There are some pretty tough academic standards imposed on children today. The expectations keep getting pushed earlier and earlier, crowding out childhood necessities, like play. Charlotte Mason’s expectations were much different. In some of the schools that Charlotte Mason oversaw during her day, teachers were guided by The Formidable List of Attainments. While this list can certainly seem “formidable,” it’s full of realistic, enjoyable things for a six year old child to know. This list (published by Ambleside Online) gives us some guidelines as to what our children should be learning, in their early years and in the future. While this list is for what a child of six should know, I think it’s good to look at it as “by the time they are seven.”
Over the summer, a sweet reader-friend asked if I had made a “scope and sequence” for this list of attainments. She wanted to find something that put these skills in order of when to start focusing on them. I loved her idea (one of those- “why didn’t I think about that?” things!) I’ve organized Charlotte Mason’s list of attainments into two sections: skills that can be started (although not necessarily completed) during the early years, and attainments that should wait until formal lessons begin at six. For each attainment, I described what you can do to work on that area. For the attainments that should wait for formal lessons, I added some notes about what you can begin doing in the early years to build a foundation for the skill. If you are hoping or required to do some kind of kindergarten for homeschool, I think this list will be especially helpful!
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“A Formidable List of Attainments” Scope and Sequence
Attainments to Begin in the Early Years:
-Tell three stories about their own “pets”- rabbit, dog or cat.
Your child will learn this through the home atmosphere, and through observing their pet friends everyday.
-To keep a caterpillar and tell the life-story of a butterfly from his own observations.
If the thought of capturing caterpillar eggs and raising them overwhelms you, there are kits available! This is the one we plan on getting next spring!
-To describe the boundaries of their own home.
By playing outside often, and observing the world around them, your child will learn about their neighborhood and immediate surroundings.
–To describe any lake, river, pond, island etc. within easy reach.
When taking nature walks or spending time at nearby parks, ask your child to “paint pictures” of what they see by verbally describing it in detail. This will increase their observation skills and vocabulary.
“Get the children to look well at some patch of landscape, and then to shut their eyes and call up the picture before them, if any bit of it is blurred, the had better look again. When they have a perfect image before their eyes, let them say what they see.” Home Education, page 49
-To know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows.
This can be started before formal lessons during your child’s outdoor exploring time, as a playful way to explore. First, let your child learn about directions by observing the sun. Their understanding of direction will continue to grow from there.
By the time they have got somewhat familiar with the idea of distance, that of direction should be introduced. The first step is to make children observant of the progress of the sun. The child who observes the sun for a year and notes down for himself, or dictates, the times of his rising and setting for the greater part of the year, and the points of his rising and setting, will have secured a basis for a good deal of definite knowledge. ” Home Education, page 74
-To be able to describe 3 walks and 3 views.
Take nature walks with your child, drawing their attention to what they see.
-To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wildflowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.
During the early years, your child will probably learn to name a few flowers and trees by observing and exploring with you. This should be gentle and natural learning! Read books about nature, pay close attention to flowers and trees together, and if you are struck by curiosity, look up the plant in a field guide.
There is no knowledge so appropriate to the early years of a child as that of the name and look and behavior in situ of every natural object he can get at…” Home Education, page 32
-To do the same with leaves and flowers of 6 forest trees.
Encourage your child to learn about trees as described above.
-To know 6 birds by song, colour and shape.
-To name 20 common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences.
Foreign language lessons should begin in the early years, when it is easier for children to repeat the accent.
“The daily French lesson is that which should not be omitted. That children should learn French orally, by listening to and repeating French words and phrases; that they should begin so young that the difference of accent does not strike them, but they repeat the new French word all the same as if it were English and use it as freely; that they should learn a few– two or three, five or six– new French words daily, and that, at the same time, the old words should be kept in use- are points to be considered more fully hereafter.” Home Education, page 80.
-To sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song.
-To send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed.
Charlotte Mason refers to handicrafts for children under 9, but doesn’t specifically address the 0-6 crowd. She gave these general guidelines for choosing handicrafts:
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; (d) and that, therefore, the children’s work should be kept well within their compass.” Home Education, page 315-316
Attainments that Should Wait for Formal Lessons
-To recite, beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns.
Before formal lessons, read beautiful poems to your child, and sing hymns with him or her.
-To recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm.
Spend time reading the Bible with your young child (both Bible storybooks and actual passages from the Bible.)
-To add and subtract numbers up to 10, with dominoes or counters.
Although Charlotte Mason did not address math during the early years, you can teach your child to count and to have “number sense” through your daily activities. (Number sense is understanding the value of numbers, which are worth more and less, etc.)
-To read–what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child.
Unless your child shows a strong interest in learning to read before the age of six, this skill can wait until formal lessons. However, Charlotte Mason recommended teaching your child the alphabet and letter sounds when he or she begins showing interest- as early as the age of two! (I wrote a lesson guide called The Mindful Alphabet based off of her recommendations for this!)
-To copy in print-hand from a book.
During the early years, your child can learn to form their letters in a tray of sand, or with another medium that uses gross-motor skills (meaning: moving the whole arm to write instead of just the muscles in the hands and fingers.) In addition to the sand tray, Charlotte Mason recommended having young children write letters in the air.
-To tell quite accurately (however shortly) 3 stories from Bible history, 3 from early English, and 3 from early Roman history.
Young children shouldn’t be made to narrate passages, but they might choose to! Exposing them to beautiful living books in the early years will train their minds to attend to details, which is necessary for this future skill of narration. We have a morning time to be sure we’re reading good books each day!
Until he is six, let Bobbie narrate only when and what he has a mind to. He must not be called upon to tell anything.” Home Education, page 231
Phew…that was a lot! But I hope that by breaking it down, you can see how the smaller pieces fit together!