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Often when we think about education, it’s easy to think about it in a future mindset. We’re preparing the child for a career, or we’re trying to get them ready for further education, or whatever the goal is in the future. But a Charlotte Mason education is also focused on the here-and-now. Let’s talk about how Charlotte Mason focuses on that aspect.
Joining me today is my friend and coworker, Laura Pitney.
Sonya: Laura, I recently was reading a book, When Children Love to Learn, and there was a quote in there that really stood out to me, and I’d like us to discuss it today. It goes like this: “What we are about is not some misty future preparation for our children. Education is not a life later. It is life now.”
Laura: That’s really good.
Sonya: It just struck me that when we think about education, we often think about the future goal, and we’re just laying the foundation for that future, but there’s so much to education right now.
Laura: Yeah, there is definitely value in remembering why we’re doing what we’re doing now, instead of letting all the future things dictate our decisions now. It’s a proper balance, of course, but there’s value in remembering that today is today and to focus on the season you’re in with your children now, versus only thinking about the future.
Sonya: Charlotte was so well balanced in all these aspects, and even in this one; her type of education does prepare a child for the future. But it’s not only future-oriented. When I was mulling over that quote, I thought about a Charlotte Mason education in a couple of ways. One is that it is very much person-focused, that it’s the whole person and we are educating—we are nourishing—the mind, the spirit, the soul, and the body, in whatever stage we are. It’s not utilitarian: “How am I going to use this in the future?” It is: “How does this nourish the child now?”
Laura: Right, and if we have that perspective, that we’re teaching the whole person, not just the mind or just the spirit, and not just taking care of a child physically, it helps us enjoy what we’re doing a little bit more and not get so bogged down on the checklist of what they need to know. There’s so much grace that should be there too. For us, as the teachers, as the parents, if we remember it’s not always about getting the hundred, or getting the assignment done, or accomplishing these three books in this quarter, or whatever… however we look at that, but it’s about our child and what they take from it, how they’re soaking it in, how they’re applying it, all the things, that helps us stay motivated and inspired and not just get so bogged down with the education side of it.
Sonya: What you just mentioned is a good reminder of why we include a wide range of subjects. Because to nourish that child requires not just an information dump.
Laura: Or an assumption that we know what they’re interested in.
Sonya: Good point.
Laura: For me, I’ve made decisions like, “Oh, this sounds amazing! I love this book!” or “This topic is so fascinating!” but it wasn’t the right fit for my children.
Sonya: And vice versa. It’s like, “Oh, this will never interest them because it doesn’t interest me,” and lo and behold, they take to it and love it.
Laura: Yeah. So, that’s another reason to make sure we keep it person-based and not just the checklist or what somebody else tells us we should do.
Sonya: And showing respect to that child, at whatever age he is, if he expresses something like “I don’t really like the artwork of this artist,” that’s fine. We’re not saying he is going to dictate the lessons, but he can express his opinion. And we can take that into consideration when we do the next artist. It’s all about respecting that child as a person now because we are nourishing him now with that wide variety. That’s what Charlotte was up against, come to think of it: the view that children were not completely persons yet. They were incomplete persons because they hadn’t reached a certain age. And it’s not that they’re incomplete, it’s just that they’re inexperienced. So we’re giving them those life-giving ideas to nourish them now, not just giving them information that will hopefully help them in the future.
Laura: Right. There’s value in understanding where our children are at, as far as if they are exposed to this wide variety. Let’s say they do latch on to a concept or an idea, then we have freedom to help nourish that specific thing. As they get older and age up, if that interest still develops, that’s when we can consider, “Oh, would you think you would ever want to pursue a career in this?” or “Would you want to get further education in this?” or college or whatever it is. There’s a beauty in helping the kids be exposed to so many different things, so that once they find a niche as they get older, we can help them make decisions and decide what to do later. But it’s not the end goal to start with. I think that’s what this quote is talking about, if we’re educating and teaching them with these foundational ideas, it naturally leads into helping them decide about careers and future things anyway.
Sonya: Yes. I recently read a book that was very much about how a lot of times you don’t know what you’re good at until you try…
Laura: …things and you’re not good them! (laughs)
Sonya: Yeah, you’ve got to narrow it down and figure out what interests you and what you are good at. This wide variety is helpful, not just to help him choose a career in the future, but everything about that nourishes him in some respect. Now, what you said about kindling an interest now reminds me of the other part of this quote that came to mind, where it was that Charlotte Mason is person-focused, yes, in the here-and-now, and it’s also relationship-focused, and that’s so different from information.
Laura: Yeah, so what does that mean, “relationship”?
Sonya: Okay, let’s contrast it to information-focused education. Information-focused is, “Here is a body of information that you need to put in your mind and remember, and once that body of information has been ‘learned,’ you’re done with your education.” That’s not Charlotte Mason. Often, that type of approach, though, is what this quote is warning against, that it’s just to prepare you for college or to prepare you for your career. Remember this information for that. Often, when there’s a utilitarian focus, that’s when you get the question, “How am I ever going to use this in real life?” It’s all about a utilitarian purpose for the information, rather than a living idea that is shaping who you are becoming. So, Charlotte Mason is not information-focused, it is relationship-focused, which means we are introducing our children to people, present and past, and letting them form relationships with people, whether they’re living or met in books; it’s wherever they meet them. We are introducing our children to God and encouraging them to form a relationship with Him. We are introducing our children to the things around them that God made and letting them form relations with those things around them, whether that’s science, or mathematical laws, or nature, or all those things. Then we’re also helping our child form a relationship with himself and learn his strengths, weaknesses, human frailties, how to strengthen his will, those types of things. So those four areas are what Charlotte talked about as relations that our children need to form, we are introducing them to these things and letting them start those relationships now. But, as you said, some of those relationships are going to really take hold and continue on to high school… I was going to say, “to infinity and beyond,” (laughs) but that’s not it. No, that’s not what I want to say. But it continues into their young adulthood, to their entire lives even. Spreading that wide feast is very important to help them form as many relations as they possibly can.
Laura: I have two examples that came to mind, things that I did not like that I was dreading teaching my children, and that was English and Shakespeare. For Shakespeare, I was following some of our scope and sequence things. For the elementary years, we did some good picture books. And then, as they got older, I read the stories and things like that. My oldest daughter gravitated to it. She loved it. She asked for a certain book, Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. She wanted that book, her own, you know. She wanted it for herself so she could mark in it and all the things. And I’m just thinking, “Why does she need to know Shakespeare?” like, “It’s fine. We can do without this.” Because I didn’t have a love for it, or I was never exposed to it, if that make sense.
Sonya: You didn’t have a relationship with Shakespeare.
Laura: No, I didn’t. It started out as the knowledge, like, “I feel like this is something good you should know,” because I was trusting the methods and the variety and things like that. And now that she’s a senior in high school, she loves Shakespeare. She gets excited when anything relates to that. Right now I forget which play she’s studying, but she’s like, “I’ve already read this play so many times!” and she’s trying to dig deeper. I say that as an encouragement to other people: It was something I was a little timid about doing, and honestly dreading, because I was like, “How am I going to teach Shakespeare if I don’t know about it?”
Sonya: You don’t have a relation with him yourself and that comes from our own background. We were not “taught” … it’s not about being “taught” Shakespeare, but we were not introduced to Shakespeare and allowed to form our own relation with him.
Laura: Right, so as she has grown up with that relation deepening, she has inspired that with her siblings. She’s encouraged them. I mean, two out of the other three. One of them is like, “I don’t need Shakespeare.” But especially my youngest, they’ve bonded over that and doing the plays and things like that. It’s encouraging.
Sonya: It’s just like any other relationship in life. You can’t necessarily pick your child’s best friends, but you can introduce good people into his life and encourage him to form friendships. How deep each friendship goes has different aspects that will contribute to the depth of the relationship with different people. But having those beginning relationships enriches the child’s life now. It’s not, “Well, he’s my friend, but he’s not a deep friend, so it doesn’t count. How deep is this relationship going to go before I decide…?” There’s no comparison between an information-based and a relationship-based focus. You see what I’m saying?
Laura: Yeah, I do.
Sonya: That’s a great example. What was your other example?
Laura: English. I am not a words person. I can do without English. (laughs) I never need to diagram a sentence, ever (I would be fine with that), or analyze a sentence. I feel like these are probably tied together. Because her love of Shakespeare has given her love for creative writing and writing her own plays or being able to communicate well her thoughts and opinions, not only with the Shakespeare and the other good living books; it has overflowed with her: her love for English, and the English language, and writing well, and being grammatically correct. It is deep within her that she is not afraid of English, (laughs) and I did not give that to her. So, first of all, I feel like that’s a mercy from the Lord. But it’s also giving her the variety and letting her form relationships over time…
Sonya: With those good living books…
Laura: Yes, it has given her a niche that I never would have planned out for her, because they weren’t things I liked or had relationships with. Those examples came to mind about my feeling inadequate to even teach those subjects, yet it was something she connected with and grew in and now I’m like, “That’s great!” and I will clap for her all day long, but do not ask me to proofread anything. (laughs)
Sonya: You have other strengths. It’s so exciting to hear how those ongoing relationships, because her love for Shakespeare is not something that was assigned to her; it’s not something that is necessarily going to become a career for her, but it started when she was young and you were reading the narrative versions of the plays, and it nourished her, and she started forming this relation and it kept going. And that’s what this quote means, about education is, “a life now,” whatever stage of school years you might be in—even as an adults—we still have life-giving relationships with God, with people, with the things God made, with ourselves. We’re continuing to deepen those and that’s what life is all about.
Laura: Yeah, and back to your quote, where it said you know it’s not this “misty” thing that’s way off in the future, I feel like I can also testify to that fact, especially with Emma being my example. It’s the relationship she’s formed. And with treating her like a person, she has connected to the English and the Shakespeare, which has led to theater and choir. And then for her high school foreign language, she was allowed to do American Sign Language, and with all those things forming in her heart and mind, she feels really led to do American Sign Language interpreting, which uses her whole body. She’s gotten experience with that with theater, using her hands and face, and using her voice with choir. I never could have planned that, but seeing those deep relationships and the things that she has gravitated to has really directed her next decision about if she should pursue something in a career in ASL.
Sonya: And she’s a senior this year?
Laura: Correct. I say that, again as an encouragement, that I’m almost on the other side of things, seeing the fruits of the relation-focus and the purpose-focus that has naturally directed her to make a decision that just supports the things she was already doing and loving. So, it is “misty,” and it seems scary to think about what I’m doing now…
Sonya: What’s it going to look like in the future…
Laura: Yes, but if we can keep our minds and hearts focused on what we know is true for today, I feel like the Lord blesses the steps and directs them better than I ever could. Because I would have never taught English or Shakespeare. I feel like that’s a neat thing to see now that we’re on the tail end of her home education with me.
Sonya: Yes, that’s exciting. All right, let me read the quote one more time, just to wrap it up again, “What we are about is not some misty future preparation for our children…” and I will insert this—although a Charlotte Mason education does prepare them well for the future—”instead,” the quote goes on, “education is not a life later. It is life now.” And that could be when you’re 5 years old it, it could be when you’re 10 years old, it could be when you’re 18, it could be when you’re 38, it could be when you’re 58. “Life now,” that’s a person-focused and relationship-focused Charlotte Mason approach.
Laura: It’s a beautiful thing.
Sonya: It is. Thanks.