Early Childhood Education

Dear Reader,

In preparation for the next Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, I have been reading through chapters 2 and 3 of Charlotte’s sixth book, Towards a Philosophy of Education (this is actually where I am in reading through her 6 volume series anyway so it works out well for me). What I am struck with in these chapters is Charlotte’s description on the views of the baby and young child that were in evidence in her day.

Charlotte describes two views. The first is that the child is nothing more than  “huge oyster” and that the educator “by means of a pull here, a push there, a compression elsewhere” turns this lump into “a person . . . at last according to the pattern the educator has in his mind.”

The second view is that the baby or toddler is a jewel. She quotes a poet saying of them, “‘Is it not strange that an infant should be heir of the whole world and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold?”” She goes on to talk about how much the young person must learn in their first years of life from very basic things we take for granted like what hot and cold mean and are to their native language and the use of their bodies. She says,

“Let us consider, in the first two years of life they manage to get through more
intellectual effort than any following two years can show.”

In contrast to the oyster view, this view which seems to be the one Charlotte herself favors, says that “his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind.”

Now I think that for the most part our society has given up the oyster idea. One hears quite a lot about the importance of the early years, how much a child learns in them, and how influential they are in later life and education. Yet I still feel like we are getting something wrong. We do not, like Charlotte, trust the child’s development. Rather, we feel that early education is so important that we micromanage it. At home we buy black and white mobiles for baby to stare at; we play Baby Beethoven to build their minds; we stimulate, stimulate. stimulate. And in the public sphere, we push education back earlier and earlier. The solution to every perceived problem is to begin formal education at an earlier age or to give more time to it.

The problem, as I see it, is not that we undervalue what the child can do as in the oyster view, but that we don’t trust that the child can do it. We take the burden upon ourselves and come up with methods and techniques and educational toys when the work really must be done on the part of the child. Yes, they need an exposure to the world and to good, stimulating materials, but those are often very basic, ordinary things. Not things that require batteries, not even the latest educational  methods.

When my own children were preschool age, I often wondered why we needed so many toys that said the alphabet to them (I tried not to buy them but they are hard to avoid as gifts from well-meaning friends and relatives). And how did people ever think children became literate before Leap Frog. The answer seems to be that parents would actually have to interact with their children to teach them their letters. It is not that educational toys and the latest methods don’t work. They may very well do what they are intended to do. But they also tend to de-personalize the process, to either take out some of the human contact or else to turn the child into a product.

I think Charlotte would have approved of a lot of what we say about the early years, about their value and how much a child learns in them. But I don’t think she would like all the many devices that those years now seem to necessitate. It is as if we have said, “Children are naturally programmed to learn so much before age 3! Let’s maximize that by giving them this and that!” And we have forgotten that children are naturally programmed to learn and that they do the work; we need only provide the most basic food for their minds.


2 responses to this post.

  1. I think the culture is even harder on special needs kids who are deemed behind. Too much of their precious time is lost in therapy that is divorced from the context of real life.


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