Charlotte Mason was a cutting edge, free thinking educator who lived in the English Lake District in the late-eighteen and early-nineteen hundreds. In my estimation, she was already at a great advantage simply because of where she lived and in what time period. Sometimes I think my home in heaven is going to be a re-staging of that precise place and time, and C.S. Lewis is going to be my next door neighbor–who pops in for tea and conversation, often.
Charlotte (Can we call her that? I’d like to.) did not have the picturesque childhood that she yearned for for her own students. There are not a lot of details known about her early years but John Thorley, the Principal of the Charlotte Mason College, says that she was raised by her father who went bankrupt and died when Charlotte was in her early teens. Friends and family helped her to attend a year-long training college in 1860 to learn to become a teacher. She worked as an elementary school teacher for about ten years, and then began lecturing in a college on ways to teach elementary-aged children.
In 1878, Charlotte left her post at the college in Chichester and began to write. She wrote a series of books on English geography, and then Home Education –a book that explained how parents could give their children a quality and exciting education–at home. The book quickly grew in popularity, and Charlotte went on to found the Parents National Education Union (PNEU). It was at this time that Charlotte moved to Ambleside (in the Lake District) and began to train governesses to teach using her methods. In !892, her House of Education (a college) was established and flourished.
Charlotte did not only love children, she did not only dedicate her life to establishing methods for teaching them, Charlotte valued children–as thinking, feeling souls who have been entrusted to us–their parents. She then charges us with Pestalozzi’s words: The mother is qualified, and qualified by the Creator himself, to become the principal agent in the development of her child;…and what is demanded of her is a thinking love…God has given to thy child all the faculties of our nature, but the grand point remains undecided–how shall this heart, this head, these hands, be employed? to whose service shall they be dedicated? A question the answer to which involves a futurity of happiness or misery to a life so dear to thee. Maternal love is the first agent in education.
There are so many things that Charlotte Mason wrote that have struck deep chords in me, and I know I am going to have to limit myself in these posts. Tell myself that I don’t have to syphon her down to a single blog post. Since this has already been long enough, I think I’ll end this first post with an excerpt from her chapter titled “Out-of-Door Life for the Children”, that makes me want to do a happy dance:
People who live in the country know the value of fresh air very well, and their children live out of doors, with intervals within for sleeping and eating. As to the latter, even country people do not make full use of their opportunities. On fine days when it is warm enough to sit out with wraps, why should not tea and breakfast, everything but a hot dinner, be served out of doors? For we are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; and every hour spent in the open is clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself. They who know what it is to have fevered skin and throbbing brain deliciously soothed by the cool touch of the air are inclined to make a new rule of life, “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.”
Besides the gain of an hour or two in the open air, there is this to be considered: meals taken al fresco are usually joyous, and there is nothing like gladness for converting meat and drink into healthy blood and tissue. All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children’s laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.
First of all, THANK YOU!!! to all of you who took the time to comment and encourage me or give me some useful tips on the last blog. Thank you also to all those who wanted to say, “You’ve lost your ever-loving mind,” but refrained from doing so ;). I hope to soon start giving more details about Charlotte Mason’s method, our particular plans to implement her teachings, and some other exciting developments that have been happening around here that aren’t necessarily part of homeschooling but will be a part of our every-day homeschooling lives. When you beg the Lord for direction, get ready to follow when the direction is all new and slightly terrifying!
Second, I do want to apologize for how sporadic I’ve gotten again with my writing. It is not intentional, I hope (because it is certain to happen again) it will never be a permanent disappearance, and you can be sure there are always reasons why I disappear and that I’m frustrated about those reasons. However, I determined a few years back not to apologize and bore everybody with my long list of reasons (that look exactly like your long list of reasons why you aren’t getting to do the things you enjoy doing for yourself). If I do, the blog becomes a continual string of apologies, and I get weary when people do that all the time, don’t you? So here is my apology, to cover the next year or so
I love love. I love people who love big. I love that I have been married for ten years, and still if I sit and think about all the reasons I love Jeremiah, I get an overwhelming urge to try and make him understand just how big the love that swells and pounds in my heart really is. The differences between the me that loved Jeremiah when we were dating and the me that loves Jeremiah now are that I have a deeper, more layered, and superfluous love for him today, AND that when Valentine’s day rolls around and I feel like my opportunity for crazy love has arrived….I am no longer worried that he might break up with me if I show him my crazy.
Despite my desire to show crazy love, this year we (Jeremiah and I) had just gotten back in town from a trip (Woohoo!!) before Valentine’s day hit. I hadn’t had my normal week of mulling and preparation before the day arrived. I also now have two little goblins who have come to expect lots of help preparing for their own day, and I am sure you all can empathize with the difficulty of stepping back into your life with four children after you’ve been away for a time. If you can’t empathize, I will say that it feels a lot like trying to take a delicate sip of water from a fire hydrant. Especially if one member of the clan (sweet Mae girl) vomits on you 2.5 minutes after you walk in the door, and you know there are a few days of sterilizing hands and scrubbing “accidents” ahead of you.
While my love has not dimmed, you can see that my time for amorous shows of my affection has decreased greatly. Every year I try to give myself an out. You can just let it go. He knows you love him. There is no need to come up with a way to show him or anybody else that you love them on Valentine’s Day. I try to give myself permission to be normal… … …But then the day comes upon me and I can’t BEAR to not do SOMETHING. It’s just against how I am made. So, here’s our attempt at a lower-key Valentine’s day:
It’s funny how God doesn’t give us a script for our life. I am often frustrated with this fact– wondering where He is leading me and why. However, because we don’t have a script, the moments where we catch up with Him–where we see that He has had a plan all along, where the pieces slide and gloriously click into place–are all the more sweet because of the surprise that is coupled with our clarity. We can effortlessly offer credit where credit is always due, because He has managed our affairs very well without our meddling.
If you had asked me one month ago if I would ever home-school, I would have given you the answer I have given everyone for the past eight years, “I just pray God never calls me to that. I do not have the patience. I am not a teacher.” I had a bit of an ostrich’s viewpoint on the subject. I mainly tried to stay away from homeschooling conversations for fear I would feel that well-known prickle in my heart. I didn’t want a prickle to start urging me to keep my children home, we needed SPACE from each other, didn’t we?
Six-ish years ago, when my friend Lauren invited me to a “Mother Nurture” meeting, with little more explanation than it was a group of women that she looked up to that met once a month to…encourage each other, I accepted without question. All I knew was that I was learning a LOT from Lauren, and if I had the chance to meet the women that SHE was learning from, I did not plan to miss the opportunity. However, when we arrived and I found myself floating in a tumultuous sea of homeschooling Moms who were all talking about “Charlotte Mason”, “Living Books”, and “Nature”–that ostrich in me wanted to bolt for the door. Why had Lauren brought me here? Pace was nowhere near school age, Mary Aplin wasn’t even born yet, and I liked the idea of homeschooling about as much as I liked hot mayonnaise sandwiches.
But I didn’t bolt, I stayed, and I listened to the passion these women shared for teaching their children, spending as much of their days in open air as possible, inspiring children’s desire to learn by nurturing their natural curiosity about nature, creating beauty in a child’s learning environment, laying a feast of knowledge before a child and then allowing them to eat, and above all staying away from “twattle”. I listened quietly. Seeds were being planted that would lay dormant for a long time, but I never forgot Charlotte Mason’s name.
A few years later, Lauren and my (school teacher, book club, dear person) friend Stephanie started a school–really more of a whisper of a school, with 4 or 5 neighborhood girls coming to Stephanie’s home where she sort of home-schooled for their Moms, using Charlotte Mason’s principles. As the school grew, adding a few more students and another grade level, Stephanie and James bought our house in Birmingham and, not long after our family moved out, our old basement was transformed into Crestwood Day School. It was happening all around me, and I was an enthusiastic supporter, but I was primarily thankful for no homeschool pricks in my own heart.
Now fast-forward to this Christmas, 3 and a half years later. God has just confirmed in Jeremiah and me a desire to stay in the country and build, and I have been practicing acceptance of our fast-paced back-and-forth-all-day-long lifestyle. Ripping babies out of beds, nursing in the backseat of the car, hovering at Dad and Konie’s house in town for some of the little in-between segments when we don’t have time to go home but have a hard time being contained in the car…”I can do this Lord. If you’ve called me to it, I can do it.” That’s what I’ve been telling myself. And I really had moved into a quiet acceptance of our pace, most of the time. Then, Christmas break happened and when it was time to go back to school both girls came to me saying, “Mom, we don’t want to go back! We want to stay home with you.” … … …You do? Really? You mean that? And I suddenly realized that I didn’t want them to go back either. I wanted them home with me…badly. I wanted to be more than their chauffeur. I wanted to have time to teach them things that I value–like embroidery, or baking bread, or gardening, or horseback riding. There is no time for any of those things in a life where we do homework as quickly as we can between after school activities and bedtime.
I feel like my ostrich peeked one timid eye out of its hole. Just one eye! But with that eye out, Charlotte Mason’s name came immediately back to my mind and so did memories of that “Mother Nurture” meeting. I started doing some reading, online first, then I ordered a couple of books. At the same time, I told Jeremiah WHEN OUR HOUSE IS BUILT, I might be willing to CONSIDER homeschooling. Then, I started sharing Charlotte Mason’s philosophies with him, and we were amazed by how God had been working on his heart without either of us realizing it. Jeremiah has been on a rampage in the past few months, of trying to learn to name trees and birds and plants…and teaching all of these things to the girls and me. So much so that I gave him a set of field guides and a brass magnifying glass for Christmas–which are some of the first items Charlotte Mason suggests you purchase for your classroom.
I was tempted to shove my head back into the hole, I could no longer deny that my heart was being pricked, it was being pummeled. Everything was lining up too perfectly. This time, instead of hiding, I pulled my whole head out of my hole and looked homeschooling straight in the face.
The more I read, the more on fire I became. I heard my words change from “Maybe in a few years–when our house is built–we can hire a ‘Stephanie’ to teach our kids.”, to “I don’t think I can wait a few years, I want to do this as soon as possible.”, to “I am insanely jealous at the thought of anybody else getting to share this experience with our children, I want to teach them myself!”
There are so many more small, beautiful pieces to the puzzle. Many other seeds that were planted through the years–some in me, some in Jeremiah, and a few dear farmers that planted them, but it is with overwhelming excitement and more than a little trepidation that I tell you that next year I am going to homeschool Pace and Mary Aplin. I am hopeful that my friend Stephanie is going to bundle her curriculum for me to purchase so that we can be guided more directly through Charlotte Mason’s principles than any curriculum I have been able to find. Oh the joy I have in knowing Stephanie’s heart for children and literature and knowing how fortunate I am to have her skill as a resource! I am planning to blog the journey. I am believing that God doesn’t call us to something without hanging around to equip us for the work. I am delighted to see all the pieces clicking into place in a way that finally brings peace to my soul–and hopefully my home. I said peace, not quiet I feel SURE it will not be quiet.