I love having Ambleside Online’s pretty plan to work with. Last term we didn’t do the Bible lessons in the schedule. I decided I want to do AO’s suggestions, at least for my kids in year 2 and year 4. (I’m still not sure on my eldest.) But I struggle to figure out the line between family devotions, personal devotions, and Bible knowledge as a school subject. When you homeschool everything just blends together.
Charlotte on a Child’s Personal Devotions
Doing Devotionals Regularly
It’s important to develop the habit of regularity in devotional time. A mother may not always be with her children, but I’ve seen children who are more determined about doing their devotions on time when they’re away from their mother because they know that’s what she would want, than they are when she’s with them. One four-year-old friend of mine said, ‘Mommy, I always worship idols.’ ‘You do, Megan? When?’ ‘When I say my prayers to the chair.’ It’s wonderful for all of us to get into the habit of ‘saying our prayers’ at a specific time and in a specific place. Wherever that may be, it will become like a holy place for us. Whether it’s a chair, the side of the bed, a little prayer table, or, best of all, the mother’s knee, that place will play a major part in guiding the child’s soul to develop a habit of devotion. While I’m on the subject, it’s worth mentioning that children’s prayers, even for school aged children, shouldn’t be left until they’re so tired that they nod off before they’re finished. After evening tea [or dessert?] is a good regular time for prayers if it can be managed.
The Habit of Bible Reading
The habit of reading the Bible should be established when the child is young enough that his Bible readings need to be read aloud to him. This presents a challenge because the Bible is actually an entire library, and some of its books and passages aren’t suitable for children. Many parents get around this by using little compilations of devotional Scriptures. But I’m not sure this is such a good idea. I think that a narrative teaching of the Scriptures is a lot more helpful for children than the isolated texts chosen to stimulate morals and spiritual devotion. The Bible Society publishes [at least, they did in 1904 when this was written] inexpensive copies of individual books of the Bible. Those are a nice resource for parents. A child who’s old enough to enjoy reading for himself would probably love reading through the whole book of the Gospel of Mark or another book of the Bible little by little as part of the morning devotion, using a nice copy of the book. (Volume 3, Chapter 13)
So the habit of daily devotions is very important, Charlotte encourages us to:
- Have a regular time, and not too late, so he isn’t sleepy.
- Find a specific place, a good place to start is on mother’s lap.
- Start young, before the child can read on her own.
- Don’t preach, rely on the narrative teachings of the Bible instead of pointed devotionals.
- Have the child read little sections from a whole book, with a nice Bible to read from.
- Andrew, my 7 year old, is listening to me read from the Golden Children’s Bible. He started a Bible journal on his 7th birthday. Anna, who is 4, usually listens in.
- Jonathan (11) and David (9) are much more independent. So far the Children’s Bible Reading plan here (updated weekly) has been a success. David is reading Joshua. Jonathan was reading in Genesis, but has told me he wants to read Romans, so I’ll have to either break it down for him, or show him how to break it down on his own. They also each have a Bible journal.
On Teaching the Bible in Schools
Charlotte taught the younger students (6-12 year olds) both from the Old Testament (historical books) and the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke).
Between the ages of six and twelve, children [using Paterson’s book] cover the narrative stories of Old Testament Biblical history, and the Prophets as they correspond to the lives of the kings. The teacher begins the lesson by reading the passage from Paterson’s book that illustrates the scripture reading. For example,
‘This story takes place on the battle field in the Elah Valley. The camp of the Israelites is on one side of the slope, the big tents of the Philistines are on the other slope. The Israelites aren’t huge men, but they’re agile and clever. The Philistines are huge brutes, stupid thick-headed giants. Samson used to play tricks on them and make fun of them long ago. Both sides are agitated,’ etc.
There might be some discussion after reading this passage. Then the teacher will read the Scripture text and the children will narrate. The commentary merely serves as a background for their thoughts. Their narrations are usually very interesting. They don’t miss even one point, and they add colorful touches of their own. Before the end of the lesson, the teacher brings out any new concepts about God or points of behavior that may have been included in the reading. She emphasizes the moral or religious lesson in a reverent, sympathetic way, and doesn’t attempt to tell them how to apply it personally.
…[snip]… The New Testament has its own category. The same commentaries are used, and we use the same methods, reverent reading of the text followed by narration, which is often curiously word perfect even after a single reading. (Vol 6, pg 160-169)
So Charlotte recommends that a Bible lesson for the lower grades follow this order:
- Read the passage from Paterson’s book. (It seems one could retell the story with vivid imagery and appropriate background information if the commentary was not available or desirable.)
- Discuss the passage.
- Read the text directly from the Bible. (Charlotte would have used the King James Version.)
- The children narrate.
- The teacher highlights something from the reading, such as a moral lesson or a new concept about God.
Other Religious Teachings from Charlotte
The Catechism, Prayer-book, and Church History are taught in a similar manner, using appropriate texts. They provide an opportunity to sum up the church’s doctrine, which is covered by preparing for Confirmation and Sunday services at the student’s church. (also Vol. 6)
I need to decide if I should combine the kids for our Ambleside Online Bible lessons. I’m sure the discussion would be helpful and we would all learn. But I’m really bad at getting group stuff done. On the other hand, last time I tried to split for Bible lessons as a school subject, I was overwhelmed and dropped them altogether.
One thing is certain, the more I read of Charlotte Mason, the more I am impressed by her insight.