Homeschooling Styles is a series of articles outlining various approaches to home education which I personally have found useful to one degree or another. First up: Charlotte Mason.
The Charlotte Mason Approach
Charlotte Mason was a British Victorian-era educator. Her work with children led her to several conclusions about education that Karen Andreola, author of A Charlotte Mason Companion, has described as “the gentle art of learning.” Below I list some of the principles that I found so compelling I use them in my classes with children to this day.
- Short lessons. In Miss Mason’s approach, it is more important to write a sentence one time with care than ten times failing to form the letters properly. Instilling this habit of care is an important part of the Charlotte Mason approach. Short lessons also help keep the child’s attention focused.
- Narration is another crucial aspect of the Charlotte Mason approach. Narration focuses on developing first the listening skills of the child, then on giving the child experience in organizing his/her thoughts to relate back to the parent the content of the reading – whether it is one page, one chapter, or the entire book. The organization of one’s thoughts is the basis for both understanding the material and good writing.
- Read extensively but no “twaddle.” Because reading is what forms the basis for a child’s understanding of grammar and spelling as well as the beauty of language, it is important to expose a child to “good writing.” A child’s listening level is about three years ahead of reading level so a child who may be reading simple picture books can enjoy listening to, say, Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
- Use of “living” books. Living books are those written by as single author who shares their enthusiasm about his favorite subject with us.
- Copy work is intended to help the child gently absorb spelling, grammar, punctuation, and a sense of the rhythm and structure of “good writing.” The parent/teacher writes out a word or line and the child copies it. Copy work can include anything from a line from a nursery song to one of Ben Franklin’s adages.
- Nature study, direct observation of nature, provides fresh air and stimulates the child’s natural curiosity, the very basis of not just a willingness but an interest, a desire to learn.
- “Picture” and music study allows children to absorb the work of some of the world’s greatest artists and composers.
- Education is about shaping a child’s character, for the will to learn comes from within the child not from outside. Atmosphere – providing a quiet focused feeling – is an important part of helping a child learn.
- I highly recommend A Charlotte Mason Companion for its outline of Charlotte Mason principles and its encouragement of the homeschooling mother to consider broader implications of their children’s education. “Education is a science of relations,” says Miss Mason, by which she meant that education is more than textbooks and worksheets. Education is about forming a relationship with Knowledge. A child who enjoys learning will do so their entire life.
- Although modern readers may be unused to the Victorian style of writing, The Original Home Schooling Series by Charlotte Mason, consisting of seven volumes, has much food for thought. I particularly recommend volume 5, Formation of Character.
- Amblesideonline is a wonderful source of information about the Charlotte Mason principles, as well as detailed year-by-year curriculum and book lists.
Coming in Part Two: Classical Education and The Well-Trained Mind