(source: Wikipedia) Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason (January 1, 1842-January 16, 1923) was a British educator in England at the turn of the twentieth century. Her revolutionary methods led to a shift from utilitarian education to the education of a child upon living ideas. She was inspired by current brain research, by the writings of John Amos Comenius, Matthew Arnold, and John Ruskin.
After the release of a book by Susan Schaeffer-MacAulay, For the Children's Sakein 1984, Charlotte Mason's six-volume educational series was republished by Karen Andreola, author of A Charlotte Mason Companion. This led to a resurgence of Charlotte Mason's educational methods for a new generation of teachers and students. Charlotte Mason schools can now be found across the United States in homes, at charter schools and independent private schools. Mason's methods are used widely within the homeschool community. Regional and national conferences, retreats, and study groups have sprung up across the country and have increased Mason's methods' popularity.
Mason's philosophy of education is probably best summarized by the principles given at the beginning of each book mentioned above. Two key mottoes taken from those principles are "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" and "Education is the science of relations." She believed that children were born persons and should be respected as such; they should also be taught the Way of the Will and the Way of Reason. Her motto for students was "I am, I can, I ought, I will."
Components of a Charlotte Mason education: Living Books: Mason claimed that usual education books were "written down" to children, while teachers should make use of "living books"; that is, books that are "written by one person with a passion for the topic and a broad command of the language as well as the ability to write in an engaging, literary style while communicating great ideas rather than mere facts." The size of the book is not as important as the content and style - it should be alive and engaging.
Narration: According to Mason, asking children to tell about what they have read requires the child to intentionally train his powers of attention, to synthesize all he has read, to organize the material in his mind, and to determine how best to communicate all that he recalls in his own words. "Corrections must not be made during the act of narration, nor must any interruption be allowed."
Habit Training: Mason believed that formation of good habits was a vital part of her educational method. It is such an important part of her educational philosophy that it forms the seventh point in the 'short synopsis of the educational philosophy' she included in the preface of each of her six volumes on education: "7. By "education is a discipline," we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits." She believed that a proper education included "the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully". She believed that habit training was a powerful force in helping children to take charge of their own education. Mason specifically encouraged a child's learning the habits of attention, perfect execution, obedience, truthfulness, an even temper, neatness, kindness, order, respect, recall, punctuality, gentleness, and cleanliness, among others.
Lessons: Mason advocated that lessons be kept short and focused for younger children, seldom more than 20 minutes in length. As children mature and develop greater mastery of their powers of attention, lessons grow progressively longer. Students were given a schedule so they knew they had a limited time to complete the lesson. Mason believed that dreary or dawdling lessons 'stultified a child's wits' and blocked his intellectual progress at the start. Mason believed these short, concentrated, focused lessons encouraged the habit of full attention, and securing such a habit early in life equipped the children to receive a broad education encompassing a well-ordered feast of subjects. Mason also recommended alternating lessons so that children were doing a variety of work so as not to fatigue the brain- sums would be followed by a lesson in writing, for instance, rather than two history readings back to back.
Handwriting: Mason used A New Handwriting for Teachers, by M. M. Bridges to teach handwriting to her students. Mason's approach to handwriting was based on her belief that "No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required of him as a matter of course". In keeping with her theories about short lessons and focused attention, she thought it more important that the student produce six perfect strokes than an entire slateful of slovenly work. Once a child had mastered the formation of individual letters, children were given a phrase, sentence, or paragraph to copy in their best handwriting. These copywork exercises should take only a few minutes each day so as to encourage the habits of attention and perfect execution without becoming tiring.
Prepared Dictation: Once children had mastered the basic mechanics of handwriting, Mason introduced them to prepared dictation. She used copywork and dictation to teach spelling and reinforce grammar and composition skills. In prepared dictation, the child is given a sentence, a passage, and eventually a few pages to study until he feels confident that he is prepared to accurately reproduce all the spelling, capitalization, and punctuation in the passage. Younger students would reproduce a short passage as the teacher dictated. Older students, given two or three pages to study over the course of a week, would transcribe or reproduce a selection chosen by the teacher once each week. The teacher dictates to him from the passage, one phrase at a time, watching carefully as he writes to catch any misspelled word and correct it immediately. Mason believed in immediately correcting misspelled words so as not to let a misspelled word imprint itself on the student's memory. Mason believed that before learning the rules of spelling, punctuation, and syntax, children should first become familiar with fine writing and see the mechanics of grammar and spelling within the context of great thoughts and rich language. They also used dictation for practical skills, such as writing out a recipe from dictation.
Poetry was an integral part of daily life in Mason's schools. As in other subjects that introduce great ideas from the past, poetry is shared and allowed to stand on its own, without analysis or critique. Rather than telling the child what to think, this approach allows individual interpretation, with emotional, as well as intellectual, responses.
Shakespeare and Plutarch: Students in Mason's schools studied Shakespeare and read Plutarch regularly, as well.
Grammar: Since grammar is the study of words, not of things, Mason thought it is a difficult concept for young children to grasp. She recommended postponing the formal study of grammar until the child reached the age of ten. Consistent practice in narration, dictation, and copywork lays the foundation for grammar study.
Foreign Language: Mason's students studied French as a second language as well as learning some Latin and German. Foreign language lessons began with children's songs and stories. Consistent with her philosophy, a foreign language is best taught in a living setting.
Arts: Charlotte Mason believed that children deserved direct contact with the best art. The great ideas of men and women of history are revealed in their works, whether paintings or writings or music. Art appreciation is taught through Picture Study, which introduces the child to six works of a great artist one at a time over a sixty-day term. The children study the print for several minutes undisturbed, then the parent or teacher looks at the print and asks the child or children to describe it. Another approach is to have the children sketch a general outline of the picture, or to pose a tableau in imitation of the picture - done from memory first, and then compare the sketch or tableau to the print.
Music appreciation: Mason's students would listen to a few works by a single composer over a term. The composer was chosen to correlate with the period of history the children were studying that term. The goal is for the children to learn to appreciate classical music and to have enough familiarity with major works and composers that they recognize them when they hear them. "About six works by some great composer are chosen for study each term. These compositions are played or sung to the children constantly and studied carefully. The children are taught something about the form, harmonic structure, thematic development of the composition and some information is given about the life of the composer." Where possible, children were taken to live concerts as well.
Handicrafts: Mason's students practiced "various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials..." About the role of daily handiwork in her schools she wrote: "The points to be borne in mind in children's handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not be allowed..."
Nature Study and Outdoor Education: Mason believed that young children should spend several hours outdoors every day that the weather permitted. In Mason's schools, one afternoon each week was devoted to spending time outdoors. For nature study, children take along a sketchpad to draw and label the different aspects of nature they observe. Students kept a calendar of the first finds of each season - birds, flowers, and other species were sketched, described, and dated. High school aged students continued to keep nature notebooks, but they were more complex. In addition to their lists of birds and plants observed throughout the year, they kept records and drawings in their books and made "special studies of their own for the particular season with drawings and notes." They would study habitats and ecosystems as a whole rather than the individual plants and species of their younger years, enabling them to complete exam questions such as "Make a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put in the names of the plants you would expect to find."
Mathematics: Mason emphasized the importance of children's understanding mathematical concepts before ever doing paper and pencil equations. They should be encouraged to use manipulatives and to think through the whys and wherefores of solving word problems—in other words, how mathematics applies to life situations.
Bible: Mason's method of studying the Bible was simple: read it every day. She gave children credit for being able to understand passages directly from the Scriptures, and she assigned several large portions to be memorized and recited each school year.
History is considered most relevant to children through the use of living books, biographies, autobiographies, and narration. In addition, Mason's students kept a 'Book of Centuries' that was similar to a personal time line in a notebook. They added people and events to the pages as they studied about them.
Geography: Just as history is the story of what happened to a person, geography is the story of where he was and how his surroundings affected what happened. Geography is best taught through living books, also. Short map drills can supplement.