Combining The Mystery of History with Charlotte MasonApril Elstrom
In my heart, I’m a Charlotte Mason homeschooler. In reality, we have had to make some adaptations to her methods in our homeschool. If you’ve been homeschooling very long, you’ve probably heard of Charlotte Mason and her educational methods. Charlotte Mason was an English woman who dedicated her life to education in the 19th century and the early 20th century. She revolutionized education in England. So, what does a Charlotte Mason education look like, and why does it work so well with The Mystery of History?
Six key elements of Charlotte Mason’s educational methods include living and whole books, short lessons, narration, copywork, artist and composer study, and nature study. The purpose of her methods was to allow the children to think and draw their own conclusions, to allow their natural curiosity and interest in learning to flourish. Charlotte Mason was opposed to long lectures that were boring and dry, pouring facts into children’s minds without context, testing to see what they learned and didn’t learn, and killing their love of learning.
Elements of Charlotte Mason that are Perfectly Suited for The Mystery of History
Living Books and Whole Books
When someone mentions Charlotte Mason, the first thing most people remember is that Charlotte Mason didn’t like textbooks – she recommended using living books and whole books. This is true, and some families do manage to adhere to those recommendations. In our homeschool, however, we tweak her methods a little. My husband prefers that we have one central textbook, and that we supplement that with other living books. This textbook serves as a spine that holds our studies together, ensuring that we’re not skipping anything important.
I’ve found that The Mystery of History is a wonderful foundation for a Charlotte Mason style history education. It’s written in a living style that engages children’s interests, and includes the stories of the people in history. Reading additional living books that fit into a time-period is simple, since Linda Lacour Hobar includes a list of suggested resources and supplemental reading at the back of each year of The Mystery of History.
Charlotte Mason was adamant about keeping lessons short (15-20 minutes per subject) so that children didn’t grow bored with a subject. She felt that keeping students focused and attentive for a short period of time was much better than allowing their mind to drift off in longer lessons. These short lessons allow you to move through a school day in the morning, leaving the afternoon free for exploration and play. The lessons in The Mystery of History are already divided into short sections that easily fit into the Charlotte Mason methodology. Read the text, don’t lecture, do some map work, and move on.
Narration is an essential part of Charlotte Mason’s education methods. This simple process replaces written tests and helps children begin crafting language and developing their writing skills. Narration is first practiced orally, then dictated for the teacher to write down, and finally written by the student himself. Students naturally want to tell you (or Daddy) about what they have learned. They also narrate as they re-enact scenes from history in their play. Narration can be a relaxed addition to the lesson, or can be formalized by having them dictate to you or writing down their retelling of the lesson. This doesn’t have to be a daily event; you could choose one lesson each week to have them narrate.
The Mystery of History does include pre-tests and post-tests each week. I prefer to handle the pre-test in a relaxed, fun fashion – taking the test orally, as a group. With younger children, the post-test can be handled the same way. Narration can replace the tests, or be used as a mid-week addition to them.
Having children copy well-written texts helps them practice their handwriting, and reinforces proper sentence structure, grammar and spelling in their mind. The Mystery of History offers many options for copywork. Students could copy a key passage of The Mystery of History text itself, a quote from a historical person you’ve read about, a corresponding Bible verse (provided by Linda Hobar in volume 1 and occasionally in other volumes), a passage from a related resource, or a poem from an author of that time period. Some of this will flow naturally from your studies, and some may take extra research. When nothing lends itself easily, then a passage of Scripture from your own Bible studies can be used.
Artist and Composer Study
Charlotte Mason recommended that students spend a period of time observing art and listening to music by individual artists and composers. Select an artist and composer for each month and enjoy one piece of music or art for a week at a time. Find an autobiography and learn about the artist or composer’s life. Since Linda Lacour Hobar includes many artists and composers in The Mystery of History, you only need to find copies of the artwork or music, and an age appropriate biography to enrich your studies for the month.
Science is the study of the world through observation and experiment. Charlotte Mason feels strongly that young children should be allowed to spend ample time in nature, exploring and learning daily. The study aspect comes into play through the creation of a nature journal, with students drawing what they see, and taking notes to record what they observe. The same animal, tree, stream or flower can be observed at different times of the year to help them learn about the world around them. Granted, The Mystery of History doesn’t particularly tie in with nature study. However, The Mystery of History does allow for shorter lessons, leaving afternoons free for nature study, nature walks, and creative play.
Charlotte Mason homeschooling doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Using The Mystery of History as a foundation for your history lessons allows you to adapt her methods to your homeschool while still having the safety net of a curriculum. This is especially helpful in states that require you to submit your curriculum lists and scope and sequence each year. You can learn more about Charlotte Mason’s methods in A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola and also Catherine Levison’s books: A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education.