Archive for the ‘Charlotte Mason basics’ Category

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but…once again, Charlotte Mason’s method for this subject is simple, effective and natural. Charlotte’s students learned composition by continually reading living books and narrating what they had read.

Throughout history, one of the most effective and most common ways people acquired skills was to apprentice. In an apprentice relationship, the apprentice works alongside the master craftsman, assisting him in his work, all the while learning the life skills necessary to one day continue on his own as a master craftsman himself. The apprentice does real work while he gains an understanding of the art and practical skills his master shares with him.

Narration, the simple retelling of what a child has read or heard read, is composition. In effect, the children are the apprentices of master craftsmen like Charles Dickens, Thornton Burgess, Beatrix Potter, and C. S. Lewis. The children study directly under the authors (by reading their works), learning their style, paying close attention to the way each author weaves a story together, the vocabulary they use, the structure of their sentences. They learn what sound right and what doesn’t. They learn when to use colourful descriptions and how to make use of quotations. The best part is they learn it all simply by performing the most enjoyable of tasks — retelling the story they have read.

In Charlotte’s schools, the children narrated orally beginning at age 6. Continuing with oral narration, written narration was added at about age 10. Formal and specific teaching in ‘essay-style’ writing was not added until age 14 and was fairly minimal. Charlotte found that when children were experienced in oral and written composition through narration, the skills of learning essay writing were very simple. I have also found this to be true. With my 14 year old daughter this year, the teaching of essay writing was essentially a one-afternoon task. It was so simple because she had long-ago learned the art of effective composition and storytelling. Describing and implementing the essay format was very basic and she picked it up effortlessly.

A word about beginning written composition/narration: for the first couple of years, I encourage you to allow your child to just write without giving them any rules to follow. Let the flow of their writing develop without their feeling hampered by trying to remember to vary the length of their sentences, to use quotation marks in just the right spots, etc. I like to help our children make a ‘good copy’ of their written narrations later on. This is eased by the use of the computer, which makes correcting a simple task. In our family, I have our children do a combination of handwritten and typed narrations.

We are conditioned to think that to truly learn something, it must in the boring format of: memorizing a formula with lots of rules and applying them in workbook/test format. Anything else seems almost a bit of a gamble. In reality, though, how many of us would be operated on by a surgeon who had never worked directly under another surgeon? What about having your house wired by an electrician who had never actually seen anyone do proper wiring? The real gamble, then, is to assume our children can ever learn to write effectively without studying under master writers.

Karen Andreola, in The Charlotte Mason Companion, says that Charlotte’s method of learning composition is so simple that it feels as if we are cheating. That is music to this hard-working, homeschooing mom’s ears.

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…means that I do what I can, but sometimes I can’t post as I’ve planned. Today was a very full day and I didn’t get to prepare my post as I’d hoped. I will do my best to get it posted this weekend. I do have a post scheduled for tomorrow, but it isn’t Charlotte Mason-y at all. 🙂

Thanks for your patience! You are all very important to me and I truly appreciate your time and your reading my blog so faithfully. 🙂

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It is such a pleasure to be a homeschooler in these days. We have a wealth of information and resources available to us. If we search any subject we are interested in, our search will turn up a relatively large selection of books and websites. Recently, Charlotte Mason has gained popularity, as parents search out a style of education that is natural, enjoyable and simple. As a result, books on using the Charlotte Mason approach in the modern homeschool have been written in recent years.

I thought I would kick the year off by suggesting a few print resources you might wish to look at if you are interested in learning more about Charlotte Mason’s style of home education.

Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series: This is a meaty set of books that will give you the benefit of Charlotte’s own thoughts on education. There are six volumes in her set. They are also available free online in their original language or in an updated, modern language, which some find more readable.

A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola: A wonderfully written and illustrated, large – but not intimidating manual covering just about every facet of Charlotte Mason’s style. The author has an obvious passion for this style and is a lovely, experienced homeschooling mother. (She is responsible for the republishing of Charlotte’s works.)

Charlotte Mason Education: A How-to Manual by Catherine Levison: This is a quickly-read, crash-course in Charlotte Mason’s style. Catherine does a lovely job of making the simplicity of Charlotte’s style shine through.

More Charlotte Mason Education: A Homeschooling How-to Manual
by Catherine Levison: A follow-up to the previous book, this one takes the reader further into some of the practical logistics, such as planning and scheduling, high school, and making a book of centuries.

When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today by Elaine Cooper et. al.: This is my all-time favourite book on Charlotte Mason education. It is intensely readable, combining enough philosophy to empower the reader with a thorough understanding of the ‘whys’ behind the method with loads of practical suggestions for application in just about every subject.

Charlotte Mason Study Guide by Penny Gardner: This book is designed to deepen your understanding of Charlotte’s Original works, but is most certainly also a stand alone book. Penny also has an excellent website.

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay: One of the first books written on Charlotte Mason, this is also a great one to start with. It is a gentle introduction which I find inspiring and soothing. Oddly enough, the first time I read it, I didn’t like it at all. When I finally decided to return to it after learning more about Charlotte Mason, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Later on, our Charlotte Mason study group decided to study it and I read it a third time. This time I loved it.

Educating the Wholehearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson: Anything the Clarkson’s write is wonderful and this book is no exception. I just love it. I think the big strength of the Clarksons’ books is that they offer incredibly inspiring vision, but still seem ‘real’.

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In Volume 6 of Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series, she asserts, There is no education but self-education and only as the young student works with his own mind is anything effected.” (emphasis mine). Over the years, I have mulled this over many times. I’m all for self-education, but to say that there is nothing else? Do I really believe this? What does this look like? As a person raised in a traditional school system, when I hear self-education, it drums up images of struggling through a dreadfully boring correspondence course. This is not what is meant by self-education.

Let’s start with something near and dear to my heart – a baby just learning to walk. To my heartbreak, my sweet little baby boy has decided to try walking at 9 months. He isn’t walking yet, but I’ve caught him taking a step and he stands alone. None of my other children walked this early, but let’s say I had wanted them to. Here’s what I would not have done:

  1. Research walking on the internet and at the library. Find out the most important parts about the history and physiology.
  2. Create a walking textbook (with a dvd, of course!) of just the most important points I discovered above.
  3. Schedule in a structured time for baby’s walking lessons. (Consistency is key!) I want him to be advanced so I will start at 7 months.
  4. Sit baby down and read from textbook. Give baby a quiz afterwards to see what he has remembered. Hubby will do remedial help in the evenings for anything baby was struggling with.
  5. Get baby to memorize ‘steps to walking’ so that he will be fully ready when we start the practice sessions. (See step 6)
  6. Once baby has the steps memorized, schedule in practice times. Again, consistency is key, here. We find that if parents are very diligent about following the steps exactly as outlined, starting at 7 or 8 months, virtually all babies should begin walking anywhere from 9-15 months of age.

HUH?! Ridiculous, when I put it that way, isn’t it? Why? Because the above points do not take into consideration:

  • how a baby learns
  • the baby’s readiness
  • the baby’s motivation

The above method only takes into consideration that which is measurable and practical for the teacher. It also takes all the fun out of it. And, it complicates things way more than necessary. 🙂

When Charlotte said that the only education was self-education, she did not mean that the student did not need a teacher anymore than a baby learning to walk could do without parents. As parents of a learning-to-walk baby, we are there to model walking, to offer little helps and guidance, to provide a safe place for baby to walk, to encourage with our words and facial expressions and to offer guidance and support when baby falls. We cannot, however, walk for the baby.

In Charlotte Mason education, a student learns by experiencing for himself, which is truly the only way we ever learn anything. Without experiencing something for myself, I have nowhere to put the information I hear or read. It just floats around, not hooking onto anything and will soon float right out of my head.

The great thing about a Charlotte Mason education is that a child can experience something for himself by using the wonderful tool of imagination. Our children don’t have to have survived the American Revolution to be able to ‘remember’ vividly what happened. They can experience it by reading the stories of those who did. It is only when they read what happened in story format that they will really remember because it is the story format that allows the child to enter into the place or the event and ‘experience’ it for himself. Once a child enters in, imagining himself a part of the story, he has made it his own and he will remember because he has lived it.

My darling little baby boy will soon be a toddler. He will never forget how to walk because he will have struggled for each step on his own. I can’t do it for him, nor do I want to. Besides, it is so much more fun this way.

Charlotte Mason Basics will be on Christmas Vacation for a few weeks, but I will continue blogging now and then. Merry Christmas!

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Photo courtesy of apdk

As we have discussed, narration is invaluable for building a host of skills, one of which is the habit of attention. This habit is one which will serve our children well for their entire lives. It will allow them to gain all kinds of knowledge from the things they read without having to tediously review and quiz themselves.

The habit of excellence is another wonderful servant. When we keep our children’s lessons short, we help them cultivate this important habit. We do this when we end a ‘lesson’ before our child becomes ‘dull’, as Charlotte would say. In Charlotte’s schools, lessons were very short for young children (15 mins, for example) and lengthened as the children got older. It is tempting for me to give you a list of appropriate ages and their corresponding lengths of time, but this misses the spirit of the idea. Charlotte’s schools had to be timed for practical reasons. There were many students in a classroom that needed kept moving along, aiming to serve the majority of students. In our homeschools, however, we are free to move at the pace we deem appropriate for each individual child.

How do you determine what the appropriate pace is? Like so much of parenting and homeschooling, you watch your child. The concept of short lessons is very simple. We are aiming to end the lesson while the child is still fresh and before the work starts to become tedious or sloppy. We do this regardless of whether an entire math page has been completed or a whole copywork selection copied. Let’s look at the example of handwriting for now.

Let’s say our young child is practicing her ‘C’s. If she copies 5 lovely ‘C’s and we notice she is starting to become fidgety and the next couple of ‘C’s aren’t quite as nice as the previous ones, it is time to end the lesson (and to aim to end it a little earlier next time). I know it is difficult when the page is not finished, but this concept makes sense. If we allow her to continue past the point where she had enjoyed printing and has done beautiful work, we teach her two things. First of all, we teach her to produce poor-quality work without a good effort. She learns that working for the sake of working is more important to us than her taking pride in her work and doing her best. When she is no longer able to give her lesson her full attention, we have effectively handicapped her from being able to do excellent work. Secondly, we leave her with a bitter taste in her mouth for the task at hand since it has gone on for longer than she has the ability to concentrate. We leave her wanting less of the work and not more.

Charlotte believed that it was better to write a few letters beautifully than a page full of sloppy ones. I agree wholeheartedly. In this way, our child learns that she can produce beautiful work and this becomes the standard, as opposed to the work produced from a half-hearted effort. She enjoys her work because it has been interesting and she knows she has done something worthwhile and beautiful.

This is another one of Charlotte’s concepts that I find very freeing. It allows me to be free from the prescribed length of a handwriting page or a math page. It allows me to encourage a child to take a break from a very challenging read to do something else for awhile, regardless of whether or not the chapter is finished. A big task is always better completed when we take regular breaks, divide the work into manageable chunks and arrive back with fresh perspective. I think this is an excellent life-lesson.

Does this mean our children are never encouraged to persevere when something is difficult? Not at all. Finding something difficult is different from finding something boring. However, when something is very challenging, it is can quickly become boring or frustrating if we don’t refresh ourselves regularly by taking a break. I believe that keeping our lessons short will actually help, not hinder, our children to develop the ability to persevere because they will learn the skills they need to get through difficult tasks.

Another question I am often asked about short lessons is what to do when a child is fully immersed in something they love, wanting to keep working on a particular task. The concept of short lessons is a servant, not a master. If a child is truly fresh and enthusiastic, they can certainly work longer. However, we don’t want to allow the work to continue until we are starting to see boredom set in. If so, the lesson has already gone on too long. You are a student of your child. Learn when he needs to switch gears and help him do so while he is still fresh and attentive, not when his attention is beginning to wane. It makes homeschooling so much more pleasant, and efficient I might add, when our children enjoy their work.

God bless and enjoy your weekend! I have a busy weekend ahead of me with two of our girls in a Christmas Highland Dance recital. They are just adorable in their full Scottish outfits! We are also celebrating several family birthdays on Saturday. I am so grateful that I have such a wonderful extended family on both sides.

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Have you ever had a time where, in reaching the end of a chapter of a read-aloud, your children begged you to read ‘just one more chapter’? Were you encouraged to continue because you loved it just as much as they did? I’d be willing to bet that the book you were reading was not a textbook! What you experienced was the power of a living book.

What is a living book?
Charlotte Mason talks about the mind being an living entity that needs to be fed, not a container to be filled. This important distinction sets the stage for understanding the concept of living books. If the mind were a container, we could simply give children a list of all the ‘facts’ or information they needed for life, get them to spend their days memorizing it and they’d be educated! However, this is not the way the mind works. The mind, being a living thing, needs the food of ideas, not information. Ideas feed the mind because they stick and they take on a life of their own. They originate in the child’s mind. They are not put there by someone else. A worthy idea is like a room in a beautiful home. It becomes a place all our own where we can store the treasures we want to keep. Information is just stuff. Without a place to put it, it gets lost, it is not useful and it is a burden to try to drag it all around since there is nowhere it belongs, nowhere we can put it down.

This is where living books come in.

Living books are those books that inspire ideas – the unique thoughts originating from the thinker – not information which originates elsewhere. They inspire because they are written in a story format by an author who is passionate about the subject, making his interest contagious to the reader and sparking an emotional response. These books leave the reader wanting more of the subject, not less. They contain literary language, intended to help the reader’s mind form a vivid mental picture. If there are illustrations, they are accurate and inspiring.

How do you know whether or not something is a living book?
Of course, you could read the entire thing, but in the middle of a giant used book sale, this is not practical. 😉 Karen Andreola, author of A Charlotte Mason Companion, suggests doing a ‘one page test’. After judging the book for general suitability, she recommends reading one page aloud to your children, while you watch for signs that their minds are opening up. She says that a living book can be identified by the children begging for more! I would suggest that you can do the very same thing, without your children, if you are on your own. Pick up the book, decide whether it promotes ideas that are true, noble and beautiful. Choose a page and read it to yourself. You should be able to tell soon enough if you have found a keeper. You will want to continue reading.

It is also a great benefit for a mother to learn who may be trusted to recommend true living books. There are a number of great lists available in print form or online which are helpful in choosing books. Sometimes, you will find librarians who really understand the concept of living books, as well as homeschooling companies who promote the same kind of education you are seeking for your children. (I know I can trust anything recommended in the Ambleside Online curriculum, for example.) These are all terrific sources, since it is impossible to preview all the books your children will want to read. My children have far more time to read than I do!

One caution I would add is not to buy into the idea that a book has to be old to be worthwhile. Or, that all old books are living books. Or, that all Christian books are worthy of our time. Charlotte Mason was always on the lookout for newly written books for her students. There are books being written all the time that are true, noble and beautiful and fit the criteria of living books. You will also find there is a ton of old twaddle (and plenty of Christian twaddle, too).

What is twaddle?
I find the word almost self-defining. Twaddle refers to books that are ‘dumbed-down’ to a level beneath the child. They are books that lower, not raise the bar. A red-flag for me is when I see a shelf full of nearly-identical looking series books. The books may appear to have one author, but often the name is really a pen-name for a team of authors all cranking out book after book in a single year. Often, the books are connected with television in some way.

I have heard it said many times that it doesn’t matter what a child is reading, as long as he is reading. My friend Sandy responds that this is like saying, “It doesn’t matter what they are eating, as long as they are eating!” Of course it matters. The act of reading by itself does not encourage a healthy mind anymore than the act of eating alone encourages a healthy body. In fact, if we are not careful about what is going in, it will actually do the opposite.

In our family, I do allow a little bit of twaddle, which we call junk-food books, as long as the content is not objectionable. However, I severely limit the quantity. The children are allowed to choose only one ‘junk-food’ book when we go to the library.

On the subject of living books, we have a favourite Christmas tradition I would like to share with you. Each year, in December, we read the book, Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkein. We read one letter each night. They are absolutely hilarious and each one is accompanied by a lively illustration. Our entire family loves this tradition and we never tire of hearing the letters again and again. I can highly recommend this book.

Do you have a particular favourite living book your family or your children are currently reading?

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Photo courtesy of fortinbras

Last week we looked at copywork, the whys and the hows of including it in the modern homeschool. This week, I hope to inspire you with a few resources that you may find helpful in assigning copywork for your children.

The number one living book, of course, is the Bible. I often have our children select passages that we are currently studying and I like to vary the translation used. A particular favourite for copywork is the King James version. We use this version occasionally to read from, but I enjoy it a lot for copywork. The language is rich and beautiful. Most of the Bibles in our home are not King James, so I find it much more convenient to obtain a passage online. I really like this site for finding Bible passages. It is simple to search for various translations and it is a snap to paste selections into Word, change them into a suitable font and print them out for a child to copy.

Another fabulous online resource for copywork is the Ambleside Online copywork yahoo group. A huge number of the books Ambleside suggests for reading have selections chosen specifically for copywork purposes. The file section contains a wealth of great passages from a large number of common books. Whether you are using Ambleside Online or not, this group is terrific since it has copywork selections from books your child has probably read and enjoyed.

As for print resources, our children enjoy using The Harp and Laurel Wreath: Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum by Laura M. Berquist. This is a well-known book in homeschool circles, which can be used for a variety of things besides copywork. We have also made use of it for recitation and, as the sub-title suggests, for dictation. Another big favourite around our home is Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Our children love to find quotes from famous people whose lives they have studied. (They particularly love the obscure quotes!) A searchable, online version can be found here.

Poetry is probably my children’s favourite thing to copy. We make use of many different poetry books, but the one we come back to again and again is Favorite Poems Old and New compiled by Helen Farris. It contains hundreds of poems, listed by topic, which I find very helpful. The arrangement makes it fantastic for finding poetry to add to a nature notebook, or for finding a poem on a particular topic of interest for a child to copy. It is a great resource which we have enjoyed for years.

Do you have other favourite online or print resources you like to use for copywork? I’d love to have your ideas included. Just add a comment in the comments section.

Next week, Charlotte Mason Basics will continue as we look at the topic of Living Books. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

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