I have been reading along through Charlotte Mason’s sixth book, Towards a Philosophy of Education, with the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival. The next section is on composition, and it is just what I needed to hear. I feel like I have written and written about this subject, and if you are a regular, you are probably sick of hearing it. Though I am not really worrying about my kids’ writing skills, I have in the last week felt a little left behind as many of their good friends sign up to take a writing course with a local teacher. Now this teacher is excellent. She makes up her own curriculum and really gets kids motivated and subtly teaches them a lot. I know because my older two did a class with her for a year. But I also have to prioritize what goes in our schedule and what we spend our money on (the cost is very reasonable though). So I keep asking myself: are we doing okay on writing? Would this class really help?
In the midst of all this, it was very comforting to run across this section in Charlotte’s book which says once again that there is not so much we need to do. In Form I, which would be about ages 6-9 I believe, the children do not do composition, but rely on oral narrations. This builds their telling skills without the added burden of writing. And there is a lot involved in simply telling, like organizing one’s thoughts, remembering and sequencing events, and putting it all together into a coherent narrative. But this is all done naturally. I do belive children are natural tellers. They love to tell someone all they have seen, done, or read without any prompting. It is we who often drive that desire out of them by ignoring or silencing them.
Even when they begin to do written narrations, Charlotte urges us not to burden children with grammatical rules. But you will say, surely we at least can ask them to start sentences with capitals and end them with periods? This is pretty basic and is often the first formal bit of instruction on writing that we introduce. But even this Charlotte would hold off on:
“Children must not be teased or instructed about the use of stops or capital letters. These things too come by nature to the child who reads, and the teacher’s instructions are apt to issue in the use of a pepper box for commas.” (p. 191)
I think here we get a hint of part of the problem. Charlotte’s theory is that kids who read, and she means read good, living books, what we might call literature, will naturally develop composition skills. But how many of our kids read a quantity of such books? Charlotte does not say that they can never read poorer quality books, but only that their school books should be high quality. And of course, in a CM education, there is quite a lot of reading to be done. So I think part of the answer for me at least is that if I am doing things as I should, and getting lots of good books in, then we shouldn’t be needing the extra classes.
My own observation, and indeed my own feelings, tell me that it is very hard to trust that the CM way of teaching writing will work. Even on Charlotte Mason-themed message boards, I see a lot of posts about which writing curriculum to use. But Charlotte did not advocate any curriculum for this. In fact, she argues specifically against doing too much in this area lest it turn the children off.
I have come across a couple of excellent posts recently which give me hope that children can learn writing the CM way. Aut-2-Be Home in Carolina writes on “Composition with an Eye toward Development.” And Higher Up and Further In tells why “You Don’t Need a Composition Program” and gives lots of specific, practical advice in “How I Raised a Professional Writer.”