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Charlotte Mason's Principle 2: Nurturing the Potential in Every Child

Charlotte Mason's Principle 2: Nurturing the Potential in Every Child

Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles Series: Principle 2

This is the 2nd post in a series discussing Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles of Education. If this is your first introduction to the series, go back to the first post: Children are Born Persons.

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Charlotte Mason first presents us with her most important idea - that children are born persons. They’re full, whole, people right out of the gate. She then says…

"They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil."

When we look at newborn babies, they seem to be a blank slate. Their hearts and souls are unwritten upon by the world. Anything is possible! Some of us might tend to think that if our child doesn't get exposed to evil, that they won't know evil. When Charlotte Mason says that children have possibilities for good and evil, she isn't saying they're a blank slate and that our writing upon them creates who they are. She suggests that within them from the beginning, no matter the child, is a natural intuition of good and bad.

  • Children have a natural intuition to differentiate between good and bad. 

    • We can get anxious that if we don't point out the moral in the story, they won't catch it. Or that if we don't lay out the facts of an injustice, they'll accept it as just. Will they think the bad guy is the good guy?

  • Within their education, we can foster the goodness already within them. 

    • As we provide them with stories of goodness, truth, and beauty they will recognize those qualities within themselves, the people in their lives, and the wider world around them.

What can we do today with this idea?

Feed their conscience with goodness, but don’t force-feed. Remembering that the child's conscience is alive and well, we can try to step back from over-explaining a situation or lesson for them. Did an unfair situation happen between siblings? Perhaps together they can come to a solution that brings justice for all of them, with your gentle prompting and guidance. We can read tales of heroism, or about injustices in history, and have good discussions about them over cocoa and snacks (because, why not!).

Be aware of how we label and discipline. We can take a good look at how we use discipline, and approach it from a respectful place that teaches the child to choose right next time. Your child might be making “bad choices” but this does not mean they are bad, or that something is inherently wrong with them. They are capable of those things, but they are also good. We can love them unconditionally and give them grace in their mistakes - they're learning just like we are. We can also be careful not to outwardly label a child as “good”. We are all good, but we still have the capacity to be negative, angry, rude, mean, have a temper, or lie. Often those actions stem from something deeper going on! Punishing bad without making sure the child is getting what they need (comfort, love, support, rest, health, etc.) won’t help them be drawn toward the good within themselves.

There’s an A.A. Milne poem called The Good Little Girl that points out the condescending way adults are always telling children to “be good”. Why do we ask a child if they have been good at Grandma’s house? Is perfect control over their behavior more important than the experience they had, the memories made, the lessons learned? Maybe Charlotte wanted us to stop asking our kids to “be good”, because we should know they’re already good.

They’re good but have the capacity to do a bad thing... just like we do every day as adults.  

The Good Little Girl

by A. A. Milne

It's funny how often they say to me, " Jane? 
" Have you been a good girl? " 
" Have you been a good girl? " 
And when they have said it, they say it again, 
" Have you been a good girl? " 
" Have you been a good girl? " 

I go to a party, I go out to tea, 
I go to an aunt for a week at the sea, 
I come back from school or from playing a game; 
Wherever I come from, it's always the same: " Well? 
Have you been a good girl, Jane? " 

It's always the end of the loveliest day: 
" Have you been a good girl? " 
" Have you been a good girl? " 
I went to the Zoo, and they waited to say: 
" Have you been a good girl? " 
" Have you been a good girl? " 

Well, what did they think that I went there to do? 
And why should I want to be bad at the Zoo? 
And should I be likely to say if I had? 
So that's why it's funny of Mummy and Dad, 
This asking and asking, in case I was bad, " Well? 
Have you been a good girl, Jane? "

My six year old and I read that poem aloud together and we laughed about it afterward as I asked her if the poem felt true - do adults ask questions like that? And how does that feel? She laughed and said yes, adults do ask that. Now sometimes I will ask her in jest and we both laugh, because I promised her I wouldn’t ask a silly question like that. There are better goals to have for our children than for them to “be good”. We want them to be so much more than just quiet, well behaved, submissive rule followers!

Have you been a brave girl?

Have you been curious?

Have you been helpful?

Have you been kind?

Have you been strong?

Charlotte Mason says our children are born with the possibility for good and evil. I like to think that means that the whole world of possibility lies within them, whether strong-willed or mild-mannered, anything is possible. Let us encourage and nurture the best within them!


Charlotte Mason’s Principle 2: Nurturing the Potential in Every Child | on theschoolnest.com

Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles Series

To read more of this series on Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, visit the gallery of posts here.

Meet My Homeschool: A Read Aloud Family in Iowa

Meet My Homeschool: A Read Aloud Family in Iowa

Charlotte Mason's Principle 1: Children are Born Persons

Charlotte Mason's Principle 1: Children are Born Persons