Pull up a chair. We’re just getting started with our homeschooling for the day. Amy is eight this year, and we’re using the Charlotte Mason method. If you’re curious about what a typical day looks like, you’re welcome to take a peek inside this Charlotte Mason homeschool.
I read aloud the passage that we’re working on memorizing. Amy listens and joins in on any parts that she knows so far. Then we spend a couple of minutes reviewing other verses that we’ve already memorized.
We’re studying the Middle Ages and enjoying the book A Castle with Many Rooms. First, I ask Amy what she remembers from last time’s reading about “King Arthur and the Saxons” and how the tribes of Britain united. Then I tell her that today we will learn about a group of men who became guardians of words. I read aloud chapter four, “The Monastery.” Amy pays full attention and listens carefully, for she knows that when the reading is over, she must tell it back to me in her own words—a method called “narration.” Here is the beginning of the chapter:
Sometime around the year 700, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne dipped a goose-quill pen into a small jar of coal-black ink. On the slanted surface of the tall bench before him was stretched a smooth sheet of vellum, which is a kind of parchment made from the skin of a calf. At his elbow lay a book, a copy of the Bible opened to the Gospel of Matthew. With ink in his pen and a prayer in his heart, Eadfrith began to copy the holy words onto the blank, pale page.
Around him, the scriptorium was silent. It was a room set aside solely for the purpose of copying books, with dark wooden walls and light falling in shafts through tall, narrow windows. Others were there as well, carefully tracing words; the only sound was the scratch of their pens’ tips across the vellum. They were all dressed alike, in rough grayish-white, woolen robes, and even though Eadfrith was their leader, he was attired just as plainly. They were monks, after all, these men, and each of them had promised, when he had entered the monastery here at Lindisfarne, to live as simply as possible….
Amy is working on addition of three-digit numbers. She lays out dollars, dimes, and pennies in columns on the table to help her see the process. So far, she hasn’t been required to do any carrying, but today I will give her an equation that requires carrying. Since she is used to exchanging ten pennies for a dime and ten dimes for a dollar, I think she’s ready; and I can’t wait to see her eyes light up when she realizes how to use those concepts to solve the equation.
We’re reading poems by Carl Sandburg this year. I explain to Amy that today’s poem is short but very powerful. I read aloud “Choose,” and we discuss what it means to meet someone with an open, inviting hand as opposed to a clenched fist.
This week’s picture is Vincent van Gogh’s famous Starry Night. I hold up the picture and mention its name. Then we both look at it until we can close our eyes and see it in detail in our imaginations. When Amy is ready, I hide the picture and she describes it to me. We look at it again and talk a little about it. After that, I put it on display for the rest of the week. Next week, we’ll look at another picture by Van Gogh, and at the end of several weeks, we’ll have a pretty good feel for his style.
Amy is learning cursive this year. I show her how to make a cursive lowercase p and watch as she carefully copies it once or twice. Then she copies a few words, using cursive letters she has already learned. The lesson is short, but Amy knows that her best effort is required or she will have to do it again.
We started The Burgess Bird Book a couple of days ago. Today we read chapter two, “Bully the English Sparrow.” It begins like this:
Peter Rabbit’s eyes twinkled when Jenny Wren said that she must look her old house over to see if it was fit to live in. “I can save you that trouble,” said he. “What do you mean?” Jenny’s voice was very sharp.
“Only that your old house is already occupied,” replied Peter. “Bully the English Sparrow has been living in it for the last two months. In fact, he already has a good-sized family there.” “What?” screamed Jenny and Mr. Wren together. Then without even saying good-by to Peter, they flew in a great rage to see if he had told them the truth….
Amy listens intently as the rest of the chapter describes more about the orchard bully, the English Sparrow. Then she uses colored pencils to color a picture of an English Sparrow according to the description we read. She also tells all she remembers about its habits, and I write her narration beside the picture.
Once that is done, Amy does a few chores and has free time until lunch.
After lunch we head to a favorite nearby park with our sketch books and field guides. We check in with our special tree, look for birds we know, and draw whatever strikes our fancies. Amy finds a wildflower that we haven’t seen before; so we look it up in the field guide. She adds a sketch of it to her nature notebook along with its name.
It’s snack time at our house, and snack time is always paired with reading a great family classic. Today Amy munches on popcorn as I read aloud chapter eight of The Secret Garden.
When we’re done I grab some tea and glance at my plans. Tomorrow we’ll do Scripture Memory, singing, geography, Spanish, math, pastels, music study, and reading practice.
Four Keys of a Charlotte Mason Education
Charlotte Mason (1842–1923) was a British educator who spent many years studying how children learn best and spreading her conviction that they should have a generous curriculum with a wide variety of subjects.
An education based on her brilliant methods can be summarized by these four components, which you will find interwoven throughout the lessons above.
1. Great Books
You probably noticed that the excerpts from the books we read don’t sound like typical textbooks. They are, instead, well-written “living books”—books that make the subject come alive. They touch the emotions and fire the imagination. You can “see” what is happening in your mind’s eye. They convey ideas, not just bare facts.
These literary-style books lend themselves well to narration. Retelling something in your own words helps to cement it in your mind. It also gives the teacher an accurate assessment of what was comprehended and learned.
You can use living books and narration with the whole family. You can also assign independent reading and written narrations to older students.
2. Guided Discovery
Rather than being the fountainhead of all knowledge, the teacher acts as a guide. In the lessons for math, picture study, and nature study above, you caught a glimpse of how that works. The teacher spotlights something worth observing and then stands aside to allow the student the opportunity to discover for himself. And we all know that what you discover for yourself has a bigger impact than what someone simply tells you.
But this is not free-for-all discovery; it is guided, which gives the teacher the benefit of assessing the student’s thought process individually in real time. Guided discovery can also be used for spelling, grammar, music study, and more.
3. Good Habits
Amy was expected to pay full attention, to observe closely, and to give her best effort. Those are just some of the good habits that Charlotte Mason’s methods seek to cultivate in the student, for good habits make for smooth and easy days.
You can get a lot done in a short amount of time if the student has the habit of paying full attention and doing his best. The young student is required to pay attention for the whole lesson, but his efforts are not overtaxed by long lessons. Short lessons help him get the habit established; once that habit is in place, lesson times are lengthened for older students.
4. Growth as a Person
The goal of an education with these methods is that the child will grow as a person. Each student is an individual and should be respected as such. The focus is not on just possessing a body of facts but on cultivating a wide range of interests, on learning to self-educate, on maintaining the desire to learn, and on developing excellent character through good habits.
That’s what you’ll find inside a Charlotte Mason homeschool.
Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring Supplement 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.