Monday, July 6, 2015

Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online

Painted by Frederic Yates (public domain)

Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived from 1842-1923.  Though she never had children of her own, she devoted her life to the education of children.  Thus, she grew to understand the behaviors and tendencies of children very well.

She wrote six volumes on education as well as a series on geography and a six-volume poetical work entitled The Saviour of the World.  

She believed in a liberal (well-rounded, generous, and broad) education for all children, regardless of social class.

My journey to discovering Charlotte Mason and her methods was quite accidental.  Someone posted on Facebook a link to this short e-book entitled A Twaddle-Free Education:  An Introduction to Charlotte Mason's Timeless Educational Ideas.  I believe it was free that day, so I downloaded it onto the Kindle and read through it quickly.  I was instantly intrigued.  This led me to purchasing and reading Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's book For the Children's Sake:  Foundations of Education for Home and School.  Again, everything in the book resonated within me.  It was as if someone had taken the ideas that I knew deep inside were true but had never been able to fully explore and had written them out.  I kept saying, "yes, yes!"

From there, I began earnest study of Charlotte Mason and her methods.  I have since started reading her original series on education.  I get so excited when I read it because it makes so much sense.  I have recently met an online friend who is also very enthusiastic about Charlotte Mason and lives in the same general geographic region as I do.  We hope to meet, but for now we are corresponding via email.  This was what one of her emails said about Charlotte Mason:
It is hard for me to understand how anyone can do anything else once they find her.  It really seems to me that every other curriculum really has faith and God as a side thing.  We will "include" God when we do math, we will "include" the Christian perspective in our study of science.  I love that Charlotte says: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." The FIRST thing is the atmosphere, the unwritten and unspoken beliefs, values and attitudes that govern everything else we do.  What do we hold up, what is our attitude toward worship, prayer, stewardship?  Then comes discipline.  Training ourselves to be self-controlled, kind, patient, humble etc.  Only the last third of the curriculum is math, literature, history, and these are for the purpose of having a "full life" not just to know and discard after a test, but to add layers of interest and beauty to our lives. 
I thought that was beautifully said.  Here's to you, Friend, when you read this!

There are also some wonderful YouTube videos put out by Ambleside Schools International to which the same friend introduced me.

There are several key components to a Charlotte Mason education.  To get a better feel for the scope of a Charlotte Mason education, I encourage you to go here.  However, here a few very important aspects.
  • Narration.  This is the child repeating back to the teacher in his own words what was read to him or what he himself read.  This begins as oral narration and transitions to a combination of oral and written narration.
  • Short Lessons.  She believed that a maximum of 15-20 minutes was sufficient for each lesson in the younger grades.  This gradually increased up to 45 minutes in the older grades.  Simply Charlotte Mason has an article that explains why the lessons are supposed to be short.  "...short, interesting lessons build the habit of attention.  The more often your child pays attention for the whole lesson, the more that habit will become engrained.  Once the habit is established, you can start nudging out the length of the lessons."
  • Living books.  These were used in place of textbooks.  As opposed to textbooks that are mostly dry compilations of facts, living books, both fiction and non-fiction, speak to the reader by touching his emotions and stirring new ideas.
  • Nature study.  Charlotte believed in allowing her students to have hours of time to be outside and to closely examine creation in order to develop a deeper relationship with the Creator.
  • Liberal Education.  Charlotte's students studied art, music, and poetry. They learned foreign languages.  They read from Shakespeare and Plutarch.
  • 20 Principles.  At the beginning of each of her six volumes on education, Charlotte outlined twenty principles to which she held.  Here is a good page that contains both her words and a summary in modern English.  

Of course, it took me no time at all to realize that this was the type of education I wanted for my children.  To that end, I began looking at the Ambleside Online curriculum.  It was put together in 1999 by a group of ladies who have studied Charlotte Mason extensively.  Despite "online" being in the name, there is no part of the education that takes place online.  It is basically a detailed 36-week schedule for Years 1-12.  Each week has a schedule of living books that should be read.  It is completely free to use and comes with excellent support on both its online forum and its Facebook page.  I became ecstatic when I saw the type of education that would be made available to my children through their program.  

I plan to start with AO Year 1 next year.  In the mean time, I am studying and thinking and introducing some living books to my kids as well as working through the Kindergarten program that I designed for Kyla.

I plan to write about what I am reading because it helps me to digest it much more thoroughly.  I hope that I can perhaps inspire someone else to take a closer look at this lovely lady who had so much good stuff to say about education and life in general.

1 comment:

  1. I love this! What a wonderful idea! Your journey in this blog will be an inspiration to a lot of moms like me who are just starting out! I am excited to read more!


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