Month: March 2018

One of the biggest troubles newbies to Charlotte Mason have is reading books slowly.

You look at all the great books on a curriculum list and dive right in … but then you’ve finished an entire term’s worth of reading in two weeks and think “this isn’t enough!”

Or, you don’t follow anyone’s term schedule but just sit down with your kids and read. You’ve never even heard that you should read books slowly.

Your kids don’t want you to stop reading, so why should you?

Let’s find out.

SLOW READING: A CORNERSTONE OF THE CHARLOTTE MASON METHOD

In What Is Charlotte Mason, I mentioned that we savor rather than gulp our books.

But what does this mean?

It means that we read books slowly. 40-50 pages per 11-12 week term.

What? That’s crazy slow, you say. There’s no way we could make a book last that long!

Yes you can.

You read only 3-4 pages per week. Mostly, you’ll read this amount in a single session. In Form 1, for example, History is done once per week for about 10-15 minutes.

Each session you’d talk about what happened last week (see this post I wrote for Wildwood Curriculum), perhaps talk about what your kids think will happen next, read the pages, then have the children narrate (tell back) to you.

After narration, talk excitedly about what you read. Maybe bring out the map to find places you’ve read about.

This will take approximately 10-15 minutes. Does that sound too little? Another staple of Charlotte Mason is short lessons.

Jodi Clark put this very well:

“It is very important to stick to the time period set for a class–this is a key piece to the method; it enables the child to slowly digest the information presented, which fosters deeper learning, understanding, and relations.

It’s a good sign they are delighted with the book if they want you to keep going. But they’ll have to wait until the next time the class is scheduled–usually a week.”

 

BUT MY CHILD DOESN’T WANT TO STOP READING!

Stop anyway.

Yes, stop even if they want you to read more.

This builds anticipation for next week, and also lets those shorter chunks simmer in their minds. They will tend to think more deeply on the scenes and topics, because they are getting them in small pieces.

Remember that Charlotte Mason is like drinking from a cup rather than a firehouse.

A trickle rather than a pour.

It also helps to develop the memory when a student forgets from one week to the next, then has to remember.

Even if the memory is jogged in order to remember.

It’s similar to Spaced Repetition, though the aim of reading slowly isn’t to memorize.

DO I USE ONLY VERY SHORT BOOKS THEN?

No. Use normal length books.

Books are generally read over several terms, and often over several years (a year is made up of 3 terms, approximately 11-12 weeks each).

This is also a reason why you should use only high quality books, that aren’t written down to children, and are full of ideas rather than just facts.

When you use a book over a period of several months to years, it needs to be interesting and well written. Anything less will guarantee that you (and your kids) will be well sick of it.

Another reason to use books that will span multiple ages is that your children won’t grow out of them in a year.

Have you ever used a curriculum that was perfect at the beginning of the year, but your child had such massive growth mid-year, that by the end it was well beneath her level? It happened with my own daughter quite frequently.

By using high quality books that span ages, you’ll decrease the chances of this happening.

VERY SLOW READING DOESN’T APPLY TO ALL BOOKS

Can you imagine trying to read a single short book of historical fiction over an entire year? Or perhaps spreading out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone over a two year period?

That story would drag!
No, fiction isn’t generally included in slow reading.

That is to say, light fiction isn’t.
In Form I (approximate ages 6-9), books of fiction weren’t generally assigned. Instead, short biographies and fairy tales were.

Form II (approximate ages 9-12) is when we really start seeing fiction every term in the PNEU programmes. Still, these are done at the rate of 1-2 books per term.

The vast majority of books in a Charlotte Mason education are non-fiction.

BUT ISN’T CHARLOTTE MASON FILLED WITH BOOKS?

Yes and no.

Multiple books are read every term, sometimes 3-4 books per subject. But they are still read slowly. They are still read at the rate of 40-50 pages per term.

Books are an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education, but they are only a part of it.

Just as important is working with your hands, cultivating a sense of beauty, and becoming a naturalist.

It is a well-balanced approach to education.

By reading books slowly, it keeps the reading manageable.

EVALUATING CURRICULA

In light of this, it should be easier to evaluate curricula that claim to be Charlotte Mason or draw from CM.

  • Lots of books listed? Fine – could go either way
  • Mostly historical fiction? Ehh …. you’ll definitely want to dig more. Charlotte Mason used some historical fiction starting in Form II, but only 1-2 books per term.
  • Are the books read quickly or are they spread out over several terms (or years)? While it’s ok for some books to be read more quickly, the majority should be read slowly.

If the books are read more quickly, consider that the curriculum might actually be more Waldorf or Classical. These are both valid homeschooling styles, but they aren’t Charlotte Mason.

THE TAKEAWAY

  • Keep readings short
  • Read only 3-4 pages per week from each book, on average, to let the material simmer
  • spread each book over several terms or even years
  • Stay strong when your child begs for one more chapter to build the anticipation

Have you tried slow reading in your homeschool? I’d love to know how it works for you! Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email.

You’ve heard things about this Charlotte Mason method, and the more you read the more it sounds like exactly what your family is looking for.

But there’s one problem: you keep seeing on blogs and Facebook groups that Charlotte Mason is for Christians only, and can’t be used by those who aren’t.

But you’re not Christian.

Do you need to leave this method behind and look for another that will welcome non-Christians? Does Charlotte Mason’s method of education really only work for those who have committed themselves to her god? Is there something different about the biology and brain of children of Christian parents that makes this method unsuitable for those of us that aren’t?

Of course not!

Charlotte Mason was Christian

Let’s get this out of the way right now — Charlotte Mason was Christian. More specifically, Anglican. In the U.S., this is the modern Episcopalian Church. Her worldview was saturated with it, and she couldn’t conceive of any other religion being ‘right’, just as many modern-day Christians can’t.

However, she also taught Jewish students, and had friends and close co-workers who were Jewish. Nowhere in her writings have I found where she said that Jewish or any other religions should not use her method. On the contrary, she says that her method works with all children. Are we to believe that her ‘all children’ actually means only Christian children, and that children are biologically different depending on what religion their parents follow?

I don’t think so.

How to bring your own beliefs to a CM education

With the proliferation of Christian curricula where the entire thing seems to be saturated with a certain brand of Christianity, and the inclusion of generally Young Earth resources in these, you’d think that Charlotte Mason held those same views.

Nope.

Her programmes (from the PNEU) are filled with books that are only mildly Christian or that are outright secular. She used books that taught current scientific theory (Darwin), and she says in Volume 1 concerning which Bible commentaries to use: “Mr. Smyth brings both modern criticism and research to bear, so that children taught from his little manuals will not be startled to be told that the world was not made in six days; and, at the same time, they will be very sure that the world was made by God.”

So what do we as non-Christians, or Christians whose beliefs don’t follow other curricula, do?

First, “We must teach only what we know.”

What does this mean? It was actually this singular passage that brought me back to my non-Christian beliefs. I was trying to raise my daughter with Christian materials, because that was all that was available 15 years ago. I read this passage, and realized that I didn’t believe what I was trying to teach my daughter.

“In the first place, we must teach that which we know, know by the life of the soul, not with any mere knowledge of the mind. Now, of the vast mass of the doctrines and the precepts of religion, we shall find that there are only a few vital truths that we have so taken into our being that we live upon them––this person, these; that person, those; some of us, not more than a single one. One or more, these are the truths we must teach the children, because these will come straight out of our hearts with the enthusiasm of conviction which rarely fails to carry its own idea into the spiritual life of another.” (Home Education p 347)

What are the core beliefs that you carry in your soul? These may or may not align with the religion that you belong to. However, these core beliefs are the only ones you can teach.

How do you make this into a curriculum?

The easiest way is to use a curriculum that aligns fairly closely with what you already believe, and then tweak from there.

The great thing about Charlotte Mason’s curriculum as found in the PNEU programmes is that there are few religious books outside the Bible portions, so it’s easy to take a curriculum that is modeled after these programs and tweak it to fit your own worldview.

Tweaking curriculum for your views

Wildwood Curriculum is a strict Charlotte Mason curriculum, but without religious dogma.  It is easily customized to fit your own beliefs.

If you belong to an organized religion with educational materials for your religion, just put those in in place of World Religions/Philosophy. Easy peasy.

If you don’t have such a simple option, it will take a bit more work.

Take a few days to think about what ideas form your spiritual beliefs or core values. Besides those, what knowledge (spiritual or mindfulness) do you think is important to have? What qualities and morals do you want to cultivate in your children?

If you’re a visual person, you might find an outline or a mind map helpful to organize your thoughts. Don’t rush it. It will be a work in progress. Here’s a copy of mine so you can see where I’m coming from.

After you’ve figured out what ideas you want covered, use that as your guide when planning your year. What resources are available to you to convey these ideas to your children? Think outside the box — they don’t need to be books; they can be experiences or you modeling actions. At the same time, they can be books.

Hang with people going through the same thing

Finally, consider joining Facebook homeschool groups that reflect your spiritual views, especially if you can find ones that follow Charlotte Mason.

I prefer groups that embrace both religious and non-religious viewpoints. Here are a few resources:

Charlotte Mason Secular Homeschoolers
Wildwood Curriculum (this is the link to the homepage.  If you are planning to use the curriculum, there’s an active Facebook group, too)
Charlotte Mason Plenary

Up Above the Rowan Tree

Charlotte Mason’s method is for everyone, no matter your religious beliefs (or lack of them!)

Want to remember this? Pin it to your favorite Pinterest board!

 

woman in yoga pose next to lake with text Charlotte Mason is not for Christians only

 

Artist study is one area I’ve always struggled with.

I don’t know much about the artists or styles or periods that they worked. I couldn’t tell you the difference between Impressionist and Post-Impressionist.

I’ve always been stumped about what to actually do with my kids during art appreciation. Do we just look at the picture? Am I supposed to point out the use of color? How do I help my kids learn about art if I don’t know anything myself?

Have you felt this way, too?

Reading through the Parents’ Review articles I was happy to find an article titled Art for Children written by Thomas Rooper.

What sort of art to use for artist study—

On page 248, it says that the wisdom of the day was that children couldn’t appreciate high minded art, and both the subject and treatment should be simple or children won’t like them.

We still get that today. A quick search for art for children’s rooms turns up nauseatingly simple designs of giraffes and rabbits, with bold, simple colors.

There is no beauty, no subtlety.

Instead, Mr. Rooper reminds us of this:

“’Young citizens,’ says Plato in the Republic, ‘must not be allowed to grow up amongst images of evil, lest their souls assimilate the ugliness of their surroundings. Rather they should be like men living in a beautiful healthy place; from everything that they see and hear, loveliness like a breeze should pass into their souls and teach them without their knowing it the truth of which beauty is a manifestation.’ In the study of art ‘liking comes by looking.’ Children cannot learn what a beautiful work of art really is unless they have an opportunity of seeing good specimens almost every day of their lives. A love for the study of beautiful things is gained by a slow process; it cannot be dinned into the mind like the multiplication table, it was never imparted by the rapid method of acquiring knowledge which is known as ‘cramming.’”

There’s our first step — choose beautiful pictures. Not cute, not ugly or disturbing. Beautiful.

artist study

NEXT

After you’ve decided on suitable art, how do you bring it to the children?

“Leaving to others the study of the technical skill displayed by the artist, and of the position of the painter in the closely connected schools of European Art, I will direct attention to the subject which has been chosen, and then to the thoughts which the present treatment of it may suggest.”

Ah-ha! We don’t need to talk about whether an artist was Impressionist or talk about how he used color in this way and that artist uses it in that way.

Instead, we draw the children’s attention to the subject painted.

That’s not to say that you can’t talk about the schools of art, or that you shouldn’t as a child gets older. But this is not something you need to go deeply into.

For older students, a quick biography or object lesson concerning the artist of the term will suffice, while younger children don’t need even that.

SETTING THE STAGE

The painting used in this example is called “Circe” by Briton Riviere circe and her swine by briton for artist study

“Have you ever gone to see the pigs fed? … As we approach the sty bearing a heavy bucket of bran and meal stirred up into a thick creamy mixture, we hear inside pushing, struggling, squealing, grunting, shrieks of excited greedy anticipation mixed with squeals of disappointment, as some porker gets shoved away by an old sow from a place near the trough which is to receive the cause of all this babel of sounds. Now we pour out the luscious nutriment. Wonderful result! In a moment the din stops. Not a sound is heard but of a furious supping, interrupted by an occasional subdued and comfortable grunt of utter enjoyment and satisfaction.”

At this point, the author isn’t even talking about the picture. He’s just setting the stage for it, talking to the children about feeding pigs. He’s using descriptive words, making it fun, and letting us feel like we’re actually out throwing the slop.

Once we have this background, we can start talking about the painting itself.

“If we now study the picture we shall see that the pigs are painted as at the moment when they expect to be fed. See them crowding up, pushing each other over, uplifting their ugly heads, stretching their throats …”

Interesting! He’s not just putting the picture in front of the children and letting them ‘get what they get’, he’s actually drawing their attention to certain bits. Because he’s set the scene, we can see exactly what he’s talking about. If he hadn’t had us imagine that we were feeding the pigs, we might not have understood when he says “we see that the pigs are painted at the moment when they expect to be fed.”

“Look at their flexible coarsely-shaped snouts, their huge wrinkled brawny faces with small greedy eyes, and ask yourselves whether the artist has not studied nature to good purpose, in depicting the scene of animal selfishness which I have just described.”

And again, he’s specifically pointing out how they are portrayed. Their huge wrinkled brawny faces. Their flexible, coarsely-shaped snouts. I can almost see a pigs snout moving and snuffling just from this description; how much more alive will this make the painting!

“Let us now turn … to contemplate the fair form of the woman who sits and surveys it. What a contrast! What grace, refinement, and beauty are here! Observe the long fall of hair, gathered above the neck in a single circlet of gold, the graceful curve of the seated figure …”

And then here, he’s contrasting. He’s pointing out the difference in how the woman is drawn to how the pigs are.

But do you see? He’s not only pointing out the contrast, he’s also drawing the children’s attention to details they might otherwise miss. The single circlet of gold in her hair, the graceful curves.

By directing children’s attention, we are also refining it. We are modeling for them what close observation of a painting looks like.

THE NEXT STEP

After the picture itself is admired and studied, the author gives even more background.

It is not simply a painting of a beautiful woman feeding pigs, but an illustration from Homer’s Odyssey. Then he tells the children an abbreviated version.

Do you think a child, after studying this painting in this manner, might want to go further and listen to an audiobook of a dramatized version of The Odyssey?

This might even be a good lead-in for an older student before beginning to read The Odyssey for himself.

But what if you have no idea if there’s a story behind a painting?

The internet is our friend.

Spend a few minutes on Wikipedia before presenting a painting, so you are armed with at least a bit of knowledge before starting.

WHERE TO GET ARTIST PRINTS

Now that you know a good way to present art to your children, are you wondering where to find it?

  •  One easy way is artist calendars. Calendars.com has many calendars for $14.99, or you can look in bookstores or even discount stores. While it sounds expensive, at 12 prints per calendar (make sure you get one with different pictures for each month), it works out to $1.25 per print.The paper is heavy and fairly resistant to grubby fingerprints.And they are easy to cut up to hang on walls or otherwise display.
  •  Come Look with Me series by Gladys Blizzard. These are cheaper than calendars, come with artist bios and questions, but can’t be cut up to be displayed.
  • Download and print

The Met Museum has released 400,000 digital images of its collection into the public domain.

They also have hundreds of art books free for download.

THE TAKEAWAY

There you have it, folks. Artist study should be guided somewhat, but we can leave the technical talk out of it.

Do a bit of research yourself before presenting a print to your child. Set the scene. Draw their attention to details. Then give backstory and connections if there are any.

That’s it.

Like so many things in a Charlotte Mason education, so very simple, but so effective.

Do you have a favorite artist or piece of art? Share it in the comments!

You’ve wanted to discuss Charlotte Mason’s works in an inclusive, accepting group. One where you felt comfortable sharing your own interpretations of Charlotte Mason’s words based on your own spiritual values. One where you didn’t have to wonder if you’d be asked to leave or simply blocked because you don’t share others’ religious beliefs.

That place now exists.

Disclaimer: This post probably contains affiliate links. That means that if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products I use and love myself.

At A Charlotte Mason Plenary, owner Rachel Lebowitz is committed to providing everyone a safe place to discuss Charlotte Mason’s works.

Her first session, a study of Volume I: Home Education, started in early January but I’ve waited to write a review.

I wanted to see how the concept would play out.

How it works

They have several Plenary sessions scheduled for this year, and though I can’t speak to future ones, I can tell you how the book discussion is working.

First, you get a download of the volume that they’ve edited and formatted for easy reading and note-taking. Not only that, but it is annotated with definitions of obscure words, fun facts, and explained references.

Then there is a members-only Facebook group in which Rachel leads a discussion of the material. The discussion has been lively, with viewpoints all over the spectrum. Members vary widely in their religious beliefs, and the conversation is kept respectful and inclusive. We are encouraged to discuss how we can reconcile Charlotte’s words to our own beliefs.

Sometimes this is easy.

Other times we wrestle with it.

Rachel is an admin at Charlotte Mason Secular Homeschoolers (disclaimer: I am a moderator there) and has led inclusive Charlotte Mason groups in her hometown.

The Takeaway

Though I haven’t participated as much as I’d like to, I’ve found the conversation at the Charlotte Mason Plenary welcoming and respectful.

I highly recommend The Plenary if you are looking for resources to help you apply Charlotte Mason’s method to your life without the dogma.