Saturday, March 13, 2010

What happened to Charlotte?

Nature study, a rich varied literature based curriculum and short lessons these are the aspects which first attracted me to Charlotte Mason and her methods.

My introduction to Charlotte Mason came via Karen Andreola. I waded through her entire book:Charlotte Mason Companion. For me it was not an easy read-I really had to focus! But I had heard so much about Miss Mason's methods that I thought I should read it to find out what all the talk was about. Next I tried Catherine Levison's two short books-a little easier but still I couldn't quite picture how to implement her methods practically. Without a book list and knowledge of artists or musicians I felt I wouldn't know what to read to my children that would provide them with a progressive, rich tapestry of knowledge. That's when I found Ambleside Online.

If you are interested in Charlotte Mason and want to learn about her methods go straight to the originals! Nobody else can do Charlotte justice-there is so much in her volumes of writings that to not read it would mean you loose all the precious gems she wrote down.

Ambleside Online is a very simple, no frills site. At first glance you may feel it hasn't much to offer but beneath that simplicity lies a gold mine of Yahoo e-loops! There's an e-loop for almost any type of group you can imagine. From Year 0 to High School years, art list groups, using Ambleside with an autistic child, using it as is or a group which discusses substitutes for books on their book lists. Yes, this may sound like your mail box will be full-and it does get full-but joining the groups, which are relevant to your needs, gives you access to some awesome moderators who have a wealth of experience and Charlotte Mason knowledge! Ask a question and they can almost always give you a reference from one of her 6 Volumes supporting their reasons for their answers. You even get to discuss what her writings mean when the group studies part of her Volumes. The other great thing is there are archives of messages and ideas to read through. All in all, if you were to choose Miss Mason as your mentor for your homeschool I would highly recommend joining Ambleside Online for the support and ideas you gain from the group.

It was through reading her actual writings and discussing them with other moms that I learnt the most. The Year 0 group(below 6/7 years of age) spent some time discussing her methods and theories about habit formation and also the relevance of Nature Study.

During this time of being a part of the e-loops I started to feel it was ok to not follow a structured programme with Jenna. Miss Mason believed that in the early years a child should be allowed to explore their world. As much time as possible should be spent outdoors. Mom is there to drop morsels of info into their minds or answer their questions-not to spend hours lecturing them on everything they see-they will make their own connections! Mom is also there to encourage the development of good habits-in fact she says the two most important aspects in the early years are the formation of good habits and time outdoors.

some of our time out in nature is spent riding around our neighbourhood

Nature Study done the Charlotte Mason way is packed full of early learning skills done in an environment and method that is relaxed and enjoyable for a child. When studying this area of her method I began to reflect on the relevance of the skills which were being taught. Through the "sight-seeing games" (who can see the most? tell the most?) you develop observation skills and improve vocabulary through coaching them to make clear descriptions. Through "picture- painting" (close your eyes and describe what you saw) you work at visual memory, visual discrimination and vocabulary enrichment. I started to think about the worksheets which I gave to my Grade One learners.  They taught visual discrimination, similarities and differences, observation skills and ultimately prepare the children for reading. 

Here Charlotte was saying: let your child explore their world-with very little talk on your behalf-and they will develop these skills! Yes, I could see it! By being able to see the difference between flowers, trees, birds etc. they would be doing visual memory and discrimination, classifying, sorting, even auditory discrimination and memory if you learnt to discern the sounds they make! 

There is so much more that lies behind Miss Mason's Nature Study other than the normal Nature Journal which a lot of home schoolers adopt-without reading her original works you don't discover this. I've touched on the tip of the iceberg here. I didn't even discuss "making an acquaintance with natural objects" or "geography lessons" and "play and games"! And of course there's still calendars, nature diaries, indoor observations and collections, position of the sun, distance and direction. Ok, ok I know, you see my point now ;-) There's so much more to Nature Study than what you realised. Some of what I've mentioned wasn't just for the Year O years. Some of it carried over till the children were 9 years old. In fact, there is so much you can cover from her 6 volumes, I think it would last into the teen years!
Oh yes, and of course you cover early maths skills too in Nature Study-who can look at nature and not discuss colour, size and shape? Or compare the weights of rocks and stones when you're building little houses in the sand or skimming stones? Ok so you don't have a neat tidy little ticked off list with a worksheet to prove your child knows something-but believe me you will know what they know if you're the one practising your observation skills! And a quick glance over a readiness list or Grade attainments list and you'll see you're covering a whole lot from that tick list!

creating windmills with Build-on shapes

Why I enjoyed being a part of this group was that it discussed what one could be doing with your child (before age 6/7) if you felt Charlotte Mason's methods were what you'd like to use in the more formal years. This was something I didn't find in the two books I had read.

We also took a brief look at developing phonics and reading skills. I really liked her natural style of encouraging young children to play with their letter tiles (individual letters). In a nutshell: self discovery through play.
She didn't seem to advocate one method for teaching reading. The way I interpreted it was introduce your child to letters first, play blending and then word building games. Once they have an understanding that letters make words start reading lessons by choosing a poem/rhyme which they would enjoy, to teach them to read via phonics skills (decoding) and sight word recognition. (there is a step by step process)
I like these methods. From my experience I had found that when teaching children to read they can either be phonetic readers, sight word readers or both combined. Spending time playing with letters or words would help you to see which your child is and then you could use her simple methods to build up their reading skills. 

helping mom coat chicken strips in sesame seeds for supper-what fun!

So what happened to make me change my mind? Actually I didn't change my mind I still love a lot of what Charlotte encouraged but I started questioning-would this suit both of my children? Would Michael enjoy sitting and listening to the books or music? Would he be inspired by the artist studies? I know he would love the outdoor time and the Nature Study but I'm not sure about all the rest of the Ambleside package. Ultimately I really feel we shouldn't choose a curriculum or method that we like (that's mom only) or has proven to work well with someone else's children. We need to find something that would work for our whole family. And that's when I started researching unschooling more.