This is a philosophy or method I get behind. Charlotte Mason was an educator from England at the turn of the 20th century. She firmly believed that a child is a person and we must educate the whole person, not just the mind. Today the Charlotte Mason philosophy is more widely adopted in homeschool settings, though there are Charlotte Mason schools throughout the world and they are growing in number in the US, both as private schools and public charter schools.
The Charlotte Mason education is three-pronged: “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life” and her motto for students was “I am, I can, I ought, I will.”
What did she mean by “Atmosphere”? This is the surroundings in which a child grows up because they absorb so much from their home environment. Charlotte believed that parental ideas make up one-third of your child’s education.
“Discipline” is about good habits—and specifically habits of character. Cultivating good habits in your child’s life make up another third of his/her education.
“Life,” applies to academics – the last third. Charlotte believed that children should not be given just dry facts but we should cultivate living thoughts and ideas. One way she did this was by using what she called “living books” rather than dry textbooks.
These books are written in narrative by an author who is passionate about the topic. It reads like the author is telling you a story, or it may be conversational in tone, like the author is sitting across the table from you and having a chat. The stories come from rich sentences, not short, choppy ideas. A living book should also contain ideas and not just facts.
These living books, or other rich literature, should encourage children to narrate (say in their own words) what they read or heard. There is no formal testing. It is about practicing using rich language and making connections between the ideas and information presented. Oral narration helps young children develop analytical thinking skills without getting stuck by the physical mechanics of handwriting. It is at around age 11 that children begin to do written narrations, which lengthen and become more in depth as children get older.
** Note to parents: if you follow Charlotte Mason education in your home you will be doing a lot of reading out loud to your younger children!
HANDWRITING AND SPELLING
Handwriting and spelling are taught by using passages from great books and quotes rather than just lists of words. It was drawn from the text being read. This is my favorite way of teaching spelling and vocabulary. I do not enjoy spelling or vocabulary lists. Words in isolation are not truly going to be learned and used.
Charlotte Mason style lessons are short, especially for young children. The goal is to train the child to focus fully on their work, but only for the amount of time they are developmentally capable of. For early elementary-aged children this often means only 5-15 minutes per subject. In older grades the duration extends to 45 minutes or more. This does go against the grain of currently how long a lesson should be. When you are homeschooling you find that lessons do not take as long as in the classroom because you have focused instruction time
When a child becomes restless, Charlotte advised changing the lesson to a different type of subject–maybe moving from handwriting to music study, or from math to handicrafts. You can even have your child involved in some form of handicraft while doing their lesson. Providing their hands something to do while listening can greatly increase concentration.
Charlotte Mason believed in exposing a child to greatness in many forms. Music and art appreciation are key components in her education method and in her schools. Each term (about 9-10 weeks) one composer or artist is studied. The students experience the music and art, they read living books about the artist. They also have the opportunity to try and reproduce the style through art or music lessons.
It is best to use a wide variety of sources – from books to handicrafts, from nature walks and math, from singing, art and forgeign languages. Mixing it up, making the most of many different subjects will help to build the habits of full attention, best effort and learning for the sake, or even love, of learning.
Another key component is that children should spend as much time as possible outdoors, especially as young students. Study nature. Keep journals. Use nature guides. Draw what you see. Even have lessons outdoors rather than inside so all senses can be encouraged to experience.
Above all, Charlotte Mason hoped education would open the doors of equality and opportunity for all students, regardless of what social class they belong to. She believed that all children deserve dignity and respect, and this can be given within education too.
For more information about Charlotte Mason and the educational philosophy you can check out this website.
Coming up in a future vlog: Waldorf Schools