Jesus' Precious Little Lambs

A Charlotte Mason Christian Home School: Preschool – 5th Grade :)

How Do I Teach That Subject??

on May 16, 2013

Charlotte Mason Friends Book Club, Home Education (Vol. 1) pages 225-300

“Lessons as Instruments of Education”

For Children Ages 6, 7, and 8 Years of Age

I will highlight what stood out to me about some of the subjects Charlotte covered in “Lessons as Instruments of Education”. However, in Home Education, Charlotte provides a much fuller training for anyone who wishes for guidance on how to teach all the subject matter of education.


Every child may be taught the art of beautiful and perfect speaking, and in learning to recite, a child learns much about public speaking. Our children learn enunciation and how to delicately render each nuance of meaning  by reciting poetry. Let the expression be their own, as they will learn just expression of thought for themselves with time. Setting forth the pattern to ‘say it as I say it’ is unwise. Children can expresses what they think the poem’s author means, and should not be using mere tricks of parroting. Do not have your children memorize the poem, or say it over and over to themselves, but simply let them hear it read over several days and the children will be able to reproduce it without much mental effort. In this way, the children’s enjoyment is not worn down by weariful verse by verse repetitions.


A few ideas about the subject of reading for children who can already read to themselves: (Teaching a 5 or 6 year old child how to read is covered in a previous section of Home Education)

  • Let your child acquire the habit of reading early on. As soon as she can read at all, she should read to herself and be trained that one reading is sufficient. Narration after a single reading will train a child to use slow, careful, intelligent reading habits where she reads with an eye to the full meaning of every clause.
  • She should also have practice reading aloud (including poetry books) so that she is accustomed to saying beautiful words beautifully.
  • It is delightful for parents to read to their children, but Charlotte says this should only be an occasional treat such as at bedtime for children who can read. Children will shirk the labor of reading to themselves for, “indeed we all like to be spoon-fed with our intellectual meat, or we should read and think more for ourselves and be less eager to run after lectures.” If a child can read his own books that are being used for his term’s work, his education is not completed, but it is ensured.

Use Narration, Not Comprehension Questions

Karen Andreola, author of the Charlotte Mason Companion, says, “Today’s children are exposed to much information and come away with little knowledge. Why? Because they have never thought the writer’s ideas through and made them their own.” Charlotte’s remedy was what she called narration. A child tells back what she has just learned from the passage just read, which gives the child the opportunity to digest the mind-food offered by brilliant authors. Direct questioning and workbooks on the subject matter of what a child has read is always a mistake because they are very wearying to most children. (Charlotte does say that, “Questions that lead to a side issue or to a personal view are allowable because these interest children–‘What would you have done in his place?’) Instead, let a student narrate what she does remember, and she will enjoy this form of “testing”. Narration is effective because its a natural inherent power waiting to be discovered in children, and its not the result of disciplinary education. “‘Let him narrate’; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, so soon as he can speak with ease.” Just think of what an ability to remember will be formed in our children as we use this method! Yet, this amazing gift of narration lies unused in most educational settings.

Kids love to tell what they know! But start testing them with endless questions to see what they know, and they start to shut down. Noah loves to tell me what he knows (often made up stuff) all day long. Kids are natural narrators. The only narration we ask of Noah, who is only four, is after we read him a simple Bible story from Faith’s Bible, we ask him to tell it back to us. He does great, and is now able to recall the story we read last time because narration is causing him to remember what he has heard. However, as soon as Dean and I can’t ignore the itch to ask and probe for more information as he is narrating, the error of our methods are soon revealed by Noah’s obvious signs of frustration. We feel like we are “helping” him along, probably because inside we are thinking ‘surely he remembers that part and just accidentally left it out!’, and so we mistakenly think we can gently lead him towards remembering. Usually its a mistake because as soon as he can’t come up with the right answer, frustration comes into his eyes or he slaps his hands down on his legs in defeat as he has little patience for riddles. Not at all how we want Noah to feel about learning! Frustrating educational methods will turn children off to learning, dangerously dashing the confidence of parents as some start to wonder, ‘why can’t I teach my child??’ We have to be careful not to fall back on all the methods we are so accustomed to, such as direct questioning and testing, as they really are inferior methods of checking for understanding.

By the way, be careful not to form the habit of inattention by allowing your child, who can not narrate after a single reading, to have the notion that she may, or must, read a portion of text again. The power of reading with perfect attention will not be formed in a child who is allowed to moon over her lessons. A simple look of slight regret will be enough to motivate the child to pay more attention next time.

Examinations are not necessary when you use narration because narration proves better than testing whether a child knows the information at hand. What, school without tests?! Woo hoo! Also, teaching writing (composition) to young children is unnecessary because to children who have learned to narrate well, writing will come later as naturally as running and jumping. Let them be fed a steady diet of good rich ideas from the best authors, and later they will write with similar tone, vocabulary, and expression, but their composition will be original and their own. However, try to have a young child write an essay, and she will need to be taught how to build a sentence and how to bind sentences together (unnecessary for the older child who is accustomed to narrating). The young child will also learn to stick ideas of commonplace thought into her essay that sound good, but are not her own. Requiring a child under nine to write compositions is futile because they are not ready; narration is composition for a young child.

Learn more about narration: Karen Andreola explains much more in “Narration Beats Tests”.


The whole secret of spelling lies in the habit of visualizing words from memory. The eye must in a sense take a photographic picture of words in order to spell them. Good spelling comes form much reading combined with the habit of imaging the words as they are read. Bad spelling usually comes from sparse reading or hasty reading without the habit of seeing the words. Also, most of us have trouble spelling certain words over and over again because we learned to spell it incorrectly in the first place, and now we have an permanent image of that mispelled word. Once the eye sees a mispelled word, that image can remain and always give us trouble. Children misspelling words should therefore be avoided and prevented, and Charlotte’s method of teaching spelling is focused on that objective.

Learn Charlotte’s step by step instructions of how to do spelling lessons by prepared dictation on page 242 of Home Education.

Natural Science

“He must live hours daily in the open air, and, as far as possible, in the country; must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant. He must be accustomed to ask why––Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And do not hurry to answer his questions for him; let him think his difficulties out so far as his small experience will carry him. Above all, when you come to the rescue, let it not be in the ‘cut and dried’ formula of some miserable little text-book………As I have already tried to point out, to get this sort of instruction for himself is simply the nature of a child: the business of the parent is to afford him abundant and varied opportunities, and to direct his observations, so that, knowing little of the principles of scientific classification, he is, unconsciously, furnishing himself with the materials for such classification.”

Just today we went on a walk and Noah observed magnolia buds covering a magnolia tree, collected pine cones, and found a baby bird that lay dead in the dirt 😦 (this was a first for me!). Later he was excited because he discovered that seeds came out of his pine cone (I can’t believe I have never seen pine cone seeds before!), and now he is seriously going to try to plant a pine tree in the backyard (I told him he could but we would have to pull it out before it got too big). Yesterday he caught water striders in a creek and insisted that we research what they eat so they wouldn’t die. Then he went outside and found a tiny insect for them to eat. He is an observant little guy and quickly becoming fascinated with nature! Natural treasures are becoming part of his bedroom decor because he wants everything near and dear to him to have a special place in his room. I am astounded at how my simple efforts to follow Charlotte Mason’s nature study methods are really working! I remember how not long ago my children had tunnel vision for toys every time we stepped outdoors and it disturbed me, but now I am thrilled that my children are enjoying and learning from nature rather than overlooking its secrets.

Now is the time to allow our young child’s interest grow in all sorts of natural phenomenon as this will lay a firm foundation for all the scientific knowledge that will need to be built on top of that foundation of interest. Homeschoolers have the freedom to form a true passion for nature, and then later learn the scientific nomenclature. School, on the other hand, pours all sorts of hollow information into young brains–laws, principles, theories, classification–hollow because there is no regard for the necessary preceding of information with a passion arising from real outdoor nature study. Scientific nomenclature means little to nothing to most children because they have never formed an interest, or a personal relationship with the array of natural science topics covered in a textbook. Sad it is when children have to learn about life cycles or astronomy from a text book and they have never personally witnessed the lifecycle of a butterfly or ladybug, never observed the rising and setting of the stars, the phases of the moon, or used a telescope. School could never plan enough field trips to properly prepare children for all the test book information that is taught to them. Serving up information before there is interest is normal in school, but it should be abnormal in homeschool. Learning scientific nomenclature before observing the real thing is backwards!! Say your child loves trains: “It is not possible to explain every detail of a locomotive to a young pupil, but it is perfectly practicable to explain its principles so that this machine, like others, becomes a mere special case of certain well-understood general laws.” Try teaching these same scientific laws without there first being an interest in trains or machines, and lessons become dry, forced, meaningless, and soon forgotten anyway.

What science topics are all children interested in? How everything around them works! So dive into books that explain everyday life and children’s endless curiosity about it–why water pipes burst by frost, why the kettle lid jumps up when the water is boiling, why they feel cold sitting in damp clothes, why they can see their breath on a frosty day, what is dew for, why a glass sometimes breaks when hot water is poured into it. Rather than using textbooks that try to cover everything, explore the true interests of a child in living science books that awaken the imagination, stimulate observation, and excite a living and lasting interest in the world that lies about them. From these everyday life type of curiosities, these books will gently introduce the general laws, principles, theories, and classification systems of of science, resulting in much true understanding of the subject matter.

After a day out in nature, one child is like “No-eyes” and another is like “Eyes” according to Charlotte. “No-eyes comes home bored; he has seen nothing, been interested in nothing: while Eyes is all agog to discuss a hundred things that have interested him.” May we provide our children with with the opportunities to become “Eyes”!


“History is a subject which should be to the child an inexhaustible storehouse of ideas, should enrich the chambers of his House Beautiful with a thousand tableaux, pathetic and heroic, and should form in him, insensibly, principles whereby he will hereafter judge of the behavior of nations, and will rule his own conduct as one of a nation. This is what the study of history should do for the child; but what is he to get out of the miserable little chronicle of feuds, battles, and death which is presented to him by way of ‘a reign’––all the more repellent because it bristles with dates? As for the dates, they never come right; the tens and units he can get, but the centuries will go astray; and how is he to put the right events in the right reign, when, to him, one king differs from another only in number, one period from another only in date? But he blunders through with it; reads in his pleasant, chatty little history book all the reigns of all the kings, from William the Conqueror to William IV., and back to the dim days of British rule. And with what result? This: that, possibly, no way of warping the judgment of the child, of filling him with crude notions, narrow prejudices, is more successful than that of carrying him through some such course of English history…”

‘The fatal mistake is in the notion that he must learn ‘outlines,’ or a baby edition of the whole history of England, or of Rome, just as he must cover the geography of all the world. Let him, on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age.”

“In these early years, while there are no examinations ahead, and the children may yet go leisurely, let them get the spirit of history into them by reading, at least, one old Chronicle written by a man who saw and knew something of what he wrote about, and did not get it at second-hand. These old books are easier and pleasanter reading than most modern works on history, because the writers know little of the ‘dignity of history’; they purl along pleasantly as a forest brook, tell you ‘all about it,’ stir your heart with the story of a great event, amuse you with pageants and shows, make you intimate with the great people, and friendly with the lowly. They are just the right thing for the children whose eager souls want to get at the living people behind the words of the history book, caring nothing at all about progress, or statutes, or about anything but the persons, for whose action history is, to the child’s mind, no more than a convenient stage. A child who has been carried through a single old chronicler in this way has a better foundation for all historical training than if he knew all the dates and names and facts that ever were crammed for examination.”

I can sum it up no better than Charlotte! Use original sources, use stories that stir the heart, and biographies of historical heroes.


  • Do you want to be a part of my Charlotte Mason Friends Book Club? Read pages 300-352 in Home Education (last portion of the book) and bring some thoughts to share on the Little Lambs blog by June 15th. Together we can inspire others to bring the atmosphere of a living education into their home too!


Hanging Out on the Fence at the Nature Park


Noah Catching Water Striders


Throwing Stones in the Creek


Knee Deep in Ivy


Noah’s Self Initiated Project after a Fieldtrip to the Zoo


What Bugs Have We Been Sighting Lately?

Mating Dragonflies


All On One Plant in Our Backyard:

A Bumblebee


A Baby Ladybug (larva) & Aphids


A Ladybug Shedding its Skin (Pupa)


A Red Backed Jumping Spider


3 responses to “How Do I Teach That Subject??

  1. Tara Hannon says:

    Yes! Nature is the most motivating tool for Roman and Levi. They currently have a leaf collection in their bedroom, a sow bug “house” built in the yard, and daily hunts to find the most catapillers and worms- all projects that they initiate. Roman probably asks me 300 questions a day and at least 290 are about animals and how they live, where they live, “who” they eat, who eats them and when can we go see them in their native environment. Love my little scientists!

  2. Tara Hannon says:

    *caterpillars 😉

  3. Miss Lynn says:

    That is fun!! Keep that interest kindled with lots of nature time when they start school. Caterpillars is one of my troublesome words too. Probably too much focus on learning to read and spell by phonics back in school. 🙂 Misspelled words escape my notice in pretty much every post I write here, and I can only imagine what grammar rules I break but am unaware of…….as I blog constantly about the importance of being highly educated. 😉 Ha!

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