My family had the opportunity to meet a Holocaust survivor. My children were fascinated by her harrowing stories of hiding from the Nazis. Soon after this event, they were playing a little too quietly. I followed that motherly instinct to check on them. Once upstairs, I heard little voices frantically whisper, “Quick! Hide! Here come the Nazis!” In that moment, I realized I was the Nazi. I could not help feeling offended that my children equated their mother with a Nazi!
Children learn best from playing. Charlotte Mason understood one of the most effective ways to bring history to life and instill a love for learning is to allow children to play the parts. It also serves the great benefit of helping them discover what parts they will play in God’s story for their lives. In A Philosophy of Education, Mason says history should “…quicken children with the knowledge that always and everywhere there have been great parts to play and almost always great men to play those parts: that any day it may come to anyone to do some service of historical moment to the country.”
At Arborbrook, you will frequently find students “playing at history” in a variety of ways. You may see a group of immigrants huddled together in a “gazebo” ship, catching their first glimpse of the Statue’s beacon of hope – only to be threatened by the dreaded health inspector who may turn them back. You may find students learning the inner-workings of the Underground Railroad by navigating it themselves, with hearts pounding because the slave catchers are in constant pursuit. You may hear Paul Revere holler, “The British are coming!” as he takes off on his broomstick horse after seeing the signal light in the belfry tower. Or you may hear students singing “Over There!” as they gear up for the Great War.
It is a joy to teach in a place where children delight in their history lessons, unlike the dry lessons most of us grew up with. Charlotte Mason argued it should not be made into drudgery. Instead, she says, “The pageant of history with its interplay of characters is as delightful as any tale because every child uses his own film to show the scenes and exhibit the persons.”
I knew I did not want to play the part of the Nazi. We want to play the heroes, right? Arborbrook’s children learn there are great parts to play as they step into the shoes of courageous men and women who have gone before them. They catch inspiration from heroes of history. How will they be of service to their country and the Kingdom of God?