Many homeschooling parents have heard of Charlotte Mason but do not understand her methodology. Sonya Shafer does a terrific job of explaining who Charlotte Mason was, what she taught, and how modern-day homeschoolers can implement those ideas in their own homes. I purposely used the phrase “implementing those ideas in their own homes” rather than “in education” because many of Mason’s ideas apply to child training and character formation as well as to academic learning.
The Learning and Living video seminar consists of a set of 12 DVDs and a seminar workbook. Each DVD has one presentation, but these vary in length from 25 minutes to 80 minutes each. The total run time is about 9.5 hours. DVDs often have points at which participants are to stop and apply what they have learned which will take a bit more time.
DVDs are recordings of a live seminar in which Sonya interacts with the audience. Audience members interact with one another occasionally as well, so those watching alone will miss out on those experiences. For example, at one point Sonya reads something aloud and audience members practice oral narrations with each other. If you don’t have another homeschooling parent to watch and participate with you, you can still practice these skills to some extent on your own.
Filmed with at least two cameras, the presentations are engaging and easy to watch. You can view sample segments from the seminar by clicking here, (There is a trailer mid-way down the page, but scroll further down to the samples from a number of the DVDs.)
Shafer begins with some background on Charlotte Mason and introduces the basic principles underlying the teaching of all subjects which she expands upon further as she gets into specific subjects. Here as well as throughout the seminar, she recommends specific resources that might be helpful for those who want more information. An extremely helpful chart in the first section of the workbook very simply lays out key teaching methods for each subject area.
On the second video, Shafer teaches about living books and technique of narration, one of the most important of Charlotte Mason’s methods. I appreciate that Shafer explains how Mason implemented the technique as well as Shafer’s own ideas about how it might be implemented differently in homeschool settings.
Closely tied to narration is the third presentation, about learning with living books. Mason emphasized the importance of using well-written books, which generally means books other than textbooks. Shafer explains which subjects are dependent upon living books as well as how those living books can be the foundation of your curriculum
Language Arts are so important that Shafer dedicates the fourth presentation to that topic alone. The fifth presentation explains how to teach math, art, and music.
In my opinion, the sixth presentation, “Laying Down the Rails,” is one of the most important. (I noticed on the publisher’s website that this is the only one of the presentations that is also available on its own, so others must feel the same as I do about it.) This session about Charlotte Mason’s teaching regarding the importance of cultivating good habits such as courtesy, manners, neatness, attention, observation, obedience, and fortitude. Shafer explains why the formation of good habits is critical, but she also explains how you can accomplish this. This information is more valuable than what you might find in many child training books.
Sessions seven and eight are a two- part implementation lesson titled “A CM Morning of Studies.” Participants work through lessons in various subject areas as students would do, although they also stop to talk and reflect on what they experience with each lesson.
In the ninth session, Shafer uses the experiences and observations of participants from the Morning of Studies to identify key principles of Mason’s approach.
Session ten, “Four Ways to Destroy Your Child’s Love for Knowledge,” is another very important session for homeschooling parents, especially those who tend to be insecure. It’s all too easy to succumb to pressure to use workbooks or other resources that make it easy to assign grades. There are a number of such temptations that we need to avoid.
Aptly titled, the eleventh session on “Putting It All Together” explains how to schedule various subjects, how much time to spend on different subjects with different aged children, which subjects to study as a family and which to study individually, when to implement written narrations, and other helpful tips.
“Navigating the High School Years” explains how to implement Charlotte Mason methods through high school. If you have younger children, you might save watching this one until your children are closer to high school level.
The 191-page workbook is loaded with outlines, resources lists, space for viewers to write for participatory experiences, charts, and other valuable helps. I appreciate that it also fits into the box that holds the DVDs so that everything stays together.
Sonya Shafer also has a separate two-video seminar on teaching preschoolers, Enjoying the Early Years, that is excellent for those with young children. You can read my review of that seminar here.
Charlotte Mason was a very practical person who recognized the true nature of children. So her ideas and her methods are respectful of the nature of the child while still recognizing that children need direction and training. Shafer faithfully presents Mason’s ideas while demonstrating how practical and efficient they are for home education as well as child training.