What is the Charlotte Mason method?
Charlotte Mason, a British educator had a very high opinion of children. She believed in the need to educate the whole child, not just his mind, by providing a “feast” of learning; exposing him to a vast array of subjects, thoughts and ideas.
The Charlotte Mason method of education uses rich literature and “living books”, nature studies, handicrafts, art and music appreciation in addition to the usual academic subjects, to provide children a broad, liberal education. It strives to nurture a love for learning and reinforce good habits, rather than just having children memorize facts.
In her own words, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” By that, Charlotte meant that educators should create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, and that the right atmosphere is fully 1/3 of the education.
Another 1/3 is comprised of discipline, or the development of good habits. The final 1/3 of the equation is “life”, meaning that educators should help learning come to life for students. One of the ways she achieved this was through “living books”, or stories written by passionate experts, who could make the lessons come alive.
Her educational philosophies are very beautiful, noble and Godly.
“Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life. — We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking — the strain would be too great — but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest… The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care?” –Charlotte Mason
Charlotte’s belief that children deserved dignity, respect and a liberal education, no matter what their social class, created an educational revolution. She hoped education would open the doors of equality and opportunity to all.
History of Charlotte Mason Education:
Charlotte Mason was born in Wales in 1842. An only child, she was educated at home by her parents. As an adult, she taught at the Davison School in England, where she challenged the concept of a utilitarian education.
She believed that children learned best through life and “living books,” rather than rote memory and dry facts. She advocated that students read narrative books, retelling what they read in their own words. Her ideas also favor outdoor exploration, art, music, and a wide variety of subjects, with an emphasis on focus, effort, and a love of learning.
Charlotte moved to Ambleside, England, in 1891 and established the House of Education, a training school for governesses and others working with young children. She also wrote and published several books explaining her educational theories:
Charlotte wrote and published several other books developing and explaining her theories of education: Parents and Children, School Education, Ourselves, and Formation of Character. Her book, Home Education, was originally a series of lectures about the education of young children.
Towards A Philosophy of Education was Charlotte’s last book, and was written to address the application of her methods to high school students. She also wrote a six-volume work called The Saviour of the World, a study in verse of the life and teaching of Jesus.
Since her death in 1923, Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophies have become world-renowned. Teachers all over the world have been trained in her methods, and many homeschoolers also live by her methods.
Key Elements of Charlotte Mason Approach to Homeschooling
1. Habits. Charlotte believed that the development of good habits within a child provides the foundation for early education. She wrote, “The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.”
2. Short Lessons. Short lessons are also ideal for younger children, allowing them to give their best effort to each subject without fatigue or frustration. Young students should work for 5-15 minutes per subject, with the length of time increasing for older students.
3. Living Books. These are usually written by someone who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or narrative style. The excellent writing draws you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and facts. From Charlotte Mason’s book Children and Parents , “Children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough.”
4. Narration. Charlotte Mason used narration as a primary method of evaluating her students, because she wanted them to be able to think and express themselves clearly. Young children should narrate passages orally in order to develop analytical thinking skills without being bogged down by the mechanics of handwriting. Around age 11, though, children should begin completing written narrations. Narrations should be kept casual, organic and low-pressure.
5. Dictation. Prepared dictation (students study the passage visually before the parent dictates) is a powerful method to help children grow in the art of using language well. Dictation emphasizes the studying of a passage, making a mental image of the text, in order to fix it within one’s mind. This includes paying attention to how words are spelled, where capital letters are found, and which punctuation marks are used. When ready, the parent dictates the passage a phrase at a time.
6. Nature Study. Charlotte thought children should spend as much time as possible outdoors, especially as young students. Students kept their own detailed nature journals and also used nature guides to discover and identify the natural world in their neighborhood.
7. Grading. Her philosophy in giving grades consisted of two words: acceptable or unacceptable. That was determined based on each individual child’s abilities. Charlotte always required a students best and only his best. When an assignment proved to be a child’s best, it would be marked ‘acceptable’. When work was not completed to the best of the child’s ability, it would be marked ‘unacceptable’ and was expected to be redone until an ‘acceptable’ was received.
8. Parenting. Because parenting has everything to do with homeschooling. I love that Charlotte Mason thought to include the following ideas in her books.
“Let children alone… the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions – a running fire of Do and Don’t ; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose.”
“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play!”
What does the Charlotte Mason Method Look Like in a Homeschool?
As a great respecter of children, Charlotte Mason believed in gentle, loving instruction. While all Charlotte Mason style homeschools will look different, they will all embrace that style of gentle, respectful, intentional teaching.
Charlotte Mason homeschoolers spend a lot of time in nature, exploring, learning and creating nature journals. This emphasis on nature draws a lot of homeschoolers who understand the tremendous benefit of outdoor learning to the Charlotte Mason method. Observation and sensory experience are highly valued.
They also spend a lot of time with their noses buried deep in excellent literature, affectionately called living books. They look for opportunities to learn from everyday life.
Copywork, along with narration, is used to instruct as well as to assess, and parents work alongside their children. And handicrafts, like sewing, weaving, knitting and woodworking are also regarded as critical to educational development.
If you’ve read Little Men or Jo’s Boys, by Louisa May Alcott, this is exactly how I picture a Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool. Jo and Professor Bahr work so gently and nobly alongside their boys to instill in them good and virtuous habits in addition to a good education.
Charlotte Mason Homeschool Curriculum:
Ambleside Online. Free, online, K-12 curriculum designed to be as close as possible to the curriculum that Charlotte Mason used in her own PNEU schools. There is no cost to use this curriculum and it makes use of as many free online books as possible. Ambleside can be a bit overwhelming at first, just because there is so much.
An Old-Fashioned Education. Free, online Charlotte Mason curriculum, K-12. The curriculum is listed by the subject on the left, and there are FREE printable schedules for each grade.
Charlotte Mason Homeschooling. Everything you need to know about Living Books curriculum
Queen Homeschooling. Publishing Charlotte Mason style books and curriculum since 1994, their products are designed with families in mind.
Charlotte Mason Institute. The purpose of the Charlotte Mason Institute is to support a worldwide community of learners and educators in an authentic practice of Charlotte Mason’s paradigm of education. You may purchase the full Alveary membership, or you may purchase a few classes a la carte.
Mater Amabilis. Mater Amabilis is a Charlotte Mason Curriculum for Catholics. Pre-K through high school.
Living Books Curriculum They offer various curriculum bundles and courses geared toward Charlotte Mason homeschoolers.
Want to know more? Additional Charlotte Mason Resources:
A thorough chapter-by-chapter overview of the inspiring teaching principles of Christian educator Charlotte Mason, this book reveals the practical day by day method of how to teach “the Charlotte Mason way”. The author offers friendly advice, and humor, along with the joys and struggles of real homeschool life. The book covers education, parenting, homeschooling and lots of encouraging advice for mothers.
The Original Home Schooling Series by Charlotte Mason
Just so you know, this is as big as an encyclopedia. The complete works of Charlotte Mason, this six-volume set includes over 2400 pages of the finest material ever written on education, child training and parenting. Recognized as the pioneer in home education and major school reforms, Charlotte Mason’s practical methods are as revolutionary today as when they were first written. Also find it free, online here!
A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison
Charlotte Mason’s educational ideas established the necessary protocols for an education above and beyond that which can be found in traditional classroom settings. Catherine Levison has collected the key points of Charlotte Mason’s methods and presents them in a simple, straightforward way that will allow families to quickly maximize the opportunities of homeschooling. With weekly schedules, a challenging and diverse curriculum will both inspire and educate your child. A Charlotte Mason Education is the latest tool for parents seeking the best education for their children.
Charlotte Mason’s philosophies are beautiful, but it can be difficult to know how to put them into practice in your home. This book is written for a classroom setting, but it’s very applicable to homeschools as well. It helped me understand how to apply the Charlotte Mason method in a real-world homeschool.
For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macauly
This book discusses what education can be, based on a Christian understanding of what it means to be human-to be a child, a parent, a teacher-and on the Christian meaning of life. The central ideas have been proven over many years and in almost every kind of educational situation, including ideas that Susan and Ranald Macaulay have implemented in their own family and school experience. It will benefit parents and teachers alike.
Helpful Charlotte Mason blogs to follow:
Simply Charlotte Mason. This site gives a thorough overview of Charlotte Mason, her educational philosophy, and how homeschoolers are implementing her methods.
A Delectable Education. Check out their Charlotte Mason homeschool method podcast.
Everything Charlotte Mason All your Charlotte Mason resources in one place.
A Charlotte Mason Home Living Books and timeless ideas for a twaddle-free education.
Journey and Destination Carol has been homeschooling using the Charlotte Mason method for 27 years!
Practical Pages She shares practical tips, projects, plans, as well as free pages and downloads that they’ve used in their Charlotte Mason–inspired homeschool.
How is the Charlotte Mason method different (or similar to) the other homeschooling methods?
I realize that’s impossible to read. Feel free to download the Homeschooling Methods Chart pdf, so you can actually read it.
Which Homeschooling Method Is Right For My Family?
The best possible advice you can receive from anyone who has been homeschooling for awhile is that you need to create your own unique approach to homeschooling. As you can see from the chart above, the various homeschooling methods have more similarities than they do differences.
Would you like to know more about the other homeschooling methods?
Click the links to learn more about each of the following Homeschool Methods:
Reggio Emilia Approach(also known as project-based homeschooling)
Unit Studies Approach
Do you use the Charlotte Mason method in your homeschool? If so, we’d love for you to share your favorite resources in the comments below!