Having recently become a third-time grandparent, I am drawn to the writings of Charlotte Mason on the development and training of children, particularly infants. Seeing little Adam, and considering the person of him, I am strongly reminded of her cautionary words that the “parent begins instinctively by regarding his child as an unwritten tablet, and is filled with great resolves as to what he shall write thereon.”1 What a temptation this is, yet what an erroneous vision! An unwritten tablet, innocent, pure, transparent, vulnerable.
We know that this is not the approach to take with children, and if we are to consider children as persons, we will instead see little ones such as my new grandson with different eyes. Charlotte Mason quotes the Swiss educator, Johann Pestalozzi, when she says, "The mother is qualified, and qualified by the Creator Himself, to become the principal agent in the development of her child; ... and what is demanded of her is––a thinking love ... God has given to the child all the faculties of our nature, but the grand point remains undecided––how shall this heart, this head, these hands be employed? to whose service shall they be dedicated? A question the answer to which involves a futurity of happiness or misery to a life so dear to thee. Maternal love is the first agent in education."2
This is a grave and daunting mission - a “thinking love.” What does that mean? How is it carried out? Our answer can be found in several places, as we consider the value of a child. Jesus says we must become as children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). A child is a human created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Charlotte Mason’s foundational premise for education is that a child is a person. A thinking love involves time, patience, consideration, listening, respect, knowing, relationship, selflessness, working for and watching for the “bringing up” of the other.
This is the mission to which we as parent-educators are called; to refrain from seeing our children (and grandchildren) as “unwritten tablets,” and to instead provide them with a breadth of living which will allow them to become all that the Creator has planned for them to be. In Miss Mason’s words, the “little being who is entrusted to the care of human parents...is much more--a being belonging to an altogether higher estate than ours; as it were, a prince committed to the fostering care of peasants.”3
As I watch my grandson in his newness and innocence, I am moved by a stanza of poetry Charlotte Mason quotes from William Wordsworth, and am awed once more by this little life which is, even now, enriching mine.
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere in its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But in trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!4