Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Charlotte Mason Makeover

My homeschooling identity crisis is over!  No, I've haven't spoken of a crisis here, but for three months I've searched for truth.  Truth in education.

And the conclusion?  I'm a Charlotte Mason kind of gal!  I wouldn't generally describe myself as a purist, but in this case, I really am.  Everything I've observed about children and learning lines up perfectly with what Charlotte believed and taught.

To get to the heart of what I knew to be true and right, I had to toss out practices I've adhered to simply because they were mainstream and expected.  I had to really think!

Charlotte's beliefs are fairly straightforward:  

- No formal schooling until six years old.  Children younger than six need to play and be outside, observing nature.  They also need to hear good stories throughout the day.

- Character development and knowledge of God are of utmost importance.

- Nature study is the best way to introduce children to God.

- The formation of good life habits, concentrated attention, and excellent execution, are all paramount.

- Short lessons of 10 to 20 minutes for primary children.

- All lessons complete by lunchtime, so that students can develop their interests in the remaining hours of the day.

- Reading only the best that literature has to offer (living books) in all subject areas, even if it means Mom does all the reading at first.  The literature Charlotte emphasized supported and furthered character development in her students.

- Having students ( 6+ years old) give a short narration of everything that has been read, in every subject.  The narration is simply an oral summary; length is not important.

- Elements of good writing are first introduced through copywork and dictation.  Copywork (transcription) is simply copying a small portion of Scripture or other good piece of literature (at first this is just handwriting practice).  Dictation consists of a student briefly studying a short passage, and then writing that passage as teacher dictates it. 

- Writing composition is delayed until about age ten.  This sounds shocking, and at first I thought--no way!  But as I thought more and more and remembered many experiences as a teacher, it began to ring true and right.  A student doesn't have much to aptly say until they've been exposed to years of the best literature, and until they've narrated much of that good literature.  The cohesive thoughts, the rich language, the complex sentence structure, all happen so naturally, after they've had a proper filling!  

Of course they can learn to write earlier than this (both my sons write), but it takes a lot more time and effort, leading to frustration for both parent and child.  Yes, there have been tears here.

My conclusion on this writing issue comes partially from my blog reading.  While I only have time to read three or four blogs a day, I make sure that most of the posts are written by published writers (while still keeping up with my online friends).  I've learned so much!  This next truth isn't new to me, but lately I've relearned it.  Exceptional writers are avid readers.  They're always in the middle of a book--whether fiction or non-fiction.  

Being regularly bathed in prose means beautiful words just spill out, effortlessly.  

The following is an excerpt from Ambleside Online's FAQ page, regarding the use of narration.  Ambleside is a free Charlotte Mason Curriculum resource.  They don't sell anything or earn any money.  The site was put together by devoted homeschool moms.  It's an incredible resource!

Why is narration so important and how do I do it?

"Narration - your child telling back what he's heard or read - is perhaps the most important key to making this kind of education work. Narration requires the higher-level mental activities of processing, sorting, sequencing, sifting and articulating information. Filling in blanks in a workbook can't match narration as a comprehension exercise. Oral narration is also the first step toward composition - the child becomes adept at articulating his thoughts in order, which is required in writing. Thoughts should be formulated in the mind before they are put on paper. Although simply 'telling back' is the most focused form of narration and probably the most challenging to the mental processes we are seeking to develop, some parents occasionally break up the usual routine by using other forms of narration, such as acting out, playing out, or drawing what children have heard. You can have a CM education without classical music, art, or Shakespeare--but you can't have a CM education without narration from living books. In fact, it isn't too extreme to say that a lesson that isn't narrated may be a wasted lesson! "

So, my task now is to collect all of the good literature suggested by Ambleside Online, across the many subject areas.  Some I've already found by searching Ohio libraries.  A few of the inexpensive pieces of literature (less than ten dollars), I've ordered from Amazon.

Suffice it to say, I'm excited!


Sandi said...

We love Charlotte Mason here too. Journey has done narration and dictation as well as reading good lit. starting in Kindergarten. She hasn't had any formal writing until this upcoming year. She loves telling stories and does well with writing. The oral practice really has an impact on their writing.
We mix in a bit of Classical too. One of these nights I plan to post what we are using this year.

~Miss Sandra~ said...

What a wonderful post about Charlotte Mason and the joy you have discovered in learning more about her way educating. I am sure that anyone who finds your blog will be inspired and encouraged not to mention greatly informed. I am blessed to have found your blog myself.

Laura said...

This sounds so wonderful, Christine. I am not a homeschooler but I deeply admire those who do. I try to supplement my boys' formal education with the things you mention here. I"ll have to check out Charlotte Mason. I'm sure I will find something to add to our schedule!

Evenspor said...

I know several people who are using Charlotte Mason and really like it. It has always appealed to me, but of course it won't be that relevant for a couple more years. So far unschooling fits us really well.