Thoughts from Quinn
I suppose you could say that I was a homeschooling mother even before I knew what homeschooling was. When I began my journey into motherhood, I, of course, wanted to provide my baby with the very best of beginnings. Not only for his body, but for his mind as well. His nursery was full of stimulating black & white toys, he was born with his own personal library already begun, and I spent nearly his every waking moment playing with him. He knew all of his colors young and could recite the alphabet nearly as soon as he could speak. There were times though when I performed my self-imposed duties out of obligation rather than a joyful desire to be with my boy. No doubt he could sense my feelings, poor boy!
As we progressed into his preschool years, he was still an only child, and I devoted as much time to him as ever. He had many, many workbooks and a little chalk and slate that I would say draw pictures of shapes on so that he could name them and practice his letters, numbers, and new words with. Having laid that foundation for his education, when I first heard of homeschooling it seemed a good and natural fit.
Compulsory education in our state commences at age six and by the end of his first year, we had added a second and third child to the family within the previous two years. Despite my strong desire to replicate the time and attention I gave my eldest in their lives (for the sake of fairness), I found myself failing again and again. Unable to keep up with the demands of my growing family and spend all of their waking moments playing, reading, teaching them, I was horrified they were taking longer to keep the pace set by my firstborn. Meanwhile all one hears is the drumbeat of how we need to start earlier and earlier and there is much talk of children as young as two needing to begin their formal pre-schooling education.
My eldest is now (technically by age) in the eighth grade and early next year will find himself the sibling of six brothers and sisters. All these years I’ve been bombarded by that perfect storm of guilt for not being able to match his early education for those siblings.
Somehow, despite that lack of effort on my part, they all have managed, sooner or later, to figure all of those skills out (and more as they have all been far more independent and resourceful than he ever was) and I’ve yet to have the first grader who doesn’t know his colors, shapes, alphabet, and basic counting skills.
But now, finally, finally I have been freed from the guilt of their not having learned those skills by means of my deliberate efforts!
As I’ve read through Charlotte Mason’s Home Education, I have gleaned much. I’ve learned to look at the education of my child through the care of their whole person, the superseding importance of time out-of-doors, and the value of instilling habits.
Now, I’ve come to completely and radically rethink the value of a formal preschool and kindergarten education in the upbringing of a child.
Charlotte removes all doubt as to whether we, as mothers, are even capable or qualified to provide our children with their early education-
“The mother is naturally the best Kindergarten; for who so likely as she to have the needful tact, sympathy, common sense, culture?”
“The busy mother says she has no leisure to be that somebody, and the child will run wild and get into bad habits; but we must not make a fetish of habit; education is a life as well as a discipline.”
“There is no habit or power so useful to man or woman as that of personal initiative. The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer’s day is worth more in after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons, and this comes, not of continual intervention on the mother’s part, but of much masterly inactivity.”
She even warns of the danger of a poor Kindergarten teacher-
“Put a commonplace woman in charge of such a school, and the charmingly devised gifts and games and occupations become so many instruments of wooden teaching.”
“I am inclined to question whether, in the interest of carrying out a system, the charming Kindergarten is not in danger sometimes of greatly undervaluing the intelligence of her children… and if the little people were in the habit of telling how they feel, we should learn perhaps that they are a good deal bored by the nice little games in which they frisk like lambs, flap their fins, and twiddle their fingers like butterflies.”
“There are still probably, Kindergartens where a great deal of twaddle is talked in song and story, where the teacher conceives that to make poems for the children herself and to compose tunes for their singing and to draw pictures for their admiration is to fulfill her function to the uttermost… But this at the expense of much of that real knowledge of the external world to which at no time of his life will he be so fitted to acquire.”
Indeed the teaching of Kindergarten is often a naturally occurring part of every family life bringing to mind that “education is a life”-
“Some of the principles which should govern Kindergarten training are precisely those in which every thoughtful mother endeavors to bring up her family, while the practices of the Kindergarten, being only ways, amongst others, of carrying out these principles, and being apt to become stereotyped and wooden, are unnecessary, but may be adopted so far as they fit in conveniently with the mother’s general scheme for the education of her family.”
And the reason why Kindergarten is in fact potentially harmful to the growth of our children is it fails to acknowledge that each of these little persons were created by God with distinct and vastly different personalities not to mention learning pace.
“The world suffered that morning when the happy name of Kindergarten suggested itself to the greatest among educational ‘Fathers.’ No doubt it was simple and fit in its first intention as meaning an out-of-of-door garden life for the children; but, a false analogy has hampered, or killed, more than one philosophic system- the child became a plant in a well-ordered garden. The analogy appealed to the orderly, scientific German mind, which does not much approve of irregular, spontaneous movement in any sort. Culture, due stimulus, sweetness and light, became the chief features of a great educational code. From the potting-shed to the frame and thence to the flower-bed, the little plant gets in due proportion what is good for him. He grows in a seemly way, in ordered ranks; and in fit season puts forth his flower. “
“Now to figure a person by any analogy whatsoever is dangerous and misleading…. the analogy is misleading… the outcome of any thought is necessarily molded by that thought, and to have a cultivated garden as the ground-plan of our educational thought, either means nothing at all, which it would be wronging the Master to suppose, or it means undue interference with the spontaneous development of a human being.”
“Our first care should be to preserve the individuality, give play to the personality, of children.”
Miss Mason also points out how stressful it can be for these 3, 4, and 5 year olds to be surrounded by a group of their peers. What a breath of fresh air for the homeschooling mother who wearies of the “socialization” argument!! Wonderfully, she suggests that the most positive environment for these little persons in a society of diverse ages! The very environment which a home and family provides!
“The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs us up to health; but for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals, which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development.”
It’s a nerve-wracking thought though, I imagine more so for new mothers starting out as opposed to someone such as myself who can realize the truth in these teachings through my experience of trial & error, to just abandon all of the song and dance and game and workbook teaching of the early years. Is it possible for our children to really learn in the absence of that methodical guidance and management?
“Nature sits quietly by and sees to it that all the play is really work; and development of every sort is going on at a greater rate during the first two years of life than at any like period of after life”
“Nature will look after (the child) and give him prompting and desire to know many things, and somebody must tell as he wants to know, and to do many things, and somebody should be handy just to put him in the way; and to be many things, naughty and good, and somebody should give direction.”
“It is possible to supplement Nature so skillfully that we run some risk of supplanting her, depriving her of space and time to do her own work in her own way.”
“The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators. Now, Nature is her own mediator, undertakes, herself, to find work for eyes and ears, taste and touch; she will prick the brain with problems and the heart with feelings; and the part of mother or teacher in the early years (indeed all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted. Mothers shirk their work and put it, as they would say, into better hands than their own, because they do not recognize that wise letting alone is the chief thing asked of them, seeing that every mother has in Nature an all-sufficienct handmaid, who arranges for due work and due rest of mind, muscles, and senses.”
“The fact that lessons look like play is no recommendation: they just want the freedom of play and the sense of his own ordering that belong to play. Most of us have little enough opportunity for the ordering of our own lives, so it is well to make much of the years that can be given to children to gain this joyous experience.”
I can appreciate that want of freedom and am now basking in the new release I feel from the pressure and guilt of our cultural standards of education. Through simplifying these early years, I expect that I’ll come to find my time spent with my little ones less rigid, less stressful, more joyful, and more of a pleasure for both myself and my dear wee ones.
Have you ever considered whether our current model for early education might not truly fulfill our children’s needs before? Or have you, like me, just always assumed that well-intentioned professionals knew best?