Are you homeschool family? Perhaps you’ve heard about Charlotte Mason and are curious whether her approach would benefit your family. When I first started researching Mason’s philosophy, I discovered there were many benefits. After much reading and discussion, my husband and I determined Mason’s method was what we wanted to follow with our children. So, if you are wondering whether Mason’s approach is one that would work for you, read on. And since there are many benefits to a Mason education, I’ll address a few at a time over the next several weeks.
Benefit #1: Short Lessons
When people first hear about a Charlotte Mason approach, they often feel intimidated. They may think that it’s an overwhelming plan that requires us to lead long complicated lessons about things we may not have studied. But that impression is a far cry from Mason’s actual approach. With young students, Mason scheduled lessons that were 10-20 minutes long. The longest lessons she advised for her oldest students were 45 minutes.
Furthermore, lessons are not a time for parents (or teachers) to break down and explain things to children. During the short lesson, the teacher would present a source of knowledge and then allow the child to retell what he/she heard and saw. This could be listening to a passage in a book, hearing music, looking at a picture, or exploring something outside. The idea is to avoid pre-digesting the material and simplifying it for children. Mason believed that children were capable of understanding ideas without our simplification.
Since I’m in the trenches with a 6-year-old, short lessons make the day approachable. Even if a particular lesson is a struggle, it only lasts 10-20 minutes. I try to stick with the lesson time so that we don’t get bogged down and frustrated. In addition, we also mix up the lessons so that we alternate between lesson that require listening versus lessons that are more hands-on.
Benefit #2: Living Books
For a family of bibliophiles, the emphasis on living books was a clear benefit. Mason was a firm believer that children should read good books. She even encouraged frugality in other areas in order to allow more resources for good books. Mason referred to these good books as living books. Living books generally had one author (unlike textbooks) and were literary in nature. Even books on history and science could be story driven. These stories draw people into the world of the author, and this increased interest helps us internalize what we’re reading.
It is interesting that Mason didn’t provide a checklist for identifying living books. However, her volumes include descriptions of what a living book is. She claims that the books that children will be drawn toward are literary in nature. Furthermore, books that children cannot narrate and discuss in a meaningful way are not living books (vol. 6, p. 248). She also points out that a wide variety of books is important for children to develop well-rounded knowledge of the world. And these books cannot be too easy and just tell the child what to think, otherwise, he/she won’t actually benefit from them (vol. 6, p. 303).
Benefit #3: Narration
In Mason’s method, narration is a key principle. By narration, she means that children should be able to listen to, read, or observe something (e.g., a passage of a book or a picture) and retell it in their own words. If they are paying attention (one of her key disciplines), they should be able to retell many of the key ideas of what they observed. The benefit of narration is that children are able to connect with the ideas that resonate with them. Rather than forcing them to memorize pre-selected facts, they are able to internalize the aspects that make sense to them.
Mason points out that it is a natural thing for children to narrate. Even young children do it when they recount something they have witnessed. However, this doesn’t mean we need to have our toddlers narrating the books we read to them. Rather, Mason suggests waiting until the child begins lessons at age 6 to begin formal narration. Children begin with oral narrations when they begin school and progress to written narrations as their reading and writing skills develop.
Scratching the Surface
While these three components are important to a Charlotte Mason education, they are not exhaustive. I’ll discuss some of the other important aspects of her philosophy in future posts, including outdoor life, nature study, masterly inactivity, the arts, etc. I’d love to know if there are other areas that interest you. Feel free to send me an email at hello(at)amblesidetales(dot)com. Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram and Pinterest to see more about how we homeschool with a Mason approach.