Charlotte believed strongly that children were born with a natural desire to learn and soak up the knowledge around them. She did not like the common approach of dry textbooks and memorization of facts and figures. She believed that true knowledge was attained by developing a relationship with a subject, looking at it from as many views as possible, and incorporating it into the child’s world. She measured a child’s education by the number of living and growing things he knew by look, name and habitat. Human relationships were the most important. The atmosphere in the home must be one of love and service, each one respecting the other members. The child breathes in the environment around him unconsciously. Is the home a happy, forgiving place full of laughter and thankfulness to God? Is there a curiosity and a desire for knowledge in the home? A child will breathe it in and it will become a part of his character. Or is the home a place of tension and anger, devoid of God and the fruits of the Spirit? So will a child absorb that atmosphere. Of course, we cannot have a perfect home in this broken world, but we should strive for a home filled with love, curiosity and understanding. A child should be exposed to a wide range of subjects and make a relationship with as many as possible.
Charlotte believed that a school which quenches the natural curiosity of a child should not exist. While the school systems today are concerned with how much material is covered, Charlotte was interested in how much a child cared about a subject. When a child shows an interest in a subject that is a sign that he is developing a relationship with it. Charlotte encouraged a child by giving him opportunities and tools.
The main way she helped a child to develop a relationship with the world around him or her was through living books. What she meant by this was using books that were interesting to the child. A living book is one that is written by one author (not a group of authors) who is fascinated in the subject. The facts are presented in an interesting story form. Usually there is an introduction by the author telling why they wrote the book. The illustrator is accurate and the pictures are active and draw the child in. If you read a page of a living book to a child and stop, and he begs to have you read him more, it is most likely a living book. A living book should warm the imagination, tell us truth, inspire us to virtue and show us beauty. In Charlotte’s school, the children were given a steady diet of the best books. She loved the classics and Shakespeare.
Charlotte did not believe in tests for young children. She used a process of narration to focus the child’s attention and help him to remember. When a child runs up to you to tell you about an object they found or the bug they saw, they are narrating. Pay attention to them at this young age and encourage them, for this is an essential part of their language development. Paying attention and deeply listening with true interest is an act of love. When a child reached the age of six, Charlotte would read a passage in a living book-(just a paragraph for children age 6-7, a chapter for children age 8-9.) Then she would stop and let the child tell her what they just read in their own words. This makes the child pay attention to what is read and helps them to remember it. They must use their brain to organize the facts and think logically to tell it back. This helps lodge it in their memory. . This should last around 15 minutes a day at this young age-you can tell when their attention is beginning to waver. When the child is older-ten and up, they can read on their own and give you a narrative of it. The child can also draw a picture of the story to help make it their own and form a relationship with it. When they are older, they can write down their narration.
Charlotte did not believe that children were ready for formal grammar until they were ten. She did not give formal spelling lists but instead used a method of dictation. After they learn how to write, they copy a passage from a living book, verse or poem. For young children, age 7-9 it could just be a sentence or two. If they make a mistake in a word, the teacher quickly marks it out or covers it over so it won’t be remembered and writes the correct word. The child studies the word that is the correct one. Once a child does well at the copy work, the child looks at a passage to be copied and studies any word they think they may have trouble with. Then the teacher reads it aloud line by line and the child writes it without looking. They study any words they had trouble with. By copying great literature, the child is also learning what good writing is. They are becoming familiar with great composition and this will be helpful when he starts writing on his own. Curriculums today have used this method in their textbooks. L earning Language Arts through Literature is one example. It is interesting to see how even today Charlotte’s methods are being used.
Children are born with a thirst for knowledge and we should open up as many doors as we can for them. When children are young they are full of questions-why does the smoke rise up the chimney? How do snowflakes form? Why can water be boiled in a paper cup? How many stars are there? What makes a rainbow? We should encourage these questions and teach the child how to find the answers. If we are curious about things, our children will be too. Living books are a wonderful way to teach science. Many textbooks today are written more like living books, they are not as boring as the books written for children in Charlotte’s day. Try to find a good one if you can. When you come across a subject that the child shows a special interest in, stop and take a few days to study it further. If it is about bees, search the internet to learn more. Study a biography of a beekeeper. How is honey made? What is the life cycle and different jobs of a bee? Taste some different kinds of honey. Make a little book and draw pictures about what you learned. Visit a beekeeper if you can. Read a living book about bees. Is your child interested in the stars, go outside and look at them. When you teach about North, South, East and West, go outside and point out the direction. Copy the constellations and learn their names. Can you see the Milky Way? This is how your child forms a relationship with a subject. It should not be forced upon him, but come from a true desire to learn about the subject.
Nature journaling is a way for your child to connect with nature. This was a very popular pastime in the 1800’s but has been neglected in schools today. The world we live in is amazing. When we study nature, we study the handiwork of God and get to know Him better. The Bible says the Heavens declare the Glory of God. God did not make a black and white world with just a couple animals in it. He made a world full of variety for us to see and to appreciate His Power and Might. There is so much to be in awe of. With nature journaling, a child can take a look at the world around him and record it in his notebook. To draw a picture, the child must take a close look and which improves his sense of observation. In the Nature notebook, he can draw pictures of minerals, plants and animals. He can write poems about nature. Lists of flowers, birds, plants, animals and insects he finds can be added. Pictures off the internet could be copied and pasted in. The changing seasons can be recorded. If you live where there is a change of seasons, it can be interesting for the child to pick a tree to watch and record how it changes through the seasons and what animals visit it. Charlotte liked to have the children use the Latin names of plants in the notebooks. She did Nature journaling once a week. City children can visit a garden or museum. The journals can become very precious to your children if used on a regular basis. It is fun to study the lives of famous naturalists, like John Audubon. Many famous naturalists have journals which helped them observe the world around them. The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady is an incredible example a Nature Notebook. It can be found on Amazon.
Charlotte Mason used living books written with literary style to teach children history. She did not teach sterile facts and dates. She wanted the child to learn through biographies. When a child reads about Alexander the Great, he becomes familiar with the person and develops a knowledge of him. she learns about the culture of that time, the geography of where he traveled, how the people lived during that time. She can find out about the forms of transportation. What weapons were used in that time? What did people eat and wear? A living book will give all this information in a fascinating way. The child can narrate parts of it and do dictation for parts of it. Charlotte gave the child a notebook with divisions of the centuries. When a child learned about a person, she could draw a picture and put it in the correct century. She could also put her dictation in it or write about her favorite part of the book. At a young age, knowing what century the person lived in is sufficient. The notebook can be reviewed from time to time. You can find books with timelines and blank pages to fill out. This is becoming very popular among homeschoolers.
Charlotte Mason wanted children to be familiar with the great works of art. Art feeds the soul. Learning about artists and their art is a fascinating study. Children not only learn about different time periods, they learn to see emotion and ideas that the artist is trying to get across. They learn to look closely and observe. They learn to interpret and recognize beauty and feelings.
Charlotte had an easy way to acquaint children with artists. The children learned about one artist every term (her school was divided into three terms. You could do fall, spring and summer or one artist every twelve weeks). At the beginning of the term, she would do the following steps.
- First, she would review any artists previously studied. Do they remember who the artist was and what he loved to paint? Do they know why they painted that subject?
- Give them a picture drawn by the artist they are about to study. They just look at it and observe it. Think about what the artist had in mind and what ideas he was trying to convey.
- After three or four minutes, have them tell you about the picture. What time of day is it? What colors are used? What expressions on the people’s faces? What country do they think is depicted? Only ask questions if they are not able to tell you about the picture sufficiently.
- Let them read the title of the piece and give any background information you have on it. Look on the internet to learn about the author or read a living book about the author.
- Have the children draw an outline of the picture. This will help them to observe the picture more closely and gain an appreciation for the artist’s skill.
- Show the child five other pieces by the same artist. Have him pick his favorite. Hang it in a place where he will see it daily-perhaps by his desk. Put the others in a notebook with pockets. Put his outline in it. You could also have the biography of the artist from the internet pasted in it. This will make it easy to review. When a child is older they can learn about the different schools of art.
It is easy to find art cards on line.
Charlotte believed in touching all of the child’s senses. She liked to expose them to a variety of subjects so they could develop as many relationships as possible. Music was one of those subjects. Here is a quote from Karen Andreola:
“Recent scientific studies have uncovered a startling new fact about the effect of certain types of music on a child’s brain. While children listen to music of the Baroque period, in particular Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, the brain scan reveals instant and spontaneous lengthening of fibrous brain cells. These cells quickly become amazingly active and stretch, out-reaching to connect with other cells. Baroque music, unlike other styles of music, is responsible for this remarkable development. I find it interesting that so much of Baroque music was written to God’s glory.”
Charlotte had the children listen to one composer for a half hour a day. They would study the music of one composer for each term (three terms in a year). They did not go on to a new piece until they recognized it and knew it well. Finding information about composers is easy to do on the internet. There are many books for children about artists.
Poetry is wonderful! It is a way to express deep emotion and thought. It can teach moral lessons in a striking way. Poems can tell stories, describe a feeling, and cause the child to think about things he never thought of. They can be memorized for the pleasure of the rhythm and cadence. It is easy for children to memorize poems. Just have him read the poem once a day for about twelve weeks and he should know it well. You can read poems to your children, have them copy them and include them in their Nature Notebooks. They can make a booklet of all the poems they have memorized and illustrate them.
There are many other things to tell you about Charlotte Mason and her methods. She loved Shakespeare and Greek myths for teaching character. She had methods for teaching a second language, geography, arithmetic, good habits and more. If you are interested in more information I recommend the book A Charlotte Mason Companion: Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning. The Sonlight Curriculum uses many of her methods.