When I first discovered the Charlotte Mason approach to teaching children to write, I realised it was at odds with the modern emphasis of classroom teaching which often promotes creativity over accuracy, but does that mean Charlotte Mason didn’t care for the child’s personal voice to be heard? Absolutely not. In fact, her entire philosophy rests on the innate personhood of the child, no matter how young. The difference when it comes to writing, is that she asks teachers (and parents) to listen to a child’s verbal story-telling, especially in the younger years, rather than asking them to put their ideas on paper. This is not something schools can do easily as it requires one-to-one attention. Let me explain the difference.
Charlotte Mason understood that learning to write well involves a wide range of skills: vocabulary choice and an understanding of what makes sense and what doesn’t – this means choosing what to say and how to say it. There is also the mechanics of forming letters neatly, knowing how to spell the words you want to communicate, and also knowing how best to punctuate for sensibility and impact. It is very common for schools to expect children to work on all these skills simultaneously but Charlotte Mason separates them out.
With her method, once a child has mastered writing the alphabet properly, they move on to small amounts of copywork: that is precisely copying a piece of good writing. It may start with just a few words or a sentence, but as children do this for 10 minutes a day, their stamina and skill naturally grow. This process, along with plenty of exposure to the written word through reading, teaches children spelling, vocabulary and punctuation contextually. It’s not creative, but it’s not meant to be.
Alongside this, a child expresses their own ideas and composes their own sentences orally, through the process of narration or ‘telling back’ from their assigned readings. In a Charlotte Mason education, the child may read history, fiction, geography or science, and then they will practice the art of communication by telling a listening adult what they learned, or even better, re-tell the story in their own words. In this way they develop how to articulate their ideas verbally, alongside learning the mechanics of physical writing through copywork.
As they get older (often around the age of ten or eleven) the child begins to write (or type) their narrations, and will also do prepared dictation, but by this time they have already had several years’ practice of writing correctly through copywork, and composing sentences through oral narration. It is around this time that children can also begin to write completely original stories from their own imagination and their grasp of style and punctuation will already be well on the way.
So no, you don’t need to worry that following the Charlotte Mason method will stifle your child’s creativity: when you understand the logic of the process, including her emphasis on immersing children in beautiful stories through plenty of quality literature, you’ll discover that your child has plenty of ideas germinating within them which will all come out on paper as they mature. It just takes a little time and a lot of trust in the process – but the process works my friends – it really does!