Charlotte Mason Language Arts Lessons

How do you teach Charlotte Mason Language Arts? Is it OK to supplement with a textbook?

I read an article by a Classical homeschooler who claimed that Charlotte Mason didn’t require writing (pick up a pencil and write) till age ten. To me that is not what the method is at all. There is lots of writing required from a child before they are ten.

I think the simplicity of Charlotte Mason Language Arts lessons is actually what makes people struggle. They just don’t feel like it is enough.

Charlotte Mason Language Arts & The First Writing Lessons

Now before you can copy words on paper you must also be able to write your letters and hopefully read the words. Did you know  Charlotte Mason expected the children to be able to read before they started school?


When I first learnt about Charlotte Mason language arts ideas I  was a little nervous. I thought if I don’t push my children to write now they will be ‘behind’ and will never want to write. That fear was never realised. Today, my university graduates have no trouble writing. I assure you it’s ok to press forward slowly.

Here are some ideas that will show how to get your six year old to write without turning your writing lessons into a stressful experience for everyone.

Composition is a difficult (almost impossible) task for most 6 year olds. They do not have the spelling skills to pull together a story. The What I Did on My Holiday is really quite an unnecessary writing exercise at six. They would tell you a much better story than write one.

Copywork – Perfect Start To Charlotte Mason Writing Curriculum

Have you tried Charlotte Mason handwriting copywork yet? I used it in my homeschool for over 15 years and I think it is one of the most helpful tools for developing my children’s handwriting and writing skills. One of the things I love about Charlotte Mason was that she never wasted an opportunity. Handwriting was no exception. She wanted to make sure a child’s lessons were rich with learning literature without unnecessary busy work. She saw each handwriting lesson as the opportunity to teach spelling, grammar and literature. 

Charlotte Mason Copywork is simply writing out by hand, or copying, from good quality written texts or models. Actually teaching writing this way was not invented by Charlotte Mason. It has been employed for centuries as a technique for teaching writing. This method is also recommended by Ruth Beechick and classical educators such as Laura Berquist and Susan Wise-Bauer.


Charlotte Mason Language Arts and Dictation 

The Next Type of Writing Lessons

Dictation has been used for centuries; it is a tried and true successful method that has proven results. Charlotte Mason believed it was essential for teaching spelling and writing. Charlotte Mason dictation is a little different to how many of use would conduct a dictation lesson. She believed in studying the words before the were to be written.

A natural start to teaching dictation begins with copy work then you can progress to dictation.

Many home educators use dictation as the backbone for teaching their children to write and spell.

Dictation Forms A Framework For Good Writing

Although Charlotte Mason dictation is simple, it is still hard work for children because they need to concentrate on the mechanics of writing.

Using dictation allows children to practice their writing frequently without the additional stress of trying to think what to write.

Many people worry that dictation stifles creativity. It doesn’t!

“Our society is so obsessed with creativity that people want children to be creative before they have any knowledge or skill to be creative with.” A Strong Start in Language by Ruth Beechick©1986

How To Do Charlotte Mason Dictation

When you and your student are preparing a dictation passage, have them study the passage before they are required to write it.

  • Identify difficult words and allow time for the student to study the word (learn the spelling).
  • Here is a free Charlotte Mason Dictation Word Study Chart for you to prepare your own spelling lists and to help your children practice words before dictation.
  • Carefully copying out the word; visualizing the word in their mind with their eyes closed.
  • Practise writing the words (make sure they are practising the correct spelling).

When the student feels confident that they can spell the words correctly, begin the dictation.

  • Look at your student’s dictation and see where the errors are.
  • From this you can make individualised spelling lists.
  • You may also wish to introduce some spelling rules to help them with the word
  • Remember to correct misspelt words as soon as possible so that you don’t risk  the student memorising the incorrect spelling.

Dictation and Spelling?

‘The gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to “take” (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit which must be cultivated in children from the first. When they have read “cat”, they must be encouraged to see the word with their eyes shut, and the same habit will enable them to image “Thermopylae”. This picturing of words upon the retina appears to be to be the only royal road to spelling; an error once made and corrected leads to fearful doubt for the rest of one’s life, as to which was the wrong way and which is the right. Most of us are haunted by some doubt as to whether “balance”, for instance, should have one “l” or two; and the doubt is born of a correction. Once the eye sees a misspelt word, that image remains; and if there is also the image of the word rightly spelt, we are perplexed as to which is which. Now we see why there could not be a more ingenious way of making bad spellers than “dictation” as it is commonly taught. Every misspelt word is in image in the child’s brain not to be obliterated by the right spelling. It becomes, therefore, the teacher’s business to prevent false spelling, and, if an error has been made, to hide it away, as it were, so that the impression may not become fixed.’

Charlotte Mason. Home Education.

Charlotte Mason Language Arts Punctuation Lessons

The way you read a passage will help them work out the natural pauses for commas and full stops. You should work towards giving no punctuation prompts during dictation.

There are many punctuation rules to learn, some are very complex, and of course there are always the exceptions. Focus on the basics and make sure you have a good reference.

Using good literature to model correct usage of words is valuable for teaching good grammar.

A grammar reference will also be a useful resource.

Charlotte Mason Language Arts Grammar Lessons

Grammar instruction is subtle with the Charlotte Mason Method. Her emphasis is on sentence structure i.e. predicate and subject and then working on the verbs.

Grammar and punctuation are taught in the midst of quality literature and how they are used in a sentence. The child is taught to become confident in constructing a good sentence using correct punctuation and word usage. Specific rules for commas, capitals, contractions, abbreviation and initials are also identified during their copywork and dictation. They know that; this is a comma, that is a capital, and that is a full stop, et cetera.

“English is rather a logical study dealing with sentences and the positions that words occupy in them than with words and what they are in their own right.
Therefore it is better that a child should begin with a sentence and not with the parts of speech, that is, he should learn a little of what is called
analysis before he learns to parse. It requires some effort of abstraction for a child to perceive that when we speak, we speak about something and say something about it; and he has learned nearly all the grammar that is necessary when he knows that when we speak we use sentences and that a sentence makes sense.” Charlotte Mason

Written Narrations

Narration is only one aspect of ‘writing’ in the CM method. Narration is to help the child think through the passage they are narrating and then take out as much as they can from it. It is a memory, comprehension and concentration skill. A six year old can tell you a lot more during an oral narration than they can if they had to write it and ask you to spell every word.

I also think it is a common misconception that this is the only writing instructions that children had in a Charlotte Mason education. Charlotte Mason also set questions for children to study. 

I personally like Ruth Beechick’s opinion on writing. Just get them writing something every day. Form the habit of writing in your children. She is practical and realises that some kids have a ‘story in their head’ and seem to be an author in the making- while others wont but you can still get them to write something even if it’s send a card to Grandma. Sometimes my theories match up with what I see and other times they don’t and then I have to go looking for something that will work for my child even if GULP(a confession coming) it doesn’t really suit how I think I should be doing it. Children are so individual.

Notebooking – Making Reading A Writing Lesson

I did read alouds with my children during the primary and high school years. But sometimes I wondered if it goes in one ear and out the other. So to consolidate the information we did narration sometimes but other times we would discuss the reading or create a writing opportunity.

I also expected my children to read books independently and from these they would make entries in their notebooks. These were summaries or written narrations from books they were reading. Here are some examples: