It’s a question that seems to come up regularly: “Is my child learning enough?” Usually it comes from a homeschool mom who has recently discovered the Charlotte Mason Method.
She has eagerly embraced those methods and started using them with her children. She has seen enthusiasm and enjoyment and smiles begin to blossom in her home school. She has realized how much more pleasant this method is than spending hours over tedious textbooks and workbooks. And she starts to second-guess her decision.
Wait a minute. This seems too easy. I’m not stuffing facts into my child’s head anymore. And I can’t see those facts coming back out of his head onto a sheet of paper. How can I be sure he is learning enough from these living books and narration and all?
Our Aim in Education
Let’s back up a step and first think about our goal. Because that’s what we’re really asking, isn’t it? “Am I successfully reaching the goal?” What is our goal?
In a Charlotte Mason education, the goal is to educate the whole person; to shape the child’s character, habits, will, and mind in order to make him the best person he can be.
We can’t shape a person’s innermost being by giving him facts to memorize. A list of facts does not touch a person on the inside and change his mind, will, and emotions. A person is shaped on the inside when he makes a personal connection with someone or something. That’s when it truly affects him, changes him—educates him.
And so, with the Charlotte Mason Method we try to spread the feast of many different opportunities to make those personal connections with people, with God, and with the world around us. Here’s how Charlotte put it:
“Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life.—We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room,’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking—the strain would be too great—but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy” (Vol. 3, p. 170).
What we don’t want is for our children to learn the required information, spit it back out on the test, and then turn their backs on “schoolwork” forever. We are trying to instill in our children a love for learning that will continue their whole lives. We are seeking to shape a person who is interested in many things and eager to keep developing his personal relations with them whether he is in “school” or out. That’s our goal.
The Wrong Question
When we ask ourselves, “Is my child learning enough?,” Charlotte would gently remind us that we are asking the wrong question.
“The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” (Vol. 3, pp. 170, 171).
And the interesting part of this process is that as our children form those personal relations and begin to care about a variety of interests, they will learn the facts about those interests along the way. But the facts are not the focus.
Now, don’t for a moment think that the Charlotte Mason Method is all about warm-and-fuzzy-and-never-challenging-our-children-to-think. Far from it! The Charlotte Mason Method challenges our children to think deeply—about the things that really matter—and to allow those deep thoughts to shape who they are becoming. And that is true education; education that goes much deeper than just parroting facts.
So next time you find yourself wondering, “Is my child learning enough?,” remember Charlotte’s wise counsel and ask the harder questions: “What does my child care about?” and “Who is my child becoming?” For the answers to those questions will tell you much more about your child’s true education.