Tuesday, February 21, 2012

First Compositions

Charlotte Mason's ideas on composition are an incredible paradigm shift for anyone involved in education. Here is what she says in Vol. 6 about composition for children aged 9-12...

"...Composition is not an adjunct but an integral part of their education in every subject. The exercise affords very great pleasure to children, perhaps we all like to tell what we know, and in proportion as their composition is entirely artless, it is in the same degree artistic and any child is apt to produce a style to be envied for its vigour and grace. But let me again say there must be no attempt to teach composition. Our failure as teachers is that we place too little dependence on the intellectual power of our scholars, and as they are modest little souls what the teacher kindly volunteers to do for them, they feel that they cannot do for themselves. But give them a fair field and no favour and they will describe their favourite scene from the play they have read, and much besides." Charlotte Mason ~Vol. 6, p.192

Let me repeat that what is called 'composition' is an inevitable consequence of this free yet exact use of books and requires no special attention until the pupil is old enough to take naturally a critical interest in the use of words.
~Vol.6, p.274

I can't tell you how many times I have read posts by people questioning this idea of not teaching composition to young children. And so for me, as it so often is with Charlotte's methods, it's a leap of faith to trust this process.

My oldest is now in YR4 and only half a year into written narrations. Scanning through her work, her writing has been brief and lacking in style so I've wondered about it. We have never studied sentences or paragraphs or how to write anything.

I think they must have found some notebooks they received as gifts at my last baby shower this morning because when I woke up, they both handed me their first little compositions that they'd been working on for fun. They had pen and book in hand during their spare time for the rest of the day and even took them to bed with them tonight asking if they could stay up and write for a few minutes longer.

Below is what my YR4 daughter wrote - the spelling and punctuation are indicative of my lack of focus in that area - I'm trusting CM on spelling through dictation, but our lessons have been sparse. The kids have had talks with me to teach them more spelling, which I will. I have told my daughter not to worry about spelling or punctuation in her written narrations for now, just to write freely. We'll be working on those areas more in the months to come and I'm confident with a little attention, we'll see quick improvement. For the time being, it's seeing unrestricted movement from her mind through her hand onto paper that is thrilling.

My husband wasn't too happy that the son left the father in the story. I wasn't too happy the mother plotted a lie to her husband!

But I was pleased with the thoughtfulness behind it all and the fact that she's enjoying writing. The only input I gave her was that I felt it was wrong for the 4 men and the mother not to have any consequence for their actions. I have a feeling there will be more chapters to come as she left room for a table of contents.

Here's her younger YR2 brother's page:

In a recent post in the AmblesideOnline Yahoo Group, Anne White, in speaking about writing curricula and its emphasis on rules said:

"It's much more important to have something to say and to say it well than to worry about whether or not you can fit the piece of writing into some pre-approved format."

I agree with her. I don't think my daughter would ever have written this story if we'd approached writing from the other side - the rules side. We'll keep you posted on our progress.

How about you? Are any of you trusting the process? What are you finding? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

The Relevance of Handicrafts in Today's World

A discussion came up at our monthly meeting about handicrafts and their relevance today and I thought I'd post a continuation here to add my thoughts and also for anyone else to do the same.

In today's technologically driven world, are handicrafts, like wood-working or knitting, still relevant? Wouldn't it serve our children better to learn how to type and use a computer? Or what about HTML, CSS or PHP for that matter? Aren't these things more important to know than knitting or wood working? I think it's an excellent and valid question.

In our home, since I am proficient in typing, blogging, web design, etc., I am holding off on teaching them any of those things because I know that, by default, they will learn them as we work on projects together in the future. I also think they are a hugely distracting and I'm just not willing to open up that kind of distraction to them until they have a foundation of worthy knowledge and the ability to govern their own selves in the face of such distractions. Every technology seems to me to open up added streams of things I just prefer not to have to filter out and monitor at this point.

I think it's good to look at what value Charlotte Mason saw in handcrafts. In regards to curriculum, she advised against utilitarian ends. In Vol. 3, p.241 she wrote:

"I should be inclined to say of education ... To educate children for any immediate end––towards commercial or manufacturing aptitude, for example––is to put a premium upon general ignorance with a view to such special aptitude. ... Excellent work of whatever kind is produced by a person of character and intelligence, and we who teach cannot do better for the nation than to prepare such persons for its uses. He who has intelligent relations with life will produce good work."

In a Parent's Review Article titled, Notes of Lessons, we find the outline of a handicraft lesson and it's purpose:

IV. Subject: Clay-modelling.

Group: Handicrafts. Class II. Time: half-hour.

By B. M. Dismoor.


I. To introduce the children to a new handicraft, and to show them how to deal with a new material by modelling a plant pot and saucer.

II. To increase observation and appreciation of beauty in form.

III. To give the children the pleasure of creating.

IV. To concentrate the children's attention and to increase their patience and perseverance.

This seems to coincide with what Ambleside Online claims in their FAQ section: First and foremost, Charlotte Mason is a 12-year Christian Character Building curriculum.

Here is another Parent's Review article, this one titled "Our Work", points to developing their inventive faculty:

With regard to sloyd work, the fact that it encourages children to invent and carry out models of their own speaks greatly in its favor. It is the inventive faculty in children we all wish to encourage and cultivate. The same may be said of Basket-making. Children soon begin to invent their own patterns, and if along with pretty designs we get careful and accurate work the educational value of these employments soon shows itself.

So I guess the question then becomes: couldn't character be taught just as easily through technological craft? Or, why is knitting or wood-working a better option in building character than typing or HTML?

Another good point CM made about handicrafts is that:

"...intellectual occupation seems to make for chastity in thought and life."

"The children I am speaking of are much occupied with things as well as with books ... He practises various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials.
But, always, it is the book, the knowledge, the clay, the bird or blossom, he thinks of, not his own place or his own progress. "

What do you think?

I also posted this discussion on the ning here: http://charlottemasoneducation.ning.com/forum/topics/are-handicrafts-still-relevant-in-today-s-technologically-driven-?xg_source=activity

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Wild Wood

Reading Wind in the Willows for the second time around, I can't help but wonder if I really ever did read this book before! I just don't remember ever knowing how wonderful it truly is. I felt the same way about Winnie the Pooh when we picked up that old friend again.

The language and the characters are so rich and exquisite that, as I read to my 8yo son, he commented "Wind in the Willows is getting really good now!" and my 10yo daughter, who was previously playing, crawled up on the couch to cuddle close and hang on every word.

Today Mole ventured off into the Wild Wood alone in the midst of winter. It was one of those chapters that made me want to stick my head out of the window, wave the book in the air and yell to anyone that happened to be passing by, "Words, words, oh glorious words! You must read this!" Which is what I'm doing here I suppose.

Read for yourself a little bit of Kenneth Grahame's wonder. Here he is describing Mole's impression of the winter wood:
The country air lay bare and entirely leafless around him, and he thought that he had never seen so far and so intimately into the insides of things as on that winter day when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off. Copses, dells, quarries and all hidden places, which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves and their secrets pathetically, and seemed to ask him to overlook their shabby poverty for a while, till they could riot in rich masquerade as before, and trick and entice him with the old deceptions. It was pitiful in a way, and yet cheering - even exhilarating. He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.
This is the Science of Relations at its finest, don't you think?

Later, when Ratty joins Mole who gets cut with a door scraper, a comical exchange ensues between the one, who knows a door-scraper naturally leads to a door, and the latter, whose thick-headedness prevents him from discovering the same. When at last Mole does put it all together, Graeme treats us to his ever so delicious wit:

"Rat!" he cried in penitence, "you're a wonder! A real wonder, that's what you are. I see it all now! You argued it out, step by step, in that wise head of yours, from the very moment that I fell and cut my shin, and you looked at the cut, and at once your majestic mind said to itself, 'Door-scraper!' And then you turned to and found the very door-scraper that done it! Did you stop there? No. Some people would have been quite satisfied; but not you. Your intellect went on working. 'Let me only just find a door-mat,' says you to yourself, 'and my theory is proved!' And of course you found your door-mat. You're so clever, I believe you could find anything you liked. 'Now,' says you, 'that door exists, as plain as if I saw it. There's nothing else remains to be done but to find it!' Well, I've read about that sort of things in books, but I've never come across it before in real life. You ought to go where you'll be properly appreciated. You're simply wasted here, among us fellows. If I only had your head, Ratty-"

"But as you haven't," interrupted the Rat...

...and off we are with AO's YR2 living literature.

True Love

Give me to love thee, to embrace thee,
though I once took lust and sin in my arms.
Thou didst love me before I loved thee,
an enemy, a sinner, a loathsome worm.
Thou didst own me when I disclaimed myself;
Thou dost love me as a son,
and weep over me as over Jerusalem.
Love brought thee from heaven to earth,
from earth to the cross,
from the cross to the grave.
Love caused thee to be weary, hungry, tempted,
scorned, scourged, buffeted,
spat upon, crucified, and pierced.
Love led thee to bow thy head in death.
My salvation is the point where perfect created love
and the most perfect uncreated love meet together;
for thou dost welcome me,
not like Joseph and his brothers, loving and sorrowing,
but loving and rejoicing.
This love is not intermittent, cold, changeable;
it does not cease or abate for all my enmity.

Holiness is a spark from thy love
kindled to a flame in my heart by thy Spirit,
and so it ever turns to the place from which it comes.
Let me see thy love everywhere, not only in the cross,
but in the fellowship of believers and in the world around me.
When I feel the warmth of the sun
may I praise thee who are the Sun of righteousness with healing power.
When I feel the tender rain
may I think of the gospel showers that water my soul.
When I walk by the river side
may I praise thee for that stream that makes the eternal city glad,
and washes white my robes that I may have the right to the tree of life.
Thy infinite love is a mystery of mysteries,
and my eternal rest lies in the eternal enjoyment of it.

~Valley of Vision

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Atmosphere of Economic Woes

A kindness is like a flower that has bloomed upon you unawares, and to be on the watch for such flowers adds very much to our joy in other people, as well as to the happy sense of being loved and cared for. ~Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p.109
For all the books we've read to the kids, it seems mostly what comes out of our mouths as parents and what lives in the air about our home is what affects our children most.

The reason I know this is because I have seen my very own selfish attitudes come right back at me from little persons I know I have taught otherwise!

In light of the economic woes we see affecting so many, this is something worth considering.

Wives, Mothers... let us not pollute the atmosphere.

Wives - when there isn't enough, do we make our husband feel worse than he already does by pointing out what all he doesn't provide? Are we wise stewards or do we fall prey to impulse, adding to his burden? Are we needy and pestering around him when he is detached, trying to work out whatever it is he needs to work out, or do we give him space and find contentment in our own space? What are we teaching our daughters - future wives - by how we treat our spouse in the midst of difficulty? What are we teaching our sons - future husbands - about a man's worth?

Mothers - when our children have to go without, do we shed tears for all they have not, or do we rejoice in the character God is forging in their souls? What are we teaching our children about our faith when we are fearful? What do we teach our children when we allow ourselves to lose control, complaining, worrying, raising the tone of our voices, reacting in anger? What of humility and receiving grace?

Let's 'be on the watch for such flowers' - the soft pillow, the warm sunlight, the hug, the new seedling, the smile, God's word, the poem, the story, the music, the truth, the grace we have just for today... there is so much, always.

Not being able to provide them with every good thing under the sun can weigh heavy on a good mother's heart, I know. And yet, this is the time when it counts the most; it is a time of great opportunity in educating our children. Don't miss it.
That he should take direction and inspiration from all the casual life about him, should make our poor words and ways the starting-point from which, and in the direction of which, he develops––this is a thought which makes the best of us hold our breath. There is no way of escape for parents; they must needs be as 'inspirers' to their children, because about them hangs, as its atmosphere about a planet the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life-long 'appetency' towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine. ~Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 37

Monday, February 6, 2012

Did Charlotte Mason believe in Original Sin?

Frescoe of Santa Maria Novella

Grab a cup of tea and make sure you have some time carved out before you dig into this one - there's a lot of reading!

Starting with an article by Aimee Natal titled "Charlotte Mason: For Whose Sake?" in which she wrote:
After studying Charlotte Mason's six volumes, a Christian should conclude that her educational philosophy is not for the children's sake.
Art Middlekauff responded to Ms. Natal with an article titled "For Whose Sake?" in which he states:
Evangelism is a discipline and a life. And I know of no better method to evangelize your children than a Charlotte Mason education.
Elaine Cooper, author of When Children Love to Learn, also responded to Ms. Natal's article in her own article titled "Charlotte Mason: A Different Perspective" wherein she explains the historical context of CM's writings and points out that:
Some have incorrectly concluded that Miss Mason had an incorrect understanding of the doctrine of salvation because of her emphasis on the outworking of education in the life of the child, especially regarding the place and role of habit. Miss Mason did enjoy an enthusiastic study of brain research by the physiologists of her day. However, to quote her out of context in this regard is to misunderstand her and to misquote her.
Anne White, a member of the Ambleside Advisory also posted on the topic of CM's theology here stating:
Chapter 25 of Charlotte Mason's book Parents and Children should be required reading for homeschoolers...especially for anyone who thinks that Christian belief is not integral to Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education. Apologies to atheists, agnostics and CM users of any other faith, but this chapter lays it out straight: Charlotte Mason puts everything in charge of the Holy Spirit, including both the moral aspects of child training (with which Christian parents would quickly agree) and the intellectual.
And lastly, I wrote a post here on Charlotte Mason's Great Recognition after having attended Deani Van Pelt's class on the topic at Childlight in 2010. In CM's own words, the great recognition in which:
...we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may, at the same time, be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.
And one very last thing: there is a continuing discussion on this topic on the Charlotte Mason Education site here that you are welcome to join in on.

And if you get through all of that, please do leave me a comment so I can be amazed at how much you read! I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Object of Nature Study

Someone recently asked a question about Nature Study in the AO Yahoo group and after looking into it more, I posted a response, which I'd like to post here for the sake of sharing and also to be able to refer back to again in the future.

I don't know that my answer is 'correct' at all, it's just what I found in reading about it, and I continue to be a work in progress, so if you have anything to add or an observation to make, please do so in the comments section.

The question was basically this: Is it enough for our kids to just be out in nature? What if they don't naturally grow into curiosity and scientific observation, should we direct them?

Based on CM's writings in Vol. 6 on Science, it seems we are definitely to
direct them in their Nature Study (see below at the bottom***).

The Handbook of Nature Study also has a great section in the beginning titled
'The Teaching of Nature Study' that is helpful in how to do that. Comstock says:
"Nature Study ... consists of simple, truthful observations that may, like beads
on a string, finally be threaded upon the understanding and thus held together
as a logical and harmonious whole. Therefore, the object of the nature-study
teacher should be to cultivate in the children powers of accurate observation
and to build up within them understanding."

In the section titled "The Field Excursion", she basically says the child's 'seeing nothing'
can be avoided if the teacher plans the work definitely before starting and
demands certain results.

She says if it's well planned it shouldn't take more than ten or fifteen

"Certain questions and lines of investigation should be given the pupils before
starting and given in such a manner as to make them thoroughly interested in
discovering the facts."

"...the pupils must know that certain observations are to be made or they will
not be permitted to go again. This should not be emphasized as a punishment; but
they should be made to understand that a field excursion is only, naturally
enough, for those who wish to see and understand outdoor life."

In the section preceding this titled "The Field Notebook", she says the notebook
is the child's property and we are not to criticize it or correct any English in

So... I translate all that to mean that we require the observation and
notebooking of the observation, and then trust that the interest will develop
and learning occur without checking up on their work.

Comstock does say the notebook is useful to the teacher in learning what the
child sees and cares for, helping us know where to find the starting point for
"cultivating larger intelligence." So, maybe peek at it when they're not looking
if they don't want you looking, or maybe they will naturally want to show you at
some point.

I used to have the kids just pick something and draw it, but then I saw a
friend, Shannon's nature journal. She did things that called for observation -
like drawing the scene across the street from her window and drawing in where
the sun set in the summer. Then returning to the same picture and filling in
where the sun set in that picture in the winter, you can't help but notice - it
moved! She drew the moon every night before bedtime for two weeks along the
edges of her notebook.

Some other things I read about on the Handbook of Nature Study blog or somewhere
else - collect six seeds that fly and draw them. Draw six different types of beaks on birds (Jen's idea). Draw six types of leaves including pine needles. Draw where the water level is in the spring and in the fall. Pick a tree and draw it once in the spring, summer, fall and
winter. I'm sure you could come up with more of your own ideas here.

So, specific and firm in what they are to do, then giving lots of freedom in the
doing, and not checking up on their work, is what I think I'm getting from
my reading. (In hindsight, I might have better said here not 'correcting' their work)

***Here are CM's writings from Vol. 6, I added the corresponding years in

We find an American publication called The Sciences (whose author would seem to
be an able man of literary power) of very great value in linking universal
principles with common incidents of every day life in such a way that interest
never palls and any child may learn on what principles an electric bell works,
what sound means, how a steam engine works, and many other matters, explained
here with great lucidity.

Capital diagrams and descriptions make experiments easy and children arrive at
their first notions of science without the verbiage that darkens counsel.

Form IIA (5th & 6th grade) read Life and Her Children by Arabella Buckley and
get a surprising knowledge of the earlier and lower forms of life. IIB (4th
grade) take pleasure in Kingsley's Madam How and Lady Why. They are expected to
do a great deal of out-of-door work in which they are assisted by The Changing
Year, admirable month by month studies of what is to be seen out-of-doors. They
keep records and drawings in a Nature Note Book and make special studies of
their own for the particular season with drawings and notes.

The studies of Form III (7th & 8th grade) for one term enable children to––"Make
a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put in the names
of the plants you would expect to find.

"Write notes with drawings of the special study you have made this term,"

"What do you understand by calyx, corolla, stamen, pistil? In what ways are
flowers fertilised?"

"How would you find the Pole Star? Mention six other stars and say in what
constellations they occur."

"How would you distinguish between Early, Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic?
Give drawings."

Questions like these, it will be seen, cover a good deal of field work, and the
study of some half dozen carefully selected books on natural history, botany,
architecture and astronomy, the principle being that children shall observe and
chronicle, but shall not depend upon their own unassisted observation.

The study of natural history and botany with bird lists and plant lists
continues throughout school life, while other branches of science are taken term
by term.