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!


  1. Another thought-provoking post, Namoi. "Trusting the process.." as you call it, is a bit hard for me. True, my children love the CM method since we started implementing last September. But after homeschooling since '94 using the textbook method, I still find myself caught in the trap of trying to make sure my children are "on grade level" - or above. For example, my 8 yr. old daughter is in a 3rd grade English textbook (which I teach from using the CM approach), but she seems completely lost during most of the lessons. And she completed the 2nd grade textbook last year, with no problem whatsoever. So should I stop English with her altogether and lose what little she has gained so far?

  2. Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by! Charlotte Mason was adamantly against using textbooks so using her methods (I'm assuming narration?) with textbooks is not what she had in mind. I can't speak to your particular book, but I would imagine having a child narrate from a dry textbook would be awful for the child, and while they may learn something, they would probably come to develop quite a bit of dislike for it. If you're interested in a CM education, I would wholeheartedly recommend AmblesideOnline. You can find help and support on their Yahoo Group.

  3. Thanks for your response, Naomi. We are considering using the AO curriculum for next year. Right now, I'm in the process of trying to "wrap my head around it" - especially the long list of required books!

  4. The list is long but the readings are done in small increments over a, long period of time and they are full of life and meaning and material that is challenging, not dry and devoid of worthy ideas that cause a child to think and grow in their thoughts. Please don't brush it off lightly, if you're interested in any of what I've said here on this blog, you will probably be pleasantly surprised by AO. Spend some time listening to the discussions in the AO Yahoo group if you can, that should help you come to know one way or the other.

  5. I have joined the AO yahoo group and I'm loving what I see in the discussions. I guess my apprehension comes from being a long-time textbook homeschool mom. :) And I am trying to figure out how children can learn without "official" textbooks. However, I am willing to learn; it just might take a while. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  6. Thanks for the reminder to "trust the process"...

  7. Fantastic post! My AO Yr 2 student (8 yrs old) brought me a book he had written last night...complete with illustrations he'd spent hours coloring, cutting out and pasting. Essentially it was a written narration of a movie he loved (not his own original story), but I was extremely pleased with the time and care and craft he put into it. I had been meditating on your post concerning "trusting the process..." and was secretly worrying that my boys (there are 4) might not become competent writers. If my 8 yr old son is inspired to spend his free time creating books for his little brother, then maybe something is "going well." Great post on trusting the process....and timely for me! Thanks~

  8. Spelling is intended to be taught from the very first reading lessons, then through copywork and later through dictation. I neglected it in the early reading lessons, to my sorrow, so we had to do remedial "visualizing" lessons. Now dd spells much better! Of course, she types her written narrations, so spell check helps her there too. lol