Susannah Kate Devitt (mnemosynosis) wrote,
Susannah Kate Devitt
mnemosynosis

Ecological Learning: Lessons from Charlotte Mason for the 21st C.


Charlotte Mason at the turn of the 20th Century

Education, for Charlotte Mason, was coming to know the world and one's place in it, rather than studying for exams or employment. She considered children capable of complex abstract ideas as well as detailed particulars. Her educational theories and methods advocated an experimental and observational approach to learning rather than a teacher-led experience dispensing facts. She had great respect for science and scientific methods. But, more than this, she wanted to nurture the curiosity and sense of wonder in the natural world. Her respect for children's experimental nature accords with recent work in developmental psychology that views the growing child's brain like that of a young scientist (see the work of Alison Gopnik on the child scientist). Charlotte thought that children are capable, but must be scaffolded to work every day. She says in Charlotte Mason's Home Education,

"Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional; let them brace themselves to understand; let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do right at the sacrifice of ease and pleasure: and this for many higher reasons, but, in the first and lowest place, that the mere physical organ of mind and will may grow vigorous with work."


While Charlotte shared early educators' vision for hard work, she thought the classroom a poor catalyst for learning. Instead, she thought the best way to learn was outdoors.

"True, we must needs houses for shelter from the weather by day and for rest at night; but in proportion as we cease to make our houses 'comfortable,' as we regard them merely as necessary shelters when we cannot be out of doors, shall we enjoy to the full the vigorous vitality possible to us"

"On fine days when it is warm enough to sit out with wraps, why should not tea and breakfast, everything but a hot dinner, be served out of doors?... every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself. They who know what it is to have fevered skin and throbbing brain deliciously soothed by the cool touch of the air are inclined to make a new rule of life, Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.

....perhaps a mothers first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air"


Possibilities of a Day in the Open

Charlotte advocates 4-6hrs a day outside on fine days and 2hrs outside in winter.

"A journey of twenty minutes by rail or omnibus, and a luncheon basket, will make a day in the country possible for most town dwellers; and if one day, why not many, even every suitable day?

Supposing we have got them, what is to be done with these golden hours so that every one shall be delightful? They must be spent with some method, or the mother will be taxed and the children bored. There is a great deal to be accomplished in this large fraction of the children's day. They must be kept in a joyous temper all the time, or they will miss some of the strengthening and refreshing held in charge for them by the blessed air. They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this--that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherin to wonder--and grow. At the same time, here is the mother's opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit, without further help or knowledge of hers. Then, there is much to be got by perching in a tree or nestling in heather, but muscular development comes of more active ways, and an hour or two should be spent in vigorous play; at last, and truly least, a lesson or two must be got in.

No story-books. Let us suppose mother and children arrived at some breezy open wherin it seemeth always afternoon. In the first place, it is not her business to entertain the little people: there should be no story-books, no telling of tales, as little talk as possible, and that to some purpose. Who thinks to amuse children with tale or talk at a circus or pantomime? And here, is there not infinitely more displayed for their delectation? Our wise mother, arrived, first sends the children to let off their spirits in a wild scamper, with cry, hallo, and hullaballo, and any extravagance that comes into their young heads. There is no distinction between big and little; the latter love to follow in the wake of their elders, and, in lessons or play, to pick up and do according to their little might. As for the baby, he is in bliss: divested of his garments, hi kicks and crawls, and clutches the grass, laughs soft baby laughter, and takes in his little knowledge of shapes and properties in his own wonderful fashion--clothed in a woollen gown, long and loose, which is none the worse for the worst usage it may get.

II.Sight-seeing
By-and-by the others come back to their mother, and while wits are fresh and eyes are keen, she sends them off on an exploring expedition--who can see the most, and tell the most, about yonder hillock or brook, hedge, or copse. This is an exercise that delights children, and may be endlessly varied, carried on in the spirit of a game, and yet with the exactness and carefulness of a lesson.

How to See.--Find out all you can about that cottage at the foot of the hill; but do not pry about too much. Soon they are back, and there is a crowd of excited faces, and a hubbub of tongues, and random observations are shot breathlessly into the mother's ear. 'There are bee-hives.' 'We saw a lot of bees going into on.' There is a long garden' Yes, and there are sunflowers in it.' 'And hen-and-chicken daisies and pansies.' 'And there's a great deal of pretty blue flowers with rough leaves, mother; what do you suppose it is?' borage for the bees, most likely; they are very fond of it.' Oh, and there are apple and pear and plum trees on one side; there's a little path up the middle, you know.' 'On which hand side are the fruit trees?' 'The right--no, the left; let me see, which is my thimble-hand? Yes, it is the right-hand side.' 'And there are potatoes and cabbages, and mint and things on the other side.' 'Where are the flowers, then?' 'Oh, they are just the borders, running down each side of the path.' 'But we have not told mother about the wonderful apple tree; I should think there are a million apples on it, all ripe and rosy!' 'A million, Fanny?' 'Well, a great many, mother; I don't know how many.' and so on, indefinitely; the other getting by degrees a complete description of the cottage and its garden.

Educational uses of Sight-Seeing--This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment..."


Inspired by Charlotte Masons vision of education outdoors, I have created a digital artefact (Haiku Deck) as a testament to Charlotte Mason in the 21st century. My artefact explores how modern digital devices and constant access to information ought be combined for optimal well-being and attainment of knowledge. In this way I create utopian argument for the use of technology in education. The ideal location for learning is outdoors, therefore technology ought to augment human experiences within a natural environment and during hours spent under traditional habitation.

Ecological Learning [Haiku Deck] or Pinterest board

Draft assignment for eLearning & Digital Cultures MOOC
Tags: ecological education, mooc
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