Trained to See

We all have need to be trained to see, and to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.

Charlotte Mason, “Ourselves”, p. 43

I spend these days on the other end of homeschooling my son seeing the ‘consequences’ of what and how he was taught, and how we lived our daily lives. In spite of what I see as my failings, and as Charlotte Mason and AmblesideOnline Advisory member Donna-Jean Breckenridge often remind me —‘however imperfectly’, I daily find myself in the presence of a young adult who is observant and detail-oriented — someone who cares.

There are several aspects to a Charlotte Mason education that train a child to give attention and ‘to see’. After one reading they tell back what they ‘saw’ in the reading. That ‘one reading’ is key to developing the habit of attention. They spend time looking at a painting and tell what they saw. They listen to music and tell what they heard. They take nature walks and tell what they see through oral narration and recording in a nature notebook.

Most likely my most stellar moments as a teacher was teaching my son to read and write. We paid a lot of attention — thankfully, it is something we both enjoy — to phonics and grammar rules. We also practiced good ‘penmanship’ with copywork. Charlotte Mason advises to only do as much as they can do ‘perfectly’. This is what my son was writing at seven years old.

An unfinished portion from (I think) “Little House in the Big Woods”

My son’s writing today at age 19 is still very neat and precise. These days he spends more time with numbers than with letters (unless they are symbols in formulas). He is a higher math and programming fanatic. When he’s away from his computer you will find him writing on whatever white board, paper, or restaurant napkin is available to puzzle out whatever is currently on his mind. And he doesn’t hold back from wanting to invite whoever is nearby into his puzzling, which makes it good that his writing is extremely clear because at least you can understand that.

He remains interested in phonics and buys himself things like this for fun.

Explaining and taking questions from his Dad about his new toy

One of my not so good moments as a Charlotte Mason educator was Nature Study. We were not consistent, have several nature notebooks with just a few pages filled in, and probably spent way too much time inside. And yet I find myself watching my adult son outside at friends’ homes pointing out and wondering at the lichen on a tree or birds building nests in clothes-line poles. We walk around a local pond together for exercise, and he spends time asking me questions about what I see in the water and plants, and teaching me about what I am seeing. Somehow, in spite of what I see as my failings, he observes and cares about the natural world. And I am grateful.

It might be that we are enjoying ‘nature walks’ more as adults than we did in school. Better that than the other way around, I think. So grateful for my walking and seeing buddy.
James at 7. Experimenting and wondering over the physics of nature.

We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Thou hast set my feet in a large room; should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking––the strain would be too great––but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

~ Charlotte Mason, “School Education”, p. 170, 171 [emphasis mine]

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