Charlotte Mason Volume I Part V:XI-XIV

XI. Transcription

A child’s first practice in writing should be transcribing — copywork — copying favorite passages and verses into a little book of their own. Transcription is also practice in spelling. Let the child get in the habit of making a mental image of a word, and then transcribing the letters from memory, rather than looking back and forth for each letter in the word. It’s easier for them to develop beautiful writing if they don’t try to make their letters too small. A blackboard is useful for modeling and practicing.

XII. Spelling and dictation

Mason argues that it is mental images of words that develop memory for spellings. If so, it’s worse than useless to have students identify, copy, and correct spelling errors — they see the erroneous spelling as much as the correct spelling, and there’s no reason the correct image will stay in mind better than the erroneous one.

Her take on spelling is quite different from the currently prevailing theory of allowing young children to spell creatively — so as not to put too much burden on form instead of content, to avoid too much correction, and figuring it will self-correct or be amenable to correction later. I’ve heard parents lament the problems of this current approach, and other people arguing that it all works out just fine. I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion at this point.

A better way to practice dictation is to let the child first study the text, focusing on any words that she thinks might be tricky. These the teacher may put on the board, let the child study them, then rub them out. When the child feels ready, the teacher reads each clause only once, in such a way that any necessary punctuation is obvious without needing to be named. The teacher could use white stickers to cover incorrectly spelled words as they might appear. After the dictation, the student could study those words again and then write them correctly on the stickers.

In other areas of study, it is useful to call attention to difficult words, such as proper names in history, writing them on the blackboard for students to take a mental picture of them. Otherwise there’s no need to always be quizzing about spelling.

XIII. Composition

Composition follows naturally from reading, from living, and from narrating about both. There is no need to teach about how to form a sentence or put sentences together, no need to provide facts for the child to assemble into a proper paragraph. Let them just write as they are so inclined — to describe a walk they took, or a chapter they read, or some idea they have, or something they know about. Children mostly even learn about the proper uses of capitalization and punctuation from their reading.

XIV. Bible Lessons

Children are already receptive to spiritual things. Let them hear the Bible stories from a real Bible and not a paraphrase or child’s version. Young children should know the main stories of the Old Testament and the Gospels — to see the Bible as a broad unfolding story and not just little bits here and there.

Mason’s instructions are a bit unclear on how to address scholarship. On the one hand she recommends that we bring them whatever light modern scholarship sheds on such issues as history vs. legend. On the other hand, she recommends that we not trouble kids too much about worrying about whether such and such a story really happened or is included for some other reason.

The Bible lesson should proceed like any reading, by the teacher reading a passage with attention and care, and asking the child to narrate back. An educational discussion may follow, with information from scholarship and attention to moral and spiritual truth, but not much emphasis on making personal applications.

It’s good to have good illustrations of Bible stories, especially those from the old masters.

Children can begin to memorize passages. Let the teacher first read the whole thing. Then, read a verse at a time, repeating it a few times until the child thinks he knows it, and then he may recite it, too. In this way, adding another verse or two each day, they can memorize whole passages.

I intend to use Godly Play for my spiritual curriculum. What’s interesting in Mason’s approach is her appreciation for children’s spiritual receptivity and reverence, which Godly Play also acknowledges.

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