S9 E15 | Charlotte Mason on the Healthy Homeschooled Child, Pt. 1 (Shiela Catanzarite)

S9 E15 | Charlotte Mason on the Healthy Homeschooled Child, Pt. 1 (Shiela Catanzarite)

Show Notes:

The impact of a child’s health on his learning is a topic that doesn’t get much attention but one that is vital and is something Charlotte Mason took seriously and expounded on. She believed there are three conditions for healthy brain activity: exercise, rest, nutrition. In this first episode of a two-part series, we’ll explore Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on a child’s health and learning and how her educational philosophy includes aspects of a healthy lifestyle. We’ll touch on these aspects and how you can make them part of your homeschool to ensure your children have optimal opportunity to learn and grow into the people God made them to be. You’ll be intrigued as you come to understand the wisdom behind Charlotte Mason’s argument that, “the physiological matter may seem like the lowest rung of the educational ladder but the lowest rung is the necessary step to all the rest.”

About Shiela

Shiela Catanzarite is an author, speaker, editor, and communication coach. She's a 20-year Charlotte Mason veteran homeschooler and has worked as Jeannie Fulbright’s editor and designer for 20 years helping develop Jeannie’s award-winning Apologia science curriculum and most recently her Charlotte Mason products published through Jeannie Fulbright Press. Shiela is the author of the newly published Living Verse Language Arts in Poetry and is finishing up her second book in the series Living Verse Language Arts in Scripture, to be released spring 2024.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a master’s degree in Christian Education from Dallas Theological Seminary, Shiela has been teaching language arts in some capacity for 40+ years. Her passion remains helping students understand the elements of language and how to use these elements artfully to communicate effectively. Shiela is currently a language communication coach, working one-on-one with students who have language learning and communication challenges. She also writes curriculum for her private middle and high school English language communication classes that focus on writing and speaking.

Both of Shiela's and her husband Bruce’s daughters attended private universities on scholarship and went on to pursue graduate studies in medicine and global business. She attributes their love for learning and academic achievement to homeschooling with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and methodology.


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Show Transcript:

Shiela Catanzarite Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show, a show that discusses Charlotte Mason's philosophy, principles, and methods. I'm your host, Shiela Catanzarite, author of the newly published Living Verse Language Arts in Poetry, and soon to be published, Living Verse Language Arts in Scripture. I'm so thankful you joined me today, and I pray this episode deeply encourages you as you learn more of Charlotte Mason's life-giving methodologies and how to implement them to bring greater freedom, confidence, and joy to your homeschool days.

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Hello. Thank you so much for being here today. I'm very excited to be with you and explore a topic that isn't talked about much, but is vital and is one Charlotte Mason had a lot to say about. And today's episode is actually part one of a two part series on the healthy homeschooled child. And today we're going to learn Charlotte Mason's thoughts on a child's health in learning. And in part two, my husband and I are going to share ideas and talk about fun ways to incorporate healthy habits into your homeschool and family life. But before we begin, I want to invite you to my growing newsletter family. I send out a newsletter every Thursday and it contains all things language arts. It's super fun. I have a word of the week for vocabulary study, I share tips and ideas for language arts learning, writing ideas. I share grammar tips, and I always share a piece of writing either poetry or narrative writing from either one of my living verse language arts and poetry students who's using my curriculum or one of my current students who I teach in person. So it's really inspiring and I've had great feedback. I would love for you to be a part of my newsletter community. So if you go to my website, SheilaCatanzarite.com, you'll find a place to sign up at the bottom of my homepage or you can go to the resources tab and request one of my free resources, which I would love to send to you. Just give your email address and that will put you on my email list. So I hope that you will join us. And if you ever have ideas for how I can make my newsletter more valuable and helpful, please let me know.

So when we talk about the healthy child, we have to consider that all areas of a child's health—intellectual, psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, social—are integrated to make up and impact the overall whole health of the child. And Charlotte Mason observed this and had a lot to say about it, actually. She was aware that the quality of a child's health greatly impacted his thinking and educational growth, and ultimately, his ability to thrive. And daily pursuing good health was a part of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy. She strongly believed parents should prioritize providing for their children's health in specific ways. And we're going to talk about some of the areas that she believed were important. And in Volume 1 of her series, Charlotte Mason has a section on conditions for healthy brain activity, which I found very intriguing and actually surprising since our modern education system doesn't consider the impact of the child's overall health on learning potential. It's just not something that you hear a lot with the focus on academics and testing. But in her book Home Education, Charlotte Mason says, "...because that wonderful brain, by means of which we do our thinking, if it is to act healthily and in harmony with the healthful action of the members, should act only under such conditions of exercise, rest and nutrition as secure health and every other part of the body." So Charlotte Mason believed that there were three conditions for healthy brain activity: exercise, rest, nutrition.

So let's talk about exercise, specifically exercising the brain. Charlotte Mason described the child's brain as being in a perpetual flutter of endeavor. I love that. She said, "The brain is an organ, and it should be invigorated with daily exercise of regular and sustained thinking." She says, "Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts intellectual, moral and volitional; let them brace themselves to understand; let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do right at the sacrifice of ease and pleasure: ...that the mere physical organ of mind and will may grow vigorous with work." Charlotte talks about children who didn't grow up with the daily habit of moral and mental work, and she says, "If they were allowed to dawdle through youth without regular, sustained effort of thought or will, the brain, which should have been invigorated with daily exercise, has become flabby and feeble as a healthy arm would be after being carried for years in a sling." I just love this idea of the habit of moral and mental work. And when you see a list of habits, this one is not one of the main ones that you see, typically, on the list. But yet it's a critical habit to set in place when our children are young. And I would say we should set this habit for ourselves as well as we're getting older. Our brains are aging, there's lots of studies on this, and wouldn't it be wonderful if we set a habit of moral and mental work alongside our children every day in our homeschool? So I'm going to encourage us as homeschool parents to continue to stimulate and give attention to our own brain health, even as we help our children do that.

Well another important aspect Charlotte Mason discussed was the necessity of healthy blood for a healthy brain. And we know that blood carries oxygen and nutrients to feed the brain, so increased blood flow results in increased mental clarity and a stronger, more creative brain. And what improves blood flow to the brain? Physical exercise. So there are tons of studies proving physical exercise's positive impact not only on brain health but on mood. Endorphins released during exercise help with mood enhancement and also renewed and sustained energy, which is so important for a child's learning. Charlotte Mason knew this when she said: "The children walk every day. They are never out less than an hour when the weather is suitable." She knew that healthy brain activity required not only mental exercise, but also physical exercise. And the impacts are seen not just when the body is exhausted through exercise, but also when the mind is exerted through learning the exercise or the sport. And of course, there's so many ways for your children to get physical exercise. And we tried to consistently prioritize this in our homeschool. And my husband and I, like I mentioned, are planning to do a podcast episode on being a healthy, fit homeschool family. My husband, Bruce, is a certified health coach and also a certified Personal Fitness trainer, so he has a lot of experience and expertise, which was really a blessing for our family. He led us very well in the area of health and fitness while we homeschooled, so we're really excited to share with you on that topic and give you ideas for just having a healthy fit. Homeschool that creates energy and fun and shared experiences and bonding. So be looking out for that episode.

Well, not only exercise, but Charlotte Mason advocated that the brain have rest and that it should alternate between work and rest. She tells us, "This much is certain and is very important to the educator, the brain or some portion of the brain becomes exhausted when any given function has been exercised too long". She also says that "The hours for lessons should be carefully chosen after periods of mental rest." And we really want to think about this when we're scheduling our children's lesson. This idea of alternating between rest and between work. And when it comes to scheduling lessons for optimal learning, Charlotte Mason actually had a wise idea for this. She says, "If the lessons be judiciously alternated—sum first, say, while the brain is quite fresh; then writing, or reading—some more or less mechanical exercise, by way of a rest; and so on, the program varying a little from day to day, but the same principle throughout—a 'thinking' lesson first and a 'painstaking' lesson to follow,—the child gets through his morning lessons without any sign of weariness." What a blessing that would be for our children, that they would get through their lessons without any weariness. What a blessing for us!

And along those lines, she talks about this idea of change of occupation. And Charlotte Mason advises that when the child becomes weary in a lesson, it's time to switch to something different so the mind can rest and be refreshed. And this is why short lessons are so vital. Weariness in the homeschool is caused by two things: failure to employ short lessons and failure to give the child's brain a variety of work. And this is very, very important to keep in mind when you're choosing curriculum. You want to choose curriculum that has lessons with variety built in. For example, if you're studying history or science and you have a lot of facts and data, you want to choose curriculum that intersperses the factual reading with some type of a hands-on activity, or maybe a narration or a craft, something that brings variety into the lesson. You can choose geography lessons with this built in variety. Language arts lessons—my Living Verse Language Arts series uses written narration and verbal narration along with the grammar language arts studies. It gives a variety of learning. You've got, different curriculum that's modeled in the Charlotte Mason model that uses, you know, her methodology where you're doing the reading, and doing the narration, and doing the visual narration, and going out for the notebook and journaling, and all of the nature study so that the child is changing occupation. So when you're looking for curriculum, try and find curriculum where that is built in for you.

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And so we know that Charlotte Mason felt very strongly about the children spending hours outdoors every single day. And there are many reasons why she felt that way, but two reasons that she talks about are first, the necessity of daily fresh air and also the necessity of sunshine. And Charlotte Mason felt that air was as important as food, and talked about the importance of giving the children daily airings and abundant exercise of limb and lung in unimpoverished air. She also felt that sunshine was favorable for the child, and we know that sun provides an important source of vitamin D, which helps our immune system stay strong. And a few years ago, I broke some metatarsals on my right foot, and my doctor was concerned because my bones weren't healing. So he sent me for bloodwork and the tests revealed that I was low in vitamin D, so the doctor prescribed a daily sun burst of 20 minutes a day. That's all that it was. Just go outside in the sun and let your skin absorb the nutrients for 20 minutes. So I started the regimen and before long my bones were healing again. So, so important, the sun, for your children to get that immunity boost. Well, Charlotte Mason says that our houses should also be kept light and bright through letting the sun in. And we know that light enhances mood, which is so important for our children. So we want to provide an atmosphere where it's bright and light and airy.

Good nutrition was another condition for healthy brain activity that Charlotte Mason believed in. And she talks about how a child's body is in constant demand of itself, and how important nutrients are to the wellness of the blood in the brain. She advocated for using variety in meals so that the child gets all the nutrients to the brain that are needed. And she talked about digestion and how critical it is for nutrient absorption. She says, "The children should enjoy their food and their meals should be eaten in gladness." So again, a calm, glad atmosphere helps the child to properly digest the nutrients so that they can get to the brain. She also believed in the importance of the family table atmosphere, saying, "No pains should be spared to make the hours of meeting round the family table the brightest hours of the day. Here is the parent's opportunity to train them in manners and in morals, to cement family love." That is so beautiful. The family dinner table is a time to strengthen our children's sense of community and belonging, which is vital for their emotional and psychological health. We want to end the day with thankfulness, sharing positive and encouraging words. And we want to make that time really special and be intentional in planning for it to be special. I remember there were certain times at the dinner table when we would have a box of cards that would have different types of questions, and we would go around and ask each other and share. And I also remember having a blessing jar where we would write on strips of paper blessings that God had given us throughout the week, and on one night we would bring out the blessing jar and go around and pull out what was written and read them together as a family. And these were just ways to make that family table memorable, and to be involved in an activity that was encouraging but was unique just to that time together at the table as a family. So the family table should be a place that our children anticipate coming to, a place that they can depend on, where they know they'll be loved and heard and seen. And so there are many ways to encourage our children. I believe the family table has the potential to be the strongest influence on our children's mental and emotional health, so be intentional about that time; make it memorable and special; plan for a lively, engaging conversation where there's freedom and where the children's personalities can develop authentically in a safe space.

So there is so much more to say on health and how it affects a child's learning, yet it's often not prioritized. As much as we know it's important, often we forget to prioritize it in our children's education, and I believe that Charlotte Mason knew and anticipated that parents would forget the importance. And she argues, "The physiological matter may seem like the lowest rung of the educational ladder, but the lowest rung is the necessary step to all the rest." That is so profound and so wise and so true. And she goes on to state, "For it's not too much to say that, in our present state of being, intellectual, moral, even spiritual life and progress depend greatly upon physical conditions." Wow! that is so true. And I believe if Charlotte Mason were here today at the homeschool convention advising us on our homeschool and all the choices that we have to make, I believe she would advocate prioritizing the health of our children, though her methods are effective and though we have all the living curriculum and there are definitely wonderful tools of education, these things will never be fully accessible to our children if their brains and their bodies are not healthy. We can spend a lot of money on the best classes and the best curriculum, we can put our children in all the wonderful co-ops and buy all the great read-alouds, but if their brains are not healthy and if their bodies are not healthy and if their souls are not healthy, they are not going to be able to absorb all these wonderful things that we've chosen for them. So this is something to keep top of mind when planning your homeschool—be intentional about mental exercise and training habits of mental work every day, alternate between work and rest, plan for short lessons and plan for a variety of lessons, allow for ample time outdoors in the fresh air and sun where your children can play and get quality exercise, and last, provide a variety of nutritious meals eaten in gladness at a family table cemented in love.

Well, I hope that this short episode has been encouraging for you and has reminded you how important it is to prioritize your children's health. With a little bit of planning when you look at your calendar and you look at your day, keep in mind fresh air and sunshine, variety, exercise, habits of sustained thinking. All the things that Charlotte Mason says are important to a child's brain function, think about those things and see where you can integrate them into your child's day to give him and her the very best opportunity to learn and grow into all that God has called them to be. Well, please go to my website to sign up for my newsletter, and I look forward to sending that out to you. And I look forward to sharing with you in the next episode where my husband, Bruce, and I will give all the ideas and all the practical, fun ways that you can become a fit and healthy homeschool family. Have a blessed week!

Thank you for tuning in to the Charlotte Mason Show. If you want to learn more about Charlotte Mason and discover a beautiful Language Arts curriculum that uses her methodologies, go to my website at ShielaCatanzarite.com. There you can find my new blog where I discuss Charlotte Mason's principles for Language Arts, and how to implement her philosophy in your homeschool. Please enjoy my free resource on how to mark a poem. Simply provide your email address and I'll send you the free PDF that teaches a simple, hands-on, Charlotte-Mason-inspired way to bring poetry into your homeschool. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast. And while you're there, leave us a review. Tell us what you love about the show. This will help other homeschooling parents like you get connected to our community. And finally, tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode.

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