“I hope my kids are ordindary.” A very good friend of mine bluntly came out with this statement when our children were still quite young. I didn’t know what to say in response. I had gone through the stage when all the moms were comparing birth weights, growth patterns, and sleep habits. These pointless comparisons seem vital to the ego of the fragile first time mother. Every week there was another tally of whether or not your child was hitting the right milestone at the right time.
We pray our children are going to be healthy and know Joy. Did this mean we wanted our children to be ordinary? Were my kids ordinary? As kids approach school age, new parameters are set in place; learn your shapes and how to get along with other kids by the age of five, learn to recognize and print the alphabet and numbers by the age of seven. These stages of learning and development have been set in stone by the ‘experts’ of public education.
With pride I boasted that my youngest crawled at 5 months, that I was able to teach my son to read by reading to him by the age of 5 ½ years, and that my barely 4 year old daughter would sing to herself as she contently played alone in her room. I don’t think I was ever hoping that my kids would be ordinary.
Fifteen years later, that statement still hangs in the back of my head. Ordinary. Would my life have been simpler if my children had been ordinary? Would life in general be easier if everyone was ordinary?
Ordinary is defined as: ‘Commonly encountered; usual. Of no exceptional ability, degree, or quality; average. Of inferior quality; second-rate. Not interesting or exceptional. With no special or distinctive features; normal.’ 1
I would continue to define an ordinary child as one that can fit into the norm, who willingly conforms to the accepted and expected, goes unnoticed by staying under the radar, not delayed, but not accelerated either, not gifted.
I have twenty one years of parental experience. Twenty one years of children in my house; friends of my children, children from church, kids from homeschool groups, nieces, nephews and neighborhood children and teenagers and I have yet to meet an ordinary child. If you think most children are the same, you have not properly met them.
Charlotte Mason is very clear about ordinary children. There are none. Each child is born a person with his own ‘sensibilities, emotions, desires, and passions’. 2 Mason wants us to recognize each child as a unique person, not collectively as a class in a room.
Mason states: “Most thinking people are in earnest about the bringing up of children; but we are in danger of taking too much upon us, and of not recognising the limitations which confine us to the outworks of personality. Children and grown-up persons are the same, with a difference; and a thoughtful writer has done us good service by carefully tracing the method of our Lord’s education of the Twelve.
“‘Our Lord,’ says this author, ‘reverenced whatever the learner had in him of his own, and was tender in fostering this native growth––. . . . Men, in His eyes, were not mere clay in the hands of the potter, matter to be moulded to shape. They were organic beings, each growing from within, with a life of his own––a personal life which was exceedingly precious in His and His Father’s eyes––and He would foster this growth so that it might take after the highest type.'”3
‘a life of his own… native growth …organic beings …growth from within …a personal life.’ Just as our body types are unique to each of us, so is our heart, soul and mind.
I would argue that each child has special needs and is gifted. Carol Bainbridge, in her article ‘What to Look for in a Good Gifted Program’, says it this way: “Gifted children need a special environment, as does any special needs child.” 4
Gifted and special needs are terms that have traditionally been used to describe students who don’t fit into the ‘ordinary’ box. Some teachers, administrators and parents are determined to drag these children into conformity and hold on tight to the ones who try to break from the ordinary. There are personalities that can somehow survive in the box, but surviving is not living an abundant life.
A Charlotte Mason education takes away the box. There is no box. A child is a person that has a mind with an amazing capacity for love and joy and ideas and growth. She says,
“But is the baby more than a ‘huge oyster’? That is the problem before us and hitherto educators have been inclined to answer it in the negative. Their notion is that by means of a pull here, a push there, a compression elsewhere a person is at last turned out according to the pattern the educator has in his mind.” 5
Reigning in children to sit still and be quiet among 20 or 30 other children of the same age is much like trying to keep ants in the palm of your hand. Even for just one ant you need to be constantly vigilant that it doesn’t run up your arm or fall off your fingers. Over and over you turn and twist your hands, blocking the frantic path of the ant until you have it trapped, cupping one hand over the other.
At an art festival I was attracted to a series of photos of what appeared to be a dead ant. (I love nature and am partial to insects, thus the attraction to the ant photos) I engaged the very enthusiastic artist in conversation and he insisted that no harm had come to any of the insects while photographing. This was such a amusing line as being referred to the seemingly insignificant ant but he was quite serious. Then he told me his secret; the only way to make an ant stay still without killing it is to put it in the freezer for a bit. After a few minutes he was able to position the ant in the pose he desired and quickly take the photo before the ant came out of its stupor and darted away.
In order to remain in the ordinary box, the children have to be somewhat frozen into position, numbed by years of school-in-a-box, rendered helpless against conformity. But let the bell signal the end of the day and the freezing wears off and they dart quickly away from this unnatural environment.
Claire Danes stars as Temple in a biopic of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who has become one of the top scientists in humane livestock handling. A line Temple repeated in the movie says it best: ‘Different, not less.’ Because she was gifted and had special needs she was different. Temple was treated as a unique person and given the opportunity to live and learn outside the box. Her differences made her exceptional. Out of the ordinary Temple was allowed to be extraordinary.
Let’s take a look at your hands. They have been clamped together restraining that ant. Do you even know exactly where that ant is? You’ve been holding that position so long that it really doesn’t matter, as long and the ant remains where you want it.
What if you had never abducted the ant in the first place but taken the time to watch it in its natural habitat? You would have been amazed. It needs no manipulation from monstrous fingers to guide its path. On its own it makes progress with purpose. The ant works cooperatively with a whole nest of ants, doing that for which it was born. The ant will amaze you. Each person will amaze you.
Each child, youth and adult that crosses our paths or enters our lives has “a personal life which (is) exceedingly precious in His and His Father’s eyes.”6
1 Wikipedia: ordinary
2School Education by Charlotte Mason, page 138
3,6School Education by Charlotte Mason (Pastor Pastorum, by H. Latham, M.A., page 6.) “ page 138
4 What to Look for in a Good Gifted Program: Criteria to Use for Evaluating a School for Your Gifted Child by Carol Bainbridge,
5 Towards a Philosophy by Charlotte Mason, page 34
© Jennifer L. Gagnon 2011