The full vs. the empty vessel

I am so proud of myself!   For several months now, I’ve planned to experiment with adding categories to the blog–what we’re reading, what we use to homeschool, reviews, etc.   I finally began playing around a couple of days ago, and voila!   It’s crude, but I managed to get our curriculum listed on the blog.   Now I’ll have to play around some more to add to what I have.

I sometimes get  e-mails from those who read the blog, but don’t necessarily post, so I thought I’d elaborate on what we use as curriculum in our school.   For those of you who are CM purists, you would immediately say, “Their school looks more classical than CM.”   In truth, we use a combination of both Charlotte Mason and Classical approaches, a method that has been both satisfying for me and challenging for the kids with overburdening them with the rigors and traditions of school.

Perhaps about a month ago, lindafay did an excellent job of defining the difference between dry curriculum– “bread and water rations,” as she called them–vs. the rich stew and bread of a Charlotte Mason diet.   I wrote to her that we were decidedly in between–fish and a salad, if you will.   Though I had early success with living books, admittedly my faith and misleading research–I find that even Charlotte Mason websites (not amblesideonline.org) offer a wealth of curriculum that I don’t believe was ever intended as a part of the method–was such that I kept adding 1 more thing.   The result was a burned-out mom and overtaxed, underinterested children.   I had drained all the joy out of the day, and we had no room for any additional child-directed interests.  So we’re back–streamlined and having a lot more fun–at least, I think they enjoy it.  (As an aside, our kids have the funniest ways of acknowledging a good academic experience, as if “I enjoyed this!” is a stretch.  As an example, one of the ways the kids let me know that they’re enjoying a good book is to pick up for me in reading it.  I smile to myself when my oldest, who hates to admit she’s having fun with a “school” book, picks up where I leave off in a sentence. 

 I digress.    We started with more of a pure CM approach.   As I began to study homeschooling approaches more, I found the Classical approach intriguing and I loved the idea of teaching children according to the way their brains develop.   This approach also offered some structure and direction to our learning, which was more my need than the children’s.    Yet, I’ve always thought that it was a waste of an opportunity to bring the rigor of the traditional classroom into our home when we have such a wealth of learning tools available to us in and around our home.   Also, I had enough experience with CM to know that it worked; I saw my children’s interest in learning come alive as we began to read more and get farther and farther away from the workbooks.    Probably the biggest deviation in our home from a traditional classical education is that we have not stressed the rote memorization that is commonly associated with the earliest stage of the classical trivium.   The basis of this technique is that children are empty vessels who need to be filled with facts and information that they will challenge and form their opinions about as they grow.   CM’s premise was that children are instead full vessels who only need exposure to ideas, and that they are capable, with some reflection, of digesting and forming opinions on their own.   I have found this latter premise to be the case in our home, and I’m amazed at where the exposure to good books can take their conversations and heart meditations.  I remember the first time our son, then about six years old, walked up to a huge wooden carving of the world at our church and identified the major continents.   He had never been taught, and still has not been taught, formal geography, but through reading stories about people all over world with a globe and a world map constantly in front of him, he knew several key countries and continents.

Regardless of your teaching methodology/ approach to learning, what will grant you the most success is that which gives your children a passion for learning.  This is very different than a short-term memorization of facts that will later be lost and gone forever.   Be sure to spend time studying them as students (does that make sense?) and how they learn and what interests them.   The more you can target information toward their interests and retention methods (which dips a little into unit study principles, I know), the more they take interest in learning in general.    Learning isn’t always fun, but there are ways to create in your children lifelong learners.   Pay attention to the non-academic signs of learning accomplishments.   As an example, while I sat reading to the older two last night, my youngest was playing on the laptop.  At some point, she asked me what ‘peered’ meant, and later what ‘caboodle’ meant.   I didn’t pick up on it immediately, but my son said, “Mom, she’s asking about the words you’re reading from the book.”   Mom wasn’t listening to herself as well as the 3-year-old was!

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2 comments on “The full vs. the empty vessel

  1. lindafay says:

    Ahem… Well I would have to differ with those who tell you that CM is not a classical education. I do agree that it is not the Well Trained Mind model of education, but the author's model is based on a neo classical idea that Dorothy Sayers made popular after Miss Mason's time. Miss Mason followed a more traditional classical approach that is indeed rigorous and yet kept the heart of education intact- that is ideas over facts. This was very important to the earlier classical educators but lost its importance over time, unfortunately. A great book about this is Norms and Nobility by David Hicks. Okay, off my soap box. Just wanted to assure you that a classical education has more faces than today's popular model among homeschoolers. 🙂

    Thanks for the kind note.

  2. bbullard says:

    Lindafay, thanks for checking in and for the education. I will check into the resource you suggested. Modern literature on the classical approach makes a very clear distinction between that approach and the CM approach to education, although I will admit that, in the implementation, it has occurred to me intuitively that the two approaches have many similarities.

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