Gleaning From Charlotte Mason
Posted by homeschoolmentormom on July 31, 2011
This article originally appeared in Home School Enrichment Magazine, issue 37, Jan/Feb ’09. HSE has graciously given me permission to reprint it on my blog. Thanks, HSE! NOTE: I will share more Charlotte Mason approach ideas and links in upcoming posts.
Even if you’re new to homeschooling, you’ve probably heard the name Charlotte Mason. Maybe you’ve heard other terms linked to her name, such as “living literature,” “twaddle,” or “literature approach.” Who was Charlotte Mason? And can parents of young children glean anything helpful from her ideas?
Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived during the Victorian era. Her writings were first introduced to Americans by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in her book, For the Children’s Sake. Soon after its release, homeschooling moms (myself included) were wading through reprints of Mason’s six-volume Original Homeschool Series. This series, though difficult to read through, contains many inspiring and applicable ideas. So many, in fact, that other homeschool moms started writing about Mason’s writings, translating them into a more modern, easily digestible style. Now there are numerous books, Web sites, seminars and curriculums dedicated to the Charlotte Mason (CM) approach.
The CM approach is perfect for young learners. Her mottos, emphasis on reading aloud, and use of short lessons all lend themselves naturally to preschoolers, kindergarteners and 1st graders. Charlotte Mason’s motto was, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” (1) The atmosphere of the home is important to every homeschooler and includes two vital areas: The emotional tone or feel of our homes, which is dependent upon the attitudes and relationships within a family, and the physical atmosphere in our homes, which is made up of the things within it—books, plants, animals, art, toys, and more.
Obviously, the emotional tone of the home is set by us—the parents. Remember the saying, “When Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? We all know it’s true. As parents, we need to remember that we set the mood of the day. Our goal is to exemplify the qualities listed in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc). Additionally, we must be conscious relationship builders within our family—good listeners and conversationalists who make together-time a priority.
The physical atmosphere of the home is also important. It should be warm, comfortable, and welcoming. We’ve filled our house with books, traditional toys, plants, and animals (I like to say I decorate with books). I want our home to be a haven against the troubles of the world. The discipline Charlotte Mason talks about has to do with the daily routines of life that keep us in order, as well as disciplines of habits. Mason states that most of what makes up our lives is habit.
“The habits of the child produce the character of man, because certain mental habitudes once set up, their nature is to go on forever unless they should be displaced by other habits. Here is an end to the easy philosophy of, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ ‘Oh, he’ll grow out of it,’ ‘He’ll know better by and by,’ ‘He’s so young, what can we expect?’ and so on. Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits
in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.” (2)
Mason emphasized that “a habit is ten Natures.” She believed that parents should help their children develop more than twenty habits, training them one at a time, starting in infancy. Examples of sought-after habits include self-control, courtesy, diligence, truthfulness, kindness, respectfulness, thankfulness, attentiveness, and so on.
“Each of us has in his possession an exceedingly good servant or a very bad master, known as habits. The heedless, listless person is a servant of habit; the useful, alert person is the master of a valuable habit.” (3)
Obviously, habits are easier to learn than they are to break, and the earlier good habits are mastered, the better. A wonderful book that pulls together Mason’s ideas about habits and how to train them is Laying Down the Rails, by Sonja Shafer.
The life Mason talks about comes from the influence of parents, the atmosphere of the home, and the ideas which influence our lives. Many interpret this to mean “learning is life.” While this is true, Mason seemed to think of education’s “life” as more than that. Mason often referred to both ideas and books as “living.” Ideas grow and change with us, influencing us in ways too numerous to expound upon. They become a part of our very selves. Mason believed that ideas, which often come from books, are to our hearts and minds as food is to our bodies. They are an important part of the “life” of education. Thus books, or at least the ideas in them, are called “living.”
Charlotte Mason says that every child needs “something to do, something to think about, and something to love” everyday. The home is the ideal place to provide these things for our children. Other commonly used Charlotte Mason terms:
• Narration: “Telling back” a story or experience, thus promoting retention and speech skills. This is sometimes called “oral composition.”
• Nature study: Charlotte Mason encouraged parents to take their children outside and into nature everyday—even if only into their own backyards. Neighborhood walks and tromps through the woods or parks are perfect for preschoolers. Mason encouraged children to bring along sketchbooks so they could draw what they see. Parents can extend such learning by bringing along binoculars, hand-held microscopes, cameras, and field guides. “The child who does not know the portly form and spotted breast of the thrush, the graceful flight of the swallow, the yellow bill of the blackbird, the gush of song which the skylark pours from above, is nearly as much to be pitied as those London children who had never seen a bee.’” (4)
• Picture study: Display copies of famous paintings for your children to look at. Discuss the medium used, and try them for yourself. Notice the use of line, color, and light in the pictures. Talk about the objects in the picture: What do you see? How does it make you feel? Charlotte Mason suggests looking at pictures from one artist at a time.
• Living books: Living books are “whole books” (not abridged), written by one author (versus a “textbook committee”) who knows and loves his subject. Classic books are living books. These are the books we can’t put down—the kind that make children beg for “Just one more chapter, pleeeze?!” Classic picture books are the books we enjoy, too, and don’t mind reading to our children over and over.
• Poetry: Every literature program should include poetry. Start with simple nursery rhymes, and work your way up to A Child’s Garden of Verses, Now We are Six, Eric Caryles Animals Animals, Famous Poems Old and New, and so on .
• Recitation (Memory Work): The Bible is perfect for memory work, as is poetry. Don’t memorize through drill—practice memory work by reading verses and passages to your children over and over. Play with words, and recite small passages throughout the day.
• Masterly inactivity: Free time for constructive pursuits such as hobbies, art, exploration, and creative play. Mason advocated that children should have their afternoons free for activities of their own making.
• Twaddle: “Dumbed-down” books or lessons; meaningless books written to sell a product, books based on a movie, abridged books, and some textbooks.
• Short lessons: Charlotte Mason taught that short lessons actually encourage the habit of attention.
• Copybook: What is more natural for young children who are interested in learning to read or write than copying their name, and later, short sentences from books? Copywork is a great way to learn to write. You can extend that learning for older children by using the methods laid out in The Three R’s by Dr. Ruth Beechick.
• Geography: Geography for the young child should be related to the world they know (home) and the world of books. When you read a picture book that takes place in another country, show your child where the country is on a globe. How far away is it from home? When Daddy takes a trip, show your children his route.
As you can see, the CM approach is a natural approach that works beautifully—especially with young children. It makes use of principles that good parents use instinctively and trains both the heart and the mind. The CM approach can be interpreted and applied in many different ways: Some parents use CM with a strict literature approach, but others use CM methodology with unit studies or even the classical approach (which I think is developmentally inappropriate for young children). For more information about applying the CM approach in your homeschool, investigate the resources listed below.
A Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola
Educating the Wholehearted Child, by Clay and Sally Clarkson
For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
Laying Down the Rails, by Sonja Shafer
The Original Home Schooling Series, by Charlotte Mason
The Three R’s, by Ruth Beechick
Websites: (NOTE: I cannot vouch for all the content of these sites, nor their links.)
www.amblesideonline.org (good articles, classical approach; but be warned, there is lots of mythology included. You can read CM’s books on this site.)
© 2009 Homeschool Enrichment Magazine, all rights reserved. Used with permission.