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Over the past few weeks we have been walking through how you can make a transition to the Charlotte Mason approach in your home school in stages, getting comfortable at each stage before you move on to the next one. If you haven’t read the posts for Stages 1–4, I encourage you to do that first. Today let’s talk about Stage 5.
Stage 5 is all about three final subjects that you can add to your schedule. Doing so will add wonderful variety to your week and to your children’s education.
If you’ve worked through the first four stages and completed their assignments, you’re already doing a lot of Charlotte Mason in your home school. And your children will be getting a wonderful education with just those subjects done a Charlotte Mason way.
These final three subjects are like icing on the cake. They are subjects that Charlotte included in her curriculum, and they bring a lot of good ideas to the feast, so I encourage you to add them in as you are ready.
The first subject to add is Shakespeare. Some of you may start to hyperventilate at the very thought, but hang on. So much of our attitudes toward Shakespeare is based on our past experiences with him. I’m going to guess that the way you were taught Shakespeare is not the way Charlotte Mason approached it. The way that Charlotte Mason approached Shakespeare is very doable and very accessible.
You can teach Shakespeare in three steps: (1) The first step is to read the story form of the play, so you get a feel for the plot and the characters and you know what’s happening. (2) The second step is to read the script. Go through it in small portions; take no more than twenty minutes. Review what happened last time, set up what’s going to happen in the script this time, and then read a portion.
I would highly encourage you to use professional audio dramatizations. Those recordings help you hear the lines delivered correctly the first time. It was always hard when I was reading Shakespeare aloud with my children. I would assign them different parts to read, but we were never sure of the details: “Okay, is this person supposed to be shouting or whispering? And to whom are they speaking? Is it to everyone or . . . .” Such confusion would distract us from the lines themselves, because we were trying to figure out the delivery of them. So listening to the professional dramatizations can really help, and the children can just follow along in the script.
(3) Step 3 is to watch the play. You can go see a live version, but be sure to do your homework first. Make sure that it is true to Shakespeare’s original script, and make sure that the director is not modernizing it in a way that would not be appropriate for your children. I recommend that you call the company first; make sure the play is going to be a good experience for your kids.
Alternately, you can watch a video version. Again, preview to make sure that it’s going to be appropriate for your children.
We have a resource called Shakespeare in Three Steps that should be very helpful to you. It also includes reviews of the video versions that I could get my hands on and watch personally.
Charlotte started Shakespeare with her students around fourth grade, but you can do some plays as early as second grade. I like to add in a play every year or two. It usually takes only about three months, doing a lesson once a week, to get through the whole play. So add in Shakespeare as you feel ready and as you feel comfortable. If you follow those three simple steps, you’re going to find it very easy to do.
The second subject that you can add in, as you’re ready, is foreign language. The method that Charlotte used for foreign language is brilliant and, I think, very accessible. First, let’s talk for just a minute about why we add a foreign language.
Charlotte Mason firmly believed that people in each country—in her country of England and every other country—needed to be good citizens of the world. It befits us to learn the languages of our neighbors, so that we can communicate well with them, be a help to them, and understand them better. That’s why we do foreign language.
Now for how we do foreign language. Charlotte taught foreign language with something called a “series approach.” It was invented by a Frenchman, Francois Gouin, and I want to walk you through a lesson using this series approach. (If you have trouble following along in this written explanation, feel free to watch the video podcast to see the demonstration.)
A series approach is basically narrating an everyday activity. You’re going to learn this series in English first (or whatever your mother tongue is), then we’ll narrow it down and fill it out in the new language. We will do Spanish for the new language (because that’s the one I’ve practiced).
Grab a book. You’re going to need some kind of book for this series; it doesn’t matter which one. You need it to do the actions as we speak them.
Listen first to the series in English: “I take the book. I open the book. I close the book.”
Now join in and say the series with me, doing the actions along with it: “I take the book. I open the book. I close the book.” Good.
Next, we narrow it down to just the three key words, the verbs: “Take, open, close.”
Do that much with the actions, just those three key words. “Take, open, close.”
Now, we’re going to learn those words in Spanish: “Tomo.”
Say it with me as you take the book: “Tomo.” Yes.
Say that word as you open the book: “Abro.”
Let’s say both of those with the actions: “Tomo, abro.” Good.
The last one is “Cierro.”
Say that word as you close the book: “Cierro.”
Now say all three with the actions: “Tomo, abro, cierro.”
Finally, all we need to learn is “the book” and we’ve got the whole series down: “El libro.”
Got it? Okay, let’s try the whole series with actions: “Tomo el libro. Abro el libro. Cierro el libro.”
Once we have learned the series, we can encourage our children to look around them as we ask, “What other kinds of things can we ‘abro’?”
One of the first things that comes to mind is “the door”: “La puerta.”
So practice that word with the actions of opening and closing a door: “Abro la puerta. Cierro la puerta.”
How about “la boca,” your mouth?
Try it with actions: “Abro la boca. Cierro la boca.”
And so your children start to think in the foreign language, and it becomes a part of their everyday conversations.
The curriculum that follows this “series approach” is from Cherrydale Press.
It’s good to do your foreign language lesson about twice a week. Plus, of course, you’re going to practice it and use the language throughout the week as much as you can.
That’s foreign language the Charlotte Mason way.
Handicrafts and Art Instruction
The third add-in subject is handicrafts, and I like to pair that with art instruction, doing one or the other of them each term. So I might do handicrafts the first twelve-week term, and then do art the second twelve-week term, and then the third twelve-week term I could do another handicraft or another art type of media. That’s how I like to approach it.
It’s good for the children to have regular opportunities to work with their hands, using a variety of materials. In art, it’s important to give your children an opportunity to try out different media, not just drawing with a pencil. A child who isn’t very good at drawing might excel at watercolor or pastels or sculpture. So when you’re ready, start including a handicrafts lesson or an art instruction lesson once a week.
I am not an art person, myself, and so I needed to find a good resource. The one that I really like is Creating a Masterpiece. They have a video library that is full of different media to try and different levels of projects, from beginner all the way up through advanced. You can subscribe to that library and you will have access to all of their videos, which you can use as you see fit.
So your assignment for Stage 5, the last stage: Add in Shakespeare, foreign language, and handicrafts or art instruction as you’re ready for more.
You know, we’ve talked a lot in this series about making the transition with the methods—what you do during school time; but I think it would be good to also take a little time and discuss making the transition in your thinking. Most of us were not brought up with a Charlotte Mason education, so it might be helpful to take a look at some “mental transitions” that will keep you on track and headed in the right direction. We’ll talk about those next time.
Ready-to-go Charlotte Mason Lesson Plans
If you’ve followed this whole series, you’ve read about the lesson plan books that are available, and now you know how to do everything in them. So if you want preselected book lists and ready-to-go plans, feel free to grab those lesson plan books. You’ll find them in three different categories: History Studies, which include history, geography, and Bible; Enrichment Studies, which give you everything else you can do as a family—art and music and poetry and Scripture memory and Shakespeare and art instruction and handicrafts, nature study—all those great things you can do as a family; and Individual Studies that we talked about last time in Stage 4. Math and language arts, and science in the upper levels, need to be done individually. So if you grab one History lesson plan book, one Enrichment lesson plan book, and one Individual lesson plan book for each grade level you have, then you’ll have a complete Charlotte Mason curriculum plan with all of the book lists and all of those daily plans to help walk you through it one day at a time.