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Charlotte Mason Teaching Tips

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I was really fortunate that I found out about Charlotte Mason within the first few weeks of our home schooling adventure.  I immediately fell in love with her methods and knew that I wanted to teach my son using her educational philosophy.  If you are new to home schooling and haven't really read anything about Miss Mason, I would encourage you to read a bit of her own words, here.


Miss Mason recommended the practice of daily narration as a means of developing comprehension.  To many modern day educationalists, this notion seems out-dated and outmoded.  Most children today are tested for comprehension using the Socratic method (question/answer).  While the Socratic method is certainly a valid way to ascertain comprehension, it is really not the most efficient way to determine how well a child has understood a passage of text.  Narration, or the telling back of what has been read, is the easiest and most accurate way to check for comprehension.  Miss Mason knew this as did her contemporaries.  Narration has been the primary tool for comprehension assessment for hundreds if not thousand's of years.

How to do it.  It is quite simple.  First begin by reading a short passage to your child.  This could be a short story, a paragraph or even one or two sentences.  Ask your child to tell you what you have just read to them.  Your child should be able to tell back to you, using their own words, part if not all of the story just read to them.  When introducing children to narration, start off slowly and understand that it will take several weeks to several months for your child to begin to offer back substantial narrations.  It is not uncommon to hear one sentence replies.  Do not judge your child using Adult standards.  A child's mind is not as developed as an Adult's and therefore while they are quite capable of telling back a story, it will not be as vividly detailed as that of an older student or Adult.  Practice makes perfect when it comes to narration.  Don't expect too much -- but strive for complete understanding.  Miss Mason believe very strongly in teaching young children how to pay attention.  Narration, when appropriately used, will help develop your child's habit of attention.

Other ways to encourage narration include oral telling back, sketching or drawing of scenes or characters, acting out events in the story, buddy narration (taking turns), tape recording, or written narrations (in poem form or essay).  Parents should type up their child's narrations for inclusion in a portfolio.

Written narrations should begin after the child has had significant practice in oral narration.  Usually this is around 4-6th grades (ages 10 and up).  A good written narration would be one well-written paragraph, detailing some or all of the chapter or story read.

Language Arts

Miss Mason believed that children could learn basic grammar and composition simply from being exposed to classical literature.  It is often misquoted that she didn't believe in formal grammar study.  This is not true.  Formal study was begun when the student was in her upper Forms or around Junior High age.  Basic instruction in sentence composition, punctuation, capitalization should begin once the child is ready to write.  Any grammar instruction should be kept to a minimum, no more than 10-20 minutes, 2 times a week.  Composition begins once the child has mastered oral narration, usually at 10 years of age.  Spelling instruction should be taught using examples from books read.  Parents may wish to pre-read stories and note spelling words for their children to practice writing.  No formal spelling instruction is necessary.  Miss Mason believed that children would learn vocabulary through the systematic reading of excellent books (living books).  In addition to grammar, composition, spelling, etc. Miss Mason also believe strongly in the practice of Copywork (penmanship practice) as well as recitation (memory work).  Copywork should begin when a child is first learning to write.  Focus on forming perfect letters and choose just one or two letter with which to begin.  Older students may write words or sentences until they are able to write longer passages.  Memory work can be anything from poetry, bible verses, or passages from books.  Memorization of key passages is a gift you can give your child that will last a lifetime.  Practice daily memorization to help them sharpen their memory, focus their attention, and practice recitation (orally).

Foreign Languages

Miss Mason taught her students Latin along with modern languages (French, German and Italian).  Latin study should begin early on but may be started at any age.  There are numerous Latin programs designed for children; choose one that fits your budget and overall language goals.  As far as a modern language, choose a language based on your family history, physical country of origin, or simply your child's desire.  There are many CD-Rom based language programs that cost less than $40.  Do not feel that you have to purchase some of the more expensive programs (ex. Rosetta Stone) -- use what works for your family and is within your budget.

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