What are the principles behind Charlotte Mason's recommendations? This is a question I always ask myself, and I think it helps me manage the overwhelm I feel over sorting through so many recommendations. But even though I've written about Charlotte Mason reading instruction before, I've never thought to write about the principles behind the method.
This post will kick off a Charlotte Mason Reading Series, which I hope will help you tackle teaching your child to read with confidence, and, if you choose, without a curriculum.
You can read Home Education, pages 199-222 to understand her methods on your own, but I wanted to break them down into some key ideas that I think will help you implement them more easily.
I've used affiliate links to share some books with you. You can read about affiliate links in my policies.
Principle 1: The Big One
Charlotte Mason's first principle is the idea which much of the early years revolves around, and also a big important aspect of reading instruction.
Her first principle says that children are born persons, and because of that, they have a thirst for knowledge. We don't have to water everything down for them because they want to know and are capable of processing knowledge.
When we teach our children how to read, this is important to remember. There are so many gimmicks and teaching programs that fight for a child's interest. They try to entertain rather than offer up something worthy and beautiful. This is not Charlotte Mason's approach. We take this piece of knowledge and offer it to the child without first decorating with bright colors or animating the alphabet.
5 Little Principles
Through studying Charlotte Mason Reading by Sight lessons for several years, I've been able to take out what I think are the most important parts. Her lessons revolve around these big ideas, so if you can remember these, I think it will be easy to apply her methods.
1. The lesson material should be living, and not silly.
In Home Education, Charlotte Mason mentioned nursery rhymes and books of fables and tales, like Parables from Nature. Because children are born persons, they don't need to read silly books, even while beginning reading lessons. We can choose living books and rhymes, those that inspire and appeal to both parent and child. Is it possible to read some simple stories? Yes. Simple stories can be beautifully written too. Frog and Toad, Little Bear, and classic fairy tales have been engaging young readers for decades.
2. Words should be taught as a whole, instead of breaking them down into phonics patterns.
Once we have some beautiful rhymes or a short book, we can teach our child whole words from it. This is the meat of Charlotte Mason's 'reading by sight' approach. If we start by teaching whole words, the result is that our children can read almost immediately, and that is infinitely rewarding! On the day of Miss H's very first reading lesson, I recorded her reading Little Robin Redbreast. She was so proud of herself for being able to read! That is a natural reward. Using the traditional phonics-heavy approach, it can take children weeks or months to read anything meaningful.
3. Phonics should be taught secondary to reading whole words.
A common misconception about this method of reading instruction is that it doesn't include phonics. There is too much research out there to completely omit phonics from reading instruction. Instead of ignoring phonics, Charlotte Mason said that it is just not the most important part, that it should come second to learning whole words. Much of what Charlotte Mason referred to as "spelling lessons" were very similar to what we would call word-work now in a modern classroom. Children have the opportunity to build words with wooden letters and notice patterns.
4. Practice whole words out of context
Charlotte Mason gave the example of making a column of words for a reading by sight lesson, and having your child read down the column. It mixes up the words so your child can practice reading and not necessarily just reciting a rhyme or story that they're familiar with. This can be done in other ways, too, like flipping word cards face down, turning them over, and then reading the word.
5. Make sure your child really sees each word.
Engage your child's mental imagery by asking him or her to really focus on the word, and then envision it in the mind. This will help your child make a more meaningful connection with the word so it can move to long-term memory, and will also help them with spelling in the future.
Because we are teaching whole words slowly, supplemented by phonics, it's important to move slowly. There is no reason to rush! I've made a PDF freebie for you, that has these five principles, ideas for Charlotte Mason reading lessons, and nursery rhyme cards. You can get it through the form below.
Don't miss our Thinking Love podcast on reading instruction!