The Charlotte Mason concept of masterly inactivity is sometimes confused with unschooling. Unschooling, in which mothers have no guiding curriculum for their child, is very different than Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. But, since mothers are to practice the art of letting their children learn without outright telling them what to learn, these two philosophies might seem similar at the surface.
I think some people believe that we should present our child with a well-chosen book, and then get out of the way.
Most likely, many of you who are reading this right now know from experience that a constantly lecturing teacher is a bore to students! But there is a middle ground, a perfect balance that rests between the over-lecturer and the hands off educator. Charlotte Mason describes this, a mother’s role in her child’s education, throughout her volumes.
Method of a Charlotte Mason Lesson
When I was a teacher, I asked an administrator how to get my students more engaged in a book that we were reading. She said that it was my job to unlock the book for them, to make it accessible, through Charlotte Mason’s method of a lesson. I don’t often see this discussed in CM circles, so I’m writing about it today. Most of the quotes below are taken from Home Education, pages 232-233.
1. Carefully choose and read consecutively from it (planned ahead of time.)
Method of Lesson.- In every case the reading should be consecutive from a well-chosen book.”
Whether we carefully choose a curriculum to follow, or carefully piece together books for our children to read, this is an important first step. Charlotte Mason mentions that the book should be read consecutively, but she did think that it was important to edit out parts of a text that might be inappropriate or distracting for children.
2. Offer a short review of the last lesson, and get the child to talk about it, too.
Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson…”
A simple, “Tell me what we read last time,” will elicit your child to talk about the previous lesson. You could also remind him or her about an idea that they discussed during the lesson before. Saying, “Yesterday, we talked about the idea that…” should get your child thinking about what they’ve already learn. Any understanding is built on background knowledge, which is why this step is so important!
3. Give a few words about what is to be read, to build the child’s anticipation.
…with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children may be animated by expectation; but she should beware of explanation and, especially, of forestalling the narrative.”
Sometimes, additional background information should be established to inspire a child to learn more about the topic. Charlotte Mason gave an example of this in a Bible lesson:
The teacher opens the lesson by reading from The Bible for the Young, in which the subject is pictorially treated…there will probably be some talk and discussion after this reading. Then the teacher will read the Bible passage in question which the children will narrate, the commentary serving merely as a background for their thought.” Towards a Philosophy of Education, pages 162-163 (some text omitted).
You can do this through showing your child pictures, maps, or maybe even presenting a thought-provoking question. We want our children to be excited and interested in what they are going to learn! Charlotte Mason said that by giving appreciative looks and maybe a little word about the book, we can help share our delight with out children. Although, she warns that we shouldn’t talk too much here!
4. Read two or three pages (or have children read once they are fluent readers.)
Then, she may read two or three pages, enough to include an episode;”
It’s important to read a book only once so that our children can practice devoting their fullest attention to it. If they fail to listen or pay attention as the book is read, Charlotte Mason said that a sympathetic look and the fact that they missed out on beautiful ideas will be consequence enough. If we read short sections at a time, our children will be able to attend and remember better.
5. Have the children narrate
…after that, let her call upon the children to narrate, in turns, if there be several of them. They not only narrate with spirit and accuracy, but succeed in catching the style of their author. It is not wise to tease them with corrections; they may begin with an endless chain of ‘ands,’ but they soon leave this off, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to be put in a ‘print book’!”
This is the part of a lesson in which a child really begins to solidify their understanding. By narrating, they are processing the information that they’ve read, making sense of it, and adding it to their memory. If a child can narrate it, then he or she knows it!
Recommended: Know and Tell Book by Karen Glass (affiliate link)
6. Have a little talk about moral points, bring in pictures or diagrams to solidify what was learned.
The book should always be deeply interesting, and when the narration is over, there should be a little talk in which moral points are brought out, pictures shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard.”
This closing part of the lesson encourages a child to keep thinking about what they’ve read. It also serves as a little bit of an assessment. Maybe together, you make a quick diagram of the ideas or events presented. Maybe you present a picture displaying something about which they’ve just read. I think the most important aspect of this closing is to get your child talking about it! This is where their questions and interpretations of the book will bubble up to the surface. This was always my favorite part of teaching a lesson! I loved hearing my students’ reflections and perspectives on what they read!
Encourage Questioning and Note-taking
Let marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence. Let numbers, letters, underlining be used to help the eye and to save the needless fag of writing abstracts. Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself. School Education, pages 180-181
Students should be allowed, and encouraged, to write in the books, underline important information, etc. Truthfully, this one would be difficult for me! Write in books?? Gasp! Writing in pencil, or using sticky notes on the books are alternatives. Charlotte Mason also mentioned having children write their own questions after reading. By avoiding the shallow, surface-level questions that I mentioned above, children get really good at asking in-depth questions! This volume, School Education, explained a child’s curriculum for the ages of 9-12, so these skills are most likely too advanced for a child’s first formal lessons.
Putting it All Together
These lessons are kept short. While this might seem like a lot to plan for, if you consider a 15-20 minute lesson, the time a mother/educator spends talking will be very short! If formal lessons are still a few years off for you, like they are for me, I hope that this gives you some idea of what your homeschool could look like in the future! A lesson taught as Charlotte Mason intended will be a gift from you to your child, leading to many happy discussions and memories!