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In the past couple of weeks we have looked at two very important questions for homeschool mothers: Why must the children learn? and What should they learn? Charlotte Mason believed that those questions needed definite and thoughtful answers if we would be in a position to teach our children well.
“She must ask herself seriously, Why must the children learn at all? What should they learn? And, How should they learn it? If she take the trouble to find a definite and thoughtful answer to each of these three queries, she will be in a position to direct her children’s studies” (Vol. 1, p. 171).
One question remains for our discussion, and it is one of the most conspicuous distinctives of the Charlotte Mason way: How? Probably more than anything else, the How of the Charlotte Mason Method is what makes our home schools unique. Let’s take a look at her methods today.
How should they learn it?
Hopefully you remember what we learned about the Why and What.
The children learn to grow (not just to know).
Their minds feed on ideas (not just facts).
Therefore, give the children a wide variety of good ideas.
But how do we spread this feast of ideas? Do we mash up all this nutritious food and spoon-feed it into their young minds? Do we set up a prize and watch them tear through the tidbits like a pie-eating contest? No. Rather, we serve these nutritious ideas in an attractive setting with encouragement to eat small portions regularly and give plenty of time to digest.
Let’s look at each part of that description.
An attractive setting—Charlotte taught many school subjects using living books: history, Bible, science, geography, literature. Plus, she included many subjects that are attractive in themselves: art, music, nature, poetry. And the subjects that sometimes seem unattractive, she managed to put a twist on in order to make them “living” too. For example, she used portions of those delightful living books to teach handwriting and spelling and reinforce grammar. To spread a feast in an attractive setting, use good living books and beautiful things.
Small portions—Charlotte advocated short lessons in order to encourage the habit of full attention. If we serve only a small portion, and stop before the child’s mind is ready to burst, we set up the habit of paying attention for the full lesson. On the flip side, if we drag the lesson on and on and on, and daily the child pays attention for only the first ten minutes, we are setting up the habit of paying attention for only part of the lesson. To encourage full attention, serve the lessons in small portions.
Regularly—Some people have a hard time with short lessons and a wide variety of subjects. They feel like it’s a shotgun-like, scattered approach that will never yield any healthy growth. But Charlotte’s approach was anything but scattered. She had a systematic and scheduled plan for the feast. It was varied each day, but over time it was faithfully consistent. To encourage the best growth, be faithful in presenting all the nutritious ideas.
“In the nature of things then the unspoken demand of children is for a wide and very varied curriculum; it is necessary that they should have some knowledge of the wide range of interests proper to them as human beings, and for no reasons of convenience or time limitations may we curtail their proper curriculum” (Vol. 6, p. 14).
Plenty of time to digest—Charlotte offered the children this wonderful gift of time in a couple of ways. First, with short lessons, they were finished by lunch time and had the afternoons to pursue personal interests and spend time outside. Second, Charlotte seldom had her students read from the same book more than twice a week. You see, there’s a vast difference between plowing through a book at top speed and thoughtfully reading it in smaller portions spread out over a longer period of time. The second approach gives the children more time to ponder and to “live with” the characters; it offers more time to digest the ideas. To help your children gain the most from the feast, take in the good living books a little at a time and keep afternoons free.
Those are the basic principles in How to spread a feast. If you would like more details (sort of like the recipes and cooking techniques for the feast), the resources listed below may be helpful.
- This chart shows which methods Charlotte used for each school subject. A short description of the methods is given below the chart.
- The free e-book, Education Is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life, also includes the chart of methods, plus lots more information on the Charlotte Mason approach.
- The Simply Charlotte Mason channel on YouTube contains several helpful videos demonstrating various Charlotte Mason methods, like narration, prepared dictation/spelling, teaching reading, and more.
- Our all-day seminars are presented live in various states across the country and are also available recorded. Each seminar comes as a 4-DVD set with a 60-page book of notes. The All-Day Charlotte Mason Seminar explains how to teach each school subject using Charlotte Mason methods; it also includes a workshop on habits. The Books & Things Seminar delves deeper into living books and narration, teaching drawing and other subjects with the things around you, and takes a look at Four Ways to Destroy Your Child’s Love for Knowledge. Note: These two seminars have been replaced with a revised and expanded 12-DVD Learning and Living: Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way seminar.
Charlotte Mason’s methods are designed to spread a feast of ideas and encourage growth. In fact, the more you learn about her How, the more you will be amazed at how simple yet effective her methods are.