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imgresPart V.
Charlotte Mason and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay: Mentors of the Modern Home Schooling Movement

The year 2014 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s book . Neophytes to home education back in the early 1980s (as most of us were) found in Macaulay’s book a call to a model of education that resonated with something deep in the human heart—something most of us had only inklings of. Macaulay was the first voice to articulate the teachings of Charlotte Mason in a way that was challenging, inspiring, and reflected many abstract thoughts circulating about education but not yet formed into a cohesive paradigm. Over thirty years later, Macaulay’s work is visible in nearly every quarter of the homeschooling world, where the legacy of Charlotte Mason is seen in countless ways.

The year 2014 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s book For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for the Home and School. Neophytes to home education back in the early 1980s (as most of us were) found in Macaulay’s book a call to a model of education that resonated with something deep in the human heart—something most of us had only inklings of. Macaulay was the first voice to articulate the teachings of Charlotte Mason in a way that was challenging, inspiring, and reflected many abstract thoughts circulating about education but not yet formed into a cohesive paradigm. Over thirty years later, Macaulay’s work is visible in nearly every quarter of the homeschooling world, where the legacy of Charlotte Mason is seen in countless ways.

Intrinsic Value of the Child as an Individual

How did the work of Charlotte Mason, as revitalized by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, shape the grassroots home education movement as it emerged in the early 1980s? While their vision and impact is difficult to quantify, I think there were three very distinct ways in which these two women impacted the education of hundreds of thousands of young children and by extension their parents. The first was a call to a sense of the intrinsic value of the child as an individual. Mason stated that “children are born persons” and challenged parents and teachers to really get to know, study, and respect the children God has put into their lives.1 Elaborating on this point, Macaulay noted that “Charlotte Mason not only said she treasured the minds of children, but she acted upon that belief, [she] enjoyed sharing the good things of life with the eager minds of children. She dealt with them on an eye-to-eye level . . . delighting in introducing them to all aspects of reality with a positive joy. She delighted in their separate individuality.”2 I remember distinctly how these thoughts impressed me—a busy young mother with four little ones under six. Never having seen this kind of parenting modeled growing up (where the motto was “children should be seen and not heard”), I hung on every word and labored to implement delight and joy into mothering and educating my four. As I learned to see my little ones with an eye to their individual gifts and intrinsic uniqueness, Mason and Macaulay taught me how to love my children better and how to relish the gift of life expressed through each of them. When Macaulay pleaded: “Where are the friends and lovers of children?  Who will open up the wonderful windows into the whole of reality and let their capable minds be stimulated?”3 I knew that I was the one to do that for my children. Mason and Macaulay gave me a vision of nurturing motherhood that was fresh, challenging, and consistent with a Biblical worldview. It required energy, passion, intelligence, and devotion, but promised the gratification and satisfaction of exploring the wonder and beauty of God’s world alongside my children. We would become fellow pilgrims journeying together in a great adventure of learning.

“Twaddle-free” education

Based upon the foundation of the intrinsic value of the child, Mason and Macaulay demonstrate how to provide children with a rich adventure in learning.   That was the “twaddle-free” course of study.4  This phrase, coined by Mason, reflected a course of study free of textbooks and workbooks–both women lamented what they viewed as the watered down, uninspired, pedantic nature of so much that passes as educational curriculum. The very nature of institutionalized education spawned the birth of curriculum designed to keep classes of children engaged eight hours a day. Macaulay decries this approach to education, noting 

. . . how colorfully and scientifically our generation talks down to the little child! What insipid, stupid, dull stories are trotted out! And we don’t stop there. We don’t respect the children’s thinking or let them come to any conclusions themselves! We ply them with endless questions, the ones we’ve thought up, instead of being silent and letting the child’s questions bubble up with interest. We tire them with workbooks that would squeeze out the last drop of anybody’s patience. We remove interesting books and squander time on ‘reading skill testing,’ using idiotic isolated paragraphs which no one would dream of taking home to read.5 

Ruth Beechick, in her book You Can Teach Your Child Successfully, echoed this notion by pointing out that presenting our students with information that is “pre-digested, pre-thought, pre-analyzed, and pre-synthesized . . . depriv[es] children of the joy of original thought.”6  The cultural critic Neil Postman, who was most popularly known for his book titled Amusing Ourselves to Death, suggested in his book, The End of Education, that often knowledge is presented as the accumulation of facts, dates, times, places—trivializing the pursuit of knowledge to the extent that “there is no sense of the frailty or ambiguity of human judgment, no hint of the possibilities of error. Knowledge is presented as a commodity to be acquired, never as a human struggle to understand, to overcome falsity, to stumble toward truth.”7 Sadly, in the current trend toward academic efficiency there is often a neglect of works of quality and enduring value for the “convenience” of books that contain neither literary beauty nor status in the world of children’s canonical literature.

What Charlotte Mason insisted upon rather than “twaddle” was a course of instruction rich in classical, historical, and biographical literature. Young children should have a diet full of folk and fairy tales, oversized picture books beautifully illustrated, Bible stories and tales of talking animals. Even Shakespeare could be introduced to young children of third grade in a book such as Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. Literature should never speak down to children, but rather should engage them intelligently and respectfully. The best books for children do this naturally. 

Embrace the child’s tender years

What has become an oft-repeated tale in the current trend of academic rigor is a neglect of the tremendous wealth of young children’s literature. At a recent speaking engagement I was dismayed to hear from numerous parents of young children who knew nothing of the above authors, not to mention Charlotte Mason. Following an educational trend, they were missing one of the greatest joys of parenting—the vast treasury of glorious children’s books!  The beauty of Mason’s philosophy was the freedom she allowed parents and teachers to embrace the child in their tender years with literature suitable for innocent minds and hearts.  Rather than imposing education from without—following a pre-determined scope and sequence set by others—Mason trained us to see education as a matter of the spirit. The world of knowledge is brought to the child through gradually expanding circles of understanding.  In other words, the simplest fairy tales, folktales and picture books for the young one, then stories of our country for the primary child—and gradually moving on to the stories of other lands and places as they mature in understanding and scope. As we imgres-1explore the beauty and wonder of God’s world with the child, we nurture the spirit, validate the individuality of each young person, and respect the unique gift that every child is. 

An unlimited treasury of rich children’s books


From the moment a child enters the primary grades, the choices for a course of study rich in historical, biographical, and classical literature are unlimited. No young child should grow up without the wonderful works of award-winning authors like Meindert de Jong, James Daugherty, Arnold Lobel, Ruth Krauss, Alice Dalgliesh, Robert McCloskey, Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, William Steig, Virginia Lee Burton, Beatrix Potter, A. A. Milne, Brinton Turkle, Marguerite Henry, Munro Leaf, Marguerite de Angeli, and many imgres-2others. In my view, Mason’s and Macaulay’s promotion of “twaddle-free” curriculum was their second most salient contribution and one that birthed an entire industry of rich literature-based programs.

Stories that make for wonder . . .

Two decades ago, those who implemented Mason’s paradigm discovered wonderful benefits in family life. Since most of us were products of traditional classrooms where textbooks comprised the bulk of our education, the opportunity to immerse ourselves and our students in a world rich with literature afforded us an opportunity that enhanced our personal lives dramatically. We became passionate about literature; we read books we had always wanted to read; we journeyed to other times and places in our imagination; we walked in the footsteps of others and understood better their joys, sorrows, and triumphs. In the process of doing all of this our hearts were enlarged, our relationships with our children were strengthened, and we learned empathy and compassion for others. C. S. Lewis referred to this process as the “baptism of the imagination”—an apprehension of that which is pure, true, and beautiful, and ultimately holy.8   Ruth Sawyer, the children’s author and critic, said the best children’s works are

. . . stories that make for wonder. Stories that make for laughter. Stories that stir within, with an understanding of the true nature of courage, of love, of beauty. Stories that make one tingle with high adventure, with daring, with grim determination, with the capacity of seeing danger through to the end. Stories that bring our minds to kneel in reverence; stories that show the tenderness of true mercy, the strength of loyalty, the unmawkish respect for what is good.9

The ability of great stories to speak to the human heart is a powerful tool in our parental tool chest.  The added beauty of reading aloud together with our children is that the books we read often have incredibly valuable lessons to teach us as well.  As our children watch us respond to the characters, events, and lessons we see in literature, they learn appropriate responses to all the vagaries of human life.

The Gift of Play

Finally, Charlotte Mason and Susan Macaulay emphasized the profound importance of play in a young child’s life. When a child is children-playing-philippines_40412_600x450nurtured and fed upon the best books, the natural outcome is a rich imaginative life. From the treasures of imagination comes the delight of play—free, unstructured, play-acting of the stories lining the shelves of the mind. The importance of this cannot be overstated. In our hurry-scurry world it is often free play that gets pushed out of the schedule in our endless shuttle to soccer games, violin lessons, church choir, youth group, gymnastics, ballet, etc. etc. Added to that, even the home schooled child may have play squeezed out in pursuit of academic excellence. Pity the childhood sacrificed on the altars of scholastic achievement. Of this pitfall Mason warns:

There is a danger in these days of much educational effort that children’s play should be crowded out [or what is the same thing] should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than about work. We do not say a word against the educational value of games (such as football, basketball, etc.) . . . but organized games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.10

The rapidity with which children can pick up and play, anywhere and everywhere, is a testament to this wonderful God-given impulse in human nature. I have often been distracted from my homeschooling lessons by an important phone call, an email message, or an unexpected visitor. In every case my children disappear from their “assignments” and can be found donning dress-up clothes, building Playmobil cities, or dancing across the kitchen floor. While in former times I found this irritating, I now understand how wonderful it is. Play’s caprice is something we ought to delight in and embrace. It is a fruit of children who are loved in their homes, nurtured by a steady diet of rich literature, and secure in the love of their family and their God. It is a reflection of the God who made us for His pleasure–a God who delights in bestowing joy.

The teachings of Charlotte Mason, brought to a new generation by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, are truths that stand the test of time and bear sweet fruit. Nurturing our children’s individuality, providing them a twaddle-free curriculum, and allowing them the gift of play, are as peaceable and easy to entreat as they are simple and sensible. Thirty years after their clarion call was sounded, their reverberations continue to ring true with all who are childlike at heart.

Attention all California friends!  Be sure to sign up soon for the Great Homeschool Convention June 12-14 in Ontario, California.  Remember that if you sign up through Beautiful Feet Books here, BFB will donate $5 to the Brent Blickenstaff fund to help the family through this present crisis.  In my next post I will present a synopsis of the three sessions I’ll be presenting at GHC, so be sure to watch for that.  The three sessions include: Charlotte Mason Meets Plato: Restoring the Joy of Education in Your Home, American History Through Literature, and Character Through Literature.  Looking forward to seeing you there!

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Dear Readers,
Lon_po_poAs installment 3 of our Around the World with Caldecott and Newbery, today we visit China!  For the purposes of brevity and conciseness, I’ve entitled this book tour through children’s award-winning literature as Around the World with Caldecott and Newbery, but I also include other notable awards such as the British Carnegie Medal, the Kate Greenway medal etc.  Occasionally I will throw in a book that just happens to be a personal favorite, and though it may not have won a particular honor, has won credibility by virtue of its timelessness and appeal to children.

For the youngest reader, Lon Po Po:  A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young, won the Caldecott Medal in 1990 and turns the tale of the sweet but gullible Red Riding Hood on its head.  In this Chinese version, the wolf is outwitted by three discriminating and resourceful children!  Ed Young grew up in China and studied art here in the US.  He brings a richness and drama to this tale through his use of ancient Chinese artistic techniques combined with watercolors and pastels.  Also by Ed Young, Ye259382-Mh, Shen: A Cinderella Story from China won the Horn Book Honor in 1983.

The well-loved children’s book author, Jean Fritz, writes the story of her childhood in China in Homesick, My Own Story–winner of the Newbery Honor in 1983.  Born in China, Jean’s childhood is rich with vivid memories of her Chinese amahs–her nursemaids, family picnics on the Great Wall, being spat at and called a “foreign devil”, glorious summer vacations on the beach at Peitaiho, and the unrest of impending revolution.  Fritz’s memoir draws these stories into a beautiful mix woven with the longing of a young girl for her American “home”–a home she’s never seen.  Margot Tomes enhances the text with her delightfully whimsical line drawings.

The House of Sixty Fathers has to be one of my all-time favorite children’s books!  First of all, I love Meindert DeJong for his tender depictions of his childhood protagonists.  DeJong seems to remember poignantly how he thought as a child, and incorporates that sensibility into his characters.  Young Tien Pao has escaped Japanese invading forces on  his family’s sampan with his mother, father, three ducklings, the family pig, and his baby sister, Beauty-of-the-Republic.  DeJong uses beautiful alliteration to establish the setting.

9780060214814_xlgRain raised the river.  Rain beat down on the sampan where it lay in a long row of sampans tied to the riverbank. Rain drummed down on the mats that were shaped in the form of an arched roof over the middle of the sampan. It clattered hard on the four long oars lying on the top of the roof of mats.  The rain found the bullethole in the roof of the mats.”

DeJong was stationed in China as a US Army sergeant during WWII, and the book is based upon his friendship with a young Chinese boy at the time. What follows is the tender, yet gripping story of a young boy, separated from his family during  war, and of his relentless and courageous pursuit of them through hostile enemy territory.  His remarkable adventures will bring a tear to your eye.  Maurice Sendak’s tender illustrations enhance the text.  The author won the Newbery Honor for this book in 1957.Young+Fu

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman won the Newbery Medal in 1933 and concerns thirteen-year-old Fu, who comes from the country to Chungking with his widowed mother, where the bustling city offers adventure and his apprenticeship to a coppersmith.  Set in the turbulent era of the 1920s, the author has drawn an authentic depiction based upon her own experiences as a missionary to China.

The Kite Rider by Geral9780066238753_p0_v1_s260x420dine McCaughrean won a Horn Book Fanfare award (2003) a American Library Association award as well as 2 British awards, for its intricately plotted tale of a 13th century Chinese boy who becomes a kite-rider.   Kite-riding was believed to predict the fortune or demise of a sea voyage and boys and men were sent up on large kites for this purpose.  After Haoyou’s father is killed kite-riding,  the boy takes up the profession in order to support his mother.  His world is beset by the treachery of the man responsible for his father’s death, and his wicked uncle who forces his mother to labor relentlessly to pay his gambling debts.  His adventures take him all over the empire, and even to the tents of the great Kublai Khan.

This is just a taste of the books that will be covered in my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soirée, which you can register for here.  Hope to see you there!

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Dear Readers,9780060215859-l
As many of you know, I’m hosting a Back-to-School Literature Soirée in two weeks.  In preparation for this, I’ve been reading some current medal winners as well as pulling lots of old Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners from my shelf and rereading them.  This is such a delight!  While I am learning new things, I am also taking a trip down memory lane, as rereading these treasures brings back reflections of how these books affected me when I first read them.  I have been struck by how reading these award-winning books can be a veritable trip “around the world”, as so many of them have to do with cultures, nations, and historic periods completely outside of our own familiar and comfortable world.

For the upcoming soirée I will present an “Around the World” with Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners.  We will take a trip through various nations, cultures, and historic periods through treasured classics.  Here’s an example of what our “trip” will look like:  We will travel to Holland through the wonderful works of Meindert DeJong, in The Wheel on the School and Journey From Peppermint Street. In the first book, we get90a a charming look at life in a fishing village in Holland when the school children place an old wagon wheel on their school so a mother stork will build her nest.  This tender and touching story won the Newbery Medal in 1954 and continues to have a place in the hearts of children today. In Journey from Peppermint Street, young Siebren goes on a long journey with his grandfather and in the process learns valuable lessons about the joys and mystery of life. Yonie Wondernose by Marguerite De Angeli won the Caldecott Honor in 1945 and concerns a Pennsylvania Dutch boy named Yonie who lets his curiosity get him into all kinds of scrapes.

Continuing our European tour a bit north to Denmark, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is an inspiring story set in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation of Denmark.  Lois Lowry, (who I was able to meet just recently in Boston!) has created her story based on the Danish people’s rescue of the Jews through the inspiring example and leadership of their King Christian X, and the profound courage of the Danish Resistance.  Ten year-old Annemarie Johansen risks her life to save her best friend Ellen Rosen and learns the meaning of courage and self-sacrifice.  If the plight of storks has peaked your interest, you can continue reading about these marvelous creatures through a lighthearted and whimsical tale, also set in Denmark (and London) about a family that saves an abducted stork! Mrs. Easter and the Storks by V.H.

Mrs. Easter and the Storks

Mrs. Easter and the Storks

Drummond will delight your youngest readers with its fun and adventure!

Another award-winning work on Denmark is Chase Me, Catch Nobody by Erik Christian Haugaard which won the Jane Adams Book Honor in 1981.  It involves a 14 year-old Danish boy on a school trip to Germany in 1937 who becomes involved in the activities of the anti-Nazi underground.  You may recognize this award-winning author from his more well-known work set in 16th century Japan, The Samurai’s Tale.

So, this is just a little preview of the upcoming journey we will take through treasures old and new during my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soirée. Our journey will also take us to Japan, China, England, Korea, and even into the future!  There are still spots available, so if you are interested, visit my last post for info, or to register visit here.

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