A Peek at Charlotte Mason’s
Principles of Education
Are you relatively new to home teaching? Perhaps it’s the new school year that leaves you feeling a bit daunted. May I simplify some thoughts for you?
Recently an editor of The Old Schoolhouse magazine sent me an invitation to describe Miss Mason’s principles in 400 words. Yikes, a 400 word piece - really? Apparently, a handful of methods will be presented to give new teachers an introduction to each. My first reaction was to cringe. A twitch of an eyelid, followed. I’d never written anything so abbreviated on Miss Mason before, having resisted the task of reducing my heroine into a nutshell. Nevertheless, I felt it an honor to be chosen to write it. And, happy to include Miss Mason into the company of other modern-day one-minute sound bites, I complied. It was an exercise of adding and subtracting words fastidiously for five afternoons. On this post I share it with you.
The teaching method of Christian British educator, Miss Charlotte Mason, makes a good fit in today’s homeschool.
In her writings Miss Mason insists upon using “living books,” as schoolbooks. These enliven the mind and secure interest. Classroom textbooks, compiled by a committee, tend to be crammed with dry facts and information. Living books, by contrast, are often written by one author who enthusiastically shares his favorite subject with us.
With living books children gain knowledge through their own effort. They dig out the facts and information clothed in literary language, expressing what they’ve learned by narrating it in their own words (composing orally or in writing). Their thinking is personal, follows a train of thought, and isn’t stunted by a page of multiple-choice.
Teachers needn’t be trained in giving lectures. Children educate themselves by narrating from the well-chosen words of authors. Too much explaining by a teacher elicits boredom. True education is self-education.
No bells announce the end of hour-long class periods. Children are free to move promptly onto the next lesson. When drills and skills are kept short children develop the power of attention. Dawdling is discouraged. Students are encouraged to give their best effort. Education is a discipline. This means establishing good and helpful habits, built one action at a time, one day at a time.
Education is an atmosphere. With living books children are motivated by a love of knowledge rather than artificial stimulants such as prizes (stickers, candy, money), competition, and grades. They retained their inborn curiosity. Cramming for tests is avoided. Examinations require the child to narrate what was read during the semester.
Inspiring the love of knowledge in children depends of the presentation of ideas. Ideas are what the mind feeds on. Miss Mason served children a wide curriculum of subjects. She says, “Varied human reading as well as the appreciation of the humanities is not a luxury, a tid-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life.” Education is a life.
Miss Mason places an emphasis on being outdoors to observe nature. Students keep a Nature Notebook. They record their “finds” in drawings, adding poems and mottoes.
After-hours homework is withheld. Children apply their minds at the time of morning lessons. Afternoons provide recreation. For children this means running, climbing, yelling, all out of doors. Handicrafts, chores, life skills, practicing an instrument, and play, are their homework.
End of Piece
Although high school has lessons that overflow into the afternoon, the above is quite doable with elementary age students. Not all at once - at least to start, but as a goal that will be reached as the days and weeks unfold.
Warming Up to a New School Year
In our house we’d warm-up to a new school year. After breakfast, after shared chores, (usually dishes into the sink, laundry into the machine, guinea pigs fed, etc.) we’d gather around the table for a group reading – the Bible, sometimes a song, a devotional theme, a poem, or a seasonal nature-minute reading. Then, I’d introduce a new book per child and they'd go off on their own. I might display a new painting, assign the drawing of a picture for the cover-page of a notebook, or review multiplication with cuisenaire rods. Light daily lessons made our first week.
While our warm-up-week brought forth a series of new things in small steps, it enabled me, the teacher, to gradually gain a firm footing on the schedule. For the student, harder tasks were soon up-and-coming, but the first week (or two) of lessons were intriguing and suspenseful. And, opening the first pages of a fresh supply of living books at the start of a school year felt a little like Christmas.
My photograph above shows a small sampling of what Miss Mason would call "schoolbooks." Pulling them off our shelves, they fit into a particular time period but are not meant to create a curriculum here. They are to be an affirmation to my readers that books of various kinds will enliven and enhance a time period of history in a more memorable, more detailed, more expansive, more interesting, and more enjoyable way, than any one textbook can possibly accomplish. The freedom to use living books, and the freedom to home teach in America, is a freedom won and held by activists and is nothing short of a blessing from our Heavenly Father.
Happy new school year to you.
Happy new school year to you.
Thoughts off the top of your head (on any part of this post), fond memories, and sentiments are invited.