The History of the Mothers' Companion
Discover how the Mothers' Companion came into being and learn about the main influences behind the Mothers' Companion flashdrive content.
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How did The Mothers' Companion come to be put together?
We educated our own children in the 1990s and early 2000s. At that time Christian home education was quite a rarity.
We were not particularly well off and the extra expense of home education meant we had to be sure not to waste money on expensive educational resources that were not as useful as they looked. We did not like the methods of modern secular textbooks and the only Christian ones were American, hard to get hold of and expensive. We soon got the hang of collecting books from charity shops and second-hand bookshops. This was much easier than it is today as charity shops then were stashed with old hardback children's books and second hand bookshops often did not charge the high prices that they do today. Once, to our delight, we found that the local teacher training college had unloaded a huge quantity of “out of date” books from its library on a bookseller who had a stall on a local indoor market. Here were wonderful books going for a few pence each! Quite a few of the treasures we collected during those years are now available to everyone again on the Mothers' Companion Flashdrive.
But old books were not always the complete answer. Take history for example. I soon found that there were no children's history books that suited my purpose. Yes, there were “ordinary” children's history books and yes, there were books that told history from a Christian perspective – for adults or for Americans! However, I found that trying to combine these into history lessons for my own children took a lot of time and preparation and when I had finished I had actually written a history book. This is now published as The Story of God's Dealings with our Nation and is also included on the Mothers' Companion flashdrive.
We greatly benefited from the experience of Christian families who had home educated before us such as the Sherwoods, the Mahons, the Matthews and the Hardings. Another great help was the home education group, Christian Education for Deeside. This gave opportunities for socialisation with weekly meetings and summer camps and as Mums we created learning projects together. One of these is on the Mothers' Companion flashdrive as is a beautiful project about “Work” by a Mum from that inspiring generation of home educators ahead of us.
When my third child arrived it was a joy to dig out all the wonderful books and projects for use again. At the same time I wondered: would it be possible to preserve all this? I was often asked what I used and there was little point in giving a very long list of obscure and out of print books as an answer. Even today with the power of the internet at your disposal just try to find a copy of Speech Fun by Elaine Wainwright or What Happened Today? by Evan Owen and you will find it difficult. Could I republish these books in some way? I dismissed the idea for a while thinking that the copyright issue would be insurmountable. Anything very old like Little Arthur's England would not need permission, of course, nor would things I had written myself. For the projects we had made at Christian Education for Deeside I only had to ask my friends if they would be willing to allow me to include what they had done. Someone suggested an electronic format rather than hard copy would make it feasible. I made some tentative enquiries and found to my joy that most publishers were happy to let me use their very old out of print books. We purchased a scanner and I set to work.
There were no flashdrives in those days and the only method of presenting the material was on CDs. There was far too much material to put everything on a CD of course but with some juggling a year's worth would just about fit.
My original idea had been to simply load the PDFs onto a CD and leave the end users to find their way around them. My eldest son improved on this idea by writing HTML programmes that made the CDs work rather like a free-standing website. After the first few CDs my husband showed me how to write my own HTML by copying and editing the original and I was able to carry on with subsequent volumes on my own.
When the first CD was ready I was quite surprised by the demand. It certainly inspired me to go on with the arduous task of scanning and checking material for the next one. Proof-reading was a mammoth task. The OCR program was good but some of the books had small and battered type that did not scan well or were bound so tightly that no flatbed scanner could do an accurate job of the whole page. I appealed for volunteers and some lovely ladies came forward who enabled me to off load some of the task. Even now, of course, there are things that have slipped through the net. If you spot anything please let me know and I can put it right for subsequent users.
Eventually there were nine volumes on CDs and the cost of purchase was becoming higher, putting people off purchasing the whole set at once. I wondered about flashdrives. They were expensive and the purchaser could accidentally delete material from them. However, I found a cheap way of purchasing in bulk and and the deletion problem could be got round. If anyone sends me back a flashdrive that has accidentally been deleted I can simply reload it for them for free.
The demand for the flashdrives was steady and purchasers were getting a much better deal than was possible with the old CDs. A whole curriculum up to age 12 was now available for £20.
Of course it does not matter what a wonderful resource you have to offer for next to nothing if nobody know you've got it! I was very hampered in this regard by being far too busy with the actual home education of my youngest son to spend time travelling round the country promoting the Mothers' Companion. I did manage to go regularly to the Home Service (now CHESS) holiday at Cefn Lea which was not far from where we live. This was a good way of getting people to see what was on offer especially when I managed to take a bookcase full of all the actual books that were scanned onto the tiny flashdrive. I always imagined that when I “retired” from full-time home education I would take off with my stand to every home education show that was going. But... the Lord had other responsibilities for me that I had not thought of.
The website is a solution and, as you cannot see the big bookcase full of goodies, I have put together a complete set of sample pages from all the books on the flashdrive for you to look at.
Why is it the Mothers' Companion not the Mother's Companion?
When I discussed the question with the children when we were starting out with the Mothers' Companion they were adamant that it should be a companion for many mothers not just one. Perhaps Arthur Mee called his book The Children's Shakespeare not The Child's Shakespeare for a similar reason. With hindsight it may have been a mistake but it is too late to change it now!
Favell Lee Mortimer (1802 - 1878)
The inspiring Christian educator behind much of what is on the Mothers' Companion flashdrive
Which Christians in the nineteenth century had the most lasting and widespread influence?
Spurgeon? Ryle? Livingston? The lady whose little schoolhouse is pictured above is not well known now but her influence was arguably as great as any of these for reasons that Christian home educators will understand.
Favell Lee Mortimer wrote one of the most widely used reading books and it was she who invented flashcards as a means of helping a child to learn to read. However, the interesting thing about her is that her most famous books were a set of children's Bible lessons that sold millions of copies worldwide, and which outsold everything else of the kind for generations after her death.
As far as I can tell, before Favell Mortimer, although there were books for children on religious topics, no one had sat down and tried to distil basic Bible narrative into language a tiny child could understand. When her first book Peep of Day was published in 1833 by Hatchards of Picadilly it was an instant, runaway success. She had honed her method for years both as a teacher in schools which she founded and funded and also (more relevant to home educators) by personally teaching many children on a one to one basis. Although she never had children of her own she taught her younger siblings, many of her very numerous nieces and nephews and also a great number of orphans whom she adopted and raised in her own home.
What were her methods?
Favell Mortimer was motivated by a desire to present the gospel clearly to very young children. She accordingly strove to use very simple vocabulary and sentence structure. She often adopted an approach which asked the child questions to provoke thought or prompt a response and she was convinced that the narrative of Scripture was the best vehicle for a small child to understand Gospel truth – not what we might call direct theological or even catachistical writing. She was adept at memorable or striking sentences that would stick in the mind – for instance Peep of Day itself opens with a wonderful pair of short simple questions:
Who put the sun in the sky? God.
Can you reach up so high? No.
These sentences, given the staggering and long popularity of the book, must have awakened the “first thoughts of God” – that was how F B Meyer put it when writing about her – in millions of very young children. Not only did grateful parents flock to get their hands on her books but missionaries, desperate for simple language material for people of all ages, carried them to the four corners of the globe – with the result that Peep of Day was eventually translated into over thirty languages including Urdu, Yoruba, Cree, Matabele, Gujerati, Rarotongan... What we would probably now call pirated editions also appeared in America.
So who was this lady?
When I had been using her books for some time with my own children I was so curious about the modest author (whose name does not even appear on her original books) that I did some research. Mrs Favell Lee Mortimer was born when George III was still on the throne and died a latish Victorian. Her life was so packed with interest, tragedy and associations (quite apart from her books) that I had to write it down. You will soon be able to buy a copy of her biography, Not Without Tears. To receive an email when the book is available please click on the button below. Her bitter-sweet life of service to the master she loved wove its way through a host of well know characters from Cardinal Manning to Charlotte Brönte yet she was so different from them in her devotion to the young – whether rich or poor – and in her determination that the thing that mattered most was that they should understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Her biography, Not Without Tears, is now available from www.ritchiechristianmedia.co.uk.
I discovered Mrs Mortimer's Peep of Day series almost by accident over 25 years ago when my own children were young. A relative gave me Peep of Day itself and I found it was not only usable but actually better than other more modern books. I located all the books in the series, used them with all my children when they were very small. The little portions are so short and yet so valuable and it is easy to explain or modify, if you need to, the odd word or two here and there that has become dated. Her books became the daily anchor of our home school curriculum and we went through them many times.
Eventually I managed to get a complete original Hatchard's set and these I scanned to form the foundation of the Mothers' Companion curriculum.
Charlotte Mason (1842-1923), a later educator whose ideas are now very popular, based her methods on the premise that children are basically innocent: “...a hundred times a day I bow down in my heart before the babes, and feel that they are so much better than I, as though we were beings of a different class, they nearer the angels, in fact,” she wrote. In contrast, although she wanted learning to be a happy experience for the child, Mrs Mortimer had no illusions about original sin and its effects on the young. A truly Christian worldview and a clear presentation of the facts of the Gospel were what she strove for in all her books as a result.
So why do I consider her as influential as Spurgeon and the others? Because she provided spiritual food for children – and children grow up.