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We’re in the middle of a series that surveys what a Charlotte Mason education looks like through the different grade levels and how each level solidly prepares your student for the challenges of the next one. So far we’ve looked at the preschool and elementary years. If you missed either of those posts, follow the links to check those out. Today we want to dive into Charlotte Mason middle school, and I’ll show you how this level gradually and effectively bridges what was done in the elementary years and what will be expected in high school.
Different people have different conceptions of what “middle school” includes, so let’s clarify what we’re talking about here. For purposes of this post, “middle school” will refer to grades 5 through 8.
When we left our student in fourth grade in the previous episode, he was beginning to read some of his school books for himself. In middle school, he will incrementally progress to doing more independent reading and with more difficult and longer books.
Whereas in fourth grade, he was studying and writing up to one sentence for dictation, over the four years of middle school he will gradually increase to writing up to two paragraphs for dictation.
Growing in Writing
In fourth grade he was still doing mainly oral narrations and writing one narration per week, either in narrative style or expository style. Now that challenge will level up over these four years to writing two and then three narrations per week, and those narrations will also begin to include descriptive-style narrations.
Let me say something about the purpose of those narrations at this point. While the main purpose is to help your student assimilate the knowledge from the good living books and ideas, those daily narrations are also laying a foundation for composition. Formal composition will come in high school, and we’ll talk more about that next time. But you need to understand that there are basically two components to good writing: one is developing your own writing voice and the other is adjusting that writing to a specific form or structure. Of those two components, by far the hardest one is finding and developing your own writing voice. It doesn’t take long to learn a certain form, but having something to say and saying it well requires a lot of time and input and practice. And that’s what narration helps your student do, especially during middle school. So your goal with written narrations during these years is not to correct style and form; it is to create an atmosphere in which your student feels comfortable and encouraged to find and develop his own voice—as a person of equal value and immense possibilities.
There are several ways to help him with that growth in using language well, and they are integrated into Charlotte Mason middle school studies. One is to continue his study of English grammar and expand it to include sentence analysis, which helps him see how the order of words can affect clear communication. And, of course, he will continue to grow as he reads the works of several excellent authors over a good variety of living books. Another way is through introducing a Book of Mottoes, or a commonplace book. This personal journal gives him an opportunity to record lines from his readings that stood out to him—favorite poems or a particular expression or turn of phrase that he liked.
Learning to Self-Educate
By the way, do you see how Charlotte Mason methods are equipping this young person to be able to continue learning for himself over his whole lifetime? Reading for yourself, narrating what you have read either orally or in writing, recording favorite lines from those readings into a personal journal—these tools can be used by any adult to keep learning for himself. I love how Charlotte’s methods have that self-education in view and how they are so seamlessly woven into the student’s days that they become habits and equip him to continue learning for the rest of his life.
Another great step toward that self-education is making the transition to an individual Book of Centuries during the middle school years. A Book of Centuries is basically a timeline in a book. We introduced one during the elementary years but did it together as a family. The middle school years are a great time to increase the challenge, now that your student has seen how it’s done, and make it his own responsibility to keep his own Book of Centuries, entering people and events from his history, geography, science, Bible, and literature readings as well as the poets and artists and composers that you study together.
Other subjects are also leveled up. More map work is scheduled in geography. Longer poems are assigned for memorizing and reciting each term. That foreign language that was studied by hearing and speaking in the elementary years now adds in reading and writing. Plus, if you want to, you can begin a second foreign language through hearing and speaking during middle school.
In math, your student will study percentages, fractions, and ratios and add a practical introduction to geometry through hands-on exploration one day a week during fifth and sixth grades. During seventh and eighth, he will progress to pre-algebra and an introduction to proof-based geometry, all while continuing arithmetic review through rapid and interesting mental math sessions.
In fact, during grades 7 and 8, as he approaches high school, other studies will increase in challenge too. He will begin to study current events, looking at several opinions and seeking to understand all sides of the issues. In Bible lessons, he will begin more in-depth studies and discussions and begin to learn how to study the Bible for himself. He will begin to study Latin and transition to more in-depth science courses. And for his personal development, he will continue building good habits but also add a study about all the components that make up a person. He will begin to grow in his relation with knowing himself, exploring both the possibilities and potential weaknesses inherent in all persons.
Lessons increase from a maximum of 30 minutes in grades 5 and 6 to a maximum of 45 minutes in grades 7 and 8. And the week’s work is nicely balanced to include enrichment from picture study, music study, poetry, hymn study, handicrafts, nature study, Shakespeare, and art instruction.
With focused attention and the habit of best effort, your middle schooler is still done with his lessons by lunch time. In fifth and sixth grades, it takes about two and a half hours; while in seventh and eighth grades, it increases to about three hours per day.
Well-Prepared for High School
So picture it now, at the end of middle school, your eighth-grade student is standing on the threshold of high school and solidly ready for the increased challenge that it will bring. He is writing narrations almost every day, digging in to longer and more difficult excellent books, gaining practice in the tools of self-education, and expanding his personal knowledge of God, of mankind, of the universe around him, and of himself through history, geography, Bible, science, math, poetry, grammar and dictation, nature study, Shakespeare, foreign language, art, music, literature, and more.
It is truly a broad and generous education with high expectations in high school. But the beauty of it is that your student has been well prepared for that challenge by incrementally leveling up through the grades. That’s a Charlotte Mason education.