Literacy learning in the early years of schooling is of vital importance. Many living education parent-teachers become intimidated by the importance and sacrifice the gentle, effective methods of Masonry for more traditional teaching and programs. In this article, we’ll look at what to include, and what to leave out, of a Charlotte Mason language arts program for your youngest learners. This is not so much a scope and sequence, as it is an overview of what to do, why to do it, as well as what not to do and why not. Let’s begin!
Charlotte Mason Language Arts – The Early Years
The early years of a Masonry education cover the ages of 6 to 10. Your child is just beginning her journey into learning, and the slow and gentle methods of Masonry are perfect for this tender, blossoming age.
Charlotte Mason reading instruction is a lovely mixture of phonics and whole word sight reading. You use phonics in word building exercises, and sight reading of whole words in your “reading” exercises. The two go hand in hand in any reading program, by the way, so Masonry reading instruction isn’t that unique. Unlike traditional reading programs like “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” or Hooked on Phonics, the phonics aren’t the main aspect of the lessons.
Copywork takes up much of the remainder of the early years of Charlotte Mason language arts. Copywork has many uses. It:
- teaches and reviews handwriting skills
- builds attention skills and abilities
- strengthens reading and spelling skills
- introduces and exemplifies language usage concepts
- can be used as an aid in memorization exercises
- allows a child to express himself without fear of “making a mistake
Copywork is begun at age 6, not before. Copywork continues until the child has reached mastery of the handwriting script being taught. So, you’ll do copywork for both manuscript and cursive. Once mastery has been reached, copywork can stop, whatever the age or grade level.
Oral narration is the third anchor in your Charlotte Mason language arts in the early years. Oral narration comes after a reading – in the younger years that means you do the reading aloud and they do the narrating after – and serves several purposes. Narration:
- builds attention skills and abilities
- serves as a test of the child’s comprehension of the reading
- helps the child make connections – personal relations – with the content
- offers opportunities for verbal expression of new vocabulary and language
- develops thinking skills
Charlotte Mason Language Arts – What You Don’t Need
There are some parts of public school/traditional school language arts that Charlotte Mason language arts leaves in the dust. There are several “common” language arts topics that you won’t need to focus on or even pay a bit of attention to them. They are:
- Spelling – Charlotte Mason language arts uses copywork and later, studied dictation, to teach spelling. You do not need to teach spelling before a child is ready for writing compositions – narrations, stories, poems, etc. – in any fashion. Spelling lists, however, are one of the least effective ways of teaching a child to spell.
- Vocabulary – Traditional language arts programs treat vocabulary as a separate subject, even when words are pulled from the reading selections. They are to be defined, used in sentences, tested or quizzed. In Charlotte Mason language arts, unfamiliar words are defined as they are “discovered” in the readings. A child will ask, or will look puzzled, when the words are encountered as the reading is taking place. New words are used when narrating, and their correct usage tells the parent-teacher that the word has been learned. No lists, no glossary, no quizzes needed. This is the natural way, after all, that a child learns new words in their own native language – through usage.
- Readers – While leveled readers may be used by children learning to read, you won’t find readers filled with “literature” in a Charlotte Mason language arts program. Full literature is preferred, without adaptation or abridgements. So, while your child practices his reading from a McGuffey or an Ellison or other “reader”, or enjoys a series of “easy to read” titles, his copywork and narration should come from quality literature, well above his reading ability.
Charlotte Mason Language Arts and You
It’s not difficult to execute a Charlotte Mason language arts program for your early learner. Your biggest job is to select the literature. The literature is everything in a living books education, and in the early years it may be even more important, as these are your child’s introduction to the world of noble thoughts, lovely ideas, and quality literature. Some titles to select from:
- A Bear Called Paddington
- The Child’s Garden of Verses
- Just So Stories
- Charlotte’s Web
- Mr. Popper’s Penguins
- The Wind in the Willows
- The Wizard of Oz
- The Burgess Bird Book
- The Burgess Animal Book
- Baldwin’s 50 Famous Stories Retold
- American Tall Tales
- Lang’s “Fairy” books – Blue, Red, Green, etc.
- Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales
- The Secret Garden
- A Little Princess
- Misty of Chincoteague
- The Jungle Book
- James Herriot’s Treasury for Children
- When We Were Very Young
- Now We Are Six
- Beatrix Potter’s Treasury
Books such as these are filled with wonderful images, lush vocabulary, as well as adventures and characters that appeal to the imaginations and attentions of young children. Imagine their surprise when their copywork comes from their favorite part of the story? Or when they meet
Peter Rabbit, or Mowgli, or Dorothy? They become friends for life, beloved comrades of childhood. Just another benefit of Charlotte Mason language arts in the early years of school!