Charlotte Mason Style Language Arts

Excellent Article written by Suz in Frogpond.

HANDWRITING – Best taught through copywork. I start my dc on the basics. Whatever scheme or style you decide on, start with the basics – the foundation strokes, shapes, etc. Then, we move on to the letters and numbers. By the time 1st grade comes around, we’re ready for short sentences. I use Bible verses, nursery rhymes, lines from FIAR stories, whatever. A good rule of thumb is one sentence per grade, so by the time they are 4th or 5th grade age, they should be up to copying paragraphs. When learning letter formation/cursive connections/spacing, I use a yellow highlighter and write out the selection for them. Once they get a good “hand” on it, I just let them copy from the book, the Bible, whatever.

SPELLING – take the words straight from their own writings. Make them learn the correct spellings of the words they’ve misspelled. We keep a list of words each student needs to work on. On Monday, I pretest. Any word spelled correctly isn’t studied that week. (Why bore them with something they already know. Plus, we all occasionally misspell something, right? Leave some room for the casual or careless mistake.) I write each word on an index card or on their white board “slates.” They study the words, reviewing each day. (We use our slates, word searches, Scrabble tiles, magnetic letters, funky colored markers, you name it, so daily review isn’t boring or tiresome.) On Friday, we test on that week’s words. Any missed words go back on the list, but NOT the next week’s list. This prevents burn-out for poor spellers. We review occasionally, especially words that might be unusual or uncommon. Using their own misspellings makes the work more meaningful, less drudgery. Also, they learn the importance and the difference correct spelling can make in their own writing. As they age and read/write more, they will encounter most, if not all, of the spelling “rules.” If they have a difficulty with words that follow any specific rule, I try to make sure that their handwriting selections and/or reading selections contain words that follow that rule, so they gain more practice with it. (HINT: a good source for lots of varied rules is poetry, as often the rhyme scheme calls for many words with similar letter patterns.) Charlotte used dictation to test for spelling, but I’ve found from experience that my dc didn’t retain the spelling. It was kind of that old “learn it for the test” thing with them.

VOCABULARY – Have the dc keep a notebook handy while reading, both independently and with you. Any word they don’t know the meaning to, they have to write it down, find the definition (either from a dictionary, or from context clues) and write that down in their own words. This really helps them to cement the meaning of the word in their minds. Once they have 10 to 15 words on their list, you may want to review or test them in whatever way works best for you. I like to have them write sentences or paragraphs using the words, as that way I know for certain whether or not they’ve mastered the definitions.

GRAMMAR – Charlotte Mason’s students DID use a text for grammar. However, I believe that the text was used with her older students, high school aged. Her younger students used their reading, written narrations and copywork, along with their foreign language work, to learn the basics. It’s very easy to use a Bible passage/verse, nursery rhyme, a favorite story or poem or their own writings to point out things like parts of speech, punctuation marks, capitalization, and the like.

If you truly want to go text-book free, you’ll need a scope and sequence (list of topics to teach when) and a good resource or reference book, so you know you are teaching them correctly. My favorite is “Grammatically Correct.” However, it is a reference more for writers, so I don’t know if it would work for everyone. My oldest dd likes WriteSource’s “Writer’s Inc.” I’ve found the best way to test their knowledge of grammar is through their writings – essays, stories, compositions and poems. In a way, learning to write and learning good grammar go hand in hand.

COMPOSITION – I don’t believe ALL students can learn to write simply by reading and being exposed to good writing. However, I CAN say it doesn’t hurt the cause, either. One thing that I like to do is to have the student study a particular passage in a particular style, say a passage of really good dialogue or a very well-done descriptive scene. (Dickens and O. Henry are great for both of these, btw.) Then, after they’ve read and studied it, paying attention to the way it’s written, not just what is written, I’ll ask them to write a passage or two of their own, in a similar style. Then, we compare their writing to the original, to see how well they’ve done. A practical example – A wonderful example of foreshadowing is found in the opening scenes of “A Christmas Carol.” Have your junior high age-student spend a 3 or 4 days studying these passages. Then, read them the rest of the first Stave, so they can see what all this was building up to. Then, ask them to write their own passage of foreshadowing, only make it a mystery or a birthday party or something other than a Victorian ghost story. Again, if you don’t have a good resource book on how to write, you might want to invest in one, or get your student an age appropriate writing guide, like WriteSource, Writing Strands or “Igniting Your Writing” sells. (I have several published by Writer’s Digest – for adults, on both fiction and non-fiction writing, that I find very helpful.) Written narrations can serve as a good basis for how much about writing your student knows, and a way to test their newly-developed skills.

COMPREHENSION & NARRATION The best way to test your dc’s comprehension skills is through narration, either oral, written or “active.” Here’s are the narration “starters” that have made more than one appearance on these boards, for those of you who may wonder just how to “do” narration while keeping it fresh or relevant. In the next post, you will find a list of “narration starters.” These are the things you ask your dc to get them started narrating. (Please note anywhere there is a ____ or a “him/her” or “setting/time period” you would fill in with particulars from your reading.) They are arranged somewhat in order of the complexity of thought needed to adequately “answer” them. In the post below that list is the list of “active narration ideas.” I use these with my younger dc, and sometimes with older ones as a break from oral/written narration. They accomplish the same task of finding out how much the dc knows from the reading, while taking some of the “work” out of narrating. Now, how do I use these? With starters, I typically write them at the top of the page. The dc then writes/dictates her answer to me below. For the active narrations, I have a jar. In the jar are a number of slips of paper. Each slip has one of the activities written on it. There is more than one of each kind, but not the same number of each. Also, I’ve thrown in a couple slips that say “skip narration today” just to keep it interesting. Then, once or twice a week, instead of dictating/writing a narration, we pick a slip from the jar and do what it says. We typically do one narration a day, per dc. I’ve found narrating for every reading with every dc to be tedious for me and them, so one a day is adequate for me. (Only you know what you and your dc will tolerate.) Anyway, I’ve found using these starters and activities makes narration easy and fun and certainly less tedious or boring. Oh, as to how much to expect – when it comes to written narrations, I like to start around 3rd or 4th grade with a paragraph or so. By the time they reach middle school age, they should be able to produce a page-front or so. When dictating, I ask for at least 4 or 5 sentences from my 6yo. In reality, though, it doesn’t matter much how much they narrate (written or orally) as long as they can exhibit enough knowledge of the reading to let you know they were listening and retaining. I DO NOT correct written narrations for grammar. I WILL point out misspelled words, if there are any, simply because my dc use their own spelling errors as their spelling words. The narrations should not be treated as essays or compositions, IMO. They are the dc’s “proof” of attention to and comprehension of their readings. We date each one and add the title of the book (with chapter, if applicable) and put them in their own section of our notebooks. We narrate on every kind of reading we do, too. Just because it’s science or history doesn’t mean a child can’t produce a narration on it. I never tell which readings we’ll be narrating on. That way, the dc pay close attention to ALL their work. Here are the narration starters. Somewhere on the web, I found a list of “exam questions” taken directly from the PNEU schools founded and operated by Charlotte. I copied out as many of the “generic” ones I could, and from some other readings on narration, put together this list of starters:
1.) Tell what you remember about_____________
2.) Tell me the story in your own words.
3.) Wasn’t it funny/sad/strange when_________? Tell me what else you remember about that.
4.) Explain how ___________happens/happened. 5.) Describe _______________.
6.) Tell me who we met today. Describe him/her.
7.) Tell me all you can about (a particular setting.)
8.) Tell me all you can about (the reading’s time period.)
9.) Tell me everything that happened after ________.
10.) Tell all you know about how ___________ happens.
11.) Tell about a problem in the story and how it was solved/fixed.
12.) Tell everything you would see (in a particular setting.)
13.) Tell me all you know about (a particular character or person)
14.) Who said, “———-” Tell me the story about it.
15.) Why did he/she do _________?”
16.) List the story’s events in the order that they happened.
17.) Describe the clues that lead up to ___________.
18.) From the passage/story we read, tell me how to ______.
19.) Tell me how he/she felt after _________ 20.) Describe the narrator.
21.) Describe everything that happened because of________
22.) Tell me all the ways two characters/people/settings from the same story compare.
23.) Tell me all the ways two characters/people/settings from two different stories compare.
24.) Compare this book/story to another of the same style.
25.) Compare this book/story to another by the same author.
26.) Explain how _________ came to be.
27.) Did he/she make the right decision? Tell me why or why not.
28.) Tell me all you know about (time period/character traits/sequence of events.) [This involves a higher level of thinking than the earlier questions similar in nature. The information you are asking for here is to be implied or inferred, not directly stated in the reading. In other words, I might ask, “Tell me all you know about what is happening before the story begins” or “Tell me all you know about Aunt Lucy” even though in the story the only time we “meet” Aunt Lucy is through her letters to the main character.)
29.) Who/what had the most influence on the outcome of the story? Why? How?
30.) Would you want him/her as a friend? Why or why not?

Now, my youngest dd often includes characters from her stories into her make-believe play, so she finds #30 easier than I think it was intended to be…. However, remember that they are supposed to be in order of easiest to do to more difficult.

Active Narrations
1.) Draw a picture of a setting/character in the story.
2.) Set up a scene from the story with your blocks/doll house.
3.) Make a playdough ________ (character or setting)
4.) Narrate into a tape recorder/video camera. (This makes a GREAT addition to a portfolio OR grandparents’ present.)
5.) Act out a scene/event from the story. 6.) Ask Mama 3 questions about the story. (This is another great one for checking how much they are retaining, because they can’t ask questions if they don’t know the answers. I also do NOT allow vague questions like “Tell the story in your own words.” They have to be specific questions about a character or setting.
7.) Pretend you are a friend of his/hers. What is your part in the story? Act it out.
You may want to wait on some of these if you are new to narration, especially #6. Also, remember to substitute info specific to your story for setting/event/character.

Now, to show you how this works in real life, here is 6yo dd’s narration of “Paul Revere’s Ride” from this past school year. I’d asked her to tell me everything she could remember after his friend hung the two lanterns in the church tower. “Paul Revere rode on his horse to the towns where the British were going. The men there got up and POW POW went their guns and the Redcoats ran away or died. Paul was impatient and wanted to get it over with in a hurry so he rode really fast.”

(I thought this was an excellent narration and told her so. ) She also got to act out the part of Paul Revere on her stick pony with her 3yo brother placing two paper lanterns on the railing of the porch over and over again.


Charlotte Mason

This is a post I’ve found extremely on http://www.Secularhomeschool.com helpful written by Shiela that I wanted to keep on my blog as a reference.

Charlotte Mason thought that the child was in “danger of receiving much teaching with little education.” I believe this was in part why she started her school and wrote down her methods. She stresses that one should always expect excellence. Her books are on the net for FREE-vol 1 lays out the home/foundation and vol 6 goes into great detail by subject:

Narration is “re-tells” their own words. Kids must listen carefully and pay attention to detail. For a child under ten, narration is oral. The teacher will write the narration for them or, an oral re-telling will do. After 5th year, the child should write his own. This is the cornerstone of writing. In a well-read child, who has been narrating (as instructed), the transition to writing is usually smooth.

Language Arts:
Copywork, Dictation, Spelling and Grammar. CM strongly advocates the use of copywork for all ages. Add dictation when the child is capable of greater concentration, (year5). Copy work and dictation, together teaches spelling, handwriting and grammar and writing all once. Lessons should be 5-10 minutes in length. When narrating the child gets to see and know his ideas in writing. On occasion, some children need additional spelling but it doesn’t have to be separate. That is the best part: they are taught together. Ms. Mason wrote her own Grammar book, Simply Grammar.

CM used the term: Masterly Inactivity. Your role as a teacher is to provide good literature and get out of the way.”no twaddle” Resist the temptation to break down every part of a book. You shouldn’t discuss everything and Stella is right–don’t make connections for them. Her goal was to develop “good taste” in literature. Narration should be encouraged.

Fine Arts:
Picture study for Art. Hang a new picture every week or so. Make sure to give the children a representation of its true size. Discuss the artist throughout the week. Take them to the museums and let them see good work. Listen to the music of great musicians. Stay with the same composer for a few weeks so that you begin to develop and ear for the music. Make sure they know who they are listening to and tell as much about the composer as you can. You can get info from the net. Play music while doing chores, eating a meal, in the car. Create mini works of great artists (pointillism, water colors, etc)..coloring books by Dover can be fun for smaller kids.

CM devotes many pages of her book(s) on how the mind demands method. Reaching a logical conclusion in one’s thinking is a must. CM was a proponent of “the child is a person and must think for himself.” Naturally, the teacher’s job here is to equip him to observe and be aware of his world. UNDERSTANDING is more important than knowing. “so we go about picking up a maxim here, a motto there, an idea elsewhere, and make a patchwork of the whole which we call our principles.”

CM is very specific in her books–year1 (age 6-7) is when they learn British History. She advocates Marshall’s Our Island Story. Year2 students read biographies of the greats. Year3 students start a more rigorous study. She prefers France be taught 2nd to Britain. Then you move on to The Book of Centuries and add in Indian History (for pleasure). Ancient History must be approached chronologically. Specifically, she adds American and Western Europe during age 15-19. She points out that the student RARELY repeats any of this ever. She also claims that one should not start and end in their own country–“We cannot live sanely unless we know that other peoples are as we are with a difference.” Timelines are completed in 100 years cycles.

Her thoughts on geography are precisely what we now refer to as social studies. Great attention is given to map work. A child should identify “where” on a map before they begin reading. Children should “see” and therefore sketches are recommended. A child should come across facts “as a traveler”. She describes her method as Panoramic-it unrolls the landscape of the world–region by region, it’s climate, productions, people, industries and history. Example questions would be how ___ (a natural disaster or war) affected ____ (commerce, social attitudes, wildlife). Older students are expected to keep up with the news and current events throughout the world.

CM believed in teaching the child the rules (Laws, she calls them). A firm ground must be taken to reveal the beauty and truth of mathematics. It is to be studied for its own sake and not “for intelligence”; therefore, unnecessary to delve into math outside of what is necessary for ‘real life’. It is dependent upon the teacher rather than textbook. The child should read living books about the concepts, know the laws of math, and study great mathematicians–like Euclid. Economics would find it’s home here as would the stock market and banking.

Nature Study. Children should spend as much time as possible outside, in all types of weather. The mother should train her children to be keen observers. Nature journals are a must. Provide field guides, binoculars, magnifying glass, cameras. Anna Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study is a good reference. Specific concepts are taught through literature. Laboratory work is necessary. Every child should have a microscope. Recognition during nature walks is the basis-A LOT of specific details are given throughout all of her books, including recommended reading by year along with specific instruction for the teacher.

Foreign Language
The language should be spoken to them and the child should narrate. Songs and Fables are encourage for Year1 & 2 students. They are asked to narrate art and books in the new language often. Eventually, lessons are taught, such as History or Literature in the new language. Grammar and vocabulary are learned the same as they are learned in English. Several languages are taught young and concurrently. A tutor would be strongly suggested. Otherwise, find a steady program that teaches the WHOLE language..not just memorizing words.

Art & Music:
Children should be taught a musical instrument. Children should have some instruction in singing. If possible let children learn from lovers of their work.

Handicrafts and Drills:
She used Swedish Drills daily in her school. However, children under age nine were given musical drills and dancing instruction since they are considered more pleasurable. In teaching handicrafts: 1) a child should not be making “crafts”. Example would be learning woodworking, needlepoint, basket weaving. 2) they should be taught slowly and carefully. 3) shoddy work should never be allowed.

CM stresses character develop throughout all of her works. Habit is another means of instilling virtue as the parent should provide ample illustrations. The best book I have seen on this subject is Laying Down the Rails. It takes all of CM’s words from her six volumes and translates these into a modern read. I think all parents should give it a glance at least…interesting.

Modern Times:
Many interpretations of how CM would use the internet are found during a “search”. Obviously, computer skills must be taught to some degree to all children now. One can argue that typing is more a necessity than handwriting. I would also say that “sketching” in a nature journal is not as necessary since we have pictures. Many points that were necessary ‘back then’ will find their time erased (if not already)–I consider computer programming, robotics, electronics, photography and the ilk as handicrafts for this generation.


Charlotte Mason’s principles

I regretfully have forgotten which source this was obtained from since I had saved it long ago but I wanted to post it as a reference to CM’s principles. One of the major distinguishing characteristics of a Charlotte Mason curriculum is the time spent on each lesson. Mason stressed that lessons be no longer than 15 to 20 minutes for elementary and middle schoolers and 30 to 45 minutes for high school-aged children. This allows the children to learn while their interest is at its highest and before they become too bored or restless to concentrate.


  • Living Books – Living books should present the child with real life; the teacher should not interfere with a lot of “talk”.
  • Composition taught using oral Narration followed by written narration when the child is about ten. “They should narrate and they will compose later, readily enough; but they should not be taught ‘composition’.” (Written in Home Education; Training and Educating Children under nine, by Charlotte Mason, p247)
  • Copybook – a tool for sentence structure, punctuation, grammar
  • The Knowledge of Man: History – taught using living books, biographies, primary sources
  • Literature – often related to historical time period.
  • When Children are reading, they read on their own – from a number of books at a time.
  • Art – viewing art prints, ‘picture-painting’-focus on detail, committing them to memory, focussing on one artist at a time.
  • Geography – tied in with history – the local landscape can be used as a minature lesson of the whole world.
  • The Knowledge of God: Bible – the foundation living book – to give children their knowledge of God – the most important lesson.
  • Teacher directed – teacher chooses what the children will read.
  • Short lessons (10-15mins, when young and increasing with age)
  • Free afternoons and evenings.
  • Children should spend a great deal of time outdoors – in nature; using their senses;.
  • Nature Walks.
  • Habits are taught; Young children should be spared the labour of decision-making; habits must be actively formed by parents and teachers to make many of our actions second nature – habit of attention; habit or application; habit of thinking; habit of imagining; habit of remembering; habit of perfect execution; moral habits of obedience, truthfulness;
  • Beginning Reading – by learning sight words primarily and secondly, learning the sounds.
  • Memorization of poetry – not by repetition, but by listening and imagining the scene many times over.
  • Spelling learnt through dictation – child views passage, isolates words which may give him trouble, pictures the word in his mind, and when ready, writes the passage which is dicatated clause by clause, repeated only once.

Charlotte Mason in a Nutshell

Here’s a very brief overview of a handful of Charlotte Mason’s most familiar ideas written by tatianna.

Twaddle is what parents and educators today might call “dumbed down” literature. It is serving your children intellectual happy meals, rather than healthy, substantive mind- and soul-building foods. Charlotte Mason advocated avoiding twaddle and feasting children’s hearts and minds on the best literary works available.

Living books are the opposite of dull, dry textbooks. The people, places and events come alive as you read a living book. The stories touch your mind and heart. They are timeless.

Whole books are the entirety of the books the author actually wrote. If the author wrote a book, read the whole book. The opposite of this would be anthologies that include only snippets from other works—maybe a chapter from Dickens, a couple of paragraphs from Tolstoy, etc.

Narration is the process of telling back what has been learned or read. Narrations are usually done orally, but as the child grows older (around age 12) and his writing skills increase, the narrations can be written as well. Narration can also be accomplished creatively: painting, drawing, sculpting, play-acting, etc.

Charlotte Mason recommended spending short, focused periods of time on a wide variety of subjects. Lessons in the early years are only 10-15 minutes in length, but get progressively longer as the children mature. (Lessons increase closer to an hour per subject for high school students.)

In spite of often rainy, inclement weather, Charlotte Mason insisted on going out once-a-week for an official Nature Walk, allowing the children to experience and observe the natural environment firsthand. These excursions should be nature walks, not nature talks.

In addition to the weekly Nature Walks, Mason also recommended children spend large quantities of time outside each day, no matter what the weather. Take a daily walk for fun and fresh air.

Nature Notebooks are artist sketchbooks containing pictures the children have personally drawn of plants, wildlife or any other natural object found in its natural setting. These nature journals can also include nature-related poetry, prose, detailed descriptions, weather notes, Latin names, etc.

Bring the child into direct contact with the best art. Choose one artist at a time; six paintings per artist; study one painting per week (maybe 15 minutes per week). Allow the child to look at the work of art intently for a period of time (maybe five minutes). Have him take in every detail. Then take the picture away and have him narrate (tell back) what he’s seen in the picture.

There’s great value in keeping a personal journal, encouraging reflection and descriptive writing. Record activities, thoughts and feelings, favorite sayings, personal mottoes, favorite poems, etc.

Daily copywork provides on-going practice for handwriting, spelling, grammar, etc. Keep a notebook specifically for copying noteworthy poems, prose, quotes, etc.

Each day choose a paragraph, or sentence, or page (depending on the age of child). Have the child practice writing it perfectly during his copywork time. Have them look carefully at all punctuation, capital letters, etc. When the child knows the passage well, dictate the passage to the child for him to recreate the passage.

A Book of the Centuries is a glorified homemade timeline; usually a notebook containing one or two pages per century. As children learn historical facts, they make notes in their book on the appropriate century’s page about famous people, important events, inventions, wars, battles, etc.

Charlotte Mason’s schools finished daily academics in the morning, allowing the afternoon hours for free time to pursue crafts and other leisure activities or areas of personal interest.

Charlotte Mason had much to say on establishing good habits in children. Habits (good or bad) are like the ruts in a path from a wheelbarrow going down the same trail again and again. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to run the wheelbarrow outside the rut, but the wheel will always run smoothly down the well-worn rut in the path. By training children in good habits, the school day (and home life in general) goes more smoothly. Focus on one habit at a time for 4-6 weeks rather than attempting to implement a long list of new habits all at once.