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.
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.
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.
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:
- Ambleside Online
- Living Books Curriculum
- What is the Charlotte Mason Method? (a good overview)
- When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today – edited by Elaine Cooper
- A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola
- For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
- A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison
Has your family incorporated any of Charlotte Mason’s ideas? Please share what has worked for you.