A Charlotte Mason Education, Parenthood, personhood
Comments 11

Children are born persons, Revisited by Leslie Noelani Laurio

As my kids are getting older, and my friends’ kids are getting older, Charlotte Mason’s “Children are born persons” is meaning something more to me. Or maybe it’s just hitting home more.

For years, I’ve heard that if you “train up your child in the way he should go, when he’s old he will not depart from it,” and various interpretations of that — if you train them to be good, they’ll always be good, if you teach them right, they might stray, but they’ll always come back.

At a recent gathering of moms, one of the moms said that “raise up your children in the way they should go” means that we guide them in the unique direction/career God has planned for them — as if we could be presumptuous enough to know what God has planned for them. I’m not sure I’d even want to arrange a marriage for my child, much less their entire life.

I think of all the things I’ve attempted to do with/for my kids, like instilling values, presenting opinions, and nurturing tastes for reading and music — when they grow up, they choose for themselves, and it might be very different than what I wanted, or even from what I thought from observation was “the way they should go.” One of my little boys used to build things. Friends would even comment that he was very good at building things and would someday be an engineer. But, nope, as he’s gotten older, I see his interests going somewhere else, and his brother being the one to show an interest in building things as a possible career, and I’m glad I didn’t lock the wrong child into that path.

The first time “Children are born persons” really hit home for me was when my oldest son was in maybe fifth grade and showing some talent in his school lessons. I remembered reading about a child back in history who was extremely gifted, and spoke multiple languages. No doubt his parents threw everything they had into his gift and harbored hopes of what was in store for this child. And then he died at age nine of some childhood disease. I don’t know what kind of childhood he had — whether he had been allowed to play, daydream, enjoy nature, and seek out his own interests, or whether he had been pressured to make the most of his time by studying for hours on end because of what he would be “someday.” But his “someday” never came. In the end, what mattered for him wasn’t the hopes for his future, but his childhood. It was all he had. It occurred to me at the time that each child is a born “person” and may only have a few years to live their life, and withholding any life from them in the hopes of their useful, prosperous future may rob them of what life they have. That was the first time I thought I understood what CM meant.

Now, watching the kids around me — my own as well as my friends’ children — becoming adults, it’s hitting me again. These children we thought we were raising are complete people, very different from us, very much their own people, and “they always were.” I look around at my adult friends and their opinions and ways of life, and wonder if they’re even an inkling like what their parents thought they were raising them to be. The children we’ve collectively raised represent our contribution of a few full-grown adults thrown into the general population with their own opinions and ways of life, and, in many cases, they are very different as adults than what we saw in them as children. They have gifts we totally missed, or interests it never occurred to us to introduce them to in their childhood, or information gleaned from sources we never heard of.

Sometimes I think that the best we can do as parents is to watch them grow up into adult people, and hope we don’t do anything to damage them along the way. I don’t say that to sound helpless or despairing, but raising a child is more awe-inspiring and “bigger” than I thought, and I as a parent have less influence and control than I imagined. We attempt to set their feet in a large, broad room, without really considering the large, broad room we’re in ourselves as their parents.

© 2011 by Leslie Noelani Laurio


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. You put it so well! I too am realizing this. Let them enjoy life now; don’t just push them for what you think they will be or do later. This “children” stage should be just as full as their “adult” stage.

  2. Thanks, Lanaya. It really puts a different spin on Charlotte Mason’s idea that we as parents and teachers have no right to withhold any educational subject from our children. They aren’t ours to shape or mold, they’re their own people.

  3. Laurel says

    Thank you! I am frequently given hope for the huge task God has given me by the idea that I am still learning too and I thank God he’s allowed me more than 12 years of school to learn about the world. I can trust that my children will continue to explore the large, broad room, that they will be drawn to their interests. It is fascinating to watch.

  4. Searwars says

    Many are stuck on tomorrow while today trickles away. We’re certainly not entitled to our next breath, but we are certainly arrogant enough to demand it. It has become so terribly easy to setup hollow moutains (idolatry) before the hearts of our children. It’s the way of the world. And it’s more than likely for self-glorification. When the absolute supremacy of the LORD does not saturate every area of our lives; what else do we (parent/children) have? Can a career hear our cries? Can a career give us salvation? Oh how wonderful it is to be unchained and free in the hands of the LORD. Only He can peer into our dreams. Only He can make them sweet. For before you know it, the tide will come crashing into the shore to wash away our footprints.

    Psalm 103:15-16 — As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
    for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.

    1 Peter 1:24 — for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,

  5. I was touched by this, Leslie! It’s so true!

    “Withholding any life from them in the hopes of their useful, prosperous future may rob them of what life they have now.”

    I’m putting this Leslie Laurio quote in my commonplace.

  6. I love this LNL quote, too: “We attempt to set their feet in a large, broad room, without really considering the large, broad room we’re in ourselves as their parents.”

    Ever since Mason’s ideas started trickling into our lives, our room has become enlarged and broadened!

  7. I’m just reading this post again. Thank you for the excellent reminder about letting our children BE. I love to stand in awe at what’s going on inside them.

    I don’t know if these verses are in total alignment with your point, but I do think they marry very nicely:

    “A man’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 20:24)

    “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

  8. Leslie V says

    I think that is why Charlotte Mason so strongly believed that the Holy Spirit is the true teacher. We don’t know what God has planned for our kids as they grow up, but He does.

  9. amy in peru says

    wow. there are no words… this is just too good.

    thanks, Leslie.


  10. This was really beautiful, Leslie! I couldn’t agree more. A year or so ago I argued with a relative who seemed to think it was the parents job to pick their childs college and major because “the parent knows best”. I was astounded at the hubris. I can’t imagine thinking I have the wisdom to speak for my child.

    I loved the part of your article that puts the focus on the now by telling the sad story of the precocious child who died young. We have to be careful to not think of our young children as becoming persons but as already being so and respecting them accordingly. Thank you.

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