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First of all, what is the Charlotte Mason method?
To best answer that, we should also know a little bit about who Charlotte Mason was. In purely personal terms, Mason was an educator of the classical style in England at the turn of the 20th century. Starting as a simple teacher, she eventually became a lecturer. Later she started an organization (known as PNEU, Parents’ National Education Union) that provided resources for parents teaching their children and eventually created her own school (House of Education) training governesses and others teaching children.
But she was so much more than these bare facts. Her philosophy shaped a whole new way of looking at education. Not as well-known as other educators of her time that have been co-opted by the mainstream, she is nonetheless continually gaining a larger following around the world.
Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) are two such contemporaries. For a quick comparison of Montessori and Mason, go here. For Steiner and Mason, click here. While I don’t entirely agree with the assessments, they are fairly just in showing the differences. Of course, they were written by supporters of the other methods so…
Charlotte Mason Philosophy
So now that we know a little about her, what about her method?
This is a complicated answer. And would take longer than one post to cover. Mason, herself, wrote six volumes explaining it. So I’ll just try to narrow it down as much as possible for you.
Followers of Charlotte Mason would agree that essentially the belief is that children are people with individual personalities and interests from birth. The goal then is to educate not just their minds as a blank slate (the famous tabula rasa we’ve all heard about) but to fill it with living books that will then shape what is already there.
But education is more than just what can be found in books. It is also a training of the character or habits. Life skills are taught alongside history, grammar and math because their importance is just as great. And don’t forget nature study and the arts.
There is a pretty good breakdown of Charlotte Mason in a Nutshell found here. Another great resource if you are interested and want a quick overview can be found in the book A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison. This was the first book I read after deciding that the CM method was how I wanted to educate my children. It is compact and gives great simple explanations for the different aspects of the method. And here is another quick explanation of the Charlotte Mason method on another well-known website Simply Charlotte Mason.
But there is no substitute for reading all six volumes written by Mason herself. They are not the easiest of reads because they are so full of good information. And because they are written in the style of late 19th century writers. However, you do not need to read them all in order to start. I, personally, have only finished the first.
Deciding on a Method
If you are unsure if this style is a good fit for you, here is a great Homeschool Style Quiz that might help you find where you are more likely to fit. I got 26% Charlotte Mason Homeschooler with Unschooler being a close second at 24%.
Here’s another Homeschool Philosophy Quiz. For this one I scored a 25 for Charlotte Mason with Classical Education close behind at 24. My third match was a tie between Montessori and Unschooling.
Clearly, this shows Charlotte Mason is my best fit. In my opinion, she is a great combination of both the Classical Education style and Unschooling taking the best of both and adding her own stuff into the mix.
After deciding to use this method, I had two decisions to make. What curriculum would I use? And how would I make it bilingual?
The first question was easier to answer than the second. Since my budget was pretty limited, I needed to find something that would be as close to free as possible. Using living books that are often classics was a great starting point. Many such books can be found for free at Project Gutenberg.
Ambleside Online fit my requirements to a tee. Not only are they a great resource for lists of living books recommended by Charlotte Mason but they have so generously partitioned them to the different grades or age groups. And they offer all this for free. All that I needed to do was buy the suggested books from each schedule. And as I had mentioned earlier, many of them could be found at Gutenberg free of charge. If I was in the US, I could even find many of them at the local library.
However, being in France, I needed an option that would allow me access to great books in English without paying an arm and a leg. By purchasing a basic Kindle, I was able to then stock my “schoolroom” with great books without taking too much space or paying too much money.
Of course, some books need to be purchased in hard copy and shipped to me. But being a lover of books, this is not a hardship. It only adds to the charm when we get to snuggle together in front of a “real” book.
I also love the fact that once my children can read, we get them their own Kindle. By doing this, I can read aloud while they follow along. In my opinion, this only enhances their reading abilities. I’m not a big fan of screens for kids but some of the problems involving “blue light” is avoided because we only use the Kindle Paperwhite and not Kindle Fire.
Making it Bilingual
But here’s where the second question made things difficult. I wanted to offer the same advantages of the Charlotte Mason method in both languages that my children speak. The English part was easily achieved. The French part would be more difficult.
Not only am I fairly restricted by the legal aspects of homeschooling in France, but it was hard to find much about this method within the French homeschooling associations or even at the local library. It is fairly unknown. I have found a few blogs by French homeschoolers interested in this method. But many of them have created lists with those already used by English or American groups. I didn’t want my kids reading James Herriot or Rudyard Kipling or Shakespeare in French. I wanted them to read the living books in their original language where possible. What I really needed was a list of living books written by French authors.
And this is where my own education really began.
Not being a native to France, I did not grow up with any classic childhood books, authors, poets or even folk songs. I know the big ones: Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant. But I didn’t know the French equivalent of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Thornton Burgess or H.E. Marshall.
I started by having my children read the books from the Ambleside lists not written originally in English as their French books. Books like Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio and Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking (known as Fifi Brindacier in French). And I’ve scoured used book sales and the local library for inspiration for others. Sometimes I’ve made wonderful discoveries like the series of books by Cathy Bernheim, Isabelle, petite comtesse and Agnes. Others have been a huge flop.
But beyond using living books in French. I’ve simply applied the concepts of the Charlotte Mason education such as narration and copywork to our work in French.
In order to put it all together, I decided it would be better for us to split our work on a daily basis to French and English work. I know that many bilingual schools like to have days with classes only in English and other days only in French. But I felt it would help my children be better able to cope with the constant switching of languages they already do by having their learning in both languages daily.
How Bilingual Kids Really Live
Simply put, kids in bilingual families can be constantly surrounded by their two languages. But one language is always stronger, usually that of the mother. So though my children were born and raised here in France, they are more comfortable with the English language. This is a result of making the conscious decision to have me speak only in English to them and my husband only in French. Because I am the primary caregiver and spend more time with them as a stay-at-home mom, the kids naturally picked up English first.
Though they understand perfectly well everything their father says to them from a very early age, none of them could answer with more than a monosyllable in French until around 5 years old when there was a click. Because of this, we have had to make a conscious effort in their French schooling. Having the yearly inspections forces us to pay closer attention to their learning in the French area.
I don’t compromise though. When learning to read, I wait until the kids are comfortably reading in English before starting French reading lessons. New concepts in math or science are approached first in English then reintroduced in French. And though I may read them books at or above their reading and comprehension levels in English, I will often read at or just under in French. At least, until their vocabularies start to equalize. This can happen anytime during the elementary school years.
The beauty of the Charlotte Mason educational method is that it is perfectly adaptable to bilingual education. She even made it a requirement for her students to start learning a second language immediately upon entering school at the age of 6 or 7. And that language was French.
We know that to learn any language there are 4 elements involved:
- Hearing the language,
- Reading the language,
- Speaking the language, and
- Writing the language.
With much of the method revolved around books, learning a new language (or improving on a second one) becomes much easier and more natural.
Since this method is so involved, I will explain in another post some of the actual resources I have found to implement the Charlotte Mason method in French and how I’ve had to tweak it to pass the yearly inspections with minimal fuss.