Have you ever felt pressured to send a child to a preschool or Mother’s Day Out because if you didn’t, your child would somehow be less?
Ever worried that if you didn’t make sure your child mastered identifying shapes and colors, letters and numbers, counting, reading, or some other subject before kindergarten that your child would start school at a disadvantage?
Have you been concerned that keeping your child at home with you would warp the child’s personality, creating a clingy child afraid to venture out?
Our culture today tells us that young children must have professional educators to shape and mold them, or at the least have formal instruction, before they can be ready for the rest of their school career.
Even homeschoolers often find these arguments convincing. But are they true? What do young children need to prepare them for learning and life?
Charlotte Mason lived during the Victorian era, when these same pressures came to bear on parents. She knew that at its heart this was a question of assumptions about what children are and what they need.
“But is the baby more than a 'huge oyster'? That is the problem before us and hitherto educators have been inclined to answer it in the negative. Their notion is that by means of a pull here, a push there, a compression elsewhere a person is at last turned out according to the pattern the educator has in his mind.
The other view is that the beautiful infant frame is but the setting of a jewel of such astonishing worth that, put the whole world in one scale and this jewel in the other, and the scale which holds the world flies up outbalanced.”
Charlotte Mason Volume 6 pp. 33-34
When considering any educational theory, we need to know what that theory assumes about the nature of children and how they learn. Is the child a lump of clay to be molded by adults? Is the child a receptacle to fill with information? Charlotte Mason's methods, tested and refined over decades of work in schools and homes, rests solidly on her 20 Principles. The first point on Charlotte Mason's list of principles, truths we know about children and education, is this:
“Children are born persons.”
CM Volume 1 p. 5
Charlotte Mason believed that children were precious treasures, already, from the beginning, and were actual people from the start. One significance of this point is that children come already with a mind prepared to learn. We do not have to prepare them for learning.
“Reason is present in the infant as truly as imagination. As soon as he can speak he lets us know that he has pondered the 'cause why' of things and perplexes us with a thousand questions. His 'why?' is ceaseless.”
CM Volume 6 p. 37
From the start, according to Mason, an infant* "perceive[s] and receive[s]" from the world about him.
“His [the infant’s] business is to perceive and receive and these he does day in and day out.”
CM Volume 6 p. 34
Rather than relying on parents or educators, the child's mind produces his education.
“. . . he always has all the mind he requires for his occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind.”
CM Volume 6 p. 36
Modern neurological research supports this view of the young child's mind.
“Genes set the outlines of mental ability, but the way children use their brains determines how their intelligence is expressed. The experiences with which a child chooses to interact determine each brain’s synaptic structure as well as the way it functions for different types of learning. If children change the way they use their brains, their synapses are rearranged accordingly. The more they are used in a certain pattern of response, the less flexible they appear to become.”
Jane Healy, Ph.D. Endangered Minds p. 81
“External pressure designed to produce learning or intelligence violates the fundamental rule: A healthy brain stimulates itself by active interaction with what it finds challenging and interesting in its environment.”
Healy pp. 81-82
Do we believe that our children are jewels of astonishing worth? Or do we believe that they cannot shine without our constant active intervention?
*"Infant" here includes toddlers and probably preschoolers as well.
Articles and Research - Read more about best practices during the preschool years.
Posts in this series:
- Part 2 - Should instruction be left to experts?
- Part 3 - Do preschoolers need academic instruction?
- Part 4 - Training the Senses and Exploring the World
- Part 5 - Free Play
- Part 6 - Other Goals