What would you think if I were to tell you that you could effectively cover all of language arts, from kindergarten to jr. high, without curriculum; just books, pens, and paper? After trying many different curricula with my firstborn, I have left them all behind and traded them for Charlotte Mason’s methods for my younger children. As a result our days are shorter, richer, and more cohesive. Plus I have fewer materials to purchase, manage, and store. Here are Mason’s methods:
This is simply re-telling what has been read. This encourages attentiveness. But it also allows children to work on one of the most important skills of writing: that of organizing the thoughts, without the burden of coming up with original content or fussing with handwriting, spelling, formatting, or things of that nature. Working on this skill can begin as early as kindergarten age, while being read to.
Charlotte began writing skills with copywork. It is just as it sounds: copying a word, sentence, or paragraph. It is a simple concept, and a great way to practice handwriting and attention in reading. Children are also exposed to correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation, and learn them in natural context if you point them out. Children enjoy having their copywork taken from a book or poem they love, and this continues to expose them to language holistically. I don’t begin copywork until children learn to read on their own, and have the fine motor skills to write without frustration.
Next Charlotte had her students do dictation. Students would first study the sentence or passage they were about to write, making note of spelling or punctuation issues. Then they would write it as someone read it to them. The process of first studying a passage, then hearing it, then “remembering” it on paper cements spelling and punctuation use in an efficient way. Plus there is additional handwriting practice.
The last skill before attempting original compositions is written narration. This is the same concept of retelling a story in their own words, but on paper. Most students are not ready for this until 4th grade or so. Again, this helps with organization of thoughts and coming up with wording, without needing to come up with content.
All these skills are done with books you are already reading, so learning is holistic and contextual. Children’s literature, a narrative history, a poem, can all be used for narration, copywork, or dictation. These CM skills can make a full language arts program right up to 6th or 7th grade.
Mason emphasized that children should read quality books without watered-down language. She wanted them to read copiously with lots of variety; “spreading a feast” is what she called it. Reading (or hearing) books is where your children will gather ideas for their own writing. Background knowledge, vocabulary, turns of phrase, and word pictures can be gleaned for later use.
These language skills I have talked about deal with language in its whole state. This is what makes it so brilliant for elementary students. At the right time you move to the dissection of language, and to learn to analyze, such as in grammar or literary analysis. Many schools of thought (ha!) teach that students have increased aptitude for analytical thinking after puberty, so that is when I add in those topics. Charlotte Mason basically agreed with this when she said that students were not ready for this type of learning until the age of 15. (Since children in our day go through puberty earlier, the equivalent might be 14 now.)
In my next post I will describe what a typical day looks like when using CM’s language arts. It really is very simple.
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