Training your memory is not just a trick for winning baby-shower games, but a habit of mind, taught carefully from a young age. The power of observation is not a unique gift, but a trained power, developed and strengthened with constant use. Along with training in obedience and attention, it makes up a large part of CM’s early-years curriculum. How did Charlotte Mason’s older students get so much done in a school day that ended early and didn’t require homework? They had trained their brains to pay attention the first time, bringing their whole minds to bear on something, visualizing the historical scene or the spelling word, repeating it back, and also retaining it because the next lesson would follow from that one, linking back to the last. The brainwork here was the student’s; he was taught that he could do it, starting small and working up. Charlotte Mason said, “Give an instant’s undivided attention to anything whatsoever, and that thing will be remembered.”
This is what narration is—visualizing, remembering, and telling back either orally or in writing. It is not parroting, or "getting up a lesson" as Laura Ingalls used to do for her mother; it is retelling with understanding. Narration can be written, oral, or done as a combination with a child who is just starting to tell back in writing; and it can be done right after hearing or reading something, or slightly delayed like hearing a story on Friday and then being asked to write a narration on Monday (we have read that this was done in PNEU schools after a Shakespeare reading, later in the 20th century, and we can guess that it was also done that way in earlier years); or it can be done after a bit of time has gone by such as in term exams.
Back to the educational instruments, the three allowable and effective tools for teaching: the last one is the presentation of living ideas. "Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information." Do I need to say more than that about it? That's all, but that's all.
And if all that habit training and visualizing sound too bewildering and overwhelming when all you’re looking for is what to do for reading and math and how to keep the littler ones out of mischief, Charlotte Mason has some encouragement:
Wise letting alone is the chief thing asked of them…every mother has in Nature an all-sufficient handmaid, who arranges for due work and due rest of mind, muscles, and senses.
These ideas are supposed to free us from some of the anxiety we naturally feel about having all this responsibility for our children’s upbringing and education. You have given them some skills, they have more of their own; let them use them. Parents are not to butt in on play but allow children, as much as possible, to get wet sometimes, dirty, tired, maybe even injured—taking a reasonable risk, but allowing them to grow. The leisurely part of CM is, partly, being able to back off.
“…..A little guiding, a little restraining, much reverent watching, Nature asks of us; but beyond that, it is the wisdom of parents to leave children as much as may be to Nature, and ‘to a higher Power than Nature itself.”
"Nature will look after [a child] and give him promptings of desire to know many things; and somebody must tell as he wants to know; and to do many things, and somebody should be handy just to put him in the way; and to be many things, naughty and good, and somebody should give direction…The busy mother says she has no leisure to be that somebody, and the child will run wild and get into bad habits; but we must not make a fetish of habit; education is a life as well as a discipline."
In other words: CM = Get a Life.
Here is a checklist for leisurely homeschooling—yes, that means You: the philosophy of leisure and the need for an un-anxious, positive atmosphere applies to the teacher too.
If you’re coercing or yelling or threatening, you’re probably doing it wrong.
If you’re spending too much time marking workbooks or cutting things out for the children to paste, you’re doing it wrong.
If you keep switching math curriculums, trying to find the perfect one, you’re probably doing it wrong.
If you’re explaining too much...
If you’re worrying that your kids haven’t mastered sentence diagramming by grade 2...
If you’re pushing your kids to narrate in front of Grandma...
If you never get out of the children’s room at the library...
If you’re worrying too much about this checklist…you’re probably doing it wrong.
In the next post, we'll talk about doing it right.