Monday, October 22, 2018

Reflections on a Math Immersion Retreat

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a Charlotte Mason Soiree Mini Retreat - Math Immersion day, which was led by Richele Baburina, author of Mathematics, An Instrument for Living Teaching and The Charlotte Mason Elementary Arithmetic Series, both of which are published by Simply Charlotte Mason. Richele has done an immense amount of research on the teaching of mathematics using Charlotte Mason's principles and methods. I have corresponded with her off and on over the years online, but this was my first chance to meet her in person. I love meeting online acquaintances in real life! Richele did not disappoint. She is a lovely person with a real heart for providing home educators with an understanding of Ms. Mason's means to teaching mathematics.

The math immersion day consisted of five sessions, each of which were broken down as follows:

Session 1 - Form I Mathematics
Session 2 - Form II Mathematics
Session 3 - Forms III & IV Mathematics
Session 4 - FAQ & Outdoor Geography
Session 5 - Algebra Crit Lesson

Richele began by explaining Ms. Mason's reference to mathematics as a mountainous land. She then took us through each of the Forms, explaining how the P.N.E.U. motto, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life." applies to mathematics. Richele made it clear that Charlotte Mason mathematics is not discovery based, nor child led. It is imperative that the child has guidance along the proper path. Let's take a brief look at what atmosphere, discipline, and life look like in mathematics.


1. Attitude of teacher/mother sets the tone of lesson
2. Short lessons
3. Developmentally appropriate
    a. Mainly oral in Form I, moving into written thereafter
    b. Use of manipulatives to introduce concepts allows concrete to abstract thinking


1. Must be consistent in frequency of lessons
2. Methods used and natural orderliness of mathematics breed habits, such as:
    a. Attention
    b. Accuracy and Neatness
    c. Reasoning and Thinking
    d. Ability to find truth
    e. Best effort
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. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, Home Education, p. 254)

1. Life giving ideas are gathered by allowing the child to draw natural conclusions and allowing them to reason through problems
2. Student builds relationships
3. Experience beauty and enjoyment

Throughout the day, Richele referenced a paper written by Irene Stephens in 1911, under the direction of Charlotte Mason, on the teaching of mathematics. I have skimmed through the beginning pages and it's clear Richele modeled her curricula after the ideas presented in this paper. I have been using Book 1 of The Charlotte Mason Elementary Arithmetic Series with Levi and can see the similarities. Also, in Session 1 of the retreat, Richele gave us an example of how to teach multiplication tables, which can be found on pages 9 and 10 of Stephens' paper. Reading through Ms. Stephens' paper in it's entirety would be a valuable way to learn Charlotte's methods for teaching mathematics to young students.

One caveat I would like to stress is the importance of understanding Charlotte Mason's 20 principles before trying to tackle her methods of teaching. The reading of Charlotte Mason's Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, was foundational to the paradigm shift I experienced in my thinking about education. Whether or not you aspire to be a Charlotte Mason educator, I believe Vol. 6 is super important to understanding the personhood of a child for anyone involved in education.

OK, off my soapbox and back to mathematics...ahem!

I found Richele's findings on Algebra and Geometry intriguing as they were closely aligned with the 'Quadrivium' chapters in The Liberal Arts Tradition by Keven Clark and Ravi Jain. I will not get into a debate as to whether or not Charlotte Mason was a classical educator. You will need to do the research and draw your own conclusion. However, I will say that Charlotte's way of introducing geometry first and then following with algebra concurrently is very much in line with classical educators of the past. Also, the fact that she used a proof based geometry after exposing students to practical geometry is a more traditional approach. Richele's proposed example of the method of teaching geometry and algebra via Charlotte Mason, was outlined as the proposed method of classical teaching in The Liberal Arts Tradition as well.

A few of my biggest takeaways from Richele's math immersion day were:

1. How to construct multiplication tables
2. The idea of not getting stuck in a rut in regard to math facts, but rather to keep moving on conceptually, while reviewing. This was a particularly helpful reminder for me in teaching my child, who has the gift of dyslexia. He does not and may never have rapid recall. I have made the mistake in the past of camping out on facts, only to rob his mind of exposure to other concepts.
3. Outdoor Geography and Sloyd were not part of the math lesson. They were separate subjects, taught at a different time.
4. Practical Geometry can begin in 5th grade, after the child has been exposed to fractions.
5. The child must have a strong foundation in fractions, decimals, and percents, as well as a firm understanding of fact tables before beginning algebra.

Overall, the math immersion day was great! I highly recommend it if you get the opportunity to attend. Richele is a humble teacher with an incredible intellect for Charlotte Mason's methods of teaching mathematics. I was reminded of the importance of my role as a teacher/mentor/model for my children. Consistency is a must and my attitude plays a huge part in my child's success.
Mathematics depend upon the teacher rather than upon the text-book and few subjects are worse taught; chiefly because teachers have seldom time to give the inspiring ideas, what Coleridge calls, the 'Captain ideas, which should quicken imagination. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 233)

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