“What a child digs for becomes his own possession.” –Charlotte Mason
I’ve never been one to follow advice based solely on studies and I can’t recommend it, but I’m going to go ahead and feel a little smug that the research world is finally coming around to embracing what I have always believed and what Charlotte Mason was teaching way back in the 1890’s.
When my children were in their early to mid-elementary years, before I had even met Charlotte, they spent a lot of time in creative play. They read about animals, built habitats out of furniture and blankets, and pretended to be the corresponding animals. They created with Sculpey and playdough, and painted pictures at their easels. They played outside, made “lion soup” by stirring rocks and dirt in a wading pool, roller-bladed, played with pets, went swimming and went on picnics. They dressed up, danced and sang. They told elaborate stories while they played. They taught their dolls “school.” They made stop-action movies with Legos. Lessons were very short. We talked. We went on field trips. And we read together.
Some on the outside looking in hinted that my children may be wasting time–that they should have more structure and spend more time on academics. By this time my intuition had been reinforced by Charlotte’s insights, so I smiled and did my own thing. Children learn through exploration and play. One child learned to read at age four, chapter books by age 4 1/2, all her idea and her work, not mine. Another at 3 1/2 looked casually up at a shape on a shop wall and said, “Look a hexagon.” (It was one.) A year later the same child saw a fish in a hospital aquarium and said, “Mom! It’s a Fairy Basilette!” (It was actually a Fairy Basslet.) She did not learn these things from sitting and drilling with me. They came out of what Charlotte Mason calls “masterly inactivity” –exploration and play in a fertile learning environment.
Now, numerous studies indicate that delaying formal academics until at least age 8 (8-12) creates better educational outcomes than starting academics earlier. They indicate that pushing academics actually causes children to have life-long anxiety about learning and that the benefits from pushing young children academically disappear by first grade.
Children need plenty of time to “dig.” They need a fertile learning environment: music, craft supplies, access to outdoors, and stories. They need a parent (or other invested family member) present to provide love and encouragement. I will be forever grateful that, rather than caving in to outside pressure and forcing academics, and consequently missing the joys of motherhood, I have been privileged to help guide my children to develop their intellects, imaginations and souls in the way I feel is best.
For more information on early childhood education read: