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Charlotte Mason Reading Lessons

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Charlotte Mason’s Approach to Reading

I purged all of my twaddle phonics readers.  I threw them away and will not look back.  And it took me at least six months of reading and studying Charlotte Mason’s methods, to reveal that truly, truly our twaddle phonics readers were hindering my son more than they were helping him.

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The moment this struck me was when I read, from Ms. Mason’s Volume 1, Home Education (all quotes hereafter are from the same volume),

“How should we like to begin to read German, for example, by toiling over all conceivable combinations of letters, arranged on no principle but similarity of sound; or, worse still, that our readings should be graduated according to the number of letters each word contains?  We should be lost in a hopeless fog before a page of words of three letters, all drearily like one another, with no distinctive features for the eye to seize upon; but the child? ‘Oh well – children are different; no doubt it is good for the child to grind in this mill!’ ” …

“It is far easier for a child to spell c a t, cat, than to spell p l u m p u d d i n g, plum-pudding.”

“But spelling and reading are two different things.  You must learn to spell in order to write words, not to read them.  A child is droning over a reading-lesson, …. by dint of repetition, she learns at last to associate the look of the word with the sound, and says ‘cough’ without spelling it….” 

“Yes; but ‘cough’ has a silent u, and a gh with the sound of f. There, I grant, is a great difficulty. If only there were no silent letters, and if all letters had always the same sound, we should, indeed, have reading made easy…. 

“You would agree …. ‘Plough ought to be written and printed plow; through, thru; enough, enuf; ought, aut; and so on. All this goes on  the mistaken idea that in reading we look at the the letters which compose a word, think of their sounds, combine these, and form the word.  We do nothing of the kind; we accept a word, written or printed, simply as the symbol of a word we are accustomed to say”….

“Yes, but children are different.”

“Children are the same, ‘only more so.’ We could if we liked, break up a word into its sounds, or put certain sounds together to make a word. But these are efforts of mind beyond range of children” (209-211).

Make reading joyful and delightful

Yes!  If I had been reading German (or Spanish or any language) words, all three letters each, trying to sound them out, just a mess of sounds, then I would be frustrated too!

My son is not behind.  But he expressed extreme frustration at the sounding out of the simple, phonetic words.  He could do it.  He had known his letters and sounds since he was two years old.  But putting them together in sentences of more than two words was difficult.

Fat Jan sits on the bug.
Jan did hug the bug.
The bug on the rug.

On and on it went.  So I tried this and that phonics reader.  They all did not work!  He would read, and begin even reading 3 or 6 sentences on a page of these little nonsense books, but he wasn’t enjoying it, and it wasn’t “clicking.”

So, I am on a journey to not repeat my errors.  I am on a journey to teach him (from now on) and to teach my daughters to read using the Charlotte Mason Method.

“All who know children know that they do not talk twaddle and do not like it, and prefer that which appeals to their understanding. Their lesson-books should offer matter for their reading, whether aloud or to themselves; therefore they should be written with literary power” (229).  Thus, we will be working with beautiful poetry and living books.  My living books for learning to read has many wonderful suggestions.

Ms. Mason says of her own method, “I believe that this is a practical common-sense way to teach reading in English. It may be profitable for the little German child to work before he is permitted to have any joy in ‘reading,’ because wherever these combinations occur they will have the sounds the child has learned laboriously. The fact that English is anomalous as regards the connection between sign and sound, happily exonerates us from enforcing this dreary grind” (222).

To start, “I think it’s rather a good plan to begin a new study with a child on his birthday, or some great day; he begins by thinking the new study a privilege” (211).  Charlotte did not recommend teaching reading before six years of age.  However, during her reading lessons, children do know their letter names and sounds, so teaching those in play is encouraged throughout early childhood (218).

What are Ms. Mason’s goals?

The following two goals for Reading, Sound, Spelling, and Recitation lessons are described in Home Education, Volume One.

1. A child will become intimately acquainted with thousands of words.

“That he shall know at sight, say, some thousand words” (215).

“How easy to read

robin redbreast
buttercups and daisies

the number of letters in the words is no matter; the words themselves convey such interesting ideas which makes it easy to couple the objects with their spoken names” (216).

2. A child will be able to phonetically build new words.

“That he shall be able to build up new words…. less important part of our task, the child must know the sounds of the letters, and acquire power to throw given sounds into new combinations” (215-216).

When learning to build new words via sound, that is, phonics, she expresses there is need for “no meaningless combinations of letters, no “cla, cle, cli, clo, clu…. should be presented to him” (216).

The child will use his knowledge of the sounds of the letters to make up other words containing the same elements with great interest.  When ‘butter’ …. makes(s) ‘mutter'” (216).

How did Charlotte Mason teach reading?

Charlotte Mason begins with simple Alphabet and Word Building lessons/games for children under six years old.  She expresses the need to keep this time fun and engaging with very little pressure for little ones.

Ms. Mason lays out four lessons in her Home Education, Volume One, and I have tried so summarize them, with examples, here.  They are a Reading Lesson, Sound Lesson, Spelling Lesson, and Recitation Lesson.  She suggests doing one 10 minute lesson with a child, starting at age six, and progressing on each day with these simple, short lessons.  They do require some preparation, with the cutting or collection of letters and words, but her method is a simple, and virtually cost-free way to teach reading.

Each of Ms. Mason’s lessons uses poems for children as the basis for learning words, sounds, and spellings.  Therefore, you will have to choose which poems you will work through.  Here is a short, certainly not exhaustive list of poems you can use, it is taken from Treadwell’s First Reader, which has sections of poems and nursery rhymes that are exciting for a child and are perfect for Ms. Mason’s lessons.  This is what we use, and it has worked wonderfully.  Treadwell’s readers are available on Amazon (if you’d like a hard copy) or in the public domain for free.

Suggested Poems for Charlotte Mason’s Reading, Sound, Spelling, and Recitation Lessons:

  • Little Boy Blue
  • Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
  • Pussy Cat
  • Blow, Wind, Blow
  • If All the World were Apple-pie
  • Once I Saw a Little Bird
  • A Little Sister
  • The Old Woman Under the Hill
  • Some Little Mice
  • Hush-a-bye Baby
  • The North Wind
  • The Caterpillar
  • Mix a Pancake
  • If a Pig Wore a Wig
  • A Frisky Lamb
  • What They Do
  • The Lambkins
  • The Broken Doll
  • The Stars
  • Wrens and Robins
  • Sun-Loving Swallow
  • I Had a Little Pony
  • There was a Crooked Man
  • Little Robin Redbreast
  • If All the Seas Were One Sea
  • Simple Simon
  • The Old Woman in a Basket
  • Mother Hubbard
  • Three Little Kittens
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • The Moon
  • The Naughty Little Robin
  • What Does Little Birdie Say?
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Click below for examples of each of Charlotte Mason’s Reading Lessons:


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