CM Education: Specifics

Dear Reader,

As I work my way through Charlotte Mason’s original home education series, I have reached the final part of the third book, School Education. In Appendix II, Charlotte gets down to nuts and bolts: what should children learn when and how long should they spend on it? Appendices III through V help us also to understand what education in a CM school looked like. They focus on what a child should know at various ages. The whole section in my book takes almost 70 pages, but I will try to summarize.

Up until age six, Charlotte advocates no formal education:

” . . . the first six years of life are wanted for physical growth and the self-education which children carry on with little ordered aid.” [p. 193]

At age six, formal education begins. It should take about 2 and a half hours a day including half an hour of “drill and games” which I believe refers to physical training (Charlotte elsewhere speaks of calisthenics type exercises called Swedish drill). So that means two hours of academics a day. Charlotte advocates short lessons so there is still room in this two hours for a lot of different subjects. She lists recitation of hymns, poems and Bible verses, arithmetic, singing of French and English songs, piano, writing and printing, reading, speaking French, drawing and handicrafts, Bible, tales, natural history, and geography. Children narrate what has been read to them orally at this stage. Their “tests” also take the form of oral narration. They might be asked, for example, to tell a fairy story or to tell about a spider they have observed. Afternoons are used for handicrafts, nature walks, games, etc.

By age 7, 8 or 9, children can read for themselves and so they begin to do some of their own reading for history, geography, or tales. They still narrate orally.

Between ages 9 and 12, the children do three hours of work per day (still including a half hour of drill). Languages such as German or Latin may be added to their course of study. They begin to write a portion of their narrations. Charlotte mentions using Plutarch at this age as well as studying English and French history.

From ages 11 or 12 through 15, the subjects studied are Bible, recitation, English grammar, languages (she lists French, German, Latin, and optional Italian), history (English, French and ancient), singing, writing, dictation, drill, drawing, natural history, botany, physiology, geography, arithmetic, geometry, and reading. It sounds like a lot, but this is still all in 3 and  a half hours a day including that half hour of drill. That means these must all still be fairly short lessons, and , of course, not every subject need be done every day. And there is no homework. She makes special note of the fact that composition is not taught as a separate subject, but children of this age are expected to write all of their exams which again take the form of narration or essay questions. She also notes that “[t]en minutes’ exercise on the map of the world [should be done] every week” (p.225) and that “[p]oetry should be read daily” (p.227).

Charlotte then moves on to discuss girls’ education from ages 14 or 15 through 17. I don’t know what happened to the boys here. They are included up until this point. Perhaps they would be expected to go off to college level work or apprenticeships? At any rate, the girls add to their studies geology and astronomy, advanced algebra, and the history of modern Europe. She notes that they are also reading much more advanced literature.

There are long lists at the end of the volume of what children should know or be able to do at certain ages. They are worth looking at though I would do so with some caution. They can seem like a high standard to attain. Many of the specifics will be different. We will not, for example, spend as much time on English and French history and must include also American history. Most of us will not do as many languages as Charlotte recommends. I prefer to think of such lists s the high bar for which we are aiming, something to drive us on.


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