The Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling is another popular option. This method has a solid educational philosophy behind it’s implementation and taking the time to research and understand it’s underpinnings will be time well spent. See the book list at the end of this article.
Charlotte Mason was an English educator who lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. She was able to put her educational theories into practice in her own schools. Her approach was three-pronged…atmosphere, discipline, and life. She also believed parents were one of the crucial elements in a child’s success. As I explain her understanding of these three-prongs you will see why she thought parents were primary and the schools secondary in the educational development of children.
First, atmosphere. She observed that children absorb what is around them. For instance, if parents read good books to their children on a regular basis children will absorb correct grammar, vocabulary, and speech patterns without any effort on their part. By using this simple fact parents have a powerful tool at their disposal. If the atmosphere of the home is calm and loving…children will absorb that. If parents are critical and there is always stress in the air…children will absorb that. As parents and educators we need to be intentional about the atmosphere we raise and educate our children in.
Second, discipline. By discipline Charlotte Mason was largely referring to the need to develop good habits within the child. Our children will develop habits…good or bad. How much simpler will their lives be if they have developed good ones that require no thought and are just a part of their person. She would have children acquire the habit of paying full attention to whatever task they are at, to being observant of the natural world, and of caring for themselves and their belongings. Much of her teaching on habits is about the moral character of a child. How easy is it for our children to fall into the habit of being quarrelsome or critical. Would it be just as easy to train your child to a habit of cheerfulness and generosity. “The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.” Mason
Third, life. Whenever possible Charlotte Mason wanted real life experiences to overlap with a child’s learning. Because of this, at her schools, formal instruction only lasted for the morning. The afternoons were reserved for nature walks, art projects, and other real life learning.
One of the cornerstones of Charlotte Masons approach is the use of ‘living books’. Believing that most children’s literature is ‘twaddle’ Charlotte Mason implored parents and educators to give more thought to children’s books. If you have been in a bookstore recently you will see what she meant. Many children’s books talk down to the child as if they are not intelligent beings capable of thought. Textbooks are summaries and predigested thoughts for the child to memorize…they do not engage their minds in any meaningful way. Instead she encourages parents to choose books that inspire children to think, to aspire to be better, and to fill their minds with new ideas. In other words, to search for books that ‘live’. Believing that when we spread before children a rich feast of ideas they will blossom she sought out ways to introduce them to the best and the brightest. She believed that children who were continually fed ‘twaddle’ would come to despise books and education seeing that it has nothing of interest to say to them.
Instead of quizzes and tests this approach makes use of narration. Narration is simply, telling back. For an early elementary school student it would look like this. Carly listens to her mother read to her the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis. When she is done Carly tells her back all she remembers. This will include her impressions questions etc. That’s it. From this interchange her mother knows that she has ‘comprehended’ and that she has taken from the story what is appropriate for her. In this sense Carly leads the lesson. Her mom doesn’t have a summary point that Carly needs to take away from the lesson. She lets the story speak directly to Carly without interference. A few years later Carly’s narration might be in the form of a drawing with a written summary, and a few years after that a well-thought out essay.
Spelling, grammar, and vocabulary are not taught with lists to be memorized and exercises to be copied. Instead dictation is used. Depending on the age of the student a selection a literature is chosen to be studied. After a period of study the child has the selection dictated to them…then they compare to the original. Were there words they had trouble spelling, they will work on those to do better next time. Did they use the quotation marks correctly…a quick review of the punctuation might be needed. As the child advances he will be given dictation without first viewing the selection and then make comparisons.
Nature Study is an integral part of Charlotte Masons approach and she encouraged students to keep Nature journals where they could record what they were observing. These journals were meant to be beautiful as well as informative. One page might have a careful drawing of the grasshopper the child observed…and the next a poem written or copied that reflected the season.
History is studied through the use of living books. Biographies, Autobiographies, historical fiction, and well done non-fiction books are read independently and aloud.
Math studies rely heavily on the use of manipulatives. The goal is to have the child understand the concept before doing any paper and pencil work with equations. This assured the teacher that the child truly understood and wasn’t just parroting back memorized facts.
Art, Music, Shakespeare, and Hymns were also studied in the same relaxed fashion. An introduction was made and the child was free to explore and take in what spoke to them. In this fashion they were introduced to the great men and women of centuries past and were able to better understand their place within their own time.
Before we leave Charlotte Mason let me leave you with a few of her quotes on the importance of instilling courtesy into our children.
“Courtesy seems a small thing until we encounter rudeness.”
“Children learn courtesy by living in a courteous environment and by simple coaching.”
“Do not allow a child to be discourteous just because a person is familiar.”
“Let the young child feel that the omission of courtesy and kindness causes pain to loving hearts, that the doing of them is as cheering as the sunshine.”
Books on the Charlotte Mason Method
For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer McCauley
The Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola
A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison
When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today by Elaine Cooper, Eve Anderson, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, and Jack Beckman