I have been educating my kids at home for almost fifteen years, and I have heard of Charlotte Mason since the very beginning; but I do not know why I never looked further into her education philosophy. I suppose I felt comfortable with what I was already doing, and adding a new idea would feel overwhelming.
But something prompted me to look into this book, The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason, by Laurie Bestvater, and I have been really excited about it. Much of what I had learned already required or encouraged journal keeping, so this idea was not new to me, but the kinds of journals were. Also, the ideas of Charlotte Mason truly resonated with me.
There is a notebook for everything!
Calendar of Firsts
Motto book/Student yearbook
My world book
Way of the Will chart
"Enquire Within" notebook
Table of History notebook
History/Century chart (which may include a child's self-history)
The Book of Centuries
Calendar of events
Of course, you wouldn't use all of these at the same time, but at different stages, as a child grows out of one and into another. Some, however, are used throughout one's lifetime.
Mason's philosophy is this: that "children are persons," to be respected, and "notebooks are tools for supporting the learning process of persons rather than products in and of themselves." In this way, they are "personalizing their learning."
Bestvater explains, "Mason is not pursuing achievement per se. Her education is an acknowledgement of the heart - a heart that is 'made for and must have a God.' A child must have a clear sightline to Glory, and the notebooks are a means to invite this seeing." Notebooks are windows into the heart of a child, what he loves, cares about, and desires. And through journaling, students realize that "all is connected, and all is relationship."
Keeping Imagination and Attention
Journaling allows us to keep an imagination fresh and alive and pay closer attention to everything around us. Bestvater says that Mason would support imagination and metaphor in education "because of how we are made, that humans are image bearers of a creative and Word-speaking God."
Paying attention "makes us more human and alive to others; how can I possibly be compassionate if I have not paid attention to those who lie at the side of the road of my life?" Being observant allows for better relationships and connections.
Relationships are so important to Mason, and she believes that education is best for fostering the care of others: "The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is."
Here are some sad points to consider, too. Our culture is losing its "celebration of beauty, as well as timefulness and placefulness, we are losing our ability to be open to the other." It was also quoted that we are in "imminent danger of losing personhood in our idolatry of utility and efficiency." But children naturally need to express themselves, to imagine, to discover, and to feel a sense of belonging, and notebooks provide a way for them to do just that, through nuance, time, place, and relationships.
In The Living Page Bestvater includes a section for details on when to start and how or why to use each of these notebooks, with simple instructions on how to implement each. Mason encourages teachers to always expect the student to do her best work, including "neatness, order, beauty, and perfect execution." Also, work should be personal, not clip art or print outs, or even instruction on how to mix paints to get a specific color. Let the child discover that on his own. Blank pages are best because they invite the student to imagine and create. And while different ages have different expectations, the older the child is the more their work is self-directed and follows an expression of ideas and imagination.
Also, if you need ideas, Bestvater includes list of supplies, samples of work, sources, bibliography, and lots of notes.
Finally, I will leave off with a quote by Mason on expression:
In a sense each of us is a voice, we all seek expression; the more modes of expression we find, the fuller and richer is our life. Expression is to life; suppression death.