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Navigating 'Island' Parenting: The Charlotte Mason Educational Approach
Published on April 28, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Mutryce A Williams

Navigating "Island" Parenting is a submission of insights, quotes, tips and parenting advice that I have gathered over the years as a source of inspiration and as tools to deal with the daily challenges of parenting. This week’s issue: The Charlotte Mason Educational Approach. The hope is that this submission would cause you to reflect on your parenting skills and also make the journey of parenting a bit easier or brighter.

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The friendly old man who sits quietly in the garden near the library, nose always buried in a newspaper or a book, handed me a crumpled piece of paper. He said the words “Do some reading on her. You may find her views on the raising and educating of children quite interesting.” As I sang my thank you and scurried up the steps he shouted after me, “Pay particular attention to her theory on the use of living books. This should help in book selection for your little ones.”

The name written on the paper was Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason. I plugged the name into the search engine when I got home and discovered that Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason was a British educator who invested her life in improving the quality of education in England at the turn of the twentieth century. I am so enthralled by what I have discovered that I thought I would share some of it with you in the hope that you may do further research or that you may glean something that may enhance your parenting approach. Here are Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles and a few of her quotes.

Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles

“1. Children are born persons.

2. They are not both either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.

3. The principles of authority on the one hand and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary, and fundamental; but—

4. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.

5. Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments—the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. The P.N.E.U. Motto is: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.

6. When we say that "education is an atmosphere," we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a 'child-environment' especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child's level.

7. By "education is a discipline," we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits.

8. In saying that "education is a life," the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.

9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

10. Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher's axiom is, "what a child learns matters less than how he learns it."

11. But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that,—

12. "Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him make valid as many as may be of— "Those first-born affinities that fit our new existence to existing things.

13. In devising syllabus for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:
(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
(b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)
(c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.

14. As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should 'tell back' after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.

15. A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarizing and the like.

Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behavior of mind.

16. There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, which we may call 'the way of the will' and 'the way of the reason.'

17. The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between 'I want' and 'I will.' (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigor. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us ad diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may 'will' again with added power. The use of suggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character. It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as success.)

18. The way of reason: We teach children too, not to 'lean (too confidently) to their own understanding'; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.

19. Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rest on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.

20. We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”

From Philosophy of Education, Volume 6 of the Home Education Series

Charlotte Mason Quotes

“The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”

“Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.”

“The most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading.”

A child has not begun his education until he has acquired the habit of reading to himself, with interest and pleasure, books fully on a level of his intelligence.

For example, I think we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge, of whatever subject, for themselves out of the fit book; and this for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated.

Mutryce A. Williams, a native of St Kitts and Nevis is the mother of 4-year-old Daniel and 3-year-old Nicholas. She not only values the many facets of West Indian parenting but also thinks that there is vast room for improvement. A former educator and a child/youth advocate, Mutryce firmly believes that children should not only be seen but heard.. She may be contacted at mutrycewilliams@gmail.com
 
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