Does Heart of Dakota follow Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning?

Heart of Dakota Dear Carrie

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Dear Carrie

Does Heart of Dakota follow Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning?

I have been researching Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning and find it intriguing. I have also been researching Heart of Dakota, and I love what I see!  So, my question is, do these programs follow a “Charlotte Mason” approach to learning? Thanks in advance for answering!


“Ms. Mason Meets Heart of Dakota”

Dear “Ms. Mason Meets Heart of Dakota,”

We love the Charlotte Mason philosophy of learning at our house. I’ve read so much about her philosophy and how to implement it. We followed CM principles almost completely with my oldest son. I do follow CM ideas as much as I can in the guides I’ve written as well.

Charlotte Mason-style curricula should include narration, copywork, dictation, short lessons, poetry, living books, and recitation.

Many claim to be Charlotte Mason-style curricula. But, they leave out her staples of oral and written narrations, copywork, dictation, short lessons, poetry, recitation/memory work and slow reading of excellent, living books. Without these things, there is almost no connection to the CM philosophy. You will find all of these things in our guides.

Living books are different than encyclopedia-like books, and Charlotte Mason intended the pace of reading living books to be slow.

The sheer volume and type of books consumed in most curricula strays far from Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. She believed in fewer, living books read slowly over time. She also believed only living books can be successfully narrated upon. This is because if you ask a child to narrate from an encyclopedia-type book such as many Usborne books with little to no storyline, the children will not be able to narrate well. All those little boxes and snippets of information in that style of book do not lend themselves to being retold easily, nor are they easily remembered. Those books are meant to be reference materials or browsing books. They are not stories to be read from cover to cover. We choose our history books so carefully, so we can make sure CM principles can actually be used with them. The same goes for our science books and read-aloud literature.

Heart of Dakota is not purely Charlotte Mason, but if you love Charlotte Mason, you will find much of her ideals in our guides!

Since we differ from Charlotte Mason in a few areas, we do not call ourselves a purely Charlotte Mason company. But, if you love the CM philosophy, you will find much in our programs that supports that style of learning. We even added her ideals of a Common Place Book, Book of Centuries, hymn study, nature study, classical music study, poetry study, picture study, and more to our guides through the years! So you will find much of Charlotte Mason alive and well in our guides!

The main area we differ from Charlotte Mason is when to introduce formal grammar instruction, so I’ll spend the most time explaining that.

The main area that we differ with CM is in the introduction of formal grammar instruction. We do delay it until Bigger Hearts, when we begin to schedule Rod and Staff English. Charlotte Mason did not advocate starting formal grammar instruction until age 10 or even later. She felt all grammar could be absorbed in a single year with review after that.

Formal instruction in grammar gives a way to communicate about how to improve writing.

Initially, I really wanted to go the Charlotte Mason route for delayed formal grammar. But, I found this left me without a way to communicate to my sons about how to improve their writing. For example, if I’d say, “You don’t have a complete sentence here, because you’re missing the subject,” they’d look at me without any comprehension. I couldn’t explain how to add more detail by using adjectives or adverbs or explain why something was a run-on sentence that needed punctuating.

Likewise, when we ask for written answers, it helps if our kiddos can compose their sentences in a way that makes sense (with parallel usage). When asking kiddos to fix sentences that aren’t grammatically correct, it helps if the kiddos know their basic parts of speech.  For all these reasons, I finally settled on the fact that for my family, I wanted grammar to be taught for the purpose of learning to write better.

Rod and Staff English provided a way to teach grammar for the purpose of improving writing.

When we discovered Rod and Staff English, it was as if a lightbulb finally went on with my oldest son. He finally understood why we were learning grammar. I loved the straight-forward, clear explanations. For me the Godly tone of the books was a huge added benefit. It gave an entirely different feel to our grammar lessons.

While I can see that Rod and Staff is not flashy and some kiddos may miss the “bells and whistles” of other grammar programs, since we’d already tried the bells and whistles with other programs, we found that instead we really needed the no-nonsense lessons that systematically built one upon the other. I also found I loved the no prep, open and go, short lessons with built-in review. One barrier we found to Rod and Staff was the amount of practice and writing (if you follow their plans). We modify this by doing much of each lesson orally and only writing one of the sets of exercises on paper.

One final reason I decided not to delay grammar was due to the upped requirements in state standardized assessments.

As many states require writing assessments, we found it necessary to do an earlier introduction to formal grammar. Also, for the mechanics and usage portion of standardized tests (Iowa Basics or SAT’s) kiddos need to understand the use of commas, end punctuation, and capitalization. So, even though it makes sense to delay formal grammar instruction, we are forced by the state to show progress in these areas by the way we report to them.

Another way we differ from Charlotte Mason is we add more hands-on activities to our guides.

We also add more hands-on activities than Charlotte Mason advocated, although she did do some. We do this for the very active boys in our household who thrive on getting up and moving.  Hands-on activities also give one more way to connect to learning in a bodily-kinesthetic way, as opposed to connection to learning  in a solely seatwork-type way.

Additionally, we like adding some elements of a unit study when connections make sense, as this often improves retention.

We also like some elements of a unit study and enjoy making connections among subjects as we can. The left Learning Through History side of the plans incorporates a unit study feel as much as possible. CM didn’t do much of this and was a strong believer in the children making their own connections (which we also agree with).

So, you can see many similarities and a few differences. But, Charlotte Mason is my favorite educator, and we hope you can see much of her in Heart of Dakota.



P.S. For 3 simple things that help oral narrations and 3 that don’t, click here!

P.S.S. For 3 ways to study for dictation passages, click here!

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