7 Characteristics of a Charlotte Mason Education

If you’ve been homeschooling for long, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Charlotte Mason. Her educational principles, which she developed in 19th century England, offer much to homeschooling children and families alike.

But what exactly is a Charlotte Mason education? How can we know if it will work well for our family?

Use this overview of seven Charlotte Mason-style characteristics to help you decide.

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.”

For this reason Charlotte advised delaying formal academics until age six, instead advocating play and work within the gentle boundaries of the family unit.

Charlotte saw good habits as so crucial that she recommended putting all else aside if a bad habit appeared, and working with the child (in a friendly way) to reconcile the issue before it could develop further.

2. Style of Lessons

Charlotte Mason style lessons are short, especially for young children. The goal is to train the child to focus fully on their work, but only for the amount of time they are developmentally capable of.

For early elementary-aged children this often means only 5-15 minutes per subject. In older grades the duration extends to 45 minutes or more.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

When a child becomes restless, Charlotte advised changing the lesson to a different type of subject–maybe moving from handwriting to music study, or from math to handicrafts.

Short lessons means that more subjects can be incorporated into a school day. This fits with the Charlotte Mason philosophy of introducing many topics to children and allowing them to delve deeper into the ones that spark their interest.

3. Living Books

Living books are the opposite of textbooks–quality literature (either fiction or non-fiction) written by an author with a passion for the topic. The writer’s passion and expertise breathes life into the book, as opposed to a textbook that gives impersonal overviews of many topics.

Living books present inspiring stories that engage the minds of children and adults alike, providing characters our children can look up to and emulate.

4. Narration

A Charlotte Mason-style education uses narration as one of the central methods to evaluate a student. The goal is to teach a child to think and express themselves clearly.

Up until the age of 10 or 11, Charlotte advises teachers to use mainly oral narration with a child. After listening to a short passage of a book, the child will tell back, in his or her own words, important aspects of the story.

Letting a young child do this orally helps them develop analytical thinking skills without getting stuck by the physical mechanics of handwriting.

At around age 11 Charlotte Mason teachers begin having children do written narrations, which lengthen and become more in depth as children get older.

5. Dictation

Dictation exercises introduce and reinforce spelling and grammar concepts.

Charlotte recommends using inspiring quotations or Scripture for dictation. The child studies the passage until they are certain of the spelling and punctuation. Then the teacher dictates the passage slowly while the child writes it down.

Photo by Wonderlane

Formal grammar study is usually delayed until age 10 or 11 in a Charlotte Mason education.

6. Art & Music Study

Charlotte Mason believed in exposing a child to greatness in many forms, which is why she introduced music and art appreciation at her schools.

In Charlotte’s schools, one composer or artist was studied each term–both through experiencing the music and art, reading living books about the artist, and perhaps reproducing the style through art or music lessons.

7. Nature Study

Photo by James Wheare

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.

Charlotte Mason’s ideas created an educational revolution when she developed them. She believed that, regardless of what social class they belonged to, children deserved dignity and respect. She hoped education would open the doors of equality and opportunity to all.

Charlotte expressed the hope in many a homeschooling parent’s heart when she wrote the following:

“The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care?

And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”

Further Links for Reading:

Has your family incorporated any of Charlotte Mason’s ideas? Please share what has worked for you.

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.


  1. We do #2-7. I guess I’m more Charlotte Mason than I thought. I especially love the short lessons with my 6yo. Because we are one-on-one, she doesn’t need much more than 15-20 min. per lesson, so we get to cover so many things in a week! We use dictation and narration, but I still teach grammar.

    I agree about habit-forming! We did not wait until 6 to start school, though.

    I wrote a post a while back on Charlotte Mason picture study: http://homegrownmom.com/homeschool-2/art-appreciation-made-simple/937

    Love this post, you make it all very easy to understand!
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s last blog: Blessings To-Do =-.

  2. You make it sound so sensible! My sister-in-law is a hard-core Charlotte Mason home-schooler, and I had gotten the impression that the approach was mostly about shunning anything written after 1900 as “dumbed down.” I love 19th century lit, and I think much of it is still “living,” but a lot of what Charlotte herself would have used is so hopelessly dated as to be damaging. It hardly seems right to subject a 21st-century American 7-year-old to a history of England that a) would put an adult to sleep, and b) should put one’s hair on end with its casual attitude toward violence and its prejudicial, colonialist language and stereotypes. Never mind the complete lack of historical accuracy!

  3. nice, clear overview! thanks so much!
    .-= Aimee’s last blog: Beware the "Good Deal" =-.

  4. Great overview, Jamie! I do hope you will consider contributing this to the next CM blog carnival. I’m hosting it, and I’d be so pleased if you’d submit it.

  5. Thank you for those links. Those are a good resource for follow up, I hadn’t heard of all of those.

  6. What a great overview, thanks for sharing all these resources!
    .-= Kristen’s last blog: Happy Birthday Sweet Girl (yes, another birthday!) =-.

  7. Thank you for this overview of Charlotte Mason. I get so overwhelmed with all the (let’s face it, long and wordy) CM resources on the web. It was nice to read a simplified list of principles that are not too far off from my personal homeschooling philosophy. Thanks!
    .-= Ana’s last blog: I will never complain about having a bad day again. =-.

  8. Shannon J says:

    I think I should like CM but every time I read up on it I just have an aversion. Many aspects I do appreciate (nature, habits, living books) but the rest just seems so antiquated to me. My homeschooled kids are still only 4yo so maybe I’ll understand this part when they are older, but I just don’t get the short time periods spent on each subject. It seems so compartmentalized and jerky, to go from this subject to that to another. That seems to make ‘learning’ separate from ‘living’ in my view (“now we’re doing spelling, now we’re doing math…”). Maybe I’m just more of a ‘whole project’ type of learner.

  9. We use the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling in our home. I have read her original writings and I have a great respect for this woman who loved and respected children as people at a time when “children should be seen and not heard” was a common saying. Her method truly respects the child as an individual; for instance, after reading a book, instead of doing a worksheet with right and wrong answers, the child is asked to narrate orally, where there are no right or wrong answers. The child is giving their own impression of the reading. No marks are given in a Charlotte Mason education, because each child will learn different things based on their own interests and personality. She compared it to spreading a banquet before them (of ideas); and the children take in what they like.

    I can understand the aversion some people have to Charlotte Mason when what they are going by is the current evangelical Christian “version” of the method, which in my opinion focuses too much on the Victorian time period CM wrote in, and not her actual writings! Charlotte Mason said that teachers should always be updating their booklists as new, good books become available. Also, she was a great believer in Science–and Evolution, for that matter, although you don’t hear that a lot–and she believed that parents and teachers should make an effort to stay up to date with modern science, especially when it comes to child development.

    That said, we do read many of the selections at Ambleside Online, because so many of those older books are just wonderful. However, we certainly don’t avoid more modern literature as well. Overall, Charlotte Mason works very well for our family and I’m glad I found this method.
    .-= Laura @ Getting There’s last blog: Just enjoying a warm spring day. =-.

  10. I like the ideas of Charlotte Mason and I was wondering about how strickly you can adhere to her methods or if you have to keep records of work your children do to show to the state what you are doing?

  11. We are completing our second year of homeschooling and I have been aware of the Charlotte Mason approach for about two years now. How-to implement the approach has been a bit hazy to me. So, basically, I would plan the subjects and concepts that I need to teach in a given year( I believe this is provided in Charlotte Mason resources)? Next I would decide which books(preferably listed living books also provided in Charlotte Mason resources) and hands-on experiences(to include nature) will help teach the subjects and concepts?

    Am I on the right track?

  12. I wish I had habit training ideas for my 13 year old.

  13. I guess I am more Charlotte Mason than I thought! As I am becoming more comfortable in my homeschooling, I am definitely leaning toward these principles. I will definitely be looking into Charlotte Mason more, thanks!
    sarah’s latest post: Comment on The importance of one-on-one time with your kids by Sarah Centeno

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