Delight Directed Learning and Charlotte Mason

Deep down I have always leaned toward delight directed learning.  I have tried lots of types of curriculum over the ten years that I have been homeschooling from traditional workbooks to unit studies to literature based to to Ruth Beechick and Charlotte Mason to all out unschooling. It took a few years to figure out where we fit along this spectrum of styles, but we settled down into a mostly delight directed Charlotte Mason style about six years ago. It is my opinion that when we are naturally already doing something, there is no need to recreate it to call it a school subject. I believe that Charlotte Mason was a very natural educator. That is what draws me to her methods.

I’m part of a group of moms that use Charlotte Mason methods, and as we have been reviewing some of the techniques, I have been asking myself how what I do, because it is very delight directed, fits with this style of learning.  Are Charlotte Mason and Delight Directed learning compatible?

Today I’d like to start with some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas and compare them to the delight directed learning that we use. You can read a summary of her ideas at this link if you need them for comparison.

Living Books: We get books from the library at least every two weeks. Each of us chooses the books we want to read that week. They are living books, books that are passionate about the topic, as Ms. Mason advocates. I guide the kids to find books that appeal to their passions and also books that will stretch them to learn more. For example, one of my girls is crazy about birds. I help her find bird books and tree books because trees tend to be part of bird habitats. My oldest girl loves fiction, so I encourage her to explore different time periods and events that go along with the books. When there is something I want them to read, I pick books on that topic read to them. We read at bedtime and during our school time.

Narration: Narration is a natural outflowing in our home. When we really experience a book, an activity, an interesting discovery, we enjoy telling about it. Most of the time this is done informally. Sometimes we write them out in letters to family and friends. Occasionally I assign a formal written narration for the older kids, but their best work always happens when they have a real audience and a real reason to write (or tell).

Short Lessons: We keep lessons short, but when they show interest in a subject they can spend as long as they are interested. For example, When we do free writing, which they typically enjoy, I set a ten minute timer. They must write for at least ten minutes. But if they have found a happy place in their story telling, they may write a while longer.  When we do math lessons, I assign a page. They are free to choose to stop there or continue. They usually stop, but not always.

History: Ms. Mason says that History is the study of people’s lives. While we use a chronological history text some, we spend far more time reading books and watching shows about people and interesting events. There are some great historical stories in children’s chapter and picture books for the younger kids. Every time we visit the library I scavenge through the children’s books to find interesting historical accounts.  My oldest likes to dig into the times, the clothing, the culture, the lifestyle of the characters and authors of the books she reads. It’s definitely delight directed, it’s absolutely learning, and it fits with Ms. Mason’s ideas of the study of History.

Copywork: I use handwriting books in the early years, but once they know how to write, I allow them to choose what to copy. They like to choose favorite stories and poems to copy. Especially since some of the kids have dyslexic tendencies, I try to make writing a positive time if possible.

Nature Study: This is a very natural part of our learning. The younger kids would rather be outside than inside. They are often finding bugs, worms, grasses, flowers, trees, moss, birds, and more to explore. I don’t schedule nature studies. They just happen. And when they request my attention to come see what they found, I watch with them, suggest new questions, and take a mental note of what new book topics they may want to explore at next week’s library visit. My kids have discovered things that I’ve never noticed before. We don’t keep formal notebooks, but they will often draw something related or build something using the lesson they learned from observing that piece of nature.

Grammar: I do not teach formal grammar until about fifth grade, and at that point, I teach all of the basics (punctuation, parts of speech, etc) over six to eight weeks in a focused session. This works really well for giving names to what they have already learned from copywork and free writing. I also remind them of little things like using capitals and periods as they write.

Math: We are using Math U See as a curriculum. This subject is not super delight directed, but there are still plenty of child led activities that I use to teach like cooking and project making. It does follow Ms. Mason’s theory of hands on learning.

Bible: Sometimes I read scripture to them if there is a book or section I would like to teach more throroughly. It’s good to really dig in with them. Sometimes I allow them to read what they would like to read and then tell me about it. They enjoy both, so I alternate. I love to see them read passionately when they get to choose.

Poetry, Art, and Music Study: We approach these casually, but they still appear often in our experiences. I may find a great book of art or poetry to look through and read. Dad is a musician, so we are exposed to all forms of music and stories behind the music and musicians. And of course some of the kids have begun to play instruments.
Recitation: We don’t do this formally, but the kids do have memory verses from their Sunday School classes, and the older two participate in theater opportunities through the youth group.

Handicrafts: Kids are naturally crafty. The girls like to knit scarves and hats on their Knifty Knitters, make bracelets and other art projects. My boy likes to build with Knex and Legos. These are good for hand-eye coordination, creativity, solving new problems, even calming them down.  Handicrafts are more than fun projects. They are also life skills like cooking, cleaning, and car and yard maintenance. Typically their delights drive my kids to work on these hands on skills.

Does my delight directed way fit in with Ms. Mason’s ways? I think they do. I just take a casual, natural approach. I also think they fit my family beautifully. Now I just need to keep that in mind when I start to panic 🙂

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2013 Middle School Tentative Plans

Middle school. For me it was where I began to like school. It was my seventh grade Science teacher, Ms. Wilson, that I remember first inspiring me. Before this time, I struggled to make C’s. I don’t know what happened in seventh grade. Maybe it was that great teacher. Maybe it was just age. But I became a learner. I learned how to memorize lots of information for a test, how to get all of the work done, and how not to lose the work that I had done. And I learned that I liked being successful in school. It was a big turn around for me.

Because of that time, middle school is my favorite age to work with in school.  Of course my kids don’t learn like I learned. They are much more natural, hands on, curious learners. I also don’t have the same goals for them as I had for myself. I want them to be life long lovers of real learning. To meet this goal, I need to find the balance between what they need to know and what they are passionate about learning. This year my “middle schoolers” will be in seventh and fifth grades by age, but are likely not exactly there. That’s one of the joys of homeschooling. It is perfectly fine if they are ahead in some areas and behind in others. In fact, I don’t actually use grade level assignments unless we are participating in a program that requires it. Then we go by age.

How do I know that they are learning what they need to know?  Two ways.  First, every couple years we use a standardized test or graded assessment to see where they are. Second, I keep in mind what I need them to be able to do by about grades one, five, nine, and upon graduation. It is just a broad idea list, but so far it has worked well and saves my sanity.

So here is the tentative plan for my middle school kids this year. Like I’ve said before, things change once we get started and find out what is working or not, but this will be our starting place.

  • Participate in Bible devotions with the family.
  • I plan to get back to a slightly more structured Charlotte Mason approach this year. We will be studying the Middle Ages using Story of the World and supplemental books from the library. We will also be working on our map skills as we identify the areas that we encounter in our studies and in our books.
  • My older boy will be reading Apologia’s General Science.  He loves science, but the book’s reading level is a bit high for him, so I imagine that I will be reading some of it to him. We may take two years to read it.
  • My younger girl will continue with her science kits, microscope, outdoor nature discoveries, and great library books about such things. I may help her start a nature study sketch book if she is interested.  We will all definitely keep watching Bill Nye, Magic School Bus, Nova, and other science programs.
  • Everybody in the family will do daily reading. I have been trying to get them to record their books, but I am seeing that it is taking the fun out of reading itself, so I may scrap that idea and just let them read. I also plan to read aloud to them some novels. I have not chosen them yet.
  • I want to give cursive handwriting a try again this year. My daughter has taught herself for the most part, but she is very artsy and I believe when enjoy learning to make her words more beautiful. There is talk of buying a quill pen and ink to make this fun.  My son has writing issues, and we have not had good success in the area of writing in the past, but I am hoping that another year of maturity and fine motor skill development will have helped. I have seen big progress in his printing this year. We will also continue to encourage plenty of typing practice through e-mails, chatting online with family members, and composing stories. I have not yet decided whether I will purchase a good cursive handwriting copywork book or use another option.
  • Copywork of some kind is a must. We use it to learn proper punctuation, spelling, and sentence and paragraph formation. Again, because of writing issues, this will be minimal, but a little writing done well will get the job done.
  • And then there is Math. I am still completely undecided about math this year. I know we need to make big changes. We were using Saxon, which I love, but the kids are very overwhelmed and frustrated with math. The further and deeper we get, the more they hate it. I am considering Math U See, but I need more time to make that decision. For now, they are doing review work in their summer workbooks.
  • I want to add in more formally a study of composers, artists, and poetry. I plan to read to them from Short Lessons in Art History, Meet the great Composers (with a CD), and have some poetry parties with crafts included.

What Does Delight Directed Learning Look Like (Part 3)

Let me preface this post by saying that it was the hardest of the three parts to write. I’m enjoying the fruits of the high school years. I am most passionate about the middle school years. I love the baby years. But the elementary years (somewhere between age five to eight or nine) are scary to me. I have seen 3 children go through this stage and the fourth is in the middle of it now . Each child in this stage develops at a different pace.  By middle school they even out to a great extent, but until then there can be great differences. Of my children, the first and second read by age five and the third and fourth by the age of eight.  The first and third were early walkers and writers, and the second and fourth were late walkers and writers. My approach was about the same, but they were made and responded differently.

“I don’t see what the difference is in a home setting whether the child reads at six or at eight. They still learn to read.”

Okay, that was my confident speech that I give myself often. Here’s the truth. I stress myself all the time about the little ones.

“Am I laying down the foundation that they need? Am I failing them? Am I too relaxed? Why aren’t they getting it yet? Why are they behind the other kids their ages?”

I’ve used a relaxed approach with all four kids. My 15 year old amazes me. My 12 year old has turned the corner and is becoming independent in his learning. My 10 year old finally picked up chapter books this year. I have one child left to watch through this time. It is still scary, but not as scary as it was the first couple of times through.  They do appear to be behind for the first few years, but they catch up and excel later.  I have to trust the process.

So what do I teach and what materials do I use?

Reading: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons— I love this book. By the 13th lesson the child can read a three word story with an illustration, and they are so proud of themselves. It is simple but works. We never get through the whole book before they drop it for real books. That is the ultimate goal anyway. I want to help them fall in love with books.

Writing:  Assuming my child already knows how to form each letter on paper, these are ways I have found helpful in practicing writing naturally.

Have them copy from books, poems, songs that they love. They can write letters to siblings and friends. Set up mailboxes for them to play games that include writing. Have them take orders for dinner and write them down. There are so many ways to employ writing skills in everyday life.

I write for them sometimes too. I let them dictate a story to me and I write it out. They love reading their story in writing, and it makes them want to do more.

Math: I usually buy a workbook for them around age seven I buy the cheap $10 books because I know we will only do bits and pieces of it. I try to find hands on options when I can. I have a paper clock that I use to teach time. I teach measuring in the kitchen while baking cupcakes or when measuring how tall they have grown. I teach adding and subtracting, multiplying and dividing, even fractions with candy. I use the workbooks to keep an eye on where they should be, but it is definitely no big deal if we don’t use it if it is not what works. Sometimes what works are computer games and tablet apps. Our favorites are Jump Start, Reader Rabbit, and Math Missions.

Other:  They are also learning Bible from church and from talking about it as it comes up at home, science and social studies as we experience them in a natural setting, through good books, and through television programs like Wild Kratts and Liberty Kids.

I followed my own convictions in teaching them for a while before I found a name that defined what I was already doing. Charlotte Mason advocates a gentle approach to learning, and it really does work.