Charlotte Mason was a renowned British educator who dedicated her entire life to the improvement of children's education. She had a variety of beliefs and teaching methods that have been adopted by other educators and homeschoolers alike. She wanted children of all backgrounds, regardless of class, to receive equal education. She also felt that children learn better if they were taught shorter, 15-20 minute lessons to match their limited attention spans. While Charlotte Mason's methods may be more relaxed than classical homeschooling, Charlotte Mason homeschooling does rely on "living books" as well as the Bible for literary and grammar study.
Charlotte Mason was pivotal in helping change people's understanding and opinion of children by teaching that children were people too and as such deserved the same respect. She taught that a child should receive his or her education in a gentle manner rather than having their minds taxed with overly lengthy lessons that they may either already comprehend or may not be ready for. She also gave birth to the common practice of taking students on educational "field trips" and was influential in the creation of the boys and girls "Scouts" movements.
Charlotte Mason had written a long list of books on the proper education of children as well as parenting and other related subjects. Some of her titles include:
- Parents and Children is a collection of 26 previously published essays and articles
- School Education outlines her methods of teaching 9-12 year olds
- Ourselves: Our Souls and Bodies is a book addressing both children and parents directly advising on how to analyze themselves and cultivate self-control and morals
- Formation Of Character provides an explanation of how her methods could help children develop and strengthen good character naturally
- Towards A Philosophy Of Education covers how her principles and methods could be used with high school children
Charlotte's philosophy on education in general could be summarized by the principles she included in many of her books. These principles were: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" and that "Education is the science of relations."
Following is an introduction to the many elements of the method used in Charlotte Mason homeschooling:
Reading "living books"
Instead of the "matter of factly" written textbooks used in so many curricula, the Charlotte Mason method uses books by authors who wrote passionately of their experiences and from their imaginations inspired from their eras. Exposure to these kinds of literary works allows a child to better remember the information because they are able to "experience" the content through the author's enthusiasm.
Unlike simple question answering and multiple choice tests given in typical school curricula, narration is the practice of getting a child to put what they've learned into their own words in a process that facilitates the development of their comprehension and ability to express themselves.
Charlotte promoted shorter lessons of 15-20 minutes in length that would help train a child to have better focus and also allow them to cover a broader range of subjects as well as have the option of alternating quiet subjects with louder or less focused material. As children get older the duration of their lessons would be increased to 30-45 minutes or more to match their growing attention spans.
In Charlotte Mason homeschooling, history can be learned through the studying of people's lives and not just by learning of the events and the times in which they happened. A few of the living books that should be read are "living" biographies with additional resources such as actual letters, diaries, journals or speeches a historical person wrote. If the same procedure is used with other historical figures a student can have a well-rounded understanding of that particular period in history. Reference books can be used in a supplemental way, however living biographies should be the main focus. To further crystallize the information learned, it's also helpful to make notes in time line format such as the one used in a Book Of Centuries.
Geography, like history, can be taught through living books, when studying works that took place in different geographical locations. These locations can then be found on a globe. To further supplement these geography lessons, children can carefully copy labels from a detailed map onto a blank map each day a week. Then in following week, have the children fill out the blank map with as many labels as they can remember. Check the child's accuracy and repeat the procedure on a weekly basis.
Copywork as handwriting
Carefully copying a scripture from the Bible, a noble poem, a famous quotation or lyrics of a hymn will help a child to learn handwriting, grammar, and punctuation at the same time during their short lessons. Later, when they've become proficient in handwriting they can then learn transcription, where they look at words, write them from memory then check their spelling.
Writing from dictation
Charlotte Mason would teach spelling and help students gain a further grasp of composition and grammar by using dictation exercises. Children would be given a selection of written material to study till they felt they could remember all the spelling, punctuation, and capitalizations used. Then the material would be read to the child, one line at a time, allowing the student to spell out each word and correcting any mistake as soon as they're made to keep the child's mind from accepting the wrong spelling. The idea is to start with smaller passages than progress to increasingly larger paragraphs as the child learns more.
Conducting field trips at least one afternoon out of the week, giving students a chance to observe nature and then having them document their findings in the form of sketches, water color paintings or chalk drawings and pencil sketches is a great way to teach them appreciation of nature. Use field guides to identify and label each of their findings. This will lay the foundation for their study of science later on.
The study of words
Grammar shouldn't be taught formerly until the child reaches the age of about 10, as grammar can be a difficult concept for children to absorb, being a study of the use of words, not things. Preparation for grammar comes in the form of narration, copywork, and dictation.
In Charlotte Mason homeschooling method, children are taught practical math concepts before they start working with equations. They're taught word problems and the kind of math that's used in daily life as an introduction to mathematics. Some programs that use these methods are Math-U-See, RightStart Mathematics and Making Math Meaningful.
The Bible should be read or heard by students daily (excluding the portions not intended for children to study, such as the references to sexual misconduct); they should also do annual memorization exercises of larger passages. Children should be credited for comprehension and memorization.
Fine Arts and Music
Charlotte Mason advocated the study of Shakespeare for nine year olds and up. An introduction to characters and plot can be used through books like Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare or Tales from Shakespeare, then children can perform the various roles in the plays and practice them one scene at a time for a number of days. It can also be helpful to watch a film or theater performance of the play being studied.
Classical art and music should always be studied as a major element of Charlotte's "spreading of the feast" concept. Simply display pictures by a certain artist in the home for a child to study for several weeks to allow the child to get used to the particular artist's work. If the pictures are in a book, let the child study the picture than close the book and let them describe the picture's content. Show them the picture again and see if you can both discover something else. Classical music should also be studied one composer at a time for several weeks until a child is familiarized with the style. It's also a good idea to have a child read or listen to a short description of the composer's life and inspiration.
A second language
Studying a second language is always a good idea. Charlotte Mason lived in Britain so her first logical choice for a second language was French. However, any language can be learned as long as it's taught through the proper method. A child should hear a native speaker of the language being learned as part of a daily schedule and take the time necessary to learn how to clearly pronounce and use 2-6 new words a day to build vocabulary. Like when they learned their first language, adequate familiarity with the syntax and accent needs to come before the reading and writing of their second language
Academic studies should be scheduled for the earlier hours of the day allowing crafts, exercise and outings to occupy the afternoons. A skilled artist or crafts person should teach useful crafts to children either by parents or so that your child can be creative in practical ways.
Some of the benefits of adopting the Charlotte Mason homeschooling methods are:
- allowing your child a more relaxed learning experience through shorter duration lessons
- the cultivation of a child's ability and motivation to learn
- the development of good habits and character through literary influence, discussion and practice
- the acquiring of proper oration skills such as enunciation, clarity and confidence gained through oral reading practice