On Being an Initiator

The other month I wrote about bringing our children into ‘a large room’ where the doors are open to a wide and generous curriculum. In School Education, Pg 170, Charlotte Mason points out that we have a responsibility to our children to ‘…initiate an immense number of interests.’

The idea of being an initiator was sparked in me years ago during a time of disappointment. A wise friend who knew my situation said some words to me at the time that I’ve never forgotten: ‘Not many people are initiators.’ I’ve found that to be generally true, unfortunately, so it made sense to me that Charlotte Mason addressed this in the context of education.
I decided to check out what the word ‘initiate’ implies.

The dictionary says that to initiate means to:

To do the first act
Break the ice
Get the ball rolling
Set in motion

So when Charlotte Mason states that we owe it to our children to initiate an immense number of interests, she means that we are responsible for the initial action. We get the ball rolling and do some investing. We don’t leave it to the child to do the initiating. Not that we shouldn’t allow them their own interests, but when it comes to educational philosophy and direction, the responsibility is ours. 

A Practical Example

We’ve been doing Picture Study in our home for twenty-odd years – that is, we pick an artist and study about six of his/her paintings a term. It’s very simple. We just look at the picture and later we might describe it or draw a sketch of what we remember of its composition, the emphasis being on observing and appreciating the artist’s work.
If I know something of the artist’s life or have a short biography (the boys really liked the Mike Venezia books when they were younger) they might read that.

Charlotte Mason made this observation:

…I know that you may bring a horse to the water but you can’t make him drink. What I complain of is that we do not bring our horse to the water. 

I initiated the introduction to the world of art, led them to the water, and they gained an appreciation of great art. That was important to me and I love how the Charlotte Mason method doesn’t consider the study of great works of art an optional extra.
Along comes my seventh child and from an early age she was drawn to art and loved to draw. I did the same as I’d done with the others but she wanted to draw all the time and especially liked to draw people. I had piles of sketchbooks that she’d filled but as time went on she started getting frustrated with how her drawings looked.

There’s another version of the proverb above:

You may bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, however, you can put salt in his oats!

Creating a thirst is something else we can do as initiators.

I had a few home education art resources but they didn’t inspire my daughter much so I started looking for an art teacher to give her lessons. She had about five or six lessons from a couple of different people but they weren’t able to continue for different reasons. She enjoyed the lessons and they did teach her techniques which helped her. I bought her some good quality paints and pencils and continued to look for ways to develop her interest in this area.
An area I had to encourage her in was perseverance. A piece of work could be spread over time, just like we spread a book out, a chapter per week, or in her case with art, a bit of time each day on piece of art that required a fair bit of work. This helped her with her observation and drawing skills, as well as the practice of perseverance. This is one of her works in progress:




Earlier this year we signed up for a free six week Natural History Illustration course with the University of Newcastle. This was so timely and helpful and there’s been a noticeable difference and improvement in her art. (See some examples of the type of work she did here & here.)
Recently we found some art tutorials in YouTube which have been great, also.

We continue with Picture Study and sometimes an artist inspires her in a particular way. This week I showed her this Mannerist painting by El Greco. It’s one I was drawn to many years ago and she had a similar response to it:

View of Toledo by El Greco (1600)


We’ve had to work through some difficulties in different area of our children’s education. From music teachers to foreign language resources, we’ve had bumps in the road. One of the most important resources is prayer but it’s often something I forget about until everything else fails! We’ve had some pretty awesome answers when we’ve focussed on praying for a specific educational need.
I’ve learned that nothing is too insignificant to put before the Lord.

These are some of the YouTube videos that my daughter’s been using recently to help with her art work.


4 thoughts on “On Being an Initiator

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