Okay, so the Charlotte Mason method is in the most basic form described as a method of education where the whole child (physical, spiritual, and intellectual) learns through his atmosphere and through discipline and by living life. “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.”
Education isn’t treated as a 9-5 job where the student goes to school and does all the academic reading, writing, and arithmetic and goes home and is done learning for the day. Living is learning. The experiences of life and the connections made with the experiences is what makes up a child’s education.
Charlotte Mason believed that a “feast” of subjects should be taught. This means that you are not only getting your base subjects of Math, Language Arts, History, and Science, but you are also teaching about Nature or Natural History, Geography, Poetry, Art by studying famous artists and their works, Music, Drawing, Foreign Language, and Handicrafts. It sounds like a lot to prepare to teach but it’s really not.
Part of the reason there isn’t a lot to prepare in the day to day schooling when teaching using the Charlotte Mason (or CM) method is because we, as teachers, are not called to hand out or disseminate the knowledge for the kids but to act as a guide and act as the provider of the means of knowledge.
We are not here to tell the children facts A, B, and C and expect them to know what we tell them to know. When that happens the teacher begins acting as a middleman. For example: If I prepare a lesson on Benjamin Franklin, let’s say I grab a biography and we read it together. Then I pick out different facts for him to write into a notebook and I point out all the different things I think are important and all the different things I think he should include in his report, then he isn’t doing the learning himself…I’m doing it for him.
We are here to present great opportunities for the children to make their own connections in what they read and experience. So, for a lesson on Benjamin Franklin I would find a biography and it would be a living book (I’ll talk about that term in a second). Then he would read it and tell me back what he read, or narrate. He would do this throughout the book.
When you can process in your brain what you’ve read and turn it into your own spoken words then that’s when you know what you’ve read. Charlotte Mason calls this the “act of knowing.” Couple this with going outside and exploring the world and presenting your child with the “feast” of subjects and he will make connections. And that is how your student does the learning. It’s a beautiful thing.
Can you see how when acting as the teacher who prepares which facts to teach and the teacher who provides the right books to read and tell back from are different? I don’t know about you but I much prefer to not have to pick out and prepare a bunch of information for my child to learn. I enjoy the process of giving them a really wonderful story where they make their own connections to what they’ve read (and learned) previously and to what they experience in their world.
Going back to the “living books” term… this is the heart of a CM education. In short a living book is one where you can find a story about a topic, usually written by one author who is immensely passionate about that subject on which they’ve written. It’s a book that evokes emotion in the reader. You get excited about what you’re reading.
Another key aspect to a CM education is providing short lessons. I’m talking 10-15 minutes for a young child, 6 or 7 and age 8 depending on the child. The time goes up to 20 minutes as the child gains attention skills. Once your student is in high school a short lesson of 45 minutes is reasonable.
Providing short lessons does two things:
- Provides opportunites for your student to learn the “habit of attention” and learn to focus wholeheartedly on his work at hand.
- Allows you to provide that feast of subjects for your child. Oh and each subject in this “feast” is not done everyday.
This goes hand in hand with the other part of the reason that you as the teacher don’t have to prepare a lot in the day to day schooling. The student is responsible for his own learning and you provide short lessons. Also included in the definition of short lessons is the fact that you typically would do your schooling in the morning and finish before lunch.
This scheduling is purposely done so that your afternoons are free to experience and do life. Afternoons can be spent going outside or going on field trips or allowing time for your children to play what they want to play or work on projects that they are inspired to do.
The CM method allows you to provide a well rounded education that isn’t just about books and academics but also about living life.