The Charlotte Mason method takes its name from a revolutionary English educator who lived from 1842 to 1923. At a time when children were educated according to their social class and only the wealthy were exposed to the riches of literature and fine arts, Mason believed that all children deserved a broad and generous curriculum regardless of their social standing. She also rejected the idea that a child is a blank slate for parents or teachers to mold as they see fit. Rather, she believed that children are “born persons” who come into the world with their own ways of being and that the wise educator honors each child as a unique person.
Charlotte Mason wrote:
“Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.”
Is the Charlotte Mason Approach Right For You?
A Charlotte Mason education has several distinguishing features:
- Days are ordered around Mason’s teaching that “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Cultivating a rich home environment and developing good habits are foundational to a Charlotte Mason education.
- Each child is presented with a feast of ideas drawing from a wide variety of areas including Scripture, literature, history, music, art, math, science, foreign languages, and handcrafts.
- Students learn through “living books” instead of dry textbooks. The teacher carefully selects books that make a subject come alive, drawing from the finest works of literature and history.
- Children engage with these texts through narration, or telling back what they have read or heard. Instead of completing worksheets or fill-in-the-blank reading comprehension exercises, students secure what they have learned by articulating it in their own words and making their own mental connections.
- Students spend time each day copying passages from living books. In this way, spelling, handwriting, grammar, and vocabulary are learned.
- Time in the outdoors is a high priority. Families are encouraged to spend several hours outside each day regardless of the weather. Children interact with what they have observed in creation by keeping nature journals to record what they have seen.
- The preschool years are protected as a time for play, exploration, and learning to function as part of a family. In the Charlotte Mason approach, there are no formal lessons until a child is about 6 years old.
If these ways of living and learning appeal to you, a Charlotte Mason approach may work well for your homeschool.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Charlotte Mason Method
Compared to most other homeschool methods, the Charlotte Mason model is a gentle approach that honors the individuality of each child while exploring the very best that Creation and culture have to teach us. Through the cultivation of habits like attention, observation and excellence, it’s easy to see how children educated according to the Charlotte Mason method enter adulthood with disciplined minds and excellent character that they can carry with them into whatever endeavors they pursue.
Some homeschoolers are put off by Charlotte Mason purists who rigidly adhere to such an “old-fashioned” method. If you don’t enjoy wading through Charlotte Mason’s writings and their Victorian language, it can be hard to feel at home with this approach. And if combing used bookstores searching for the perfect living books for your next semester’s studies (many of which are out of print) is not your idea of a good time, it might seem preferable to simply plunk down the cash for a ready-made curriculum. Others may struggle with the idea of delaying formal academics until age 6 or balk at the thought of spending hours outdoors each day.
The Charlotte Mason style homeschool does look quite different from the traditional classroom experience, and that can be hard for some homeschoolers to embrace. But if you long to break free from the mainstream model and experience a rich life together with your children filled with literature, music, art, and nature, you may want to look into the Charlotte Mason approach.
Curriculum and Resources to Explore
If you’d like to get at the heart of the Charlotte Mason model, there’s no better place to turn than Mason’s own writings. For a more contemporary take on the Charlotte Mason approach, you might want to explore some of the resources below.
Books for Further Reading:
- When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today by Elaine Cooper
- A Charlotte Mason Education: A Homeschooling How-To Manual by Catherine Levinson
- For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
- Pocketful of Pinecones: Nature Study with the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola
- Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
Resources to Consider:
- Ambleside Online
- Beautiful Feet Books
- Bethlehem Books
- Cottage Press
- The D’Aulaires
- Holling Clancy Holling
- Living Books for Elementary and Middle School
- Living Books for High School
- Math Lessons for a Living Education
- RightStart Math
Articles to Explore:
Inside a Charlotte Mason Homeschool by Sonya Shafer
Studying Nature the Charlotte Mason Way by Cindy West
Awaking Wonder by Sally Clarkson
Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers to Follow:
Christina Umbriaco at Give Them Beauty
Desrae Melville at A Twinkle in Their Eyes
Amy O’Meara at Charlotte Mason Homeschool
Lyndsey at Treehouse Schoolhouse
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