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What is a “Charlotte Mason” Education?

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I am often asked what philosophy I use when it comes to homeschooling, my children.

I’m sure you have heard of the “Charlotte Mason” method for education. What does that mean?! When I first started homeschooling, I had no idea what I was doing. I was completely overwhelmed by all the different methods, resources, and curriculum. I stumbled across the name “Charlotte Mason” one day and I knew, “This is it!”

Miss Mason believed that every child born into this world was born persons and should be treated as such! In England in the 1800s, children had no voice. They had no rights to speak of and were not treated as whole persons. The well-to-do labeled the lower class children as “bad” and they had no education. The lower class children were lucky to find work in harsh conditions.

Only the well-off children were labeled “good” and had the best education that money could buy. Even still, the parents did not teach their children. This was left to nurses or governesses.

Miss Mason recognized that there was a lack of understanding of the intellectual, spiritual and emotional needs of children. Her motto for her students was, “I am, I can, I ought, I will!”

“I am . . . a child of God, a gift to my parents and my country. I’m a person of great value because God made me.”

“I can . . . do all things through Christ who strengthens me. God has made me able to do everything required of me.”

“I ought . . . to do my duty to obey God, to submit to my parents and everyone in authority over me, to be of service to others, and to keep myself healthy with proper food and rest so my body is ready to serve.”

” I will . . . resolve to keep a watch over my thoughts and choose what’s right even if it’s not what I want”

Charlotte wrote a little bit more about the motto in her first series of books.

  • ” I am” means that we can know ourselves and understand what we are really like.
  • “I ought” means that we have a moral judgment that lives inside of us. It is our values, morals, and perceptions of what is right and wrong in this world. We feel as if we are subject to it. It reminds us of our duty and compels us to do it.
  • “I can” means that we know we are capable and have the ability to do what it is we are supposed to do.
  • “I will” means we resolve to use the ability, we know we have, to do what our inner moral judge has urged us to do. Resolve is actually the first step in actually doing.

These four things make a perfect, beautiful chain…


BEAUTIFUL LITERATURE (LIVING BOOKS)

Miss Mason placed great emphasis on high-quality literature for children. What is literature? First, let me tell you what literature is not. If the writing of the author shows no human feeling or emotion, then it is not literature.

If we want the minds of our children to come alive with living ideas, then we must feed them living ideas which only come from living books or in other words, literature. Ideas live and breath inside living books.

What is a living book? A living book is a book written by one author who has knowledge and passion about the subject he or she is writing about. The books are laced and saturated with emotion, ideas, truth and they share information well. Remember, we are all born as human beings, persons, and the style of writing that resonates with our minds and hearts includes human touch and emotion.

If you can place your children in touch with the mind of the author and they show emotion and intellectual capacity, chances are you have a living book on your hands.

“One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child’s intellectual life.”
– Charlotte Mason

*(More on this in a future post, with a list of LIVING BOOKS)

NARRATION

Another pillar of a Charlotte Mason education is the discipline of narration. As a mom of four children, over the last 9 years, I have noticed how much my children find joy in “telling.” When they are excited, interested, sad… they love to tell about it. Sadly, this ability and desire to tell is “schooled out” of children.

Charlotte Mason made “telling back” one of the pillars of her philosophy of education. She believed that the practice of telling back what ideas they formed from reading great literature was one of the best ways to learn and make connections with what they read.

Narration is the process of telling back, after a single reading, what was just heard.

Narration helps with retention, it inspires a love of knowledge, strengthens mental powers and is a key component of oral evaluation.

*(More on this in a future post, with a “how to.”)

 

HABITS

Miss Mason believed that children were a bundle of habits.

I am still learning about the discipline of habit. Homeschooling is ever-evolving in our home and there are always new habits to be learned.

Miss Mason encourages mothers like you and me in her Home Education series to first acquire the habit of training our children so that having them in the home all day will be a pleasure and not a problem.

Every parent wants their children to be self-motivated, self-educated and self-disciplined.

*(I will write a detailed blog post about this in the future)

Here are the habits that she wanted your children to form;

  1. The habit of obedience
  2. The habit of attentiveness
  3. The habit of observation
  4. The habit of routines
  5. The habit of excellence
  6. The habit of reading
  7. The habit of handicrafts
  8. The habit of free time

 

COPYWORK & DICTATION

What is copywork? Simply put, copywork is the practice of copying passages of well-written language taken from literature, beautiful poetry, quotes from historical figures, or even hymns. On the surface this might seem simple because it is! When we take a closer look we can see that the benefits go far, far beyond that.

Although reading exposes children to correct style, mechanics and sentence structure, copywork provides an additional measure of focus. Because Charlotte Mason highly discourages the use of dry textbooks, copywork opens the door to provide a living example for the child. As a parent, I can sit near my child and observe them copying a quote for example. During this time I can gently point out and emphasize the use of a comma, period, quotation marks, etc. without the use of a boring textbook. Copywork is also an aid in spelling. Miss Mason would encourage a child to look at a word, close their eyes and see the word in their mind and then write it from picture memory. This practice is called transcription and helps a child build a memory bank of correctly spelled words. Visual memory is a key component of dictation which is Miss Mason’s preferred method of teaching spelling.

Aside from all the benefits that copywork provides for a child, they are being exposed to beautifully written, original and beautiful thoughts from others. At a young age, a child can be overwhelmed by the thought of writing perfectly, with correct form and spelling, while also organizing their thoughts and using correct grammar and punctuation. It is hard for me! But at this age, a child has a marvelous capacity to see, read, write and store these beautiful ideas in their mind which will later aid in their writing journey when they too can begin to form their thoughts and create original, lovely and composed thoughts. In the meantime, copywork provides the best of both worlds. The children are exposed to others thoughts and they stay ingrained in their mind and will serve them well as future writers.

*(More on this in a future post.)

SHORT LESSONS

Miss Mason was a proponent of short lessons, taking no more than 20 minutes per subject under the age of 8. This allows a child to focus on the lesson at hand with full attention with no chance for the mind to wander.

This allows one the opportunity to cover multiple subjects in a day and leaves plenty of time for outdoor play and exploring one’s interests and talents. My 9 year old can work up to 30 minutes per lesson if necessary but never do we surpass 20 minutes for arithmetic.

 

NATURE STUDY

Charlotte Mason encouraged long hours out of doors on a daily basis. Once a week though, a child should go on a nature walk. Here are some key principles that she mentioned in her book “School Education.”

  • Children should have a nature journal of their own where they can illustrate and write what they see on their nature walks. The pages should be filled with quotes about nature, beautiful poetry and writings from great authors.
  • One day out of your week, choose a day to go on a nature walk with your child/children.
  • Nature study should not be a staged, formal science lesson. Let them have the opportunity to observe things as they occur. You should encourage the child to observe and watch patiently and quietly for themselves. Give the child additional information as they are ready for it. For example, if you see a butterfly flying around a patch of Milkweed flowers, ask the child if they notice how they eat from the flower and if they can describe what it looks like? Do not worry if you do not know everything there is to know about nature. If your child asks you a question you are unsure of, take it as an opportunity to do your own research together to expand on the experience itself.
  • “until they learn something of the habits and history of bee, ant, wasp, spider, hairy caterpillar, dragon-fly, and whatever of larger growth comes in their way” (Home Education, p. 57)

  • Do you notice how a child will naturally show delight and pleasure when they see the face of a close family or friend? That is the response we want them to gain from spending time observing nature. We want to encourage a love of the natural world and to find delight in the beauty God has provided all around us. We are building a connection to the world in this special and meaningful way.
  • A child should watch, observe and note the progression of seasons from week to week.
  • A child should know what trees, shrubs, and vines grow close to home. They should know North, South, East and West and their relation to it from where they stand. It is acceptable to study the clouds, rocks, earth, birds, bees, and landforms close to home.

Nature is all around us. We only need to pause and intentionally look for it in order to benefit from it. Take it as the gift it is.

*(More on this in a future post)

PICTURE STUDY/MUSIC APPRECIATION

Charlotte Mason believed that we should provide our children with an educational feast. Picture study and music appreciation is no exception.

Charlotte Mason encouraged children from the ages six to fifteen to study reproductions of pictures by the worlds most famous artists. Some may ask why do picture study? Can’t we simply do arts and crafts with different mediums and call it art?

The same way we get our children in touch with living books and ideas from real people is how we want to approach picture study. We want to introduce our children with the good, the beautiful, and the great works of art from people who painted the world and who made a beautiful and worthwhile contribution. Picture study helps open the doors to the ideas of these famous artists who poured their hearts and souls into their work. Think of the wonderful bank left in a child’s memory once they have studied 3 artists per term from the age of six to fifteen. These images in their bank can help defend their minds from the world’s sick attempt to dominate their senses.

In Charlotte’s program, the music of one composer was played every week for at least half an hour. Once a week, I read to my children parts of the biography for that composer. We experience one composer per term (3 total terms in a year). We do not move on from one piece of music to another until the children are familiar and know that particular piece of music. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven,… just to name a few.

*(More on this in a future post)

HANDICRAFTS

Once lessons were complete and plenty of time was spent outdoors, children were encouraged to deal in handicrafts. Instead of making things that were useless, they were encouraged to work on something worthwhile and useful for the home or life. Slipshod work was not allowed and attention to detail was always encouraged. Handicrafts take time, patience and attention to detail.

I will write a detailed post on this later but some examples of handicrafts you could do with your children are;

  • sewing
  • knitting
  • gardening
  • woodworking

This is not an exhaustive list…

In no way is this an all-encompassing blog post about Charlotte Mason’s philosophies. This scratches the surface. I do hope that you have gained some understanding of her method and why I have chosen this as the pillar of education for my children. Please let me know if you have any questions or simply leave a comment below.

Many blessings,

Crystal