If I have bucked tradition in any of our homeschooling, it has been in our study of language arts.
So I’m mortified now by the Language Arts classes I was forced to endure in my school years. They took something I dearly loved and turned it into something dry and dull and unconscionably boring. While I loved language, I despised the study of English. What they did to it was absolutely criminal and I will not do the same to my own dear children.
I am not a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, at least not exclusively. I implement many of her ideas, but I’m definitely more eclectic in my approach overall. But where language arts are concerned, I certainly lean CM.
But I know what some of you are thinking. Charlotte who?
The first time a homeschooler mentioned Charlotte Mason to me they did so like I was supposed to know who they were talking about, so I smiled and acted like I did, making a mental note to find out who in the world this Charlotte-woman was at the earliest opportunity. And the more I read about her and her ideas, the more I liked her!
Charlotte Mason was a British educator of the late 19th century, (sounds boring already, doesn’t she?) but she was actually a very interesting woman who had some pretty radical ideas for her time.
Now we tend to look at the 19th century as the “good ol’ days” when families were intact and morals weren’t so threadbare and things like honor and integrity really mattered to people. But while those things are mostly true, it’s also true that, in much of society in that day, neglect of children was incredibly common. Pick up a book by the aforementioned Charles Dickens and you’ll quickly see how neglected and even despised were the children of the poor, but there was also a terrible disregard for children among the very elite. To those of some social standing, spending time with children, even one’s own children, was considered beneath the dignity of fine ladies and gentlemen.
But Charlotte Mason began to challenge the status quo. She argued that children deserved and desperately needed the attention of adults, their parents in particular, and that learning could happen very naturally for children if they were exposed to nature, to art, and to good books.
Mason decried the common textbook and discouraged the mere memorization of facts. She thought formal grammar shouldn’t be introduced at all until children were at least 10, but that much of language arts, (grammar, spelling, vocabulary,) could be learned through simple exposure to what she called “living books.”
On that issue alone Charlotte Mason and I heartily agree and so one of my prime objectives in our study of language arts is to introduce my children to good books. We do a daily read aloud that is truly one of the most important parts of our homeschool day. And I’m not reading board books or ABC picture books either! I’m not opposed to books like that at other times, but our read aloud time is reserved for quality children’s chapter books, most of which include very few pictures, if any, and some including far more difficult language than I ever dreamed my children would be able to comprehend when we first began. We’ve read classics like The Wind in the Willows, (my personal favorite,) The Trumpet of the Swan, The Cricket in Times Square, The Indian in the Cupboard, and Romeo and Juliet from Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare.
With a more traditional school approach, material is reviewed and a child’s comprehension of it is tested with a series of questions. Narration instead gives the child the opportunity to retell everything they have heard or read, not merely to tell back bits and pieces in answer to specific questions.
The difference may seem insignificant, but the benefits of narration over a question-and-answer approach have overwhelmed me, particularly in the case of my child who struggles with dyslexia. Narration allows her the opportunity to retell what she has read or heard in one complete thought, rather than in several broken pieces.
When we switched to narration, I was amazed at the level of her comprehension and for the first time I realized she was learning and retaining far more than I had given her credit for. Up until that time I had been asking her to produce the material again in a way that was very, very difficult for her! But incidentally, as she has improved in narration, she has also improved in her ability to answer specific questions! Narration has sharpened her ability to listen, to process what she hears, to put it into her own words, and then retell it to someone else. For her, and for my other children as well, narration has been a powerful means of strengthening their listening, thinking, and speaking skills and I consider it a vital part of our language arts study.