Three Questions for the Homeschool Mother: Why?

Mom with homeschool questions

As we prepare for another year of homeschooling, many of us are asking a lot of questions: What can I buy with the money available? How detailed should my plans be? Am I leaving something out? How can I keep my preschooler occupied? Where will I put all this stuff?

Asking questions is a good exercise, but Charlotte Mason encouraged us mothers to take a step back and make sure we have asked the most important questions first. What we purchase, where we store it, and what our day looks like are all based on three foundational questions. Charlotte explained:

“She must ask herself seriously, Why must the children learn at all? What should they learn? And, How should they learn it? If she take the trouble to find a definite and thoughtful answer to each of these three queries, she will be in a position to direct her children’s studies” (Vol. 1, p. 171).

Those are the questions we must answer first and foremost. So let’s spend a little time thinking through Charlotte’s three questions for the mother. This week we’ll look at Why must the children learn at all?

Why must the children learn at all?

Why must the children learn? In other words, what is our goal for educating our children? Most answers fall into one of two camps, and those camps are worlds apart. Some people will answer that Children learn in order to know. It’s all about what facts are stuffed into the children’s heads. But Charlotte enthusiastically believed that “Children learn, to Grow” (Vol. 1, p. 171).

Most likely our own school experiences taught us that “we learn that we may know, not that we may grow; hence the parrot-like saying of lessons, the cramming of ill-digested facts for examinations, all the ways of taking in knowledge which the mind does not assimilate” (Vol. 1, p. 172).

But the real answer to Why? is that we educate our children so they may grow. And just as their physical bodies grow on the food that is good for them, so their minds grow on a certain type of mind-food. “The mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body” (Vol. 6, p. 105).

Those who believe we learn in order to know emphasize information. But those who agree with Charlotte Mason that we learn in order to grow give their children ideas.

Ideas are so much more than mere facts or information. Ideas plant a powerful seed, as it were, that captivates your thoughts, motivates deep pondering, and produces true learning that becomes a part of you.

Think about it for a moment. We’ve all experienced the power of an idea and how it is “endowed with vital force—with power, that is, to grow, and to produce after its kind” (Vol. 1, p. 173). Let’s say, for instance, that your stove quits working. Suddenly your mind is busy thinking through options, and those options lead to other possibilities and questions to ponder, and it seems as if anything you look at or read has something to do with your dilemma. That is the idea growing and reaching out for more ideas to feed it.

“We know from our own experience that, let our attention be forcibly drawn to some public character, some startling theory, and for days after we are continually hearing or reading matter which bears on this one subject, just as if all the world were thinking about what occupies our thoughts: the fact being, that the new idea we have received is in the act of growth, and is reaching out after its appropriate food” (Vol. 1, pp. 173, 174).

The question, then, begs to be asked: How do we give our children ideas? Well, one of the best ways is through living books. Sonya wrote an article about how ideas are communicated so well through living books and are invited into the inner courts of our children’s minds, while dry facts and information are relegated to the outer court and then dismissed. You can read the article (originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of The Old Schoolhouse magazine) here on our website.

So as you consider your plans for this fall, keep in mind that the emphasis is not on what your children know but on how much your children grow. For that is the whole reason Why we educate them.

Next week we’ll talk a little about the next question for mothers: What should they learn?