A Charlotte Mason Education, Beauty, Narration, Picture Study
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Eleanor M. Frost and the Narration of a “Picture Talk” — Part I by Carroll Smith

This week for the blog post I would like for everyone to read a short portion of an article from the 1915 Parents’ Review, “Impressions of Conference work with Class II” by Eleanor M. Frost.  It is located from page 567 to 594.  I have typed it here for ease of reading.  Quite some time ago Dixie Moore and Victoria Waters had this article in their pioneering Skylark magazine where I first saw it and from which I now get it for our use here.  Since that time I have read it from a direct copy of the Parents’ Review.  Now, with the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection at Redeemer University College, there will be access online to these articles straight from the Parents’ Review.   Ambleside Online has also done a wonderful job of making the Parents’ Review available.

During Mason’s life there were conferences scheduled during the summers and attended by teachers and parents.  If my understanding is correct, children attended and were frequently in lessons such as the one described in this portion of this article.  Ms. Frost describes a number of lessons that she executed, and I have chosen this particular one for our study.   Next week I will write more about this lesson and hopefully help us glean ideas about narration from it.

I have placed in this blog post a copy of the painting that is used in this Picture Study lesson.  Notice Ms. Frost calls it Picture Talk.  The painting is by Raphael and is titled La Madonna di San Sisto.  Click the links to learn more about Raphael and about the painting.  I have put her quote in italics.

Frost says,

The next subject was a Picture Talk on The Madonna di San Sisto, and the aim of the lesson was to lead the children to appreciate its exquisite beauty and thought.  First I drew from them some of the ideas we gather must have been in Raphael’s mind as he painted, and how we can recognise them.  For instance–that the Mother and Child are coming from, and bringing Heaven with them, as shown by the glory of angel heads–that they come in haste, seen by the blown-back draperies and hair–why coming in haste?–for love of His people.  These and similar points the children delight in discovering for themselves.  Then they looked at the picture with half-shut eyes to see the divisions and shapes of light and shade, the general balance of tones and the composition of the whole; then with open eyes to notice the wonderful serenity and the details of attitude and line.  All this took about ten minutes only, for it seemed essential that after being shown how to see fully, the children should be allowed the greatest and most valuable part of such a lesson, namely, time for a silent contemplation of the picture, that its beauty might speak for itself.

La Madonna di San Sisto by Raphael

La Madonna di San Sisto by Raphael

It was interesting to notice that nearly all the children knew quite well how to use that time, for most of them grew absorbed.  There was one small detail which made the great charm of the lesson from a teacher’s point of view, and that was that some of the children put down their pictures after the “quiet time” with a short sigh, as though they had come some distance back to the present.  The memory drawings were generally fair.  For the last two minutes the children told me a little of what we might learn about the artist of such a masterpiece, namely, that he must have had a fervent love for holy things.  By a short comparison of the term’s pictures they found how far the general characteristics of The Madonna di San Sisto were noticeable in Raphael’s other works.

One feels that in the study of such pictures term after term, the children are given a great opportunity for good, for the greatness of soul in the painter calls to the possibilities in the soul of each child, in addition to which the development of the aesthetic sense must come as a great uplifting force.

Next week I will undertake some analysis of this very short lesson description and see what we can glean from it about narration as an instructional methodology.

Frost, E. M. (1915). Impressions of Conference Work with Class II. Parents’ Review, 26, 567-594.

© 2013 Carroll Smith


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.

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