I had the privilege of attending a Charlotte Mason retreat in Minneapolis. My roommate brought her baby too! I thought Eleanor was a super-chubby baby until I saw Samuel, who is about a month older and extremely healthy! I think Eleanor must have had a growth spurt on the plane ride because she had really thinned out and looked especially scrawny next to her roomie.
I consider myself a Charlotte Mason purist, so the Charlotte Mason Living Education Retreat was just the thing to encourage me for the upcoming school year. I have zero desire to go to a generic “homeschool conference” in a humongous convention center with five thousand different curriculum vendors.
In a comical scene where I misread the schedule THREE times in a row, I encountered a conference attendee who asked about doing Classical Conversations with a Charlotte Mason curriculum. [Now, I will be the first to admit that I have not actually experienced Classical Conversations. For that matter, I haven't done an official year of homeschooling the Charlotte Mason way yet -- I am not even a real homeschooling mom using any curriculum or philosophy yet. But, I can't keep quiet when I hear questions like this. Not that I'm an expert, mind you -- but I certainly do have an opinion!] I responded that you could do anything you want, but doing CC would not be using the CM philosophy. CM focuses on ideas before facts, CC gives facts (to be memorized) for years before the child is allowed to feast on the ideas. As my dear friend Charissa reminds us, Charlotte Mason said, “The mind is an organ nourished upon ideas ONLY.” She elaborates further: “An idea is the live thing in our mind that grabs hold of us.” And, “Things of interest and ideas come before facts and symbols.”
I think, the educational model/philosophy/curriculum/etc. you choose all boils down to your goal. What are you trying to achieve? And a few more critical questions: how do you view the child, and how do we even learn anything, anyway? I know for certain that I have different goals for my children than the public school system and we fundamentally disagree on how children actually learn and even in our view of the child. These issues were brilliantly discussed and fleshed out by Dr. Jennifer Spencer in her talk “How Firm a Foundation.” I expect that the contents of her talk will be published by the Charlotte Mason Institute this year, along with the rest of the keynotes from their summer conference. Highly recommended!!
Because I, like Charlotte Mason, view a child as an image-bearer of God and a person, not an empty vessel to be filled with facts of the teacher’s choosing, my job as the “teacher” is really more of a facillitator. As such, I: provide the atmosphere, spread the feast, cultivate habits of attention and observation, provide a culture of self-education, provide scaffolding, ask for narration/copywork/conversation/etc., foster a love of books, not get between the child and the “thing” (the book, the music, the painting, etc. . . .), and not try to be my child’s Holy Spirit. I need to let the Holy Spirit and the books (or the “things”) themselves be the teacher/tutor. My role is to expose the child to a wide variety of subjects, because I don’t yet know the Holy Spirit’s calling for the child.
Perhaps the contrast between the CM philosophy and what-I’m-trying-to-avoid (in public school and also the classical method) are best described by James K. A. Smith in Desiring the Kingdom (quoted in The Living Page): “What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions — our visions of “the good life” — and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? . . . What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know but about what we love?”
To me, this “better” idea of education, the Charlotte Mason philosophy, if I may be so bold, is really the sanctification of our mind (i.e. the bringing of our mind into submission to the Spirit). And, it is really giving the child the tools to self-educate in order to ultimately become equipped to serve and glorify God in that unique way that God planned from the beginning.
During the morning devotion at the conference, Nancy Kelly shared about the deeper meaning of “shalom” from theologian Cornelius Plantinga, “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Saviour opens the doors and welcomes creatures in whom he delights.”
Nancy Kelly also quoted Saint Irenaeus, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God.” Boom! How can we glorify Him if we don’t even truly “see” Him. How can we behold Him until we learn to look? And it all comes back to the art of noticing, cultivated by the notebooks.
In The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater says the purpose of a nature notebook is the acute observation (noticing) and recording of God’s creation. It is more about the process than the end result (i.e. what is happening in the heart and mind is more important than how accurately you are able to portray God’s amazing creation with your feeble art skills). She also says that the nature journal is a source of delight for a whole life, a companion. She is right! I’ve only had mine for a bit longer than a year, but it really is a source of delight to me.
Keeping a notebook is actually transforming me too. I see things now that certainly have been there all along, but I never noticed them before. Also, I have been programmed to be a consumer (quite successfully, I might add), but this, too, is changing. While we were out and about in Maine, Adele noticed a multitude of tourist shops and asked me about them. I told her that when people go on a vacation they like to buy something to remember the vacation once they are at home. Well, I could feel the urge to buy something myself, but then I remembered my recent entries (the puffin and the sea gulls) in my notebook and I didn’t feel the need to buy anything to “remember” my vacation.
I have posted my nature notebook entries on this blog as I’ve added them, one at a time, but I thought I would post them all right here – so they are in one place. I’ve added some fancier tools along the way (a quality paintbrush and new paints) so it’s kind of cool to see how things have (hopefully) improved since I began. And, I’ve recently started learning real calligraphy (pointed nib dipped in ink) – I’m excited to add that into my nature notebook too! I’ll start with the most recent entries and work backward.
We went to Monhegan Island for a day and hiked to some very lovely views. We stopped for a little rest and I decided to paint a puffin because my landscape skills aren’t really able to capture the beauty of what I was seeing. Adele painted a puffin right beside me!
My almost-done puffin and my paint palette that I love love love!