Book reviews sound boring. Am I right? Yes, I know. I actually wondered if I should post a book review about Charlotte Mason’s book, Home Education. The nonfiction book’s primary theme is education, after all. We all have our views on education, don’t we? Ahem. We want our children to learn with the best methods possible, but often prefer that those methods be the same methods we were educated with ourselves. But Charlotte Mason’s approach goes against most philosophies in education today. Gasp! Controversial, you might say? Yes, absolutely. But nonetheless, her ideas deserve attention and close observation. Her book, Home Education, discusses her educational ideas, especially concerning the application of good habits.
There are six parts in Charlotte Mason’s book, Home Education. I will write briefly (wink wink) about each part and try my best to give you the ideas Charlotte Mason was so passionate in communicating. I would recommend you read the quotes I’ve included with a British accent. Go on, don’t be shy. Charlotte Mason was British. I often found myself reading the book aloud in my best British accent. I know, call me weird. But it’s fun.
Part I deals with the child. Many times we, as parents hinder our children. But they are not meant to be stifled; they are people, after all. Children deserve respect. They must be properly cared for mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. And what better atmosphere for a child to grow than that of the family? Charlotte Mason emphasized the importance of family when she wrote, “No pains should be spared to make the hours of meeting round the family table the brightest hours of the day” (page 27). The family ought to be the safe place for the child.
While surrounded by the safety of family, Charlotte Mason also believed that the child ought to live each day doing something with intentional effort. She wrote in Home Education, “Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts… and let them do right at the sacrifice of ease and pleasure…” (page 22). There is an obvious balance that Charlotte Mason encouraged between respecting a child for who they are and requiring of them effort outside their comfort zone.
In Part II of Home Education, Charlotte Mason discusses the importance of children spending time outdoors. She believed that children could learn simply by watching and observing the world around them. On sending children outside to play, Charlotte Mason wrote that one, “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without” (page 42). She also mentions that, if possible, we as parents or guardians ought to take every opportunity to go outdoors with our children.
Part III suggests the importance of habits. Charlotte Mason believed that without good habits, one would never achieve a good education. Habits go deeper than the mere act and involve the whole entity of a person. She asserted that once you formed a good habit, it was no more a grueling task: but something that made the doer of the habit happy.
Habits In Education
Part IV discuses the relationship between habits and education. All of the child’s attention must be given to the task at hand. Charlotte Mason believed that we ought to “…never let the child dawdle over copybook or sum, sit dreaming with his book before him. When a child grows stupid over a lesson, it is time to put it away. Let him do another lesson as unlike the last as possible, and then go back with freshened wits to his unfinished task” (page 141). She believed short lessons worked best for children 8 years and younger and recommended the time allotted be no more than twenty minutes. Charlotte Mason also discusses other habits like imagining, remembering, and many more.
Lessons in Education
In Part V Charlotte Mason tells us how to use lessons in education. She stresses that education is not the memorization of facts but the understanding of ideas and the ability to communicate those ideas to others. When discussing the value of ideas, Charlotte Mason wrote, “In this way: give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information…” (page 174). She also discusses how to approach teaching each subject in detail.
And finally, in part VI, she wrote concerning the will. She wanted the child to know that he had a will and the power to control his every action. He only has to set his mind on doing the right thing. The teacher plays an important role here, as well, because it is she who invites the child to make the right choice. How often do we as parents/ teachers/ guardians go about forcing instead of first inviting? We must appeal to the heart of the child and in our appeal reveal the heart of the Savior.
Some parts were a bit dry. I’m not going to pretend there weren’t times I wondered when I would get to the “good stuff”. For example, she wrote about the brain and how it functions. While I understand her reason for including it in her book, it wasn’t my cup of tea.
Also, I admit that the way she wrote was difficult for me to understand at first. A few times, I found myself going over a paragraph more than once so I could follow her train of thought. This may be because the language between 1842 and 1923 was very different than ours is now. But overall, I understood it after reading it again.
But even with the dry bits and the re-reading, I’d still recommend this book for anyone interested in children’s education at school or at home. Charlotte Mason gave clear instructions in how to teach children. After reading her book, I am no longer bound to a curriculum or held captive by an endless educational to-do list. I am free to enjoy learning right along side my children. We find ourselves enjoying our homeschool now more than ever. Charlotte Mason’s book opened my eyes to the delight that a good education holds. Education isn’t something we have to do; it is something we get to do.
I recently heard my children say, “Shakespeare is my favorite.” My children are 10, 8, 7, and 4. Never did I even consider teaching Shakespeare to my kids until I read Charlotte Mason’s book, Home Education. Our homeschool has changed because of Charlotte Mason.
Her book reminded me of the privilege it is to be a mother. She wrote, “The wonder that Almighty God can endure so far to leave the very making of an immortal being in the hands of human parents is only matched by the wonder that human parents can accept this divine trust with hardly a thought of its significance.”
I never want to forget the significance of parenthood. It is a privilege, after all.