… have begun in earnest. I spent a few hours the other day poring over Montessori math materials and made some purchases and decided on what to try to make instead of buy.
Today I spent a few hours poring over the Ambleside Online book list for Year 1 and made an Amazon wish-list. Some of the books are short and only used for a short time; these we could maybe get at the library. Others we might prefer to own, or might be used over a longer time period than would be practical for library books.
Still to do:
1) Actually make the math materials.
2) Buy or make the first materials I will need to begin Godly Play (Montessori-based Christian Ed).
3) Figure out where to put stuff and where to work.
4) Everything else.
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.
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
II. The kindergarten as a place of education
The idea of kindergarten must have been somewhat new at Mason’s time. She finds the approach a potentially very good one, but notes that its success depends on a high quality teacher, one with great sensitivity and liveliness; otherwise it will just be wooden.
Like in Montessori, apparently kindergarten involved a carefully structured approach to sensory education with fine distinctions in such things as shape and color. Mason admits that the knowledge thus gained is exact, but would prefer that kids be left / given opportunities to make their own sensory explorations of real things in the real world. I’m not sure there’s that much of a conflict — surely there is enough time for children to have both kinds of experience.
Kindergarten also required children to do perfectly whatever they are competent to do. Charlotte Mason herself seems to share this expectation or principle Continue reading