CM and the Not Normal Child

Dear Reader,

Is it okay to stray from Charlotte Mason’s methods if your child is struggling with spelling or reading or –?? This is a question which seems to come up a lot.

Charlotte Mason’s approach to education was designed for the “normal” child. This is apparent from her 11th principle:

“But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum . . . ” (“Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles,” from Ambleside Online)

This is in sharp contrast to the work of her contemporary, Maria Montessori, whose approach to education was designed initially for “backwards” children and was later applied and extended to all children. Charlotte began with “normal” children. It should be noted that she included in this category many who, in her time, were not considered “normal.” It was though that the poor and illegitimate were inherently unable to learn. Charlotte extended the definition of normal for her time and made it a much more inclusive category.

Though we don’t today exclude children based on their parentage (or lack thereof) there is no denying that many have intellectual challenges. They simply can’t learn as well as others or perhaps just learn in very different ways. Can a Charlotte Mason education work for these children? The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is yes, but one may at times need to consider additions or modifications. The longer still answer is to consider the following:

  • Make sure your definition of normal is broad enough. Everybody has some areas they are weak in and our society loves its labels. Don’t let a label rule your child’s life and don’t go in assuming the worst. As Charlotte herself says, (paraphrasing from volume 6 here) kids will live down to low expectations.
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Charlotte’s philosophy combines a certain view of children with a certain view of how they learn. If the How they learn part doesn’t seem to be working in one or more areas, still consider her overall view of children. Every child is, as CM’s first principle says, a “born person.” If anything, we need to remember this most for the kids our society labels.
  • Whether your child has delays or not, a CM education is a long-haul sort of thing. Even with “normal” kids results will often not be seen for years. Be patient with the system. All those living books and narrations will pay off in the end.
  • Often it is the kids with some sort of issues who most need the real things a CM education uses — the living books and art and music.
  • If after considering all the above, your still feel there are areas which are just not working for your child, it is okay to adapt or make additions. It does not make you a bad homeschool parent . It does not make you not truly CM (feel free to ignore what people on message boards may tell you on this). Look back at principle 11 — Charlotte said that this was for “normal” kids but some are not normal. Some might need those tweaks.

I’m sure there are other resources out there but the one I know of is the blog Aut2Home in Carolina. It chronicles one mom’s CM journey with her autistic daughter. Read it. See that Charlotte Mason’s approach can work for your not-quite-normal kid.


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