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A big part of a Charlotte Mason education is what we call “enrichment” studies. They include music, art, handicrafts, and poetry. Sadly, these studies are falling by the wayside in many schoolrooms today, and that’s a misstep. Why? Let me give you just a handful of reasons. If you have been debating whether to include art, music, poetry, and handicrafts in your home school, or perhaps you just need a little encouragement to keep them on your schedule, here are some compelling ideas to consider.
Recently a parent asked a question that really got me thinking. It was one of those “Why?” questions: Why should we include things like art and music, poetry and handicrafts in our children’s education? What’s the purpose?
It’s a fair question. We have only so much time to spend in our home-school years, and we have to make choices: what to include and what not to include; what to linger over and what to skim past.
What reason would you give? Well, I sat down to do some focused thinking and some research to see what Charlotte Mason had to say about it. Today I want to share those ideas with you. Charlotte intentionally included music, art, poetry, and handicrafts in her curriculum. Here are eight reasons why she did that and why we should do it too.
1. It respects the child as a person
Different people have different gifts and talents and different ways of processing ideas. Not every person, no matter their age, excels in reading and writing skills, or even speaking skills. Music and art offer other ways to express oneself, to communicate. For some children, it’s possibly easier to sing or play or draw their ideas than to express them in words.
Charlotte recognized that ideas can be communicated without words.
Many great men have put their beautiful thoughts, not into books, or pictures, or buildings, but into musical score, to be sung with the voice or played on instruments.Ourselves, Book 1, p. 31
Great artists, whether they be poets or painters, builders or musicians, have the power of expressing and showing to the rest of us some part, anyway, of the wonderful visions Imagination has revealed to them.Ourselves, Book 1, p. 48
Part of respecting each child as a unique person is letting them know that those other means of communication exist and are valid. Different people find joy in communicating in different ways, and we need to honor their work and their voice, whether that communication is done through words, music, art, or handicrafts.
2. Opportunities to discover hidden talents
Some friends of mine work with refugees from war-torn countries, and they specifically focus on music and art. They have witnessed some tremendous talents emerge in those refugee children that no one knew was in them simply because they hadn’t had an opportunity to experience music or art previously. How could they when they were focused on surviving or running for their lives?
But even some children who have a safe and stable home life haven’t had opportunities to experience art and music and poetry and handicrafts. It just hasn’t been part of the atmosphere of their homes or part of their school studies. How many potential artists, musicians, singers, artisans, and poets we might miss out on!
When those talents are recognized, honored, trained, and encouraged to develop, those children gain a sense of contribution to their communities. Now they have a way of giving of themselves to those around them that brings them true joy and a feeling of accomplishment.
If we truly seek to educate the whole child, we will include the enrichment studies.
3. Use and develop different parts of the brain and body
Looking at a picture uses a different part of the brain than reading a book. Leather tooling uses a different part of the brain then the multiplication tables. Now, on a very practical level, those differences can be a great benefit in planning your daily school schedule. If you arrange your lessons in a sequence that alternates, using different parts of the brain and body, your students will be able to focus better and continue longer without a break. That’s because, when you are calling on the math part of the brain, it’s putting forth a lot of energy and doing a lot of work; then if you switch to a lesson that uses the “words” part of the brain, the “math” part can relax a bit while the “words” part fires up. If you alternate, no one part of the brain will become overtired. So inserting a picture study, for example, into your daily schedule uses a different part of the brain and helps your student stay fresh and better able to give full attention. The same goes for inserting a music study or reading a poem or doing a handicraft or singing a song.
Enrichment studies can even develop different parts of the brain in ways that other studies don’t. Have you ever heard of the Corpus Callosum? It’s a part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres (commonly called the “right brain” and the “left brain”) and allows them to communicate with each other. Well, studies show that the Corpus Callosum is more developed, even physically larger, in musicians.
Poetry combines the parts of the brain that process words and generate creativity. So many poems play with language, rearranging the words in different ways than we usually hear them or read them. Sometimes “listening to Yoda it is like.” But that’s good! It stretches your student’s capacity to concentrate, remember, and put thoughts together in a new way.
Singing combines the benefits of both poetry and musical expression, and handicrafts encourage eye-hand coordination. Charlotte knew that developing skills in these subjects gives the student a sense of accomplishment and success. She wrote:
We know that the human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handicrafts.A Philosophy of Education, p. 328
So there are many practical reasons to include enrichment studies.
4. Opportunities to practice good habits
Often when we think about cultivating the habit of attention in our students, we focus on listening to a read-aloud, or focusing on a handwriting lesson, or not getting distracted during the math lesson. But the enrichments offer opportunities to practice good habits in a little different way.
It’s just as beneficial for a student to work on the habit of full attention while listening to a piece of music, or to give his best effort while learning to knit, or to practice accuracy while playing the violin, or to cultivate a habit of imagination while doing a picture study.
Good habits are crucial even if a student has a natural talent in any of those areas, for it is the habits that will determine how far he can go.
A man may be born with some faculty or talent for figures, or drawing, or music, but attention is a different matter; it is simply the power of bending such powers as one has to the work in hand; it is a key to success within the reach of every one, but the skill to turn it comes of training.Formation of Character, p. 95
Enrichments give your student the opportunity to practice good habits in a variety of situations and studies.
5. Feed your student’s mind with beauty
Now, before we go any further, I want to point out the obvious: not all music, art, or poetry, or even handicrafts present beautiful ideas. Some people have used their talents in those areas to express hate-filled, grim, chaotic ideas, just as some people have expressed those types of ideas in words and books. Not everything is beautiful in this world, but there is beauty. So just as you are careful to choose books that convey good, loving, noble ideas, do the same with art and music and poetry. Our children need to be able to recognize and enjoy beauty, and the enrichments give us prime opportunities to cultivate that beauty sense.
This brings us to another world of beauty created for us by those whose Beauty Sense enables them not only to see and take joy in all the Beauty there is, but whose souls become so filled with the Beauty they gather through eye and ear that they produce for us new forms of Beauty—in picture, statue, glorious cathedral, in delicate ornament, in fugue, sonata, simple melody. When we think for a moment, how we must admire the goodness of God in placing us in a world so exceedingly full of Beauty—whether it be of what we call Nature or of what we call Art—and in giving us that sense of Beauty which enables us to see and hear, and to be as it were suffused with pleasure at a single beautiful effect brought to our ear or our eye.Ourselves, Book 1, p. 42
Sometimes our students (and we as adults) are more receptive to a noble idea or a moral principle when it comes wrapped in a beautiful picture or in a heroic poem.
A picture or poem, or the story of a noble deed, ‘finds’ us, we say. We, too, think that thought or live in that action, and, immediately, we are elevated and sustained.Ourselves, Book 1, p. 96
Poetry, too, supplies us with tools for the modelling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at for ourselves. The line that strikes us as we read, that recurs, that we murmur over at odd moments—this is the line that influences our living.Ourselves, Book 2, p. 71
Enrichments offer a chance to recognize and honor beauty in the world. Our children need that.
We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.Home Education, p. 309
6. Honor your family’s heritage and introduce other cultures
Incorporate into your studies the music, art, handicrafts, songs, and poetry of your family’s heritage. Honor the beauty that can be found in that culture. Then expand your child’s horizons, explore more of “the large room,” and introduce the music, art, handicrafts, songs, and poetry of other cultures. I love how Charlotte encouraged us to keep a broad view of beauty:
The function of the sense of beauty is to open a paradise of pleasure for us; but what if we grow up admiring the wrong things, or, what is morally worse, arrogant in the belief that it is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty? It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence.A Philosophy of Education, p. 56
7. Equip your student with wholesome pastimes
There are a lot of unhealthy time-wasters available today. It’s easy to get caught up in passive mode, just sitting and consuming, waiting to be entertained. We can, and should, warn our children about those unhealthy time-wasters and restrict them, but that’s not enough. We need to give our children something to take their place, to fill that void during leisure time, something that is life-giving and healthy.
Many times we think of reading good books for leisure time, and that’s not a bad choice, but Charlotte Mason’s wide curriculum offers students much more than that. Art, music, poetry, and handicrafts can also become healthy, life-giving, wholesome interests and hobbies that our children enjoy.
A person may sing and dance, enjoy music and natural beauty, sketch what he sees, have satisfaction in his own good craftsmanship, labour with his hands at honest work, perceiving that work is better than wages; may live his life in various directions, the more the merrier.A Philosophy of Education, p. 329
These types of pastimes encourage creativity, but don’t overlook the benefit that comes from simply appreciating them. Art appreciation is just as important as learning how to make your own art. The same holds true for music and handicrafts.
A power of appreciation in both arts is of more value to many, perhaps to most of us, than the power of production, and should be as deliberately and as regularly cultivated.Formation of Character, p. 358
And the best part is that these enjoyable pastimes—both appreciating and producing art, music, handicrafts, and poetry—these pastimes are enduring. They can become lifelong companions, which leads me to the next, and final, reason . . .
8. Experiences that help your student relate with others
It’s a sorry situation when a person can converse about only one or two topics. You’ve probably had experience with people like that. Uncle Fred seems to have no other interest than football. Aunt Joanna will join the conversation only when it turns to politics. The broader the experiences that your child has, the more of a storehouse he will have to draw on in order to connect with other people. Whether your student plays an instrument himself or has simply spent time listening to and appreciating music, he will have some common ground with any musicians whom he meets. He’ll be able to converse intelligently with them. And the same goes for the other enrichment subjects. Your student will be able to enter into dialogue about that person’s interests, make a meaningful connection, and hold a meaningful conversation instead of making some random comment that potentially dishonors the other person.
Charlotte knowingly described that situation like this:
We know how the painter, the musician, writhe under the compliments of people who do not understand, while a word of discriminating praise sends them on their way rejoicing: they are honoured.Ourselves, Book 2, p. 194
Because your student has been respected as a whole person and has been taught to find beauty in many different types of expressions of ideas, he will be equipped to show respect to those whom he meets and to honor their gifts and talents.
And even if he is talking with someone who is not a musician or a poet or an artisan, your student will have a treasury of gems of truth that he can share in meaningful ways to enrich the lives of others—a word fitly spoken. Charlotte said,
If music, poetry, art, give us joy, let us not hesitate to present these joys to others; for, indeed, those others are all made in all points like as we are, though with a different experience.Ourselves, Book 1, p. 96
Enrichments equip your student to relate respectfully to other people in life.
Add enrichments to your homeschool
The best part of this is that it’s easy to include the enrichments in your weekly schedule. All it takes is 10 or 15 minutes once a week for picture study or music study. It doesn’t even take that long to just read a poem aloud once or twice a week. And handicrafts can be learned and enjoyed one afternoon a week after other school work is done. It’s really very simple to give your children these wonderfully enriching subjects.
Feel free to ease into it a little at a time. You might add a picture study once a week, let’s say on Mondays. After a few weeks of that, add in a music study on a different day of the week, maybe Thursdays. When you’re comfortable with those two, start reading a poem once or twice a week, maybe on Wednesdays and Fridays. Then a handicraft after school work is done on Tuesdays, let’s say. You can decide what days of the week work best for your family. Or if you’re ready to jump in with everything at once, take a look at our Enrichment Studies homeschool lesson plans. These ready-to-go plans will tell you which resources to get, what to do, and when to do it.
The main thing is to be intentional. Now that you know just a handful of the benefits that come with including art, music, poetry, and handicrafts in your home school, take the next step and begin to schedule them into your week. They don’t take long, but you and your students will find them very enriching.