Parents Evening on Charlotte Mason Methodologies

On Tuesday evening, over 40 Heritage parents attended a virtual information evening to learn about Charlotte Mason, her educational philosophy, and how Heritage has adopted this philosophy in its own curriculum.

Charlotte Mason (c) The Armitt Museum and Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The school’s Charlotte Mason Consultant Mrs Elaine Cooper began the evening by providing biographical information about Ms Mason — born an unconnected, unfinanced young girl in Victorian Society who, through faith and grit became an influential voice in the field of education, advocating for a generous and broad curriculum for all children regardless of social class. Driven by her love of ‘sharing those things which were beautiful and true with children,’ she produced her impressive work as a philosopher and practitioner of education, which is enjoying a revival today.

Headmaster Jason Fletcher then outlined the main principles of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy, beginning with her foundational belief that ‘God, self and the world are three fixed points of thought, with all that these existences imply… We realise ourselves as persons, we have a local habitation, and we live and move and have our being in and under a supreme authority.’ Without these three fixed points of thought, according to Ms Mason, there is incoherence. But with these three things in place, everything is charged with wonder, significance, and purpose.

Mr Fletcher went on to outline the main points of the Charlotte Mason philosophical framework, all of which are laid out in the 20 principles of her book, Towards a Philosophy of Education:

  • Children are born persons
  • They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.
  • Children should be taught to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will’
  • ‘Education is a discipline’, meaning the discipline of habits. Brain structures adapt to habitual lines of thought.
  • The principles of authority and obedience are natural and necessary, but are limited by respect for the child’s personality, which must not be manipulated.
  • The child’s mind is a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge
  • The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum

He ended by summarising a central idea of the Heritage curriculum; that ‘we should let the child form their own authentic relationship with nature, other human beings, and with God. As they make good those relations, children will grow’.

Deputy Head Mrs Fiona Macaulay-Fletcher then talked in more specifics about the curriculum, establishing first that the goal is  to create a ‘rich and expansive feast’. To achieve this, Heritage offers, in addition to the regular subjects outlined in the National Curriculum, the unique subjects of Picture Study, Composer Study, Bible, Science biographies, Nature Study, Read aloud (one book per term, in addition to one classic per term), and Narrative history.

Mrs Fletcher spoke in depth about the importance of narrative in the Heritage curriculum, noting the special place that stories have in the minds of children because they are interesting, easy to remember, and easy to understand. As expressed by Daniel T Willingham, Professor of cognitive psychology and neuroscience at the University of Virginia, stories are ‘psychologically privileged’. To that end, she explained, History is taught in a narrative format, in chronological order, from Year 2 and up.

The end result of this curriculum, Mrs Fletcher remarked, are pupils who go on to a wide variety of fields of study; including three who went on to study medicine, four into some form of philosophy/politics and economics, two into pure maths, four into engineering, four into science, and others into a range of studies like physiotherapy, architecture, art, English and so on. She concluded by saying ‘We feel that we provide a rich and fertile seedbed for all learning to flourish. And as we encourage a love of learning, not just a focus on grades and exams, pupils’ natural passions are stirred and encouraged.’

Finally, Head of Infants Mrs Jean Carter spoke about Nature Walks, Nature Studies and Enrichment. She noted Charlotte Mason’s emphasis on the importance of children spending time outside every day, being in direct contact with nature; and said that at Heritage, whatever the weather, children are encouraged to enjoy time outside.

Mrs Carter detailed the many things that children learn during this time outside, saying that ‘for the children, the shouts of joy and enthusiasm when they come across a plant or a bird that they recognize and name is like meeting an old friend.’ Back at school, the children are then encouraged to continue their nature study through Nature Painting, identifying what they have brought back and accurately painting it; leaves, fungi, seedheads, flowers, birds, reptiles, animals, insects and more.

The evening closed with an opportunity to ask questions, with many parents taking advantage of the opportunity to clarify additional points and express their appreciation for the information presented.