Thursday, July 17, 2014

Charlotte Mason and Learning Styles (article length)

Charlotte Mason and Learning Styles
(article length)

     I’ve been writing and tweaking this article for weeks – one reason my posts are rather spaced. Here I present a facet of the Gentle Art of Learning (TM)  that might be new to you. You can tell from my pictures that I’ve been perusing papers and photographs down memory lane.

1890's one room schoolhouse, Landis Valley, PA
    During my years of home teaching I was confronted with the interesting subject of Learning Styles. Now and again a conference speaker or informative magazine article would challenge me to figure out which style engendered the most learning in my student. The teacher might have several students who each learn best by means of a different style, was the suggestion. I understood what each style involved but was still left scratching my head about what to do about it.
     I was advised to observe my students closely. According to the styles a “visual learner” is very attracted to pictures and animation. An “auditory learner” is attentive to sounds and can listen to a recording for hours. The “kinesthetic learner” is enthused about making things in 3-D and moving around.


Which One?
     The speaker or writer communicated that a student could be hindered if his style is ignored. The recommendation was to adjust lessons so that a subject provides opportunities in a student’s particular leanings. This made sense. But I honestly never figured out which category each of my children fell into. They all liked pictures and were riveted to anything I showed them on video.

After seeing P&P in 7th grade, Yolanda created paper dolls of E and Mr D.

      They all liked to draw and were in the habit of drawing for lessons as well as in their leisure. They were attentive listeners – trained to be – from all our reading aloud and also the audio they heard in the car or in the late afternoons in place of television. ( I believe this empowered them to hear a Sunday sermon.)

   Making things - and messes - was always a pleasure. And by my direction, my young son was jumping on our small trampoline between lessons to appease his boyish restlessness. 

     I wondered. How does a teacher go about measuring the knowledge the student is gaining through one particular learning style compared to another? Hmmm.

A Comforting Reminder
     A bibliography of references was absent from the articles. This barred me from following up the matter. Perhaps I was taking Styles too seriously.
     Then, one day I was uplifted. I reminded myself that Charlotte Mason had us covered. What a relief! There was no reason to stress over Styles. By following Miss Mason’s method of education I was automatically giving each student opportunities to learn (at their various speeds) and learn well, through a variety of avenues. I could rest easy. Before long, the challenge to fine-tune my methods faded from memory. With The Gentle Art of Learning, the Styles take care of themselves. And according to Miss Mason’s wisdom and experience, they are appropriately proportioned for gaining knowledge.  Great.

     She starts with this presupposition. 

“All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know what is being taught.” *1

     When we regard children as being intelligent – not inferior to an adult’s intelligence, just lacking experience – we resist spoon-feeding in all its forms. Rather we step back a little. We allow the children to develop a quickness of apprehension that comes from the literary language of their living books. This is at the heart of The Gentle Art of Learning.


     There is another misapprehension. Teachers believe it is their duty to make children attentive.

Thus students are “coddled and wooed by persuasion, by dramatic presentation, by pictures, and illustrative objects: in fact, the teacher, the success of whose work depends upon his personality, is an actor of no mean power whose performance would adorn any stage.” *2

     Miss Mason says that our business is to feed a young student’s lively curiosity and safeguard his curious mind’s aptitude for paying attention, with the best we have to offer in books and experiences. Children are the ones doing the learning. We can’t do the learning for them. When we attempt to “learn them” boredom sets in. *3

     What of Styles? How does Charlotte Mason have us covered? Here is an outline.

Impression - Expression
An early nature journal page
     As the child gains impressions, he provides the expression. By written or oral narration, by artwork and even through play, sooner or later by essay, and perhaps drama, he learns by eye, ear, hands, reason and imagination - without being spoon-fed by watered-down material, many explanations, much questioning, over-moralizing, or depending on the workbook to work the mind. The thinking is left to him. Thus his mind grows.

Visual Learning
     With Picture Study a child is a “visual learner.” Picture Study invites him in to take in every detail of a painting or other works of art. 
     Nature Study is observation. We may use our binoculars, yes, but we also notice the sounds of the natural world, breath in its smells and touch its textures. A child records his “finds” accurately with sketches. And he learns to see beauty.

From Yolanda's 7th grade portfolio

Auditory Learning
     The child is an “auditory learner.” Music Appreciation brings him into a familiarity with melody, phrasing, harmony, dynamics, rhythm, and emotion.
     Poetry may be memorized and recited, but it also creates pictures in the mind’s eye. It evokes sentiment.
     A parent’s reading aloud sets in motion the mental muscles of the listener because listening is active not passive. A child will listen closely to the promise of what happens next. And in knowing it is his turn to give a narration he catches detail. He hears his own voice, too. In his narration he assembles select words in sequence, yes, but also, from what impresses him most, he gives personal emphasis.
     The child learns to sing folk songs, hymns, etc. He lifts his voice in worship.    
     At some point he embarks upon a foreign language, which is a less bookish subject these days.  

Reading is Eclectic 
     With the Gentle Art of Learning the child becomes a reader. By reading, his true education begins, says Charlotte Mason, because this is a kind of self-education.*4 With his living books he is seeing, hearing, and feeling in his developing imagination. His curiosity is well fed. Knowledge is nourishing. His mind is feeding upon ideas, which invite him to reason, discern, and form opinions.
     We educate not by means of visual, auditory, and tactile influences alone. The child is a person. Educating is not applied like we apply sun tan lotion to the skin. It goes deeper. Education takes place within. The Holy Spirit enlightens our soul. Education is a spiritual matter, and Miss Mason tells us it is chiefly through the humanities that we are enlightened.
     History is read carefully but the student needn’t be conscious that he “must” attend carefully by lure or fear of the next test scores. With a living history he is swept into the time period, the adventure, conflict, struggle and problem solving of its people. 

     A living science provides interesting facts that explain the world the child lives in, while it takes him on tour of determined men and women and how they came upon their discoveries and inventions. 

     The Bible is a living book. Hard and puzzling in places, but also marvelous, miraculous, tragic, triumphant . . . the true story of a personable, patient, loving, and all-mighty God. Since a Christian is in kinship with God’s remnant through the ages, the Bible is actually an important source of his identify and spiritual heritage.*5

     Virtue is also exemplified through biography and a wide array of children’s literature. Sometimes fiction is just for fun, a celebration of life and the joy of childhood. But good books can also help the student with the sober aspect of building character, and heeding the call to a responsible life. Education's aim is maturity.  

Kinesthetic Learning
     The child is a “hands-on learner.” His first math lessons are founded upon measurable and movable objects, which eventually pave the way to manipulating numbers mentally.    
     One of the simplest of hands-on activities, not to be overlooked, is drawing. It is an excellent way, and a legitimate way, for a child to narrate what he is learning. A student who is developmentally delayed, who has difficulty talking, can draw his narration.
     Handicrafts, in wool, wood or leather, train hands to a skill, to be resourceful and of service.
     As an alternative to screen time, a child may learn (still, in this 21st century) to swim, ride a bicycle, dance, skate, catch a ball, build a safe campfire, mix and flip pancakes, wash dishes, and yes, maybe even baby-sit and change the diaper of an energetic and elusive toddler who has recently added the word “no” to his vocabulary.   

     Did this last line make you smile? I wasn’t planning to end the article this way. Let’s just call it one practical outcome of Miss Mason’s high thinking and lowly living. We home teachers can be a serious bunch, can’t we?

     No need to stress over Learning Styles. Charlotte Mason has you covered.

     Isn’t this grand?

Comments are invited,
Karen Andreola 

End Notes
1.  Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, pg. 74
2.  Ibid, pg .75
3.  Ibid, pg. 76
4.  A Charlotte Mason Companion chap. 5 explains self-education.
5.  Psalm 33:12, Romans 9:7,8,27

Tea on the windowsill of Landis Valley's primitive kitchen

The sweater (or “jumper” as it is called in England) that little Nigel is wearing has Thomas Tank Engine on the front and was knit by my British friend’s mother. At age 3 and 4 Nigel was in his “train stage.” I believe Yolanda drew the picture of Thomas for him. You can tell I sought to be frugal and be my son’s barber. Oh, my. 

Post Script
     With orders for the Lavender Strawberry kit I am busy washing, ironing, and cutting pretty purple fabric. Thank you, so much. Where would we be without free enterprise and encouraging friends? The orders for Parents’ Review prove I have readers questing for knowledge this summer. And I hope those who have received the Mother Culture CD are also being nourished by its message.
     My Macintosh laptop (2004) on which I wrote Lessons of Blackberry Inn, has met its end. I now must check my old email “karenscrayons” the long way. Please use The “j” is for Joan. Thank-you, Ladies.


  1. Coincidentally, I just read the quote you used (quote #2 highlighted in pink) today in a Charlotte Mason book I'm reading and it really made an impact on me.

    Another thing I have really learned from (and agreed with) was how Mason used notebooks. I just finished reading Laurie Bestvater's book, 'The Living Page'. What a help Mason bloggers and book writers like you are for me...they are my support group! I re-read Pocketful of Pinecones & Blackberry Inn every year (sometimes twice a year!)

    I have been slowly reading through the Parent's Review newsletters I received from you. These are so wonderful! What a treasure! The variety of articles in each issue are so motivating and make me WANT to learn more about the people and topics they discuss. Thank you so much for all the work it took to put those together (even though it was a few years ago). Blessings to you!

    BTW, I was going to ask if you made Nigel's sweater. Intarsia scares me and I haven't attempted it yet!

  2. Karen,

    This is the way I educated all of my children, through your excellent encouragement of The Gentle Art of Learning! Three are done, with three to go!

    I love seeing the photos of Sophia, Yolanda and Nigel as kids. They all three have been a delight to our family, and Yolanda is now sharing her love of cello with Rachel. Real learning, real education.

    Thanks for sharing this post.


  3. Thank you! I am so greatful to you your book was my backbone to our homeschooling journey and both kids turned out fine. Our son thanked me for homeschooling him as he reakons he wouldn't of done any learning in school.
    Our son got an apprenticeship yesterday something hard to get - his trial ended early as the company was so pleased with his work ethics, which I contribute to our homeschooling and chores.
    Love Leanne

  4. Hi Karen,
    I am slowly learning that all the "gaps" get covered in homeschooling!
    I read this article with interest. After homeschooling my children for a while, I started to wonder about balancing that "learning styles" thing with my "teaching style." I have a "style" too-- and what if my teaching style doesn't fit the learning style? For instance, I really dislike finger painting. I didn't care for the mess and the sloppiness-- doing something like that would make me more tense. If one of my children was a hands-on learner that really needed finger paint, they missed out. I do what I feel is my best teaching when I am reading aloud to the children, and they have learned to sit still and listen (and sometimes draw) while I read. On the other hand, I know a lady who delights in getting out the finger paint, markers, huge reams of paper, and encourages children in that kind of creativity. Does that mean those children are missing some other kind of learning? I always assume that with these "learning styles" the teacher has to bend all her teaching to the children's style, but what about the children learning a bit of bending back to the teacher?

  5. Good morning, Karen,

    I've always been skeptical about the emphasis placed on learning styles. The push to favor one style over all the others reminds me of a person who chooses to live only on broccoli. Once again - Hurray for Charlotte Mason!

    I once tried to cut my son's hair. It was an unmitigated disaster. I took him to a hair salon to try to get the damage repaired. He was wearing a baseball cap. I took it off and said to the lady, "Look what this child's mother did to his hair," using a shocked tone of voice. "Do you think you can fix this?" I finished with a twinkle in my eye. The lady thought I was a rescuer of the child and not the perpetrator of the crime! My son, who was about 5 years old at the time, was biting his lip to keep from laughing when he realized that the woman was siding with me against the mother who would do such a thing to a child.


  6. Your response to this post is interesting.

    To summarize:
    I think that giving a student more opportunities to learn and grow within his Style is fine, if it isn’t to the neglect of training in the other styles.

    As far as Styles go Charlotte Mason favors the language medium. PNEU students were steeped in verbal learning. She agrees with the ancient Greeks who “believed that a training in the use and power of words was the chief part of education, recognizing that if the thought fathers the word, so does the word in turn father the thought.” *Pg 316

    You know what her “cure-all” is for getting children to think and gain knowledge from their schoolbooks. She says, “The way to bring this panacea into use is exceedingly simple” – narration. Even geography was taught intentionally without too much reliance upon pictures, but by description.

    Charlotte Mason says that her students were “persons of leisure, too, with time for hobbies, because their work is easily done in the hours of morning school.” *305 No homework leaves more time than most students normally have, to explore an activity that takes advantage of a particular Style.

    My quotes are from A Philosophy of Education.

    Nice to hear from you.

    What a mild July this is! The bird are celebrating with the enthusiastic songs they seem to be carrying over from springtime.

  7. Whew! This article takes a load off my mind and reassures me how appropriate CM methods are for all of my children. (I am my boys' barber too!)

  8. It is interesting, most of my kids are an ever-shifting blend of styles. I have found my "Attention Deficit" or eclectic style of homeschooling has suited everyone well. All my kids love to draw, but all their styles are very different. I never "taught" them to draw (or sing, or much else artsy), I just let them go with their bent... after the math was done! The best advantage to homeschooling is FREE TIME to be creative. I really don't think there would have been time for art, music, etc. to the degree they have had it if there had been a bus to catch. People always ask how I "get" them to practice the guitar, or drawing, or what-have-you. I am more likely to say "Put the guitar away and do the dishes!" Blessings, Karen!
    P.S. I love the Jane Austen-esque paper dolls. Lovely!

  9. Thanks for a wonderful post and the sigh of relief. You are a blessing.

  10. After my last homeschool convention I have come to the same conclusion of you. My children learn all ways and I think that never entering a classroom has enabled them to thrive in all forms of learning that occur during a day at home. Charlotte Mason's short lessons concept also enhances their ability to learn in so many different ways. What a relief that we don't need a tailor made curriculum for each child!

    Thank you for your encouraging article and your lovely blog.