Chop, chop, slide. The steam rose as the freshly cut carrots joined the soft, golden onions simmering in the pot. The crisp, wet smell of celery mixed in from the chopping board as it, too, met the business end of this Momma’s knife. The zucchini needed prepped and the herbs were at standby when the slide-thunk rhythm of my knife was challenged by a male voice that held all the candor and soprano magic of pre-puberty.
“Hey, Mom.” Rinse. Pluck off limp leaves from the sage bundle. Snip. Chop…
“Uh, Mom?” I paused in the process of producing yet another meal as I looked to the end of the counter where elbows were spread wide and wrists supported his still smooth chin. I met his hazel eyes with my eyebrows lifted,“Yeh? What’s up, Buddy?”
“Can I talk to you?” (yes, dear reader, you may insert here all 317 horrific things that went through my head in the three-second pause when I did The Parent Scan assessing his body language, tone, and events of the past few hours and day and week and what year is this? How old is he, anyway?) The tremulous exhale of my generous calming breath.
“Whatcha’ thinking, Bud?”
“Well, did you know Mount Kilimanjaro is actually the tallest mountain in Africa, and our friends, the Dodsons, live right there in Tanzania, so do you think they’ve ever climbed it? I read that it’s a dormant volcano and it could erupt again but I wonder if it would be a huge eruption…” I interrupted his monologue while my brain was still swimming in the flood of adrenaline he had unwittingly thrown my way.
“Is this important to you, or do you just need to get it out of your head?” I asked. (Which is parental code for “Is there going to be a quiz later because this is not exactly what’s on my mind right now?”)
“I just need it out of my head. I wanted to tell you about it ‘cuz I thought it was pretty cool. Would you like to know what else I learned about it?”
How could one say no to that crooked grin? He was given permission to do a Kilimanjaro information dump as long as he knew he didn’t have my full attention. Dinner was probably on time that night, but that really isn’t what mattered. Before I fully grasped what a Charlotte Mason education was and could do in my then-homeschooled children’s lives, narrating was a natural outcome of my son’s curiosity and satisfaction in gaining knowledge.
In Charlotte Mason’s opinion, “Children so taught are delightful companions because they have large interests and worthy thoughts; they have much to talk about and such casual talk benefits society.” (Vol. 6, p. 267)
“Telling again…it is really a magical creative process.”
She had her students narrate – in one way, shape or form – everything. It is a way of learning and changes the way you think. It changes the way you think. As a parent who has labored through active listening during a Campus Meeting or classroom event, I’m certain there are many of you who agree that narrating changes our attentiveness to speaker and text.
Mount Kilimanjaro resonated with my son and with one reading, he had built a small arsenal with tidbits of knowledge. If a student knows that the material will only be read once, he learns to desire the habit of attention. If we know we can hear it again or look it up again, we relax in the attention department. “I dwell on the single reading because, let me repeat, it is impossible to fix attention on that which we have heard before and know we shall hear again.”
In this week’s Citizenship reading in 7th grade (Ourselves, Vol. 2), the class talked about another aspect of reading with an attentive mind and being intentional in conversation.
“Perform the graceful office of presenting the one enthusiastic mind to the other.”
I love the way she states this! Adults often think we need to be the bridge between the book’s author and the child, but Mason disagrees. Presenting one’s mind with enthusiasm to author, to friend, or to friend of a friend is indeed an act of grace. Both listening with curiosity and humbly sharing one’s knowledge are a gift that tells others we are indeed glad to be with them.
“A great deal of consecutive reading from very various books.”
Children presented with living ideas within the context of storyline, plot twists, scientific construct, or historical sequence have a broad range of exposure. Leaving them with a naked skeleton would be most unworthy of the adult who is guiding the child’s education, yet persons of any age who understand the broader scope of an idea are much more ready to add depth of specific knowledge. A timeline is a thing of beauty for me personally as it gives me “pegs” of knowledge along which I can then hang inventions, weightier thoughts, and deeper knowledge. This is well accomplished when the readings are well thought-out, orderly, from excellent literature and across the disciplines.
I am certain you understand, as the stove warmed our kitchen and the busy preparations for a family meal were underway, I was not excelling in the listening department myself. (I feel compelled to add that this particular son knew the difference in when he needed what we called “a brain dump” versus my undivided attention.) I was not yet introduced to Ambleside (it would be another 5 years before AS was founded) but, I was in the beginning of noting the natural ways that a child’s curiosity and fitting together of how the world works could flourish with the right material and an environment bent toward learning. I had not initiated a relationship with Charlotte Mason at the time, yet had investigated random parts of her philosophy and knew it rang true to my own experience. This work was and remains good, and true and holy.
“Miss Mason looked on education as something between the child’s soul and God. Modern education tends to look on it as something between the child’s brain and the examination board. I think that covers the issues at stake; it is part of the whole modern policy of quick returns, of the substitution of immediate and temporary values for ultimate and absolute ones.” – Monk Gibbon