Allegory of Justice, by Giotto

justice by giotto

from the Library of Great Masters, Giotto; Scala/Riverside, page 52
“The inclusion of the Seven Virtues and Seven Vices in the chapel decoration was in accordance with the didactic programme of many thirteenth and fourteenth-century decorative schemes….”

According to the book, the vices and virtues are more prosaic (practical, down to earth) than the life of Christ scenes in the other frescoes in the same chapel, and some have supposed that Giotto didn’t actually do them because of the difference in tone. The author disagrees. The author says that since the vices and virtues were put in contemporary clothing rather than historical, Giotto meant to make them more, oh, everyday, normal- to hit home as applying specifically to the lives of the folks actually visiting the chapel.
He also says that Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescoes of the 14th century (The Good and Bad Government cycle in particular) have been anticipated by Giotto’s work here, especially in the ‘fictive bas-relief on Justices throne, where the horesmen on the sides and especially the dancers in the centre anticipate features of Lorenzetti’s frescoes.’
Justice and Injustice are bigger than the rest and occupy the central postion- they are both rulers, one wearing a roal crown, the other represented as a tyrant, and “their roles as symbols of good and bad government respectively is indicated by the small reliefs on their thrones.”

So I would guess that the smaller figures are showing the results of good or bad government- Under a just system of government, the people prosper, they live unmolested lives, they grow their crops on their own property, are protected from evil doers, etc, etc.

Under an unjust government, weeds flourish, the innocent suffer, etc.

Well, yes- as he says here:

“Justice is shown as the personification of prosperity, while the tyrant Injustice occupies a crumbling turreted throne.”

Heady stuff. I am reminded of the use of the words Justice and Liberty in the Preamble to the American Constitution, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish _Justice_, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

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Poetry Quote for the Commonplace Book

“Grand indeed has been the function of poetry, as one of the prime factors in promoting human progress, quickening the springs of faith and love, cherishing in the human soul the love of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True; uplifting it to higher and holier aspirations by the creation of ideals transcending our ordinary experience, and keeping alive the sacred fire of enthusiasm, without which the spirit is apt to droop under the deadening influence of custom and routine.”

Poets, Interpreters of Their Age


commonplace book anna swanwick


April is poetry month.=)

You may also enjoy Poetry With Your Little Savages

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In Which the DHM Kicks Herself For Not Practicing What She’s Preached

This is probably too many books to read in a semester.

This is probably too many books to read in a semester.

I have blogged about this before, CM and Slow Reading, quoted Miss Mason: “Novels are our lesson books only so far as we give thoughtful, considerate reading to such novels as are also literature.”

I’ve written about the slow-reading movement, quoted Lindsay Waters:

…slowing down can produce a deeply profound quiet that can overwhelm your soul, and in that quiet you can lose yourself in thought for an immeasurable moment of time.

The issue is more than just savoring literary experience. I am suggesting that there is more than meets the eye in reading, literally. If we attend to the time of reading, we might notice that our relationship to a literary work changes over time. One consequence is that we begin to be charitable to “bad” readers, whether they are our students, our acquaintances, or our former selves. Most important, though, we learn to drop the idea that we can neatly distinguish good from bad reading because we realize that, at some time in the past, we were not up to reading a particular work. Or perhaps we see that while we missed a great deal, we did respond strongly to parts of the work. It begins to make sense, then, to track our career with a certain work, in order to open it up as literature.

I have even actually gone through this before:

When we first started reading our school books more slowly, we didn’t like it. We were impatient. We wanted to finish. And I couldn’t see a good reason not to go right ahead and gulp through the pages lickety split. But a good friend and very smart lady really encouraged me to give it a try. She suggested picking two books and reading through one at the faster pace and reading through the second slowly and steadily . Then, wait about a month after the books are finished and try to narrate them.

We found that the longer readings gave our children more time to process what they read, to think about it, to ask themselves questions about what was happening and why and what might happen next. Stopping the book before she was through, actually made the reader hungry for more, rather than sated. In that state of being hungry for more, the children couldn’t stop thinking about their books and thus they processed even more information than I had thought possible.


Readers:  I am a hypocrite.

Because of various things, not the least of which is all the PTSD garbage the last few years, I feel like I let our homeschooling car run out of gas, let my son fall behind, and now I am trying to play catch up.  Apparently, I am trying to put rocket fuel in a fine classic Ford.  Another analogy might be I’m treating his mind like he’s my little duck and I’m force feeding him to turn him into a tasty bit of foie gras.  Another analogy would be that I’ve shoved a fire hose down his throat and told him to drink.

He’s missed things.  I am not just vaguely worried about that, I know this for a fact (and it’s my fault).  My idea of catching up has been to tie him to the back bumper of the pick up truck while I rev up the engine and drive around the football field telling him to do laps behind me and keep up.  He’s not building muscle that way, he’s burning through tissue and skidding through the gravel on his face.

I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I have told somebody, “The goal is not to get the children through the books, it’s to get the books through the children.”

Sometimes I wish I listened to myself better.  Am I the only one who forgets to take my own advice?

This last week I took a few books off his schedule.  I cut back on the daily reading requirement in some other books.  I now accept that he may not finish all three volumes of Gilbert’s full length, uncondensed History of the 20th century before he graduates (over 900 pages just for 1900-1933, or Vol. 1) after all.  I replaced a couple really long books with some shorter books. The topics are roughly similar but not remotely identical.  For instance, I put away a ridiculously long biography of Kitchener and replaced it with an easier but far more engaging and doable biography of Edith Cavell- one that I loved so much I found I owned three copies! (Edith Cavell: Heroic Nurse).  Both World War 1, one a military leader who was not universally admired, one a noncombatinent woman with a heart of service who was universally admired.

In trying so hard to get the Boy through the books instead of the books into the Boy, I’d let things like drawing, handiwork, and even nature study drop off the schedule.  I put them back in, placing them deliberately between two similar topics so his brain had time to change activities, rest a bit, before diving back into the books.

I still need to cut back some more things.  But there was, I kid you not, an immediate change.  His narrations are clearer, less perfunctory.  Best of all, he narrates like he’s interested in what he’s reading again- oh, not in every case. As an adult, he will probably vote to get rid of the electoral college solely because he now has an abiding hatred of it just because a book about it is in his schedule.   But in many cases, his narrations clearly show that he’s thinking about what he’s reading rather than thinking about what’s the least he can say to fob me off- because he now has more time to think about what he’s reading.  He stops ‘narrating’ to talk to me about a brave German soldier he read about, to ask me what President Wilson was playing at, anyway, and to say things like, “Think about it, Mom.  Imagine that you were a soldier in WWI….” and then he describes conditions in a way that makes it clear to me the shorter reading has given him time to connect, to relate, to build a relationship with those foot soldiers in the trenches.

How many of us graduate from school without remembering a thing? I can remember cramming really, really hard, pulling a very long allnighter for a western civ class once. I mean, I did this sort of stupid thing more than once, but this particular time, I pretty much did not crack my textbook until 36 hours before the test. I chewed No-doz (caffeine pills) like candy and stayed up reading feverishly, rereading, underlining, muttering under my breath, holed up in my room like a crazy chica (crazier than usual) for at least 36 hours. I went to take the test with my hair still wet from dunking it in a sink of ice water. I had a bizarre hallucination as I took that test. I could actually *see* the words I was writing flowing through my veins, down my arms, out from my fingers and by osmosis, through my pen, and then they became the inky answers on my test paper.

The thing is, as the answers flowed out of my brain, into my pen, and onto my paper, I also felt them literally (and I know how to use this word) leaving my head, forever.
When I walked out of the classroom a friendly upperclassman who’d watched my insane no-doz chomping met me at the door. “Did you study well?” he asked. “what were the questions?” I looked at him and gaped like a guppy. I had no idea. I knew I had taken the test, but it felt like a weird dream. I couldn’t think of a single question I’d been asked nor a single answer I’d given. My friend looked at me and helped me back to the dorm, where I staggered into my room and collapsed on my bed for about another 24 hours. Fortunately, it’d been my last class.
I got an A.
But I learned nothing. It did my mind no good (through my own fault, at least- my son’s schedule isn’t his choosing, it’s mine).

If I had done as most of my classmates did and spread that book out over the full semester, I would still own the material I had studied. The text was actually pretty decent for a textbook. Our professor was incredibly knowledgable and he loved his subject. I could have taken my time, like everybody else, and the ideas in that book would have slowly worked their way through my mind. It would be mine. It’s a legacy I sold for the pottage of hot dates, television, and hanging out with friends because I knew that instead of letting the book go through me, I could burn through the book in a day or two and get an A. I cared about the grade, not the knowledge.  I was missing the point of education.

The question is not, how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? [School Education. Vol. 3, p. 170]

I know this. I know it first hand from my own reading. I know it second hand from watching and teaching my older children. I know it through study, reading Miss Mason’s books and reading the experiences of other parents and students. Do you know how many times I’ve said this? Written it? nagged people about it? Corrected people by using that quote?

That woman in the corner with the paper bag over her head moaning “When will I learn?  What I was thinking?  How could I have been so stupid?

I think we all know who she is, but let’s not name and shame her.

Okay, let’s shame her a little bit.
Mea culpa.

When the guilt-fest is over, I’ll be back at the schedule, paring it down so I’m returning to my last student the time he needs to care and more important things to care about than checking off these books on his schedule.

Further reading- Brandy at Afterthoughts has some truly helpful thoughts to share on this.

BTW- the picture of the books you see at the top of the post, of course that is an exaggeration.  His books for this term would only fill one of those bookcases.

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Liberal Arts Education: Not for Prize Pigs

we don't train prize pigsGoal: 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).

     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+2×3, 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 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.


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.

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Minimum Wage Hike

Seattle businesses are closing, particularly restaurants, in the wake of the mandate to raise minimum wages to $15/hour.

There are a couple things people who do not write paychecks do not understand. The employer isn’t just paying that fifteen dollars an hour- he has other expenses tied to the hourly wage- unemployment insurance, some payroll taxes, worker’s comp, and the employer’s portion of your social security taxes all are based on wages. So it wasn’t just a simply dollar for dollar raise. In Seattle, the taxes employers have to pay are such that it costs them closer to $22.00 an hour to pay their workers $15.00 an hour.

The profit margin on most food industries- groceries, most restaurants- is not as large as people imagine.

If you read the article, you see that many employees have little perks- like free parking, free or discounted meals, free use of some work services or amenities, that businesses can no longer afford to extend when they have to raise payroll.

There’s something about the arguments over minimum wage that I don’t understand. Whenever I read the comments to those articles, there are always several people saying they don’t mind paying extra for restaurant meals if that means the employees are getting paid more. There’s a lot of nonsense packed into that claim.
For one thing, the implication is simply that they are better than everybody else because they say this.
There’s also an implication that because they say they wouldn’t mind, then somehow that shows that the projected cost of raised wages will be ameliorated by all those mythical people who won’t mind.

How do I know they are mythical? Those people who say they wouldn’t mind paying more at all, in fact they’d love to- what’s stopping them. We live in a tipping for service country. When you go out to eat, you can tip your server double the price of your meal if you want to. You can put some in an envelope and send it back to the cook and kitchen staff if you like. If you really think it’s so reasonable- go ahead and start now.

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Poetry and Poets

In the last day or two while browsing, rabbit trailing, writing, and musing, I stumbled across a book of Victoriana ode to poetry that is delighting me as I work through it. It touches on several of my interests- poetry, history, Victorian women writers, people who knew Charlotte Mason, and obscure, long out of print books. So I am having fun.

I want to share some of it with you, but since not everybody will share my delight in the more prosy, Victorianish musings, I’ll start with this paragraph on the value of reading poets of the ages past, because while the rest may be primarily of interest to those who love Victorianan prosiness and shifting cultural norms,  I think there’s much in this paragraph of current interest and use to homeschooling moms and others.

A Charlotte Mason education includes much reading of poetry- where possible, the poetry current with the historical age being studied, and this paragraph explains the thinking behind that:

“Inhaling the atmosphere of their age, while breathing forth, in strains of impassioned music, their inmost thoughts and feelings, the immortal poets of our race have unconsciously reflected in their works the tendencies, moral and intellectual, of the period in which their lot was cast; in their ideal world we see transfigured the actual world by which they were surrounded, and, while themselves the heirs of the ages which preceded them, they have in turn bequeathed new elements of progress to their successors.”

That reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ essay on reading old books:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny.

They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united – united with each other and against earlier and later ages – by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.

This also reminded me of this injunction from Miss Mason’s volume 1:
Let him, on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age. Let him spend a year of happy intimacy with Alfred, ‘the truth-teller,’ with the Conqueror, with Richard and Saladin, or with Henry V.––Shakespeare’s Henry V.––and his victorious army. Let him know the great people and the common people, the ways of the court and of the crowd. Let him know what other nations were doing while we at home were doing thus and thus. If he come to think that the people of another age were truer, larger-hearted, simpler-minded than ourselves, that the people of some other land were, at one time, at any rate, better than we, why, so much the better for him.”

This is what poetry can do for us, if we let it, if we make it one part of the larger banquet we present to our students.   This is particularly true when reading through those earlier areas when poetry  was a respected art, practiced by man, read by most, recited by nearly all.  I do not think you will ever understand the Victorian era so well if you do not read Tennyson, nor the passions and heart of the American abolitionists if you do not read John Greenleaf Whittier, or the grief and loss of WWI without knowing the war poets, the poems like McCrae’s In Flander’s Field, and Binyon’s ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.’

History and literature speak to both head and heart, poetry to the soul, and you need mind and soul both for the deepest and best education.

So read the poets, who inhaled the atmosphere of their age, and thus, when producing their musical lyrics tfor the world, unconsciously reflected in their works the tendencies, moral and intellectual, of the period in which their lot was cast.

So, here’s the full text of that portion I wanted to share. I have more commentary later- but the grand-babies are here and we are going to the woods.

(Updated: a good time was had by all, commentary now added)


The desire to penetrate to the origin of things would seem, from its universality, to be an instinctive feeling of the human mind. Hence the insatiable desire which prevailed, alike in ancient and in modern times, to penetrate the mystery which shrouded the fountains of the Nile.
Thus we would fain trace to its source the great river of humanity, which had its rise in “the dark backward and abysm of time.” [Shakespeare, Prospero speaking, act 1, scene 2]

Futile, however, is our wish! An impenetrable veil shrouds the origin of man, and conceals from our gaze the progenitors of the human race.[Well.  For some of us, perhaps.]

Science, it is true, promises to gratify our curiosity; She invites us to gaze upon the primordial germ from which, in accordance with her theory, have sprung the various tribes of living things, culminating with the appearance of man upon the globe. Should this theory prove correct, our sense of the mysterious grandeur of the universe, and of the preordaining wisdom of the all- pervading mind, would, in my judgment, be enhanced. [‘interesting that humans remain the center of this universe]

To this question, however, we need not at present address ourselves; history is concerned not with the origin, but with the progress of humanity — a process which, depending as it does upon man’s observance of God’s immutable laws, supreme in the domain of matter and of mind, is necessarily arrested or retarded alike by his ignorance of those laws, and by his wilful violation of them; human progress, nevertheless, notwithstanding periods of apparent retrogression, continues, as our poet tells us, from age to age, its onward march:

Since time means amelioration, tardily enough displayed,
Yet a mainly onward moving, never wholly retrograde.

a truth confirmed by the words of a still greater poet [Shakespeare]:
“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will”
a Divinity whose controlling and superintending power is slowly, but surely, guiding humanity to its destined goal,

“To that far-off divine event,
Toward which the whole creation moves.”

[Tennyson, In Memoriam]

Profound interest attaches to the study of history when viewed as the record of man’s progressive development; grand, however, as are her teachings, as she unrolls ”the bloody chronicles of ages past,” I cannot but regard the teachings of poetry, in this particular, as grander still; during bygone ages the attitude of nation towards nation has been almost invariably one of hostility; — hence, in perusing the records of the past, we are introduced, for the most part, to national rivalries and antipathies, culminating too often in oppression and war. The darker aspects of national character, together with the utter disregard of morality displayed in international relations, being thus brought into prominent relief, it is not always easy, amid the tumult of conflicting interests, to trace the progress of humanity. [editor: perhaps because the hypothesis that humanity was progressing was mistook in its apprehension of human nature]
It has occurred to me that in wending our way through the tangled labyrinth of human affairs, we shall find a surer guide in Poetry, which, like a golden thread traversing the ages, bears witness to the continuity of culture, and binds together the present and the past.
Nor must it be forgotten that, when authentic history fails us, it is to poetry that we are indebted for revealing to us the progenitors of our race, in far-off times, laying the foundations of our modern civilization. Hence the supreme interest which attaches to the poetic literature of the ancient Egyptians; also to the epic and lyrical poetry contained in the Sacred Books of Babylonia, and to the Vedic Hymns, the earliest record of Aryan thought which has come down to us.
Still deeper is the interest awakened by the Homeric poems, in which the prehistoric Hellenes are brought vividly before us; nor must it be forgotten that the key to the Homeric mythology is to be found in the poetry of Babylonian and of Vedic bards.
Inhaling the atmosphere of their age, while breathing forth, in strains of impassioned music, their inmost thoughts and feelings, the immortal poets of our race have unconsciously reflected in their works the tendencies, moral and intellectual, of the period in which their lot was cast; in their ideal world we see transfigured the actual world by which they were surrounded, and, while themselves the heirs of the ages which preceded them, they have in turn bequeathed new elements of progress to their successors.
Accordingly, it will be my object to consider the great masters of song not only in relation to their special function as “God’s prophets of the beautiful,” but also as revealing, from age to age, the successive stages reached by humanity on its onward march, together with its occasional periods of degradation and apparent retrogression.
Grand indeed has been the function of poetry, as one of the prime factors m promoting human progress, quickening the springs of faith and love, cherishing in the human soul the love of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True; uplifting it to higher and holier aspirations by the creation of ideals transcending our ordinary experience, and keeping alive the sacred fire of enthusiasm, without which the spirit is apt to droop under the deadening influence of custom and routine.
” Nor must it be forgotten that when, by the strong sway of the imagination, we are transported by the poet ‘ ‘mid Nature’s old felicities,’ we are not merely brought face to face with the mystic characters traced by the divine hand on the walls of this fair universe, we are also privileged to hear the voice of the Hierophant interpreting their hidden meaning, and translating the teachings of Nature into the low, sweet music of humanity.”
”A great poem,” it has been truly said ” is a fountain forever overflowing with the waters of wisdom and delight, and after one person and one age has exhausted its divine effluence, which their peculiar relations enable them to share, another and yet another succeeds, and new relations are ever developed, the source of an unforeseen and an unconceived delight.”

Sources (in order, and I’m not done hunting references):
Browning, La Saisiaz

Hamlet, act 2, Scene 5, Horatio speaking

That quote is also in the Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress, above the figure of history.

In Memoriam by Tennyson
That was a more frustrating search than expected. She quoted two lines of the poem but doesn’t attribute them (because *EVERYBODY* would know who said that).   I couldn’t find those two lines anywhere as is, because she changed one word.  Then I found it attributed dozens of times to James Russell Lowell (all by sites with American Presbyterian connections, so I suspected it started with one influential Presby Preacher, and devolved from there.
Prophecy of Dante, Lord Byron, this stanza:
” The World hath left me, what it found me, pure,
And if I have not gathered yet its praise,
I sought it not by any baser lure;
Man wrongs, and Time avenges, and my name
May form a monument not all obscure,
Though such was not my Ambition’s end or aim,
To add to the vain-glorious list of those
Who dabble in the pettiness of fame,
And make men’s fickle breath the wind that blows
Their sail, and deem it glory to be classed
With conquerors, and Virtue’s other foes,
In bloody chronicles of ages past.”
Elizabeth Barret Browning, A Vision of Poets,   this stanza from the much longer poem:
God’s prophets of the Beautiful
These poets were; of iron rule,
The rugged cilix, serge of wool.Here Homer, with a broad suspense
Of thunderous brows, and lips intense
Of garrulous god-innocence.
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PTSD Update, of sorts

I haven’t posted on this, because there’s not a lot to say.  I’m not moving backward.  But mostly, I feel like I’m just jogging in place.

Under water.

About 5′ and 6″ under water.

I’m 5′ 5″

I can keep my nose up for a while, but it doesn’t take much to push me back under the water.


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Composition, IV

composition cm style square IVThere’s a lot of material below, fleshing out the items I put in this handy printable chart you can save and keep in your own notebook, or post to the fridge.  To print, click on the picture to enlarge. Set your printer orientation to landscape, and this is important, set the margins to .25. Early composition skills Charlotte Mason up to age 10For further explanation, fleshing out, quotes that support the above practices, and rabbit trails, read on, knowing that as long as it is, it’s still not comprehensive:

skills and background for composition

“Composition” is not taught as a separate subject for many years with the Charlotte Mason approach, but when the children finally are assigned ‘composition’ as a topic, they are not coming to it raw, with no background preparation.  The skills and background experiences children will use for later compositions are woven throughout their activities and reading in their younger years.  Unless the child has a neurological or physical complication, you do not approach good health with the normal five year old by saying, “Okay, junior, today we will work on building up your abs.” You just encourage a wide range of healthy physical play. And that’s the approach Miss Mason takes to writing.  She doesn’t isolate skills and work on them outside of any meaningful context.  she’s speaking of something else when she says not to exhaust them and tire their brains by giving them the wrong kind of work, “the sort of work for which the present state of his mental development does not fit him,” but I think it applies very well to grammar and punctuation lessons for children this young.

The children spend years learning all about language, written and spoken, through immersion.  Later they’ll be able apply what they have learned and work individually in any areas where they need extra help.

Rabbit Trail for those with special needs of all sorts:  Now, if there is a special issue- I have a daughter and a grandson who both required physical therapy, then you focus more narrowly and specifically on those weaker areas.  Therapies for my grandson did focus specifically on developing and strengthening his core.  Therapies for my daughter focused on many areas, but particularly on her propriocentic sense.  I’m not going to spend any more time on this in this post, although I may come back to it later.  I just want to mention this for those who are discouraged by what they’ve heard of Miss Mason’s methods because for whatever reason their children didn’t get or cannot get all this fabulous background, foundation work in.  Maybe you adopted a child who lived in a horrible orphanage until ten.  Maybe your child was in the hospital for most of his first year (or more) and didn’t get to feel a breeze against his cheek until two.  Maybe he has sensory issues and refused to play in the sand- there are many many reasons why your child could not get the early foundation or can’t incorporate the current age appropriate Charlotte Mason ideas.  You will have to do some work arounds, some replacements, some ‘ok, instead of that, this’.  What they need to be will vary based on your child’s needs, your circumstances, and your family’s situation.  I just want you to know one thing: That’s okay.  just do what you can do, what you need to do, and do not beat yourself up.

Back to our previously scheduled point (yes, I really do talk all over the map like this in person, too)- Composition, creative writing, language arts, grammar,  these are not  isolated, separate subject in the early years.  All the skills, information, background, experiences, and a lot of the knowledge that your child will later need for composition are parts of the whole, and we do not focus on parts yet, but on wholes.

We read previously that Miss Mason’s approach to composition rests on the truth that good writers are made of people who have a wide knowledge, and the underlying experiences necessary to make use of that wide knowledge. So for the first six years, the child has what Miss Mason called ‘the storing time,’ where he builds up images, ideas, and experiences with as much of the real world (not the world on screen) as you can get him.

Here are some other elements of Miss Mason’s philosophy that will contribute toward good writing later-

read aloud poetry charlotte mason

Poetry: “it is well to store a child’s memory with a good deal of poetry, learnt without labour. ” vol. 1, page 224, and for tips on how to do this, see that and the following pages of volume 1.

Beginning around age 8 or 9, children should also be reading aloud:

“a good deal of poetry, to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour; and that a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said, with a certain roundness of tone and precision of utterance. “

This attitude toward words also marks a good writer later.

Miss Mason in this section refers to a chat she once had with Anna Swanwick.  Curious about her, I looked her up and found that in her rich and varied life, she also wrote books.  In one of Miss Swanwick’s books, “Poets, Interpreters of Our Age,”  she says that Poetry is:

“…like a golden thread traversing the ages, bears witness to the continuity of culture, and binds together the present and the past.”

So read poetry, lots of poetry, and have the children read it aloud as well. Presumably, you’ve read Mother Goose repeatedly, played with the rhymes, and you and your children can recite most of them aloud without any effort.  Now you move on other poems. AO has collected a helpful group of quotes from Miss Mason and links to other articles on poetry at their website here.

precomposition skill observe the world around them and record it

Nature Diaries.––”As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.” Around five or six they begin to paint pictures of their observations as well. They also keep calendars of ‘firsts,’ watching and keeping records of the ‘firsts’ of each season- first spring flower, first lily, first bluebird, first snow, etc.

How are nature diaries preparation for composition?  They require observation and making notes on paper about those observations.  Children are encouraged to be interested in the world around them, alert to its wonders, and eager to record them. Those are things that make for good writers later.

Books- living books, books with literary power, books that touch mind to mind.

“…let them have tales of the imagination, scenes laid in other lands and other times, heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales in which they are never roughly pulled up by the impossible––even where all is impossible, and they know it, and yet believe.”

precomposition skill oral narrationOral Narration:  in this PR article, Miss Mason wrote:

 “Written composition is not to be begun until the children are in Class III. Concise orderly narrations in clear sentences must be exacted from the first.” Now children have a natural talent for language: by his fourth year many a child has collected an amazingly good vocabulary, and uses his new words with a fitness which amuses his elders; children are very well able to narrate and to narrate well; and to get into the habit of telling a story, giving all the circumstances in due order, adding nothing and omitting nothing,–why, this is a liberal education in itself, quite invaluable in these days, when that of speaking well, and to the point, is of far more use to both men and women than the power of writing equally well. There is a time for all things; there is a season of natural readiness of speech in children which teachers would do well to take at the flood, and not “get them on” to write miserably ill-spelt, ill-written, ill-expressed “compositions.”


In volume 1, we read that these oral narrations are to be given after a single reading.  The reading is to be taken by episode.  Think of the story as a play or a cartoon- which point in the story would indicate the end of one event and the start of the next? This is a good place to stop for a narration.  Never interrupt a narration- the point is for the child to be doing the work of organizing and arranging and reviewing the reading in his head. Don’t interrupt his train of thought.  After the narration, you may offer corrections and discuss the reading more.

Also from volume 1:

Questions on the Subject-Matter––When a child is reading, he should not be teased with questions as to the meaning of what he has read, the signification of this word or that; what is annoying to older people is equally annoying to children. Besides, it is not of the least consequence that they should be able to give the meaning of every word they read. A knowledge of meanings, that is, an ample and correct vocabulary, is only arrived at in one way––by the habit of reading. A child unconsciously gets the meaning of a new word from the context, if not the first time he meets with it, then the second or the third: but he is on the look-out, and will find out for himself the sense of any expression he does not understand. Direct questions on the subject-matter of what a child has read are always a mistake. Let him narrate what he has read, or some part of it. He enjoys this sort of consecutive reproduction, but abominates every question in the nature of a riddle. If there must be riddles, let it be his to ask and the teacher’s to direct him the answer. Questions that lead to a side issue or to a personal view are allowable because these interest children––’What would you have done in his place?'”

precomposition skill cause and effect

Causes and Comparisons: In those discussions if the children have not drawn these points out for themselves, discuss cause and effect with them- why did he do that?  Why did she think that?  What made that happen?  Do you think if this part of the story had been different, the results would be the same?  Help them make comparisons- does this remind them of another story?  Does this character remind them of anybody from another story? How?  Miss Mason says,

“This is the sort of thing that the children should go through, more or less, in every lesson––a tracing of effect from cause, or of cause from effect; a comparing of things to find out wherein they are alike, and wherein they differ; a conclusion as to causes or consequences from certain premisses.”

This is the sort of writing that college students do.  Miss Mason’s students are working on this kind of thinking long before they can write.

Reading those books for themselves as soon as they are able.  In volume 6, Miss Mason says that her teachers ” find that children who use their books for themselves spell well because they visualise the words they read.”

In volume 1, page 227, Miss Mason writes:

The Habit of Reading.––The most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading. Knowledge is conveyed to them by lessons and talk, but the studious habit of using books as a means of interest and delight is not acquired. This habit should be begun early; so soon as the child can read at all, he should read for himself, and to himself, history, legends, fairy tales, and other suitable matter. He should be trained from the first to think that one reading of any lesson is enough to enable him to narrate what he has read, and will thus get the habit of slow, careful reading, intelligent even when it is silent, because he reads with an eye to the full meaning of every clause.

Reading with attention: don’t let children develop bad habits of slipshod, sloppy reading, and not paying attention.  One tool to help you instill good habits, to keep their attention fresh, is the short reading, short lesson, and then move on to a different sort of activity.

The power of reading with perfect attention will not be gained by the child who is allowed to moon over his lessons. For this reason, reading lessons must be short; ten minutes or a quarter of an hour of fixed attention is enough for children of the ages we have in view, and a lesson of this length will enable a child to cover two or three pages of his book. The same rule as to the length of a lesson applies to children whose lessons are read to them because they are not yet able to read for themselves.

Thinking, wondering, asking (and answering) the ‘why’ questions: 

 “The child must think, get at the reason why of things for himself, every day of his life, and more each day than the day before. …Let the parent ask ‘Why?’ and the child produce the answer, if he can. After he has turned the matter over and over in his mind, there is no harm in telling him––and he will remember it––the reason why. Every walk should offer some knotty problem for the children to think out––”Why does that leaf float on the water, and this pebble sink?” and so on.”


(v. 1, page 154): “Memory is the storehouse of whatever knowledge we possess; and it is upon the fact of the stores lodged in the memory that we take rank as intelligent beings.”

It is that storehouse of knowledge that the best writers draw from.  One way to strengthen the memory is through Built in review- begin each lesson by asking what ground we covered in the lesson before. I do this by simply asking, “Where were we in this book?”

V. 1, page 158:

Every Lesson must recall the Last.––Let every lesson gain the child’s entire attention, and let each new lesson be so interlaced with the last that the one must recall the other; that again, recalls the one before it, and so on to the beginning.

precomposition skill copywork


Value of Copywork––Children of 7 or 8 should be copying beautiful passages word by word, not taking dictation or copying lists of spelling or vocabulary words out of context.  They should take their time and make sure the writing style is the best they can do.

Copywork is their introduction to spelling. Children should be copying word by word, not letter by letter.  One way to do this is to have them cover their copywork source with paper while they write one entire word, uncover it to check again, then cover it and write the next word. If you have children who need to move a lot, put the text they are to copy in the next room, and let them get up and down to go from source to their own paper.

Children should Transcribe favourite 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 verses, should give them pleasure.

Check their work and correct as needed.  Copywork is also, along with much reading on their own, an early introduction to punctuation, capitalization, and other mechanical rules of writing.

Studied Dictation: According to volume 1, this begins with a paragraph at a time around age 8 or 9, depending on their facility with a pencil.  I think in later books this age was moved to 10.  Whenever a child begins studied dictation, he begins with only a paragraph.

When I was a girl, our dictation lessons were sprung on us cold- we may have studied the spelling or grammar rules previously, but the passage was new to us.  With Charlotte Mason’s method, the child is given the paragraph to be narrated first, and he goes over it himself, reading it for understanding, looking carefully at the words to be sure he can spell them.  If there are any he has trouble with, you might write them on a white board or a piece of paper for him to study until he thinks he can see the word when his eyes are closed.  Then you dictate, clause by clause, and he writes.

Miss Mason explains:

‘Composition’ comes by Nature.––In fact, lessons on ‘composition’ should follow the model of that famous essay on “Snakes in Ireland”––”There are none.” For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know. Before they are ten, children who have been in the habit of using books will write good, vigorous English with ease and freedom; that is, if they have not been hampered by instructions. It is well for them not even to learn rules for the placing of full stops and capitals until they notice how these things occur in their books. Our business is to provide children with material in their lessons, and leave the handling of such material to themselves. If we would believe it, composition is as natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books. They should narrate in the first place, and they will compose, later readily enough; but they should not be taught ‘composition.’

So composition is not taught as a subject, but children learn the skills they will later need for composition through their personal observations, wide experience, reading in good books, oral narrations, nature notebooks, poetry, and the discussions of cause and effect they have with their parents.  Beware, though, of thinking of these things as means to an end. They are not pills you take for the benefit of the little learning vitamins stuffed inside them.  They are whole foods, appealing and beneficial on their own merits.  Just as the best nutrition comes from well prepared, variety of delicious whole foods rather than  a regime of pills, the best education comes from the banquet table of a wide and generous education for all.


wide and generous education


Part I is here
Part II

Part III

Part IV (the current post)

Next week- age 12 and up

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More Charlotte Mason Bookmarks

Charlotte Mason quote  bookmarks vintage girl reading book

charlotte Mason bookmarks medieval boy


Other Charlotte Mason Bookmarks posted:

two sets, one with a picture of a reading boy in medieval costume, one with an Edwardian era schoolgirl reading a book. Quotes on books and ideas.(this one)

Two sets- a blank template to add your own quote, and a set of four, each with a different CM quote.

The first set, vintage illustration of books with art deco vines, and the quote about educating children on living books.


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Charlotte Mason Composition Method, Part III

Composition Part IIIFirst, an apology- I promised to have this done yesterday, and I actually did. Only when I hit publish, wordpress asked ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ and then decided for me that I didn’t, and half my work disappeared. That was discouraging- I’d spent several hours on it and didn’t want to do it all over again, and so I pouted, smacked my head, visited with family, and watched a K-Drama instead.

I’ve come back and rewritten, but I have a feeling the post WP ate was better, but that’s always the way with the posts that get away, isn’t it? They are bigger and better than the ones in hand.

Part I is here
Part II

Part III (the current post)

Part IV

Here’s the post where I will start really breaking it down piece by piece- beginning with the foundation laid from birth to six, whether there is almost no written work at all, and such paperwork as there is doesn’t begin until six.

Her composition and language arts program really begins back in babyhood, when you play with the baby, spend lots of time outside, sing songs, tell and listen to nursery rhymes and listen to stories.  The nursery rhymes and songs give children early experiences in the flow and rhythm of language.  They allow children to play with words, to connect language play with delight.  They are early helps for reading, since children will become familiar with word families through the rhymes of Mother Goose long before they ever need to know what word families are.

A lot of other things are happening in the first six years, it’s just that none of them are formal schooling, nor do they look much like what nowadays we call ‘preschool readiness.’   There’s a lot of outdoor play and indoor play with real things- mud, sticks, puddles, sand, rocks, shells, flowers, grass trees, running, jumping, climbing- and more.  This is because:

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…Now is the storing time which should be spent in laying up images of things familiar. By-and-by he will have to conceive of things he has never seen: how can he do it except by comparison with things he has seen and knows? By-and-by he will be called upon to reflect, understand, reason; what material will he have, unless he has a magazine of facts to go upon? The child who has been made to observe how high in the heavens the sun is at noon on a summer’s day, how low at noon on a day in mid-winter, is able to conceive of the great heat of the tropics under a vertical sun, and to understand the climate of a place depends greatly upon the mean height the sun reaches above the horizon.

The first six year they are developing relationships, and the rest of their lives they will be building on those early experiences, making connections, expanding and deepening their knowledge- and writing about it.  But they cannot write until they have many, many connections made, and in the early years they still have:

“many relations waiting to be established; relations with places far and near, with the wide universe, with the past of history, with the social economics of the present, with the earth they live on and all its delightful progeny of beast and bird, plant and tree; with the sweet human affinities they entered into at birth; with their own country and other countries, and, above all, with that most sublime of human relationships–their relation to God.” (Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series, Volume 6, pp. 72-73)

In volume 1 she says:

“(a) That the knowledge most valuable to the child is that which he gets with his own eyes and ears and fingers (under direction) in the open air.

(b) That the claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.

(c) That the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes––moor or meadow, park, common, or shore––where he may find new things to examine, and so add to his store of real knowledge. That the child’s observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis of scientific knowledge.”

On page 244 of volume 1, she makes the connection between these early years and later composition even more clear.  She calls it ‘futile’ to demand ‘original’ compositions from school children (remember, volume 1 addresses the education of children 9 and under), because:

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Click to enlarge

“The proper function of the mind of the young scholar is to collect material for the generalisations of after-life.”

These early years are time for the children to build up physical, first hand experiences and memories. The less screen time the better, and I’m not saying that because I’m a Luddite. I’m saying that because every minute a child is playing with a screen is a minute he’s not playing with real rocks, stones, water, dirt, leaves, pinecones, trees- he’s not experiencing the real nature of gravity, of water flowing, erosion, he’s not using his senses of smell, touch (yes, he’s touching the screen, but it is not the same), taste, his sense of his body and where it is and what it can do. This is his sense of proprioception, and it’s developed through physical activities like swinging, sliding, swimming, spinning, running- and falling. Miss Mason may not have known the term, but she surely understood the importance of the skill as well as how it was developed.

In fact, it’s hard not be awe-struck when I read volume 1 and then compare it with some modern research on brain development- for instance:

It turns out that our brains are actually wired for throwing things and, like muscles, if you don’t use parts of your brain, they tend to atrophy over time. But when you exercise them, any given muscle adds strength to the whole system and that applies to your brain too. So practicing throwing things has been shown to stimulate the frontal and parietal lobes, which have to do with visual acuity, 3D understanding, and structural problem solving, so it gives a sense — it helps develop their visualization skills and their predictive ability. And throwing is a combination of analytical and physical skill, so it’s very good for that kind of whole-body training. These kinds of target-based practice also helps kids develop attention and concentration skills. So those are great.”

Not only are they developing attention and concentration skills.  Education is the science of relations. We write best about what we know. The more physical relations the children have with the real world in their daybreak period, the more connections they are making, the more they have to build on later. All this out of door play also gives them things to talk about, to describe- and again, through all their senses, not just through the sight and sound of a one dimensional electronic screen.

To write well, one needs a facile gift with words, which begins with the nursery rhymes and songs.  In order  to write well one also needs the ability to pay attention to details, and to picture things well in the mind’s eye.  There are several elements of Miss Mason’s approach to the early years which build up both solid visual experiences, and also the ability to recall them later.

One of the games Miss Mason recommends the mother to play with the children on their outdoor excursions is to send the children to go observe a scene- a nearby garden, a cottage, you could even ask them to describe a house they can see from your driveway, and then come back and describe it to the mother.  The mother is to pull out little details- ‘was that on the right side or the left?  Where is the flower bed?’ so the children become more and more accurate in their observations and retellings.

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This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment,––when they ask, ‘What is it?’ and ‘What is it for?’

I’m not exaggering when I tell you that I almost get goosebumps when read over that paragraph and think about how much is packed in it and how much it will help with composition later- skills of observation, expressive language, increasing vocabulary as well as their range of ideas- wow!  And all without a program, without paper, pens, beeps, bells, light, whistles, and flashcards.  Just playing, looking, seeing, and telling.

She called the above game sight seeing, and she calls this one ‘picture painting:’

Get the children to look well at some patch of landscape, and then to shut their eyes and call up the picture before them, if any bit of it is blurred, they had better look again. When they have a perfect image before their eyes, let them say what they see.

She warns that this one is a little more exhausting, so not to overdo it, but:

It is, however, well worth while to give children the habit of getting a bit of landscape by heart in this way, because it is the effort of recalling and reproducing that is fatiguing; while the altogether pleasurable act of seeing, fully and in detail, is likely to be repeated unconsciously until it becomes a habit by the child who is required now and then to reproduce what he sees.

Seeing Fully and in Detail.––At first the children will want a little help in the art of seeing. The mother will say, ‘Look at the reflection of the trees! There might be a wood under the water. What do those standing up leaves remind you of?’ And so on, until the children have noticed the salient points of the scene. She will even herself learn off two or three scenes, and describe them with closed eyes for the children’s amusement; and such little mimics are they, and at the same time so sympathetic, that any graceful fanciful touch which she throws into her descriptions will be reproduced with variations in theirs.

There’s so much more- really, reading all of volume 1 would be a wonderful education for these growing years.  It’s not possible to do these ideas justice in a hundred blog-posts.

In addition to songs, nursery rhymes, time outside, practice ‘sight-seeing,’ and also learning the names of as many of the plants and animals he sees as possible (the most accurate word to choose is a dilemma many a writer faces), there are stories.  However, it’s not all reading picture books.

In addition to gathering experiences from real things in the world, the early years are a time of building up auditory skills and language skills through oral story telling:

“Away with books, and ‘reading to’–for the first five or six years of life. The endless succession of story-books, scenes, shifting like a panorama before the child’s vision, is a mental and moral dissipation; he gets nothing to grow upon, or is allowed no leisure to digest what he gets.” (CM’s OHS, V5, p.216)

It’s the mind’s eye again- tell the children stories so that they do not lose the skill of picturing in their minds what they hear with their ears (or see with their eyes if you use sign-language, which has its own strong cultural tie to story telling).  Tell them Bible stories, a few favorite folk tales (The Little Red Hen, The Teeny Tiny Woman, The Ginger-bread Man, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids), and what Mommy did when she was little (it’s quite popular with some of my grandchildren to hear about when their mommy was naughty and got in trouble).   These oral tales, again, give children a nascent sense of the power of words, of language, of the imagery and flow of story, and they strengthen the children’s ability to picture what they hear, to visualize, an important later skill for reading and learning from books.

Here’s AO’s booklist for the early years- you don’t have to follow it, of course, but it will give you some idea of what standard to look for.

And that’s all before the children are six.

Children tell back naturally, and she encouraged parents to be sympathetic listeners to these spontaneous oral retellings.   She did not want parents to require narrations of stories before six, however, other than the sight-seeing and picture storing exercises.  At around six, more formal narration requests begin, as does some formal paperwork in the form of copywork or transcription.

sixth year children learn to recite describe and tell

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During their sixth year, look at all the ‘telling’ she believed the children should be learning:,

Recite 6 poems and hymns, a psalm, and a parable
Describe the boundaries of their home as well as a body of water within local reach and three different regular walks and views they take.
Tell 9 different stories (they can be short, but must be accurate) from Bible, English, and Roman history.
Identify and describe a dozen local wildflowers and half a dozen trees
Tell 3 stories about their own pets.

That is a oral composition. All of those skills require that children should have heard those stories enough times to retell them, should have seen those things in nature enough times that they can picture them in the mind’s eye and give a clear description of them, can tell stories in something of an organized, orderly fashion. These early years are knitting the bones of early composition skills.

They also begin copywork.  At first, this is simply learning to form and write the letters of the alphabet.  Only after they do that well do the children begin to copy sentences, and then, only short ones, and only well written models of good English (or whatever native language you use), not their own writing, not sentences taken from Dick and Jane.

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…

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 should Transcribe favourite 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 verses, should give them pleasure…. 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.


They begin their reading lessons, and they read their lesson books.  The lesson books, too, contribute both both the knowledge and the interest upon which later writing skills will be built.  That means it’s important to choose the right books.

their lesson books should be written with literary power


but they still do not do formal composition assignments.  Miss Mason says:

‘Composition’ comes by Nature.––In fact, lessons on ‘composition’ should follow the model of that famous essay on “Snakes in Ireland”––”There are none.” For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know. Before they are ten, children who have been in the habit of using books will write good, vigorous English with ease and freedom; that is, if they have not been hampered by instructions. It is well for them not even to learn rules for the placing of full stops and capitals until they notice how these things occur in their books. Our business is to provide children with material in their lessons, and leave the handling of such material to themselves. If we would believe it, composition is as natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books. They should narrate in the first place, and they will compose, later readily enough; but they should not be taught ‘composition.’

I realize there’s an awful lot of material in this post. Ideally, you’d read all of volume one yourself, taking your own notes and/or narrating to yourself. (updated to add- that’s the ideal.  Young moms with many children are excused.  Just do what you can, please, and do not beat yourself up about what you cannot.)

But in the interim, maybe you’ll find this helpful (click to enlarge, set your printer settings to landscape):

Precomposition skills Charlotte Mason


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