Charlotte Mason, History, and Ambleside: About going past the first layer of opinion into the core of true understanding.

I am afraid that many who look into Charlotte Mason do not make it past the first layer.

Last week I shared something with a group via email, and after a few email exchanges, I see the person who asked me about Charlotte Mason and history still confused, gathering a bit from here and a bit from there, and missing the core of what Charlotte Mason advices us about how to teach and learn history.

I get comments such as, but Ambleside is very difficult, or such and such curriculum is Charlotte Mason oriented, isn't it?

Ambleside will be difficult if you do not take a little time to read Charlotte Mason, but if you do read her work and take small steps, Charlotte Mason will eventually become pleasantly easy, I reply. Ambleside warns you, if you try to follow their suggestions without understanding through reading Charlotte Mason, it is nothing but a book list, and a difficult one to follow, it will be a complicated display of diverse activities and practices that can appear and be truly overwhelming.

Perseus and the Nymphs

But if you truly want to pursue Charlotte Mason's style of teaching and learning, I have good and bad news, you cannot get by without reading HER ORIGINAL. I for years thought was OK with just reading other books about her, but though they inspire in me a desire to educate according to her principles, it is only HER WORK that truly teaches me the how, why, and when. Many blogs have been helpful, those are the generous ladies blogs who always go to her work and study her books, and add her own paragraphs to their posts to conclude or learn from her own words before conjecturing a first layer conclusion that usually results in no more than an inaccurate opinion.

What made the difference for me it was Stephanie's course. Why? Because the topics that Charlotte Mason dealt with are all in place, and she has taken the time to add the pertinent readings at the end of each lesson, and because going through a lesson per week or longer if needed be, was the right pace for me to apply and assimilate what I needed for my family. The weekly lesson course format fits my learning, I believe the format is very Charlotte Mason itself. Gentle, small steps, to the core, it does not stand in the way between you and Charlotte Mason, and it connects her writings to the things you want to know for your homeschool.

Back to history, when I am questioned about it, and specially the Ambleside selection that we follow, I see people find the books proposed by Ambleside insufficient, the fact that we do not start from the beginning chronologically speaking, they deem it unappealing and inappropriate ... and via email or in a conversation at the park, I fail to explain Charlotte Mason principles that guide a selection such Ambleside's but a selection that could and is made by many who know those principles and tweak according to their specifics, like the Australian women who make substitutions according to the history of their country.

The thing with Charlotte Mason is that you cannot take, say, history only or any other 'subject', and properly apply it to your homeschool. I know we all love to pick and choose, but with her, if you are not consistent and use her core principles, using the Ambleside selection or any other Charlotte Mason books or materials for any subject will not provide you or your children with a true to her spirit education. Why? Simple. If you use the history books, for example, and you are not doing narration, history will not be learned as simply and beautifully as she wrote that happened in her schools with poor and rich children alike. If you use the natural science books and do not draw pictures in your head or a journal, or take nature walks, you will again fail to acquire a solid base on the sciences.

But not everyone and anyone has to homeschool, educate, or learn according to Charlotte Mason. However I will tell you that this method is not just her method, but I defend it is the way according with the nature of a person, the way of the true teacher, the way to the only education, self education. Her brilliance was to spell it in her six volumes and articles for us. Anyhow, if any of you is happy with a Charlotte Mason varnish, who am I to judge? However, should any of you feel attracted and compelled to her core of ideas or principles, please consider going past that first layer of say, I use living books, I love the idea of spending lots of time outdoors, I love casual narrations during tea time talk with my children, or I believe in free time for handicrafts, or in reading the classics to my children... and penetrate the core of her philosophy of education. You are in for a fabulous feast.

Charlotte Mason is Scriptures reading and Christianity living, she is habits, narration, character formation, living books at a new level (that means no twaddle justified by the fact children 'are reading') and this applies to me right now. See. We all need to get back on track at different times on different issues. Even when we know the theory we often lack the application. 

Mind you I am not saying I do this Charlotte Mason homeschooling thing successfully. Some areas come more naturally to me, to us, others we have to work harder at. Everything is simply a work in progress. A joyful work in progress. Read Jeanne's post on what things come naturally to her and which she works more to have them happen because she understands the importance of them taking place. My friend Heather helped us tremendously with our nature study. I thank her for that. It is a constant path of improvement but one that is thoroughly enjoyed in its imperfection.

Actually, before I started with year 1 last year, and only after I took Stephanie's course on Charlotte Mason, I did not know or understand much about history or knew anything of what Charlotte Mason had to say. I lacked of the underlying reasons and principles behind practices since I saw others around me doing them. It was an attractive idea, but if not reinforced by Charlotte Mason's teachings they have a high chance of dying as such, attractive ideas we wrote down, pin, fave, or entertain but that will never materialize.

Then I read Charlotte Mason while taking the course, I even translated the course, and we followed the selections proposed for Ambleside last year for what it is called AO Year 1, since we live in the USA and their history books are all relevant to us, and this year we already started with our Year 2 books. The delight and joy of learning is indescribable.

Let me tell you that these books have been carefully picked according to Charlotte Mason's history tenets, and it is beautifully, excitingly, and wisely selected. Read what Charlotte Mason says about HISTORY. Then start by using some of the books (if not all), recommended by Ambleside, and see the ideas flourish and grow like vines of joy in your mind and the minds of your children.

It is an all or nothing with her. Not that we will ever exhaust all she proposed or knew about education, but the little I gather from her AS A WHOLE is what has made a difference in my homeschooling for the best. In time of doubt, I go back to her own writings or the course that synthesizes her principles and leads me to the pages on specific topics.

I could write multiple emails and replies to your questions every day, (I still do), you could read the Ambleside website and study it for months, you could read blogs, posts, and what not, but I assure you that until you read Charlotte Mason, with the aid of a course, blog, pal, group, or without, but her own work, it will not be possible for you to understand the principles she supports and how they relate to the different subjects and practices, and you will sadly remain at the superficial layer of opinion unable to reach the core and ripe its fruits.

I wish to end with an uplifting tone. The more you read Charlotte Mason, the easier it becomes. The more you read the Ambleside selections, the easier it becomes. The more you practice her principles, the more joyous and pleasant your homeschool days will become. It will be simple, not easy, not at first, but everything that gives you reason for satisfaction and pays back, involves work.

8 opinion(s):

...they call me mommy... said...

WOW. GREAT POST, Silvia! This is where I'm at...needed to unwrap the next layer! Thank you!

Silvia said...

Dear Amy, we are always unwrapping the next layer, but rest assure, you are not at the surface of anything, you are well in your way of a beautiful, Christ centered, intentional, loving and fun life full of self learning.

I enjoy your pictures and words quietly.

Lisa said...

Thanks so much for this post, dear Silvia! I am working my way through Miss Mason's writings (and taking notes!) before we begin AO in the fall. Thanks for the inspiration! :)
Love to you!

Silvia said...

Lisa. That will pay you generously.
Thanks for stopping by.

Jenny said...

Great post! There is a whole to CM that is hard to explain without getting to the core of her writings. I kept and keep having aha moments when I read her original works. In a sense I'm making the connections I need in order to provide my children with that abundant feast of learning. :D

Silvia said...

Very true Jenny. It is not that one needs to master her work or anything, it is more like a growth and small steps, aha moments, and joy, and a sense of completion.

When I have a bit of a crisis, I always go back to Him in prayer and to CM's writings and I feel new and strong again.

Ellen, the Bluestocking Belle said...

Silvia, I loved this post! You've reminded me of things I need to do to refresh myself for this coming year, to keep me in mind of our ultimate goals, and to re-think to be recharged. Thanks!

Silvia said...

Ellen, we do not have to follow CM or anyone to the letter, but I have found that anytime my hs squeaks, it is because I am trying to do things I see others doing, or read what others are reading, because I never have understood or because I have forgotten the underlying principles that guide our teaching and learning.

You know where you stand, where your homeschooling and life are rooted, but at times we all falter and need to keep it simple, and back it up with prayer and guiding principles. Reading CM is hard but refreshing.

And you are now doing something she tells us we all need... that time to ourselves.


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