I know you’ve seen it around.  The Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six.

Maybe you’ve wondered what exactly it’s supposed to be.  Maybe you’ve looked at it and your own child’s skills, and felt lacking.  Like there’s no way your child is there, so obviously it’s a ridiculous and outdated set of standards and you’ll just skip it.

Or maybe you’ve looked at it and thought, yep, my 6 year old can do all that.  We’re good. Now I can move on to my other curriculum knowing that I’ve got those boxes checked.

Charlotte Mason's Formidable List of AttainmentsBut what exactly was the purpose of the List of Attainments for a Child of Six?

I dug deeper to find out, and what I found was that there are a lot of misinterpretations floating around the interwebs.

THE MOST COMMON PERCEPTIONS:

The first is that it is a list of what your child should know before he or she starts a Charlotte Mason education.  A list of First Grade Readiness Skills, as it were.

These parents want to use the list as a preschool curriculum, to make sure their child is ready to begin Charlotte Mason homeschooling at 6.

The second most common perception is that it’s a list of six year old developmental milestones,  circa 1890. You know the type: “By the age of 4, most children can kick a ball, stand on one foot for four or five seconds, and use scissors with supervision”.

This creates quite a bit of panic among new homeschoolers, who look at the list and think, “my child can’t recognize 3 birds!  Oh no!”

Most places online attributed the List to Ambleside Online, but there was no attribution there either, other than “a curriculum outline from the 1890s”.  No specification to what year.

But it does say “a curriculum outline” … which means that it’s the outline of a curriculum, not pre-requisite skills.

I found one post that said it was from a Parents’ Review article published in the ’90s by Karen Andreola, so I searched every Parents’ Review article digitized at the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection before I realized that, ahem, the blog author meant the 1990s, not the 1890s.

Ha!

Karen Andreola published a new version of the Parents’ Review in the 1990s.  I’ve immersed myself so much in Charlotte Mason primary sources that it didn’t even occur to me I was looking in the wrong century!

I contacted Karen, and she has been very gracious answering my questions.  While she couldn’t remember the exact year that she got the curriculum outline from, nor if she’d renamed it herself to A Formidable List of Attainments (and who could blame her?  This was 20-some-odd-years ago!) she was kind enough to snap a picture of her original republishing and send it to me.

Here is a transcription of it:

A FORMIDABLE LIST OF ATTAINMENT FOR A CHILD OF SIX

To recite, beautifully, six easy poems and hymns.

To recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm.

To add and subtract numbers up to ten, with dominoes or counters.

To read — what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child; children vary much in their power of reading.

To copy in print- hand from a book.

To know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows.

To describe the boundaries of their own home.

To describe any lake, river, pond, island, &c, within easy reach.

To tell quite accurately (however shortly) three stories from Bible history, three from early English, and three from early Roman history.

To be able to describe three walks and three views.

To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wild flowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.

To do the same with the leaves and flowers of six forest trees.

To know six birds, by song, colour, and shape.

To send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed.

To tell three stories about their own “pets” — rabbit, dog, or cat.

To name twenty common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences.

To sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song.

To keep a caterpillar, and tell the life story of a butterfly from his own observations.

A formidable list of attainments for a child of five or six, but it is nearly all play-work, and to be done out-of-doors.  The “sit-still” work should not occupy more than an hour and a half daily, and the time-table will show how all can be done, little by little, by day-by-day efforts.  Our aim is to gather up the fragments of the child’s desultory knowledge, so that nothing be lost. There is no waste more sad than the waste of those early years when the child’s curiosity is keen and his memory retentive, and when he might lay up a great store of knowledge of the world he lives in with pure delight to himself; but this fine curiosity is allowed to spend itself on trivial things, and the retentive memory — does it not sometimes store the idle gossip of the maids?

When we look at that last paragraph, it says “A formidable list of attainments for a child of five or six, but it is nearly all play-work, and to be done out-of-doors.”

This is where I believe Ms. Andreola took the title from.

THE FORMIDABLE LIST VS. 1891 CURRICULUM PROGRAMME

After reading quite a bit of primary source material, I came across a curriculum programme from 1891, and it is a pretty darn close match to the Formidable List of Attainments.

This led me to believe that the List is neither a list of readiness skills nor a list of milestones, but rather a curriculum outline to be used and taught.

Let’s compare (I’ve re-ordered the 1891 programme to make this easier):

Formidable List1891 Programme
Recitations:
To recite, beautifully, six easy poems and hymns.

To recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm.

To recite, beautifully and perfectly, three poems, three hymns, a parable, and a psalm.
Math:
To add and subtract numbers up to ten, with dominoes or counters.

To add and subtract numbers up to 20, with counters, dominoes, etc.

To make figures up to 10 — a fortnight to be given to the mastery of each figure.

To add little sums, where the answer comes to less than 10, thus 2+3+4.

To subtract units from units, thus 8-3

To work out and learn the multiplication table up to 3×12=36
Reading:
To read — what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child; children vary much in their power of reading.

To read 500 words (see lessons in P.R. for August, 1891)
Writing:
To copy in print- hand from a book.


To be able to copy from a book in simplest print characters, thus, A B C D E F G, etc.

To make good firm strokes and pothooks
Geography:
To know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows.

To describe the boundaries of their own home.

To describe any lake, river, pond, island, &c, within easy reach.

To be able to describe three walks and three views.
(No geography - but:)

To do six Calisthenic or Swedish exercises.
Stories:
To tell quite accurately (however shortly) three stories from Bible history, three from early English, and three from early Roman history.

To know six stories from the Life of Abraham (Gen xii to xx)

To know six stories from the first six chapters of St. Mark.

*To be able to tell six stories of Saxon times

*To be able to tell six Greek stories.
Natural History:
To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wild flowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.

To do the same with the leaves and flowers of six forest trees.

To know six birds, by song, colour, and shape.

To tell three stories about their own “pets” — rabbit, dog, or cat.

To keep a caterpillar, and tell the life story of a butterfly from his own observations.

To be able to tell all about ten living creatures.

*To mount in scrap-book six wild flowers, with leaves; to know their names, and whether they grow in field or hedge or marsh.
Work:
To send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed.

*Three little pieces of work, knitting, cross-stitch and (boys and girls) sewing. Wild flowers, work, kndergarten work, etc, to be sent in for inspection at the end of the term.
French:
To name twenty common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences.


To know forty French names of things; twenty little French phrases.
Singing:
To sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song.

To sing one French song; and to do Tonic Sol-fa Lessons in P.R.

Do you see how very similar these two are, when put side by side?  The 1891 programme is a tad bit more difficult, including multiplication tables up to 3×12 for example, but it was also for all of “1st Class”, which is what we would now call Form 1.

In other words, this 1891 programme covered instruction for students ages 6-9.

THE FORMIDABLE LIST WAS A PROGRAMME OF STUDY

Now notice that the List has a line that says “send in work”, which implies that what the child is doing is being sent to a central authority of some kind, rather than simply the detritus of childhood.

When we look at the bits in it, we see that it says “to send in certain Kindergarten or other handwork, as directed” and “the time-table will show how all can be done, little by little, by day-by-day efforts.”

Work was sent in.  A time-table was provided.

Those are parts of a directed program, not of a random slew of developmental milestones.  And as a directed program, it is not a pre-requisite to that same program.

Another point — the Formidable List has “To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wild flowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.”

A dozen — one every week.

Twelve weeks.  This was to be done over a twelve week period.   We know that a ‘term’ was 12 weeks ….

We can see that not only are the two very similar, but as the 1891 programme shows, it is for one term of work.

Let me say that again: A programme of study for a single term.

That means it was directed, with deliberate guidance from the parent.

The student wasn’t left to ‘pick up the information’ on her own.  Mother guided the child to these.

If you look at the later programmes for Form IB, you see that, while it has been expanded and made more specific,  it is also very similar to both of these.

The Formidable List of Attainments was not a list of “what your six year old should know”, nor was it a list of skills and knowledge a child should have acquired in her preschool years.

It is simply a guide for a term of study, that a child of approximately six years old could do.

If you are delaying starting Form IB until your child is 7, using this as a guide for that “Kindergarten” year of 6 years old is a lovely idea.  You still might need to leave off reading and writing, but this is actually quite similar to what I’m doing did with my own six year old.

As the ending paragraph says, “it is nearly all play-work, to be done out doors”.

admin