Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reflections on Home Education - Part V, Post 3 - Composing Thought, Bible Lessons, and Arithmetic...

This post will continue on in Part V of Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason. You can view Part V, post one on the Kindergarten here, and post two on Teaching Reading here. Today's post will focus on the composition of thought through both narration and writing, as well as bible lessons and arithmetic for children age nine and under.

The Art of Narrating
Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in very child's mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. (p. 231)
I have blogged on narration in the past, back in July of 2014 on The Art of Narration and in December of 2015 in Narration is Natural, while studying Charlotte's 20 Principles. Charlotte covers narration in Principles 14 and 15. I'm not going to go in depth on narration here, but if you are unfamiliar or want review, I would highly encourage you to read my other writings on the subject. Narration is a cornerstone of Charlotte's philosophy and I will go so far as to say, you can not implement a Charlotte Mason education without it. It's a method that works!

I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson - a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work...(p. 233-234)
I remember when RileyAnn was very young, most likely around age 5, and I was fairly new to home educating. I purchased a well known handwriting curricula, in which the child was expected to write a full page of the same letter each day. For example, they would write an entire page of the letter a, and then next day, an entire page of the letter b, and so on and so forth. I remember her focus and concentration on the first line of the letter. However, by the end of the page, her face began to contort in anxiety and frustration.

A few days in, I could see tears building in Riley's eyes. When I asked her what was wrong, the flood gates opened. She didn't want to tell me, but eventually, I coaxed out of her that all the writing was hurting her hand and she was worried that her last letters weren't as good as the first letters on the page. Riley is my Perfect Paula, who loves all things academic, and never complained. She'd take anything I gave her and then some. To see her so down trodden over her handwriting nearly broke my heart. At that point, a light went on for me.

I set that curricula aside and never thought twice about it. From that day on, I vowed to find a better way. Some where along the way, I read about this idea of copy work, where the parent/teacher begins by writing a letter and then the student imitates it a few times, maybe 3-4, giving best effort and then they're done for the day. Once letters are learned, you move on to words, then phrases, and then sentences, etc. It's a slow and steady process, but again, one that works. Charlotte writes in several places, "Do not hurry the child."

I learned quickly that handwriting curricula is not necessary and I haven't looked back since. Copy work, or transcription as described below, are excellent methods to teach not only penmanship, but to build a base for composition.


Transcription is more commonly referred to as copy work. It's a written or printed representation of something.
The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work...
Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory. (p. 238)
According to Charlotte, children should be allowed to transcribe their favorite passages. I would add caution to be sure the child is presented with the best writing and quality books so when they are choosing passages to transcribe, they have a superb model. Transcription should last no more than 10-15 minutes per lesson in the early Forms. Charlotte also suggested using a black board, or we now have white boards, in writing lessons, by both teacher and student by way of model and practice. So the teacher would model writing the letters on the blackboard and students would copy, eventually transitioning to pencil/paper.

Spelling and Dictation
...the gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to 'take' (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit which must be cultivated in children from the first. (p. 241)
Charlotte believed spelling should be taught through transcription and dictation. The child would read passages, copy them perfectly, committing to memory a picture of each word. Then the teacher/parent would dictate the passage for the child to write from memory. Care must be given that the child never sees a misspelled word as that image could remain in the child's mind, causing them to misspell the word for life.

She suggested a child of 8 or 9 years prepare a paragraph from dictation, while older children, one to three pages. Charlotte gives specific steps to a dictation lesson on pages 241-243 of Home Education.
Spelling must not be lost sight of in the children's other studies, though they should not be teased to spell....The whole secret of spelling lies in the habit of visualising words from memory, and children must be trained to visualise in the course of their reading. They enjoy this way to learning to spell. (p. 243)

Herein lies a battle for many home educators. However, I believe if more parents followed the developmentally appropriate methods of teaching composition that Charlotte Mason proposed, it is a battle they would not have to fight. Charlotte writes,
For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know. Before they are ten, children who have been in the habit of using books will write good, vigorous English with ease and freedom; that is, if they have not been hampered by instructions. It is well for them not even to learn rules for the placing of full stops and capitals until they notice how these things occur in their books. Our business is to provide children with material in their lessons, and, leave the handling of such material to themselves. If we would believe it, composition is as natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books. They should narrate in the first place, and they will compose, later, readily enough; but they should not be taught 'composition.' (p. 247)
There you have it! Composition begins with great books or a nature walk, followed by narration. It's that simple. Children under age nine should be read to, and if able, be reading the best books. Then they should be required to narrate, beginning orally, making the transition to written narrations only after the mastery of oral, which is often around age ten.

Bible Lessons
Children between the ages of six and nine should get a considerable knowledge of the Bible text. By nine they should have read the simple (and suitable) narrative portions of the Old Testament, and, say, two of the gospels. (p. 248)
Bible lessons were significant in Charlotte's schools. She recommended the Old Testament be read aloud to children. She advised us not to use a paraphrase text and she suggested the child's Bible lessons should help them realize that knowledge of God is principle knowledge and, therefore, that their Bible lessons are their chief lessons.

Charlotte wrote we should read a few verses, covering an episode in one sitting. Then require the children of age six years and over to narrate. She also said Bible memorization and recitation should begin around age 6-7.

Of all his early studies, perhaps none is more important to the child as a means of education than that of arithmetic. (p. 253-254)
I remember back when I first read this quote from Charlotte. I was extremely overwhelmed with math teaching at that time and went in search of a better means to my madness. Initially, I was not comforted in the least by her statement. However, after years of math research, then reading and re-reading these words, I am only now beginning to understand what Charlotte meant by that statement. First, let's look at what follows the above sentence...
That he should do sums is of comparatively small importance; but the use of those functions which 'summing' calls into play is a great part of education; so much that the advocates of mathematics and of language as instruments of education have, until recently, divided the field pretty equally between them.
The practical value of arithmetic to persons of every class goes without remark. But the use of the study in practical life is the least of its uses. The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training  it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, intellectual truthfulness it engenders. (p. 254 - bold mine)
Arithmetic is a means to truth. There is a right and wrong answer. Arithmetic, like mathematics, requires diligence. It depends upon the habits of attention and accuracy. As we read further into this section, we can see that Charlotte is not focused on drilling tables, when speaking of arithmetic. Instead, she's using it as a base for problem solving. She's concerned herself with mathematical reasoning. Further on, she writes...
Engage the child upon little problems within his comprehension from the first, rather than upon set sums....the child perceives what rules he must apply to get the required information....Care must be taken to give the child such problems as he can work, but yet which are difficult enough to cause him some little mental effort. (p. 254-255)
In arithmetic, strategies were taught and problems were given. The teacher was to then step aside and let the child work through the rules to find the answer. When instructing this way, Charlotte taught the why behind the how.

Manipulatives such as beans or buttons were always available and used. Again, pencil/paper wasn't introduced until much later in the process, once children understood the concepts or the why behind the problems. When the child began to think in terms of numbers rather than objects, they were ready to move on and begin mathematics.

Whether you're just beginning to home educate young children, are struggling with math, or want to try a new approach, I highly recommend reading pages 253-264 in Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason, of which, you can find online at Ambleside Online by scrolling through this section. Read it slowly and carefully. Then you may even consider re-reading. There is much wisdom there. Another wonderful resource for math education is Mathematics: An Instrument for Teaching by Richele Baburina and Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason.

In case you are wondering, Part V of Home Education shows Lessons as Instruments of Education broke down by subject that support Charlotte's philosophy in teaching young children. I intend to write at least one more post regarding Part V of Home Education in the near future. The next of which will cover natural philosophy, geography, and history.

No comments:

Post a Comment