Unit Studies Charlotte Mason Might Like.

I was introduced to Five in a Row – a literature based unit study resource, at the same time as a the teachings methods of Charlotte Mason.

For me these two methods were a perfect fit for each other. Literature based unit studies used short lessons, that taught a variety of subjects using living books. And Charlotte Mason combined history, geography and literature using living books. I was too much of a newbie to know there was a conflict of styles. I just loved them both.

What Is A Unit Study?

Typically a unit study is a theme, or topic, based teaching method that incorporates a range of subjects and learning styles. It has a holistic approach to learning. Children can discover the many facets and deepen their understanding of a topic. Art, science, literature, social studies and more can all be taught using one core topic.

However the term unit study has a broad definition. They vary in length, some last months, others last a few hours.

Unit Studies Charlotte Mason Style

Charlotte Mason wanted children to find out ideas and make connections between subjects for themselves. Charlotte Mason also liked lessons to be kept short.

Busy work is another “no – no” in a Charlotte Mason education, and unit studies are prone to making forced connections on topics that can become silly lesson fillers.

Is It Possible To Have A Charlotte Mason Unit Study?

Charlotte Mason talks about how they organise their subjects in her schools.

“Another point, the co-ordination of studies is carefully regulated without any reference to the clash of ideas on the threshold or their combination into apperception masses; but solely with reference to the natural and inevitable co-ordination of certain subjects. Thus, in readings on the period of the Armada, we should not devote the contemporary arithmetic lessons to calculations as to the amount of food necessary to sustain the Spanish fleet, because this is an arbitrary and not an inherent connection; but we should read such history, travels, and literature as would make the Spanish Armada live in the mind”. Volume 3, School Education, p. 230-231

When we hear that Charlotte Mason is anti unit study they are usually referring to a teaching style where a teacher makes a one year study on a book or does an apple study for a week. She gives an example of a year-long unit study based on Robinson Crusoe and how the children were wearied by this study. She said,

“But one thing we can be sure of. The children developed a loathing forever afterwards, not just for Robinson Crusoe, but for every other subject dragged in to illustrate his adventure.Philosophy of Education V6 p. 116

The complaint is that you are forcing connections that are not naturally there. When you think about living books they have lots of padding around the facts. Arabella Buckley talks about discovering a flower on a walk, or going to the pond to find a frog. The walk may seem like an extraneous detail but it is the natural connections that bring us to facts. If we were then to add a lesson on road crossing rules then that would be an random connection and it would detract from the story, however a book on great wildflower walks in your area may be a perfect addition.
Charlotte Mason still  thought it was prudent to teach relevant topics. She was about discovering the facts clothed in the story but not artificially creating relationships that are not there. In some ways I think she saw unit studies as red herrings or letting random facts interfere with the story.

If you want to know more read Jimmie’s Collage and her comments on Charlotte Mason and Unit Studies.

Here you can read a compilation on her Unit Study ideas nicely organised by the ladies at Ambleside.

How To Use Living Books For Unit Studies.

As educators we are often required to teach our children certain topics based on syllabus requirements for our children’s grade. When we apply the Charlotte Mason method to teaching these topics we often discover these ideas may not necessarily appear in one living book. We may find a fleeting reference to a particular idea in a living book; however, a whole book that may take a week to read just reinforce one fact may be an inefficient use of your time. And then what happens if you apply the Charlotte Mason techniques narration and notebooking and discover your child missed the ‘idea’ you were trying to pass on anyway. Is that a fail?

Literature Unit Studies Might Like Charlotte Mason

So it is helpful to have a strategy for teaching topics this is how I approach it. Think about the ideas and the personality of the subject you are trying to teach. For example if you want to teach about technology, teach about the stories of inventors. I’ll use a bird theme to illustrate my example.

Charlotte Mason Unit Study For Birds

Use living books to introduce a theme. Spark their interest. Find more books if necessary.

1. Here are 8 bird books.

  • How to Find a Bird Hardcover by Jennifer Ward & Diana Sudyka
  • The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon
  • Counting Birds By Heidi Stemple
  • I Said Nothing: The Extinction of the Paradise Parrot by Gary Crew and Mark Wilson
  • Feathers Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart
  • An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston
  • All About Owls by Jim Arnosky
  • A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston

2. Read one book per week and require a narration and a notebooking page after each reading. Encourage illustrations, diagrams and labels. You may like to get them to write the title of the book as the beginning of their notebooking page. Do not make a worksheet for the lesson.

3. Keep lessons short. Avoid busy work. Don’t try too hard to make connections on topics and watch out for “rabbit trails” that are boring your children.

Here is our Wombat Stew Unit Study. 

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