Chances are good that when you began your homeschooling odyssey, you did a great deal of research. You likely encountered many different philosophies and approaches to educating children at home, and one of the experts that you probably read about was Charlotte Mason.
Many homeschooling parents have built at least a portion of their curriculum on the precepts of Charlotte Mason. If you have not heard of her and her philosophies, then this article will serve as an effective introduction.
If you are familiar with Charlotte Mason and have decided to include music instruction in your homeschool curriculum, then this article will provide you with a useful guide for how to apply this education pioneer’s concepts to your children’s study of music.
Who Was Charlotte Mason?
Born on January 1, 1842, near the village of Caernarfon in Wales, Charlotte Mason may seem an unlikely education pioneer. However, her own upbringing and early career fully prepared her to become a philosopher, educator, writer and lecturer whose work is still familiar well into the 21st century.
Charlotte was an only child whose parents educated her at home. Unfortunately, she was never in very good health, and her beloved parents died when she was fairly young. This means that Charlotte was left to make her own way in the world with little financial security.
At the time, few career paths were open to women. Teaching was one of these, and it was a vocation that Charlotte pursued with enthusiasm. Her earliest position was at the Davison School in Worthing, England, a job that she held for more than a decade. During this time, she developed a philosophy that championed “a liberal education for all.”
Later, Charlotte spent five years in Chichester, England at the Bishop Otter Teacher Training College. She worked as a lecturer, preparing England’s future educators. It also was during this period that she founded the Parents’ Educational Union along with like-minded individuals. The society offered resources to families whose children were being educated at home.
By 1891, Charlotte was settled in Ambleside, England where she founded the House of Education. The institution’s main goal was to prepare governesses and other professionals who were educating young people.
Mason also was busy writing. Altogether, she published several volumes concerning her educational philosophies for children. These include:
- Parents and Children
- School Education
- Formation of Character
- Towards a Philosophy of Education
Experts on Mason’s life, writing and precepts recommend starting with her last publication, Towards a Philosophy of Education, as it presents refinements on many of her earlier writings and ideas.
What Were Mason’s Teaching Philosophies?
As you might imagine, Charlotte’s ideas concerning education were wide and varied after a lifetime immersed in the study. However, it is possible to boil down some of her philosophies into a series of precepts. These are:
- Short lessons
- Copywork, Dictation and Narration
- Artist study
- Nature study
- Shakespeare study
- Read living books, not textbooks
- Hymn study, Folk song study and Composer study
Students who are being educated according to Charlotte Mason’s approach may learn everything from knitting to foreign languages. Exposure to music and art is just as important as the study of algebra and biology.
Overall, Charlotte advocated for concepts such as giving your best effort and making a habit of full attention. This means that her approach tends to favor quality over quantity. When students give their best effort and pay full attention to the task at hand, then they are building good habits that will serve them for a lifetime.
Mason firmly believed that children were born with a natural love for learning and that it is possible to nurture this love through the way children are educated.
How to Teach Music Using Charlotte Mason’s Philosophies
Charlotte Mason provides educators with a multitude of fun and engaging ways to learn about music. You don’t have to worry about these lessons being long, dry and boring. In fact, that would run contrary to everything for which Mason stood.
Keep in mind that music study doesn’t have to be restricted to children five or six and older. It makes a great deal of sense to start introducing your kids to great music when they are infants or just a year or two old. Even very young children can appreciate and enjoy the work of Brahms, Beethoven and others. They can begin to experiment with moving to the music and playing along on a percussion instrument or clapping.
In accordance with Mason’s emphasis on paying full attention, she preferred to have her students study one composer at a time. This made it possible for them to immerse themselves in the composer’s work, giving them an unusual level of familiarity with the compositions. Modern educators frequently follow this precept by having their students focus on one composer per semester or trimester.
If your children are new to the study of classical music, then they may have difficulty sitting through an entire piece. It makes sense to start with something short and catchy. Just let your students listen to it and enjoy. With subsequent lessons, you can introduce longer pieces and start looking for similarities in various pieces by the same composer.
YouTube, Pandora, Spotify and Amazon Prime Music all may provide you with a convenient and low-cost way to find tons of recordings of the same composer’s works.
Listening to music can happen at any time. You may have a designated time during school hours, but you also can turn up the speakers in the car or while the family is doing chores. Listening to classical music while creating crafts, painting, or drawing is always a good idea. Bath time, naptime and the time before bed are other great examples of times to play classical music from your chosen composer.
If you do decide to regularly play classical music for your kids, then consider looking for opportunities to hear live performances. Local schools and colleges, a symphony, summer concert series and operas are all likely places where you might hear live music from the composer on which you’re focusing.
Find Living Books About Your Composer
Charlotte Mason was an advocate for reading “living” books rather than textbooks. Essentially, she was referring to books that were written with passion and delight by an authority on the given subject matter. Such books were believed to engage the heart and mind while also providing inspiration and sparking interest.
Finding living books is one of the complicated parts of following the Charlotte Mason educational approach. After all, hundreds or thousands of books may have been written about the most famous composers.
This is why it’s critical to get recommendations from other homeschool educators and to be open to trying two or three different books from the library before finding the one that works for you and your kids.
Opal Wheeler wrote a wonderful series of books about musicians for ZeeZok Publications that will serve this purpose in many homeschools. Mike Venezia is another author who wrote a series of books about composers. Called the Getting to Know the World’s Great Composers series, these are fun, colorful and informative books for kids.
Anna Harwell Celenza wrote the Once Upon a Masterpiece series, which similarly is used by many homeschoolers.
If you’d like to include a study of hymns in your curriculum as Charlotte Mason recommended, then there are several books to consider. These include Hymns for a Kid’s Heart by Wolgemuth and Tada as well as The Runaway’s Revenge: Introducing John Newton, about the renowned hymn writer.
Diving into Folk Songs
Patriotic songs and American folk tunes are fascinating because of their historical references and significance. Most folk songs are passed down orally with little idea of who their original composer may have been. Accordingly, they are a window into a certain group of people and their time in history.
Folk songs like Danny Boy, Oh Susannah, She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain and others are fun to learn and study. Diana Waring published a wonderful series of books about folk songs. Some of the best titles in the series are Westward Ho! Heart of the Old West, America: Heart of a Nation and Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Inspire Musical Creativity
Charlotte Mason was certainly a proponent of creativity in all disciplines. If you hear your children playing around on the piano, a drum or a set of maracas, encourage them. Some desk bells, shakers or rhythm sticks also work well. You can certainly set aside designated time for your kids to play with these instruments, but encourage them to do so in their free time as well. Even better, turn on some music and let kids play along in their own way.
Inspire a Love of Dancing
Believing that learning was something that was best undertaken by the student’s whole being, Charlotte Mason would definitely have encouraged dancing. Your kids don’t have to take lessons. Just turn on some music and let them instinctively move to it. Make it fun with props like a flowing scarf. Depending upon the music, kids may choose to march, skip, sway, sing, or just see where the music takes them. Let your children experience music with their entire body.
Contact Music Prodigies for More
Here at Music Prodigies, we believe that no child is too young to experience the joy of music. We specialize in producing music curricula that encourages even the youngest children to explore what music means to them and how it can improve their quality of life.
Discover our accessible programs today to enrich your homeschool curriculum.