While preparing to school my children at home, I devoured numerous homeschool mom must-reads. Each book offered thoughtful guidance, but I was most profoundly affected by the educational practice of Charlotte Mason, a 19th Century British educator. In Parent’s Review she writes:
“Children come into the world with a natural [appetite] for, and affinity with, all the material of knowledge; for interest in the heroic past and in the age of myths; for a desire to know about everything that moves and lives, about strange places and strange peoples; for a wish to handle material and to make; a desire to run and ride and row and do whatever the law of gravitation permits.”
Children are infused with a natural desire to know and experience their reality. On a path to understanding, some move eagerly through their environment, while others sit in more thoughtful contemplation. My children were a combination of both. While I provided useful knowledge, I made sure to allow them the time and space to explore, inquire, and ponder their world’s complexity, goodness and beauty.
Recognizing there were mechanical skills that needed to be mastered, I structured and fitted each lesson to our children’s needs. In the early years, lessons were always kept short, in order to build a habit of attention and excellence. I taught them to read and provided a foundation in math in short, 10–15 minute increments. By 3rd grade, each had developed a strong habit of attention and by 8th, they learned entirely independently of me. Without any prompting, they successfully tackled sophisticated high school subjects such as geometry, chemistry, rhetoric, and foreign language.
But our favorite time of day was when I read aloud.
“Biographies of historical figures, works of literature, stories about far away places, fables. . .” We devoured piles of library books including treasures from James Herriot and Frances Hodgson Burnett to Howard Pyle and George MacDonald. And in the afternoon they listened to audiobooks: Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Johann David Wyss’ Swiss Family Robinson and anything narrated by David Frederick Case.
The hours spent listening to books provided them with a sophisticated vocabulary, an understanding of syntax, and an appreciation for the syncopation of language. When my oldest was 16, we hired a tutor to teach him to write. In an early conversation with his tutor, I apologized for failing to equip my son with stronger writing skills. I’ll never forget his response: “You have read widely to him. His mind is full of the best stories in children’s literature and he has a sophisticated vocabulary. Now I can teach him to write.”
My children are in their mid-20’s now. Both love to learn, are deeply passionate about reading and writing, and are defining their own path in their chosen career. My son is a high school English teacher. He uses art to teach writing because as he puts it, “Children need to learn to observe, before they can write effectively.” My daughter is a brand strategist and copywriter for a digital design firm. She thoughtfully identifies that which is good and right about a particular organization and tells its story creatively, and masterfully.
And I teach dyslexic children to read and spell. While dyslexia is more often known for the deficiencies it creates, it’s a remarkable gifting that predisposes a child to unique talents and abilities. The dyslexic students with whom I work are deeply thoughtful, imaginative, creative, and articulate. Many possess strong leadership skills and excel in engineering, art, and sports. Dr. Brock Eide, in his book, The Dyslexic Advantage writes:
“Look at these same individuals when they’re doing almost anything else — — particularly the kinds of tasks they enjoy. From this new perspective they not only cease to look disabled but they often appear remarkably skilled or even specially advantaged.”
Offer up a foundation in reading and math, establish high standards and allow your dyslexic children to learn at their particular rate of development. Provide ample time for them to run, climb, construct, discover, debate and think. Their inherent and enthusiastic pursuit of learning will bring gladness and stability to their lives.