Highlights of Charlotte Mason’s Volume 1, Part V- A Variety of Subjects

Several months ago, I started rereading Charlotte Mason’s Home Education, the first volume in her series about education.  I have been recording my observations and points to remember here.  In the last 2 months, we have had Easter, company, birthdays, and illness that have impeded my progress in my reading.  So, finally, I’ve had a chance to read and take notes on the last section of Part V.

In this section, Miss Mason outlines her ideas for a variety of subjects, including Bible, math, geography, history, grammar, French, art, handicrafts, and drills (exercise).

The points that struck me:

The Chief Lessons

1.  Bible Lessons- “Bible lessons should help them realize in early days that the knowledge of God is the principal knowledge, and therefore, that their Bible lessons are their chief lessons.” (p 251)

Miss Mason prescribes a certain method for these chief of lessons: “Read aloud to the children a few verses covering, if possible, an episode.  Read reverently, carefully, and with just expression.” (p 251)  Then, require narration, show pictures and illustrations, and discuss it with them.

Finally, “The learning by heart of Bible passages should begin while the children are quite young… It is a delightful thing to have the memory stored with beautiful, comforting, and inspiring passages, and we cannot tell when and how this manner of seed may spring up, grow, and bear fruit…” (p 253).

A BibleIn our house, we do our Bible lesson first, sometimes with breakfast.  We sing a hymn, practice our memory verse, and listen to a story from the Bible.  I usually read the story from the Bible and use flannelgraph to illustrate it.  Betty Lukens flannelgraph is truly beautiful.  It was hard work to cut out all 600 figures, but it was worth the effort.  My children enjoy playing with it (though I rarely allow them to play with it and I am always around to monitor this play) and there is such a variety of figures and backgrounds that any story can be illustrated.

I agree that memorizing verses should begin quite young.  She recommends 6 or 7, but I have had great success when the children were as young as 2 and 3.  When my oldest two children were that age, we went quite slowly and took 4 or 5 months to memorize Psalm 23.  It started with me reading the first verse a couple of times a day and I used hand motions as I read it.  I encouraged the children to say it with me as soon as they could.  Then we went to the next verse, repeating the previous verse at least once a day.  Eventually, they had all of Psalm 23 memorized and it was adorable.

I agree that memorizing verses stores the memory with ‘beautiful, comforting and inspiring passages’ and verses should be selected with these criteria in mind.  While “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16) it is good to select passages for memorization that either give the mind great ideas and truths about who God is or give the mind good defense against sin and the attacks of the enemy.  This past year, our memory verses have been the kids’ Awana verses, and I am glad that they do a good job of selecting important truths for the children to memorize.

Geo-reflector... the kids love it when we use this in math!

2.  Mathematics– “Of all his early studies, perhaps none is more important to the child as a means of education than that of arithmetic.  …The practical value of arithmetic to persons in every class of life goes without remark. But the use of the study in practical life is the leas of its uses.  The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, intellectual truthfulness it engenders.” (p 253-254)

“Care must be taken to give the child such problems as he can work, but yet which are difficult enough to cause him some little mental effort.” (p 255)

“Arithmetic becomes an elementary mathematical training only in so far as the reason why of every process is clear to the child.” (p 255-256) (emphasis mine)

“Arithmetic is valuable as a means of training children in habits of strict accuracy…” (p 260).

“Let his arithmetic lesson be to the child a daily exercise in clear thinking and rapid, careful execution, and his mental growth will be as obvious as the sprouting of seedlings in the spring.” (p 261)

It is very important to be sure that the daily math work is at the correct level.  It needs to be within reach, and yet challenging enough that it requires hard work.  Too hard, and they give up in frustration.  Too easy, and they never really progress and never develop the habit of putting forth good effort to learn something.  There is great satisfaction to be had when you put forth effort and achieve your goal.

Another important ingredient in math lessons is Miss Mason’s advice to hold short lessons.  Our math lessons are generally 20 minutes long.  This means that the children work hard for 20 minutes and then we do something completely different so as to give that part of their brain a break.  It is like high intensity interval training for the brain.

K is placing the flag sticker on the map of Mexico

3.  Geography & History- “The peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures.” (p 272)

Charlotte Mason encourages teachers not to give to the child to learn dry, boring facts about heights, length, populations or endless names of capital cities, and so on.  Rather, the geography lessons should be interesting.

“We begin to see the lines we must go upon in teaching geography: for educative purposes, the child must learn geography, and in such a way, that his mind shall thereby be stored with ideas, his imagination with images; for practical purposes he must learn such geography only as, the nature of his mind considered, he will able to remember; in other words, he must learn what interests him.”

How to begin with geography lessons?  “In the first place, the child gets his rudimentary notions of geography as he gets his first notions of natural science, in those long hours out of doors…”  (p 273).   Observing a pond can teach about the nature of a lake, watching a stream flow can reveal truths about rivers.

“But let him be at home in any single region; let him see, with the mind’s eye, the people at their work and at their play, the flowers and fruits in their seasons, the beasts, each in its habitat; and let him see all sympathetically, that is, let him follow the adventures of a traveler; and he knows more, is better furnished with ideas, than if he had learnt all the names on all the maps.” (p 275)

This year, we have been spending time reading tales and stories from a variety of countries and also learning about what foods they eat and what animals live in their region and what they do for work and for fun.  I will point out the country on our world map that hangs on our wall and trace a path from the country we studied last to the current one.  They have greatly enjoyed learning about these details of the countries we ‘visit’ and I have been impressed with what they remember.  They know that Canada is cold and Greece is full of islands.  It is fun to witness their growth and learning.

Regarding the subject of history, Charlotte Mason says, “Here, too, is a subject which should be to the child an inexhaustible storehouse of ideas, should enrich the chambers of his House Beautiful with a thousand tableaux, pathetic and heroic, and should form in him, insensibly, principles whereby he will hereafter judge of the behavior of nations, and will rule his own conduct as one of a nation.” (p 279)

“The fatal mistake is the notion that he must learn ‘outlines,’ or a baby edition of the whole history of England, or of Rome, just as he must cover the geography of all the world.  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.” (p 280)

“The early history of a nation is far better fitted than its later records for the study of children because the story moves on a few broad, simple lines…” (p 281-282)

Again, a child will learn best and remember best that which interests them.  A story of a great person who shaped the course of history or a story of an ordinary person who lived in such different times but is intrinsically so similar to them will be interesting and engaging to the child, and to the adult, for that matter.

My mother is an excellent history teacher.  Students often tell her later that they learned so much more in her class than in any other history class.  The secret of her magic is in her stories.  She makes history come alive with stories of real, live people.

This is the secret of history for us as well.  We do not need to require memorization of dry facts, dates, random lists of names.  I really feel like such effort is a sad waste of time and mental energy.  We have the internet, after all.  All the facts we could ever need, at our fingertips in moments.  But if we spend time in the stories, we have heroes to emulate or characteristics to shun.

A few things that can be done after reading a story from history: narration, illustration, and acting out the episode.

“A child’s individuality  plays about what he enjoys, and the story comes from his lips, not precisely as the author tells it, but with a certain spirit and coloring which expresses the narrator…. A narration should be original as it comes from a child- that is, his own mind should have acted upon the matter it has received.” (p 289)

“They love, too, to make illustrations…. Of course that which they visualize, or imagine clearly, they know; it is a life possession.” (p 292)

“Let a child have the meat he requires in his history readings, and in the literature which naturally gathers round this history, and imagination will bestir itself without any help  of ours; the child will live out in detail a thousand scenes of which he only gets the merest hint.” (p 295)

My kids demonstrated this a few months ago.  It was cool outside and though our study of Canada was months ago, they decided to “play Canada” and they used couch pillows as icebergs and were chased by a scary polar bear.  You can imagine my delight in this play.

4.  Language- 

Grammar: “Grammar, being a study of words and not of things, is by no means attractive to the child, nor should he be hurried into it.”

Elsewhere, I have read that Miss Mason recommended that the subject of grammar be studied when the child is ten.  This seems like a very good suggestion.  Why burden the child with abstract ideas of nouns, verbs, and sentence conjugations while they are young.  It does seem very good to wait on this subject until they are older and ready for thinking about words in abstract ways.

Foreign Language: (the foreign language Miss Mason’s students learned was French, as it was an important language to learn in their time and in their region of the world)

“French should be acquired as English is, not as a grammar, but as a living speech.  To train the ear to distinguish and the lips to the French vocables is a valuable part of the education of the senses, and one which can hardly be undertaken too soon.” (p 300)

“The child should never see French words in print until he has learned to say them with as much ease and readiness as if they were English.” (p 301)

The principles for me then, are to start early and focus on hearing and speaking first.  We would like to teach the children Spanish, as it makes more sense in California, where we are.  As I do not speak Spanish, I am hoping to find a good computer or DVD program that will aid in teaching the language to us all.

Drawing5.  Art and Exercise-

“The art training of children should proceed on two lines.  The six year old child should begin both to express himself and to appreciate, and his appreciation should be well in advance of his power to express what he sees or imagines.” (p 307)

“When the children have begun regular lessons…this sort of study of pictures should not be left to chance, but they should take one artist after another, term by term, and study quietly some half-dozen reproductions of his work in the course of a term.” (p 308-309)

She then outlines the steps to take in this picture study lesson which have the students observe, discuss, describe, and recreate the picture.

She encourages art expression in drawing, piano, singing, and handicrafts.  The children should be taught faithfully, given quality materials to use, and encouraged to work hard and produce excellent work.  Miss Mason thinks that exercise (or drills) and this art expression should be a regular part of the child’s daily schedule.

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