“Charlotte Mason Comes to America”
Plus: “14 Quick Tips for a Gentle Art of Learning”
Story told by Karen Andreola
In 1984, when my child was 2 and I was expecting another, I heard about homeschooling on the Christian radio. Dr. Raymond Moore was being interviewed. What a curious thing! But homeschooling also sounded like such a wholesome and intrinsically natural a thing for a Christian parent to do. Another reason homeschooling interested me was the economy of it. My husband Dean was a Christian Bookstore Manager. We had one car between us that Dean drove to work (45 minutes in traffic) and even while living frugally we couldn’t afford Christian school. Therefore, although I went to public school I started preparing my heart and mind for home style teaching.
Discreet About Homeschooling
I got to know a new mother at church. The remarkable thing about her was that she had been a Christian school teacher but was now homeschooling her three girls. I’ll never forget the day we were standing in the hot parking lot next to her van. The Florida sun was beating down on our heads. She gave me a short answer to my question about homeschooling and then told me in a hushed tone, to please keep quiet about it. I must have been frowning, and not just because the sun was glaring off the cars, for she explained, “I don’t wish to seem contrary to the Christian school here.” I kept my word and kept quiet.
When this mother had a meeting in her home for those interested in home teaching, she invited me. I noticed that no one else from our church was there. I gained some basic knowledge about how to teach phonics that day but I also learned something discouraging. The Florida Christian college that my friend had attended, sold their classroom materials exclusively to accredited teachers. My shoulders drooped. What would I do? I didn’t have an answer then. But I would not change my mind about home teaching – even though this choice was an embarrassment to some of my extended family. I’d just have to cross that bridge (of materials) when I came to it.
A Year in London
In 1986, our family left America for the London suburbs. Dean volunteered to help a Christian literature mission for a year. All we brought were our suitcases. I would be teaching Kindergarten but had nothing that resembled classroom material. My little girls and I (once I became brave enough) took the red double-decker bus to a large public library. We had the pick of an abundance of picture books and cassette tapes. Reading Montessori guided me to making hands-on materials. Everyday we walked along a busy main street to the park, stopping at the shops to fill my back-pack with groceries. Then we climbed two flights of stairs to our tiny third-floor flat.
Enthusiasm Springs From Inspiring Ideas
I was lonely. But that winter, far from the dawning homeschool movement back home, God brought into my life a mother who was homeschooling. She was a British missionary and an accredited teacher. She loaned me her copy of For the Children’s Sake. In it I read with insatiable interest, the ideas and quotations of the Victorian Christian, Miss Charlotte Mason. I wanted to know more. And after borrowing one of the last copies in the British inter-library loan system of Charlotte Mason’s book, Home Education, I felt my prayers were answered. At first, I found the reading of it to be a bit of an awkward experience (she wrote 100 years prior). Yet her words were welcoming, confidently authoritative and assuring. If I figured out how to follow Miss Mason’s tried-‘n-true methods, I believed my children would receive the kind of education that I had envisioned for them, but hadn’t yet put into words. It was the kind of education I would have liked for myself. Looking back on my childhood I saw a barren land. My children and I would have to learn together.
Deprivation Set me on a Course of Blessing
I have seen it in my own life and have had been told by others, that God can bring blessing through deprivation. It is probable that if I could pay for Christian school (and the transportation) or had a complete curriculum kit available to me, I wouldn’t have clung so tightly to Miss Mason’s guidance. I may never have relied on her method of “narration” and forming an eclectic array of odd and interesting books in our homeschool rather than textbooks and workbooks designed for large classrooms and the convenience of constant testing. Consequently, we had a wonderful adventure. I treasure my memories gratefully.
Where, oh Where are Miss Mason’s Books?
Because I am asked what our contribution has been to the homeschool world, I’ll turn the next page of my story. Back in 1987 in London, I longed for for a copy of Home Education of my very own. Thus began my husband’s amazing quest.
In search of any and all books written by Miss Mason, Dean telephoned every used bookshop in Great Britain. To no avail. Next, Dean tracked down the last British publisher of Miss Mason’s books and gave them a call. A salesman told him that they had just relegated a warehouse full of Miss Mason’s hardcover books “to the bin” (a dumpster in this case) due to lack of sales. “If only you would’ve rung up two weeks ago. I could’ve sold ‘im to you cheap. We’ve been sitting on ‘im since the 1950’s.”
About to Give Up
Just as Dean was about to give up, an elderly book shop owner told him, “Haven’t seen any of Miss Mason’s works for years . . . but have you tried the Charlotte Mason College?” A stunned silence followed. We were unaware that such a place existed.
In the early spring of ’87 Dean was away on business for the Christian literature mission he worked with. Travels north brought him near Scotland’s boarder, and as Providence would have it, the Lake District of England; home of Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth and . . . the Charlotte Mason College. After booking into a B&B in the quaint village of Ambleside, he stepped into the college library and asked the librarian to direct him to the works of Miss Charlotte Mason.
“Oh, we don’t keep them out here,” the librarian said, waving a hand toward the shelves all around the room. “Not much interest these days. I’ll get the set out of the vault if you care to sit with them for a bit.” And sit Dean did . . . for the next several hours . . . wishing that I were beside him to enjoy the moment. He wasn’t watching the clock. After closing his eyes and rubbing his forehead he got up and found the librarian again. He hazarded to ask if he could borrow the books. The librarian strictly informed him, “It’s the only complete set we have, and they’re not for loan.”
Not Ready to Call it Quits
Having come so far Dean was not ready to call it quits. He said, “May I have a word with the college president, if he’s available?”
“He sees no one without an appointment,” came the reply.
“Tell him that I represent publishers in the USA who may wish to reprint these books and I would be delighted if the president would consider writing the forward.”
The librarian dialed the president’s office from a short-corded wall phone. With his back turned, he spoke in hushed tones. Dean waited, composed but a little anxious, straining his ears for what he hoped would be good news. He didn’t wait long. Soon after he was met squarely with, “Dr. Thorley will see you in five minutes.”
A Precious Loan
Dean spent the next hour with cheerful, gracious Dr. John Thorley, a Greek and Medieval history scholar, who exhibited a rare enthusiasm for educational reform. He was more than happy to give Dean a walking history of the school, a brief biographical sketch of Miss Mason, and finally to his delight, a package containing all six of Charlotte Mason’s rare out-of-print books – on loan from the archives.
Charlotte Mason Comes to America
Our mission term ended that spring. We headed home with one of the only complete sets of Miss Mason’s books. It was nestled securely in a carry-on flight bag – not a suitcase. Dean would not entrust them to any airline baggage handlers. Back in the States Dean was in communication with Christian publishers to see who would take on the expensive and risky project of reprinting the entire six volumes in a box set. After months of rejections one publisher agreed. And in 1989 The Original Homeschooling Series was published by Tyndale House with Dr. Thorley’s forward as promised. Tyndale House kept it in print only a few years. After this we took on the printing for twenty years or so – although the cover remained the same. Only in its latter years did we bother to make the change to our logo.
To Learn it and Live It
Years of endeavoring to practically work out what I understood from my reading followed. In the 1990s we hosted a monthly CM home discussion group, edited and mailed out a quarterly Charlotte Mason magazine (Parents’ Review). Mary Pride asked me to become a columnist for her Practical Homeschooling magazine – which enabled me to offer my personal interpretations of the Charlotte Mason method to her readers. I call these interpretations, “The Gentle Art of Learning.” TM
Dean and I were invited to share “The Gentle Art of Learning” at conferences. I think we were able, happily, to make Miss Mason’s practical philosophy approachable to our eager listeners.
Many may remember seeing our family’s faces and reading The Andreola Reviews in the catalog of Christian Book Distributors.
For our local community and church we taught a number of group studies in our living room. In that room took place Shakespeare plays, Beautiful Girlhood get-togethers, speech and worldview courses.
Many Voices Spreading the Message
In ’97 I finished writing my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion. A movement was emerging. Today by way of the Internet, many voices are spreading the message. It’s marvelous. Miss Mason’s simple, yet straightforward method is being employed with freedom and success in homeschools across the nation and overseas. For those who have the courage to trust in the natural, God-given curiosity of their student – a burden is lifted. A new refreshing learning experience awaits all who follow what I call “The Gentle Art of Learning.”TM
Charlotte Mason’s ideas are being passed friend-to-friend, mother-to-daughter. I now hear, “My mom read your book.” Miss Mason could not have known how her wisdom would be enthusiastically welcomed by tens of thousands of families a century later.
Tea and Sympathy
My gratitude goes out to those who have shared their copy of A Charlotte Mason Companion or a book from The Original Homeschooling Series, hosted a discussion group, or have passed along Miss Mason’s helpful ideas to a lonely, overwrought mom. Let’s keep encouraging one another. Good ideas given in friendship go a long long way. Apostle Paul tells us that what we do out of love abides. (1 Cor. 13:8,13).
Our daughters are married. Our eldest daughter is home teaching her children. Our son lives with us and is working through a handicap that he acquired from a tragic accident. He is a graphic artist. Coping with chronic pain since 2007 I no longer fly to conferences but have been serving mothers through my limitations with the carefully written articles on my blog: MotherCulture.com. Dean likes to teach adult Sunday school.
14 Quick Tips for a Gentle Art of Learning
- Children are on loan to us from God. Hannah of First Samuel is our beautiful example. We really do have them in our care for a short time.
- Use books – don’t let books (or curriculum) use you. A good book isn’t boring. It has the literary power to open the door of a child’s mind in ways no classroom textbook can. It may be full of facts – the same facts found in a textbook – but they are presented in a more palatable and memorable way. Try a new book alive with ideas. Lay a lifeless one aside with no qualms.
- Children chatter. Like tapping a sugar maple for its sap, the home teacher can take advantage of this“talking resource.” Ask your student to tell in his own words (narrate) what he has observed or read. If a quiet child says little ask “what else” and “what else” again. This is laying the foundation of composition, naturally and without tears.
- Learning is not limited to sitting immovable at a desk. Get outdoors. Observe nature, keeping a record of your “finds” in a Nature Notebook, where science, composition, and art join hands.
- Cultivate an appreciation for what is beautiful in art and in music simply. Now and again display a picture from a famous painter, play a CD of a noteworthy composer.
- Look for heroes in history. The Bible, biography and historical fiction can supply inspiring heroes whose virtues and character your children my choose to esteem and emulate.
- Build good habits one at a time. Lay them brick by brick. It is remarkable what the quiet discipline of routine and the practice of good manners do for the home atmosphere. Prioritize and strive to be consistent.
- Keep lessons short in the beginning years. Ten to 15 minutes of math seems ridiculously short if you come from a public school background of one-hour lessons but tutoring one-on-one is wonderfully efficient.
- Homeschool pioneers have fought to win us legal freedom. Therefore, use a Mother’s Prerogative. What is it that you’d like to teach? What do you want your children to know? Do some of what you “like” to teach with some of what you “have” to teach everyday.
- Information and knowledge are two different things. Rote memory is only an exercise for memorizing data. Children are persons not parrots. Give them, too, all kinds of odd and interesting books and experiences and they will have the kind of knowledge that goes into making a person.
- Curiosity is to education what a wick is to a candle. Children are born with God-given curiosity – until it is schooled out of them by constant quizzing, testing, working for the grade, and peer-pressure. The home teacher can safeguard curiosity by asking herself, “What is it my child would delight in knowing more about?
- Beware of comparing. Follow the path of your personal convictions. All education is divine. That is, the Holy Spirit comes along side us in all subjects, to guide, and enlighten. His yoke is easy.
- Keep up your “Mother Culture.” You are a person, too, who needs to keep growing. To prevent burn-out, dabble in domestic arts, read your Bible, take a walk, and/or any number of interests. To keep growing we need our daily bread – the bread of life – Jesus. Taking a little time to grow ourselves is not a self-fish thing to do. The advantage does not end with ourselves. When our cup overflows it spills over into the family circle – which includes our husbands.
- Home teaching is “kingdom work.” Little things do make a difference. Little steps taken with daily faithfulness can take us far. The home teacher sows seeds – rather than fills in holes. Children seemingly learn and grow in spurts and lags. Though, not evenly matched to the teacher’s planner, seeds are sprouting, children are learning. Given the right food and atmosphere, “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” (Gal.6:9)
My Facebook: KarenAndreolaAuthor
My blog: MotherCulture.com
My company: Charlotte Mason Research (LLC).
My upcoming (new) website is CharlotteMason.com
I am co-founder and co-owner of Great Expectations Book Co.
The photographs in this article were taken during our year of Christian literature missions with Operation Mobilization – based in Bromley, England and where we once lived in Maine. We now live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.