In preparation for the next Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, I have been reading through the chapter of her third book entitled “We are Educated by Our Intimacies Part II.––Further Affinities.” The cornerstone of a CM education is relationships. If children do not develop relationships with the material they study and encounter, they will not retain it for long and it will have no ultimate effect on them. In this chapter, Charlotte gives us a number of quotes from famous people showing the “intimacies” they had with the things around them. These are often simple things — pebbles, wooden blocks, flowers, and the like. She does go on to speak of our intimacies with books we have read, and indeed spends the most time on that, but I want to think in this post more about the simpler things.
Charlotte’s language may seem quirky or antiquated to us, all this talk of “affinities” and “intimacies,” but I think we have all observed the sort of thing she is talking about. It may not be our own child but we have probably run into at least one who just can’t stop talking about his passion. It might be rocks he has collected, breeds of dogs, or airplanes. Sometimes these passions stick through childhood; sometimes they pass and are replaced by new ones. My own observation would be that the kids who have them don’t tend to be without them. If they tire of the current interest, they find another. Others, of course, may drift through childhood without anything that seems to stir their fancy in this way.
Which brings us to some questions: Should we worry if our child has no such “affinities”? Is it better to stick with one or be ever switching between them? Are there suitable objects for such intimacies? Are there unsuitable ones we should discourage? What if they interfere with the child’s schoolwork? Should we make use of these fancies, perhaps in the form of unit studies? How do we encourage them? When should we discourage them?
One principle I have picked up from Charlotte’s writings is that eccentricities are not a good thing. She believed in a balanced life and was not a fan of just concentrating on one thing to the exclusion of all others. Education, after all, is about connections, and it is much easier to make connections if one has relationships with a variety of things. I think in this light Charlotte would have preferred to see the sort of children who move from one interest to another. But I also think she would prefer to see some sort of depth or meaning. She speaks in other places of those who have collections of various things, stamps for example, that these should not be mere collections for the sake of collecting but that they should somehow derive greater meaning from them. I am not sure how this translates into real life but let’s just say she was not a fan of collecting for collecting’s sake alone.
But what of the child whose passion seems to be fixed? Charlotte herself would admit that there are some great men and women who have one overarching passion dominates their lives and work. But for most this is not the case. She would encourage us, I think, to make sure our children are not all-consumed by one thing. As such I think she would not want us to use their educations to cater to their interests. I would not discourage them if they have worthwhile interests, but neither should we gear everything we do towards them. It would be better to make sure they achieve a little balance by making them also pursue other subjects. We should also not be afraid to set limits, to say things like “You may tell me about horses later but right now is our family dinner time and we are going to discuss other things.”
As a side note for us homeschoolers in particular, I would like to add that while building our lessons around our child’s current interests, we also need to just be careful how we speak to them about such things. I have heard may a homeschool mom — and I am sure I have done it myself — get all lecture-y about something her child is interested in. We are so focused on education that we have a tendency to butt in where we needn’t be and start spouting off facts our child hasn’t asked for. This seems like a good way to kill an interest to me. Plus we just need to let the child explore on his or her own. To balance out this view, however, I would also say that I think Charlotte would want us to give our children the proper names for things. If they are interested in something like rocks or flowers, we should either tell them or better still provide them with resources from which they can garner this information.
And what are “worthwhile” interests? Are there some childhood passions we should discourage? I think so. Too often these days the child’s passions seem to focus on things that have been sold to them. You know the sort of things I mean. There are a host of them that go in and out of fashion — Pokemon, Bionicles, Barbies . . . the list could go no and on. There is a reason for that — someone is always looking to make a buck and if we don’t steer our kids, they will be happy to. I don’t think we can avoid all such fads, but there are some questions I would ask in evaluating my child’s interest of the moment:
- Is someone else profiting financially from their interest? Does it tie in to a movie or TV show?
- Is it what every other kid their age is currently interested in or does their interest seem to be unique to them?
- Are they interested in natural things (rocks, animals, plants, etc.)?
- Are they creating something? The recent craze of making bracelets out of tiny rubber bands is making somebody some serious money, but it is not the worst thing in my book as it is also creating something and allowing creativity to blossom.
- Does the knowledge of this one thing lead to knowledge in other areas? For example, the Percy Jackson books might create an interest in ancient Roman myths.
- Does what they are interested in fit the criteria of Philippians 4:8:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
These are only meant to be guiding questions to get one’s thoughts going. While it is hard for me to imagine an area of the natural world that would be inappropriate for such a fancy, worthwhile ones are by no means limited to the natural world. Many children become enamored of a particular historical period, society, or culture. Others may be fascinated with certain machines or classes of machines. I am also not willing to say that everything that comes by way of someone’s advertising department is off-limits. One question I would encourage you not to ask is: Where is the value or profit in my child’s interest? It seems like every biography of a great artist or musician we have ever read begins with a father who did not want their child to pursue his interests but the child persisted and became the famous So-and-so. Don’t judge your children’s interests based on what you consider their future potential to be, financially or otherwise. Remember that education is about making connections and they may be heading in a direction you can’t even begin to imagine.
The last question I have to address is: What if my child has no such interests? Very few human beings will really just sit in a chair and stare ahead of them if they have nothing else to do. If your child seems not to have interests, they must still be spending their time doing something. So what are they doing? Perhaps they have interests but they are just things you had never really thought of that way before. This is a slightly different subject but I have one friend who complains her son doesn’t read but he has an amazing ability to listen to long audio books that are meant for adults. She is just seeing things the wrong way — it is not his lack in interest in books which is the problem but how he chooses to access them. He is actually learning a lot more than he might sometimes be given credit for, just not in traditional ways. So too it may be that your child has interests that you don’t esteem so you had never really thought of them as particular interests before. But if they really truly have no passions, we must turn again to how they spend their time. Are they so over-schedule that they have no time to pursue any personal interests? Children need space and time on their own to develop interests. Boredom is a means to an end here. It is often in the lack of anything to do that we fall back upon our own resources and find something new. Or it may be that their lives are so full or clutter, useless filler in th form of video games and TV shows, that they are unable to connect with anything worthwhile. Again we may need to enforce some boring time, to limit these things, in order to force them to fall back on their own resources and find something, anything, that will engage them. Don’t be afraid of the “Mom, I’m bored”s! And don’t give in to them.
So what have my children bee interested in? Ancient Greeks, math, otters, walruses, weaving, crafts of all kinds, board games . . I hope we are just beginning anf there are more to come. What about yours?