Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Art, Music, and Mathematics with Charlotte Mason....


There are few subjects regarded with more respect and less confidence in our schools than this of 'Art'.  Of course, we say, children should have their artistic powers cultivated, especially those who have such powers, but how is the question.  The neat solution offered by South Kensington in the sixties, - freehand, drawing, perspective, drawing from the round, has long been rejected; but nothing definite has taken its place and we still see models of cones, cubes and so on, disposed so that the eye may take them in freely and that the hand may perhaps produce what the eye has seen. But we begin now to understand that art is not to be approached by such a macadamised road.  It is of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt.  We recognise that the power of appreciating art and of producing to some extent an interpretation of what one sees is as universal as intelligence, imagination, nay, speech, the power of producing words.  But there must be knowledge and, in the first place, not the technical knowledge of how to produce, but some reverent knowledge of what has been produced; that is, children should learn pictures, line by line, group by group, by reading, not books, but pictures themselves.  A friendly picture-dealer supplies us with half a dozen beautiful little reproductions of the work of some single artist, term by term.  After a short story of the artist's life and a few sympathetic words about his trees or his skies, his river-paths or his figures, the little pictures are studied one at a time; that is, children learn, not merely to see a picture but to look at it, taking in every detail.  Then the picture is turned over and the children tell what they have seen, - a dog driving a flock of sheep along a road but nobody with the dog.  Ah, there is a boy lying down by the stream drinking.  It is morning as you can see by the light so the sheep are being driven to pasture, and so on; nothing is left out, the discarded plough, the crooked birch, the clouds beautiful in form and threatening rain, there is enough for half an hour's talk and memory in this little reproduction of a great picture and the children will know it wherever they see it, whether a signed proof, a copy in oils, or the original itself in one of our galleries. - Charlotte Mason (Vol 6, A Philosophy of Education, p 213-214)

In Charlotte's schools, students studied art for both expression and appreciation.  She describes her method of appreciation above, using picture study to get to know an artist.  The children then drew on this appreciation of art, as well as the beauty of their natural surroundings, to create their own masterpieces through painting, drawing, clay modeling, etc.  Charlotte also encouraged handicrafts as part of expression.  Whereby, the children would create useful items through knitting, sewing, carving, leathercraft, sculpting, etc.

The points to be borne in mind in children’s handicrafts are: (a.) that they should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b.) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c.) that slipshod work should not be allowed; (d.) and that therefore, the children’s work should be kept well within their compass. – Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1 Home Education, p. 315)

We love Simply Charlotte Mason's Handicrafts Made Simple DVD series!  Riley is working through Hand Sewing.  


Music, the Great Joy we owe to Hearing. - Hearing should tell us a great many interesting things, but the great and perfect joy which we owe to him is Music.  Many great men have put their beautiful thoughts, not into books, or pictures, or buildings, but into musical score, to be sung with the voice or played on instruments, as so full are these musical compositions of the minds of their makers, that people who care for music can always tell who has composed the music, they hear, even if they have never heard the particular movement before. Thus, in a manner, the composer speaks to them, and they are perfectly happy in listening to what he has to say.  Quite little children can sometimes get a good deal of this power; indeed, I knew a boy of three yeas old who knew when his mother was playing 'Wagner,' for example.  She played to him a great deal, and he listened.  Some people have more power in this way than others, but we might all have far more than we possess if we listened.  

How to get the Hearing Ear. - Use every chance you get of hearing music (I do not mean only tunes, though these are very nice), and ask whose music has been played, and, by degrees, you will find out that one composer has one sort of thing to say to you, and another speaks other things; these messages of the musicians cannot be put into words, so there is no way of hearing them if we do not train our ear to listen. - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 4, Ourselves, p 30-31) 

Again Charlotte taught music through appreciation and expression.  The children studied various composers much in the same way as studying artists, by reading a brief biography about the composer and listening to some of their works.  The children also sang and learned to play piano as part of their music study.  

In Music their knowledge of theory and their ear-training should keep pace with their powers of execution. - Charlotte Mason (Vol 3, School Education, p. 302) 

In an effort to use Charlotte's methods in our homeschool, this year, I've incorporated singing and artist study.  The children and I are leaning to sing one hymn and one folksong per term.  The first term we are singing The Star Spangled Banner and Come Thou Fount.  We will also be reading about misc. artists and composers including Francis Scott Key, Benjamin West, and John James Audubon.  The children draw as part of their nature study and narration.  In addition, they produce handicrafts as noted above. 


The practical value of arithmetic to persons in every class of life 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.  There is no one subject in which good teaching effects more, as there is none in which slovenly teaching has more mischievous results.  Multiplication does not produce the 'right answer,' so the boy tries division; that again fails, but subtraction may get him out of the bog.  There is no must be to him; he does not see that one process, and one process only, can give the required result.  Now, a child who does not know what rule to apply to a simple problem within his grasp, has been ill taught from the first, although he may produce slatefuls of quite right sums in multiplication or long division.  - Charlotte Mason (Vol 1, Home Education, p 254) 

Let his arithmetic lesson be to the child a daily exercise in clear thinking and rapid, careful execution, and his mental growth will be as obvious as the sprouting seedling in the spring. - Charlotte Mason (Vol 1,
Home Education, p 261) 

Though Charlotte references mathematics many times in her six-volume series, there is not a lot of practical application.  I find her writing on this subject to be more philosophical.  This frustrates me since my black and white brain likes clear instruction, particularly in mathematics.  This is one subject, and may be the only subject, where I want Charlotte to tell me exactly how to teach x, y, and z.  

Some things I have come to learn over the years about Mason's teaching of mathematics are...

1. Charlotte used textbooks for math teaching.  She did not use living books for math.
2. Mathematics was used to train both mental and moral habits in Charlotte's schools.   
3. Children must learn the why behind the how.  Charlotte believed in starting mathematics teaching with manipulatives so children could see and physically manipulate the numbers. 
4. Charlotte believed the study of mathematics necessary, but she commented multiple times on being careful not to give math undue importance at the expense of a full and generous curriculum.  

But education should be a science of proportion, and any one subject that assumes undue importance does so at the expense of other subjects which a child's mind should deal with.....In a word our point is that Mathematics are to be studied for their own sake and not as they make for general intelligence and grasp of the mind...To sum up, Mathematics are a necessary part of every man's education; they must be taught by those who know; but they may not engross the time and attention of the scholar in such wise as to shut out any of the score of 'subjects,' a knowledge of which is his natural right.  - Charlotte Mason (Vol 6, A Philosophy of Education, p 231-233)

Simply Charlotte Mason published an invaluable book written by Richele Baburina titled Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching.  Baburina studied Charlotte's writings as well as several sources used by Charlotte's teachers and parents and then compiled the book as a means to practically apply Charlotte's methods to the teaching of mathematics.  I own the book, but shamefully have not given it the habit of full attention.  I'm adding this to my to-do-list ;-)

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