Monday, April 26, 2010

First Reading Lessons with Charlotte Mason

These are likely what Charlotte Mason refers to as the child's "box of loose letters" or "ivory letters" in her lessons. While Miss Mason's methods do not require expensive equipment -- she was particularly against the contrived atmosphere found in other schools -- this Victorian set recently sold at auction for $2600. Gulp.

Reading seemed to come effortlessly and very early for our first child, while our second, Luca, didn't even show an interest in the alphabet until a few months ago. We had no problem with that and just wanted to give him time to explore and grow. Recently though, he surprised me with the announcement that he would like to know how to read so I turned to Charlotte Mason for some sound advice.

In Home Education, we are told that learning to read is hard work for many children and encouraged to do what we can to make the task easy and inviting. Luca works in "wholes" and I knew meaningless letter combinations would be maddening for him. Charlotte tells us the key to reading is that the symbols should be interesting.
The child should be taught from the first to regard the printed word as he already regards the spoken word, as the symbol of fact or idea full of interest. (Vol. 1, p. 216)

I purchased this small wooden movable alphabet and box for about $30 from Montessori Outlet. You may use whatever you have on hand just be sure to have multiples of each letter.

Though the reading lessons are quite simple, the explanation is lengthy. It can be read in its entirety in Vol. 1 Home Education pp. 217-222 (you may also want to read pp. 177-222 for Charlotte's background & reasoning), online at Ambleside Online or in SCM's The Early Years, A Charlotte Mason Preschool Handbook.

Spurred on my Charlotte's encouragement I got our gear in order:
-A "spirited" poem or nursery rhyme that my child had not yet heard. I typed the first two lines of the poem in large font, copied and pasted x 7 and printed. These I cut out into separate words, leaving one sheet whole. We are using Charlotte's sample poem, "Little Pussy" by Jane Taylor because Luca loves kittens.
-Box of loose letters.
-Whiteboard and marker.

Once everything was assembled, I wrote the word 'Pussy' in large letters on the whiteboard and told Luca that the word is 'pussy.' Just as Charlotte said, we had Interest at once; he knows the thing, pussy, and the written symbol is pleasant in his eyes because it is associated with an existing idea in his mind. I then asked Luca to look at the word until he was sure to know it again. He then made the word 'pussy' from memory with his box of loose letters. After that, I brought out the sheet with the two lines printed on them and showed him, asking him to find the word 'pussy.' Then we went through the same process with each of the words, adding each new word to a column on the whiteboard to be read.

Now, for what Charlotte calls the delight of reading: Once these words were learned, I began to dictate short sentences (keeping the rhyme a secret) to Luca, such as 'Pussy - is - so - little." Taking each word from the pile and placing it in order, Luca read them back to me. Yes, he reads and oh, the joy in that room as he tasted those delightful results which will be built upon in the following lessons. Those following lessons will include some gentle spelling, unknown words, and like combinations with different sounds until he is happily able to arrange the whole little poem and read it off.

Please note, there is habit training going on here as well. Attention and perfect enunciation are two but this requires mother to be extra attentive as well. Our "first lesson" was divided out into three days as I was sure to stop if I sensed Luca's attention waning. Remember, we are happily exonerated from enforcing the dreary grind with Charlotte Mason's gentle method of first reading lessons - and with the money you save on not having to purchase a phonics program maybe you can find a box of those ivory letters!


Phyllis said...

Where did you get that lovely set of letters at the top of this post. They are heavenly beautiful.

Richele said...

Oh, Phyllis, you caught me in the middle of writing this long-winded post :)

That beauty recently sold for $2600 at auction. I was NOT the buyer.

That Crazy Family said...

LOVE this!! Those letters are gorgeous! Thanks for your encouragement on my blog AND your prayers!

Jeanne said...

The letters are absolutely beautiful. Swoon.

I am so excited that Charlotte's methods are working for Luca. We used them with Jemimah as well with considerable success.

One of the things that she loved doing very early on was making her known words into a printed and illustrated short book so that she could demonstrate her new reading skills to friends and family. She read that little book to everyone (great practice!) maybe Luca might enjoy this as well.

That proto of him holding up the card is just priceless, isn't it?!

Love you guys.

Renelle said...

Great Post Richele, I have never read any of CM's original writings but am thinking I should do something about that. I love how the process you went through with Luca was simple but intentional, and your right phonics programmes are'nt always the only way to learn to read and write. We've got magnetic letters for the same purpose but those ivory and montessori letters are beautiful. You'll have to save all the lovely educational tools for your grandchildren to see one day !!I'll be back to read again later.!

Nick Manson said...

I love the idea of entire words being symbols; especially for those for whom reading doesn't "click" immediately. The word itself is an image or picture which makes it art, and in turn makes it that much easier to understand for those who march to their own drummer's beat. One of my prized possessions is a drawing of a train that Jacob did when he was very young. You can tell it was done before he learned to read because the word "oil" on the tanker car is drawn; not printed as a word.

Richele said...

Thanks everyone for responding to this experience we've had.

Jeanne, you can imagine the relief that washed over me as I began to read Charlotte's writings with a view to Luca's personality. I will give the book idea a go. Somehow I imagined Jemimah being born reading :)

Nick, I still remember Jacob's picture of the cat hanging up in Manchester. I hope the train is in a frame! Getting Max italics markers has turned his penmanship into "art" and now it is a rare event to have a struggle with getting it done.

Renelle, there's a rich harvest for the taking in CM's original writings. Though I appreciate the work others, like Karen Andreola, have done there really is nothing like doing the gleaning yourself.

Our special manipulatives are kept on my shelf and taken down with great excitement. I do hope they are used in future generations ;)

Keri said...

Charlotte really presents an enjoyable approach to learning to read. I enjoy reading how you have applied it with your own son. I, agree...those letters are beautiful!

Renelle said...

Hi again Richele, I just love this post and your love for the Gentle Art of Learning, that's why I have 'listed' you as one of my most inspiring blogs. I know this can be time consuming but I wanted to use it as encouragement for the blog friends I visit to keep on blogging because I love to learn how you do things. So if you'd like visit to see.Blessings, Renelle

Trisha said...

This is a great post, and I love the visuals. I use the AO curriculum, but I confess I'm not a CM purist. Thanks so much for the link to where to buy the letters. I think I'll be using them with my little one who is about to learn to read. :)

Jamie said...

Lovely! And I do love that box of loose letters! Thanks for submitting this to the CM Carnival!

Richele said...

I should have mentioned that all photo credits go to Maxim, who was very excited about the reading lesson as well.

Laura Lou said...

I love this! My littlest bird is just begging to read, so I'm heading over to the Montessori 'site right now! Really! ((Do I sound enthusiastic enough??))

Also, I would love to know more of your thoughts on Simply Charlotte Mason. Are you using her history resources, etc.? I've found myself hanging out a lot on her 'site this spring, wavering. ;)

Richele said...

Laura, we have really liked SCMs resources and you can't beat combining the ages/grade levels. It makes for interesting discussions and a lighter load for mom!