Hands-On Methods the CM Way: Getting Started, part 4

Getting started homeschooling

When I first heard about the Charlotte Mason Method, I envisioned my children and me sitting on the couch, reading wonderful books together and smiling. Well, we have done a lot of reading—and a lot of smiling—with the wonderful books. But over the years I have learned that there is much more to the Charlotte Mason approach.

Charlotte interspersed that reading and narrating with some other activities that used different parts of the brain and body. (Remember, that’s one of the basic principles.)

Today let’s take a look at some of those great Charlotte Mason activities that you can use to add variety to your days.

Hands-On Methods

  • Handicrafts

    Charlotte taught the children a variety of handicrafts, one at a time. Follow her lead by focusing on quality, showing your child slowly and carefully what he is to do, and making sure that the end product is useful. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to knit or sew or whatever handicraft you want your child to learn. Take advantage of relatives, neighbors, and church family members who would love to pass on their special crafts. Also look for videos and resources online or at local craft shops that will allow you and your child to proceed at your own pace. Set aside some time once a week to learn and practice an enjoyable handicraft.

  • Nature Study

    Charlotte’s students experienced the original field trips: once a week they went to the field or meadow or pond to do nature study. You can do the same, even if it is only in your backyard. Get each student a blank sketchbook, then go outside and look around. Record your observations in your sketchbooks, either in writing or drawing. If you see a plant or insect or bird you don’t know, check a field guide or research the Internet to find out its name and label it in your book. This type of nature study lays the foundation for science lessons and gives you the benefit of a refreshing change of pace outside. For more information on nature study, take a look at Hours in the Out-of-Doors: A Charlotte Mason Nature Study Handbook.

  • Art and Music

    You can also add art appreciation and music appreciation to your homeschool very simply. Choose one composer and listen to his works for six to twelve weeks. You can play his music in the background during lunch or listen to it as you run errands in the van. After six weeks or more, your children will have a pretty good feel for that composer’s style.

    And the same goes for artists. Choose one artist and “study” six of his works, one at a time. Here’s how to do a once-a-week picture study: Display a picture and mention the artist who created it. Have children look at the picture until they can see it clearly in their minds’ eye. When all children are ready, turn the picture over or close the book and ask them to describe the picture. When their narration is finished, display the picture again and notice together any new aspects. Display the picture in a prominent location in your home so children can look at it throughout the week. The next week, select a different picture by the same artist and repeat.

  • Foreign Language

    Charlotte’s students learned several languages during their school years, but they all started the same way: hear it and speak it before you ever read and write it. Again, take advantage of people around you who are fluent in another language. Spend time with them, learning the names of objects around your house, then putting more words with those until you can hear and speak sentences. Several computer programs are available to help with the reading and writing aspect once you get to it, but remember to focus on the hearing and speaking first.

  • Math

    Yes, math should be a hands-on activity, especially during the younger grades. Charlotte emphasized the importance of working with things before working with symbols on paper. So make sure your children have plenty of practice learning math concepts with concrete objects. Many good math curricula are available for homeschoolers. You might find this article on choosing a good Charlotte Mason-style math curriculum helpful.

  • Handwriting and Spelling

    Charlotte used interesting passages and portions of good books to teach handwriting and spelling. This method keeps those two subjects interesting—much more interesting than pages of single letters to copy or lists of words to memorize.

    As the child carefully copies a noble poem, a Scripture passage, an inspirational quotation, or the lyrics to a hymn, he also absorbs grammar and punctuation rules. Copywork lessons should be short with an emphasis on giving one’s best effort rather than hurrying to fill the paper with words. Keep a child’s copywork in a dedicated notebook, journal, or tablet. You’ll be amazed at how much the child’s handwriting improves over time with short, concentrated effort every day or so.

    Using passages for spelling lessons gives many of the same benefits. This article and video will explain how to do a spelling lesson using a passage rather than a list.

So you see, a Charlotte Mason education is not all sitting and reading. There are many great hands-on activities that you can incorporate into your homeschool. In fact, there are so many great Charlotte Mason methods that you might be wondering which ones to start with. Next time we’ll discuss an easy way to make the transition to a Charlotte Mason education in your home.

More on Charlotte’s Methods

Two resources might be especially helpful as you learn more about Charlotte Mason’s methods.

  • Our CM Methods Chart—This free chart on our Web site lays out all the school subjects and which methods Charlotte used to teach them. Links are included on the chart to direct you to more details.
  • SCM Conference in Kansas City—Sonya will be coming to Kansas City on August 20 and 21, 2010, to spend two days talking about Charlotte Mason methods. This conference would be a great way to begin your new school year with confidence!