Last year I started a small, Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool co-op. I played the role of music teacher within the group and we sought to included the aspects of music appreciation that were endorsed by Charlotte Mason in her writings. These included composer study, hymn study, and folk music. Following is a synopsis of the music classes that were held in our Charlotte Mason co-op.
Composer study was allotted for the first portion of each class. One composer was studied per semester, and our composers last year were Bach and Mozart. We began each class session with a narration time, where the children were asked to tell me something that they remembered from previous weeks about the composer. After that, new information was presented, which involved reading aloud from one of Opal Wheeler’s composer biographies. These books are very engaging and informative -- perfect to use for composer study. I also conducted some additional research about the composers so that I could present interesting facts about their lives that may not have been included in the Opal Wheeler books. In addition, I used the corresponding Opal Wheeler CDs and played the short selections that corresponded with each chapter in the book.
I then played one or more musical selections by our featured composer that lasted a maximum of ten minutes. During this time of listening, the children were given something to do with their hands. For the younger class, (K- 3rd) this usually involved a coloring page. The Opal Wheeler CD-ROMs contain coloring pages that correspond with the chapters in her books. Also, I found some free coloring pages of musical instruments and musical symbols online. The older group (4th - 8th) were given notebooking pages to draw and write on. Sometimes the children simply used plain paper to draw or write on while listening to the music. After the listening time was over, we talked about the music a bit. I asked the children to tell me the instruments that they heard in each piece, whether the tempo was fast or slow, what the music made them think of, and how it made them feel. This created an opportunity to use group discussion to strengthen the connection with the music.
We studied hymns in our Charlotte Mason music class, mostly focusing on hymns with lyrics that were written by Fanny Crosby. Prior to the beginning of the school year, I read a biography about Fanny Crosby in preparation for the class. I presented a fact or two about Fanny’s life and held up her picture each week. We learned a different hymn by Fanny Crosby every month. For the younger class, I came up with hand motions for the some of the hymns to help keep their attention. Also, I used a jazzed-up version of “To God Be the Glory” a couple of times that the younger group really enjoyed.
For the folk song portion of the class, we learned American patriotic songs and American folk music because many homeschooled children may not have had as much exposure to these as their public school counterparts. It seemed like a good opportunity to present them. During the first semester, we sang traditional songs, such as “America the Beautiful” and “America”. During the second semester, we sang the more ‘fun’ variety of American songs, including “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, “Turkey In the Straw”, and “The Erie Canal”.
For the final portion of class, I took a few minutes to introduce or review a musical concept. These topics were diverse and included the families of instruments in the orchestra; music notes, signs, and symbols; note values and rhythm; melody, harmony, and learning to sing in a round; posture and breathing while singing; and some basic musical terms.
I love the richness that a Charlotte Mason education brings to the homeschool experience. I appreciate her view of art and music as integral parts of education. I must admit, though, that I have found it difficult at times to include them in my home school regularly. They tend to get buried underneath the subjects that we traditionally view as core. That is why the Charlotte Mason co-op was so valuable for my children and for me. Although this may sound terrible, the co-op literally forced me to include composer study and picture study consistently in my children’s education. Every time I hear one of my children make a reference to Mozart or to Bach, I know that the classes were worthwhile. When we are singing a hymn in church and one of my kids excitedly says, “That’s a Fanny Crosby song,” I can’t help but smile. Something that was very gratifying for me about teaching the music class was the way that many of the families continued the learning at home. Almost every week, a child would come to class almost bursting to tell me something they had learned about Bach or Mozart from a book they read at home or a documentary their family watched together. This made the class especially meaningful for me.
I truly hope that you will find a way to gently incorporate the arts into your children‘s education, whether that occurs in a group situation or among your family at home. I can tell you that it is so worth it. Our children need not only to be instructed; they also need to feel inspired.