Have you ever thought that Charlotte Mason did not ever mention phonics instruction in her writings? Or maybe that she just barely touched on it? I know I used to!
But then I realized the Charlotte Mason had a very pervasive phonics program in place, she just called it by a different name - the
catch phrase of “phonics” had not yet been invented. She called it
“learning the power of the letters.” This phrase permeates her reading lessons from beginning to end.
Mason began more advanced phonetic instruction at the end of her “word
building” exercises. So, if you haven’t yet read my previous post on word building, please do so now! The first phonetic exercises follow the same exact process.
The quotes in this post will all be taken from Charlotte Mason’s v. 1 pages 203-204. You may read along here if you wish: http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/1_5b.html Scroll down to “Word-making with Long Vowels, etc.”
STAGE 2, WORD BUILDING. STEP 3: Introduce Blends
Charlotte Mason writes, speaking of word building:
the same sort of thing with final 'ng'––'ing,' 'ang,' 'ong,' 'ung'; as
in ring, fang, long, sung: initial 'th,' as then, that: final 'th,' as
with, pith, hath, lath, and so on, through endless combinations which
will suggest themselves.
you haven’t read my previous post on word building, you’ll need to go
back and read about the many aspects of creating words with your child!
Make sure your child masters short and long vowel sounds. Then, come back here and do the same sort of things with phonetic
blends. The “endless combinations which will suggest themselves” makes it clear that Charlotte Mason intended teachers to teach all of the phonetic sounds eventually, as they suggested themselves (in a child's later reading lesson). To get started, you teach a few as a finale to your word building lessons.
phonetic blends do I teach first, you may ask? Well, to me it looks like she begins
with the consonant-sounding blends, which are the most obvious:
of the above combinations makes its own distinct sound - there is no
other letter that the child has learned yet that can make that sound.
More advanced (end of words):
ff, ll, ss, zz
Use the same process as you did earlier with building short and long vowel words. Use letter tiles; work on visualization; early spelling; phonemic awareness; continue to use words the child already knows.
One additional material you may want to make: letter tiles for each phonogram you teach. (You could make these all at once to save time). I think it's important for the child to realize that each phonogram is a unit that makes a distinct sound, just like each letter makes its distinct sound. You can accomplish this with phonogram tiles. An easy way to make these is to cut thick cardboard to the desired size (2-3 inch squares should work, or whatever size your current letter tiles are), print letter teams in pencil, then paint over them with puffy paint, glitter glue, or glue & sand. Here are some cursive letter tiles I made for my son (although if I was doing it over I would stick with print - Charlotte Mason waited until 1st grade to introduce cursive).
you’ve gotten these major beginning phonetic combinations down (or
maybe even before you’ve gotten through this beginning list), I would
like to suggest that Charlotte Mason would prefer you to move on to
“Reading at Sight” lessons (next post!). But lest you think this means
she doesn’t want you to teach your child phonics, notice this quote:
This process (Reading at Sight) should go on side by side with the other––the learning of the powers of the letters (Phonics instruction!!); for the more variety you can throw into his reading lessons, the more will the child enjoy them.
So here we have it - you will continue phonics instruction every other
day (she’ll start calling it “spelling lessons”) once you start
“Reading At Sight” lessons, which I will begin to describe in my next
move so soon to “Reading At Sight” lessons? Why not learn all of the
phonetic combinations first? Here is Charlotte Mason’s answer:
in word-making help him to take intelligent interest in words; but his
progress in the art of reading depends chiefly on the 'reading at sight'
Also, Charlotte Mason felt that reading could not happen entirely on a phonetic basis:
words were always made on a given pattern in English, if the same
letter always represented the same sounds, learning to read would be an
easy matter; for the child would soon acquire the few elements of which
all words would, in that case, be composed. But many of our English
words are, each, a law unto itself: there is nothing for it, but the
child must learn to know them at sight; he must recognise 'which,'
precisely as he recognises 'B,' because he has seen it before, been made
to look at it with interest, so that the pattern of the word is stamped
upon his retentive brain.
will admit that it is true that MOST words can be describe
phonetically, especially with advanced phonetic combinations. But here
is what Charlotte Mason has to say about this:
way of illustration, consider the delicate differences of sound
represented by the letter 'o'... to analyse and classify the sounds of
'o' in 'for,' 'symbols,' 'know,' 'order,' 'to,' 'not,' and 'words,' is a
curious, not especially useful, study for a philologist, but a
laborious and inappropriate one for a child. It is time we faced the
fact that the letters which compose an English word are full of
philological interest, and that their study will be a valuable part of
education by-and-by; but meantime, sound and letter-sign are so loosely
wedded in English, that to base the teaching of reading on the sounds of
the letters only, is to lay up for the child much analytic labour, much
mental confusion, due to the irregularities of the language; and some
little moral strain in making the sound of a letter in a given word fall
under any of the 'sounds' he has been taught. (p. 215)
we see that Charlotte Mason believes that focusing solely on phonics as
a basis for teaching to read is inadequate. However, she does believe
in teaching phonics (along side of “reading at sight” which will be the
next post), and thus we are left needing to educate ourselves about
which phonetic combinations we are to teach!!
is how I, personally, felt about this fact: Wait just a minute! Where
do I find out more about phonetic combinations? I’m just a Mom - I
haven’t had any classes in teaching reading - how do I know what to
Fortunately, through recommendations, I’ve discovered the following helpful information:
English, we use not only the 26 letters of the alphabet as our basic
phonetic building blocks, but also combinations of letters. Up to 4
letters can be put together to come up with just 1 sound! These are
called “phonograms,” and there are 70(ish) of them! Some of them, such
as the ones I already listed above, make consonant sounds. Others make
I highly recommend the book the book The ABCs and All their Tricks (jump in on the chapters labeled “Vowel Teams” and “Consonant Teams”
for beginning phonetic combinations; advanced combinations follow).
This book goes beyond the rules and explains the “why” behind the
phonetic sounds. If you are going to try to teach phonics on your own,
without a packaged curriculum, Charlotte Mason style, it’s a great idea
to educate yourself about “the powers of the letters” using this book.
Plus, it has some “word family” lists which you can use in your reading
lessons (more about that in future posts!)
You could use Florence Akin's 1913 Word Mastery , from Don’ Potter’s website. Starting at about page 41 she begins
to teach various phonetic combinations, in word family format. So this
would be a good, simple resource. Don't read straight from the book,
though - continue to have the child use his letters to build the word (for now). Use the word building process.
Alternatively, you can get more information about phonograms from the program Spell to Write and Read
(which is not entirely Charlotte Mason, since it disassociates phonics
instruction from reading lessons, but it definitely has some strengths).
“The Alphabet Code and How it Works” from Don Potter’s website is a nice summary. Also, these cards list all of the phonetic sounds there are in words, and which letters can make them: http://www.donpotter.net/PDF/Blend%20Phonics%20Flashcards%204x6.pdf.
you may be thinking, “Can I just teach my child a separate phonics
curriculum? Do I have to follow Charlotte Mason’s recommendations?” My
answer is-- Yes and No.
- You should absolutely do what is best for your family. Some people will just
not be comfortable doing this themselves for various reasons, and that
is entirely OK! If you feel that way, there is nothing wrong with
choosing a good phonics curriculum to use along with your reading
lessons. Don’t stress yourself out!
- Charlotte Mason designed her reading lesson sequence to be wholistic.
She based her phonics lessons around the reading texts the child was
studying (more on this in my next post). She believed you should start
with the word and move backwards to the phonics - that the word would be
much more interesting to the child than a tiny phonogram. Thus, she
used the (hopefully very interesting) words the child was learning to
teach phonics, rather than the other way around (using phonics to teach
the words). If you agree with this philosophy, you’ll want to follow
her methodology. (If you don’t agree with this philosophy, may I
suggest Spell to Write and Read, which starts with the phonics and ends
with the words? But maybe read my next post first?)
I’m looking forward to my next post, which will get into... Reading At Sight Lessons!