Charlotte Mason believed that children were born persons whose minds required a varied diet of living ideas in order to grow properly, just like our bodies required a varied diet of food stuffs to grow properly.
Children Under 6
For children under the age of 6, this primarily involves lots of play, and especially playing outside. As Fred Rogers has reminded us more recently in his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” And from an Educational Psychology perspective, we know that this is how children develop language including vocabulary (The leaf is green, The tree is tall, etc.) and comprehension (being able to narrate to his mother about something he saw in the yard). Play is also how children develop motor skills, not just the muscle development but also motor planning and problem solving skills. In fact, most things we attempt to teach in Preschool are in fact things that children often naturally pick up through play. Reading books together can be another activity to share with your child that will help improve language development. We have included a list of picture books that we have enjoyed reading with our own children. For more information on what a day with a child under 6 might look like read Charlotte Mason’s Home Education Volume 1 or join A Charlotte Mason Plenary in reading and discussing Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles found in Volume 6 with a group.
Children 6 and up
While schools tend to treat prayer as another subject, in homeschooling we believe that the best way to teach prayer is not through direct instruction, but by modeling. Our children learn to pray by watching us pray.
It is important to introduce prayers a little at a time and have realistic expectations, based on the child’s age and ability to focus. We can also encourage the children to speak to G-d in their own words throughout the day.
You can find some child-friendly siddurim and books on prayer on our Prayer Resources page.
Each of the time periods provides a broad overview of the Jewish texts written in that time period, from Tanakh to contemporary Jewish writing. We invite the students to read more in the original.
Additionally, the Jewish Life Resources page suggests books on Jewish values, ethics, and practices.
|Textual Study Skills|
While the resources listed in our Torah studies and Hebrew language pages might be sufficient for some families, other families may prefer to use additional resources to help their children become comfortable with studying Jewish texts in the original. The Textual Skills page suggests materials that some of us found helpful.
|Weekly Torah portion|
We recommend spreading the study of the weekly parsha into several days, to maintain the children’s interest. See the Parsha Resources page for book suggestions.
Children learn about the cycle of the Jewish year through active participation in holiday celebrations. In addition, the books on the Jewish Year Resources page will help them understand why we celebrate the way we do.
Charlotte Mason felt that books were an ideal way for children to access many living ideas. Before children could read for themselves (and even after), Charlotte Mason recommended reading rich books to children.
Until a child is able to read for himself, he will need to not only be read to but also have some phonics instruction. Charlotte Mason provides instructions for her method in Part 5 Chapters 4-6 of Home Education Volume 1, or you could use a ready made curriculum. Some of our favorite resources can be found in the Reading Resources page including our Early Reader Booklist.
Once the child is reading, he slowly progresses to reading more and more difficult books on his own. At the same time, he can also continue to benefit from being read to and audiobooks, especially for books that are above his reading level but not his comprehension level. The continued use of audiobooks has the benefit of strengthening auditory processing skills by the necessity of hearing books read with different accents and voices.
Some form of narration should also be included each day, as this is how we build language comprehension, memory, and auditory processing skills. Know and Tell is an excellent step-by-step resource for learning about narration.
For many people, teaching a child to be a good writer seems like a monumental task beyond their reach. Charlotte Mason recognized that learning to be a good writer is part of a natural progression of language skills that develop in a specified order. It begins when we are first learning to talk (see How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years of Life).
As speaking skills develop, children often naturally begin narrating which expands their comprehension. Once children are able comprehend language and develop some of the finer nuances of spoken language (like rhyming), they are ready to learn to read (on average about 6 or 7 years old). As children begin reading, it is only natural that they would want to learn to put their own thoughts to paper. This is when they begin to learn handwriting. What style you choose to teach your child is up to you. Once they are comfortable forming letters, Charlotte Mason recommends they move on to copy work (copying a passage from a favorite book into their notebooks–often about a line per grade) and dictation (copying down a passage as it is read aloud to them).
At this point, many children may begin to develop an intuitive understanding of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and language in general. Once the children are able to write sentences (and hopefully have begun to write some of their own sentences in the form of written narration), they are ready to learn about grammar (usually by at least 4th grade depending on when they learned to read). Before this point, they do not have the skills and experience necessary to make much progress with grammar. How long this progression takes varies from child to child, but the order in which it develops does not.
From this point forward, the children continue to hone their writing and grammar skills through the use of written narration and journaling (see The Living Page). IF grammar is not your strong suite, you might try setting your word processing program to “strict English teacher settings” and type narrations so you can catch your students’ errors with ease.
Once a student is in high school, the focus is on continuing to hone their writing abilities to fit a variety of settings. For example, when writing a scientific paper, it is important to use a very simple sentence structure to compensate for the density of the subject. On the other hand, when writing a narrative, a complex sentence structure can add beauty and detail.
As you can see, each of these paragraphs represents about a 3 year period in your student’s life (assuming your student is “normal”…which I hear is just a setting on your dryer). To help you on this journey, see our Writing Resources page where we have listed resources for Handwriting, Grammar/Punctuation/Spelling, and Stylized Writing.
For elementary math, a curriculum is optional, since younger children can learn math through hands on activities and interactions with parents. This approach is described in Charlotte Mason’s Living Math: A Guided Journey.
However, many homeschoolers find it helpful to use a curriculum. And as the child gets older and advances to more abstract topics, such as algebra and geometry, a curriculum becomes a necessity.
There are many math curricula to choose from. It is important to choose the one that fits the needs of your child. There is no right or wrong curriculum so long as it is a practical, hands on way to access math, as opposed to strictly memorization with paper and pencil. More information on math curricula is available on our Math Resources page.
In addition, books about mathematical concepts and great mathematicians are great for all ages. livingmath.net has an entire curriculum using a huge list of titles (and it happens to align with the Story of the World History series we recommend).
Charlotte Mason provides more information on teaching math in Part 5 Chapter 15 of Home Education Volume 1.
In the first few years drawing is recommended several times a week. As students get older, their drawing is confined to their journals and not a specified drawing lesson. The drawing time in the early years not only help to develop fine motor skills needed for writing, but they also help further develop spatial planning skills and allow the child to express ideas beautifully in a non-verbal way. Many children learn to draw through trial and error, but there are also many books available.
Charlotte Mason recommended Swedish Drill or Folk Dance for her students because these were ways of training the body physically (both the muscles and the breath) and improving the motor pathways in the brain (because you have to respond with your body to verbal instructions). There are many forms of exercise that can meet these needs. A few are: swimming, karate, yoga, etc.
|Life Skills & Handicraft Skills|
Charlotte Mason included “weekly work” in her schedules once a week which are understood by some to mean life skills work. She also emphasized habit training. We all have work that needs to be done daily, even if this is simple self-care. Helping our children learn to do these things for themselves in a way that works for them as they are ready is an important part of education.
Handicrafts is something completely separate from Life Skills. Handicrafts are things we learn to do with our hands that add beauty (and often some usefulness) to our lives. It is an opportunity for us to interact and develop a relationship with the materials available in our world, whether that is wood, metal, wool, cotton, leather, clay, food, paint, etc. Examples of some handicrafts can be found here. The point is not necessarily the mastery of one particular skill, but developing a relationship with different materials, so that your child can find those areas that bring them joy (and perhaps will also be useful at some point). See our Handicrafts Resources page for some suggestions to get you started.
Charlotte Mason recommends that when children are small, they begin to hear a chosen foreign language (not see it, hear it) so that they can begin to learn it in the same way that they learned their first language, through immersion. While learning a foreign language can be good for the brain, it also helps us to communicate with more people and expands how we view language.
For a new Jewish convert or an interfaith family, you might choose to learn “Jewish” (which might be a mixture of Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish, Ladino, and other non-English words often used in the Jewish community and found in Jewish books, games, and videos). If your children have always spoken a mixture of English and Jewish, then perhaps you might choose to begin a separate foreign language. If you have a special needs child, you may choose to focus on communication in their native tongue with perhaps some work in “Jewish” or sign language. Or, perhaps you have a child who truly enjoys mastering new languages, and you choose to begin a new foreign language every couple of years.
As children get older, eventually they begin to study a written foreign language. For those in Charlotte Mason’s schools this was often Latin or Greek; however, Hebrew is most common for Jewish families. See our Hebrew Resources page for curriculum suggestions.
The point of language studies is not to force every child to become fluent in multiple languages. For some kids, developing fluency in their own native tongue is enough of a challenge. However, it is still important to give your child exposure to learning a foreign language. It allows them to develop a sense of appreciation for the amount of effort and skill that goes into it, not to mention a sense of the beauty each language offers. At the same time, it also has the opportunity to build bridges of communication between people. Even if all you ever learn is the American Sign Language alphabet and a few phrases, that is enough to communicate with someone who is deaf. The sheer delight you see on someone’s face when you at least try to communicate with them is a thing of beauty in itself.
Recitation has been a classic part of Jewish education for thousands of years. However, unlike modern recitation, Jewish recitation is meant to be done relationally. You look the other person in the face and “sing” the passage back and forth to each other. Sometimes it is actually singing, but oftentimes it would be better described as a cadence. This was the way you learned language as a baby, by looking into the face of your mother and hearing the cadence of her voice.
This area can include many different things from the method of communicating using our voice (trope, sol-fa, sight reading music, etc.) to the types of materials to be recited (Torah, Tehillim/Psalms, Folk Songs, Poems, and even short Fables). The important part is to begin with the hearing through relationship. Reading trope or sight reading music is of use to the teacher in the beginning. Likely the student will begin to pick it up over time through his relationship with his teacher, but do not feel like your student must master all of these things. The entire point of recitation is developing a relationship…with the teacher, the material, and the method/music. This can easily be accomplished through tunes made for Mother Goose rhymes, but it is also an opportunity to always be expanding your knowledge as a teacher.
We can also use instruments other than our voice to this same effect. The piano is an excellent starting place as it represents the entire musical range. Some choose to start with another instrument, like a violin used in the Suzuki method. Mastery of an instrument is not the goal here. Developing a relationship with music as it is created and having the opportunity to participate in that “conversation” with others is the goal.
For more information on Jewish recitation, please see our Trope Reading Resources page.
Choose a different composer to study each term to help acquaint your students with talented composers. Classics for Kids is a great website that provides free podcasts for kids. Many CDs are available as well.
Choose a different artist to study each term to help acquaint your students with talented artists. A Charlotte Mason Plenary sells Picture Study Print Packages, and there are many beautiful books available.
Choose a different poet to study each term to help acquaint your students with talented poets. Your student may find a new poet that he absolutely loves and wants to include in his copy work or recitation. You might also look for A Treasury of Jewish Poetry.
Try to spend some time observing nature at least once a week and journaling. It not only hones our observation skills and teaches us about life science, but it also teaches us to slow down and experience the beauty of creation.
In the early years literary books about nature help children develop a relationship with the natural world around them.
After we have spent years observing nature, we can begin to study the details of all these things we have spent years observing (botany, physiology, weather patterns, fossil development, astronomy, genetics, physics, etc). As the well-known physist professor Richard Feynman once said, “You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. … I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
See our list of recommended books and curriculums on our Science Resources page.
During all years it is important to consistently be exposing our children to the best literature has to offer, both the world as a whole as well as Jewish. The best books survive the test of time because they transmit living ideas from one generation to the next. Book lists are included in each of the time periods in our curriculum, as well as in additional suggested reading: Jewish and Secular.
Charlotte Mason felt that in order to give a child a good understanding of the breadth, depth and complexity of history without becoming jaded, the child should begin with his own history. Then he could slowly add: world history, the history of another country of significance, and an ancient stream.
To simplify this for a family learning together, we have provided resources in each time period appropriate for a wide variety of ages. For beginning students, we have Jewish History. For those students ready for a little more (no earlier than 7 years old), we have both Jewish and Secular History. United States History will be added in once you arrive at that point in the history cycle. Finally, a thread of ancient history will always be covered (even in other time periods) through Judaic studies. Each time period includes all of the elements necessary to tell the story, such as biographies, music, dance, economics, government, etc. Children can begin at whatever time period the family is currently on. We recommend that you worry less about getting through each time period within a year and focus more on moving at a pace that is right for your family.
In addition to weekly history readings, Charlotte Mason also had her students keep a variety of notebooks documenting their studies in history. One such notebook was the Book of Centuries in which a child or family might record items from each century studied that they found to be of interest. Traditionally students would have one page per century and draw pictures to represent these items; however, you could also consider printing pictures to glue in your books (you just would miss out on some drawing practice). To assist in creating your book of centuries, you might want to visit your local museums, as well as visit a variety of museums virtually. We have listed virtual resources and exhibitions in our History Resources page. For more information on ways Charlotte Mason had her students documenting their history studies, please read The Living Page.
With older students, you may wish to begin including current events and citizenship. Charlotte Mason traditionally used Plutarch’s Lives for citizenship because Plutarch looked at the lives of these men through the lens of character. A Charlotte Mason Plenary offers Plutarch Study Guides to assist in this.
Geography is covered with any book you read. As you read about different places and landforms, take time to find them on a map or look up a picture. However, there are some books that lend themselves especially well to geography. They are listed on our Geography Resources page.