BY AMY HINES
Some people believe that a Charlotte Mason education is wonderful, but not for their student. Because their child doesn’t live and breathe books, their child needs more hands-on projects than a CM education provides. Or, maybe their child won’t sit and listen to a book, period, because he is busy climbing the walls pretending to be a dinosaur.
In fact, a Charlotte Mason education is for the “average” child, as well as the bright child and the less academic or even learning disabled child. CM will work for your child.
A CM education is comprised of books and things. The books, many of us are familiar with. I dare say a few of us were the “nose stuck in a book” variety of children. And while AmblesideOnline has a great list of books, there is so much more to a CM education. There are the “things”:
Children should have relationships with earth and water. They should run, jump, ride, swim, and establish the relationship that a maker has with material resources, and they should do this with as many kinds of material resources as possible. They should have treasured intimate relationships with people, through face to face talking, through reading stories or poems, seeing pictures or sculpture, through finding flinthead arrows and being around cars. They should be familiar with animals, birds, plants and trees. Foreign people and their languages shouldn’t be something unknown to them. And, most important of all, they should discover that the most intimate and highest of all relationships — the relationship to God — fulfills their entire being.School Education, Modern English Version, p. 209
So what things should a Charlotte Mason education include? Here is a list, inspired by one of the CM’s own programs of instruction:
- Younger children paced and made plans for roads with distances and directions. They also made valleys, rivers, hills, villages in the sand.
- All students kept a Nature Note-Book.
- Middle school ages and older made daily nature notes, kept flower and bird lists, and chose a special study each term, such as leaf-buds.
- Primary children practiced painting natural objects from memory as well as animals they had observed.
- All children illustrated, with watercolors, scenes in books from their literature books.
- Middle school students studied, described, and drew details from memory of pictures by known artists.
- Older students kept a Book of Centuries, illustrating it from their history studies. They also made a chart of the period studied and kept a calendar of current events.
- All ages memorized poems, hymns, psalms and Bible passages. The lengths varied with the age of the student. Year 4 and up also learned scenes from Shakespeare.
- Students learned piano and listened to music from great composers.
- They sang multiple songs in both English and in their foreign language(s). They also had lessons in sight-singing or sol-fa.
- All students participated in physical exercises, singing games, dances, marches, ball games and/or breathing exercises.
- All students helped around the house or garden, taking on more tasks as they got older, including cooking.
- Younger children did Sloyd (making useful objects out of paper, this also taught geometry and math as well as the habit of precision).
- Elementary ages and up made a garment for the “Save the Children Fund”, older children would also design the garment.
- Older children would darn and mend garments from the wash each week. (Perhaps today it would be good to learn to change the oil in the car?) They were also expected to learn First Aid.
This is the variety of work over a single, 12-week term. And none of it is busy work. Your non-bookish, hands-on child will flourish with Charlotte Mason.
But what about the child who won’t focus? The one who looks at “Girls at the Piano” by Renoir and says “it’s two girls at a piano,” and then runs off. The mere sight of a pencil results in protests or tears. He can’t even remember what math question you asked because he’s too busy jumping from the couch to the chair. And we still haven’t opened a book!
Charlotte Mason will work with this child too. Actually, she will work where others will fail. First, her standards are age appropriate. Younger children had specific instructions for their nature journals, such as “find and draw six twigs” (over the term), while older children had the freedom to choose their own special topic for nature study. Lessons for a young child were short: ten to twenty minutes, those for the oldest students where up to forty-five minutes.
Second, she alternated between many types of tasks. For example, Bible was followed by the physical task of writing, then the mental task of recitation, next French lessons, then math. All ages had a break for singing, dancing, drill and/or play everyday. Younger children spent a lot of time doing handicrafts and painting, developing fine motor control. CM also kept the school day short, giving students time for their own interests, contemplation, and play.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, she knew the power of habits. Perhaps the most important habit for my hyper boy is the habit of attention. CM understood that this, and other habits, formed the rails our lives run on. And she is full of ways to teach it. I’ll share one of her many examples, from a day in the countryside,
[The mother] sends [the children] on an exploring expedition to see who can spot the most, and tell the most, about a farther hill or brook or thicket. This game delights children and endless variations can be used. It’s a fun way to teach exactness and attention to detail.Home Education, Modern English Version, pp. 45-46
When the children return, they happily report to their mother what they have seen. She, having watched from afar, asks them questions and draws more details out. Perhaps she even sends the child back for a closer look! CM notes that:
This is just a game to the children, but the mother is actually doing some very valuable teaching, training the children’s powers of observation and their ability to articulate precise details. She is increasing their vocabulary … She is also training them to be accurately truthful …Home Education, Modern English Version, pp. 46-47
If you have a child who flits from thing to thing without focus, I highly recommend reading the section of Home Education about Outdoor Life for Children.
I have three school-aged children. All boys. All different. One is my language guy, one is my hands-on guy, and one is swinging from the trees. And our Charlotte Mason education is working for all of them, meeting them where they are, but not leaving them there. A CM education is full of life.
Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking — the strain would be too great — but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.School Education, p. 170
Amy Hines lives with her husband, four children and more than one critter in the wilds of Montana. She moderates the Form III and Book Discussion forums at AmblesideOnline, and keeps a blog at Crossing the Brandywine. She is secretly a hobbit who loves nature and hates shoes. Someday she wants to visit Middle Earth.
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