I’ll touch on environment just briefly to say that Charlotte Mason thought that homes were great places to learn simply because they weren’t too perfect and packaged. Most of you know the Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room. In recent months she and her family have become more and more involved in the lives of two little boys they know, to the point that the boys’ mother has taken the older one out of kindergarten so that the Headmistress can homeschool him when he stays at The Common Room house, which is out in the country with assorted livestock, creeks and woods to explore, and a variety of humans, related and unrelated, coming and going. In the process of all this, the Headmistress exchanged some emails with the kindergarten teacher, who thought that the little boy would really be missing out on something if he didn’t attend school, because the teachers at their school had "high quality literacy training," had “students reading at their perfect instructional level," and even offered "a leveled book room of books that the reading teachers use to match to the specific needs of the students." (Besides worrying about all the usual socialization stuff.) Since then the Headmistress has posted several times about the wide variety of things both boys are doing, too many to mention here, but including the books she reads to them out of the approximately 8,000 they own. Which place sounds like a better environment for learning? What kind of atmosphere do you want your own children to learn in? Can working only at a "perfect instructional level" actually be detrimental?
Second, on habits and discipline: When you think of habits, you might think first of moral things like not being greedy, or manners like saying please, or helpful things like cleaning up your own mess or turning the lights out. But it's not just about getting them to brush their teeth. Those things are all included in habit training, but there are also habits of the mind that are just as important, such as observation and attention. Charlotte Mason said that the formation of habits IS education, and that Education is the formation of habits.
When we teach strong habits of body and mind, we give our children the leisure—the freedom from anxiety—not to have to constantly worry about what to do next, whether they are going to come when they’re called or not, whether they are going to work attentively at their lessons or dawdle or get distracted, whether they are going to tell the truth or not. As adults, we have, we hope, developed stronger wills that enable us to simply tell ourselves to get back to work or do what we don’t want to do; children, according to Charlotte Mason, don’t always have that power, so it is important to begin with the discipline of habits, and work on developing the will gradually. She said, “The habits of the child produce the character of the man.”
If you read Home Education, you’ll find that Charlotte Mason spends a fair amount of time at the beginning talking about keeping children’s brains healthy and growing by giving them lots of fresh air and outdoor time; and her point is that since you’re out there anyway, you have the opportunity to train them in habits of observation of whatever is around them—plants, animals, landscapes, weather, stars, light, shadows, water, dirt, snow, and encouraging them in their abilities to describe, accurately and in detail, whatever they see. (Or whatever they observe, with any or all of their five senses. I still remember Coffeemamma's Schmoo showing the rest of her family that particular maples had their own smell--or was it taste?)
CM is thought of as a books-based, literary curriculum, and that is true; but I think it is just as much a SEEING curriculum, both in what is literally seen and what is visualized when listening to a geography lesson, when studying spelling words, or in picture study, when children look carefully at a painting for several minutes, and then try to describe it in as much detail as they can from memory. She believed that the act of visualizing something was the key to holding it in the long-term memory. You had to create a mental picture of something yourself, but too much given, too many visuals cluttering up the lesson, would actually limit that process, giving your brain less to work on by itself. I think that relates to our phrase “doesn’t leave much to the imagination.” That’s what Charlotte Mason did want to do—leave lots to the imagination.