Homeschool Approach: Charlotte Mason

The Charlotte Mason approach to education was coined by the British educator Charlotte Mason who wanted to stand against the “utilitarian” form of education in her day. She achieved this, primarily, through living books. Living books are an alternative to textbooks which tend to cover a variety of topics, written by several people, designed to present information as facts to children. Charlotte wanted living books to be used because they were narratives written in an engaging tone that would spark the child’s interest. A good living book will be written by someone with expansive knowledge and/or a personal testimony to the topic covered. The Charlotte Mason approach is a literacy rich approach to education.

Other aspects of the approach are:

Narration
This is when the student will retell the story. Educators can discern whether children are grasping the main idea, setting, characters, etc. It also helps kids organizes their thoughts in order. As an education, it is important not to interrupt the child during narration or correct them while they’re speaking.

Habit Training
Character qualities were also very important to Charlotte because she saw education as a discipline. Therefore, a daily practice in things like attention, obedience, and respect were vital components of her approach. When children have these qualities (among others), they can take personal responsibility for their education and become life-long learners.

Lesson Planning
Lessons should start short with small children to slowly encourage self-control and attention as kids get older. The lessons covered a variety of topics to help teacher and student remain focused. For example history we would be followed by science rather than geography to keep things moving.

Handwriting
Charlotte was a believe in perfection, a child should never be given an assignment they cannot complete perfectly, the perfection should be built upon. She would rather have a child make one perfect stroke, rather than ten poor ones. Therefore, handwriting came about slowly. Children should start with creating basic lines and strokes, then move onto letter formation. After that, words, phrases, sentences, and eventually paragraphs. All of these things should be done in the child’s best handwriting. These copywork lessons were very short, only a few minutes a day.

Dictation
A very common calling card for the Charlotte Mason approach is dictation. Small children will be read a phrase or sentence that they will then have to write. Older children will be given pages of work to study for a period of time. Once they have studied the work, the educator will dictate it to them, one phrase at a time. This would help teach children things like grammar and spelling. If a child spells something wrong, Charlotte felt it needed to be corrected right away to avoid the incorrect spelling to be imprinted in their mind.

Art and Music
Charlotte’s approach to art and music appreciation is very similar. Children are given one artist or composer to study for a long period of time. Then, each week, they are given the opportunity to be exposed to these artists or composers. With art, they would study the piece then speak with their teacher about what they observe. Then, they would sketch the work from memory. Finally, they would compare their work to the original. Music is similar in that one composer is studied for an extended period and each week students study a different piece of work. They will discuss what they hear in the melody, different instruments, and the form used in to construction of the piece. The goal for both art and music appreciation is for students to have the ability to recognize the artist or composer by their work.

Crafts
I assure you, these are not the crafts you are thinking. Charlotte didn’t want kids making silly crafts with glitter and popsicle sticks, rather they should be exposed to real materials and real tools. They should receive real construction on how to create real products. Children should practice wood working and make bird houses or leather work and make wallets.

Science
Another one of the calling cards for the Charlotte Mason approach is the nature walks. Children are to spend copious amounts of time observing the world around them with outside time. Younger children should take their sketchbooks outside and look for birds, trees, flowers, and bugs to draw. Throughout their education, kids will learn the different parts of these creatures and be able to label them as well as date when their first sightings are. In the upper grades, they will study the entire environment and be able to know which species belong to which ecosystem.

Math
Children should have exposure to manipulative and have an understanding of concepts before teachers start teaching equations.

Social Studies
This is where the living books re most prevalent. Students read books that are relevant to the particular topic of study then create a notebook timeline.

Pros                                                                   
Lessons are short
Allows for a lot of creativity
Living books are fun to read
Emphasizes experience over desk work
Cons
Books can be expensive
Student may be a reluctant reader
Can leave holes in certain areas of study
It is hard to do nature walks in bad weather

This is the first post in a series of posts I will be doing this month to talk about the different homeschool approaches/philosophies/methods. If this topic interests you, please subscribe.

Have a sparkly day!

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