“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.”
Psalm 127:3 NLT
These Early Years
If you’re reading this, you probably have little ones of your own, or are involved with them in some way. Maybe you’ve been scouring the internet for tips to help them learn the basics in the early years, without sacrificing the beautiful childhood you want for them.
I’ve been there!
I’ve loved listening to Charlotte Mason podcasts and reading blogs, and I’ve been inspired by the beautiful quotes. Somehow I often still leave saying, “I’m so excited – but wait, what do I DO?” Getting our mindset right is an important step, but having some concrete, practical ideas to help you get started is also helpful.
So let me do a little of both. I’ve got some inspirational thoughts and quotes, but stick around to the end – I’ve got a few practical tips to help you with the “feast of knowledge” that I know you want for your early learner!
First of all, let me say that this is specifically for anyone who may have children under 6, who plan to homeschool, and who are looking into Charlotte Mason methods. But even if that’s not exactly where you are, these tips can help! I find that the more I hear and read of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, the more I wish I had heard it long before I had my own children. I think it would have impacted how I thought of any children in my church, classroom, and so on.
Right now, I have 3 children under 6 years old, so I am in the thick of these early years.
I feel the pressure of running a house, running a family, running a business, and suddenly it hits me –
What if I’m forgetting something??? What if my kids are missing something important because I miss it?
Let me take some pressure off you.
You are not in charge of your child’s learning.
Not anymore than you are in charge of your child digesting their food.
Charlotte Mason in her first volume “Home Education” says:
“But the mind is not a receptacle into which ideas must be dropped…
On the contrary, a child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal, and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.”
– Charlotte Mason, Home Education preface, pg XII
Does that mean I can let them fend for themselves? Of course not.
We have a responsibility to set the table with good food!
If I want my kids to eat without a fuss, and with little effort on my part, I could fill the table with junk food. They would help themselves as their appetites dictated. But in the long run, I would be dealing with sick, sugar-hyped (and then crashing) kids.
Similarly, if we want them just to be busy, and stay out of our hair, we could easily put them in front of a screen all day, or fill the room with attention-grabbing toys. But is there a better way? What could we do to nourish their growing minds in these early years?
“The parents’ chief care is, that that which they supply shall be wholesome and nourishing, whether in the way of picture-books, lessons, playmates, bread and milk, or mother’s love.”
– Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg 5
I may not be responsible for forcing that growing brain to understand and remember things, but I can supply wholesome, nourishing ideas and activities for them!
Is it too early to start homeschooling?
One of the first thing I learned about the early years according to Charlotte Mason is that she was strongly against any formal lessons before the age of 6. For a while I worried I was doing TOO MUCH with them!
Let me assure you, there are MANY things you and your child can do before any kind of formal lessons happen.
I’ll get into some of the other important things another time, but for now:
Let’s break down that last Charlotte Mason quote for a few steps to lay out that feast for our early learners!
How can I start?
Let’s look at that list: “picture books, lessons, playmates, bread and milk, or mother’s love.”
Reading aloud to your child is a wonderful way to foster a love of reading, learning, and curiosity about the world around them! It is never too early to start.
But how do we find good quality picture books (and then short chapter books) and avoid the mindless twaddle?
A quick (and free/cheap) way to start:
1 – Search online for something like “Charlotte Mason preschool book lists” or “Charlotte Mason picture book list.”
(Simply Charlotte Mason is a wonderful resource! She has a video of her top 10 favorites, and lists of more)
2 – Have the list up in one tab, your local library catalog in another, and Amazon in another.
3 – Copy the title of a book from the list into an Amazon search, and see if there is an affordable copy you can order! I wish I could buy every book, but over here that’s just not possible. However, building your own “home library” is a lovely thing! Watch for a good deal to occasionally add things to your home collection.
4 – If you don’t want to purchase the book, search in your library’s catalog. Most libraries give you the option to log in with your library card and request books! We do this in chunks – I’ll go through a book list and request any that our library carries, 10-20 at a time.
5 – Once the requested books are ready, your library will probably alert you. You can swing by and pick them up, or better yet, take a library outing with the kids! We usually take an hour or so to look around and play, and I let the kids pick a few books each to check out along with the ones I chose ahead of time. This helps ensure that even if there is some twaddle, we have some good living books as well.
Don’t forget nonfiction – they LOVE it!
Especially about things they have experienced in real life.
Is there construction on your road? Find a book about it!
See ants crawling along the sidewalk? There are great books about that, too! (Here’s one my kids enjoyed.)
Make connections between real life and what they see in the books.
We “must regard education, not as a shut-off compartment, but as being as much a part of life as birth or growth, marriage or work; and it must leave the pupil attached to the world at many points.”
– Charlotte Mason, Home Education, Preface pg IX
Okay, so no formal lessons. What can I do, then?
Give them opportunity. Set it before them, bring it to their attention, even ask them focus on it. Don’t make it a fight to sit still and work, or do repetitive drills – but give them opportunity.
I am regularly amazed at the things my children are capable of when I give them the opportunity!
My 4 year old (he was 3 last summer in this picture) is wild and unruly, as much as he is loving and kind, and wonderfully adventurous. Sometimes I assume he wouldn’t want to sit still for a story or activity. (He does. He will sit for as many stories as I will read!)
One day I was actually working with his older brother. I looked over to see the 4 year old had finished the craft all on his own without any help from me, after just watching what we were doing! It was then I realized that I need to put more food in front of him, because his appetite for knowledge is growing.
Give them craft ideas, maybe examples (maybe not). Set out some supplies, and let them go!
Ask them to do something! “We read a book about ants. Do you remember how many legs they have? Can you draw a picture of an ant?”
Keep it short. Keep it fun. Keep it positive.
That doesn’t necessarily mean letting them give up if they think something is hard! I say to my kids all the time: “It is hard – and you can do hard things.”
Be eager to see what they can accomplish, and your excitement will often be contagious. They want to see what they can do too! (You know… sometimes.)
There are also some great open-and-go lessons out there, that address early learners in a Charlotte-Mason manner.
I love to use some things from The Gentle + Classical Preschool in our mornings! I don’t use everything, and I’ll share more of our daily “morning paper” routine another time, but they have some beautiful things ready to use.
As your children get closer to 6 years old, they may be ready to start reading! My 5 year old was VERY ready. He was interested in reading things that popped up in a game, or on a sign at the store – he knew the letters, but he was seeing a real-life benefit to knowing what they mean. I heard so many wonderful things about “All About Reading” from All About Learning Press, so we went for it. I have to say – it has been amazing! We use it, not daily yet, but often, at a pace that works for us. It has been a great experience to help my child begin to read, and help ME have the confidence that I’m not going to leave out anything important as I teach him.
But ultimately, the day-to-day routines and life things are what they need! Any way you can include them in real-life learning is key.
My 5 year old asked to help make pancakes for breakfast, and as he helped me measure and pour, he said “This is the best morning ever!” And I realized I had been neglecting to include him in things as I can. It takes more time now, but it will be worth it!
We can focus on lessons and books and the things that WE do, but don’t forget that the majority of their learning at this point is taking place during play time. Their five senses are the best teachers right now!
And it bumps up to a whole new level when they can play with other children.
Something we can do here is to sometimes provide them with playmates!
Siblings? Sure! (Don’t let that be the only reason you have more babies, those little guys are a lot of work!)
Their cousins, our friends’ children, a homeschool co-op, a trip to the park, the options are endless. Make sure they are safe, and around safe people, of course! But then – let them play.
Bread and milk
A hungry toddler is a grumpy toddler. (The same for a preschooler. And, you know, sometimes adults!)
Don’t forget – you can take advantage of this time when they are still!
Here are some ways we learn while we eat:
Sometimes we get everyone a snack, put it in a bowl, and take it to the living room. They unroll a blanket and each have their own little picnic while I read a picture book to them!
We are reading a chapter from Winnie the Pooh right now during lunch a few days a week, and they are enthralled. I don’t think I ever read this as a child, but I’m enjoying it too! (We got it from the library, but you can find a copy here.)
During some snacks or lunches we read poetry. They have a couple favorites we read every day, and they can say them with me!
We like these two books of poetry for children: A Child’s Garden of Verses and Blooming Beneath the Sun.
Don’t discount your snuggle time, playing games, or any time you spend giving your child undivided attention.
Take the things that you need to do, and include them wherever you can. Their education is all of life!
This also helps us slow down, and find the joy in those mundane things.
You are doing great things, and you are more capable than you know.
These children are your gift, and I pray that even in the difficult times, you would see them as He does.