Mason’s approach to arithmetic is pretty common sense, concrete, and focused on reasoning.
She emphasizes word problems with small numbers, and using manipulatives such as dry beans. For multiplication, for example, she would have the child find 4 x 3 by setting out three rows of four beans each and count them. This is exactly how Montessori does multiplication, too. Children should be able to use the beans for all of their math problems, and then to do mental math with imagined beans, before being asked to do math in writing. They can even use the beans to set up a whole addition table such as 1 + 1, 1 + 2, etc, and likewise for subtraction.
Mason doesn’t work on the notion of the decimal system until after all of this bean work. Her method is similar to Montessori’s, but she is critical of Montessori’s bead material, arguing that it puts more importance on the material than on the ideas it represents.
Here I prefer Montessori and the bead material. It so concretely gives the idea of tens. There are single beads for units, bars of ten beads strung together for tens, squares of ten ten-bars for hundreds, and cubes of ten hundred-squares for thousands. Children learn to exchange, to understand place, that a number in the tens place is a number of tens, and so on. Montessori also involves number cards, so that kids can work with symbols and relate the symbols to the bead material, even before they can write figures well. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
IX. The art of narrating
Children narrate all the time, quite naturally. They tell in great detail about things they have seen and done that are interesting to them. We should listen to their tales when they want to narrate. We should not pressure them to tell anything.
At the age of six, the parent-teacher can begin narration lessons. Read, just once, an episode from a good book — a fairy tale, something from the Bible, a story about people in another land, etc. Don’t stop the reading in order to make comments or ask questions. Afterward, ask the child to tell back what he has heard. Don’t make corrections to the narration, don’t prod for more.
Lessons should be consecutive from the same book. Before reading, the parent and child may talk just a little about the previous day’s lesson and perhaps say something short to introduce the new day’s lesson, being careful not to explain — let the child get the meaning for himself. After the narration, the parent may continue with discussing any moral lessons, illustrating the lesson with pictures or diagrams, and so on.
Fifteen minutes is a good amount of time for such a lesson between 6 and 9.
In the beginning, use chalk and chalkboard, so that the child can erase and try again until she is satisfied with the perfection of the shapes she has made. Spend no more than five or ten minutes a day on writing practice. Focus on producing one perfect letter or group of letters, instead of a whole page of misshapen letters. Let her begin with large letters — it is easier to avoid bad habits and develop good ones this way.
Use copywork — give her a single line of something beautiful, and let her reproduce it. When moving from print to cursive, be sure to choose a cursive style that is beautiful — don’t worry so much about economy of forms, but about how beautiful the resulting script is. For older children, copywork can involve longer portions.
If you provide a child with selections that he can understand and will appreciate, he can learn to recite them clearly and with a natural and meaningful expression. A book with exercises to this end is Arthur Burrell’s Recitation.
If you repeat a selection at odd times while doing something else with the child, he might well absorb it into memory without even trying, and with enjoyment.
One must be careful not to overtax the child with memorization and recitation. Poems and other readings should never be twaddle, but neither should they be beyond his understanding and appreciation, nor too many. Children under six should not be asked to recite.
VIII. Reading for older children
As soon as a child is able to read at all, she should read for herself books on a variety of subjects, and grow accustomed to narrating after just one reading. Thus she will develop the habit of using books for learning and enjoyment, and the habit of reading mindfully.
She should have opportunities to read aloud, from books used in her lessons, including poetry, so as to notice that words can be beautiful and should be beautifully said. Let her read for understanding, and read aloud with her own expression, rather than copying your own model.
Mason discourages too much reading TO the child Continue reading
Some folks try to gradually and seamlessly introduce reading from infancy, while others argue it is better to wait until first grade or so and work quickly.
The mother of the Wesleys waited until five. Then, in one day did the alphabet, and then began going through Genesis verse by verse — first spelling it out, then reading it over and over until fluent.
For most people, despite the difficulties inherent in English, reading comes easily enough that we don’t remember learning how.
For the alphabet, Mason recommends something that sounds very much like the Montessori moveable alphabet — a box of letters, multiple examples of each one — and a sand tray in which little fingers can form letters. Various games can be invented to work with both items, such as mom drawing a letter in the air and asking the child to find that letter in the box, or asking her to find all the D’s on a page in a book. As long as the games are of interest to the child, there’s nothing wrong with them, but it is a mistake to pressure an uninterested child with alphabet work.
Similarly, one can help a child to begin to make words on a pattern, such as starting with “at” and adding various initial consonants. He should close his eyes and spell any word he’s made, beginning to see in a quick glance the letters composing a word. (Spelling is seeing, argues Mason — and no more.) In the same way, the child should learn by sight words that do not follow a regular pattern. Continue reading
III. Further consideration of the kindergarten.
Now Charlotte Mason turns to her criticisms of the Kindergarten movement — that it is yet another educational system, one that is overly structured, too finely-tuned, too teacher-mediated, too quick to rely on programmed artificial activities, things that are cute and easy, sweet and light. In this way it undervalues the intelligence, the abilities, the autonomy and initiative, and the interests of children.
She talks about how the very word “kindergarten” has shifted. It was originally meant as an outdoor classroom of sorts for young children. Then it started to be seen as a garden for children to grow in — as if children are plants to be tended as if in a greenhouse. “It is a doubtful boon to a person to have conditions too carefully adapted to his needs,” says Mason — a person is a much more sophisticated thing than a plant, and a person has her own will and interests and is not subordinate to another’s purposes in the way a garden vegetable or flower is (186).
It’s funny to me to see Mason so strong in her emphasis on not imposing too much on children, not being too structured or too teacher- or parent-mediated, not too artificial or too carefully prepared — because in other places she has seemed to make those very errors!
Anyway, I have often had similar thoughts about many kids’ programs, whether at church or school or library story times or anything.
It reminds me, to give one example, of children’s choirs at the church in which I grew up. Continue reading