A Charlotte Mason Education: Not Just About the Books

Victorian family of homeschoolers

Miss Mason’s educational doctrines, if you will, are based on broad principles and ideas, not just the books themselves. Miss Mason said simply using her books would not produce the results she got, because her method was about more than a booklist. It was about her principles of education.  There are 21 of them, and you can find them in the front of each of six volumes on education.

Most homeschoolers know that Miss Mason advocated the use of real, living books. But what’s really important is how she used those books. So a program or study guide may use the same books, yet still not be compatible with a CM education.

In a CMreading nook education, children need to get at their books themselves. Their minds need to meet the minds of the author. Their thoughts need to be sparked, informed, inspired, by the thoughts of the author.  Yet how many activities, lap book projects, and study guides really help children do this?  Is a crossword puzzle, a wordsearch, or a research project on some loosely connected topic really helping the child get in touch with or understand more deeply the thoughts of the author?  Are the activities suggested designed to bring about a closer connection between the author’s ideas and the mind of the student, or are they about producing a pretty project?

I believe that children can best work out the ideas being presented by the authors of their books when the readers are allowed to get at the books themselves without the interference of activities that really have very little to do with what the author is trying to communicate. Narration is more effective at doing this than all the rabbit trail projects (conceived by some other mind than the author’s) in the world.   Lynn Bruce at AmblesideOnline explains that narration:

“…not only teaches a child to analyze, organize, compose and express great thoughts in the buoyant wake of literary masters, but also reveals how a child makes his own connections, and how forcefully and directly his personality interacts with ideas, particularly those, as Charlotte said, “clothed in literary language.”

The rabbit trails of many study guides make the connections for the child, and often the connections made are often unnatural and forced. A Charlotte Mason education permits the child to develop his own relationship with the material, mind to mind, without the interference of a circus ringleader, giving him a show. A CM education permits a child to develop a relationship with the ideas of the book, to make real, natural connections. Parents can and should serve as mentors and tour guides, sometimes directing their attention to something in the books that they may have missed, but we need not make the connections for the child, and in fact, it is often counterproductive when we do so, and extra projects are generally distracting at best.

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  1. Kara White
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    So, I know that you’ve probably already covered this, so please forgive me. How early do you start narration? Do you ask leading questions first? If so, what questions?

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted February 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      We start narration when we start formal schooling, so roughly, six. I mainly begin with “Tell me something we read about.” If narration is really difficult for a child, I read a sentence, ask her to tell me what I just read, read the next sentence, and so on. I work up to a paragraph, then two, etc. And since we keep these sessions short- about 15 minutes, it doesn’t become too much of a burden.

      If I am reading to more than one child (and I almost always was)- I kept a different colored button or bead in my pocket for each child. I pulled a random bead from my pocket, and that was the child who narrated. When she was done, I put it back in my pocket with the others, and read further, then pulled out a bead adn that child narrated. sometimes that meant that the same child narrated three times in a row. The point was that they all knew they might be called on to narrate at any given time.

      Does that help?

      • Kara White
        Posted February 9, 2013 at 1:06 am | Permalink

        Yes! Thank you. I have read about narration, and it’s one of those things that I wish someone would have made me do. I didn’t have a good picture about how to actually implement it, though. This is very helpful. Short bursts, and keep it from becoming burdensome. Got it.

      • Posted February 9, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        your button tip is a great idea – I”ll be using this with my students. Thank you!

  2. Posted February 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    This is excellent. And I agree. I always loved reading as a kid…and would interact with stories in my own way…but hated all the assignments that went with them as a kid. The questions were often so leading, and I often felt like I was being asked to think something about the book that I didn’t really get from it myself.

    I see my own child, who also loves to read, having these same struggles.

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