Reader Beware: This blogpost is an unabashedly enthusiastic advertisement for the immersion sessions at the CMI conference (Wednesday, June 15, 2016). Immersion is an invaluable aid to learning to employ Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.
I recently had the pleasure of spending a day with four of our Canadian friends—a day in which they and their children gathered in what they call “Large Room.” Mason describes the large room thus: “Our aim in education is to give children vital interests in as many directions as possible––to set their feet in a large room because the crying evil of the day is, it seems to me, intellectual inanition” (School Education, p. 231).
These children (ages 7 to 19) and their mothers have been schooling together for five years. They know one another well; they also love one another well. They spend one day together per week covering several vital, non-STEM subjects—the ones some of us have a tendency to skip over or simply fail to get around to on a consistent basis. I have participated in immersion sessions with these women at past CMI conferences, so I already had some basic knowledge about how their Large Room works and flows. However, being there with all of the actual children of these women (rather than with CMI conference attendees as “students”) brought new revelation.
When attempting to articulate what I loved about this Large Room, the first word that came to mind was “Beautiful!” This remains my overall image and favorite descriptor; however, because I didn’t think “Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful!” would be a very helpful blog post, I have tried to find more words to express my observations.
The subjects covered were lovely, ranging from a hymn and a folk song to architecture, handicrafts, and a speech by a prime minister. I soon realized, though, that it was not the subject matter that made this Large Room unique; rather, it was the habits of the children, the atmosphere of the gathering, and the relationships among everyone present.
Habits: “The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days. . .” (Home Education, p. 136). The habits of both the children and the mothers in Large Room were well-established. Among the habits I observed were the following: order, gentleness, courtesy, kindness, respect, imagining, remembering, and obedience (Home Education, p. 137). These habits were foundational and integral in creating the atmosphere where relaxed learning could occur.
Atmosphere: Charlotte Mason tells us that education “is an atmosphere—that is, the child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives” (Parents and Children, p. 247). The atmosphere I observed in Large Room was relaxed, energetic, and life-giving. I sensed no frustration on the part of teacher or student. There was a comfortable flow from one subject or activity to the next. The children were attentive and engaged. The subject matter and ideas were “living.”
Relationships: The deep relationships these women have with one another and with each other’s children is one of the many aspects of which I repeatedly think, “Beautiful!” Mason’s tenet that each child is born a person was lived out richly. I saw such deep respect for each child and mother. One of the mothers celebrated her birthday while I was in Canada. During the course of this Large Room day, the children and the other mothers each read to her a verse of poetry they had written for her birthday. The verses were about her and testified to the intimate and unique relationship each one—child and mother alike—has with her.
The day I spent in the Large Room demonstrated so beautifully (There’s that word again!) to me the relational nature of a Charlotte Mason education. This education occurs best when adequate attention is given to establishing habits, cultivating a nurturing atmosphere, and fostering loving relationships. There were plenty of smiles and laughs in Large Room; the children’s eyes sometimes twinkled with delight as they shared an insight. The children played together before and after the lesson times, as well as during breaks; the mothers drank tea and visited together. Their relationships were warm and open. And those in the Large Room continue to thrive, learn, and love. In a word, “Beautiful!”
*For an opportunity to become a student in this Large Room, register for the immersion session with Laurel Aldridge and Sandra Zuidema. http://www.cmiconferences.org/pre-conference-immersions.html
See Nancy Kelly’s CMI blogpost for a richer understanding of Mason’s “large room” concept. https://childlightusa.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/the-godward-movement-of-the-large-room-by-nancy-kelly/
© 2016 by Dr. Cindy Swicegood