Thursday, August 2, 2012

When Children Love to Learn: Chapter 1

The book When Children Love to Learn, edited by Elaine Cooper, contains several essays on various aspects of a Charlotte Mason education. In reading through threads on the 4Real forum, and doing research on blogs, I kept coming across this title. Everyone seemed to label it "the best book out there" for getting to the heart of what it really means to give your children a Charlotte Mason education. I dutifully bought it. And it sat on my shelf, looking very pretty. I picked it up a few times, and read here and there. And when I found myself still not sure I had a handle on the journey I was about the make with my children, I decided to read this book with my whole heart, and really endeavor to understand it. Usually writing helps me solidify things, so this will be the first book I tackle for the blog. I certainly hope this helps our readers as well, and perhaps you'll join in with your thoughts, Celeste?

The first chapter is entitled "The Value of Charlotte Mason's Work for Today", and is written by Susan Schaeffer Macauly, a homeschooling wife and mother who has worked for years with the ideas of Miss Mason. I love the focus this title gives us: what is the value today of these ideas, written by this Victorian woman so many years ago? Here are a few of the points I underlined and took notes about, the things that felt important for me to keep in mind as I began this book:

  • The failings of the modern public education system. There are some school out there better than others, and most teachers work hard, but it is the underlying ideas which permeate the system which are not life-giving for our children. Over-crowding, constant changing of instructional methods, a physical environment which isn't conducive to learning. None of these things are good for children.
  • We've hurt our society by throwing out the idea of morality, good and bad behavior, and in the desire to eschew traditional, we've lost "what is of enduring quality."
  • All education has a focus, a reason for being. Modern public education "has settled on education for utilitarian reasons only." The goal of college seems now to be to increase the amount of money one can earn, rather than to increase what one knows and how much one cares.
  • The disappearance of a stable family life, and therefore stable and safe community life, has lead to schools full of children with no idea of discipline, the habit of attention, or, in many cases, the spark of excitement at learning new things. 
  • Charlotte Mason's ideas have an underlying patten, or form (students will learn to read, write, solve math problems, study history), but there's freedom of adaption to the needs of individuals and families. 
  • Children of both genders and all backgrounds are capable and should be loved and respected. This is at the heart of the Christian faith, and if one accepts it as true, the way we treat little ones will be greatly informed by this understanding. 
  • Curriculum should stay relevant to "a child's background and up to date while not ditching old treasures." This is music to my ears! There are so many wonderful books, written in a way which is not demeaning to children, which are tossed out of our schools simply because they are old. As Charlotte Mason home educators, we get to rescue them, and how enriched our children's minds will be.
  • All children are in relationships, with family members, siblings, friends, the materials they use, and the books they read. The things we give them should be worthy of such relationships. 
  • Books children read should be enjoyable, make an impact on their minds, cause the beginnings of an idea, inspire a passion.
  • Mornings are for work, afternoons are for play. Imagine the freedom and health this provides, for children and mommy.
  • It is impossible to know and read everything. This is an excellent reminder, especially for homeschoolers with high ideals and long book lists:) 
  • Habits are crucial. Children must be taught what they may do and not do, and to accept that cheerfully. We all have duties, to our families, communities, and God, and there has to be cheerful cooperation.
  • Don't get in the way of the child and the source material. Whole books, not snippets. This is "masterly inactivity" on the part of the adult, knowing something of quality has been presented, and the child has the ability to absorb what has been given to her.
  • Don't go too far in trying to make everything Christian (Catholic), or trying to put a moral point on everything. Allow the stories to speak. All of life is God's, not just "bible time." I think the idea of atmosphere comes in here. 
  • Allow the student to see the connection of history, literature, the long line of Christians before him, singing the same hymns, reading the same stories. This is where the Catholic church can really shine with our heritage leading right back to the apostles. Allow the wonder to grow at this gift!
This is my favorite portion of this chapter, from page 32: "Sometimes I'm asked what I think Christian education is. I think it is education that has due regard for the individual child. No children should be kept in, sitting on a chair, anywhere in God's world because someone has decreed that they, even though they are not developmentally ready, have reached 'the age' when they should learn to read....Children are abused if their developmental stages and abilities are not taken into consideration. The child is, after all, a whole person."

That's a lot to think about! This is a very deep introduction to Charlotte Mason, and the underpinnings of her philosophy. I especially love the idea that as Catholics, we are called to treat children and their education in a different way than public schools ever can or will, no matter how good they are. 


  1. Angela, you are right--this chapter covers so much! I found myself marking quite a lot. I think she makes a couple great points that are particularly helpful to me at this point:

    :: Like you said, habits are crucial. To be child-friendly, education doesn't have to allow the child free reign. The "should" and "ought" cannot be forgotten, even when one emphasizes freedom for the child. It is freedom within the boundaries of natural duty and moral life.

    :: In the middle of page 34, she talks about how in PNEU schools, children were brought together for some subjects, worked at their own pace in others. "This way, all the children's minds are nourished together while the differences in children are recognized and helped appropriately." I have been thinking about this dynamic and how to go about implementing it since I have two in Year 1 together and may also combine children later on. I am finding it's a more difficult balancing act that it originally seemed to me.

    :: Describing short lessons: "Nothing wearied the child. That way they could give real attention and become used to not having their thoughts wandering or their little bodies fidgeting because they needed to move and play." (37) Again, it's about habits, training the mind and body in a *gentle* way. But still having high expectations, as the subjects covered make clear.

    :: Masterly inactivity--you mentioned this as well. It's one of the most misunderstood principles of CM education, or so it seems to me. Masterly inactivity is part of the *teacher's* job, not the student's.

    :: Perhaps my favorite part of this chapter: "We are not over the child as the source of all knowledge, but beside the child, also learning. We usually teach, but children offer a lot for us to consider and learn. The interaction is mutually enjoyable, and both are developing understanding--the 'teacher' and the 'taught.'"

    :: And her discussion of worship (pages 45-6) is just fantastic and mimics my own experience with children so well. So apt for a Catholoic! "Beauty strikes into a child's awareness." (45) Indeed.

    Thank you for starting this discussion! I appreciate the urge to read this book more closely. Looking forward to the next chapter!

  2. Okay, I'm back again. You know, I have been thinking about this one part in particular: "We all remember a time when, as children, we listened with rapt attention to a story being read. It interested and fascinated us, and then in a 'teacher voice' a little moral lesson was tacked on for the children's good...Children stop listening, eyes wander, and they think about a snack. They fidget. The lesson becomes tiresome. The joy and interest evaporates." (41) She continues on to describe the alternative in the next paragraph--basically, masterly inactivity. Are you familiar at all with the Angel Food books by Father Brennan? Do you think this applies? We just started reading the series this term and they are not as much a hit as I was hoping. I have seen them recommended *everywhere*, but each story does exactly what Maccaulay describes--the priest writer tacks on a long moral at the end, explaining how the story applies. And the kids literally do start fidgeting during that part, whereas they were listening intently beforehand. I'm not sure what to think. They really are charming stories, sweetly told, and they coordinate wonderfully with the FHC Catechism, which is how we're using them. I'm going to continue on with them for now, but I'm just giving them a further thought...

  3. I have not read the Angel Food books, but I do get the idea of what you are describing. I find the same thing with my little ones if I answer a Bible or saints question with too much of a moral point "tacked on." I think it moves me away from the "masterly inactivity" I am trying to provide. I think religious books can easily move into this territory, which is why the good ones are such gems!