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Charlotte Mason Knew the Secret to Learning Relationships

Charlotte Mason didn’t invent the idea that true learning only comes from relating living ideas to things in our life. She did make it a core belief in her method of teaching, assuring her fellow teachers that they could trust that students would form these learning relationships if they provided living ideas and varied sources for the child to glean from in their reading. (Read from volume six here.)

How do we apply that today with our high school students?

First of all, like Charlotte Mason, we need to trust that our high school students are capable of making their own connections with their reading assignments. If we truly believe this concept, the idea of testing for mastery seems redundant for most subjects. We don’t have to waste time getting our students to answer pre-made sets of questions in their every day work and we don’t need to test them at the end of each unit.

Note: This depends on the high school course and our family still uses tests in math as a measure of progress. Although Charlotte Mason didn’t test students, she did administer an end of the term exam which is much different than most textbook style tests. See the links at the bottom of this post for more information on how our family uses end of term exams.

How Do We Promote This Principle In Our Family?

1. Students read their assigned books and regularly make notes in their commonplace book or they create a written narration of some sort – journal, notebook page, map, sketch, diagram with labels, mind map. This is done for every reading. (More on written narration in this entry: Narration in Our High School Plans.)

2. Provide time to discuss what they read with you perhaps even up to a week later. This helps you to see whether your student has taken the information in and not just memorized it. You will hear if they have connected it to something they already know and then were able to add it to their store of knowledge. (More on our Friday discussions in this entry: Friday Discussion-What Do We Talk About?)

3. Encourage students to go further than the reading, writing, and oral narrations by asking themselves questions and then finding a means of answering those questions.

Ellis Island NY April 2012
We visited Ellis Island during our New York trip earlier this year.

4. An additional step that our family has enjoyed over the years is to make additional connections to our reading and study by traveling to places of interest. This could be a day trip or an extended vacation where you allow time and opportunity to relate their reading to something in real life.

I always like a good example in posts like this so here is one to use as a starting point. I am sure you have lots of ideas that will work in your family and I would love for you to share any additional ideas in a comment. I have one year left and I would love to take it to the next level. I am especially interested in any concrete examples of Charlotte Mason style term exams for high school students.


  • You assign a good number pages to be read in their history course. This reading can come from a biography, speeches, first hand accounts, primary source documents, or context books (fiction or non-fiction) written in the time period.
  • They read through the material one time and record a list of quotes or important facts. Quotes may be used in a separate written narration, perhaps a short biography or a summary of an event in a person’s life. Facts can be added to a timeline or be included on a notebook page.
  • After the written narration, they share an oral account with you of what they found in their reading, perhaps relating an event from history.  This is where you can build from week to week as you move through history and see how one person or event is not in isolation.
  • Now is the time that they can really personalize their learning and make connections in their minds. Encourage them to ask a question about their reading…or you ask a leading question. I tend to think of these as questions that have no right or wrong answer but their goal is to stimulate thinking and connections. There is an art to forming these kinds of questions but I try to remind myself that if they can be answered with a simple yes or no then I need to rephrase the question. (More on how to know what to ask your student: Question from My Weekly Wrap-Up.)

Examples of questions I might use:
Tell me what you know about the Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade.
How does this information fit in with what we learned last week?
Describe what it would have been like to be a part of this event.
What three events did you put on your timeline this week?

Charlotte Mason Style Exams-Resources 

Please note that this really is a work in progress and holding my boys accountable for their reading and then their own learning has been something that I have focused on over their high school years. It does get easier as they mature and work more independently. Your family may use a different process but the point is to offer lots of living ideas for your child to think about…ideas that will spur them on to learn more.

IPlease visit and share with us at the CM blog carnival! We'd love to have you! am submitting this entry to the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival and if you have any entries you would like to submit, you can send them to this email address: [email protected].


Charlotte Mason: Narration or Memorizing for a Test

Testing and Narration in High School

In anticipation of the next Charlotte Mason carnival, I was inspired to do my annual reading of her volume six which I find especially relevant to those of us with older children. I rarely get very far in the book before I am highlighting and making notes in the margin, marking where I want to improve in my own teaching abilities.

Only one more year to officially work on my homeschool mom skills before Mr. B is on to bigger and better things. Guess I better hurry up…

I made it to page 15 in the Introduction before I had to make some notes this time around. What struck a chord with me in this section was the answer to a frequently asked question that I receive from blog readers who ask me how I get by without much formal testing in high school. They wonder how I can truly know if my children are learning the material or if they are just memorizing the facts and narrating them back.

Here is the answer found in Charlotte Mason’s words:

“Lectures were mostly eliminated. Lots of books from many subjects were scheduled for reading during morning school hours. So much work was scheduled that there was only time for a single reading. All reading was tested by narrating either part of the selection or the entire reading, either orally or in writing. Students doing this kind of work know what they read even months later. Their ability to focus their attention is remarkable. They have little trouble with spelling or composition. They mature into well-informed, intelligent people….This is not memory work. In order to memorize, we repeat a passage or series of points or names over and over, inventing little clues to help us. We can memorize a string of facts or words this way, and that memory is useful in the short term, but it isn’t really assimilated….That’s the kind of memory work students use to pass exams.”
Volume 6 page 15 and 16 (Charlotte Mason in Modern English found on the Ambleside Online website)

As Mr. B enters his last year of high school, we will not be taking out precious time to memorize things for an exam. We will continue to work through our books with the underlying Charlotte Mason principle of feeding the mind with living ideas in order to gain knowledge that can be digested and retained. He will tell back what he knows after his reading either orally or in written form.

I am much more interested in this kind of real learning. I see it and hear about it from Mr. B every day. I have no question about whether Mr. B is learning something or not because we have built up the habit of keeping in contact with each other throughout the term. Do we use tests in some subjects like math? Yes, but even then I check with him weekly and have him tell me what he is learning. You might like to read my entry: Keeping In Touch With An Independent Learner.

I encourage you to read Section III of the Introduction of Volume 6 (roughly page 8-22)  for yourself. It will take only a few minutes.

Please visit and share with us at the CM blog carnival! We'd love to have you!I am submitting this entry to the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival and if you have any entries you would like to submit, you can send them to this email address: [email protected].

Five Ways Homeschooling for High School is Unique

Let’s face it. Homeschooling for high school is so very different than any other phase, especially when you get into the junior and senior years where your child is very capable of handling so many things.
1. They read well and you can offer just about any book for them to read without worrying that it is going to be above their reading ability.
2. They prefer to do most of their work on their own as long as you are available to help them if needed or to talk about something that interests them.
3. They can use just about any device you have with skill: computer, word processing program, scanner, copier, and the internet.
4. They know where to go to research an answer to a question and at some point can even drive themselves to the library to pick up additional books and resources.
5. They reverse roles and start to teach you things and you become fellow learners.

I wouldn’t miss this part of our homeschooling experience for the world. 

Mr. B has been preparing for the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) which he will take tomorrow morning. He is hoping to pass the test even though he will still remain in our homeschool. Passing this test is the equivalent of a high school diploma and will allow him a little freedom in various areas (getting a part time job, community college courses, etc.) My other two sons took it when they were in high school and it is a great practice. I loathe standardized testing but they are a real part of every adult experience whether it is for a job application or as part of further education.

Now to our week-
I had the joy to read two essays Mr. B wrote and polished, one on Benjamin Franklin as part of his IEW American Literature course and another on Nazi propaganda which was fascinating and enlightening. Can I just say thank you to Andrew Pudewa and the IEW materials for allowing me to teach my children to write and to become accomplished at expressing themselves in words on paper? Thank you!

Election notebook pages
I found a fabulous resource for high school government to supplement our Thinkwell course. I was actually going to put together a set of notebooking pages for Mr. B to follow the presidential campaigns and elections over the next year. I found a set already done and although they were made for the 2008 elections, there are blank versions of each of the pages so Mr. B can fill them for the 2012 elections. What a great find! I am so grateful for the internet and the materials that so many homeschooling moms share with the internet community. Here is the website: Mom and Pop Homeschool.

There are three sets to download for free and we have saved them to use when the need arises. This website has lots of relevant links to use in your study of the election process and would be a great supplement to your government study.
EDIT 2/1/12: It looks like this link does not work anymore. I suggest this alternate:
Presidents and Elections Unit.

This week Mr. B continued his listening with Bela Bartok, choosing to listen to Romanian Dances which were much easier to listen to and we actually would say that we enjoyed them.

Don’t forget to link up to share your composer study.
a teaching heart

We are off to enjoy a nice Friday. This has been the week to visit and encourage friends….taking flowers, little notes, and now today a DVD to share with someone. Sometimes I forget to include time for these service related activities that build us up as much as they do the person we are actually trying to encourage. It is a gorgeous fall day and we intend to enjoy it!

Don’t forget to write your own Wrap-Up post and share over at Kris’ blog by clicking the link at the top of this post!

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