"Such a theory of education...must regard education, not as a shut-off compartment, but as being as much a part of life as birth or growth, marriage or work; and it must leave the pupil attached to the world at many points of contact." (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1: Home Education, preface.)When I think back on my childhood, I think of classical music playing from a record player, music so powerful that sometimes it brought tears to my eyes. I think of goats and sheep and pigs and geese to take care of and to love. I think of Scripture reading, and prayer, and psalm-singing, and catechism questions...day after day after day. I think of walking across the corn field and getting my boots stuck in the mud. I think of hiding behind my father's big, orange armchair, reading for hours, pretending not to hear anything else at all. I think of special picnics held in the loft of the barn. I think of my father, stirring up all of us children into doing an exciting "surprise clean-up" for my mother before she got home from her errands. I think of my first potato peelings and my first meal cooked on my own. I think of pages of dreary math problems. I think of exploring the making of music on a ridiculously bad electronic organ. And I know, have always known: it was all education. This, this is why I feel down to my toes that Charlotte Mason speaks the truth when she says "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Charlotte Mason has reminded me as a mother of preschoolers that education is much broader than the three R's. Nothing magical is going to happen when Kindergarten or Grade 1 begins and I set a workbook in front of my child. There is no point at which I could possibly say, "That was just our preschool life together. Now, we are going to begin education." No, education begins at birth, and my child's preschool and school "lessons" are only part of a much larger picture. What is forming my child into the person he will become? That is his education.
Education is an Atmosphere. How is our home life forming our children? What loves are they picking up in the very air they breathe? I think of my almost-two-year-old, and how every time he hears a bird outdoors, he is instantly alert, looking for it. "Chickadee," he says, no matter what kind of bird it may be. This is because watching birds is a happy part of our everyday life. I think of my almost-four-year-old, who knows how to shape bread dough into a loaf and put it in the pan, because we love baking at our house. I think of poetry teatime, and how it is (almost) always a time of peace and joy, whether or not the boys seem to be taking anything much in at the time. I also think of ways I wish I was providing a better atmosphere (neatness and order, for one thing). But I also know we have the best thing of all: love (never mind if it's cliche...there is nothing more valuable).
Education is a Discipline. What habits and routines form our daily lives? Are we intentional about creating habits of orderliness, obedience, attention, and other things that are right and good? I think of the challenges: the vigilance I must exercise to continually form new habits, especially as obvious bad habits make new good habits necessary. I think of our family worship, how day by day we have formed the habit of taking in God's Word, singing, and praying. I think how "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" is, like many Proverbs, a statement of the obvious...the habits we form now will stick with them for life. Sow a habit, reap a character. I think, too, of how the bad habits we form may also, but for the grace of God, stick with them for life, and pray for my blind spots.
Education is a Life. Finally, we get to the academics, but we're not talking about anything dry or uninteresting. What kind of books and ideas are forming our children's thoughts and feeding their minds? Even at this young age, it is worth thinking about...are the books we read to them good, and true, and beautiful? It is far better to read a few good books than many indifferent ones.
You may have noticed that I still haven't mentioned development of fine motor skills, and letter recognition, and socialization, things that seem so important for the preschool years these days. I think these are all just little things, don't you? Things that will be taught, simply and lovingly in the home, in the context of this atmosphere, discipline, and life.