“I am, I can, I ought, I will.”
From the beginning of my journey with the Charlotte Mason method, I have been aware of this Children’s Motto. It is the duty put before parents by Miss Mason to instill it’s principles in our children, “saving them” from great sorrow in life.
At a recent book club meeting, we briefly went through the motto and it came to my mind that I have never actually taught my kids what it is. Have we implanted these values in our home? Yes. But I have read that the children in the Ambleside schools wore the motto as little badges, so they knew what it was and from some writings of her pupils we read that they knew what it meant.
Here is a version of the motto written by Michael A. E. Franklin, one of her students, in a memorial letter about Miss Mason:
“I am, I can, I ought, I will.” This was the motto she gave us. I am a human being, one of God’s children; I can do right by my fellowmen and by myself; I ought so to do and God help me, I will so do.
This motto is key to our children’s minds being connected to God and to us. This connectedness comes not in the ability to recite the little saying, but in the knowledge of the depth that it has for their character, the magnitude that it carries in all aspects of living in service to others and to God out of respectfulness and love.
In adding her methods over the years, I have not taken on the challenge of implementing the motto itself into my curriculum. Now’s the time, although I believe that it will take years of living for the children to fully grasp the meaning. I am challenging myself to have my children commit this motto to memory. We’ll do it slowly through copywork and recitation, and if I plan well, through devotions to reinforce the meaning behind the motto. In my idealistic world, we would do some handicraft that shows off the motto and would hang it in a special spot in our house. I’ll let you know if we get that one in!
Here is a little more from Ambleside Online on the Children’s Motto.
Charlotte Mason 1842-1923 England
There are some great articles on Charlotte Mason’s life that we will link to here.
Catherine Levison’s version at A Charlotte Mason Education
Sonya Shaffer’s version at Simply Charlotte Mason
Ambleside Online’s version
We all know that our children (and their education) are greatly affected by our attitudes and the climate of our homes. Children soak up their atmosphere, and our attitudes shape them. (That is a scary thought for me. Sometimes my attitude stinks.) After all, God knew how he was putting families together, and He choose the right parents for each child.
“It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute” (96).
Remember, Charlotte was developing her ideas at the same time as Maria Montessori, who believed that a child needed a prepared environment in order to learn. Charlotte disagreed. Instead, she felt that no artificial items should be introduced into a child’s environment. Instead, children should face life as it it, without padded corners or false beauty.
“But due relations must be maintained; the parents are in authority, the children in obedience; and again, the strong may not lay their burdens on the weak; nor must we expect from children that effort of decision, the most fatiguing in our lives, of which the young should generally be relieved” (97).
In spite of Charlotte’s mandate to let children experience real life, she cautions us to not force children to make decisions often. This would free the children from deciding what to do for at least a portion of the day.
“We foresee happy days for children when all teachers know that no other exciting motive whatever is necessary to produce good work in each individual of however big a class than that love of knowledge which is natural to every child” (98).
Donna and I met in the “AMBLEcommunity office” last weekend, and she made a comment about opening up one of Charlotte Mason’s books and thinking, “Speak to me, Mother Charlotte.” (Note: the AComm office is a particular booth at a particular Panera where we regularly meet to discuss AComm and the rest of our lives.) I understand that comment completely. Sometimes I wait to ask Charlotte for a suggestion for a situation until I have tried everything else. I would usually do better if I asked her first.
In the Bible, Jesus tells us several things about children, including that we should become as little children. The Bible instructs us to not hinder or exasperate our children, to not despise them. We are also instructed to “feed His lambs.” (Note: this is all in Chapter 5 of CM’s vol. 6, so if you want the references, you can find them in the endnotes.)
Chapter Five was particularly interesting for me. In my quest to educate my poor guinea pig (the first one to educate is always a bit of a guinea pig), I have tried (in one form or another) every single motivator that Charlotte asks her teachers to avoid. Those include:
- Corporeal punishment and harshness in the classroom a la David Copperfield
- Suggestion: not allowing time for the children to process; too much motivation from without
- Influence: to please someone else; idolatry; desire for approval
- Emulation: working for high marks and advancement; working to be the top of the class
- Avarice: greed; working for money
- Ambition: desire for power over others
Go read Charlotte’s explanation. It’s a whole lot better than this, and she explains why each of these is a bad idea.
At the end of this section, Charlotte reminds us that a child is born with an innate desire to know that will drive their education. She says that we must lay a literary feast for our children, and that will tempt their curiosity.
The work of education is greatly simplified when we realize that children, apparently all children, want to know all human knowledge; they have an appetite for what is put before them, and, knowing this, our teaching becomes bouyant with the courage of our convictions (CM v.6 pg. 89-90).
Charlotte is going to tell us more about HOW to educate in this manner in chapter six. It’s a good thing, because I need help. The boys I am working with are motivated and curious about video games and legos. I’m fond of the legos. But I want them to be as bookworm-y as their father and I. I haven’t got that figured out yet.
She does give us a preview at the end of Chapter 5, though. She says that a child’s education should be driven by his or her desire to know.
There are four ways in which we belittle children.
- We see them as inferior and requiring spoon feeding
- We dumb down their material
- We try to coerce their attention instead of training the habit of attention
- We undervalue knowledge and focus on wrong information and methods
Beauty united people of all socioeconomic backgrounds
Subordinates need attention and remembrance
The maimed existence in which a man goes on from day to day without either nourishing or using his intellect is causing anxiety to those interested in education.
That is what I found in Chapter 4 of Mason’s Towards a Philosophy of Education. Did you read it? Do you have a favorite part?
We will be discussing Chapter 5 at this month’s discussion night on Monday June 13, 2011.
We must supply a well-ordered table of varied subjects in order to let children teach themselves. To focus on crafts or math or singing without offering an entire education or to “bring things to a child’s level” disrupts a teacher’s authority.
The sense of must should be present without children; our mistake is to act in such a way that they, only, seem to be law-compelled while their elders do as they please.
Two conditions secure all docility and obedience. The first is that the teacher isn’t arbitrary but is acting as one under authority. The second is to allow some freedom in how the children are learning.
All schoolwork should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught.
Last month on Discussion Night, we covered chapter 4 of Charlotte Mason’s Toward a Philosophy of Education. There are my (rather raw) notes that I took as I read before the discussion that night.
We have God-given delegated authority over ourselves and a few people under us, and this is fine as long as no one abuses that authority.
We also all have the ability to be teachable (docility); to bow by choice to someone else, to submit to their authority. “‘Go as you please’ must be the apparent rule of their lives, while, ‘Do as you are bid’ is the moving force” (70).
We are all under obligation to others, and children must learn this early. There are something that must be done for the good of society. Children must learn to do quickly and happily what their authority ask of them, but “Docility implies equality; there is no great gulf fixed between teacher and taught; both are pursuing the same ends, engaged on the same theme, enriched by mutual interests, and probably the quite delightful pursuit of knowledge affords the only intrinsic liberty for both teacher and taught” (71).
From the Bible Outline of our CM Seminar:
We are cultivating the habit of Thought of God.
- Read aloud daily a few verses covering possibly an episode
- Read reverently, carefully, and with just expression
- Require the children to narrate
- Talk the narrative over with them in light of research and criticism
- For young children, use the bible itself or a well-written, accurate story book, such as Catherine F. Vos’ The Child’s Story Bible, Egermeier’s Bible Storybook, Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible for Young and Old, or google “Books of Yesterday, children’s bibles”
- Charlotte Mason recommended reading straight from the bible. Choose a version you like. She recommended the KJV to get them used to hearing beautiful language. She also said that the mode of language in the KJV is archaic and forbidding to the child. “It is after all only a translation.” Vol 2 p 56-57
- Older students should also be reading great works with moral lessons to reinforce those values.
- Teach them to take care of their personal bible, as if were gold.
- Teach them, through example, to use words that are pleasing to the Lord and His Word.
At the Curriculum Share tonight, there was so much good stuff to see that I didn’t take time to go over the list of online resources that I had brought with me. I knew that I could come and post it here, so I let other people do the talking.
Here are a few resources that I like that AREN’T posted in the sidebar to the left.
MEP Math (http://www.cimt.plymouth.ac.uk/projects/mep/default.htm): This is the math program that we are currently using in our home. It is similar to Singapore Math in many ways, and my boys are enjoying it. Nate is finishing up the reception level, and Drew is finishing up level 2. This curriculum requires a different way of thinking about math than Math U See does. (Drew was using MUS before we came upon this and decided to give it a try because he was bored with MUS.) If you try it out, be aware that (like with Singapore) you can expect your student to need a slightly lower grade level than he was working with in a US-based curriculum.
Librivox (http://librivox.org/): Librivox provides many, many audiobooks as free downloads. The collection includes Our Island Story and This Country of Ours, as well as many other Ambleside Online books.
HomeschoolShare (http://www.homeschoolshare.com/): My boys enjoy doing some notebooking projects and lapbooking projects. This site has all sorts of CM-friendly downloads for prepared pages as well as unit studies. Drew is currently working on the Holling C. Holling Book of Indians pages, and he is really enjoying them.
There were two sites that Thalia mentioned tonight for Bible resources. They are:
Have you ever wondered why Charlotte never published just one list of curricula? The Advisory Team at AmblesideOnline has dug out as much of it as they can and put it together beautifully.
I found this Catherine Levison quote today while I was reading online with a feverish little guy sleeping in my lap:
“Charlotte Mason destroyed her curriculum yearly and if I wrote the kind of thing you are asking about I would be writing a curriculum rather than a book list. Mason didn’t think her methods revolved around a curriculum and she did not want teachers or parents becoming bored by the sameness. I’m not saying that writing a curriculum is bad, not at all. I write mine for my personal use, but like Charlotte I ignore it the next year and start fresh. ”
That makes me feel better. Because I don’t want to re-read all the same books three times with three children just because that is what is suggested for their level.
There is no perfect curriculum or perfect teacher or perfect education. There are just imperfect children and even-less-perfect parents and Jesus and His abundant grace.