Saturday, January 15, 2011


Inspired by a recent blog post over at Ambleside Reflections, our topic of discussion at this month's meeting was JOY.

Regarding joy, Charlotte Mason wrote:

The happiness of the child is the condition of his progress; that his lessons should be joyous, and that occasions of friction in the schoolroom are greatly to be deprecated. ~Vol. 1, p.178

I think that most CM educators would agree that joyful lessons are much more palatable to a child. Hence shorter lessons, living books, time in nature, delayed grammar, a more natural approach to phonics and spelling, etc.

For those of us who have read CM's writings, we can easily see that the child's joy in learning is an essential element of CM's principle that The Child is a Person and woven throughout the fabric of her philosophy.

Yet this focus on joy which some might consider leads to a 'loosey goosey' education, is tempered by the knowledge that there are some things good and right for a child (and adults for that matter). Things like: good habits, a solid grasp of language, unfiltered ideas delivered mind-to-mind, living under authority and in relationship with others within a community with responsibility, just to mention a few.

It truly is amazing that such a challenging yet enjoyable educational method even exists! Even more amazing is that by God's goodness and immeasurable grace we've happened upon it!!

Mason talks much of the many areas which her educational philosophy acquaints us with that bring us great joy. Here are just a few...

Of Science: Here, the stars are measured, the ocean sounded, and the wind made the servant of man; here, every flower that blooms reveals the secret of its growth, and every grain of sand recounts its history. This is a vast and joyous realm; for the people who walk therein are always discovering new things, and each new thing is a delight, because the things are not a medley, but each is a part of the great whole. ~Vol. 4, p.35

Of History: Of all the pleasant places in the world of mind, I do not know that any are more delightful than those in the domain of History ... Think of all the centuries and of every country full of a great procession of living, moving people ... Once Intellect admits us into the realms of History, we live in a great and stirring world... ~Vol. 4, p.36 & 37

Of Philosophy: Philosophy offers fascinating and delightful travelling, and the wayfarer here learns many lessons of life ... To search, to endeavour, and to feel our way to a foothold from point to point is also exhilarating; and every step that is gained is a resting-place... ~Vol. 4, p.39

Of Literature: Perhaps the least difficult of approach, and certainly one of the most joyous and satisfying of all those realms in which Intellect is invited to travel, is the very rich and glorious Kingdom of Literature ... Poets and novelists paint pictures for him, while Imagination clears his eyes so that he is able to see those pictures: they fill the world, too, with deeply interesting and delightful people who live out their lives before his eyes. ~Vol. 4, p.39

Of Nature: Beauty is everywhere––in white clouds against the blue, in the gray bole of the beech, the play of a kitten, the lovely flight and beautiful colouring of birds, in the hills and the valleys and the streams, in the wind-flower and the blossom of the broom. What we call Nature is all Beauty and delight, and the person who watches Nature closely and knows her well, like the poet Wordsworth, for example, has his Beauty Sense always active, always bringing him joy. ~Vol. 4, p. 41 & 42

Still, just as a fantastic party hat on a sullen child does not equate to fun, these wonderful methods can no more produce their intended result when applied by a joyless teacher. And as homeschooling Mothers, we do have our share of pitfalls that stand in our way of joy don't we?

Here are just a couple Mason writes about that may be relevant here:

...it is very foolish to allow Imagination to make living pictures of horrors, dreadful accidents, falls down precipices, ghosts, and what not. Once make a picture, and there it is, and it may show itself at any moment to torment. I hear someone whose nature inclines her to such terrors say, 'But how can I help it?' That is really a foolish question about any of the evils we may fall into. Of course we can help them, and to do so is the battle of life. In this particular case the help lies in hurrying away from the thought to think of something else. If such terrors come at night, when you cannot do anything or read anything, you can always think of something else. The last story-book you have read, for instance,––go over the tale in your thoughts. ~Vol. 4, p.53

––There is another class of persons in whom Pity is strong and ever-active; but all their pity is given to one object, and neither sorrow, pain, nor any other distress outside of that object has power to move them. These are the people who pity themselves. Any cause of pity is sufficient and all-absorbing.

They are sorry for themselves because they have a headache, because they have a toothache, or because they have not golden hair; because they are lovely and unnoticed, or because they are lanky and unlovely; because they have to get up early, or because breakfast is not to their mind; because brother or sister has some pleasure which they have not, or because someone whose notice they crave does not speak to them, or, speaking, says, 'Make haste,' or 'Sit straight,' or some other form of 'Bo to a goose!'

Such things are not to be borne, and the self-pitiful creature goes about all day with sullen countenance. As he or she grows older you hear of many injuries from friends, much neglect, much want of love, and, above all, want of comprehension, because the person who pities himself is never 'understood' by others. Even if he is a tolerably strong person he may become a hypochondriac, with a pain here, and a sensation there, which he will detail to his doctor by the hour. The doctor is sorry for his unhappy patient, and knows that he suffers from a worse malady than he himself imagines; but he has no drugs for Self-pity, though he may give bottles of coloured water and bread pills to humour his patient.

You are inclined to laugh at
what seems to be a morbid, that is, diseased, state of mind; but, indeed, the Dæmon of Pity, Self-pity, is an insidious foe. Many people, apparently strong and good, have been induced by him to give up their whole lives to brooding over some real or fancied injury. No tenant of the heart has alienated more friends or done more to banish the joys of life.

Mothers... is this not us she is describing here!? Maybe it's a tight financial situation, a stiff word from our husband, a child's whining, a rude neighbor, nothing to wear, the extra weight, the never-ending dishes, the long line at the grocery store, the person who cut you off on the freeway, the ingratitude for all we do, the scattered toys, the lack of help, the persistent health challenge... need I go on?

Mason points out here that we have a choice in the matter. That being joyful is not a matter of circumstance, but one of choice. These are wise words indeed...

Our Defences.––Our defence is twofold. In the first place, we must never let our minds dwell upon any pain or bodily infirmity; we may be sick and pained in our bodies, but it rests with ourselves to be well and joyous in our minds; and, indeed, many great sufferers are the very hearth of their homes, so cheerful and comforting are they. Still more careful must we be never to go over in our minds for an instant any chance, hasty, or even intended word or look that might offend us. A spot no bigger than a halfpenny may blot out the sun of our friends' love and kindness, of the whole happiness of life, and shut us up in a cold and gloomy cell of shivering discontent. Never let us reflect upon small annoyances, and we shall be able to bear great ones sweetly. Never let us think over our small pains, and our great pains will be easily endurable.

The other and surer way of guarding ourselves from this evil possession is to think about others. Be quick to discern their pains and sufferings, and be ready to bring help. We cannot be absorbed in thinking of two things at the same time, and if our minds are occupied with others, far and near, at home and abroad, we shall have neither time nor inclination to be sorry for ourselves. ~Vol. 4, p.89-91

In thinking of our daily interactions with our children, we ought to ask ourselves, is there joy? Knowing that its absence is a great hindrance to their education, this is an important question to ask ourselves.

This is not to say that there should be non-stop joyfulness every moment of the day, but is it joy that characterizes our day, or a lack of?

If joy is indeed scarce, how can we cultivate it?

As Mason suggested above, we can avoid dwelling on our pains and distract our minds. We can think about others - the missionary, the martyr, the one who brings real perspective and read their writings and biographies.

We can look at the needs of others in our church, our community, our neighborhood and see how we can help. Maybe invite them for dinner, an outing, or make something by hand for them. Pray for them, encourage them.

Another thing we can do is - smile! When we look at our kids, we can smile. I've heard it said that sometimes we need to act our way into a feeling. A genuine smile, humming a cheerful tune or brightening up a room with some flowers or fragrance, a new apron, or a new picture on the wall can sometimes breed feelings of joy.

And what about play? What have they been asking us to do with them that we've been too busy to do? Run, swim, swing, jump, dance, play in the mud, play a game, build with toys, pretend with dolls, wrestle, tickle? It is good for us too - it builds joy and strengthens our relationship with them.

On a particularly difficult day - especially one we may have created ourselves by staying up too late or feeding them too much junk - we can take a break and get outside or change the pace with a distraction rather than always being rigidly insistent on pushing through.

Scripture tells us that joy is to characterize the true believer in Christ.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. ~Galatians 5:22-23

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. ~Psalm 16:11

Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. ~Psalm 37:4

And what God requires He graciously provides the means for.

What are some things that help you maintain your joy and joyfulness in your home?


  1. Your post is timely. I was musing overarching questions for exam week at my blog and one of them was "Were there times when her face filled with joy?" . . . I think we are both getting the same whisper from God!

  2. Tammy, I love the honesty of your post. I am so guilty of being a recovering Enlightenment Thinker also and continually need to be reminded of what really matters! Thank you for sharing, your commitment to your daughter's education is truly inspiring.