A Charlotte Mason Commonplace Book and questions to ponder.
For the right use of the programmes two things are necessary—solitude and independence. Children must have these….Miss Mason devises time-tables which cover such reasonable hours as to leave time over for this solitude, but parents are often very culpable in thinking that Tango or some other new thing must be learned as well, and the much needed time for solitude is used for plans which necessitate hurried journeys, always in the company of a responsible person, who feels it her duty to talk in an instructive way, and the thinking time, the growing time, the time in which the mind is to find food is diminished, and the child becomes restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient—everything that a child who is reputed to be difficult can be. The parents marvel and say, “But we are giving him the best education that can be procured, we are neglecting no opportunities.” Kind, generous parents! You are giving your child every opportunity but one, and that is self-development; by your generous care, you are safeguarding him from ever using his own mind, ever relying upon himself in any way. The child who at first found interference irksome, later depends on it so much that he is unable to work without constant prodding from his mentor.
Look over your weekly schedule and your child’s schedule.
Where does your child have time for solitude and independence?
Where do you have “thinking time and growing time”?
This quote has come to mind so many times these last few weeks. You see, we have recently moved to a new area and have had to build our schedule from scratch. We were part of a lovely Charlotte Mason inspired program with classes based on her programmes, teachers who used her methods and families who loved her philosophy. This has been so painful to leave! Not only in leaving a beloved community, but also because we had a good mix of home life and activities. Our schedule, through much trial and effort over many years, was balanced and fitting for each of the children. We had found good leagues and good coaches for sports. Wonderful music teachers who seemed to walk right out of Mason’s Philosophy of Education. We had made mistakes from time to time and found out the hard way what was just too much for our family, even if it wasn’t too much for our friends. We learned what was life-giving and what was a drain. And now to begin again with an empty calendar and the responsibility to fill it responsibly! Our new home is in an area with many co-ops, special classes, nature classes, museums, history, and field trips galore, so how to decide?
Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is built on the idea that we are made for relationships with people, that we meet in life and in books from the present and the past; things, living, material and artifact; and ideas. And all we learn becomes a science of these relationships. Guiding our children in the development of these relations is our main task. This applies to extracurricular activities and curricular classes.
…we consider that the setting up of relations, moral and intellectual, is our chief concern in life, and that the function of education is to put the child in the way of relations proper to him, and to offer the inspiring idea which commonly initiates a relation… Volume 3 p. 78
I’ve had to ask the following questions with each new opportunity that comes our way:
- Is this opportunity truly an integral part of my child’s development and education?
- What will this opportunity give my child for what it will cost? Financially, but also in time and driving and commitment for the child and the entire family. With 5 children, including a new baby, we can’t do what everyone might be able to do; sometimes we all have to make sacrifices so a child can play the sport they love and other times the child has to sacrifice for the good of the family. For us, that means no travel soccer this year.
- Am I being persuaded to join something because it sounds good or looks flashy? Do you feel the pressure to “waste no opportunity”?
STEM, Art Council, aligned to state standards, rigorous, classical, elite, college prep. (Can you think of other flashy phrases?!) Do the buzz words really translate to real learning? We must ask ourselves if the activity’s goals really meet our principles and methods, not just offer empty promises and resume-builders.
- Will this activity through its methods and its content allow my child to have a relationship with what they are learning? Shuffled from one activity to the next, can they really have the time to know, to love, to care about this activity? Is the class set-up at the time of day, with a rhythm and time-length that will allow a relationship truly to form?
- Do I know much about the teacher or coach? Yes, their training and experience is important but we also want our children to have wonderful role models—people they can admire and aspire to be like. People who perhaps have different gifts and personality from mom and dad yet affirm the same values. Look at the number of hours the child will spend with this person and consider will they treat your child as a person? This doesn’t mean special attention or coddling, but respect and dignity. Will this person be a positive influence in your child’s life? Would you want your child to grow up to be like this person? If not, choose a different studio, class, or coach!
- Is this activity/class something my child needs help building a relationship with and signing up for the class be just the thing to help them?
Meaning do they struggle with math or just don’t enjoy art and would just the right teacher make it come alive for them?
- If they already, have an affinity for this activity, do we really need to go to a special class to make it happen?
I remember taking my son just before the dinner hour to a “lego club” where the kids…wait for it…played lego! After a few weeks of packing everyone up to take him there, it hit me, he does this everyday and every time a friend comes over. Why am I going to all of this trouble?! Yes, he had fun, but everyone was grumpy when we got home and it made getting dinner on unnecessarily stressful. A simpler method was just to be more intentional about inviting friends over to play!
- If this is a class of a core subject area, will the teacher undermine the work of “self-education,” a priority of a Mason education? What does this mean or look like? It takes time and discipline to help our children establish the habits of being responsible for their education, facilitating their sense of wonder and questioning on their own. We painstakingly narrate passage after passage so that they know they must learn what the book has to teach, we are not going to spoon-feed it to them. But then we sign them up with a teacher who motivates them through rewards, grades, and approval. A teacher who asks the questions, rather than teaching the students to ask the questions and sadly also gives the answers, rather than teaching the students how to really work to find the answers for themselves. We want the great minds in a living book to be their teacher and must work to find teachers who will guide them in their journey to understand, not seeing themselves as the expert or master but “guide, philosopher and friend.” We then wonder when our children take these types of classes and then they don’t want to narrate at home! Honestly, answering questions at the end of the chapter is easier, getting the A often feels more rewarding in the short term, and a teacher’s or peer’s approval more important than our family’s values, but Mason teaches us that these motivators undermine our quest for real knowledge.
- Am I just signing my children up for this, so I can get a break? I hear so many moms say they join a co-op for themselves, more than their children. They don’t mean because the co-op shoulders some of their teaching responsibilities or guides their children in a way that they can’t. They mean they get time to socialize! Co-ops and classes are a gift of space and friendship, but if they come with more burdens and expenses than they give back and contribute, are they worth it? Can’t we find other ways as moms to socialize with each other? Hosting a Charlotte Mason reading group, a mom’s night out, meeting a friend for coffee early on a Saturday morning. Even hiring a babysitter one afternoon a week might be cheaper!
10. How do you know if your child has the right balance?
This really depends on the child and your family! Some children need more social time than others. Some children have special needs and gifts that require more outside expertise than we might have at home.
But here are two things to consider:
First, the quote above tells that if our child is often “restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient” than we should consider the stress in their life. Could these be signs of over-stimulation and being over-activity?
Secondly, if you find that your child doesn’t know what to do if given some free-time, if they don’t glory in time for solitude and independence, I’d suggest that it is actually that they don’t have enough of it! Every summer we cut out all television in our children’s life. At first, they are bored, they squabble a lot, they lay around…and then something clicks. They work through it and they become more creative and more interesting people. They invent games, elaborate dress-up worlds, they set up tents in the backyard, they read and read. Sometimes it is our “generous care,” aka interference, that safeguard[s] him from ever using his own mind, ever relying upon himself in any way. The he is unable to work [or play!] without constant prodding.
Well, this has been a longer than normal “Spaces to Think” entry. You can see I’m still working on figuring it all out!
I’d love to know if you have any other helpful considerations when building your family schedule? Please comment below!
This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.