Last week we started a new series in which we will be going through each school subject and discussing how to teach it in a Charlotte Mason way. We’ve already looked at giving our children a generous curriculum through a wide variety of subjects, not just the three R’s. Today we’ll look at three foundational principles that should be in place no matter what subject you’re teaching.
Whether you are just making the transition to incorporating some Charlotte Mason methods into your home school or are an old pro at CM, these three basic principles are a great place to focus. Get these principles firmly established and your days will go much more smoothly.
Three Basic Principles
A key component of a Charlotte Mason-style lesson is that it is short. But there is a reason behind the short length: short, interesting lessons build the habit of attention. The more often your child pays attention for the whole lesson, the more that habit will become engrained. Once the habit is established, you can start nudging out the length of the lessons. But start short.
It’s just like training to run a marathon. Start short and build. You want to stop the lesson before you lose your child’s attention. If he ends up daydreaming at the end of a lesson, that will become his habit. The more often he daydreams, the more it will become engrained. But if you stop the lesson before his eyes glaze over, he will develop the habit of paying attention for the whole lesson.
In Charlotte’s schools the lessons for grades 1–3 were no longer than 15 or 20 minutes. Grades 4–6 nudged that length out to 20 or 30 minutes, and grades 7–9 increased to 30 or 45 minutes maximum. Some subjects didn’t take that long, but none had a lesson longer. Short, interesting lessons build the habit of attention.
Habits of Attention and Perfect Execution
Charlotte believed that the good habits we instill in our children make up one-third of their education. And two important habits are the habits of attention and perfect execution. Perfect execution means working toward perfection, or giving your best effort. Would your home school be any different if your children had just those two habits? Now you see why they are foundational principles. Those two habits—full attention and best effort—affect everything you and your children do throughout your school day.
One very important tip toward establishing those two habits is to emphasize quality over quantity. For example, in copywork, rather than requiring a whole page of handwriting—and watching as the child gets sloppier and sloppier as he moves toward the bottom of the page,—require a shorter portion but let him know that only his very best work will suffice. If he writes one or two words (or lines, depending on his level) and puts forth his best effort, he will be done. If, however, he does slipshod work, he will be required to do it again until it is right. Once again you are trying to instill a habit by repetition. The more times he concentrates on doing his best, the more it will become a habit. But the more times he is allowed to be sloppy, the more that action will become engrained. Emphasize quality over quantity every time.
To learn more about how to instill good habits, check out the free e-book Smooth and Easy Days, a recording of the “Laying Down the Rails” workshop, or the complete reference book, Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook.
Varied Order of Subjects
Another basic principle is to vary the order of subjects that you do throughout the day to use different parts of the brain and body. You want to avoid over-fatiguing one part of the brain. For example, if you come to the couch with a stack of books for your child to read and narrate, as you work your way through the stack you will find that it gets increasingly harder to pay full attention and narrate well. Why? You are overusing the read/listen-and-narrate part of the brain.
Instead, try to vary the order of subjects. You might read and narrate one book; then switch to a different part of the brain and go do some math; then use some fine motor skills and do a little copywork; then do a picture study; then do some singing; then come back and narrate another book; etc. Do you see how that works? Use different parts of the brain and body as you order your day and you will make it easier for your child to pay full attention.
Short lessons, the habits of attention and perfect execution, and varying the order of the subjects—three things that can revolutionize your home school. And those are only the basic principles of Charlotte Mason-style lessons! Next week we will dive into the specific methods to use for teaching each subject, starting with history.
Practical Homeschooling Reader Awards
We’re honored that seven of our products have been nominated for this year’s Practical Homeschooling Reader Awards! We encourage you to go vote for your favorite homeschool products whether they are from SCM or other publishers. Not only is it a great help to others looking for curriculum, but voting also makes you eligible for the prizes they are giving away.
Here are the SCM products that have been nominated:
- Our six history handbooks are listed as “Family Study Handbook series” under the Unit Study section.
- Delightful Handwriting is in the Handwriting section.
- Spelling Wisdom is in the Spelling section.
- Stories of America and Stories of the Nations are listed together in the History section.
- 106 Days of Creation Studies is in the Elementary Science section.
- Our Picture Study Portfolios are listed in the Art Appreciation section.
- Laying Down the Rails is in the Domestic Science section.
This is part of the series: Subject by Subject
How to teach each school subject in a Charlotte Mason way.
- A Generous Curriculum: Subject By Subject,
- Three Basic CM Principles: Subject by Subject, Part 2
- Teaching History: Subject by Subject, Part 3
- Teaching Geography: Subject by Subject, Part 4
- Teaching Spelling: Subject by Subject, Part 5
- Teaching Bible: Subject by Subject, Part 6
- Teaching Handicrafts: Subject by Subject, Part 7
- Teaching Science: Subject by Subject, Part 8
- Teaching Foreign Language: Subject by Subject, Part 9
- Teaching Music: Subject by Subject, Part 10
- Teaching Writing: Subject by Subject, Part 11
- Teaching Literature: Subject by Subject, Part 12
- Teaching Grammar: Subject by Subject, Part 13
- Teaching Beginning Reading: Subject by Subject, Part 14
- Teaching Art: Subject by Subject, Part 15
- Teaching Poetry: Subject by Subject, Part 16
- Teaching Math: Subject by Subject, Part 17