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The Charlotte Mason method: What is it?

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By Michelle Cannon

Charlotte Mason Method

Charlotte Mason was a British educator who devoted her life to improving the quality of education for children. Although she taught in schools, her methods of teaching are one of the primary methods of homeschooling being used today.

The Charlotte Mason method works because it is natural, and encourages developing a child's natural tendencies to give them the gift of knowledge.

Mason's thoughts on education filled six volumes, but here are some common elements of a Charlotte Mason education you may want to incorporate into your daily lessons:

TWADDLE-FREE
The Mason Method is rooted in the belief that a child's education should not be dumbed down with "twaddle"—or information that does not contribute to a rich, balanced curriculum. Rather, a child's intelligence and thinking abilities should be strengthened by lessons and materials that challenge them.

SHORT LESSONS
Charlotte Mason advocated adjusting lesson lengths to match childrens' attention spans—with shorter lessons for younger children, and longer lessons as students mature. You may find that 10-15 minutes per lesson best engages younger children. Middle school-aged children thrive at 30 minutes per lesson, and high school ages 45 minutes. This develops the habit of full attention by keeping the child from becoming weary with an activity.

WHOLE BOOKS
The Mason method celebrates the value of reading "whole books"—original, unaltered versions of books as written by the author—rather than digests or adaptations.

LIVING BOOKS
The opposite of dull textbooks, living books are alive and engaging. Typically written in a conversational or narrative style, they tell of life, death, marriage—and give the reader a sense of entering another time and "meeting" other people.

NARRATION
Young children being taught with the Charlotte Mason method are expected to orally narrate or "retell" what they have read to demonstrate reading comprehension. This encourages children to process what they've read, organize it mentally, and determine how to communicate what they recall in their own words. As children get older and develop their writing skills (around age 10-12), written narration activities can be introduced. Drawing, painting, sculpting, and acting are also effective ways to explore narrations.

DICTATION
Rather than having children learn spelling through lists of words, dictation helps teach spelling within the context of rich language, while reinforcing grammar and composition skills. One way to employ dictation is to give children a sentence to study—with special attention to spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Once a child feels confident with his passage, the teacher dictates it to the child, phrase by phrase, and watches the child write it. In this way, the teacher can catch mistakes and make on-the-spot corrections.

IMPROVING HANDWRITING BY COPYING:
An activity that only takes a few minutes per day can develop a good habit. Give children a sentence, phrase, or paragraph to copy in their best handwriting. It's an effective way to develop penmanship skills within the context of ideas and language.

JOURNALING
Keeping a personal journal can be a valuable learning tool that inspires reflection and descriptive writing. Encourage children to record their daily activities and observations, thoughts and feelings, favorite sayings, favorite poems, etc...

NATURE WALKS
Spend one afternoon each week—rain or shine—on a nature walk. Send children out with sketchpads in hand and invite them to draw what they see. By making this study of nature a regular part of your lesson plan, you'll help open the door to better science instruction and understanding.

OUTDOOR PLAY
Children should spend a large amount—ideally three to six hours—of time outdoors each day, regardless of weather, for fresh air and exercise. This outdoor time is important for developing imagination, getting fresh air, exercise and building childhood memories.

PICTURE AND MUSIC STUDY
There are a number of ways to introduce art and music appreciation.
Identify an artist or composer to study for 12 weeks, and select six paintings or compositions for two-week focused sessions each.
Three times per week, ask children to study the selected painting intently and undisturbed for 5 minutes—paying close attention to every detail. Remove the picture and ask them to narrate what they saw. Invite children to listen to the selected piece of music, and ask them to describe what they've heard.

HABITS AND MANNERS
Habits take time to establish, but Charlotte Mason believed building good habits in children was central to their educational and personal growth. Among her areas of focus were: attention, perfect execution, obedience, truthfulness, an even temper, neatness, kindness, order, respect, remembering, punctuality, gentleness, and cleanliness. Choose one habit on which to focus. When it is firmly established, move to the next.

Michelle Cannon is a single mom who has been homeschooling for 14 years in Florida. She writes about homeschooling using the Charlotte Mason method at www.TheHolisticHomeschooler.com

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