A Beginner’s Guide to the Charlotte Mason Method

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I learned of the Charlotte Mason Homeschooling method through my mom. I was homeschooled through high school and my mom used the Charlotte Mason method.

When I started homeschooling my children I decided I needed to study Charlotte Mason for myself and I found that I love the teachings of Charlotte Mason. Looking back I can see how they shaped so much of my life and worldview.

Here I will share some basic principles of Charlotte Mason’s method of education. I will brief how they differ from classical eduction, and modern education practices.

Born on January 1st, 1842, Charlotte Mason was an educator in England. She developed her philosophy of eduction while teaching at Davidson School in Worthing, England. She later wrote many books on the subject of educating children, and co-founded the Parents Education Union, later called the Parents National Education Union (PNEU) to help parents teach their children at home.

A portrait of Charlotte Mason painted in 1902 by Frederic Yates
A portrait of Charlotte Mason painted in 1902 by Frederic Yates

The Child is a Person

I will try to keep direct quotes to a minimum, but this section is vital to everything that Charlotte Mason believed so I will be quoting directly here.

Charlotte taught what she felt was obvious that “the child is a person with all the possibilities and powers included in personality.” She advocated a liberal eduction, as opposed to a utilitarian education.

In this way she believed the same thing that many classical educators believe. Only teaching subjects that will prepare a child for work as an adult harms the child in the long run. We need varied instruction for our children to help them develop their minds. “The child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas. . . but is a spiritual organism with an appetite for all knowledge.”

She goes on to further add “But, believing that the normal child has powers of mind that fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, we must give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care, only, that the knowledge offered to him is vital—that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.”

An emphasis on Living books (and ideas)

She believed in letting a child read good books instead of just exerpts of books in a textbook. They should read the whole work themselves or have it read to them by a parent. While reading to their child a parent could omit unsuitable content. This differs from the classical method that has a grammar period where a child reads selections from textbooks.

Nature Study

Charlotte believed a child should spend a lot of time outside exploring nature. This living atmosphere helps them thrive. As they grow older they can start a formal nature study with a nature journal. Still, little children should be encouraged to explore and learn from the living world and living ideas around them.

Narration

Students will recall what they read immediately after reading it. They can tell a parent all about the content. This will help them pay attention to detail and think about what they read. The classical approach requires a lot of memorazation instead of narration. Mason did believe in memorizing scripture, songs, and poetry but nothing else.

No Evening School Work (or homework)

The typical school day was to start after breakfast and end right before lunch. Most children are at their best during these hours. Each subject ends before the child is tired. Afternoons were for handiwork and other occupations, like music lessons, swimming lessons etc.

She did not believe in doing school work in the evenings because the student could be overstimulated and not rest as well at night. It is best to start the day refreshed instead of overworked.

Alternating Days for different subjects

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, a child studies the Old Testament. On Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday they study the New Testament. Arithmetic on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, history on alternate days, etc. This way you can cover a lot of subjects in less time. The Charlotte Mason Poetry website has a time table from the PEU that gives more examples.

Focusing on Surroundings, and Habits

A good education begins with a good environment. Think about a child’s surroundings and how that can help with exploration and learning. Don’t isolate a child in an environment designed just for his or her age but value a natural home atmosphere. Let your little one live freely in proper conditions.

Devolping good habits helps with the discipline of education. Getting in that daily routine of reading, and spending time outside, and working and playing. These things help establish good mind and body habits that can endure throughout a lifetime.

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