I’ve been reminded and struck lately how easy it is to fall into a sense of responsibility to force material into my children’s heads. I explain, take every opportunity to teach a lesson, reiterate, and then get frustrated when their minds wander off while I’m talking (and talking and talking)! I think it is easy as a parent, to feel the entire responsibility for how our children turn out. It is hard to trust their own ability to take in knowledge and fly with it. We tend to think we need to explain and somehow get it to stick through our own methods.
I’ve been reading through Volume 6 of Charlotte Mason’s original Educational Series, first published in the early 20th century. I feel she really hit on what good education should be about. Charlotte Mason emphasized our need to provide well written and expressed information to our kids, ideas, in literary form for the most part, and then give them the opportunity to digest and express it for themselves. If we give them a steady diet of good and interesting ideas for them to think about and process, they will form their own opinions, learn for themselves about what is good, and this kind of learning will be their own. This kind of learning is what lasts.
“–Knowledge is that which we know; and the learner knows only by a definite act of knowing which he performs for himself.” (Vol. 6, pg. 254)
She also taught that teachers should help kids learn how to pay attention only one time, and then give the child the opportunity to narrate or explain what they have read or heard, with little correction or asking of questions. As the child gets older, he/she becomes better and better at paying attention the first time to a reading (their own or what is read to them), digesting it, and then explaining it either in verbal or written form.
“We as teachers offend deeply in this matter. We think that we shall be heard for our much speaking and we repeat and enforce, explain and illustrate, not altogether because we love the sound of our own voices, but because we depreciate knowledge, we depreciate children, and we do not understand that the mind and knowledge are as two members of a ball and socket joint, each of them irrelevant without the other. ‘Education’ will have turned over a new leaf once we realize that knowledge is to the mind as food is to the body, without which the one faints and flags and eventually perishes as surely as does the other.” (Vol. 6, pg. 258)
In the process of expecting children to learn from our reiteration, exercises, questioning, games, etc. we find we are in actuality, teaching children to not pay attention the first time. Rather we are teaching them to wait for the second or third reiteration, or waiting for the specific things we are asking them to regurgitate rather than trying to understand the entire passage for themselves. I really think this is true. I can easily fall into thinking that somehow it is up to me to get that knowledge into my children. It is hard to trust them with the ability, that Charlotte Mason emphasizes is their own innate ability and desire.
“…a second reading would be fatal because no one can give full attention to that which he has heard before and expects to hear again. Attention will go halt all its days if we accustom it to the crutch.” (Vol. 6, pg. 258)
While I do believe there is a lot of variety in children and their natural abilities, I think her points are valid for every child. One child will more easily pay attention earlier. Another, will struggle more with daydreaming, or not be able to pay attention as long. Teachers/parents should understand this and work with each individual child without accusation, or expectations so high we make our children feel guilty. Instead, we need to be finding material that interests them, or is written (or said) in such a way that it does draw them in. It isn’t only our expectations of our children that matters, it is finding material that doesn’t “talk down to children” or be so poorly presented that it is boring to anyone.
I am working to feed my children real ideas that their minds can digest and think about. I want to engage my children and give their minds the opportunities to be enlarged. And this takes not only my focus on finding good material to feed them, but also a trust in their own ability to think about and learn for themselves.
-more on Charlotte Mason locally at: www.abqcharlottemason.com