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I first heard the term heart-based education from the work of Marlene Peterson. 

I stumbled across her website at a time when I was feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the direction of my homeschool.

Was I doing enough?

Should I be pushing my kids harder or backing off?  Did they need more formal academics or more time to pursue their passions?  Did I need to choose a specific method to identify with and go ‘all in’?  Or on the other hand, should I pick and choose based on what felt good at the time? 

Through a lifetime of mothering experience, study, and prayer, Marlene Peterson has developed

The Well-Educated Heart Philosophy of Education.

She generously provides free e-books, resources, and training over at her website Libraries of Hope.

There is NO mandatory curriculum.  There is NO price tag.  There is NO rigid schedule or required list of tasks. 

Building relationships, nurturing childhood, and inspiring a natural curiosity to learn are the basis of the Well-Educated Heart philosophy. 

The more I read, the more at peace I felt in my own ability to provide a quality education for my kids.  

It really spoke to me. 

My homeschool had always been influenced by various educational pioneers such as Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, and Rudolph Steiner (Waldorf).  With the Well-Educated Heart, instead of being presented as opposing methodologies, their similarities are celebrated.  Marlene groups these educators, among others, into a category she labels heart-based educators.  They had all been influenced by 18th century Swiss educational reformer, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.   

Some of Pestalozzi’s ideas are still seen in innovative educational settings today. For example, he encouraged a child’s unique abilities and made allowances for differences, grouped children by ability rather than age, and applied educational methods appropriate to the natural development of children.  

He is known for a whole child approach in developing the head, heart, and hands.   He believed in putting the heart first and taught,

“It is for a long time the business of the heart before it is the business of the reason.” 

I’m creating this blog with Marlene’s blessing and the desire that more people will discover the Well-Educated Heart philosophy.  I hope that sharing my own thoughts, feelings, and family learning experiences will encourage others to join in. 

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Here is my attempt to summarize everything a Heart-Based Education means to me in a quick-start guide within

7 Broad Principles

1. A heart-based education asserts, “the foundation stone of all learning is that direct communication between heaven and the child’s soul.”

If this sounds like something you’ve heard before, you’re probably familiar with Charlotte Mason’s words:

“True education is between a child’s soul and God.”   

Girl pointing to painting, heart-based education

Art Credit: Treasures of Knowledge by Greg Olsen

I have this painting hanging in my living room to remind me to leave room for the workings of the Holy Spirit, that all things testify of Christ, and that God is the source of all truth.

2. A heart-based education seeks to bring learning back into balance by intentionally creating space for truth, goodness, and beauty.  

We live in a mind-based, standardized test obsessed, strictly academic culture of education. 

There is no room for God in the classroom, the arts are the first things to go to alleviate the strain of budget cuts, and truth is often relative (your truth may be different from someone else’s). 

The Well-Educated Heart philosophy brings the focus away from tests and dry facts and back to those age-old transcendental ideas.

The top of the Libraries of Hope landing page reads,

“We seek to preserve a culture of faith, freedom and family and a love of the good, the true and the beautiful.”  

For an inside look at truth, goodness, and beauty visit this article at simplyconvivial.com

3. A heart-based Education is arts based.

heart-based education, child painting

Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash

The arts include creative expression in visual arts (such as drawing, painting, and sculpting), performing arts (such as dance, music, and theatre), and words (such as poetry, fiction, and drama).

Marlene compares the arts to the keys on a piano.

“They open the ‘music’ within. The arts are the key to awakening the inner eye and spiritual feelings; of connecting a child’s heart with God.”

Marlene often sites the work of Educational Systems Innovator Dr. Rich Melheim of Stillwater, Minnesota. Dr. Rich Melheim writes,

“The brain is filled with gatekeepers designed to keep information out… you have to open the kid before you open the book.”

Marlene continues, “These gatekeepers respond to pleasurable experiences, which the Arts provide. When you ‘get to the emotional centers, the gates of intellect fly open wide’.” 

Visit richmelheim.com for more information about his work.

4. A heart-based education is literature based.

Although literature could have technically been included under the category of the arts, I felt like its own place on the list was warranted.

The power of a well-crafted story is mysterious and hard to quantify. Yet study after study has shown us that good literature helps us make connections, increases vocabulary and desire to read, grows our empathy and understanding of the world around us, and improves our recall of material learned.

Rudyard Kipling wrote,

“If history were told in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” 

Marlene teaches,

“If you want to instill a love of faith, freedom and family, you must find stories that reflect these values. I strongly believe that our ability to maintain hope in the days ahead will be in direct proportion to how broad and how deep our reservoir of stories is from which we draw. There’s an old saying that says ‘What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.’ You cannot draw from a story that’s not there.”

Her website, Libraries of Hope, has archives of books mostly written during what is known as the first golden age of children’s literature. These stories were written specifically to speak to the hearts of children.

For more information on the benefits of reading aloud to children and recommendations on what to read, visit readaloudrevival.com.

5. A heart-based education is relational.

heart=base education, mother and daughter

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

The Well-Educated Heart philosophy emphasizes building strong family bonds and making personal connections.  A mother is a child’s best first teacher.

Marlene has said,

“Nature has reserved the first years of your child’s life-particularly the first eight years– for making impressions on the heart. The wise mother will use those years to fill her child’s heart with the good, the beautiful and the true.”

Learning can be fun, cozy, playful, comfortable, meaningful, and beautiful. We can embrace the ‘home’ in homeschool.

We don’t have to get caught up in the hustle to push strict academics earlier and earlier, practice ‘drill and kill’ with a stop-watch, or panic and compare every stage of our child’s development against the Jones’s kid.

Enjoy being together and meet your child where he/she is.

Spend time on things that interest your child and inspire the heart. Share your own love of learning. Be gentle. I love this article on bravewriter.com: There Are No Educational Emergencies.

I also recommend this book by Pam Barnhill, Better Together: Strengthen Your Family, Simplify Your Homeschool, and Savor the Subjects that Matter Most,

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace, by Sarah Mackenzie,

And The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life, by Julie Bogart.

6. A heart-based education recognizes the pattern for learning as heart before mind. Learning unfolds naturally from the inside out.

Early childhood is the time to cultivate a spirit of inspiration and wonder by tending to the heart. Fill each learning experience with music, art, stories, rhymes, and games that will make an inward impression and gradually awaken the desire to reach outward to know more.

French writer Antione de Saint-Exupery relates:

“Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love.”

A paraphrase of this often attributed to Saint-Exupery reads, “If you want to build a boat, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

An inspiring heart connection moves people to meaningful action. The same concept applies to learning and to life.

7. A heart-based education “must take place in an atmosphere of freedom and choice.”

This is important for the teacher as well as the student. After all, aren’t we all still learning?

Let’s not get bogged down in the minutia of it all and feel we have to systematize learning until the joy is all squeezed out of it.

If your particular family thrives on a little more structure or favors the methods of one educator over another, great. If not, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it incorrectly!

Learning by doing is at the heart of this philosophy, so just dive in. Let your children see you learning by choice and share what interests you. Each individual’s learning experience and path in life will be deeply personal.

Marlene often says, “Be a light, not a hammer.” That is to say, we should lead by example and encouragement rather than by force.

heart-based education, sister reading outside

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Marlene explains,

“If you have a parent telling a story out of duty, as an assignment, it’s not going to have the same impact as a story that the parent loves and wants to share with their child. That’s when there’s connection, when there’s this other layer that begins to flow between parent and child. So the first responsibility is for parents to warm and fill their own hearts. And then share.”

https://www.mormonwomen.com/interview/well-educated-heart/ 

When you have time, please visit Marlene’s Catch the Vision Course and Take 5 messages.

They’re a beautiful deep dive into the Well-Educated Heart philosophy of education and full of more practical tips and guidance.

Thanks for listening, friend.

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