About Me

I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure (using font only to enable access in settings with poor internet)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Charlotte Mason: Some Preliminary Considerations

As I’ve mentioned several times, I am posting short updates on my discoveries from reading the original work of Charlotte Mason. Her first volume, entitled Home Education, starts with a chapter discussing ‘Some Preliminary Considerations’. Here, she lays the foundation for much of what follows, and as with everything I have read so far, does so with a clarity and wisdom which is still highly relevant today. 

She first talks about the differences between what she terms a ‘method’ and a ‘system’.  A system is in some ways easier – a legalistic list of prescribed tasks which themselves become more important than the end which they seek to accomplish. However, the method is all-encompassing, and seems to address the pattern outlined in Deuteronomy Chapter 6 where parents are encouraged to talk with their children at many opportunities throughout a day of normal life, and use these opportunities to give glory to God. (Some of our major reasons for choosing to home educate). ‘The parent will...make use of every circumstance of the child’s life almost without intention on his own part, so easy and spontaneous is a method of education based upon Natural Law. Does the child eat or drink, does he come, or go, or play – all the time he is being educated, though he is as little aware of it as he is of the act of breathing’. On the one hand, it is a gentle and spontaneous method, but on the other hand, does not necessarily appeal to ‘the sluggishness of human nature, to which any definite scheme is more agreeable than the constant watchfulness, the unforeseen action, called for when the whole of a child’s existence is to be used as the means of his education’

Much of Charlotte’s preliminary considerations as to the foundation for her method of education rest on the words of Christ Himself regarding the importance of, and the correct attitude towards children. ‘Take heed that ye OFFEND not – DESPISE not – HINDER not – one of these little ones’... She then unpacks just what it means to offend, despise or hinder a child, and this makes for very interesting reading. ‘We offend them when we do by them that which we ought not to have done; we despise them when we leave undone those things which, for their sakes, we ought to have done’. I was particularly interested as she unpacked what it might mean to despise a child. ‘To have a low opinion of, to undervalue.’ ‘If the mother did not undervalue her child, would she leave him to the society of an ignorant nursemaid during the early years when his whole nature is, like the photographer’s sensitive plate, receiving momentary indelible impressions?’ ‘Many a child leaves the nursery with his moral sense blunted, and with an alienation from his heavenly Father which may last his lifetime.’ 

‘The most fatal way of despising the child falls under the third educational law of the Gospels; it is to overlook and make light of his natural relationship with Almighty God’. She discusses some of the things which have challenged me greatly, regarding how even the youngest of infants can clearly have a relationship with God that is not fully understood by their elders.

Her preliminary considerations convey some of the most fundamental truths regarding education – all knowledge and understanding relate to the God who created the world, everything within it, all knowledge and intelligence, every gift that education seeks to develop. These are things seldom discussed in modern education, especially not that which is found in the mainstream sector. One could argue that such schools and methods entirely miss the most important point of all. Charlotte Mason started with the right foundation, building upon it as with gold, silver and other precious stones. I believe the Lord will prove her work to be that which brings Him lasting honour.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Dangers of prescriptive adherence

In one of the first posts I made relating to Charlotte Mason, I mentioned my caution regarding eponymous methods or curricula, partly because through experience I have known otherwise sensible individuals who accept all kinds of odd things because, ‘The guru said so’. Anyway, I continue to be delighted by reading Charlotte Mason’s works, but have also been quite amused by some of the ‘medical’ or ‘physiological’ facts that she held as modern advances in science.

An example is her prescription for plenty of fresh air. I also agree that children should be outside almost as much as possible when they are young, and a major reason for this that she expands upon is the wonderful interaction with nature, God’s amazing creation, which teaches so many wonderful things in a gentle and natural way. But she also had some wonderfully inaccurate additional reasons. ‘Now it is observed that people who live much in the sunshine are of a ruddy countenance – that is, a great many of these red corpuscles are present in their blood; while the poor souls who live in cellars or sunless alleys have skins the colour of whitey-brown paper. Therefore, it is concluded that light and sunshine are favourable to the production of red corpuscles in the blood...’ She has similarly bizarre views about the importance of free perspiration, ‘if it be checked, or if a considerable proportion of the skin be glazed so that it is impervious, death will result... Therefore if the brain is to be duly nourished, it is important to keep the whole surface of the skin in a condition to throw off freely excretions from the blood’. For this reason, she moves on to explain why the only fabric that should ideally be worn, or slept under, is wool, in various layers depending on the ambient temperature, and that a daily bath during which the skin is vigorously rubbed is essential! Later, she lists the appropriate diet to nourish a growing brain, and the details also brought a smile to my face. There are some great paradoxes, such as ‘everybody knows that a child should not eat pork’, whereas ‘bacon fat’ is hailed as nutritious.

I write this not to mock this great educationalist who was clearly a leader in her time, ahead of her time many would argue. But rather, I wish to urge caution that even with the greatest of human wisdom, we weigh things up against all the evidence, and consider each individual element of a teaching or a philosophy. We may dismiss something because of one or two erroneous elements, or may feel constrained to follow something absolutely prescriptively. 

I am continuing to be inspired as I read through the works of Charlotte Mason, and will soon be posting more of my encouragements and inspiration. But today’s post has a different purpose. I also hope it brought a smile to your face, as it certainly did to mine!

Friday, 8 February 2013

UK curriculum to be 'slimmed down'

I was reading of how the UK primary and secondary curricula in the state sector are to be 'slimmed down'. I found this quite alarming reading! There has been quite considerable debate recently regarding the best way to provide a good, broad education to all, and this has involved consideration of changing the format of examinations, putting more or less emphasis on course work etc. My concern is that through generally seeking to provide all things to all people, there is regression to the mean, and excellence and individuality may become stifled. I am also often startled by how little people seem to question. Some of my friends seem to accept that if the government makes a proposal, it must be based on good evidence and be in the best interests of their child. Others seem to delegate all responsibility to the schools, and think that if you can get your child in to a 'good' school then that is all that is needed.

These curricula have to be followed by state schools that are not academies. Maybe these are not the type of schools that some of my friends and relatives would accept as 'good', but they are attended by the majority of UK children. The new guidelines seem prescriptive, and from what I have read, are becoming more so. I was slightly alarmed by what seem to be conflicting aims and methods. For example, 'Another aim is "to develop their [children's] love of literature through reading for enjoyment" and to help them "appreciate our rich and varied literary heritage".', but at the same time, there curriculum is becoming more prescriptive regarding what is considered 'essential knowledge' and seems (from my understanding) to be trying to reduce some of this to lists of facts and figures which should be memorised. For example, 'The youngest children, as today, will be taught about key historical figures and from seven, youngsters will be expected to learn a detailed chronological history of Britain, from the Stone Age through to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In geography, there will be a focus on using maps and learning key geographical features - from capital cities to the world's great rivers.' Of course I may be misjudging and misinterpreting what is proposed to actually take place within classrooms, or the individual flexibility of teachers to make these subjects 'come alive', but to me this was depressing reading.

Once more I have been grateful that we plan on a more interactive style of learning, for example learning important history and geography through biographies and field trips rather than memorisation of lists of dates or world capitals which is what seems to be proposed by the government.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Complete Works of Charlotte Mason 1

Recently I bought the complete 6 volume series by Charlotte Mason. I had heard enough about her work, and read other authors (for example, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay) who had quoted and described her methodology that I thought it was time to get to the source, and read the original works for myself. I am aware it will take me some time to read and digest all that is there, so rather than writing a ‘book review’, I think I’ll share excerpts as I go along.

Firstly, you must bear in mind when these books were written. Charlotte Mason founded her ‘House of Education’ in Ambleside (the English Lake District, which is very beautiful if you ever have the chance to go there) in 1892. The preface of the edition I am reading was written in 1905. So I expected them to be somewhat difficult to read in both style and content.

Instead, having only reached about page seven, I feel as though I have met a wise older aunt with a very witty humour. Through beautiful, expressive language, several commonsense principles are made clearly, boldly, and I believe are entirely relevant to our families today.

On the second page, she introduces her considerations in writing her philosophy of education by stating, ‘as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will doubtless feel the more strongly that the education of their children during the first six years of life is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own’. Compare this with the prevalent worldview today, that as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, in fact education of their own children is considered too trivial and somewhat undeserving of their intellect, skill and energy. A very sad contrast.

But it was the following paragraph which really made me laugh, but also consider how sadly values have changed over the century since the books were written. I’ll quote at reasonable length. Lamenting the lapses she was already noting in terms of discipline, Charlotte states, ‘For instance, according to the former code, a mother might use her slipper now and then, to good effect and without blame; but now, the person of the child is, whether rightly or wrongly, held sacred, and the infliction of pain for moral purposes is pretty generally disallowed....That children should be trained to endure hardness was a principle of the old regime. “I shall never make a sailor if I can’t face the wind and rain”, said a little fellow of five who was taken out on a bitter night to see a torchlight procession; and though shaking with cold, he declined the shelter of a shed. Nowadays, the shed is everything; the children must not be permitted to suffer cold or exposure. That children should do as they are bid, mind their books, and take pleasure as it offers when nothing stands in the way, sums up the old theory; now, the pleasures of children are apt to be made of more account than their duties. Formerly, they were brought up in subjection; now, the elders give place and the world is made for the children. English people rarely go so far as the parents of that story in French Home Life, who arrived late at a dinner party, because they had been desired by their girl of three to undress and go to bed when she did, and were able to steal away only when the child was asleep. We do not go so far, but that is the direction in which we are moving; and how far the new theories of education are wise and humane, the outcome of more widely spread physiological and psychological knowledge, and how far they just pander to the child-worship to which we are all succumbing is not a question to be answered off-hand’.

That was refreshing to me. But I’m afraid to say, I know many parents who do just the type of thing that is here mocked as being over the top. I know several parents who do tiptoe around for an hour after putting their children to bed, talking in whispers, getting very upset if the doorbell or phone rings. I know many Christian families who I believe are falling into the error of idolising their children, of indulging their every whim in misguided ‘love’. Charlotte Mason clearly loved children. She dedicated her life to providing a rich and full educational curriculum for them. In many ways she was revolutionary, establishing key principles, the first of which is that ‘Children are born persons’, and should be treated with gentle respect as they develop as individuals. She was not a harsh disciplinarian who believed that children should ‘be seen and not heard’, by any stretch of the imagination. She clearly saw defective child rearing around her (and I imagine would shudder to see how things are done today), and spoke out clearly, and in my view, wisely.

I’m already thirsty to read more, and as I said before, I am only on page seven. I hope that my musings and excerpts are an encouragement to you also!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Lessons from everyday life: Bible stories in Africa

Many of us are familiar with the Bible verse, ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for corrections, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16). We often marvel at how a book consisting of 66 books, written by some 40 authors over about 2000 years is consistent with itself, and speaks throughout all generations. One wonderful thing about home education is that we can talk about and share the Bible stories with our children, contextualising them to wherever we are. We can discuss a situation in the light of scripture, and that favourite text from Deuteronomy Chapter 6 comes to life, ‘And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart, you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when your rise up’.

We have just returned from a couple of months in rural Africa. There were some stories which took on a new life for the children, and I’d like to share a couple.

1)      The woman at the well (John Chapter 4). The boys saw what hard work it was to draw water from a well. They saw that people would gather to draw water in the relative cool of the mornings and evenings, but only a glutton for punishment would go out to draw water in the heat of the day. They also could recognise how water drawing, although a chore, was an important time of community in the village, a time when the women would talk and laugh together and the children would play. They then understood that for the Samaritan woman to be out in the middle of the day, there really did have to be a problem in her relationship within her village. And yet that was the woman to whom Jesus went with his wonderful message of life.

2)      The instruction in 2 Corinthians 6:14, ‘Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers’. There were very few motor vehicles in the village, but we would often see ox carts and donkey carts pulling heavy loads. Sometimes the oxen almost seemed to be fighting against the yoke, but had no choice but to pull together. It was dramatic, and a very graphic illustration of what being yoked could mean.

3)      All the stories of the fishermen on the lake, and also of Jesus cooking breakfast for the disciples on a fire after His resurrection (as described in the gospel of John Chapter 21). We saw fishermen, and the work that was involved. We saw stormy waters. We cooked fish over an open fire in our garden. The boys’ eyes lit up when we then read them those stories from the Bible as they could recognise and relate in a new way.

4)      The power of the ocean. We start each morning with a Psalm, and when we read Psalm 98 verse 7, ‘Let the sea roar, and all its fullness’, my eldest boy told me that the sea did not roar. Several days later, as we stood on the beach, I asked him what noise the sea was making, and he was delighted to hear it roar. They were amazed by the noise and the power of the ocean

5)      Along those lines was a fresh wonder at the words of Micah, ‘He will gain have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea’ (Micah 7:18-19). They may not have understood this fully, but they could see how anything left on the beach (or sandcastles they had built) were utterly swept away without trace.

6)      Jesus washing the disciples’ feet (John Chapter 13). Our feet were filthy for most of the time there! It was the dry season, and everywhere was covered in dust. Even after washing (in a bucket of cold water), there was ingrained dirt on our feet. In the UK, we don’t always understand just what feet can get like in hot, dusty climates!

7)      God’s words to Abraham, that his descendents would outnumber the stars (Genesis 15 verse 5); the stars were incredibly bright and clear in Africa, and we would tease the boys by asking them to try and count them all.

8)      Similarly, the beautiful words of Psalm 8, ‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?’ The sky was so incredible that on a couple of occasions we got the boys up from their beds in the middle of the night to stand outside and marvel.

9)      The parable about the separation of the sheep and the goats (Matthew Chapter 25). I often wondered, ‘What kind of fool could not distinguish a sheep from a goat?’ But that was in the UK, where the breeds of sheep and goat with which we are familiar are very clearly distinct. Not so in Africa! In fact it could be quite confusing at times, and my three year olds would more often correct me. ‘Why did you think it was a goat, mummy?’ – a perfect time to discuss with them how things can appear similar yet be radically different!

These are just a few examples. Soon, I must write a similar discussion regarding the opportunities that we have in the UK; it is easy to be excited and enthused by that which is novel, and not appreciate what is ‘normal’ and routine to us. I’d also love to know of your day-to-day examples of teaching the Bible to your children.