Charlotte Mason Reading Lessons: The Alphabet & Building Words
Charlotte Mason’s Approach to Reading
Literacy learning, according to Charlotte Mason in her Home Education, Volume One, begins with a beautiful exploration of the alphabet and moves on to tactilely creating words through learning sounds. This is all done in a playful and pleasurable manner.
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I pushed my son far too soon to learn his letters and sounds, to write his letters and sounds, and to begin reading phonics books long before he was developmentally ready. I will not proceed with these same errors with my other children. I will joyfully assist them in learning their letters and sounds using the insightful method of Charlotte Mason.
So what do we learn before age 6? The alphabet
“As for his letters, the child usually teaches himself… there is no occasion to hurry the child: let him learn one form at a time” (Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, 201).
This is a beautiful time of play and activity! The chance to guide a child into the world of literacy!
If you could purchase one thing, I would suggest a moveable alphabet, so your child can grasp and connect the shapes to their letter sounds. This is one tool that, though an investment, will produce ten-fold in your homeschool!
There are advantages to learning both uppercase and lowercase. Most of the moveable sets are offered in lowercase letters. The uppercase letters are more easy to recognize, and easier to write because they utilize more straight lines. However, exposure to all 52 letters is needed, and remember that lowercase letters are used primarily when your child will begin reading lessons, later, by age 6.
We also ought to encourage tactile exploration through writing in the air (which Ms. Mason suggests), sand writing, table top shaving cream (or yogurt!) writing or letter building with blocks. There are many fun, easy, and no-cost options! I have many tactile suggestions at the following posts, but please remember that the tools suggested are not necessary to success:
Ms. Mason warns to “let the child alone, and he will learn the alphabet for himself…. for this kind of learning is no more than play to the child…. he must not be urged, required to show off, teased to find letters” (201-202).
Why does she say this? Because children will learn without all the fun and excessive activities we like to surround our children in; this is the facade of “early childhood learning” and I am guilty! I find pleasure from creating literacy learning activities. But taking a step back to recognize who the activities truly benefits is important when evaluating if a task is actually beneficial.
Slowly build words
Once your child has grasped letter sounds, you can begin to show him how those sounds put together can create words.
“Teach the powers of the letters” to your child through simple games that do not involve a paper or pencil (202). Ms. Mason describes the building of words to be a true pleasure to the child and approaching this early phonics time does not need to be stressful, but can be treated as a game.
She suggests the following to start: children can begin by making “at” into “bat”, “cat”, etc, then moving on to “en” and “od”. Of course, you can use any sequence you think is appropriate.
After short vowels, she moves to long vowels! Again, since you are approaching this time as a fun way to learn the power of the letter-sounds, you can show that letters make many different sounds! No need for one hundred percent mastery to move on to the next sound. Since you are not handwriting these combinations, you have more freedom to give an overview in the context of an enjoyable learning time. Exposure and pleasure are the goals here for Ms. Mason, and we should take cheerful note! Her long vowel and digraph suggestions include:
- “at” to “ate”
- “ing”, “ang”, “ong”, “ung”
- initial “th”
- final “th”
And so on, of course there are many to teach and learn.
We like to use digraph cards, as well as the phonogram cards set, from Montessori Services for this hands on work at home. (Note: I use them using Charlotte Mason’s method and not the Montessori school suggestions for creative writing and learning.)
I’d also suggest Classical Phonics as a lovely resource during this time. This is a very thorough, clean, and well-researched book full of lists of word families. It is my choice for teaching phonics.
Emphasis should be placed on “[require[ing] [the child] to pronounce the words he makes with…. distinctness” and all the while treating the exercises as a pleasurable game (202). Work on just one word family a day or week in a fun, relaxed, and no-pressure time together.
What to do next?
Once your child has reached 6 years of age, he may be ready for Reading Lessons using Charlotte Mason’s beautiful and delightful method. Go to our Charlotte Mason Reading Lessons to learn more!