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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Spelling: Copywork, Dictation, and More

This is a collection of the best information I could come up with to give an introduction to the use of copywork and dictation in teaching  spelling.  It helps to know that Charlotte differentiates somewhat between spelling and reading--and I think she's right to some degree. Phonics rules help immensely with reading (and she does talk about this a little in the pages that lead up to her discussion of spelling in volume 1). Those phonics rules do help a lot with spelling, but most of also use visual methods for spelling, even if we think we are not visual.  How many times when you are asked how to spell a word do you have to write it down to see your answer?  Have you ever written a word and then thought, "That doesn't look right'?  That's because there is a visual component to good spelling, and Mason's approach recognizes and builds on that. 

Think of words like There and their--and is there really any phonetic reason why they shouldn't be spelled the say way? Think of the 'r-controlled vowels,' er, ir, and sometimes 'or' (word, work)--phonics gets you far with those, but a little memorization is necessary after that.

My oldest was a natural speller. My fifth was pretty nearly perfect.  The others had varying levels of spelling incompetence.=) I nearly despaired of the second girl ever learning to spell. She misspelled words she copied. I began using Miss Mason's method with her when she was about twelve. I do not know if it was the method or the age, but she did begin spelling better, and I now am not embarrassed for us both over her spelling.  She is now an adult who spells well but thinks she doesn't.
The middle two improved by high school using Mason's methods. So what do those look like?

In general, what Charlotte Mason suggested for spelling is that the spelling word be written properly where the child can study it and work to put it in his mind's eye (that mind's eye is an important component of many things in a CM education. He doesn't copy it ten times, he simply looks at it with all the focused attention he can muster up. When he thinks he has memorized the way the word looks, ask him to close his eyes and picture it. Then have him spell aloud and/or write it correctly.  We used a lap sized whiteboard to do this so I could quickly erase any errors. You can use anything- a pan of salt and write in it with a finger, a blackboard, paper and pencil and you put a strip of stickit paper over errors, or use letter tiles from a scrabble game or something similar.

Here's what the Mason's approach to spelling looks like spread out over the years- but do k
eep in mind that the most important part of any element of a CM education is always principles, and after that you can apply various practices. 

Start with copywork (more about that here)- most importantly, have your student look at whole words and copy an entire word or phrase at a time, rather than copy letter by letter.

Finely crafted, well written sentences are the best sources. In our home we had a different selection each day of the week. One day is poetry, another Bible, another from their history, another from science, and one from their literature selection. A copywork selection from the foreign language being studied is also good. Hymns may also be used.

Until you are sure a child can form all his letters correctly, you would not give him a selection to copy, and at first you would still watch carefully to see that he formed them properly--shaping them properly, starting at the right point on the paper, holding his pencil properly.

 Copywork done properly forces a child to slow down and absorb the punctuation details, notice capitalization, and internalize sparkling prose (For this reason, a child's own stories are not the most ideal source for copywork a la CM).

When they do misspell a word, quickly cover it, write down the word correctly elsewhere and have them look at it properly spelled and visualize it, and then  they should correct it in the written copy.

When they start to write narrations, you can skim over the narration, quickly correct incorrectly spelled words (without much comment) and then have your student read the narration aloud.  You can privately keep a word bank of the misspelled words to use for separate work on spelling, which should not take up more than five or ten minutes of a day. If you keep track of their misspelled words you may notice a pattern of the sorts of works that give your student trouble and then you can focus on that issue.

You could also use a good word processing program, one that automatically underlines misspelled words, bringing them immediately to your student's attention. Then have him use his right click mouse button--this brings up a box with suggested corrections. He then would instantly have the properly spelled word before him (albeit with several other options, but they would all be spelled correctly) and could choose that. He might take a moment to visualize the word carefully before going on.

  • Teach a handful of basic spelling rules on an as needed basis, for instance, if you notice a child consistently misspells words with the ie pattern. Usually, kids will get the correct patterns through their own reading and their copywork, but it doesn't hurt to add a bit of information once in a while.  When they are copying a sentence with a word like field or weight in it is a good time to review that rule, for instance.  Most of us have heard at least part of the "I before e, except after C," but it's more useful when you have the second half of the verse: " or when it sounds like a as in neighbour or weigh. Here is a list of words that show how useful this rule is.
  • Here are some rules on pluralizing.  
  • The letter C makes a soft, s sound when it is followed by i, e, or y (similarly, G sounds like j when followed by e or y)
  • How to know when to use el vs le:  and also here:
  • When adding suffixes (endings to words, such as -ing), you drop the final e before a suffix beginning with a vowel but not before a suffix beginning with a consonant (hope+ing is hoping but hope-ful becomes hopeful)
  • English words do not end in U or J (or I, but given names will be exceptions because we make those up). 
  • You can find other rules here and here.

Again, don't overdo this.   Nobody needs to know all of them. It's possible to spell well without knowing all the rules.  Those rules you do teach are best taught in context with the words your child is using in copywork, dictation, written work.  The main way to learn to spell is through the visual experience of  being exposed to words through reading thousands of words on printed pages, through the concentrated daily use of copywork, and later, dictation.

Year 4 is when we add dictation.
Select a passage from their reading- the passage will be longer than the amount they will actually be writing from dictation.  you want about a page for new to dictation students (they will only write from dictation a paragraph) to two or three pages for more experience students (of which they will write no more than a page).  

Every day for a few minutes, the student 'prepares' the passage (see page 242 of Volume 1).   This preparation involves having the child carefully look through the passage and anytime he comes to a word he thinks he can't spell he is to look at it attentively, then close his eyes and picture it with his eyes shut. After a bit of this, the teacher or mother asks him what passages he is still unsure of, and at this time may point out others that she thinks might give him trouble.

He looks these over again, using the same method--just trying to look at the word carefully enough that when he closes his eyes he can picture it accurately.

If there are any words still worrying him, the teacher writes them one by one on a chalkboard or whiteboard (this could work in a classroom, but the whole class would be suggesting words, so some words would be covered that some of the children are not worried about). Again, the child looks at the word writ largely on the board, looks until he has a picture of it, and then she erases the word and moves on.  Remind your student to pay attention to punctuation marks and capitalization as well.  You are not going through the whole passage every day, just a little bit each day. 

Spend five or ten minutes doing this every day, and then at the end of the week, or some time in the next week, set aside some time and the teacher starts giving dictation. She enunciates clearly, reads a clause at a time, never repeating herself. She does not say 'comma' or give any other indication of punctuation except for her voice inflection.

At this point Mom is ready with her stick it note or masking tape or label with which to quickly cover any misspelled word. 

Dictation is only taken up after the student has some experience with copywork (which continues), and copywork is only taken up after handwriting.   Handwriting is the preliminary step in copywork or dictation. Until a child knows how to make each letter and make it well, with little mental effort or decision (in other words, by habit) letter practice is pretty much all that copywork encompasses.

This is the primary method for teaching spelling.

You can still have separate spelling practices in the CM method, and you don't need to buy a curriculum to do so. You can use letter tiles or something like them which you already own instead. You could use magnetic letters, scrabble tiles, index cards or blocks- any item with letters already formed on them, and the child can rather painlessly practice spelling this way (spell the word you dictate, using the tiles, then picture it in his head clearly).  Mason recommended doing this with word families.  Take a few minutes one day and have him spell smile with the blocks or scrabble tiles, and then change smile to tile, to mile, to file, to pile to while.  Change word endings for ed or ing or s.   Another day spell out low, slow, mow, row, crow, throw (discussing homonymns as needed, and it may be enough at times to just mention they exist). This is also a good time to teach a new spelling rule.  Introduce it, show some examples, then practice spelling a few words which follow that rule, and perhaps one or two exceptions.  This should be short and stress-free.  Do only one or two words if that is what it takes to be stress-free.  CM's approach is slow and steady, cumulative, building up over time.  

The above is my summary.  Below is taken directly from volume 1, Home Education, by Charlotte Mason:

"No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required of him as a matter of course. For instance, he is set to do a copy of strokes, and is allowed to show a slateful of all sorts of slopes and all sorts of intervals; his moral sense is vitiated, his eye is injured. Set him six strokes to copy; let him, not bring a slateful, but six perfect strokes, at regular distances and at regular slopes. If he produces a faulty pair, get him to point out the fault, and persevere until he has produced his task; if he does not do it to-day, let him go on tomorrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph. So with the little tasks of of painting , drawing, or construction he sets himself--let everything he does be well done. An unsteady house of cards is a thing to be ashamed of. Closely connected with this habit of 'perfect work' is that of finishing whatever is taken in hand. The child should rarely be allowed to set his hand to a new undertaking until the last is finished." Page 160

Value of Transcription--The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work, for which the New Handwriting [a handwriting text] is to be preferred, though perhaps some of the more ornate characters may be omitted with advantage.
Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory.
Children  transcribe favorite passages--A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favourite poem, an exercise which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verse, should give them pleasure.
Small Text-hand--Double-ruled lines--should be used at first, as children are eager to write very minute 'small hand' and once they have fallen into this habit it is not easy to get good writing. A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure. Not more than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour should be given to the early writing-lessons. If they are longer the children get tired and slovenly.) pages 238, 239 (this section of volume 1 in the six volume series is especially useful for the language arts. Pages that follow cover dictation, spelling, composition and more).
From AmblesideOnline's website, used with permission

These things all work together, handwriting, copywork, dictation, reading well written books, doing their own reading as soon as they can, playing with letter tiles, copying names and information correctly in nature journals, history timelines, century books, and so on, singing hymns and folk songs, playing with the lyrics of poetry and folk songs, narration, and more.  Together, these practices not only improve spelling, but enable a child to compose well written papers, stories, letters to Grandmothers, and more.   Most children will take a bit longer to pick up the spelling than they would in public school, but they are also reading more complex works much younger than they are in public school.  Don't throw up your hands when the child is ten and say it isn't working- you haven't even started dictation yet at 10!  You need the full method for best success.  All the pieces, parts, gears, and wheels work together.

See also my post on copywork here.
Copywork with older students


For sale, proceeds support my family's work.  When creating these things,  my constant thought was 'What might readers like to know or think about? What will help our Charlotte Mason parents and families?  What will give them something to think about, something to love, something to grow on?'  I hope you can tell. 

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.  
 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

Picture Study!  Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00

Common Kitchen:  What's for lunch?  Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families?  What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing?  How can I accomplish all those things at once?  We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income.  I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world.  These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids.  Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

Monday, January 28, 2019

Narration and Real Books Supported by Current Research

Nature notebooks at a museum
Fast food restaurants operate with essentially one goal in mind- getting the product from the store to the customer in the most efficient way possible, and every step of the process is designed so that the human error factor is reduced- they want few decisions or processes left in the hands of employees.   As much of the process as possible is automated.  Push the right buttons, and the right product results. The product is kind of like food (and I say that, but my husband and I wanted to eat Taco Bell first thing after spending two years in the Philippines).
Schools seem to operate the same way- and the higher up you go on the education chain, the more likely it is that the educationists you meet think it’s about getting the right product (curriculum) through the children in the proper doses, and the result looked for is not education, but education dollars.  Fewer and fewer decisions are left in the hands of the human beings most closely involved – the parents, the teachers, and the children themselves.  The ultimate purpose of every large institution as it grows is to become larger, more entrenched, and to ensure the perpetual funding of the institution after all.  However, there are still those individuals in the system who have their eyes on a finer goal.
Richard Allington and his colleagues “at the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement have been studying some of the best elementary school teachers in the nation (Allington & Johnston, 2002; Pressley, Allington, Wharton-McDonald, Collins-Block & Morrow, 2001). These teachers were selected, primarily, from schools that enrolled substantial numbers of poor children and schools that reflected the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the nation.”
They observed teachers from six states for at least ten full days each.  They divided their results into six areas they thought were the key to the teachers’ proven success rates.  They were:
Time.  In these classrooms, as much as half the time was spent on reading and writing compared to other stuff.   Why is that astonishing?
“In typical classrooms, it is not unusual to find that kids read and write for as little as ten percent of the day (30 minutes of reading and writing activity in a 300 minute, or five hour, school day).
In many classrooms, a 90 minute “reading block” produces only 10–15 minutes of actual reading, or less than 20 percent of the allocated reading time is spent reading. Worse, in many classrooms, 20 minutes of actual reading across the school day (Knapp, 1995) is a common event, which includes reading in science, social studies, math, and other subjects. Thus, less than ten percent of the day is actually spent reading and 90 percent or more of the time is spent doing stuff.”
Some of the other things engaging the students’ time is useful, even educational, but the ratio is all wrong.  For example (and if you are a CM homeschooler, you will find this familiar):
Activating students’ background knowledge before reading (Pearson & Fielding, 1991) and generating discussion after reading (Fall, Webb & Chudowsky, 2000) is useful. But three to five minutes of building background knowledge is probably enough; spending most of a 90 minute reading block on building background knowledge seems an unlikely strategy for improving reading proficiencies.
Here is how this is compatible with the discoveries Charlotte Mason made in education in the 19th century:
I think we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge, of whatever subject, for themselves out of the fit book; and this for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated. I do not mean to say that the lecture and the oral lesson are without their uses; but these uses are, to give impulse and to order knowledge; and not to convey knowledge, or to afford us that part of our education which comes of fit knowledge, fitly given…..
The teacher’s part in this regard is to see and feel for himself, and then to rouse his pupils by an appreciative look or word; but to beware how he deadens the impression by a flood of talk. Intellectual sympathy is very stimulating; but we have all been in the case of the little girl who said, “Mother, I think I could understand if you did not explain quite so much.”

And did you know that there is “No reliable evidence to support” the educational effectiveness of ” test-preparation workbooks, copying vocabulary definitions from a dictionary, completing after-reading comprehension worksheets”?  But that’s what children are spending a lot of their ‘reading time’ doing.
Sadly, homeschoolers do this, too.  A fellow veteran homeschooler and I discovered we felt the exact same dismay over an all too common trend in the homeschooling community.  A homeschool mom or pair of moms will produce their own kitchen-table curriculum or program. It’s outstanding- excellent quality, focuses on meat and not busywork, and incredibly useful, if a little unpolished in presentation.  And then they grow successful and moms ask for more stuff, so they revamp it and it looks more professional but it’s far less educational. It’s padded with additional exercises, crossword puzzles, wordsearches, and other schoolish busywork that merely mimics the stuff that is designed the way it is in order to keep a large classroom of children undergoing the sausage of institutionalize education busing doing educationese stuff that keeps curriculum companies in business but doesn’t actually educate anybody.
The second thing was BOOKS.  Do you know what children need most in order to become accomplished readers?  They need to read, and to read plenty.
Children need:enormous quantities of successful reading to become independent, proficient readers.
Now here I part ways just a little with this educational approach:
By successful reading, I mean reading experiences where students perform with a high level of reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. When a nine-year-old misses as few as two or three words in each one hundred running words of a text, the text may be too hard for effective practice. That text may be appropriate for instructional purposes but developing readers need much more high-success reading than they need instructional difficulty reading. It is the high accuracy, fluent, and easily comprehended reading that provides the opportunities to integrate complex skills and strategies into an automatic, independent reading process.
The thing is, that sounds sort of okay, except it reminds me of all the adults in this article telling children “You may be able to read that, but you aren’t comprehending it.”

Again, as I have already said, ideas must reach us directly from the mind of the thinker, and it is chiefly by means of the books they have written that we get into touch with the best minds.
Marks of a Fit Book.––As to the distinguishing marks of a book for the school-room, a word or two may be said. A fit book is not necessarily a big book. John Quincy Adams, aged nine, wrote to his father for the fourth volume of Smollett for his private reading, though, as he owned up, his thoughts were running on birds’ eggs [you can read this charming letter here– DHM] ; and perhaps some of us remember going religiously through the many volumes of Alison’s History of Europe* with a private feeling that the bigness of the book swelled the virtue of the reader. But, now, big men write little books, to be used with discretion; because sometimes the little books are no more than abstracts, the dry bones of the subjects; and sometimes the little books are fresh and living. Again, we need not always insist that a book should be written by the original thinker. It sometimes happens that second-rate minds have assimilated the matter in hand, and are able to give out what is their own thought (only because they have made it their own) in a form more suitable for our purpose than that of the first-hand thinkers. We cannot make any hard and fast rule––a big book or a little book, a book at first-hand or at second-hand; either may be right provided we have it in us to discern a living book, quick, and informed with the ideas proper to the subject of which it treats.
How to use the Right Books.––So much for the right books; the right use of them is another matter. The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea.
Unfortunately, says Allington, most districts require the children in the classroom to read through the same texts at the same pace and do the same worksheets on the same portion of the text on the same day- like mass producing so many little fast food burgers.   Homeschool teachers can operate their home schools more like an artisan shop, focusing on the human beings involved rather than a consumer product being sold, choosing books that work and discarding books that aren’t working at a moment’s notice, and without consulting anybody.
Commericial workbooks aren't effective.  Better teachers used them less. Then there are the after reading activities unfortunately assigned- the author calls them “Assign and assess,” and notes:
…when teachers assign a worksheet that requires children to fill in the missing vowel, only children who already know the correct vowel response can successfully do the task. And they don’t need the practice activity. Children who do not know which vowel to put in the blank space cannot acquire that knowledge from the worksheet. They need actual teaching. In other words, the missing vowel worksheet is an assessment of who already knows the vowel patterns not an instructional activity that will teach the vowel pattern.
Likewise, when assigned a story to read, with questions presented at the end to answer (Durkin, 1978), children who have already the developed appropriate strategy to use while reading can respond correctly, but those who have not developed the strategy cannot. …
The best teachers the researchers found modeled working strategies during real discussions:
For example, they might demonstrate the use of the deletion strategy when teaching summarization. They might show how to list the various ideas an author presents in a persuasive paragraph through a line-by-line analysis – a “watch me do this” lesson. Then they might demonstrate through a think-aloud process the strategy of deleting redundant, trivial, and subordinate information until they have arrived at the summary statement.
Talk: Allington noticed successful teachers had classes where students did a lot more talking and discussing all day long. 
Charlotte Mason:
getting ideas out of them, is by no means all we must do with books. ‘In all labour there is profit,’ at any rate in some labour; and the labour of thought is what his book must induce in the child. He must generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher.
Value of Narration.––The simplest way of dealing with a paragraph or a chapter is to require the child to narrate its contents after a single attentive reading…

Narration? Interesting.  Allington et al found that the sort of talk allowed in the classroom also made a big difference:
It wasn’t just more talk but a different sort of talk than is commonly heard in classrooms. We described this difference as “more conversational than interrogational.” Much previous work has well-documented the interrogational nature of most classroom talk. Teachers pose questions, children respond, teacher verifies or corrects. That is the dominant pattern observed in study after study, grade after grade (Cazden, 1988; Nystrand, 1997).
The classroom talk we observed was more often of a conversational nature than an interrogational nature. In other words, teachers and students discussed ideas, concepts, hypotheses, strategies, and responses with others. The questions teachers posed were more “open” questions, where multiple responses would be appropriate. For instance, consider the difference between the three after-reading questions below:
  1. So, where were the children going after all?
  2. So, what other story have we read that had an ending like this one?
  3. Has anyone had a problem with a pet like the boy in the story?
Responses to Q1 are strictly limited to a single “correct” response as dictated by the story content. But Q2 and Q3 offer the opportunity for multiple “correct” responses. In addition, while a response to Q1 leads only to a “Right” or “Wrong” teacher reply, Q2 and Q3 lead to follow-up teacher queries along the lines of, “Explain how the endings are similar” and “Tell us more about how your pet problem was like the problem in the story.” While Q1 offers an assessment of appropriate strategy use, Q2 and Q3 offer the opportunity to examine the thinking – the strategy in use – and the opportunity for instruction. Q1 assesses recall; Q2 and Q3 assess a broader understanding and help make children’s thinking visible…. Teacher expertise was the key, not a scripted, teacher-proof, instructional product.

Charlotte Mason’s narration approach would definitely fit this model.  She also says:
There is much difference between intelligent reading, which the pupil should do in silence, and a mere parrot-like cramming up of contents; and it is not a bad test of education to be able to give the points of a description, the sequence of a series of incidents, the links in a chain of argument, correctly, after a single careful reading. This is a power which a barrister, a publisher, a scholar, labours to acquire; and it is a power which children can acquire with great ease, and once acquired, the gulf is bridged which divides the reading from the non-reading community.
Other Ways of using Books.––But this is only one way to use books: others are to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyse a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series; to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause; to discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact; to get lessons of life and conduct, or the living knowledge which makes for science, out of books; all this is possible for school boys and girls, and until they have begun to use books for themselves in such ways, they can hardly be said to have begun their education.
The Teacher’s Part.––The teacher’s part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils’
vol 3 pg 181
mental activity. Let marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence. Let numbers, letters, underlining be used to help the eye and to save the needless fag of writing abstracts. Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself.
Disciplinary Devices must not come between Children and the Soul of the Book.––These few hints by no means cover the disciplinary uses of a good school-book; but let us be careful that our disciplinary devices, and our mechanical devices to secure and tabulate the substance of knowledge, do not come between the children and that which is the soul of the book, the living thought it contains. Science is doing so much for us in these days, nature is drawing so close to us, art is unfolding so much meaning to us, the world is becoming so rich for us, that we are a little in danger of neglecting the art of deriving sustenance from books. Let us not in such wise impoverish our lives and the lives of our children; for, to quote the golden words of Milton: “Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was, whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. As good almost kill a man, as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a good reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself––kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.”
 The focus on the student's personal observations found in the best classrooms was not limited to the books the students read in reading classThere were other projects and work the students did in these classrooms that were somewhat open-ended, dependent on student's personal, unscripted observations, and sharing them.:
The work these children in these classrooms completed was more substantive, more challenging, and required more self-regulation than the work that has been more commonly observed in elementary classrooms. We observed far less of the low-level worksheet-type tasks and a greater reliance on more complex tasks across the school day and across subject matter. Perhaps because of the nature of this work, students seemed more often engaged and less often off-task than other researchers reported.
Relatedly, the tasks assigned often involved choice – student choice. We described the instructional environment as one of “managed choice.” Students did not have an unlimited range of task or topic choices, but it was less common to find every students doing the same task and more common to observe students working on similar but different tasks. For instance, in a fourth-grade unit on insects, each child caught and brought that insect to class. They then sketched the insect using magnifying glasses to discover detail. These sketches were then labeled for body parts (thorax, abdomen, antennae, etc.). Students also observed the insect in its natural environment and jotted field notes about observed behaviors and habits. They wrote a short description based on these notes and constructed a model of the insect from craft materials. Finally, they presented their insect to classmates and then posted their sketches, models, and descriptions on the classroom wall where classmates could review and study the insect projects.
Science in Miss Mason’s classrooms was always focused on personal observations, field notes in their own lab books, and writing about their findings.  In a Charlotte Mason school, either at home or in a larger classroom setting, children are also working on timelines, century books, common-place books, long form narrations in writing, maps and other forms of 'keeping' that are their own. They have a loose framework (a century chart or book), but goes in it and how the book is organized is their own.
If you are educating with this focus on observational learning, reading rich material, and learning to communicate about it beyond a page of worksheet questions, children will tend to test well without any ‘teaching to the test’ lessons.  Allington says:
I must also note that we observed almost no test-preparation activity in these classrooms. None of the teachers relied on the increasingly popular commercial test preparation materials (e.g., workbooks, software). Instead, these teachers believed that good instruction, rich instruction, would lead to enhanced test performances. The data bore out their beliefs. It was in the less-effective teachers’ classrooms that we observed as part of our sub-study that we found much test preparation activity. It seems that less-effective teachers truly don’t know what to do and, as a result, drift towards the use of packaged test-preparation activities in the hopes that such activities will make up for less-effective teaching throughout the year.

Allington concludes:
In the end, enhanced reading proficiency rests largely on the capacity of classroom teachers to provide expert, exemplary reading instruction. Our study of these exemplary teachers suggests that such teaching cannot be packaged. Exemplary teaching is responsive to children’s needs not regurgitation of a common script. In the end, it will become clearer that there are no “proven programs,” just schools where we find more expert teachers – teachers who need no script to tell them what to do. The question for the education profession – teachers, principals, professors, and policy makers – is: Are we creating schools where every year every teacher becomes more expert?

I would suggest that this description of being responsive to children’s needs is the description of a homeschooling parent.

*Edward S. Gould attempted to created an abridgment of Alison’s multivolumed history, and in the preface to one volume he wrote this description:
Alison’s History or Europe is the most voluminous work of the day; it employed its author twenty eight years in study and composition, it contains more than double the reading matter of Scott’s Napoleon,  occupies ten large octavos and fills between eight and nine thousand pages:  such a work- at whatever price it may be published- is sealed to the general reader as well as to colleges, academies, and other seminaries of learning. The editor of this volume has therefore undertaken to place before his countrymen, within a compass that all may have leisure to read and means to purchase, a condensed account of that eventful period which Mr Alison styles the era of Napoleon.
You may read this at Google books.  An atlas to accompany the text is also online. It contains nearly 100 maps.

Education for All and other Charlotte Mason Products

Charlotte Mason is a Liberal Arts Education

You either already know, or you have heard, that a Charlotte Mason education includes the idea that education is the science of relations. You may have heard about affinities.  But what does this mean, practically speaking?  Here are some thoughts taken from a Parents' Review article;

we don't train prize pigs
Goal: to give ideas and experiences in as many branches of our relationships as possible. (relationships with the natural world, the technological world, relationships with the story of mankind past and future, and the chief relationship, that with the creator).

This type education is not taught by making it as your goal to teach them 'all about' a country in their geography lessons, for example. Rather, when we study geography, to spark such interest in and curiosity about the places in our reading that they will want to discover more on their own, and they'll look into books of travel, and make plans one day to travel to the place itself, to view its panoramas or take their share in its future destinies.


  • "First.--Proceed from what is known to what is unknown, in other words touch upon old associations with former lessons or experiences before plunging into something fresh.
  • Secondly.--Give simple ideas before complex.
  • Thirdly.--Work from the concrete to the abstract, or don't fly before you can walk.
  • Fourthly.--Illustrations are the hooks which fasten ideas to the mind.
  • Fifthly.--Reproduction is the only proof of retention, therefore narration or recapitulation must form a part of the each lesson.
  • Sixthly.--An idea is valuable in proportion as it enlarges the mental vision, forms the ground-work of a valuable habit, and is simple, clear, definite and suitable to the degree of experience in the pupil.
One other condition will affect our choice of ideas; they must be "interesting" in their nature or in their method of presentation.

This doctrine of interest explains why we should omit dry areas of foreign countries, strings of parliamentary enactments; what is interesting to us and therefore to the children, is the nature of the scenery of a country or the spirit of a bygone age."

"No lesson is valuable which does not promote self-activity by making the child think, exercising its powers of narration or reproduction, or laying the ground-work for some future mental habit, making the idea given a well-spring of activity."

Lap-books, scripted activity books assigned by the teacher, unit studies where the teacher makes the connection and gives the children activities to do- these are not 'self-activities' unless the child seeks them out and plans them himself.

"No, it is the child who has to become accustomed to an idea, or led to discover a fact with as little of the teacher as a middleman, and as much "direct trading" as possible.

Therefore we teachers often have to pass a self-denying ordinance, and instead of showing off to our children how much we know, we take our children to the fountain-heads of knowledge and stand by in "masterly inactivity" which they drink."

Which subjects are chosen, and why:

Bible- for ethics and a closer relationship with their Creator.
"We do not, even for tiny children, advocate "Bible stories," but actual passages from the sacred text, for the wonderful grand old English in which it is written has been more than one great writer's school of language, and will, with necessary explanations, be far more impressive and likely to carry the contained idea, than the paraphrase of some well-meaning but common-place teacher."
(note: there were at least two other more contemporary translations than the KJV available in Miss Mason's time and there were multiple Bible story books available).

     Secular History: to give them heroic ideas, hearts full of brotherly love, patriotism, and the desire to do and be for the good of others!
That the past shall for them be peopled with noble examples, dear friends, and awful warnings--not for nothing did "Boney" take the place of "bogey" in the nursery when Napoleon was devouring the world.
We want the children to learn their history lessons, not "William the Conqueror, 1066," but God's dealings with humanity, the sequence of cause and effect; we want to train their moral judgment, that they may put the motive before the deed, nor dub all men with neat little labels of good or bad.

How: Life stories of the great; readings from original and contemporary or standard and classical sources; select from the best authorities such passages as will most vividly leave with the children the spirit and ideas of the time, not teach naked facts from a miserable text-book.

Century charts- the children fill the small square allowed for each year with little pictures, drawn by themselves, of the events which have struck them most, anecdotes, pictures, connection with places familiar to them, reference to events in their own experience illustrating the same forces at work.

Literature: The dividing line between history and literature is almost imperceptible.
If the child learns his history at first hand from the writings of the times, whether they be the Saxon Chronicles or _With Kitchener to Khartoum_, the phraseology will help him as a model on which to form his own, as well as a key to the spirit of bygone ages.
In studying the masterpieces of literature we do not learn about them in text-books (though we must concede a point by using the invaluable little Stopford Brooke to show us in what constellations the bright peculiar stars shine), but we introduce the children to the first sonnet, or to Malory's _King Arthur_, or Tennyson's _Idylls_.

We choose the children's books, not on the score of "prettiness," but on account of the score of their true literary flavour; _Robinson Crusoe_ and _Don Quixote_ are quite as much literature as Macaulay's _Essays_ or Gibbon's _Decline and Fall_.

We therefore choose sundry really valuable books, which are to be read to or by the children every term, not leaving their literary taste to be formed by the first story-book which catches their fancy.

As we study the history of many nations and of many times, the Hebrew race, the Ancients--Greek and Roman, and the modern peoples of Europe, so we must also study their literature; older pupils will work at the "classics," works crowned by the French Acadamy, the masterpieces of Goethe, etc., in the language in which they were written, while for younger pupils there is the wonderful classical library now published by which we can enjoy Plato, Virgil, Petrach or Racine in our mother-tongue.

Learning to read- Our method for that "battle"--learning to read--is, teach by the eye as well as the ear.
Choose words which convey an interesting idea to the child and he will as readily learn to recognize robin-redbreast, as one-syllable words like "cat."
Then if he knows the sounds, not the names of his letters, he can build up Bobbin, Dobbin, or any number of words from those already familiar, and put the words he already knows into different and yet sensible order, and the sense of power gained will be tremendous!
There will then be (supposing the child to learn to recognize five new words a day, build up others on them, and finally make them up again out of loose letters and put them into sentences of his own) no gap between reading, spelling, and composition, they follow one another in natural and reasonable sequence.
This is followed by grammar, which is also learned contextually at first, rather than through workbooks, through the introduction of names for the ideas with which the child is already familiar- we use words to make sentences and convey thoughts. Sentences which are about nobody or nothing are not sensible and do not convey complete thoughts- and so on (more in volume one)

Foreign Languages- taught by immersion, orally, not through textbooks and worksheets, best learned from a native speaker.
We believe in the necessity of learning as many languages as possible, because we believe in that "open-door" policy, and though a language may not be learned fully during school-days, even a slight familiarity with Italian, for example, may lead to --Dante?
Languages are valuable, not only as an end in themselves,but as tending to give us wider interests and sympathies with our fellow-men, and a more cosmopolitan insight.

Geography: The educational value of geography, both as alone helping us to understand all the intricacies of the former (how Holland's dykes kept her free, and how France had her two languages--the Langue d'oc and the Langue d'ocil) and as enlarging our conception of the wonderful, beautiful world in which we live, and of helping us to understand contemporary issues as well.
Maps should be part of daily life.
Comparison with what they know at home, on a smaller scale, or comprehension by contrast, as for example, "Imagine those green fields to your left reared straight on end, and they would be like the South Downs, etc,"--are valuable as bringing facts, very remote in themselves, within the children's experience. The first beginnings of geography--its foundations will be laid long before the schoolroom days, at home, for geography is essentially a subject which must progress outwards from the circle of the child's experience, he begins by learning to know a hill, a river, a field, a village, and to reproduce them in sand or clay.

Science: "teach the thing before the name."
"Go out," we say, "into the country, learn its sights, its sounds, its smells, learn the flowers by sight and by names, the creatures in their homes and by their customs, the stones of earth by their look and from touch, and the configuration of the country."
Then you will have learnt at first hand from the most wonderful books, and have something to classify and amplify in your later studies.
From their earliest babyhood children can and should be given interests and pursuits, therefore we encourage them to note their observations and to reproduce, however roughly at first, in their nature note-books, the treasures they have found, and above all we want them to have that loving interest in "birds, and beasts, and butterflies" which will teach them that life is a sacred cycle, not be tampered with, so that the protection of an apparently valueless lady-bird means fewer green-fly and therefore more roses and therefore more pleasure in life.

Astronomy (taught by identifying the stars you see in the night sky) should give ideas of awe, wonder, reverence, and our own insignificance. In the same way, in every branch of science the children will be led to see the Creator in the created, to reverence life and enjoy it, and to gain that largeness and sympathy and catholicity of interests, which an open-air life or the love of it seems to bring.

Mathematics.--We turn from the sciences of facts as we see them to the science of facts as they must be.
Truth is the key-note and core of mathematics.
There is no "nearly right" or "probably is so" or "certainly may be" about 2+2=4.
Logic, the putting of two and two mentally and inevitably together, and truth in all her majesty and tidiness are to be the mental acquisitions gained from arithmetic, Euclid and algebra.
How then do we teach them?
Why we try to crystallize the idea of numbers by treating each fresh number that the child learns to count to an analysis comprising the four great processes, for example, 6=5+1, 6+2x3, 6=8-2, 6=3+3, 6=4+2, 6= 12/2, 6=2+2+2, 6÷2=3, etc.
Concrete before abstract
Geometry trains the mind to severe reasoning, the hand to absolute accuracy, and it lies at the root base of many important and honourable professions, which is a real though utilitarian reason why we should teach it.
The child begins to learn geometrical truths when he finds out that the top of the table is a flat thing with edges (a plain surface) and that the parallel hedges of the high road do not meet together in the far distance.
It is on this common and already existing knowledge on which we must base our first lessons on geometrical definitions and axioms.

The recognition of the beautiful and the cultivation of taste are, we hope, to form part of our children's education and character.
It is only what we have truly seen that we can truly reproduce; hence, observation is enormously trained by art-teaching.
We want the children to get form, colour, and gesture, so we sit them down before some flower or object, already interesting to them...

Nature Note-books
But execution is only one side of art, appreciation is the other, and this we try to give the children by putting them in the way of seeing beautiful pictures which convey noble ideas.

Manual Training.--But art is a wide word, covering many fields, of which painting is only one.
The child is only truly educated who can use his hands as truly as his head, for to neglect one part of our being injures the whole, and the learned book-worm who is ignorant of the uses of a screwdriver, also lacks that readiness and resourcefulness, mental neatness and capability, and reverence for labour and its results, which a knowledge of practical matter gives.
Any work which employs the creative instinct to good purpose and produces a reputable and artistic result (not mere exercises which waste the children's time and material for nothing) finds favour with us.
Basket work, wood carving, etc., all so adapted to the children's age and capabilities that they may be able to attain a habit of perfect execution, and that sense of the mastery of our spirits over matter which is surely part of our divine heritage.

Music: Here we plead that children may be taught its wonders and its history from the first, and get idea of key, scale, etc., by ear as well as by mere telling and teaching.

Physical Education: Grace, and health, and development are the children's right, and necessary if they are to have healthy bodies and healthy minds.
We would also have that prompt obedience to command, that quick self-discipline which, when they become habitual, will influence the whole, not merely the physical life.
Swedish drill, military dumb-bell exercises, and the old Greek deftness and grace with the ball, will clear away mental cobwebs by their delightful alertness, and prepare fitting temples for the beauty of character.

However- these are our ideas and goals for educating children.
We don't train "prize pigs," we educate children in keeping what whatever we dimly discern are God's gifts to them of especial environment, circumstances, talents, and disposition.
The personal influence that one good life may have, widening out from generation unto generation, is an inspiration, and if the child in our care will only be what God meant it to be, we shall be amply rewarded.
We cast our bread upon the waters, and often sow in tears of discouragement, but we believe that after many days we shall find it again and return rejoicing.

A Charlotte Mason education is a wide and generous education because we wish to have broad or wide and generous minds. It isn't always easy, especially to those of us who were defrauded of a meaningful education.  It is worth the effort.  The rewards are also wide and generous.
Take heart.  You can do what you need to do.  This will not look like exactly what I did, or precisely the same as that person with the lovely pinterest board or the perfect nature study book. It will look like it ought to look for your family. Start with the principles and build from their. Practices are useful, but they will vary.

Adapted from and often quoted directly from this 1899 article of the Parents' Review.    Since it was 1899, the nationalistic fervor was a bit strong for my tastes, as was the optimistic view of the messianic nature of education.  WW1 would later put that optimistic spirit to shame and even break its heart and shatter its hopes.

Next (soon to come)