Wildwood Curriculum is divided into this confusing set of categories called forms which are then subdivided into more categories called lower and upper and then again into tri-level categories called A and B.
Why? Why not just list each of these categories as the grade levels that they ultimately represent?
First and foremost, we use forms because Charlotte Mason used forms. When we are working on transcribing her programmes, we maintain each form and the sublevel within it because if we used more modern terminology, we would need to be constantly translating it back and forth, and so in some part it easier for us to use her own categories and subdivisions.
However, we at Wildwood have deeper reasons for choosing to maintain the Form labels. The primary one is that we do not want people who come to our curriculum to think about grade levels. We deliberately want to move people away from the familiar and sometimes limiting idea of grade levels as used today.
Grade demarcations almost always indicate a whole set of ideas that we might not even be aware of. Primarily we link grade and age. A six-year-old is in grade 1. A seven-year-old is in grade 2.
We also think that each grade has some bundle of knowledge that a child is to learn within that year and then they will move up to the next level and proceed to learn the next bundle of knowledge. Children who struggle are often seen as being “behind” and those who assimilate the knowledge easily are seen as advanced or even gifted.
And Charlotte’s Mason ideology is completely opposed to these ideas. In Philosophy of Education (Volume 6) she writes:
“Academic success and knowledge are not the same thing and many excellent schools fail to give their pupils delight in the latter for its own sake or to bring them in touch with the sort of knowledge that influences character and conduct. The slow, imperceptible, sinking-in of high ideals is the gain that a good school should yield its pupils.”
She was not concerned about academic success. She was concerned with the slow and steady development of children into ethical and idealistic adults.
In talking about children with different talents and therefore different abilities, she wrote,
“But why should the tortoise keep pace with the hare and why should a boy’s success in life depend upon drudgery in Mathematics [the skill with which he was struggling]?”
In Parents and Children (Volume 2), she clearly stated the need to customize our teaching strategies to our learners:
“It is necessary to individualise and say, this part of education is the most important for this child, or this class, but may be relegated into a lower place for another child or another class.”
She also had quite a bit to say about examinations and the evils of competition that often arise because of them.
“But the fact that a successful examination of one sort or another is the goal towards which most of our young people are labouring with feverish haste and with undue anxiety, is one which possibly calls for the scrutiny of the investigating. Why?
In the first place, people rarely accomplish beyond their own aims. Their aim is a pass, not knowledge; ‘they cram to pass and not to know; they do pass and they don’t know,’ says Mr. Ruskin; and most of us who know the ‘candidate’ will admit that there is some truth in the epigram. There are, doubtless, people who pass and who also know, but, even so, it is open to question, whether passing is the most direct, simple, natural and efficacious way of securing knowledge, or whether the persons who pass and know are not those keen and original minds which would get blood out of a stone,––anyway, sap out of sawdust.”
Charlotte Mason was concerned most with the end product of education – the living breathing adult who was to emerge at the end of the process. The year-to-year progress was supposed to be slow, methodical and suited to the individual child, focusing on the development of their whole being, not their academic progress.
And so we at Wildwood choose to use forms so that parents have to think differently about the placement of their children within the framework of this curriculum. A very knowledgeable adult could work their way through Form 1B (the first “level”) and still gain copious amounts of knowledge and insight because the curriculum isn’t about the facts. There isn’t a set amount of information at that level that one must master. A Charlotte Mason education isn’t about the knowledge – it is about the ideas
and how a child makes connections to those ideas within their own mind. That can happen, and happen beautifully within any of the forms.
However, the content in each form is set out in a developmental way – early forms draw on resources that will have knowledge that can be connected to a younger child’s experience. Upper forms include more mature ideas and resources because older children will have more experiences and more knowledge of the world.
It is more helpful to think about the forms as developmental stages rather than as grades. They do not represent any sort of success in the sense that movement from one form to another implies that a child has “passed.” They are merely a grouping of resources that are chosen to be developmentally appropriate to children at a particular age and stage.
So then what does it mean when it comes time to place a child in a form or move a child onto the next form?
Forms do roughly follow ages, and movement to a higher form was to indicate a maturation in the child and their ability to interact with ideas in a more mature way. We now know Miss Mason’s stages align with modern neuroscience that shows a distinct brain growth sometime between the ages of 8 and 9 (when a child would move from Form I into Form II), and then again at the beginning of adolescence between 11 and 14 (when a child would move into Form III). Forms that have only one year are looked upon as intense transition years to prepare a student for the new challenges in the next form.
A child begins in the beginner form (indicated with a B) and moves up to a more advanced level (indicated with an A). If a form is further split (or sometimes in place of the beginner/advanced demarcation), the child will begin in the lower level and move up to the upper level. (Miss Mason used Roman numerals to mark her forms. At Wildwood, we use Roman numerals and Arabic numerals interchangeably.)
- Form 1 – ages 6-9
- Form 1A lower
- Form 1A upper
- Form 2 ages 9-12
- Form 2B
- Form 2A lower
- Form 2A upper
- Form 3 ages 12-14
- Form 3 lower
- Form 3 upper
- Form 4 – age 14-15
- Form 5 – ages 15-16
- Form 5 lower
- Form 5 upper
- Form 6 – age 16-17
Within a form, it is more important to focus on enacting Miss Mason’s methods, not on what books you are reading. So you could have two children at different ages or stages within the same form but should expect different interactions from them. For example, the quality of the narrations would need to be different, or you might be using the resources from one form but could begin drawing on more advanced techniques from another form – such as introducing composition.
If you have a child who is not ready to move to a higher form, they can just stay in a form. If you have a child who shows great developmental progress half-way through a form, you can move them up to the next form immediately. Miss Mason’s classes often never completed books. Students might only complete a couple of chapters from a book before they moved onto a different one. It is not about completing the book or mastering the facts. It is about interacting with the material!
The decision to combine children into forms is a personal one that a parent needs to consider in light of their personal resources, their children’s needs and personalities, and their overall educational goals. There is no right way! Combine or separate as best serves you and your children. The magic happens in how you engage your children.
Unfortunately, a Charlotte Mason education is not a neat package that a parent can open and expect her children to complete. It is not a system – it is a methodology. We as parents need to have some understanding of the underpinning philosophy in order to provide this education to our children. At Wildwood, we try to inspire parents to dig into this philosophy.
If you would like more information about using a Charlotte Mason approach in your home, please consider:
Jennifer Gehman is a co-creator of Wildwood Curriculum, a certified teacher, and a facilitator-in-training with the Neufeld Institute. She lives and plays with her partner and five children in Canada. Though three of her oldest have graduated from homeschool they still ask her to edit their university papers. Her youngest two are still learning in the living room.