If you homeschool a child with dyslexia, you know that they are a breed of their own when it comes to learning. Being as far to the left on the right-left brain continuum, it took me some time to figure out that this group of kids are actually a joy to teach. They absolutely thrive in the right environment. Once I stepped away from the textbook, workbook, test mentality, our family began to live and learn like never before.
Who was Charlotte Mason?
Charlotte Mason was a Brititsh educator that lived between 1842 – 1923. During this time in England, children were educated according to social class; the poorer were taught a trade, while the fine arts and literature were reserved for the richer class. Charlotte envisioned a generous and broad curriculum for all children. She emphasized treating each child as a person, not as a container into which you dump information. In 1891, at the age of 51, Charlotte moved to Ambleside, England and founded the House of Education where she employed her unique educational philosophy and methods. See the end of this post for links to more Charlotte Mason writings and resources.
Charlotte Mason Educational Philosophy
Charlotte believed that education was an atmosphere, a discipline and a life. By atmosphere she emphasized the environment our children grow up in. She knew that the ideas that rule our lives as parents will have a powerful effect on our children. By discipline Ms. Mason emphasized the importance of training our children in good habits. She believed that good habits were a powerful influence on children and that they must play an important part in their education. By life Charlotte stressed the importance of ‘living thought’ as opposed to dry summaries of facts. Her educational method presents each subject’s material as living ideas.
Charlotte Mason Method and Dyslexia
The Charlotte Mason method is gentle and simple yet amazingly effective. Some homeschoolers use all of her methods and others are more ecclectic in nature, choosing aspects of her method in their studies.
Probably the most well known of Charlotte’s methods is her use of living books instead of dry, factual textbooks. Living books are books that make the subject come alive and are usually written in a narrative form by someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about the particular subject. They involve your emotions which make it easy to remember the events and facts. Dyslexics are notoriously bad at rote memorization. Their strengths lie in seeing the big picture and making connections between events, connections that are often overlooked by their more detail oriented couterparts. Dry, unrelated facts aren’t particularly fun for anyone to learns, but this seems to be especially so for the dyslexic learner. Memorizing dates, places and names of battles are not easy for a dyslexic mind that is all the while trying to build a picture in their mind of this subject of history, science or art. Reading living books (either aloud or on CD) allow learning to take place in a more natural and enjoyable way.
Narration is the telling back in your own words something that was just read. This process forces the child to think through information and determine how best to present the whole story. This higher form of thinking necessarily avoides the tedious process (for dyslexics) of writing. Narrations can be written, and in the older years should be. Allowing a struggling writer to tell you what they know, frees them up to understand and express themselves at their real level of intellectual ability.
Charlotte Mason advocated teaching in short, intense lessons. For younger children, this is 15-20 minutes at one sitting. She believed that by working within a child’s ability to pay attention and gradually increasing this time, the teacher was actually causing a habit of attention to be learned. Approximately 40% of dyslexic kids have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) as well. This attention deficit makes sitting and focusing for long periods of time difficult. By alternating subjects that require quiet concetration with intense subjects that allow for movement, a fidgety child is provided with a learning environment in which they learn best.
Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education saw history as the study of people’s lives, not just dates and events. Children can gain a firm understanding of a time period by reading a few ‘living’ biographies about key people during the time period being studied. It is okay to fill in with reference books but living books should be the main source. Charlotte also suggested entering people’s names and events into a timeline to better grasp the flow of history. This is effective for the dyslexic learner for the same reasons as listed under the Living Books section above.
Just as history is the story of people in time, geography is the study of people in places. Geography can be taught alongside history by pulling out an atlas or maps of the area being studied. Geography studied in context makes learning and understanding the nature and importance of geography a more meaingful and natural endeavor.
As a child copies a great poem, a scripture, an inspirational quote or a passage from good literature, he or she not only get practice with handwriting skills but learn the flow of word usage and good grammar along the way. Charlotte emphasized quality versus quantity and recommended short sessions with the child giving his or her best effort rather than hurrying to fill a page. By keeping copywork in a journal or binder, the child (and you) can see the improvement that can be made with just a little practice every day.
Dictation is used for teaching spelling and reinforcing grammar beginning in 3rd or 4th grade. First the child studies the passage and then it is dictated, one line or sentence at a time, and any misspellings are corrected immediately. This type of immediate feedback works wonderfully for learning correct spelling.
These weekly outings were the original ‘field trips’. Studying and observing nature are the precursors to future science lessons. Nature study builds a foundational knowledge of and an organic interest in the natural world. Charlotte thought that lessons should be completed in the mornings leaving the afternoons free for outdoor exploration and exercise. Studies have shown that children with ADD do much better if they spend more time outdoors. I have seen this to be true. By unplugging and getting outside, my kids are more relaxed and creative when we return. Children are also encouraged to draw their observations in their nature notebooks in the form of sketches, written descriptions, water color paintings or chalk drawings. This creative outlet is a natural fit with the more right-brained, artistic dyslexic child.
Charlotte was a strong proponent of understanding mathematical concepts before sitting down to paper and pencil math work. While this is sometimes easier said than done, the dyslexic child learns best when they understand why something is the way it is. Charlotte encouraged the use of manipulatives and to guide children to think through the hows and whys of solving different word problems.
Charlotte Mason believed that children should read or hear the Bible read every day. She didn’t believe in explaining the passages to children but assumed that they could understand it on their own. She assigned long passages of scripture to be memorized every year.
Poetry & Recitation
Frequent reading and writing of poetry was part of the Charlotte Mason philosophy. She encouraged studying several poems by the same poet and perhaps reading a biography of the poet at the same time. Poems could be used for copywork and later for memorization and recitation. This kind of interrelated study is inherently effective for all learning types.
Miss Mason’s gentle and inviting approach to art appreciation consisted of setting out a picture of a famous work of art. Children were to study the details of the photo and then narrate their observations. A discussion of these observations followed. Several pieces of work by the same artist could be studied over a period of time so the child forms a familiarity with a particular artist’s work. Reading a biography of the artist was encouraged.
Music study was done in much the same way as Picture Study. Study included listening to a particular composer over a period of several weeks followed by the reading of a biography on the composer.
A large part of successfully homeschooling a dyslexic child is teaching to their strengths and particular learning style. While the Charlotte Mason method is ideal for the dyslexic learner, it has a widespread appeal and is useful for all learning styles. To learn more about the Charlotte Mason method of education, the following list of resources is provided.
Books on Charlotte Mason
Web Sites About Charlotte Mason Education
Resources for Living Books
― Charlotte M. Mason, School Education: Developing A Curriculum