A Free Charlotte Mason Math Curriculum Worth Considering
For the Charlotte-Mason-inspired home, finding a math curriculum can be hard. I think there is a free textbook series that has been overlooked. Today, I share how this FREE math curriculum fits into Mason’s educational philosophy.
These free textbooks encompass all the core values that Charlotte Mason talks about in the Arithmetic section of Home Education. It even incorporates narration and dictation activities.
Let's look at the main math topics Charlotte Mason discusses in the Arithmetic section of Home Education and how they connect to Gattegno’s textbook. I think you might find that Gattegno's textbooks are worth consideration for the Charlotte Mason inspired home.
I invite you to come along and see how much Mason and Gattegno shared.
“The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, and intellectual truth it engenders.” Home Education, Mason p 254
Well, Gattegno wouldn’t argue with that at all. Many people think mathematics is just about memorizing math facts and algorithms. These are mere by products of true mathematics, but not the point of studying math.
Gattegno designed his curriculum to teach mathematics through the development of a child’s reasoning powers. Gattegno understands the importance of observation and the development of perception as key to developing mathematical reasoning and fluency.
“Indeed the reason why we should study mathematics is because it educates in everyone a third eye; an eye capable of scrutinizing relationships…” Why Study Mathematics, Gattegno
By understanding structures, students are trained up to reason and conclude solutions to problems. The reality is that this is easier said than done. It is folly to expect children to become aware of important math structures simply by filling out worksheets or randomly grouping buttons or pebbles.
With years of primary classroom experience, Gattegno put together a solid structure to guide teachers through simple but thoughtful exercises to develop students’ perception of math structures.
The textbook is so simple that it can be read in a day. Yet, it offers enough work for the parent and child to walk gently through it in a year, or more as some of us are inclined.
Problems within a Child’s Grasp.
“Engage the child upon little problems within his comprehension at the first…” Home Education, Mason, p 255
Gattegno begins by using rods to put problems within the child’s grasp. Building trains is core to putting math within a child’s grasp.
Through building trains, a child comprehends with ease the structure of addition. What two rods placed end to end make the same length as blue?
The child is encouraged first to handle the rods, then to use just their eyes and then over time, the child will not need the rods at all. Staying within the child’s grasp while always stretching them to grow is a balance Gattegno encouraged.
“Mathematics, like poetry, satisfies the deeper sense in us all…” Gattegno
After mastering the color rods, the child moves to studying small numbers, gradually moving to larger numbers. The child has a firm grasp of the structures so that moving to larger numbers is done with confidence.
“The next point is to demonstrate everything that is demonstrateable.” Home Education, Mason, p 255
A Charlotte Mason math curriculum must at its core be tangible to the child. Through the simplicity of building trains, Gattegno Textbook 1 guides the child to perceive how subtraction and addition are related or how multiplication and fractions are related. Such perception of structures gives a child power to apply and manipulate acquired information.
“Can we learn music without tunes? Can we learn languages without context? Can we learn to swim without being in water? Why should we then learn mathematics without the very substance that makes it?” Why Study Mathematics? Gattegno
Cuisenaire rods put problems within a child’s grasp. Most people use manipulatives as a crutch for solving problems. Gattegno went beyond this. He strongly believed in a young child’s ability to reason, something he has in common with Charlotte Mason.
“I have since then perceived in everyone this ability to sense the beauty of mathematics.” Why Study Mathematics, Gattegno
Through thoughtful tasks, he put mathematical structures within the child’s grasp to grow their perception to see the relationships between numbers.
Such growth in perception makes a child confident to apply and manipulate information. A child’s reasoning and understanding is always engaged. The child finds that truth is distinct and provable.
A Charlotte Mason math curriculum must also inevitable bring a child to written notation. While Mason says the transition from hands-on work to notation is difficult, here Gattegno’s methodology shines supremely.
With the hands-on work of Cuisenaire rods, the language of notation is provided to the student through oral narration. With great ease, a child moves into written notation because he is proficient in speaking math through the oral exercises Gattegno provides.
Oral narrations are simple and within context. Children build trains and the teacher describes the train. “Here is a black and red train. Can you find one rod that is the same length as the black and red train?” The child, by manipulating the rods, discovers the answer is a blue rod. “Yes, the black and red train equals a blue rod.” Thus begins oral narration.
Arithmetic, a Means of Training the Mind
A Charlotte Mason math curriculum should use arithmetic as a training ground for intellectual development. Rods provide children with a tool by which to test their ideas with accuracy.
Is yellow ½ of orange? How do we know? Is yellow the difference of tan and light green? How do we know? Is red and yellow the same length as yellow and red?
Should we let a child struggle answering this question with beans? Is 2 beans plus 3 beans the same as 3 beans plus 2 beans?
With a lot of effort a student can perceive this with just beans. But there is a great chance the student will have misconceptions about this math concept known as transformation.
Understanding transformations allows children to reason and transfer old information to new information. We don't want kids to be confused about this simple math concept.
To train the mind in a feast of mathematics, we must pick a math manipulative that doesn't break down but takes kids all the way to algebra, to factorials, permutation, Fibonacci sequence, Pascal's triangle, etc.
Shouldn’t they be certain with the accuracy of their answer without fumbling about with buttons? Shouldn't the answer be clear with the least amount of effort?
Is the point to count real objects or is mathematics a means for training the habit of insight, reasoning and discovering intellectual truth?
Mathematics should be found in the everyday life. However, when a superior tool presents itself, we should not linger to fumble over buttons and pebbles and lose the opportunity of developing a genuine love for math. Instead, we should use story to move students from the hands-on manipulative to the everyday life of math.
What would Charlotte Mason think about using Cuisenaire rods?
ABC arithmetic by Sonnenschein and Nesbit is a book recommended by Charlotte Mason, and guess what? The book recommends the use of math rods measuring in increments of 1 cm. So, I think that answers the question about Cusienaire rods because they happen to be a math rod that measures in increments of 1 cm.
Now, the ABC Arithmetic book recommendation has probably scared most parents away from following Charlotte Mason’s general recommendations for math. This book seems to drop you off in the middle of elementary mathematics, and that is probably very intimidating to most parents.
On the contrary, Gattegno provides parents a gentle path towards mastering mathematics starting from the beginning. He begins with just the color of the rods, simple math tasks, and then moves into number studies once the child understands key structures. The first textbook covers numbers one through twenty.
Studying a number may seem a bit bland, but a child, who has a thorough understanding of math structures, delights in the manipulation of building numbers. A child sees the numerous ways to build a number, and this experience develops a depth of love for math that superficial math games cannot. This divergent approach is another reason to study mathematics.
Plus, Gattegno doesn’t bore a child with just adding and subtraction. He presents multiplication, fractions and division side by side. Because these ideas are easy to perceive through the rods, this presentation of several operations is not overwhelming for the child.
Preparation for Mathematics
“The child, who has been allowed to think and not compelled to cram, hails the new study with delights when the due time for it arrives.” Home Education, Mason p 261
Gattegno is in hearty agreement that thinking is much more important than cramming in all those math facts. To instill a true delight in mathematics, a child needs to discover the interesting patterns that lay hidden in numbers. Such pursuits take time and a rush to master math facts will take away from the child’s time to think and see the beauty of math.
Without that insight into the beauty of math, a child will not have a reason to pursue math beyond what is required of him by compulsion.
If you love the educational philosophies of Charlotte Mason, go check out Gattegno's textbooks. Gattegno gives children autonomy to play and manipulate numbers like true mathematicians.
Many believe that mathematics is not accessible to all. That some kids are either born mathy or not. I take comfort that many educators like Gattegno and Mason had great confidence in young children. Of course, it requires that we take the initiative to make math accessible to all by developing their insight and reason.
“Mathematics is all around us and within reach of everyone, provided we develop the sort of sensitivity that corresponds to these challenges.” Why Study Mathematics, Gattegno
Charlotte Mason Math for the Heart
For what is worth, I have seen my own children blossom under the care of Gattegno's methodology. They have found the beauty of math and they challenge themselves to make interesting equations and predict patterns. I imagine this is what Charlotte Mason desired most for any child when it came to the subject of math.
I believe as a free Charlotte-Mason-inspired math curriculum, you will be hard press to find a better choice that recognizes the individuality of a child while cultivating their intellectual growth. The feast of mathematics is laid before the child for their delight and it is very similar to a nature study which you can see in this post here.
If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to come join our Gattegno study groups. Find out more by joining our Facebook group HERE or subscribe to Arithmophobia No More to join free webinars on using Gattegno's textbooks. .