I have a secret to confide to you….
I don't prepare school lessons for my elementary age children. None, zilch. Now before you think that I am sitting down while on the job, please hear me out.
There was a time in my professional career when I had everything carefully laid out that I wanted my students to learn and furthermore, I planned exactly how they would learn it. It took many hours of time outside of the classroom to prepare these 'masterpiece' lesson plans-and my students loved them. They loved me! I even won awards for coming up with these carefully thought out plans. I felt great about myself and happy for my students. However, one day my husband, upon hearing me explain my methods to him, responded with a bucket of cold water. "It sure seems like a lot of work you are doing for the sake of organizing information for the kids. I see no superior benefits in teaching this way." Whew! You could have knocked me over with a feather. I sat there stunned. Doesn't he know that I was TEACHER OF THE YEAR!!? But his words would not leave my head and I began to ponder my methods. It was a few years later that I learned about Charlotte Mason and her ideas about the subject.
Miss Mason was very much against carefully prepared lessons that correlated several subjects together. She felt that this made the teacher do most of the work (thinking), spoon-feeding information to the children while creating a teacher-dependent atmosphere. Instead, she believed children need to make those connections themselves. They should learn to get knowledge from reading excellent literature without depending upon a teacher to make it understandable. This prepares them to become life-long learners who are used to the hard work of getting knowledge for themselves. Of course, the literature should be enticing, but stretching. We underestimate and insult children's capabilities by doing much of the thinking and assimilating for them.
"Herbart's ideas about psychology are enormously satisfying and appealing to teachers. Like any other group of people, they're naturally eager to make their profession look indispensable. Herbart's philosophy shows that every child is a new creation, able to be molded completely by the teacher. If the teacher just learns how to do it, she can gather the best collection of ideas in the most effective sequence so that they form groups to the best pre-ordered advantage. Then the job is done. In the student's mind, the strongest and most powerful idea masses take over, and, if the teacher has selected beneficial ideas, then, viola, the student is made into a full-fledged, educated man...
His theory throws the entire burden of educating on the teacher. With so much responsibility, the personality of the teacher becomes a major force in education. This gives challenging, creative, interesting work to teachers who are very intelligent, devoted and have a passionate hope to leave the world a little better than they found it by raising children to a higher level. Surely this vision will be appealing to teachers. It appeals to educational boards and school principals, too. Think how much influence teachers have if they're seen as the fountain of all knowledge, and all they need to do is turn on the spigot and let the information flow forth from themselves. Responsibility is placed fully on the teacher rather than the student. Lessons become entertaining and fun in order to hold the students' attention… The teacher is encouraged by small evidences of success every day, success that she has caused by her own cleverness, skill and drama in drilling some point into her students. I say 'her' because women seem to excel in this kind of teaching, although many male teachers do quite well at it, too. And what about the children? They are entertained and enjoy the amusement. They like their teacher because she puts so much effort into attracting their attention. While all of this is happening, it looks wonderful, who could fault it? But later, thoughtful people become dismayed and anxious about this kind of education."
Then she quotes from a certain Mr. Paterson,
"Too much learning, without requiring any effort on the part of the student. The teacher works too hard to use all her training and experience, but the student does nothing. If education is made too easy, then students are robbed of the active mental challenge of learning. Learning can be a difficult challenge, but the exercise teaches students to concentrate and to work independently. The student should be left alone with the book so that he's forced to put his whole focus on the dull words in front of him. There shouldn't be someone right there to paraphrase or make the remembering easier with memory tricks. A promising youth who graduates might get a job with the railroad. He'll be required to sit and memorize Morse code. Perhaps the only school work he's done on his own is reading some exciting poem, which hardly trains the mind to persevere when the work seems hard. He'll find it difficult to learn the code . . . . Silent reading is sometimes scheduled for a half hour, but it should be regularly scheduled because reading to oneself is much more valuable than listening to a read aloud."
Eventually, I realized that during my teaching career, I had treated children like baby birds, chewing the food first and feeding them bit by bit as if they were helpless in this 'getting of knowledge' process. Everything depended upon ME if the children were to really understand the ideas and acquire knowledge. NOT ANY MORE.
I don't know about you, but I find this to be freeing for me as a mother who must wear many hats in daily life. I don't have to be 'gifted' in teaching in order to adequately educate my children. Also, in choosing this method I am protected from burnout and find that I have more time on my hands to pursue other interests in my life rather than teaching 6 hours a day for many years to come. Furthermore, it's not only acceptable to loosen the reins, it is BETTER FOR MY CHILDREN to do the brain work of collecting and assimilating knowledge. I am no longer in the front seat of the cart, but am along side them guiding the reins now and then.
Does this mean I never make plans other than having my kids read the books? No. I go over potentially difficult vocabulary (when I think of it), I often find interesting maps, sometimes Internet links, and occasionally an activity, but this is not the same as 'the carefully prepared lesson plan.' For the most part, my children just enjoy the literature, with occasional comments and explanation from mom.
Miss Mason has much more to say about this fascinating subject. If this is hard for you to swallow, I challenge you to read it for yourself before coming to a conclusion. I have only touched upon her given reasons. Although, she was against detailed lesson plans, she thought history should be taught chronologically and children's literature selections often matched the time period in which they were studying. So, a loose correlation of subjects was going on.
one step at a time...