The Duty of the Mason Teacher
“Our part is to remove obstructions and to give stimulus and guidance to the child who is trying to get into touch with the universe of things and thoughts which belongs to him.”
The Glorious Universe of Thoughts and Things
The Mason student will get in touch with the universe of things and thoughts that belong to him or her as naturally as the air surrounding the earth beneath their feet. They will form objects out of clay, build birdhouses, examine beehives and cocoons, paint pictures of nature specimens, carve things of wood, memorize beautiful poems, sing hymns and folk songs, learn to play an instrument and enjoy the great paintings, sculptures, architecture, and music of the past.
They will wrestle with scientific formulas and difficult mathematical concepts, and they will read books that come alive with the daring feats of past men and women who accomplished great things in and for the world.
No dry facts will do.
These things should be removed from your learning environment:
Twaddly books should be removed from your shelves, but don't go overboard -- you need to keep some easy readers to stimulate the excitement that comes from newly acquired skills in speedy decoding and growing comprehension.
These obstacles should be removed from the path of your students:
1. I'm no good at this.
2. Absolutely anything that leads to the comment, "this is boring."
Here's why. Even a great book can be tedious and boring if your students lack the skills required to interact with it. Put the book away, put it on hold, write yourself a note that says, "pull this one back out in two years." Do what you can to make sure you are presenting your students with materials that make them come alive with anticipation.
A few Items to Notice:
Student exploration and investigation does not happen randomly, especially in the early years. We must lay out the feast before them and lay down rules to establish healthy habits before we can expect children to sit down and feast on such choice educational meats.
There are several ways to establish habits. Our personal preference is repeated experience. When you create a rhythm for each day that begins with a morning gathering where students quiet themselves to sing a folk song, look at a painting, listen to a poetry reading, learn the hand signals to a nursery song, you will find that students will fall in line with the habit of attentive listening you've established.
Don't expect miracles to happen overnight. Just as you would not read an entire chapter of Dickens to a five-year-old and expect him to comprehend it and tell it back to you, you cannot expect young children to instantly sit still for very long. You will need to gradually increase the amount of time spent in quiet listening and sitting still.
Alternate lessons requiring concentration with lessons requiring active participation, exercise, or outdoor time. But don't forget to factor in the time it takes to assemble and reassemble after nature study or activity. This transition time is necessary to a student's social needs, and it can be a valuable part of the learning process as students may need to discuss what they were doing or tell you, their teacher, what they just learned or did. It's part of relationship formation. It's part of their heart formation. They are growing relationships with thoughts and things, and part of that process includes talking.
Your main goal as a teacher is to help children care. Education is not about how much information you can cram into a child's brain but how much knowledge he or she cares to take in with enthusiasm and joy.
Building, Painting, Carving, Learning, Growing, Thinking, Feeling.
A child deserves time to spend wastefully and time to spend carefully. Wasteful hours lying on their backs staring at the clouds breed deep, philosophical thoughts and ideas. These are important! But equally important are those disciplined hours spent learning a craft like knitting, crocheting, drybrush painting, studying the natural world, classifying, identifying, exploring the microscopic world, carving like Michelangelo, sketching like Leonardo, sculpting like Rodin, creating buildings out of cereal boxes -- an entire town all their own -- and inhabiting it with creatures and characters of their own making.
Children are natural keepers -- keepers of journals and books and toys and insects and objects others have no further use for. They need space to grow, space to breathe, space to be.
Children are natural, instinctive listeners. They listen for the coo of the mourning dove each morning and the click of the air conditioner as it turns on in the heat of the afternoon. They listen for cicadas and mosquitos, bees and birds, airplanes and choo choo trains, car horns and the wind as it whisps through the willow branches. Feed their listening ears with beautiful music. Feed their eyes with beautiful art and sculpture. Feed their senses with all the splendor you can find. Don't adapt it to a child's level like Montessori would. Just let it be present within their natural environment and let them discover it for themselves.
The Mason Method is not Waldorf or Montessori or any of those delight-driven methodologies you may come across. It's thick with meaning, the formation of ideas, the taking in of knowledge with avidity. But what knowledge you pour in will be poorly received, especially when taken in only as "what will be on the test" for reasons of "making good grades and pleasing the teacher or parent." The aim is to create an atmosphere where true learning takes place because knowledge is sought without coercion. This is a tricky thing to do. Bolstering confidence while shoring up skills and doing it all while stepping aside and standing out of the way of real learning is very difficult to master. Try it in stages. Take this step by step.
Choose an artist and place his or her art on the wall. Begin talking about the artist's life and time period and wait for questions and interest to be shown. Ask a question or two -- opinion questions.
"I value your opinion. What do you think he meant when he put that bright red scarf across the bottom of the painting?"
You may only get "It looks like it fell off her shoulder and he's bending down to pick it up for her."
To which you might add "That was chivalrous of him."
A discussion about chivalry may result. Your aim was to lead into the history reading and now your child will want to create a personal code of chivalry just like the knight in the painting had to live by.
You have just had a pain-free history, art appreciation, drawing and writing lesson. Nobody got upset. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got disgusted with himself for not being able to remember the answer to a question or draw perfectly. Calm and peace were sustenance for him, and he had a pretty good day.
I don't see math drill or spelling or grammar!
Oh dear. I've made it look like we don't teach our children how to read or spell or learn math, but the truth is, they are doing these things every single day. We use phonics lessons to help our students learn to read, and they copy songs, poems, and literature passages into notebooks for practice in handwriting and spelling and grammar and punctuation. As they work methodically to copy the great works of brilliant minds of the past, their skills vastly improve naturally. (But we do also use a practice called Studied Dictation to teach grammar and it works beautifully!)