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    Educational Philosophy

    Lessons from Charlotte: What to Cover {Part II}

    June 24, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]Y[/dropcap]esterday, we covered reading {learning to read}, recitation, reading {perfecting reading in older children}, narration, writing, transcription, spelling and dictation, and composition, and I think {hope, and pray} they all appeared online as they had to me before publishing.

    Today, we will cover the rest: Bible, arithmetic, natural philosophy, geography, history, grammar, French, and pictorial art.


    Lessons from Charlotte: What to Cover {Part II}


    Bible Lessons

    Mason begins her section by dismissing the idea that children are not interested in the Bible unless it is watered down into childish talk, complete with splashy pictures painted in the margins. I, for one, have been astounded at how my children enjoy listening to me read a plain King James to them every morning. Mason writes:

    We are probably quite incapable of measuring the religious receptivity of children. Nevertheless, their fitness to apprehend the deep things of God is a fact with which we are called to ‘deal prudently,’ and to deal reverently.

    So, who learns what when?

    Children between the ages of six and nine should get a considerable knowledge of the Bible text. By nine they should have read the simple {and suitable} narrative portions of the Old Testament, and, say, two of the gospels. The Old Testament should, for various reasons, be read to children. The gospel stories, they might read for themselves as soon as they can read them beautifully.

    Right now, we are reading through the stories in Genesis, one story each morning. My eight-year-old narrates the entire story, but first my five-year-old usually has something to say or a question to ask. The three-year-old just sits and listens. The one-year-old … is sleeping.

    Children love Bible stories!

    [L]et the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures…

    Should we dissect the stories? Explain them thoroughly? Charlotte says … this is not the way children approach Scripture, and we are ruining the magic when we interfere with the simple beauty, goodness, and truth in the stories.

    Here is Charlotte’s method of Bible lessons, again with bullets:

    • Read the children a complete episode –“reverently, carefully, and with just expression.”
    • Require them to narrate — repeating the exact words of Scripture is fine.
    • Talk of the narrative a bit {for instance, they will want to know why the patriarchs practiced polygamy, etc.}
    • Any pictures used should be fine art, not cartoons. {I recommend Rembrandt to get started, but then again we rarely use pictures during Bible lessons.}

    Charlotte also says that children should be taught to recite as young as six, but taught in such a way that it is not a distress to them. She suggests The Prodigal Son as a first parable for memorization.



    Arithmetic is uniquely tied to Truth:

    The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, intellectual truthfulness it engenders.

    And also:

    Pronounce a sum wrong, or right — it cannot be something between the two.

    Miss Mason suggests relying on what we call “story problems” in the younger ages. Give them problems to solve. Discuss means of finding the answer if necessary. Make sure the only problems given are ones the child is capable of solving.

    Another tip given is to “demonstrate anything demonstrable.”

    The child may learn the multiplication-table and do a subtraction sum without any insight into the rationale of either. He may even become a good arithmetician, apply rules aptly, without seeing the reason of them; but arithmetic becomes an elementary mathematical training only in so far as the reason why of every process is clear to the child.

    Use beans, counters, and buttons. Demonstrate everything.

    Teach them to think in units of 10, to understand place value {and she explains how to do this — you can read it online} — all of this leads to comprehension of our system of notation, of what the system symbolizes.

    To learn weighing and measuring, she again suggests working with real objects. I haven’t spent any time at all on weight, but have found that cooking with children teaches measurement in a pleasant way.


    Natural Philosophy

    Go outside. Go outside. Go outside.

    Take a walk. Discuss, identify, classify what you see. Be quiet, but answer questions.

    If you are ambitious, read The Sciences by Holden or Scientific Dialogues by Joyce.

    Just don’t forget to go outside.



    Why is geography even important? Raise your hand if, generally speaking, you adored geography drills in school? Memorizing lists of disconnected facts?

    Anyone? Anyone?


    Anybody remember much of what you were taught in this subject?

    Me neither.

    This is why Charlotte says it must be interesting:

    We begin to see the lines we must go upon in teaching geography: for educative purposes, the child must learn such geography, and in such a way, that his mind shall thereby be stored with ideas, his imagination with images; for practical purposes he must learn such geography only as, the nature of his mind considered, he will be able to remember; in other words, he must learn what interests him.

    In our daily AmblesideOnline reading time, just as we trace our history upon a timeline, we trace our geography upon our globes and maps. I am still amazed at how much children learn through this. Of course, this can be added to when missionaries come to visit, when friends are moving away, when discussing where family members live, and so on.

    Charlotte’s preferred geography readings are travelling journals and adventure tales like Hartwig’s Tropical World and Polar World or Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. Sketch the traveler’s journey on the map. Ask the child for descriptions of the various places and people along the way. For children between six and seven, she suggests completely informal, family read-alouds from  The World at Home.

    Is it not amazing that the very books can still be purchased today?

    Another activity for geography is that the child should learn to draw maps, in order to really understand them. He can start with his bedroom, the school room {we call ours “the patio”} and so on. Later, the family’s entire property. Learning to use a compass, to read the stars and sun for direction, etc. all help him understand maps and globes as symbols of real places.



    The principles presented here are similar to geography — that it should be interesting. History’s importance is not in names and dates {though we will learn those}, but in ideas and lessons. It was Charlotte who first made me comfortable with using biography to teach history. Children do not need to learn all of history to learn from history:

    Let him, on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age.

    Do not give them textbooks. Do not give them books that have been diluted. Give them books of “literary power.” Have them study the early history of a nation. This was a new thought for me this time around:

    The early history of a nation is far better fitted than its later records for the study of children, because the story moves on a few broad, simple lines; while statesmanship, so far as it exists, is no more than the efforts of a resourceful mind to cope with circumstances.

    Give them first-hand accounts:

    [L]et them get the spirit of history into them by reading, at least, one old Chronicle written by a man who saw and knew something of what he wrote about, and did not get it at second-hand.

    She suggests  Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede and Chronicles of the Crusades by Joinville.

    Charlotte here also mentions the reading of Plutarch’s Lives, which confused me because I thought this was reserved for children over nine. Anyone have some insight for me here?

    Other books mentioned include Old Stories from British History and Sketches from British History by Powell, as well as Lord’s Tales from St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tales from Westminster Abbey, and Brooke Hunt’s Prisoners of the Tower. At eight or nine, children can read A History of England. She makes some mention of what she is looking for in history books, which is important, seeing that her list is only marginally helpful for American students:

    • No textbook or textbook-type “summaries of facts”
    • Avoid generalizations, opinions
    • Include “graphic details concerning events and persons upon which imagination goes to work”
    • Lend themselves to narration
    • Don’t forget the old chronicles — the firsthand accounts

    As children study history, they can mark the dates out on a timeline, either one kept in a book, or one up on a wall {the latter is what we choose to do in our home}. The goal at this point is not memorizing the exact dates, but getting an overall sense of chronology.

    Charlotte also suggests having children illustrate what they have learned, drawing scenes from their favorite stories. And, of course, they will act out their books on occasion during playtime.



    Grammar, Charlotte says, is not the best subject for young children, because it deals with words rather than things. English grammar is not visual, but rather implied, so Charlotte suggests using a Latin grammar, that they might begin to understand changes in case or mood {Latin shows these visually by changing the form of the word}. Even after saying this, she backtracks and says that even Latin grammar may or may not be appropriate at these young ages.

    When English grammar is begun, she has some observations for us:

    [I]t is better that the child should begin with the sentence, and not with the parts of speech…

    Basically, begin with the concept of diagramming sentences, rather than defining every part of speech at the outset. Begin by simply dividing sentences into subjects and predicates, and identifying verbs and nouns {subjects} within that context. This is all she offers, so I think it is obvious that grammar study begins at the very end of the under-nine age range.



    Are you learning French? We are not. However, I am sure her rules would apply to any secondary language learning. Her point is that at this age, a second language should be acquired in a living manner. Teach them words they can use in everyday life, and then actually use them.

    I am seriously considering enlisting my Spanish-speaking neighbor to help with this.

    But at this age? No book work. No grammar or even conjugation lessons. Simply learn some words and use them.

    At the same time, children think in sentences, so giving them sentences containing thoughts will help them learn to think in their second language.

    Also, children learn languages by first hearing them, and then imitating them. Introducing books is unnecessary to this part of the process — pronunciation is the most important thing at this age. Spelling, she says, can be fixed.


    Pictorial Art

    The Descent of the Holy Ghost

    my three-year-old’s favorite picture

    This is the last one! I have a special heart for this, not because I am an expert on art {because I am not}, but because I have learned first-hand that we underestimate children’s ability to appreciate — to love — art. Children are tender to art. I am always amazed that, when I switch out the term’s pictures, my girls will sit and stare at them for quite some time before moving on with their days.

    The method of picture study is fairly simple. One artist per term is studied, about half a dozen of his works during that time. The children study the picture, and then the picture is taken away and they are to describe it in detail from memory. Different ideas can be discussed after or during their study time — possible symbolism, what the children think the artist was thinking about, the title. If the title is directly related to a story, I like to read the children the story if they haven’t heard it before.

    We do art narration as well. Charlotte had them draw the “chief lines” which is a bit different, but has a similar aim, I think.

    Drawing lessons were also appropriate, if for no other reason than that they assisted the children in understanding and appreciating art, and in illustrating their history books. Mystie recently pointed out Donna Young’s online resources, which make a lot of sense if you already own Mona Brookes’ Drawing with Children, which I thankfully do.

    In regard to drawing, Charlotte tells us that we must believe that “children have art in them.” They are worthy of quality supplies for their art. Clay modeling is helpful, if the teacher guides the student.



    Miss Mason regrets that she has not mentioned musical education. She briefly suggests Tonic Sol-Fa for general music training, and Curwen’s Child Pianist for piano. Some of what she mentions about these approaches makes me wonder about similarities to Piano Phonics, something else I am exploring.

    She also mentions handicrafts and drill {Swedish drill — think physical education, but structured and learning something specific, and somewhat militaristic to my girlie eye}. Both, she says, are valuable. There are a few things to remember about handicrafts:

    (a) that [children] should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not be allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children’s work should be kept well within their compass.

    The End.

    Next time, we’ll be moving on to an entirely different subject.


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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts July 1, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Goodness, I’ve gotten behind on comments!

    KM: You are almost done with HE, if you don’t plan on reading the appendix full of questions. Keep on keeping on! 🙂

    Rahime: I actually think you are making Charlotte’s point. The reason she wanted vibrant, literary descriptions in geography lessons was so that kids–kids who had never really been anywhere to speak of–could visualize the places. I am happy for you that you had that ability as a child! Being able to visualize was the key, she thought, to being interested in geography.

    Actually, visualization is one of those trends in Mason’s work, and seems to be important for a lot of things.

    ps. I haven’t written you back yet, but I’m glad you are coming in July! Hooray!

  • Reply Rahime June 25, 2010 at 6:17 am

    Sorry, I re-read after I posted (a bit out of order) that comment and it didn’t sound as I intended, so I’ll try again:

    I, personally, enjoyed geography, but I’m sure that was because of the scope of my “world” as a child–I had been to some of the places we learned about and could envision many of them. But, I also liked math from an early age, which seems to be another of the less “enjoyable” topic of study…and somewhat loathed being thrust outside…so I don’t claim to be exactly “normal.”

  • Reply Kansas Mom June 24, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    You have now officially passed me in Home Education. If I really work at it, I could finish before the baby is born, but I’ve been spending all my time reading through some of our school books for next year and sketching out the first six weeks or so.

    Oh, and resting.

    Thank you for the wonderful summaries, though! I’ve taken so long to read the book, it was a great refresher for me so far.

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