In a 1923 article published in the L’Umile Pianta after Charlotte Mason’s death, Helen Wix wondered what precisely distinguishes a PNEU student (a student in Mason’s schools) from students in other forms of education. She acknowledged that other schools formed perfectly good writers without Mason’s methods, used Nature Journals, read good literature, studied living history, and yet wasn’t there something that set a PNEU child apart?
She answers with this beautiful response:
“It is not easy to lay one’s finger on, nor easy to express. Is it that these P.N.E.U. children are fuller of humble enthusiasms for all the great things of life? Is it that they – maybe only dimly realize that every new thread of knowledge leads them on to a further appreciation of the knowledge which is indivisible? Or can it best be summed up in: “they live closer to life?” (page 5 of PDF).
They live closer to life. This phrase perfectly encapsulates Mason’s philosophy. And when people ask me what brought me to homeschooling, or how I found Charlotte Mason, I tell them I met a Charlotte Mason family and while at the time I didn’t have this phrase, “they live closer to life,” that’s what I saw and felt and wanted for my own family.
So what was it about this family?
I had met other homeschoolers and was impressed with how serious they were about their children’s education and moral formation, there was just something missing…I couldn’t put my finger on it.
But the Holy Spirit is always working on our behalf, answering prayers sometimes we don’t even realize we are voicing. Just months before we were to move across the country, we decided to visit a new church plant in our town. After the service this kind family, who had a brand new baby, invited us for lunch. Did I mention they had just met us and they just had a new baby?!? We came to this great rambling house in the historic district, and when we entered their children enthusiastically turned on classical music. “This is our Composer of the Term,” they said, as they danced around the room. As the parents ate sandwiches, we talked and laughed like old friends. The children moved on to play outside in the trees and with swords. If I remember correctly, there was mention of Shakespeare and Narnia and a whole mix of wonderful literary characters. These were children who “lived closer to life” …and so I just had to ask, You homeschool? What curriculum do you use? And they said simply, Charlotte Mason without much more explanation.
When we got home I couldn’t get this beautiful family out of my mind and so turned to Amazon (something my husband would say I rather frequent!), typed Charlotte Mason, and Susan Schaeffer MacAuley’s book came up first and then Mason’s 6 volume series—so I bought them all.
We moved just a few short months later and lost touch with the family, but since then I’ve met their children many times over. I’ve seen hints of them in the residents of 17 Cherry Lane and their nanny Mary Poppins, I’ve seen them in the Melendy’s of The Four Story Mistake, in the Pevensies as they traveled from a wardrobe to Narnia, in those who sailed The Swallow and fought the Amazons, any and all of E. Nesbit’s children. My hope is that my children are becoming like these children, too, not in particulars of course, but as children who “live closer to life.”
That was the beginning. From there, I started a CM Book Group that fills my living room each month until far too late in the evening. We began a Nature Study Club with kids carrying nature journals, climbing trees, and wading in the creek. We formed a blended model educational program with almost 80 children next year, full of moms with stories like my own, captured by the beauty of Charlotte Mason’s Educational Philosophy.
Started by a chance encounter or another example of the Great Recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit?
In the things of science, in the things of art, in the things of practical everyday life, his God doth instruct him and doth teach him, her God doth instruct her and doth teach her. Let this be the mother’s key to the whole of the education of each boy and each girl; not of her children; the Divine Spirit does not work with nouns of multitude, but with each single child. Because He is infinite, the whole world is not too great a school for this indefatigable Teacher, and because He is infinite, He is able to give the whole of his infinite attention for the whole time to each one of his multitudinous pupils. We do not sufficiently rejoice in the wealth that the infinite nature of our God brings to each of us.
-Charlotte Mason, Volume 2 page 273
Let us rejoice in the infinite nature of our God and may we strive to live closer to life!
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