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If you have wandered to this site looking for a fresh perspective on home education, it might be time to take a look at just what a Charlotte Mason inspired education looks like.  This isnít the place for great detail (we have an e-mail list list and a forthcoming book for that), but I can give you a beginning and, once you subscribe, you will find that other ladies on the loop can jump in and complete the picture.

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Charlotte Mason thought that the child was in "danger of receiving much teaching with little education." When mothers tell me that they donít have time to get it all done, my first suspicion is that they are trying too hard to impart information and not allowing enough time for the child to learn. Sometimes, it is not the mother that is taking up too much of the childís time, it is the didactic text or workbook. Charlotte Mason does not advocate plowing through a great quantity of material Instead she advocates excellence. Let excellence be a cornerstone of your home and your school.

Expect nothing less than excellence. If all you do in handwriting is one letter, be sure your child knows that that is to be the very best letter of which she is capable. If you only read one book a quarter, know that book thoroughly and narrate that book well. Understand the time period in which it is set and the one in which it was written. Expect excellence. Leave enough time to attain excellence.

Begin with excellence in narration, the peg upon which a Charlotte Mason education is hung:

Narration will be your tool for bringing all other aspects of CM education together. Narration is simply the re-telling of a story, an article or an event. The child is required to listen carefully the very first time the story is read. He knows he must pay attention to detail and that he will be required to retell. For a child under ten, narration is oral. Sometimes Mom will write or type these narrations for the child to keep and to illustrate. Other times, simply an oral re-telling suffices. From ten on, the child is encouraged to write his own narrations. These become the cornerstone of the writing program. In a well-read child, who has been narrating orally, this transition to writing is usually smooth and very fruitful. I generally edit one narration a week, ever so gently. This is a grammar lesson in context with material with which the child is familiar and about which he cares. Narration requires the child to be attentive to the reading and to think about the material being presented. In this process, the material becomes his own.

In our home, our children want to be authors long before they are ten. Inspired by good picture books and chapter stories read aloud, they itch to write their own stories. Much time (and paper) is provided for these endeavors. I let them type on the computer and then I go back and rewrite what they have written, keeping the language and correcting the spelling. I do not make a big deal of spelling corrections. I simply do it and they expect itóno red-lining, no lessons. I have found, both in my house and in classrooms, that as children become proficient readers, their spelling improves by leaps and bounds.

I have some who write easily and spell well and others who do not have particularly good fine motor skills and have poor visual memory--which makes spelling quite difficult. The beauty of CM for children like this that we can de-couple the mechanical--handwriting and spelling--from writing (communicating ideas on paper) through narrations. I type while he narrates so he gets his written ideas down on paper. CM really doesnít advocate having a child write his own narration until 10 or so and then there is a transitional period. We work on spelling, handwriting and grammar separately.

CM strongly advocates the use of copywork for all ages.  Remember we are encouraging excellence and good attention. CM suggests starting a Kindergartner with a single letter. Work for 5 minutes. As the child gets older, move to sentences and then paragraphs. Use something of worth- bible, literature, etc. Add dictation when the child is able in order to reinforce and to require greater concentration. One way that many of my friends have found that works well is to select a poem, paragraph, Bible verse or prayer and have them copy it at the beginning of the week. They copy it every day and then at the end of the week you dictate it to them. They need to be able to write it perfectly. Obviously, the length and complexity will depend on the age and ability of the child.

The method of copy work and dictation teaches spelling, handwriting and grammar and writing all once.

If the child is a natural speller, he will need very little formal spelling instruction beyond this. Others, however, need more help. For average to good spellers, I would highly recommend "Spelling Power". Itís easy to use and time efficient and one book covers grades 1-12. For the struggling, non-visual speller, I prefer "Spelling Plus" because a) itís more manageable and b) it provides dictation sentences which include previously learned words. I recommend 2 resources for copywork and dictation 1) Laura Berquistís The Harp and the Laurel Wreath And 2) a computer program called "Start Write". The program allows you to type in what you want the child to copy in whatever handwriting or printing form you are using and whatever size you want and then you can leave lines for the child to copy. This allows you to forgo a handwriting curriculum once the child has the basics. It also helps me organize my copywork for the year or quarter.

For Grammar, CM wrote a book that is available entitled Simply Grammar (short lessons) there are other good grammar programs out there. If you are doing copywork, dictation and narration, Grammar is not a subject that needs to be taught formally each year. Just for the sake of standardized tests, one should probably spend a season formally studying grammar. Some kids may need more than this as evidenced by their writing.

I do teach reading using phonics, but I donít use basal readers. I create lessons from nursery rhymes and well-loved childrenís books and I also use the narrations that I have recorded for my children as the bulk of their reading practice in the early years. We illustrate these stories and we read them over and over again. For more on this method of teaching reading and writing, you can request a tape of the talk I gave on language arts at this conference last year at www.nache.org.

Literature is next in my planning. There are many, many booklists available to suggest good reading. Laura Berquist has booklists for every grade to serve as a starting point. I spent hours and hours compiling a booklist last fall with the help of two well-read friends. We found it an exhausting task. There is no way every great book can be read in a childhood. A list is finite and we had to make cuts. What we did was try to balance the list as much as possible. At this link you will find a yearly reading plan into which we have invested great care and thought. I can tell you without a doubt, we have omitted some must reads. Such is the nature of lists.

The key here, after you have chosen good books, is plenty of time to read. When children are little, you are reading to them or you are listening to well-produced books on tape. When they are able to read, your job is to suggest worthy books, give them plenty of time and get out of the way. Donít talk too much and donít lecture. This is what Charlotte Mason called Masterly Inactivity. Resist the temptation to pull every book apart. Your goal is to develop good literary taste, to inspire the childís own language and, most importantly, to touch his heart. When he has finished reading, he narrates. With a timeline or book of centuries and well-chosen historical fiction and biographies, literature teaches history and geography, too. Biographies of the saints and spiritual reading for children provide the backbone of religious education. Itís that simple.

For the very young, I use The Beginnerís Bible. We read a story a day, they narrate and I keyboard. I print, they illustrate and we put it in a binder. At the end of the year, all my kindergartners have made their own Bible storybook. I use these and the Beginnerís Bible extensively for reading practice.

After that, I use Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints. In the same fashion. And I begin to introduce the four books of the Catechism series by Inos Biffi: Prayer, The Sacraments, The Ten Commandments, and The Apostleís Creed. These books lend themselves well to both narration and copywork.

I like Called to His Supper and Making Things Right for specific communion and confession preparation. Linda and her daughter created a lovely little book when they were preparing for first communion.

Then, once the child is a strong reader, beginning to write substantial narrations, move on to Saints of the Church by Michael Allen, published by Ignatius. Allen has taken seventeen of the Vision books, arranged them chronologically, summarized them, extracted vocabulary, pulled out pithy quotes for copywork, provided a time line of the saints life, suggested map studies, and given excellent topics for research and narration. Then, he gives scripture and catechism studies related to the saint. This works together to provide a very through, meaningful study of the faith.

Around confirmation age, the whole world of apologetics opens up. In the next few years, I will make use of books by Matt Pinto, Mary Beth Bonacci, Peter Kreeft and Scott Hahn. I plan to give my youngsters practice taking notes from a lecture when they listen to Scott Hahn tapes. Real life will require them to defend their faith again and again. My husband and I take very seriously our obligation to equip them to do so.

Around nine or ten, My Path to Heaven is a wonderful book to be read a discussed together. A spiritual retreat for children, it is also an excellent art study. Religious art is a strong point of the Faith and Life Curriculum. Letís talk a little about art appreciation.

Picture study is the backbone of your art appreciation . Even with very little children, choose six prints by the same artist. Once a week, present a print. Look at it together, invite comments and observations. Provide a little historical context but donít overdo it. Turn the picture over. Beginning with the youngest child, ask them to tell you one thing about the picture, not repeating what has been said. Invite them to copy the picture. Hang the picture where it can be seen often. When possible, go see the picture in real life. I live near the National Gallery of Art in DC Our trips are infrequent but they are always memorable.. Plan a trip. Weíll meet you there. And donít be surprised when your three year old emerges from the bathroom at the pizza restaurant and says, "Grandma, they have a Van Gogh in there!" Such brilliant children J .

For music appreciation, follow the art pattern, only play great CDís. Then go to concerts. I highly recommend that you order MacBeth Derham's talk at the NACHE website www.nache.org.

Speaking of talks not to be missed, before Linda touches on history, I want to heartily recommend that you order Melissa Wileyís talk from the NACHE 2001 conference at the NACHE website www.nache.org. She is the gifted author of the prequels to Laura Ingalls Wilderís book and her talk on using wholehearted historical fiction in the homeschool should be a priority for anyone remotely interested in a living books education. Donít miss it.

Linda McDonough writes:

We are blessed with a wealth of historical fiction with which to make history come alive. This is a simple area to use living books and narration and really see the results in how your children respond. When teaching American history, both Elizabeth and I use the History of US as a framework. I donít consider this a textbook. It has a single author who is passionate about her subject and writes in a literary style. The same could be said for Anne Carroll and her books are certainly appropriate as the child gets older. For world history, Hillyerís A Childís History of the World is a nice living book and the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia is a valuable resource for tying things together.

For each time period studied, key historical fiction to the History of US or Hillyerís reading. There are some literature selections in the History of US books and there are more on Elizabethís reading list (which by the way, will be included in Elizabethís book, Educated by Our Intimacies, due out in Spring 2002 by Ignatius Press). Elizabeth and I have both used the Sonlight www.sonlight.com catalog as a resource for finding good historical fiction.

For those of you not familiar with it, Sonlight is a conservative, evangelical, history driven homeschool curriculum which is designed and run by a homeschool family. They try very hard to keep out materials that Catholics might find offensive. They have a wonderful reading list tied to history-both for you to read aloud and for the child to read on his own. The best part is that the entire curriculum is presented in their catalogue by grade level with a description of each book. It is easy to skip over the overtly Protestant books and substitute Catholic alternatives. You can buy the specific books you need from them or get them from the library. One warning: It is too much material to do the CM way-- narrating everything. Also, it is so history intensive that it doesnít leave enough time for non-historical literature. Elizabethís book list is designed with more balance between good classic literature and history.

Have your children narrate what they read. Narrations might be summary essays or they might be drawings or maps or fictional newspaper accounts or character diaries. Elizabethís eldest sonís favorite history narration are political cartoons. Also, the majority of narrations do not need to be written down. They can be orally given while you are driving, doing dishes or whatever else. The written narrations, however, provide a nice record. CM advocated using a "Book of Centuries". To do this, you take a three ring binder and use divider to mark off centuries. Your child will create a Book of Centuries by filing all her narrations in the appropriate place. Over time, she will create a beautiful history book of her own. We did a version of this for American History when my kids were in 2nd and 3rd grade. We created tabs for various periods. We then went on numerous field trips, took lots of pictures and wrote narrations about our trip. Itís a fun book which ties them to history.

With respect to chronological order, CM did advocate doing history in order. This may make sense if you are British. For Americans, I prefer Sonlightís way which is a year of ancient history, then 2 years of intense American history, a year of World cultures and then cycling through it again. From a practical standpoint, if you have more than 2 kids- someone will be getting history out of order. Both of us have found that it really doesnít matter as long as the kids are making connections with history. The Centuries book or timeline will help them get it in the right order in their minds.

We spent second grade doing Egypt, Greece, Rome and Middle Ages. We did it in chronological order which was nice for me because I had never studied them before. What was great about this unit wasnít the order, but that we brought those dusty years to life and truly "experienced" these cultures. We read exciting novels, mummified carrots ("King Karrot"), reconstructed the Nile in our sandbox, went down to the Mall and looked at the different types of Greek and Roman architecture and gods on the buildings. We did history by living and touching it. The best thing about this method is that Retention is high-really high. Three years later- (and having skipped way ahead to American History) my kids get excited when the History Channel has something about Egypt or Rome (they did this in 2nd grade). They have continued to build on their knowledge base out of interest, not because it was the next thing on the agenda. If I didnít do another day of American History between now and the time they go off to college, I think they would still know more about US History than most High School Seniors who have had it for 5 years. Why? Because 1)They remember it 1)Because they lived it and 2)They were given a base which they continue to build on (historical fiction, history channel, war games, where we live). For me, history has been the most fulfilling and enjoyable subject- Iíve learned more than they have and we have all had a great time in the process.

Students of Charlotte Mason learned several foreign languages very young. They began with French because of the proximity to France. By nine or ten, they were studying French, German and Italian concurrently. Charlotte Mason began with vocabulary, adding about six words a day until the child could begin to read some simple books in the foreign language. They memorized verbs but they were learned in the context of sentences. Then grammar and new vocabulary were learned just as they were in English.

We began with Latin, the language of the Church. I donít study Latin grammar formally in the early elementary years but I do lots of vocabulary I like English From the Roots Up and Rummy Roots. I also really like Minimus: Starting Out in Latin and Learning Latin Through Mythology. Once weíve got the vocabulary going, Latina Christiana works for us and we might enjoy taking a stab at Winnie Ile Pooh and other familiar stories in Latin.

In our country, I firmly believe that Spanish is a necessity. I have found that Power Glide, both the childrenís version and the original version, are very in keeping Miss Masonís philosophy. Power Glide keeps adding languages to its collection. I expect to pick up Korean sometime soon. Tae Kwon Do has provided my children with a rudimentary vocabulary and will provide them a chance to practice more spoken language. Young children have such a proficiency for language that we really need to make "Carpe Diem" our motto and language study a priority.

Science is studied within the context of the natural world. For the parent-educator, begin your study of nature study with a trip to MacBeth Derhamís website: http://charlottemason.tripod.com

You might also order her nature study tape from last year from the NACHE website www.nache.org. A book on nature study and journals that I highly recommend is Wild Days by Karen Rackliffe. Charlotte Mason believed that children should spend huge amounts of time outdoors. She also wanted an interested adult to help them become keen observers. GO OUTSIDE! You donít need to go far. Youíll be amazed at the bugs and the plants in your yard or your park. Begin with small steps. Pack some granola bars and water bottles, some ziploc bags and outdoor scissors. Tell the children that everyone must find something to be drawn and researched at home. donít have an agenda; just let them look. When everyone has something and you have noted the conditions of the area, go home. Pull out field guides and Anna Comstockís book, Handbook of Nature Study and learn together about what you have found. I also love the One Small Square series by Donald Silver, Drawing From Nature by Jim Arnosky, and Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method by Sally Kneidel.

Supply decent paper and colored pencils and let kids draw and label pictures of their discoveries for nature journals. Slip the picture into plastic page protectors and put them in a three ring binder. Then have the children narrate about what they discovered. Print the narration and slip it in behind the picture. There! My eldest found that his nature notebook had grown quite fat after a couple of years, so he arranged the entries according to kingdom and phyla. He has an impressive personal knowledge of the natural world upon which to build as he moves on to high school science.

Once you overcome the inertia and the fear of the unknown, nature study becomes the highlight of your week. This is a balm to tired souls, yours and your childrenís. Plan for it. Schedule it into your week and guard the time. Add some living science stories to inspire you further. Check out MacBethís website for a plethora of ideas. You will become addicted to looking at science this way. You will forward to your days outside. And you will branch out beyond the basics to make absolutely incredible discoveries. I promise.

Now what about math? Charlotte Mason actually said:

"We take strong ground when we appeal to the beauty and truth of mathematics."

I admit that this was a bit of a stretch for me. But she makes some great points even for those of us who arenít mathematically inclined.

I want to address two key components here before I must move on to another subject. The first is that we will teach everything from the concrete to the abstract. Everything from counting to algebra. This is to be how we determine what curriculum to purchase. The second point is that even math education greatly benefits from narration.

In Developing Number Concepts, Kathy Richardson writes: "For children to be engaged by a particular mathematical task, they need to be on the edge of their understanding or level of competence. Children will find tasks engaging if the experiences meet their needs for developing new understandings or for developing confidence with a new skill. Developing competence is a prime motivator for young children. They will naturally choose to practice a seemingly endless task over and over again until they no longer find it challenging."

Introduce a new concept using counters or blocks or beans, whatever suits you. And allow the child to work with those tools until she understands the concept. So often parents are worried that the child will become dependent upon the manipulative. If we teach for comprehension, this is not a problem Once your the child understands a concept, she will no longer be interested in doing the task with manipulatives. When was the last time you pulled out Cuisenaire rods to help you balance the checkbook? Our children will move from the concrete to the abstract in small steps, and we will help them without rushing the process..

Take the time to show children how orderly and sensible math is. Charlotte Mason writes: "It is a great thing to be brought into the presence of a law, of a whole system of laws, that exist without our concurrence--that two straight lines cannot enclose a space is a fact that we can perceive, state and act upon but cannot in any wise alter, should give to children the sense of limitation which is wholesome for all of us, and inspire that sursum corda which we should hear in all natural law."

Use narration to help a child make the concept his own. Use a math journal to gain insight into her thought processes. Begin the same way you do with any other narration. Let the child narrate orally what she learned. As the child gets older, narrations can be written. Leonie Westenberg, the mother of seven sons in Australia writes that math journal entries can take various forms:

Points to remember, their feelings and ideas, writing sample problems, step by step procedure, diagrams to help remember and explain something, narrating a maths game or a math educational TV. You could direct the journal more if you felt that your child needs more direction Ė a series of questions, say, to answer Ė what was your Math lesson about? How did you find it? Want did you do? What things will you need to remember? What part was difficult/easy to grasp? When I have tutored other children in Math, I notice that they have said things like " I hate Math. Itís all hard. I canít do any of t!" When we start journaling and writing and drawing down ideas to questions like the above, I often find that the child can clarify and see that it is not Math in general but one area or a group of things that can be attacked. For example, setting out problems and exercises, making a set of guidelines for solving math problems, doing fewer algorithms at a time, so it doesnít seem as daunting.. This sounds pretty involved but, practically speaking, we found it doesnít take too much time. The initial narrations can be done in some one on one time and then pegging them to lunch or dinner. The written work can be done in place of a regular math or writing lesson. At least, that is what we do Ėwhen the boys write abut Math in their Discovery Journal, they do that instead of, not on top of, their regular journal writing.

For specific curriculum choices, I like Saxon or Horizons with plenty of manipulatives in the early grades and I like Miquon as well. The two together are really nice. After third grade, I prefer Horizons to Saxon, up through grade six. After sixth grade, I use Saxon 87 to be sure weíve got it all covered and then switch to the Jacobsí math series. This is by no means the only way to do it and I am not a math expert. It works for me.

CM and ES lived in a time that pre-dates our current banking system. I think if they were here, however, they would see the need for teaching economics and business. While I donít think these are subjects that need to be taught every year, a child will benefit from some formal studying in these areas as well as being given life practice. I suggest Wow the Dow!. This a great introduction to the stock market for all ages. I will also be using some living literature and Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?

As far as computer education, Iím against it for kids. In fact, I am a strong believer, as Iím sure ES and CM would be, in dramatically limiting the computer. In our home we donít allow anything that uses a joy stick, and limit even "educational" materials to specific defined times. There is very little out there that is truly educational. Like the TV, they are time eaters and more often than not, take a child away from something better- a book, playing outside, etc.

Yes, they will need to be computer proficient, but computers are easy to use and are only getting easier. Using a computer for this generation is like breathing. They can go through the built in tutorials, but mostly they will learn by doing. Just keep the manuals nearby and let them learn from experience. One exception to this is that I would definitely insist that they learn to properly keyboard. Read, Write and Type is a great program for younger elementary students (and reinforces phonics), and Mavis Beacon is good for the older child or adult.

Now I said I was not in favor of a computer education for kids, I am however, in favor of one for their parents. We as parents must understand how the Internet works. It is both wonderful and dangerous. Make sure you understand whatís out there and how easily it is accessed. Chat rooms can harbor sexual predators and innocent researching can access pornographic sights. On the other hand there are wonderful educational sites that can open the world to them. Donít teach them to bury their heads in the sand. The web is here to stay and if they go off to college they will need to use it. Instead, understand how it works and set rules and boundaries. Essential boundaries:

Teenagers should not be allowed on the web after youíve gone to bed.

Above all, TEACH THEM TO BE DISCERNING, to avoid danger and flee from immorality.

Our goal is to fill them with the good, the beautiful and the noble. The flip side of this is that we must to teach them to protect themselves from evil, the ugly and the opportunistic.

This is by no means a comprehensive explanation. It is really just a jump start. People ask me all the time if they can just do a little CM education. I suppose you could. You could just do art or just do nature study. Usually most people ask that because they think that it will be easier than if they transition all at once. I donít think that is so. You are here today faced with choices. Seize the opportunity to transform your life. Yours and your childrenís You canít live this lifestyle while trapped in a canned curriculum. You canít pour the new wine into the old wineskins. I wouldnít even pour a little of it in there. This is the place and now is the day to begin to explore how liberating using real life and real books as the backbone of your "school" can be. Once you get started, you will be on the path to a family lifestyle of faith and truth and beauty. When someone asks you when or how you "do school," youíll reply, "School? Why would I want to waste valuable time trying to Ďdo schoolí? I provide a living education for my children and I learn alongside." If you say that, you better be prepared to spend a few hours explaining!

 

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