We approach language arts with Charlotte Mason's methods. In fact, Miss Mason's methods and philosophies are the foundation of our days and always have been. We do happily blend a few other educational philosophies - like Montessori in the early years, some elements of Classical education, and even a bit of unschooling in the mix! I'm not a purist in any of these philosophies, and I do give myself the freedom to adapt to fit our home and family, but in the sense of a foundational philosophy in our home, Charlotte Mason's would best describe us.
Charlotte Mason was a 19th century British educator who had a great passion for children's education. She spent her life pursuing it, writing about it, fine tuning her approach, and training others in it. She established the House of Education to train teachers in the use of her methods. Not only can we derive inspiration and ideas from Miss Mason's original series, there are several articles published (for free reading online) from her Parents Review series (edited by Charlotte Mason) which further illustrate some of that great, practical where-the-rubber-meets-the-road wisdom! I share her strong belief in the value of a liberal education; she believed that all children should experience a wide, varied, and generous curriculum based on the most up-to-date knowledge of the time. Simply put, she believed that...
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."In other words, children are not buckets to fill. They are unique persons, created in the image of God, and their education should sustain them on living ideas - rich and noble. Their atmosphere should be lovely and inspiring. Their education is assisted by the discipline of good habits. Education is not a disjointed group of subjects compartmentalized in sterile bins filled with deceptively colorful, flashy blurbs, but rather, the child has a natural relationship with a wide and generous number of ideas, books, things, and activities. I'm really summarizing a lot, and possibly writing in between the lines a little based on the experiences I've lived in my own home; you can read a good synopsis of the 20 principles of a Charlotte Mason education.
"Education is the science of relations."
Rather than needing an entire curriculum for every.single.subject - Charlotte Mason's methods are integrated, connected, and anchored to subjects like history and literature. It couldn't be simpler in terms of planning; I simply implement the methods of language arts using the substance of living books! Language Arts is a natural part of the day, and rather than seeming disconnected and like "just another thing to check off" it is connected! It's relevant!
I'm not looking to debate any of the methods we choose, and I acknowledge that many home educators enjoy other methods and philosophies that make good and judicious use of texts. This series of posts is just meant to share how we joyfully live our days and how language arts becomes a part of the whole seamlessly, naturally!
It all begins with books of high literary quality, something Charlotte Mason calls living books. Writing and communicating is born and nurtured in the imagination. Nourish the imagination with dry, stale, lifeless, uninspiring words and you can expect something similar in return - thoughts which are shallow and without the necessary relationship which anchors the idea in the memory. Feed the mind with rich, living thoughts and you can expect relationship with the idea, and ownership of knowledge! Consider the words of St. Paul in Phillipians 4:8:
"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."This is our family's personal home education philosophy, and the measuring stick by which I seek to measure everything that comes into our home! My choices aren't perfect, and though I do enjoy sharing what works for us, I also know that I make (have made!) mistakes in choosing materials, so please don't take everything I offer without first discerning its use in your home!
Now....back to living books, inspiring ideas, and language arts!
The backbone of our language arts approach is in providing rich, lovely, noble ideas through living books! A living book yields rich fruit in so many aspects of a child's education - the benefits are too numerous to count! Charlotte Mason had much to say about living books, among some of my favorite thoughts are these:
"There is never a time when they (children) are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told."
(Living books contain) "....the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life."A living book is one in which the author writes with passion about their subject, the writing is of excellent literary quality, and the child's imagination is captivated!
Still not ready to ditch those stale texts with blurbs and dates and reading comprehension questions? Consider this: how much more interesting and compelling is it to read a historical fiction detailing the life and adventures of Ferdinand Magellan through the eyes of Pedro Molino, a young boy sailing the open seas for 3 years aboard one of Magellan's ships (Ships Boy with Magellan by Milton Lomask), rather than a paragraph in a text detailing dry, stale facts about Magellan's life and his voyages? In one book, you're aboard the ship: sailing the high seas in all its excitement, witnessing an attempted mutiny, travelling through what is now known as the Straits of Magellan, and experiencing the culture and drama of the Phillipine natives! In the text, you read a skeleton of facts and dates about Magellan. Which would you rather read? Which would capture your imagination and become a treasured part of your memory? Do you remember your 5th grade textbook blurb on Ferdinand Magellan?
Let's talk language arts specifics!
Here's a breakdown of language arts methods used in my home for various ages (very similar to those listed at Ambleside Online) For more great information on language arts, please click over and read through one of my favorite sites for Catholic Charlotte Mason - Mater Amabilis (section on Language Arts):
Preschool and Kindergarten
- No formal language arts! During these years we are working on good habits and laying down the rails!
- Sometimes around this time, we begin a phonics based approach to reading based on the individual child's reading readiness. Please do not read this as "Jennifer recommends starting a phonics program at 3!!" I begin phonics when a child is ready, at his/her own pace, and very gently. I am generally in favor of starting later with reading, rather than pushing too hard and starting earlier. Push too hard down this road and you will experience frustration, and your child will not love learning!
- A Strong Start in Language by Ruth Beechick
- Reading program - I use The Little Angel Readers and I've heard really great things about Explode the Code. There are probably a gazillion really good phonics programs that all work very well; don't start doubting your choice unless you have good reason to believe that you might need something new!
- Edited to add: After posting this blog series on language arts, Simply Charlotte Mason published and made available what appears to be an excellent reading program based directly on Charlotte Mason's approach to teaching reading. I haven't seen it, but it does seem quite exciting and worth a good look: Delightful Reading
- A Strong Start in Language by Ruth Beechick
- Oral Narration
- Oral Narration
- Written Narrations - beginning when the child is 10 - 11. I have found a tremendous assistance in making the transition into writing from the Bravewriter program, The Writer's Jungle. It nicely complements the Charlotte Mason approach to writing.
- 1 year of Grammar using the Winston Grammar Basic level
- Dictation - with some selections chosen from poetry and literature and some help focusing on specific spelling issues using the fantastic index in Spelling Wisdom
- Typing/Keyboarding Skills
- Oral narrations
- Written narrations - continuing to use ideas found in The Writer's Jungle.
- 1 year of Grammar review with Winston Grammar Word Works
- Copywork - if you have a child with fantastic penmanship at this point, you don't need to continue with copywork, but we still enjoy copywork in the middle school grades. I used this time to focus on calligraphy with my daughter.
- Oral narration - still very important and begin to morph into discussions. We enjoy beginning a discussion with a narration from a current events article.
- Written narrations
- 1 year of Grammar with Advanced Level Winston Grammar
- Composition (formal writing) - assisting my high schooler into more formal writing are Bravewriter's Help for Highschool program, and Jensen's Format Writing.
- Commonplace Journal - this is optional, but is a great alternative to copywork which we no longer do in high school. It's a place for lovely thoughts collected from beautiful literature to land.
- Stories With a View by Margot Davidson
- Primary Language Lessons by Emma Serl, reprinted by Hillside Education (I prefer the reprints from Hillside. They're printed on lovely paper with beautiful color images!)
- Intermediate Language Lessons by Emma Serl, reprinted by Hillside Education
- Story Starters by Karen Andreola
- Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer
I have several more resources to share, as well as details about how these individual methods work and look in our home. We don't live these methods perfectly, nor do we try, but we do live them joyfully! It's a living learning lifestyle!
I hope you find yourself inspired and invigorated as you ponder the days ahead of you in home education - no matter the educational philosophy that gives voice to your days!
Check back in a couple of days for the next post detailing narration!
The entire language arts series:
Considered Language Arts - A Day in the Life
- This post includes a printed compilation of all the posts in this language arts series. If you'd prefer to download and read a paper copy of these posts - click here for printable Considered Language Arts! (warning...this is 42 pages long. Yikes!) From time to time I update these posts with new thoughts or new resources - these updates and additions will not be reflected in the printable version above - you'll have to read through the posts here for the updates. :)
- This wrap-up post also contains additional printables which include lesson plans for examples of how I integrate these ideas into my home. These lesson plan examples are illustrative of one term of our year, not the entire year. To download and print these lesson plan examples - click the following links:
- Just getting started with Charlotte Mason or looking for a big picture overview and a little more context? Read - The Balanced Whole of a Charlotte Mason Education