Charlotte Mason devotes twenty-two pages to the topic of “reading at sight” lessons and all that they entail. Wow! Even for a prolific reader, it is difficult to get through this section of Volume 1 without some confusion. It took me several reads to understand what Charlotte was really getting at, and why she gave three different examples of “first” reading lessons. With this series I hope I can clear up some of the confusion for my readers!
So let’s dig in! You can find this section of Charlotte’s Volume 1, Home Education at AmblesideOnline here: http://amblesideonline.org/CM/1_5b.html
Scroll down to page 204, “Reading at Sight” and read through page 226
(stop before “Recitation”). Over the next few months, I will dig in to these pages.
The driving IDEAS behind Charlotte Mason’s reading lessons:
Mason buries the two key thoughts which unify her reading lesson
process in the middle of this section - but it would be helpful if you
understand it right from the beginning. So let’s begin, for today, by skipping
ahead to page 214, “Reading By Sight and Sound.” Read through page 216,
stopping before “Tommy’s First Lesson.” And take your time! Soak it
up! Hint: the key paragraph is, “These Symbols Should Be Interesting.”
OK, let’s review the beginning of that key paragraph:
The child cares for things, not words; his analytic power is very small, his observing faculty is exceedingly quick and keen... But the thing he learns to know by looking at it, is a thing which interests him.
Here we have the key to reading. No meaningless combinations of
letters, no cla, cle, cli, clo, clu, no ath, eth, ith, oth, uth, should
be presented to him. 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 of full
of interest. 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 that the general
form and look of them fixes itself on the child's brain by the same law
of association of ideas which makes it easy to couple the objects with
their spoken names. (page 216)
So here we have it. Charlotte Mason focused on whole words as a basis
for learning (rather than on little phonetic pieces) because she
realized that it is the word itself that is interesting to a child. The
child is not really interested in the study of phonics. Little letter
combinations are, let’s face it, boring and meaningless. BUT the word
that all the letters together represent is vividly interesting! (Note
that language experts, such as Berlitz,
confirm that the word-symbol is the next step in learning a language
after mastering a spoken word.) This is why we are going to use a full
word as our starting point for advanced reading lessons. (After all of
the groundwork of phonics has been laid to a good extent - read my
previous three posts! Post 1 Post 2 Post 3)
The partner idea follows at the end of the paragraph:
Having got a word fixed on the sure peg of the idea it conveys, 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 he knows 'butter' he is quite ready to make 'mutter' by changing the b for an m. (page 216)
A HA! Finally, the way to introduce new words. Once these advanced reading lessons have begun, the
child has the opportunity to use his knowledge of the phonetic sounds
of the letters to make up new word using pieces of the words he already
knows - the words you teach him in his reading-at-sight lessons.
Charlotte Mason knew that a child will learn to read new words by
comparing their structure with words he already knows. Here she states
very clearly that sounds (phonics) have an important place in the
So let's recap these two vital ideas:
1. A Charlotte Mason reading program will use an interesting word (as opposed to phonics piece) within a high-quality, attention-getting literary context, for day 1 of a reading lesson. Why? This is far more interesting to a child than working endlessly through phonics and only phonics.
2. A Charlotte Mason reading program will follow up that attention-grabbing introduction with additional phonetic work using that word's phonetic structure as a teaching tool (day 2). The child will be introduced to entirely new words (new to him) using this process. He will still be interested because it came from a word he (hopefully) loves, or at the very least, a word which arouses his interest.
The principles in her own words:
“Definitely, what is it we propose in teaching a child to read? (a)
that he shall know at sight, say, some thousand words; (b) That he shall
be able to build up new words with the elements of these.” (p. 216)
These are the basic principles you must grasp before you start your own Charlotte Mason reading lessons with your child! You can also use these to evaluate other reading programs to determine how "Charlotte Mason friendly" they are.
I'll post more when I can!