Considering - Charlotte Mason and Our Approach to Language Arts

We're enjoying the beginning of a new year here! I thought I'd take some time to share our approach to Language Arts since some of you have asked. After typing for a bit, I realized this topic would probably be best covered through a series of happy-little-posts on language arts. This isn't to portend a complicated and difficult-to-comprehend approach, but rather signifies my desire to convey the details of what is a treasured part of our days in a way that isn't overwhelming in one.long.post! I have all the posts in the series written and set to publish anew every other day (which will hopefully give me enough time to answer your questions in the comment box)...so check back! I'll try to go in and link and connect the posts so that if you're reading this well after it is published, you can find the series easily.

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."
"Education is the science of relations."
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.

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
Grades 1 - 3 (ages 6 - 9)
Grades 4 - 6
Grades 7 - 8
Grades 9 - 12
A few tools which are good general resources for language arts supplements which I enjoy and use are:
I haven't used, but have heard really great things about the following program:
If you're interested in reading more on how to practically approach Charlotte Mason's methods and ideas, may I recommend When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason's Philosophy for Today by Elaine Cooper. If you're interested in really digging in, there's nothing better than Charlotte Mason's 6 volume set entitled Home Education which you can read online for free through Ambleside Online! Lastly, the Simply Charlotte Mason All Day Charlotte Mason Seminar on DVD is a tremendous help! Grab a cup of tea and watch it! I included it this year as part of my own little mini-home-education-retreat-at-home and found it so refreshing and re-invigorating!

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:
Narration
Copywork
Dictation
Grammar
Composition
Considered Language Arts - A Day in the Life

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