Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mason's Parents and Children: Chapter 6

I'm going to try writing out some of my thoughts from Charlotte Mason's book Parents and Children, which is Volume 6 of The Original Home Schooling Series. I am reading this right now along with our Charlotte Mason study/support group. We began the volume last September, and are slow reading our way through it at a rate of one chapter a month. I'm hoping this "narration" will help cement the ideas in the long term storage section of my brain!

Chapter 6: Parents as Inspirers - Primal ideas derived from parents

This is the fourth and final chapter dealing with the role parents as inspirers. To review:

Chapter 3: Parents as Inspirers - Children must be born again into the Life of Intelligence
Chapter 4: Parents as Inspirers - The Life of the Mind grows upon Ideas
Chapter 5: Parents as Inspirers - The Things of the Spirit

Mason states throughout these chapters that the highest role of parents is as revealers of God to their children. In the previous chapter, Mason outlined some of the things we shouldn't be doing as parents, especially in regard to fortifying them against doubt. (Review of what not to do: leave them to time and chance, or fortify them with proofs and evidences in such a way that their faith and the truth rests on these. What we need to do instead is give them both a hold of vital truth and an outlook on current thought, so they are equipped to navigate the doubts when they arise.)

"To bring the human race, family by family, child by child, out of the savage and inhuman desolation where He is not, into the light and warmth and comfort of the presence of God, is, no doubt, the chief thing we have to do in the world." (pg. 50)

This is our chief work, our most momentous work, our highest function as parents. Parents are the primary agents of God's work in the world.

We do this work through the instrumentality of ideas. (Mason is big on the power of the idea, almost as a living thing. When she says that "education is a life," she means primarily the life of ideas. It is ideas which set the course for thought and action.) Knowing this, we must be careful both in our choice of ideas (the what), and the conveyance of ideas (the how).

As an example, she takes a popular idea of her day - that the Bible should be read to children first as a human book, to be read as history, poetry, hero stories, etc., and then slowly move up from this human take to a divine understanding. She thinks this is a mistake however, and that the Bible should be presented from the beginning as divine and therefore authoritative.

Next she goes on to talk about the limits of reason and the importance of primary ideas. Basically, if children get the wrong primal idea about something from the start, they will go on and follow that idea to its "reasonable" and "logical" conclusion. Mason then gives an excursus on how just this thing happened with the crucifixion of Jesus. It was perfectly "reasonable" for the Jews to put Jesus to death, given their system of thought, and the ideas that they had grown up with as children. The error did not come in to play in the crucifixion, rather, the error lay in the primal idea that religion was to serve the nation. This shows how "reason," once it seizes upon an idea, will carry that on to its inevitable and "logical" conclusion. The crucifixion was perfectly "reasonable," and indeed seemed "right" to the Jews, given the ideas that fed into that action.

"The Crucifixion was the logical and necessary outcome of ideas imbibed from their cradles by the persecuting Jews. So of every persecution; none is born of the occasion and the hour, but comes out of the habit of thought of a lifetime." (pg. 54)

All this to say, that it is of vital importance to get the primal ideas right in the first place! (And though she doesn't refer again to the earlier "current" approach to Scripture, we can infer that she rejects it on this basis. If Scripture really is divine and authoritative, it should be presented that way from the start.)

And where do these primal ideas mainly come from? Why, parents of course! (Only in our day and age, that may not be largely the case. Which is a whole other discussion.)

"It is the primal impulse to habits of thought which children must owe to their parents; and, as a man's thought and action Godward is 'The very pulse of the machine,' the introduction of such primal ideas as shall impel the soul to God is the first duty and highest privilege of parents." (pg. 54)

There is great power in these ideas that are formed from the cradle, where they actually become part of the atmosphere of the child's early life. Parents are educating their children in the ways of God right from the start with atmosphere, discipline of habit, and the life of ideas.

Mason then goes on to talk about some of first approaches to God in a child's life. She talks about the importance of:

1. Regular morning and evening prayer. "Nothing could be more suitable and more beautiful than these morning and evening approaches to God, the little children brought to him by their mothers." (pg. 55)

2. Parents praying out loud in front of children throughout the day. Mason thinks more can be done by a mother communing out loud with God, "so that the children might grow up in the sense of the presence of God" which would lead to "glad and natural living in the recognized presence of God." (pg. 55)

3. Outspoken gratitude. In particular, voicing our thanksgiving is a powerful practice that children will pick up from parents. If we speak out our joys and gratitude, children will too.

4. Using endearing terms in prayer. Mason believes children should use familiar, endearing language in their prayers, so that we don't put up a barrier between them and God. She suggests using "Dear God" as an address. "Let children grow up aware of the constant, immediate, joy-giving, joy-taking Presence in the midst of them." (pg. 57) Knowing God intimately as a loving Father will protect them against many temptations of "infidelity."

5. The "Shout of a King."  By this she means children growing up with a sense of God as King in their midst. Even in her time, she laments the loss of this concept in modern civilization. (How much more is this true in our day.) I would classify this as one of the "primal ideas" that Mason talks about. From this idea flows a host of other ideas and attitudes -

"There are, in this poor stuff we call human nature, founts of loyalty, worship, passionate devotion, glad service, which have, alas! to be unsealed in the earth-laden older heart, but only ask place to flow from the child's. There is no safeguard and no joy like that of being under orders, being possessed, controlled, continually in the service of One whom it is gladness to obey.  ... [A] king, a leader, implies warfare, a foe, victory - possible defeat and disgrace. And this is the conception of life which cannot too soon be brought before children." (pg. 57)

She then goes on to talk about how children know what it means to be in this fight of light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, Christ vs. the devil. Children have a keen sense of their sin and their need. Their little hearts need healing as much as ours. In light of this, "they should live in the instant healing, in the dear Name, of the Saviour of the World." (pg. 59)


A few things stand out to me in this chapter. Namely,

1) the parents' role in cultivating an ongoing atmosphere of the presence of God in the home,

2) and the importance of the primal idea of the "shout of the king."

The first presupposes that the mother is practicing the presence of God herself, and then opens this reality to invite her children in with her. These things are "caught" just as much as "taught." The presence of God is THE foundational atmosphere and underlying reality for all Christian education.

The second is definitely an unusual concept in our day and age. I'm sure the language would make many, even Christians, uncomfortable. It is inspiring to me though. I've experienced this in my own life. I'd like to be more intentional somehow about this in our home. I know part of it is atmosphere, and atmosphere comes from the primal idea. So this is probably something I need to contemplate more in my own life, and it will ooze out from there.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Letters to Arden - February 3, 2018

Dear Arden,
I saw a picture of you yesterday from three years ago. You were dressed in a pink bodysuit, pink tights, pink tutu, and pink slippers, ready for your very first ballet class. If I do the math, you were only four years old. Your smile showed excitement, and just a hint of uncertainty. You were about to step into something new.
Looking back, you seem so small. I remember someone telling me at that age, to step back and remember just how little “four” is. I’m not sure I saw it then. Not sure I could have seen it. You were the firstborn, the big sister, the first to grow into everything. I remember some of the struggles we had. I remember not knowing what to do. I remember feeling small and unsure. Most of the growing pains were mine.
And I’m sorry, little girl, if I handed you some of my burdens. If I put all the expectations for the success of my parenting on your behaviour. If I tried to mould you, like a lump of clay, into some image in my mind’s eye.
I see your four year old face looking back, or is it forward, at me, and my heart melts a little for all the ways I’m sure I failed you. Forgive me daughter, I knew not what I was doing.
And now you are seven, going on eight. You’ve changed your ballet slippers for shoes with metal soles, and you are tapping and stomping your way through the world. I still don’t know what I’m doing. You are still the first, and everything is new for us!
But maybe I can remember how little you are, even now. I pray I can step back and see you for who you are. I pray I can see the smallness, and enjoy it for all that it is.
And maybe I can drop the burden, and stop using you as a measurement of myself. Maybe I can release the muddy hold, and give you to the hands of the skilled Potter. Maybe we can learn together from our Father what it means to grow, yet keep our childlike hearts.
Let’s dance together, little girl. Let me see you smile.
love Mom

Friday, February 2, 2018

Imagination and Getting Outside in Winter

Winter so far this year has been a sloppy, schizophrenic mess. We've had a mixture of snow and rain, freeze and thaw, and all the varied precipitation in between! We go from wonderland white one day, to soggy brown the next. It's not our ideal as far as winter goes (we like lots of snow that stays around!), but it hasn't stopped the kids from getting outside.

Yesterday they had a blast making a whole kingdom of castles and houses out of the wet snow. They spent a good 2 hours out there, and were quite thrilled to show me all they had done. I took a few pictures with my phone.

Since the colder weather began in the fall, we've managed to get a consistent habit of outdoor play in place - one slot in the morning, and one in the afternoon.

Jack's best castle, stocked with pinecones for small animals in need.

Every morning around 9:00, I send Arden and Jack outside to play. The goal is one hour. I've sent them out in pretty much everything. Blizzards, rain, snow, -20C, mud, wind, you name it. The key is the right outer clothes! We've kept full snowsuits and head-to-toe raingear handy. On the coldest and windiest days, I've shortened the time to 20 minutes. Lots of days they've come to the door asking to come in early, but if it didn't look like they were in danger of frostbite, I just sent them back out! They know where the sheltered parts of the yard are.

The great thing is this morning time has become a true habit now. They don't resist, they just expect it, and most days they are excited to go out. Sometimes I'll go out for a few minutes and take Ivy with me, but that might depend on her nap time and if there are chores I have to finish up.

Arden, the main castle, and the pinecone forest.

On afternoons that we are home (which is most days), I also send them outside for another hour or so. This doesn't necessarily happen at the same time each day, but the kids have also come to expect this, and know that if they don't head on their own accord, I'll send them at some point. If I haven't got out in the morning with Ivy, then I make an effort to go out in the afternoon. She loves going outside, which I love to see, and is quite put out if she doesn't get to put her snowsuit on when the big kids do.

I think this time is so important for their development, in many ways. Besides the obvious benefits of fresh air and exercise, they are making consistent, long term connections with nature. It doesn't always look like formal "nature study," but they are forming a relationship with nature nonetheless.

Charlotte Mason says in Home Education

"[T]here is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things." (pg. 61)

Time outside also gives them space, time and freedom for imaginative play. I don't think it was a coincidence that we read a few wonderfully rich bedtime stories the night before this snow kingdom creation.

Stoking their imaginations with great images and ideas through literature fuels both their desire and enjoyment to "go out and play." Outside they have the freedom to explore and enact the worlds in their heads. Its the science of relations at work. The snow halls they make might just house Urso Brunov and his little bears.


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