Topical CM Series

Charlotte Mason's ideas are too important not to be understood and implemented in the 21st century, but her Victorian style of writing sometimes prevents parents from attempting to read her books. This is an imperfect attempt to make Charlotte's words accessible to modern parents. You may read these, print them out, share them freely--but they are copyrighted to me, so please don't post or publish them without asking.
~L. N. Laurio

The Charlotte Mason Series in Modern English Arranged Topically


Volume 1, Home Education, pg 294-300


Grammar is a Difficult Subject

I won't say much about English and Latin grammar here. First of all, grammar is the study of words, not things, and won't appeal to a young child. He shouldn't be hurried into learning grammar. English grammar, with its position and logical connection of words in sentences, is especially hard to understand. In this respect, Latin grammar is easier. It changes the form and shape of words to denote which case it is, so it's easy for children to see the difference visually. For that reason, it's more obvious to him than the abstract concepts of nominative case and objective case, like we have in English. So, if all he retains in Latin is declensions (noun/verb agreement and correct gender) and a verb or two, it's better than nothing because it illustrates how cases change even when English doesn't show it by changing the forms of words.

Latin Grammar

The best book I know of for 8-9 year olds beginning Latin is First Latin Course by Scott and Jones. Children seem to like it, which helps them in studying it. But it's still debatable whether it's best to begin Latin so young.

English Grammar is Logical

English grammar is a logical subject. It is made up of sentences and where words are placed in the sentence, instead of being made up of words as single units and what their form says about them. So it's best for a child to begin grammar with the sentence rather than the parts of speech. In other words, he should analyze sentences before parsing. He should learn how to divide simple sentences into two parts: the thing we're talking about, and what it is we're saying about it, before he's lost in the confusing world of person, mood and part of speech. In this example, the sentence would be divided like this: The cat / sits on the hearth.

'So then I picked up the next book. It was a grammar book. It said remarkable things about nouns and verbs and particles and pronouns, and past participles and objective cases and subjunctive moods. 'What are all these things?' asked the King. The Queen did not know, but she said it would be very good for children to learn. 'It would keep them quiet.'

It is important that children not be as confused as this bewildered king and queen. So I'm including a couple of introductory grammar lessons. A single visual example can be more useful than many explanations.


When words are combined to make sense, we call it a sentence.

'Rice oats chair really good and cherry' is not a sentence, because it makes no sense--in fact it makes nonsense!

'Thomas has read his lesson' is a sentence.

It is a sentence because it tells us something about Thomas.

Every sentence talks about someone or something, and tells us something about that someone or something.

So a sentence has two parts:
     1. The thing we speak of;
     2. What we say about it.

In our sentence, the thing we speak of is 'Thomas.'

What we say about him is that he 'has read his lesson.'

The thing we speak of is often called the SUBJECT. Subject just means the thing we're talking about.

People sometimes say 'the subject of conversation was so and so,' which is another way of saying 'the thing we were talking about was so and so.'

To learn:

Words put together so as to make sense form a sentence.
A sentence has two parts: the thing we speak of, and what we say about it.

The thing we speak of is the SUBJECT.

Lesson I Exercises

1. Put the first part to these examples:

     ---has a long mane.
     ---is broken.
     ---cannot do his math.
     ---played for an hour;
     etc., etc.

2. Put the second part to---

          That poor boy---.
          My brother Tyler---.
          The broken flowerpot---.
          Bread and jelly---.
          Mr. Brown's tool-box---;
          etc., etc.

3. Put six different subjects to each half sentence in 1.

4. Make six different sentences with each subject in 2.

5. Say which part of the sentence is missing, and fill it in:

          Has been mended
          Tyler's knife
          That little dog
          Cut his finger
          Ate too much fruit
          My new book
          The snowdrops in our garden, etc., etc.

Note: Remember to call the first part of each sentence 'the subject.'

Draw a line under the subject of each sentence in all the exercises.


We can make a sentence with only two words--the name of the thing we speak of and what we say about it:

          John writes.
          Birds sing.
          Megan sews.

We speak about 'John.'
We say about him that he 'writes.'
We speak about 'birds.'
We say about them that they 'sing.'

These words, writes, sing, sews, all come out of the same group of words, and the words in that group are the most important words of all, for this reason--we can't make sense, and therefore can't make a sentence, without using at least one of them.

They are called VERBS, which means words, because they are the most important words of all.

A verb always tells one of two things about the subject. Either it tells what the subject is, as--

          I am hungry.
          The chair is broken.
          The birds are merry;

or it tells what the subject does, as--

          Alison writes.
          The cat mews.
          He calls.

To learn--

We can't make a sentence without a verb.
Verb means word.
Verbs are the most important words.
Verbs show that the subject either is something: He is sleepy; or does something: He runs.

Lesson II Exercises

1. Put in a verb of being:

          Megan ____ sleepy.
          Boys ____ rough.
          Girls ____ quiet.
          He ____ first yesterday.
          I ____ a little boy.
          Tyler and Gage ____ swinging before dinner.
          We ____ busy to-morrow.
          He ____ punished;
          etc., etc.

2. Make three sentences with each of the following verbs:

          is, are, should be, was, am, were, will be

3. Make six sentences with verbs of being.

4. Use a verb of doing in these sentences:

          Tigers ____.
          The boy with the pony ____.
          My cousins ____;
          etc., etc.

5. Make twenty sentences about:

          That boy in shorts ____

with verbs showing what he does.

6. Find the verbs, and say whether they are verbs of being or doing, in these examples:

          The bright sun rises over the hill.
          We went away.
          You are my cousin.
          Gage goes to school.
          He took his pencil.
          We are seven.

7. Count how many verbs you use in your talking for the next ten minutes.

8. Write every verb you can find in these exercises, and draw a line under them.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 235-236


By age twelve, children should have a good understanding of English grammar, and they should have read some literature. They should have some ability to speak and understand French, and they should be able to read an easy French book. They should have similar abilities with German, but with considerably less progress. In Latin, they should at least be reading 'Fables,' if not 'Caesar' and possibly 'Virgil.'

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 7

(i) Success in disciplinary subjects such as math and grammar depends on the ability of the teacher, although the students' habit of attention helps here, too.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 10

Being with my friend's children taught me to view them as persons, and I began to suspect that they are more than we adults are, except that they haven't learned everything they need to know yet.

I did find one limitation with these children. My friend claimed that they couldn't understand English grammar. I disagreed and said that they could. I even wrote a little grammar book for children aged 7 and 8, which is not quite ready to publish. But I found that my friend was right. She let me give my lessons with as much clarity and freshness as I could. But it was useless. No matter how hard I tried, they couldn't understand the nominitative case. Their minds rejected the abstract concept, just like children reject the idea of writing an essay about 'Happiness.' But I had learned something--a child's mind accepts or rejects new knowledge according to what it needs.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 151-153

But very few children enjoy grammar, especially English grammar, which depends so little on inflection. Arithmetic and Math don't appeal to most children, either, no matter how intelligent. Most children are baffled by math, although they may love reasoning out questions of life in literature or history. Since so many dislike those subjects, maybe we should take that as a hint and stop putting so much pressure on those subjects. It would make sense to push grammar and math if children's reason was waiting for us to develop it. But when we see that they have plenty of ability to reason in other subjects, we have to face the fact that they have plenty of reason. They have as much ability to reason as they have ability to love. They don't need us to give them subjects to develop their reason. Our job is to give them lots of material for their reason to work on. If their reason gets sharper, it will be a side effect as they learn their other subjects. At the same time, we can't let them skip grammar and math. Some day they'll delight in language, and in the beauty of the most appropriate words to express a thought. They'll see that words are the vehicle of truth, and shouldn't be carelessly thrown around, or mutilated when written. We need to prepare them for that day. We should probably wait before we have them parse sentences until they're used to analyzing whether they make sense. We should let them play with figures of speech before making them try to break sentences down to small parts. We should keep proper grammatical terms to a minimum. The truth is, children can't really draw conclusions about abstract things. They're good at busily collecting particulars, but they don't commit themselves to deducing anything definite, and we shouldn't rush them. And if language has its own confounding rules, imagine how much more baffling it is for children to work with abstract lines and mathematical figures! We remember how John Ruskin amazed and taught us with his thesis that two and two make four, and the universe has no way of ever making two and two equal three or five. Children should approach math from the perspective of that unalterable law. They should understand how impressive it was when Euclid said that two and two equals three or five is an absurd possibility, as absurd as a man claiming that, on his tree, apples fell upwards. It's absurd to think that apples would break the law of gravity. Figures and abstract lines work just like an apple falling. They are confined to an unchangeable law. It's a great thing to understand the nature of these kinds of laws by experiencing them in their lowest application, gravity. A child who understands how immutable the laws of math are will never divide 15 pennies between five people and give them the wrong amount. He will understand that math answers aren't arbitrary, they're logical, and even a child can use reason to come to the right answer. Math can be enjoyable for a person who loves perceiving a law of nature and figuring out the law behind why things work the way they do. But not every child can be a star wrestler, and not every boy 'takes' to math. So perhaps teachers should make it their duty to expose the child to as many interests as possible. Math is just one subject in education, and it's one that not everyone excels at. So it shouldn't monopolize too much time in the school day. And youths shouldn't be denied good jobs because the subject they're the worst at is one that test examiners love. They probably love it because the answers are final and easy to grade. There are no essay questions to have to make subjective judgments about.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 209-211

(e) Languages

English is a study of logic, dealing with sentence structure and where words are positioned, and the nature of those words themselves. So it's best for a child to start by learning about what makes a sentence before he learns the individual parts of speech. In other words, he should learn to analyze the whole before he begins to parse the separate parts. It takes some abstract thought for a child to grasp the concept that when we talk, we use sentences that speak of a thing and say something about that thing (i.e., the rule that a sentence must contain a subject and verb). All he needs to know at the beginning is that languages is composed of sentences, and that a sentence has to make sense. It's possible to string words together haphazardly, such as --'Tyler immediately light switch hilarious and' -- a string of words that makes absolutely no sense. In fact, it makes nonsense and, therefore, isn't a sentence. If we put words together in such a way that they make sense, such as 'John goes to school,' it's a sentence. Every sentence has two main parts: (1) the thing we're talking about, and, (2) what we say about it. In our example, we were taking about John and what we said about him is that he goes to school. At this early stage, children need lots of practice to find those two ingredients in simple sentences. Later, when they're familiar and comfortable with the concept of the first part of a sentence being the thing we're talking about, they'll be ready to learn a name for it: the subject. For example, we might say that the subject of a conversation was parsley. That's just another way of saying that the thing we were talking about was parsley. To sum up this kind of lesson, a class should learn that: Words that are put together in such a way that they make sense, form a sentence. A sentence has two parts: the thing we're talking about, and what we're saying about it. The thing we're talking about is called the subject.

It won't be easy for children to grasp this kind of information because it's so abstract, and we need to remember that this kind of knowledge is difficult and not very user-friendly. Children's minds are accustomed to dealing with concrete things--they have no trouble imagining concrete details when they hear the sketchiest details of a fairy tale. A seven year old can sing,

'I can't see fairies, but I can dream them.
No fairy can hide from me;
I won't stop dreaming until I find him.
Ah, there you are, Primrose Fairy!
I see you, Blackwing Fairy!'

But a child can't imagine and dream about parts of speech. Any silly grown-up attempts to personify such abstract concepts offends the little child, who, in spite of his love for play and nonsense, actually has a serious mind. Most children can eventually grasp the concept of a sentence consisting of words that make sense, especially if they are allowed to spend some time playing with silly, nonsensical strings of words that make gibberish. And, with lots of practice exercises in which the concept of the subject is kept at the forefront, they can come to grasp that concept.

One more initial concept is needed before children will be ready to deal with the abstract world of grammar in its proper form, as written rather than in colloquial speech. That is, they need to be familiar with the concept of verbs. The simplest way to introduce this is to have them create two-word sentences containing the thing they're talking about, and what they're saying about it--sentences such as 'Megan sings,' or 'Grandma bowls,' or 'Hayden runs.' In all of these sentences, the child can easily spot the thing being talked about, and what's being said about it.

But teachers already know these things and I don't have anything new or innovative to share about teaching grammar. Still, my method benefits grammar because the habit of paying full attention helps with grammar as well as in every other subject. We hope that someday, grammar will be unified so that students will no longer have the confusion of learning separate grammars for English, Latin, and French, each with its own terms.


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Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio; Please direct comments or questions to AmblesideOnline.