Girls and Little Children

Dear Reader,

As I work my way through Charlotte Mason’s fifth volume, Formation of Character, I am up to the section entitled “Concerning the Young Maidens at Home.” However, I have already blogged on this section in my post CM on the Education of Girls. Frankly, when I first read through the book I couldn’t wait to tackle that topic so I did it right away. Though some of the situations Charlotte describes may seem out of date to us, the truth is there are many in Christian homeschooling circles who once again are questioning the value of educating daughters beyond a minimum. Charlotte addresses these concerns. The short answer for her is that everyone needs to feel they are actually making a contribution and that education is valuable in its own right even if it will not lead directly to a profitable career.

So now I would like to move on to the following chapter, “Two Peasant Boys.” Charlotte has a number of things to say in this chapter about young children. Despite the title, these seem to apply to girls as well as boys. She spends part of her time comparing two literary characters, Jorn Uhl and Wilhem Meister. I know little about the latter, but I was inspired enough to seek out the book Jorn Uhl and to read it (I could only find it in an electronic edition, by the way, but thoroughly enjoyed the story though it had a number of typographical errors).

Charlotte begins by talking about Jorn’s childhood in which he had few adults to care for him. This is not an ideal situation, obviously, but Charlotte shows how this did have some beneficial effects for young Jorn. It allowed him to do his own thinking. I can’t even count the number of times I have heard homeschooling parents make every little thing into a lesson. I know I have caught myself doing it too. But here is what Charlotte says:

“Little children must needs ruminate. We tease and distract them by our pestilent explanations, our continual calls upon attention already fully occupied, because we find it difficult to realize that even young children have need of a separate life. It is one thing to give a little child two or three lessons in attention in the day by inducing him to look a little longer at something he has already begun to regard with interest, but quite another to make him name a statue of Achilles or the portraits of the kings of England. Of course he can do these things; children are not stupid, but preoccupied, and the occupation they find for themselves is good for them.” (pp.176-77)

It is quite a strong statement, isn’t it? That our attempts to draw our children’s attention are “pestilent explanations.” Notice what is allowed here, only to encourage children to spend a little more time on what interests them, not to direct their interests and certainly not to quiz them on the information we deem worthy.

A little later, Charlotte gives some of her reasoning:

“Perhaps the forces of life as they come should be allowed to play upon the child, who is not, be it remembered, a product of educational care, but a person whose spiritual nurture is accomplished by that wind which bloweth whither it listeth.” (p.177)

It always seems to come back to this for Charlotte, her first principle, that “children are born persons”, and so we have no right to impose upon them.

Charlotte also sees children’s play as creative, even when a surface examination may lead one to think they are only being destructive:

” . . . in all the sports of Children, were it only in their wanton breakages or defacements, you shall discern a creative instinct . . . ” (p.180)

And so it is necessary that we give them space to follow their interests, to interact with the world on their own without our interference:

“It is by their self-ordered activities they develop, and they require more scope for these than an orderly house affords. An attic,  a garden, a yard, a field, wherein to do as they will, is necessary to the free growth of children.” (p.183)

She probably does not mean that I am just allowed to let my house go disorderly. But we also must not let children be inhibited by our adult needs to have everything just so. They need somewhere that is their own, where everything they have done doesn’t need to be picked up at the end of the day. This is what Charlotte refers to elsewhere as “masterly inactivity.”

There is more that Charlotte has to say in this chapter on education specifically, but I think I will save much of that for another post. I would like to conclude with one last idea, that we must not dismiss the emotions of children as minor things. Too often we say because something is small to us that it does not matter. But Charlotte urges us to remember that though their concerns may be more trivial, their feelings about them are just as real as our own:

“Indeed, childhood is quite happy only from the point of view of the elders. The pains of little children are as acute as their pleasures, and, what is more, they are eternal. Experience has not begotten hope, and every grief and disappointment is final.” (p.182)


2 responses to this post.

  1. […] continuing series in Charlotte Mason’s original works, and in particular it is a follow-up to this post on leaving little children well enough alone, otherwise known as masterly inactivity. If you read […]


  2. […] This is not going to be a proper book review. It has been a while since I read this book, but I have been meaning to post something on it. This is an older German novel. I came across it thanks to Charlotte Mason who discusses it in detail in her fifth volume, Formation of Character. She uses the main character, Jorn (there should be an umlaut in his name but I don’t know how to do that; my apologies to Germans), as an example of a child who, although largely ignored by the adults in his life, comes to have his own sort of education (I discussed this a little in this earlier post). […]


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