Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Charlotte Mason Education - Part 1

Who was Charlotte Mason?

Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived at the turn of century from 1842-1923. She lived in the era of: Beatrix Potter, Winston Churchill, Helen Keller, and Charles Darwin. Charlotte was orphaned at the age of 16, after which she enrolled in the Home and Colonial Society for the training of teachers. After earning her teaching certificate, she taught school for more than 10 years in Worthing, England.

During this time, she began to develop her vision of a “liberal education for all”. English children in the 1800’s were educated according to their social class. The poor were taught a trade. The fine arts and literature were reserved for the wealthy. Charlotte’s idea of “liberal” was a generous and broad curriculum or all children, regardless of social class.

Charlotte was convinced that parents would be greatly helped if they understood some basic principles about raising children. She was invited to lecture. Parents came and immediately liked her ideas so much that they wanted her to train their governesses. Eventually, schools were formed devoted to her principles; teachers were trained in her methods and then went into employment in the English public school system.

Though her methods were widely used both in Britain and U.S., the Christian principles on which they were founded were left behind. By the mid 20th century, public education had become increasingly secular and her methods were overlooked in favor of more “progressive” forms.

In 1984, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote a book titled For the Children’s Sake, introducing readers to Charlotte’s ideas on educating the whole child – body, soul, and spirit – as well as her ideas on character development. At that time the homeschooling movement was gaining momentum and Charlotte's ideas were welcomed. Many people found the methods refreshing compared to changes happening in public education.

Since that time, appreciation for Charlotte Mason’s work has rapidly increased in the U.S. Many parents homeschool their children using her methods. Charlotte Mason’s method is centered on the idea that education is three-pronged: “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life”.

By “Atmosphere,” Charlotte meant the surroundings in which the child grows up. A child absorbs a lot from his home environment. This is referred to as the relative or relational prong. Charlotte believed in respecting children as persons, in giving them all a broad education by using a generous curriculum. She believed you shouldn’t talk down to children. She said children are naturally curious and if you spread a feast before them, they will take what they’re ready for. She sought to nurture a love for learning, not just present a body of information.

By “Discipline,” Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits — and specifically habits of character. Cultivating good habits in your child’s life make up another third of his education. This is the objective or physiological prong. Laying Down the Rails , a Habits Handbook by SCM, is an excellent resource for learning more about habit training.

The other third of education, “Life,” applies to academics. Charlotte believed that we should give children living thoughts and ideas, not just dry facts. This was the subjective or spiritual prong. All of her methods for teaching the various school subjects are built around this concept. For example, Charlotte’s students used "living books" rather than dry textbooks. Living books are usually written in story form by one author who has a passion for the subject. A living book makes the subject “come alive.” Charlotte taught spelling by using passages from great books that communicate great ideas rather than just a list of words. She encouraged spending time outdoors, interacting with God’s creation firsthand and learning the living ways of nature. This is where the idea of “nature study” comes from.

Students in Charlotte Mason schools wore a brooch with the motto “I am, I can, I ought, I will”.

I am – a unique person, created in the image of God

I can – do it. I believe in myself in a balanced, realistic way. "I can all things through Christ because he gives me strength."

I ought – duty, responsibility; unfortunately, we currently live in a society of I want. Many people believe anything goes. But in reality, it shouldn’t be about what I want or what you want. It’s about a sense of what is right. It’s about responsibility and I ought to do what is right.

I will – the student must; If we’ve clarified what is right, we realize we are able to chose. I will do it even though it’s hard, I don’t feel like it, everyone else isn’t doing it, etc.

Online Resources:

Charlotte Mason Resource Books

Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason - 6 Volume Set

Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

Pocketful of Pinecones: Nature Study with the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola

A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison

More Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

When Children Love to Learn by Elaine Cooper

Educating the Whole Hearted Child by Clay & Sally Clarkson

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt

The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick

Easy Homeschooling Techniques by Lorraine Curry

The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock

Charlotte Mason Study Guide by Penny Gardner

Continue with Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this series.

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