected Blessings’ and week 4 will focus on ‘Dreams, Abilities, and Callings’.

Each evening our tree grows and it is really wonderful to have a visual testament of how our Jesus has been good to us.

Advent- After Thanksgiving, our Advent celebration begins. Several years ago, my sister-in-law gifted me with a pewter Advent wreath. This is a ‘Jesse Tree’ Advent wreath which recalls visually the historic lineage of Jesus showing how God worked so carefully to bring our Savior into the world. There is a different engraved picture for each night that represents various stories about Jesus’ ancestors. Advent is so special to me- to walk through the season remembering how God has acted in human history to save us– to save me- is just humbling, wondrous and joy-inspiring  all at once. I love, love, love Advent…

Each evening, Brian leads our family in lighting the Advent candle (one candle per week with a new candle added each Sunday), singing our Advent hymn- O, Come, O, Come Emmanuel and reciting our Advent verse “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who live in a land of gloom, The light has come.” (Isaiah 9:2). We then have a reading from Scripture, a memory of how God moved throughout the history to bring Jesus for us. This generally takes about 10 minutes and as we blow out the candles, we remind the children how the smoke rising from them is like our prayers rising before our Father.

This is a picture of the exact same advent wreath we own.

This year, I want to begin a new tradition and actually create a ‘Jesse Tree’ to go with our wreath. As I mentioned above, our Advent wreath has many little pictures engraved on it, each of which represent a significant person/event in the historic lineage of Jesus. I want to help the children create actual ornaments to hang on a tree. This year, they’ll likely be paper, but as the children grow, I hope we can make more permanent ornaments. I imagine the children hanging the ornaments & discussing the meaning of the symbols.

So what do the holidays have to do with education? Well, in our family holidays are used as spiritual and scriptural lessons. We have tons of fun and enjoy many ‘non-religious’ activities like attending the annual Christmas tree lighting at our local Township park, watching Rudolph and Frosty and the Grinch, making peanut brittle and chocolates, working at local food pantry and caroling whenever we have the chance. However, the heart of our celebrations, the place where we rest during the holidays, is in our focus on Jesus’ coming.

There is no more important fact in our lives- no more important truth to be communicated to our children- but that Jesus, God become God-Man, took upon Himself our sins so we have hope of being with Him and the Father forever. We, therefore, have the joyous privilege of pledging our affections and our actions to serving Him all the days of our lives.

I am so excited for this upcoming season- and for the blog posts I’m working on! I have several on the burner and will be sure to let you know when they’re ready for tasting!

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Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Holidays/Family Liturgy

The Wonders of the Last Sea- exploring ‘narration’

A few weeks ago, we started our discussion of dear Charlotte’s teaching methods in a discussion about living books. To continue, let’s turn our attention to the second of Wikipedia’s methodologies- narration.

One of the most attractive attributes of a Masonian education is the lack of ‘busy work’. Busy work consists of all the many trifles that modern education insists upon to better drill a fact into a child’s head. A child reads a passage and then completes comprehension questions to show whether or not the child has understood. A math fact is learned and then is repeated ad nauseam in various ways just to be sure the child has really mastered the lesson. Busywork is all the things that the child is ‘put to’ to prove that the child has, indeed, ‘got it’.

Charlotte found this kind of repetition unnecessary and insulting to the child’s intelligence. Instead, she advocated narration as the only reinforcement of the lesson. What is narration? Simply put, narration is the act of retelling in one’s own words exactly what one remembers. Narration is a powerful tool in a child’s education.

Think about the times you have learned something. The information was received and taken into your mind. But if you later had to teach someone that same information, your understanding, your relationship with the material changed. It went from being a surface fact (something you remembered until the test and then tossed away), to being something your mind had really chewed, mulled over, and synthesized so it could be communicated to someone else.

The child listens, absorbing the story into himself...

Narration is not used to test a child’s knowledge. It isn’t used to discover how much the child forgot about the passage, rather narration is used to help the child reinforce the connections she has made with the material on her own. The teacher is not enforcing an agenda of comprehension- that is, that the child will remember what the teacher/adult thinks is important about a passage- instead the teacher is helping the child deepen her own connections and think through what has just been read. Leading questions should be avoided, as should correcting the child during the act of narration. If a child doesn’t mention a fact or seems to have misunderstood it, the parent may simply do a short ‘recap’ of the story immediately prior to the next reading (the next day, etc). If a child is simply lost, put the book aside for a month or two and try again later; the child may not be ready for that particular work.

I often think of professional wine tasters and how they differ from the casual drinker. The casual drinker tosses back the wine, notes how it tasted and if he liked it or not and then it is forgotten. The experience has left no lasting impression on him and an hour later he couldn’t tell you much about it. But the professional sommelier first looks at and smells the wine, chews it, interacts with it before rendering an opinion. And the professional is able to remember the experience, the nuance of the drink- it has become part of his overall wine experience. If it is an especially good glass of wine, he may be able to recall it years later.

The child can express her connection in many valid ways...

Narration can be accomplished in many ways- orally (where the child retells what he knows), in drawing/painting/sculpting, through play acting with figures or as actual play, and, after the age of 10 or so, in written composition (indeed, narration is the basis for fine essay writing in the future). Any way in which the child expresses a connection with the material is valid narration.

But what about evaluation? How can you be assured that your child has actually understood the material? Well, how do you know an adult understands the materials she’s teaching to you? As the person is speaking, you can hear an internal consistency of information. A clarity of reasoning that makes sense in context. A teacher in a classroom full of students may need worksheets and tests to ascertain if each student has understood the material, but a parent in a home with a limited amount of children will certainly know if a child truly understands what she is retelling.

My son is only five, so I am not requiring narration from him yet- dear Charlotte recommended that a child have no formal schooling until age 6, so I am holding off on asking for narration. However, even in our ‘informal’ schooling, Alex retells parts of his day. It’s interesting to me to see what he remembers hours later, which ideas and facts he connected with.

A Young Girl Reading- our current picture study

Narration seems simple- too simple to be an effective learning tool. But over a hundred years of history and many parents of graduates attest to the effectiveness of this method. As a child grows into adolescence, narration takes on more of a conversational tone. The child still retells, but then the parent may ask questions to draw the child deeper, may correct and challenge what a child has shared- as the student becomes an adult and has much practice forming a viewpoint, an opinion- the conversation becomes more like adult conversation. The teacher has simply refrained from usurping the child’s own mind prior to her learning how to use it.

I look forward to many conversations about books, politics, morality, science, literature on and on and on as my children grow…

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The Wonders of the Last Sea- exploring “living books”

So what is a Charlotte Mason education, anyway? This is one of those questions newly seeking parents will ask and they will get a different answer from each person who responds. I can only answer based on my own interpretation… Much of what I know has come from reading around the Ambleside Online site, from reading Karen Andreola’s “A Charlotte Mason Companion” and visiting her website Charlotte Mason Supply and Research and from many years of ‘discussion’ on the Ambleside Online Yahoo Groups (there are many, but I mostly read the main AO List, AmbleRamble, and the AO YR 0 list).

I believe that the Wikipedia page on Charlotte does a good job introducing who she was and what the main tenets of her educational philosophy are. I do plan to write more about her philosophy, but I wanted to first write about the methodology that set a Charlotte Mason education apart from other styles of homeschooling.

The first- and maybe most basic- method of a ‘Masonian’ education is the use of the ‘Living Book’. As the Wikipedia article describes, a living book is a book that is written by one author, someone with a passion for the topic and who shares his/her enthusiasm about the topic with the reader. These books can be novels, biographies, travelogues, histories, etc. These books will transport the child/reader into the topic so the child has a genuine experience with the wonderful ideas behind the words.

In my own life, books have long been a passion. I started reading for pleasure in the 5th grade (much later than other bibliophiles, I know). I’d noticed this girl reading a book during recess each day and I thought if I had a book maybe I could strike up a conversation with her and maybe we could be friends. So I borrowed “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” by dear old C.S. Lewis from the school library and soon enough, I was in Narnia during recess.

I still have the paperback box set purchased for me at age 11

The connection I made with the Chronicles is hard to describe. I know that God was speaking to me through the Pevensies and I know that I longed to be a Narnian long before I knew what a Christian actually was. The goodness of the characters in the books, along with their need for Aslan resonated within my soul and left an indelible imprint on me. I discovered a need within myself to be better, to live up to the goodness my Narnian friends displayed. Their courage, their devotion to Aslan and to one another, their courtliness, their sense of adventure- I began to long for all these traits in myself.

When a child is welcomed into a different world- or into a different time in our own world- and is introduced to a topic by the author/narrator, the child is given a personal tour of the new topic. By spending copious amounts to time with worthy characters and worthy teachers, children soak into their being and consciousness all the lessons and goodness those teachers have to offer. This is one reason Charlotte Mason advocated short readings over a long period of time. Imagine enjoying a fine meal- one may bolt the food down and the enjoyment will soon be over. But if one takes one’s time, savors the delights before him, then new flavors or subtle textures may be discerned. When a child lives with a character or an idea, the child has time to roll it around in his mind, to ponder and question. The topic or character becomes a friend to the child- familiar, comfortable, known. And that is why it is so important to savor living books, so one may have the time to linger over worthy ideas and beautiful thoughts, so these thoughts may become a part of us.

Charlotte also wanted to be sure that each child was reading real books- not dumbed-down, abridged versions of books that had been ‘processed’ for the child’s consumption. Charlotte- and I- believe that children are capable of much more than we give them credit for. Children can understand and synthesize thoughts and emotions at a much higher level than is generally appreciated. While there is a difference between a child and an adult, it isn’t so drastic as we sometimes think. Children are capable of listening, of imagining, of being raised up to the level of the literature/books we give them. No, we don’t read ‘War and Peace’ to a seven-year-old, but we do give that child the BEST of children’s literature, in the original language and without abridgement. We allow the child to read (or to hear) the author for himself and we allow the child to make his own connections with the material. This is his experience with this book and this author. It is his to hear and to hold on to.

I’ve been reading to my 5-year-old son from Edward Eggleston’s “Great Americans for Little Americans”. It’s American history in story form for children. We read about Marquette and Joliet and their adventures on the Mississippi River as they meet the Iowa indians and brave the monsters that supposedly lurk down river. This is my take on the story. My son? He remembers that the Iowa indians fed the explorers like babies (I suppose it was part of their hospitality rituals) and that they shared a peace pipe, “like in Peter Pan,” he said today.

You see, not only has Alex made is own connection with this story, remembering those parts which are important and impactful to him, but he also made a connection between stories. He remembered the indians from ‘Peter Pan’ and has now added his knowledge of the Iowa indians. His knowledge of indians has grown based on his own experiences with the material without my interference as a ‘translator’. I believe that my son is a person in his own right- that God is shaping him and is creating a history for my son. That history includes his interactions with the materials I give him. The Lord will use the sources to shape and mold Alex (and eventually Fae) into a person who will be responsive to Him, who will come to love and serve Him and who ultimately can be shaped into the image of His dear Son, Jesus.

The idea of using ‘living books’ is not unique to Charlotte Mason, however. In college, this is how many classes are organized. We underclassmen were set to read complete books, unabridged versions of Chaucer, Joyce, Rabelais, Derrida, and the list goes on. Why is this method of education used in college, but is thought to be ‘too much’ when educating younger students? How does it educate a child to read an excerpt of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ or of ‘Cinderella’, or- worse yet- someone’s watered-down translation of those brilliant works? Haven’t these excerpts been selected by someone else as the most meaningful and important section of the story? The child’s autonomy in making the connection has been lost because someone has come between them and the material. Now, the child’s only job is to understand what the adult believed was so important. No, when a parent had carefully and prayerfully selected materials to bring to her children, she must then stand aside and allow the child to nibble at the meal. He must be allowed to roll the ideas around on his tongue without interference. Just as a parent cannot digest a bite of a meal for her child and expect him to derive the nutritional benefit, neither should she pre-digest the ideas presented by an author. Leave the meal to the child, the author and the Lord.

Because I believe my children deserve to interact with the greatest minds and the best ideas I can offer, and because I believe they are capable of forming their own opinions and their own connections, I use ‘living books’ in my child’s education. God is using these materials- using the conversation my children are having with the authors- to bring them into relationship with Himself as they learn about the world around them.

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