Homeschool 101: Charlotte Mason Style
In which a student of Charlotte Mason (British educator 1842-1923) imperfectly outlines first steps of the Mason method with an eye toward hope and encouragement to new home educators.
By: Anya Campbell
Ideas on How to Begin
I love homeschooling and, honestly, when I started this process I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I have so far. I’ve been learning and implementing the Mason method in our home for the past 4 years. It hasn’t been a quick, open and go process; more of a slow unfolding, if you will. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that I hope can be helpful and give you courage to start your homeschool adventure.
The methods set down below are not difficult — they do, however, require the full attention of both student and teacher for a couple of hours every morning. At our house, daily lesson time is 9am-12:30, which includes around 10 subjects and a snack break. We’re done every day by lunch time. No rushing. No pushing. Only daily diligence. What a gift!
I see the goal of education as knowing truth, seeing beauty, and acquiring character. These goals are partly gained and maintained through reading well and understanding what is read. Living ideas (gleaned from subjects studied) build on each other to form a network and relationship of truth, beauty, and, ultimately, character.
The habit of attention is the most important skill to foster from the get-go. A very effective way to practice attention is through a) short lessons (10-20 mins) and b) narration (re-telling).
The Habit of Attention Through Short Lessons and Narration
If you can’t pay attention you won’t understand. In these days of flickering screens and over-scheduling (guilty and guilty), it’s harder than ever to pay attention to something for longer than a few seconds. The habit of attention allows us to zone in and focus on a certain subject for a few concentrated minutes, followed by the opportunity to narrate what we’ve heard.
- Short lessons are key (!). My kids are in 1st and 3rd grade — each lesson in our school day is between 10-20 mins long. If you’re just starting out in your quest for attention I would suggest all 10 minute lessons. Learning to pay attention takes patience and practice! I bought a simple ($5 box-store clearance) watch with a timer that we use for every subject in our school day. Using a real live wrist watch keeps me from accidentally looking at my text messages during morning school (a real attention killer) and helps me honor the lesson length (students, regardless of age, are motivated to dive in and work diligently if they know there’s a hard stop time).
- Narration is also key (!) in building attention that leads to knowledge. Narration is such a simple concept that sometimes it just seems too easy. (“You mean you’re telling me I should have the student tell me again what they just heard?” Yes.) The act of telling back what you’ve just heard or read has this near magical effect on your brain – cementing new material in your mental storehouse for future reference and relationship with other new things you hear (this is knowledge, y’all). Narration takes the place of tests/quizzes/reading comprehension worksheets. The student interacts with a subject and then tells back what she heard. It’s truly as simple as that. Narration, like alllll the other things, is (you guessed it) a habit and must be practiced, with patience, every day. Start small and build. Also, be patient.
- If your student is new to the practice of narration, make sure you start with a very short passage or simple idea (i.e. a paragraph or simple math concept).
- There are no trick questions and no right answers. The student just tells what he heard. Sometimes the narrations may be long and animated; sometimes they may be one sentence. This, of course, is totally okay. Your job as a teacher is to bring living ideas to the student — not to force-feed information.
- Practice narration with your student! This concept is especially difficult for adults who have lost or never had (me) the habit. I would encourage you to try it — have your student read a short passage to you and then tell back what you heard. It really helps you to pay attention and is great for classroom solidarity! 🙂
Like I mentioned above, our daily class time covers about 10 subjects every day and we’re still done by lunchtime. If you’re just starting out I would recommend daily diligence and short lessons with a few core subjects, then start (patiently!) building from there. If you’re training attention to your young ones, I promise you are doing enough!
Core Daily Practice
- Reading (personal quiet reading/reading out loud/being read to)
- Narration (takes the place of worksheets and quizzes/shows comprehension/habit of attention)
- Math (arithmetic/measurement/fractions/etc.)
- Copywork (spelling/penmanship/punctuation/grammar/habit of attention/memory work)
- Outside time (free play/family time/work/family walks/nature observation)
I think copywork is the superfood of morning time. It’s a power-packed 10 minute language arts package — what’s not to love? I have a 1st grader and a 3rd grader, and copywork is the only thing we’ve ever used to learn:
Copywork also covers:
- Memory work
- Habit of Attention
Importantly, copywork is not just copying words letter by letter from a book that’s open next to you. The student must hold each word in their mind, then write it without using the text for reference — this practice turns copywork into a built-in spelling lesson. Have the student look over the first sentence and pinpoint any words they’re not confident in spelling by memory. Help the student briefly study those words until they can literally see the word when they close their eyes. After spelling work, have the student do a scan of the text for punctuation. Close the book, then have the student write the sentence carefully in their notebook.
When practicing copywork, quality knocks quantity out cold every time. If the 10 minute timer rings and your student has 3 beautifully written words — that’s a day’s work well done. The goal is careful, attentive work. No rushing. No sloppiness. Set the timer. Work diligently. Pick it back up tomorrow.
I’ve been so very inspired by the work done by Richele Barburina (https://simplycharlottemason.com/store/mathematics-book-and-dvd-bundle/) – her research and diligence has helped me to see the beauty in mathematics and has replaced the fear of teaching math with excitement about getting to learn it all again.
We also use Khan Academy (https://www.khanacademy.org/parent).
Charlotte Mason said “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.”. She encouraged teachers and students to be outside as many hours in the day as was possible. Time outside builds intimacy with the natural world, saying nothing of fresh air, exercise, and worlds of make- believe. Again, the practice of being outside is as much a habit as any other subject. Go out with the children when you can (I’m looking at myself, here), but don’t feel like you need to entertain or come up with ideas for them. If I think back to when I was a kid, I can’t even imagine my mom coming outside to help us think of a game to play. Boredom fosters imagination. This takes trust to believe, especially when the kids are complaining about having nothing to do. Keep sending them outside. They’ll figure it out.
Ms. Mason taught that education is a wide and varied feast to be taken one short course after another. Since implementing these methods in our home for the last 4 years, now more than ever, I believe that, too. There is a joy and richness that comes from sharing real, living ideas as a family. Not as a teacher passing down information, but as a fellow learner, discovering alongside our children. It’s a lot of work, to be sure, but it’s the vibrant, life-giving kind of work that keeps you coming back for more. Just begin. Start with a manageable schedule and practice every day — that’s all it takes for living ideas to begin to grow.
I do real life on Instagram @ampc7 – I’d be delighted to hear from you, and encourage you on this journey. Please feel free to direct message me!
Homeschool in the Time of Coronavirus-2 is an adapted version of Homeschool 101, especially for those who find themselves unexpected homeschooling due to the quarantine. It downloads as a PDF.
You’ll find a selection of books for learning more about Charlotte Mason and teaching in this way at our Everyday Education site. For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (Francis Scaeffer’s daughter) is a gentle introduction to CM, and it can help you understand more about this beautiful, effective way of homeschooling.
You might also like Charlotte Mason on Copywork.
AmblesideOnline.org is where you’ll find a deep, rich trove of Charlotte Mason literature, free lesson plans for grades K-12, and more.