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.)