Category Archives: Charlotte Mason

Thinking Love, Little Lessons; Alfred the Great

AlfredI’ve put a new lesson pack up. It’s a 24 page pack following Alfred of Wessex by Frank Morris. I’ve added extra historical information and there’s mapwork and artwork to be done.

There’s a genogram to complete – a simple one as an introduction to this process.

I’ve added a timeline and a couple of journal pages at the back. You can click on the picture or HERE TO GO TO THE LESSON

Don’t forget to look at the other lessons including the FREE STUFF

The Alfred pack is  only $2.00 so it won’t break the Home Ed budget.

Meanwhile I’ve just learned that the Govt of the Netherlands are out to trample the intrinsic human rights of families by banning home education. Governments are supposed to protect the rights of the people, not remove them.

You can sign the petition HERE and remember evil prevails when good men do nothing. Although I have to say I disagree with that little saying as doing nothing is not good.



Montessori and the fairy tales controversy.

maria_montessoriWhen I first starting looking into the Montessori method for my youngest it was because she had such a strong kinesthetic approach to how she learns and I knew Montessori was very hands on, and manipulative based.

I am not a purist. I am not going to follow Dr. Montessori wherever she leads any more than I’d follow Charlotte Mason wherever she went. One of the major reasons to home educate is that we can adjust methods and approaches to suit how our children learn. Any approach that isn’t flexible isn’t useful in children’s learning. In fact one of the major issues I have with the National Curriculum is it’s shallow-narrow approach.

church_odyssey_cover_200_266 violetI haven’t read everything Dr. Maria Montessori wrote. I’ve read The Absorbent Mind and some other bits. In what I have read she doesn’t tackle the issue of fairy stories – at least not that I remember. However I’ve come across a few online debates based on the premise that Montessori did not think children should be exposed to fairy tales, at least not until they were around age 6 when their reasoning skills developed. It has been extrapolated that Montessori thought children under the age of reason couldn’t differentiate between reality and fantasy. It’s certainly true that before reason they are more questions about what is real and what isn’t – at least that’s been my experience with both children I’ve worked with and my own children. So, while children under the age of reason may not know which is which, I do think they know there is a difference.

I can’t comment on whether Montessori was right or wrong on this because I’ve never seen a reference to which book or article is being discussed. There is merely the assertion that this is what she taught. Hopefully I will come across her own words on this in time. Some have said she noted the younger children simply weren’t interested in fairy stories and would drift away to do something else. This has been my experience too with the “original” versions. Now that the children are older (Heleyna will be 6 in April and the other two are 8 and 10) they like to sit together and listen to a story, though Heleyna still wonders off in the middle of one sometimes.

If Montessori was saying that the original fairy stories such as those we find in Andrew Lang’s series are not suitable for children under the age of 6 because they may confuse them about the difference between “real” and “imaginary” and in some way stunt their own imagination, I would say; maybe.  But I have found that children will ask questions on this if they are confused.

It is certainly true that the original fairy stories can be heavy going and perhaps really young children would not be able to benefit much from them, but as with all thing home ed, I think it’s up to the parent to know their own child and be able to choose storytelling that suits. One of the joys of the original stories told as they were meant to be told is that they have a depth that makes them appeal to a large age range. There’s something for everyone in them. It has been said that Montessori, much like Charlotte Mason recognised the value of a well told story for vocabulary enhancement.

On the other hand I have a real bugbare with the appalling disneyfication of perfectly good stories so that they are dumbed down beyond redemption. If we respect our children we will not be feeding them a badly written sugar-fest of meaninglessness.  The fairy tales and myths are part of the structures of culture and children do love them.

I can’t help wondering if the reason we have so much dumbed down material aimed at children is to do with the structure of schools. If you have a class of thirty 4 year olds there’s a kind of mono-culture where a big in depth myth seems to have nothing to say. But families are mixed ages and needs so the meat and two veg approach to storytelling is a way of speaking to everyone, even the grown ups.

We are made for stories. Storytelling has been a vital part of human cohesion since Adam and Eve left the Garden. Even Scripture uses story and even mythological language to teach us God’s Truth.

Stories are a way of holding families together. In Africa they still have the traditional family story and news sharing time in families. Immaculee Illibegiza speaks of it in her moving books Led by Faith and Left to Tell as she survived the Rwandan massacres. I can’t remember the proper name for these gatherings but I think this family sharing of story is important to self identity.

So the bottom line for me is this. I don’t know where dr. Montessori said “no fairy tales” and I am not convinced she ever did. I know Charlotte Mason was very keen for strong, “no twaddle” literature being offered to children and it’s something I concur with.

My children do get fairy stories – and I do try and avoid the dumbed down versions, though there are some good quality edited versions we have used.

I think there’s more to be said on this especially on a child’s development of imagination through reality and the difference between a well grounded story and an illusion. I might come back to this one.

Home Education: Quo vadis mater?

I don’t know exactly, is the answer to that question. Where am I going with this?

I started home educating about 8 to 9 years ago and did so because I was cornered. My son’s education was failing him so spectacularly, I had to do something. Feeling that I would never be able to get to grips with home education I read everything I could lay my hands on. I fell in love the work of Charlotte Mason and her gentle art of education with it’s Classical foundation that didn’t destroy a child’s natural love of learning, but on the contrary, cared for it so that it flourished. I also loved her love of books and insistence on good literature and no twaddle.

I heard about Dr, Maria Montessori along the way, but didn’t read much about her.  Now, as I read her work I think there’s more than just a physical likeness between the Northern English school teacher and the Italian doctor. (And you must admit, they do look alike).  They both base their educational philosophy on the solid rock of the child as a person, made in the image and likeness of God with inherent dignity and deserving of deep respect. They are both very Christ centred in their philosophy, which gives the firm foundation to the method. Neither women saw the child as a blank slate for the teacher to write on, nor a machine to be programmed; they understood the child’s personhood and soul.

I began to see that my youngest needed a more hands on, manipulatives approach to education. She learned best when she could touch it, move it around and build it herself. Book learning was proving very limited for her. She wasn’t interested in paper work and I was worried she was actually being put off learning by the method I was expecting her to use.

If she could touch it, smell it, rattle it and run after it, she was happy to learn about it. She has a rather chaotic, leapy-abouty approach to life, which can be a bit wearing at times.

So I began to look at the Montessori method and read her books, and get to grips with her philosophy.

I bought the first set of Montessori materials and found that all three of the younger children took to them immediately. I also began making some of the things Montessori recommends. Using large wooden trays to contain the work has calmed Heleyna down a little in her work. We’re working on this to try and increase her concentration span.

The change over however, feels very rocky for me. I was set up with the CM approach and fed in a classical and workbook side of things without making too many waves, but the Montessori Method is very different and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at times.

Yes, the approach works very well with my children, but the equipment is very expensive. A lot of Montessori homeschoolers make their own equipment out of wood, clay or by getting hold of wholesale supplies of beads.  But the fact is, this would take up a lot of time and energy that I don’t have.

In reading of the Casa Bambini’s what I find is children who are enabled to independent learning from quite an early age. They explore, self correct and learn using the carefully chosen and designed resources Montessori provided.  As I get sicker, this looks like the perfect solution, at least I hope so. If I can get the children to a point of using the equipment and books themselves, self motivated learners and discoverers, it will matter much less how ill I get. Most importantly I want them to know how to learn and how to discern truth.  I want them to understand that seeking truth is the most important role of education.

I am hoping I have bought all we will need for Montessori lessons, and the rest will be makable or do-withoutable.

Reading to the children. Audio verses real person.

One of the important “rules” for getting children interested in reading is not only for them to see the adults in their life reading, but to being read to. From personal observation I would say reading to a child has the same interactive, relational type effect as talking with them for language acquisition and then learning.

Now that I am back on steroids and antibiotics I have a voice. So last night, for the first time in ages I read the children too stories (Fin M’Coul and The Squire and the Scroll in case you wondered). I realised that we need to do this more often if possible. I haven’t read a complete story to them (let alone two) for so long.  I realised last night that even though I sit with them most often when they are listening to audio stories, because the audio is just to replace my voice, that it still isn’t the same as having me do the reading. There is definitely something extra in the interaction when it’s my voice as well as presence.

I can’t help thinking of all that research into why hearing children in Deaf families learn Sign Language but not oral language even though their parents expose them to TV and radio to help this. The reason is that language is acquired and then learned though interactive, close relationships. Children require a close one to one time for language acquisition and very small group time for listening and being part of a story time. Machine’s simply can’t replace this, no matter how good the audio quality.

I need to make more effort to read to them when I have a voice. It can be frustrating when my voice fades out half way through a story, but maybe we can have an arrangement where either Roni or Avila take over if that happens.

I am not up to date on what research or studies have to say about the importance of reading to children, but I assume from a common sense point of view that it is very important for reading and language and even attachment.

So, I must do more of it whenever I can.

Videos to remind us what Charlotte Mason was on about.

It’s easy in the hustle and bustle of home education to loose sight of the foundational philosophy of our family and the method that I believe best helps my children learn.

These videos from  International are a wonderful reminder tool for people like me. There are 18 short videos that cover all the basics – actually I think it’s more like 21 – about how children learn and how we as parents and teachers can help them do that.

They have a school by the looks of it that breathes the atmosphere of education as Charlotte Mason would have it.

Even though we are heading more down the workbook route, I think there is a Charlotte Mason edge to the Seton material. But these videos remind me of the side of a good education that isn’t about books, or workbooks, but about learning self discipline, kindness and how to learn.

Home education as pro-creation.

As I read through Charlotte Mason’s lectures, I am a little saddened that her bright optimism over natural law and it’s effect on human nature back in 1895 is replaced by a more somber and less effusive view by the time she has finished her writings around the 1920s, as Britain never recovers from the First World War.

She speaks with admirable charity of how all families, whether Christ centred or agnostic can (and at this point in her writing she believes will) conform their consciences and habits with natural law. I wonder if, at this point, she has natural law a little confused by the laws of nature and therefore forms the opinion that it is a law of nature that human families will grow in good sense and love.

By the time she is writing Ourselves (pub 1904) she has already moved somewhat from this position. Ourselves is a book that is very obviously inspired by St Teresa of Avila’s writings on the mansions of the Interior Castle. This gives a more robust and realistic view of the hard work entailed in forming a good person.

In the lectures, Miss Mason talks of the Christocentric family in some fascinating ways, beginning with an exegesis on Christ’s words in Scripture about children and how they should be loved. She then makes a very important warning:

Now, believing parents have no right to lay up this crucial difficulty in their children. They have no right, for instance to pray that their children may be truthful, diligent, upright, and at the same time neglect to acquaint themselves with those principles of moral science, the observance of which will guide into truthfulness, diligence and uprightness of character.

In other words, God isn’t there to bring our children up for us; we are endowed with the authority to do that work WITH Him – that is we pro-create our children where pro means jointly.

I think it is fair to say (I can’t be the only one to have seen this) that while there are some parents who have no faith who believe that their children are naturally good and will simply grow up if left to their own devices; so there are Christian parents who think they need not form their children’s habits as it’s up to God to make them good. This seems to me to be why some apparently very holy people have such horribly behaved children.

I suspect things are more difficult for parents now than when Miss Mason spoke to those mothers in Bradford, for a number of reasons. From the Christology point of view, Jesus has been made into a cuddly, softie who would never dream of making a whip and throwing people out of the temple. He isn’t going to discipline or punish us – so we, copy that and refuse to discipline our children.

I am too old and too grumpy these days to care what other people think, so I am quite happy to put my children on the naughty step or make them minutely study the front door if they need to – regardless of who is around. I do remember feeling very embarassed and horrible the first couple of times I decided to go ahead with this. But what I have found is that other mothers are more willing to do the same.

As one mum said to her friend over having to put her son by my front door one day. “Oh no, I wasn’t embarrassed; it was Shell’s house.” LOL

I have become relaxed at removing privileges as well; no chocolate snacks or fun toys to play with – or whatever privilege has been removed.  I know that I am not always consistant and sometimes tend to shout rather than do but, you see, that is where God comes in. He makes up for my lack, but I don’t expect Him to do it all while I sit back and chill.

One day I am going to have to answer to Him for how I did my mothering (and wifeing), and while Dr Ray advices “Don’t take credit when they are good, then you wont take the blame when they are bad” – which has truth to it, I know that however they turn out, I have to try and form them and their consciences to give them the best chance of turning out right.

Of course this side of education has no tick box, but I have come across some American Christian curriculum that includes forming manners, kindness, honesty and diligence in the children. 

 If we love them we will form them or else those who don’t love them will do it in a far more painful way.

Charlotte Mason says…

Charlotte Mason went to Bradford to give some lectures.  I am reading those lectures. I have to say, so far, there is hardly a wasted word. She makes a statement that many HE parents have made that there can not be a one size fits all approach to education.

In hardly two households would the same plans be practicable; but every mother may stike out a course for herself, including what seems to her “the best” as her circumstances admit of: “What else am I for?” said a wise mother with reference to her duties in the education of her children.

She also has something to say about the business of handing children over to strangers for care and education. (This is something John Taylor Gatto speaks against too)

[You] must see the folly and wickedness of leaving children to the care of ignorant servants and vulgar companions at a period when impressions are most indeliable – a period when as we know, the germs of the future character are inherited.

So much of what she said and wrote (and Maria Montessori) is echoed by Gatto and others who point at the shockingly awful results of institutionalised child care and education. How slow we are to listen.