Charlotte Mason Teaching Tuesday – Open Doors To Avenues of Delight

CM Teaching Tuesdays

I’m continuing a series that I’m really enjoying and I’m (re)learning so much!  Join me as we discuss Charlotte Mason and her thoughts on our role in teaching.  Today’s lesson:

 Open Doors

We wish to place before the child open doors to many avenues of instruction and delight, in each one of which he should find quickening thoughts.  

School Education, p. 170

The selection for this week is actually the very beginning of an entire paragraph which details the limitations necessary to a CM teacher, but there is so much in this one sentence alone that I chose it as the basis for this week’s post.  I like this selection for so many reasons, and one of those reasons is the universality I find in Charlotte Mason; I can apply these thoughts with equal measure whether I’m thinking of my 1 year old or my 17 year old.  So, with that in mind:

  • The teacher brings the child to the open door.
    • Our role as teacher is an active role, but it isn’t the typical form of teacher-as-lecturer-guru-and-dispenser-of-all-knowledge. The teacher places the child before the open door from a place of peace in her understood authority in order for the child to follow.  See?  It’s that coming alongside that involves a trust relationship and says, “Let me show you an open door that leads to delight – a door you’ll want to go through.”  I can’t help but make a connection to the door in Lewis’ wardrobe.  What treasures and adventures await the children!  But they must go through the door first – the adventures beyond are theirs to explore.
    • The teacher’s role here is to be able to find, identify and lead a child to an open door which leads to avenues of instruction and delight.  Can you recognize an open door?  As a Charlotte Mason educator, this is a primary part of our role so it’s worthwhile to spend some time identifying some open doors.
    • If needed, spend some time learning how to identify a living book. Then invest time and budget to build an excellent living library. These are open doors. In a nutshell, a living book consists of “inspiring tales, well told.”  Read more about living books here.  In general, these are the Good Books (find an excellent list of Good Books here).  You’ll make no better investment in your role as teacher than to begin to build a bank of books and authors that are wise and trusted friends that consistently point to “avenues of instruction and delight”.
    • Be able to identify toys and educational tools that are open ended – in other words, they invite the imagination to act on them.  These are open doors.  (An example would be building blocks, legos)
    • Look for opportunities that invite exploration – these would be things like time out of doors, a trip to a museum, a nature walk, cooking at your side.
    • At the beginning of every week, consider whether or not you will bring your child to the good, true, and beautiful in some way.  These are open doors.  Through picture study of beautiful art — listening to beautiful music — reading poetry — instruction in catechism, doctrine, and God’s word so that the child learns that there is absolute, objective good.
    • Notice that Miss Mason doesn’t instruct the teacher to walk a child through the open door.  Our role as teacher isn’t in telling the child what to look at, explore, like, intuit, abstractly deduce, or otherwise frolic with once through the door. Our job is to bring them to the door; their job is to proceed and investigate.  You’ll find this theme throughout Miss Mason’s works – the idea that the child learns in his digging.  If you’ll allow me to mix metaphors, our role is to bring the child to the feast of ideas, their job is to eat and digest the rich feast before them.  We can’t eat the feast first and then…regurgitate it and give it to our child.  There is no value in that for the child.  He owns nothing.  If we go back to our door analogy, I could walk a child up to a closed door, tell him that there are wonderful delights beyond the door but that it would be best if he stayed outside the door – waiting – while I, as teacher, walk through to experience, read, learn, value, and then come back outside to the child waiting on the other side of the closed door, telling him what delights, wonders and knowledge has just been gathered on his behalf….and expect the child to get excited about the knowledge we’ve secured for them.  No child is inspired by that.  Bring the child to the open door.  Allow him to enter and delight in the feast on the other side.
  • The open door is an avenue of instruction and delight.
    • This speaks to the inviting nature of the avenue which is through the open door.
    • As you begin to become familiar with open doors, consider that an essential component is whether or not there is an avenue that leads to instruction and delight beyond that door.
    • An avenue implies that there is a journey, that the child will be an active participant in traveling to a destination.  This eliminates books, experiences and things which do all the work for the child, and as teacher, we would do well to remove these or at least minimize them (often referred to as twaddle, or you could think of them as potato chips – a little on the side is probably ok, but make enough meals out of them and there will be an alarming lack of nutrition).  These would be textbooks, which are essentially just tomes of information that bullet specific facts that someone considered essential; opportunities which are so structured that they do not allow the child freedom to choose or explore; toys which do not allow a child to exercise the imagination and animate an experience in a variety of ways.
    • An avenue goes to instruction AND delight.  Here is where we hint at the idea that education is a discipline.  It’s still living, and the child walks through an open door.  Not every avenue is easy to travel along.  Sometimes the way is hard, challenging, hard work.  It is worthwhile though; the avenue is instructive.  This kind of avenue really requires that relationship of authority we spoke about in the first post.  If you, as teacher, are going to ask your child to labor along an avenue that is challenging and worthwhile, you’ll need to be able to exercise an authority that is willing to listen, encourage, and provide sympathy while maintaining discipline so that a child doesn’t just stop along an avenue, stuck along the way, unable to motivate or navigate.
  • Along these avenues the child finds quickening thoughts
    • The phrase “quickening thoughts” can be an obstacle to understanding, but in defining “quickening” I find the key: to spring to life; become animated; give or restore life; the archaic meaning literally meant that something was beginning to show signs of life. Imagine thoughts that have been invigorated, kindled, inspired, and have come alive.  The child’s thoughts are transformed once through the open door.  With living books, opportunities and things the imagination is nurtured, built, and the child’s thoughts are now animated with life.
    • Living things grow and mature.  Isn’t it amazing how this cohesive idea finds itself repeating, ever fresh, throughout Charlotte Mason’s philosophy?

The teacher guides the child to the open door –>

The child works and travels along the avenue of instruction and delight –>

The child’s imagination is nurtured.  Inspired, his thoughts are living –>

And other open doors are encountered.

Idea unfolds onto idea.

Homework: build a proficiency in identifying open doors so that, as teacher, you can exercise your authority in bringing your child to these avenues of instruction and delight.

  1. If you’re unsure about your ability to identify a living book, read more about them and see if you can’t begin to build a familiarity with them.
  2. Go through your bookshelves – proportionally speaking, you should find more Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne, Kate Greenaway and the like than other cartoony-twaddle.  If your bookshelf features >>insert any current cartoon personality featured on Nickelodeon or in popular culture here<< to demonstrate stories, virtues, manners or (heaven-forbid) lessons in tolerance, then find a way to be bold and remove them.  I’m serious.  Keep 1 – 2 if they are favorites, but remove the bulk. Not only are they twaddle (junk food to the imagination), but if you accustom your child to this kind of reading, he will not be able to approach authors which write beautifully and with richness and depth of subject.  They’ll be looking for Dora the Explorer to lead them around the Catacombs rather than Cardinal Wiseman (Fabiola).
  3. Go through your toys.  Oh dear.  Now I’m in trouble.  Yes – you can live without a lot of it and your child will {gasp} survive…and possibly even…{double gasp} thrive!  Get rid of everything broken.  Call it broken and throw it out.  Maybe you could try this radical idea – go through all the toys your children have and put absolutely, positively everything away with the exception of  4 imagination-inspiring toys (or toy sets, like a collection of legos).  Group them neatly into their sets, and place the sets out attractively on an open shelf.  {Open door}  Just see what happens.  Take the challenge – I dare ya!  My bet is that your child appreciates the attractive display of the limited supply of toys {open door}, and plays more: exploring, investigating, transforming a thing.  You can read more of my thoughts on toys here.
  4. Make a simple list of open doors in the way of opportunities.  Challenge yourself to spend nothing.  Look into wildflower trails, botanical walks, free museum days.  What is the natural flora and fauna like around you?  Take advantage of it!  Make a few seasonal lists to keep at the ready and bring your children to these open doors.
  5. Consider your day – is there enough margin in your day that is unstructured and free?  Children should have time to play, explore, roam, build, construct, fall, scrape, and observe consequences.  They need enough time in their day that they feel free to go through these open doors.  If you have a different activity every day, consider where you might say no thank-you to something – otherwise your child will not be able to approach any of these {very necessary} open doors.

Next week we’ll explore more in School Education on idea of the Limitations of the Teacher.  Let me know what you think about open doors and avenues of instruction and delight!