Why I Am Passionate about Charlotte Mason

7 Aug 2013

Many factors may influence our decisions on educational curriculum, including our own journey through life. As a product of traditional public schooling, where my pursuit of high scores on tests outweighed any personal development, I found that delving into the hows and whys of learning was not intuitive. Furthermore, the concept of homeschooling never entered my mind until our twins were approaching kindergarten. As we looked into options other than a full day of school, God opened doors and windows to the Charlotte Mason philosophy. Redeemer School, we found, is a half-day program and a Charlotte Mason style private school. After the head master encouraged me to read For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay to get a taste of the Mason philosophy, we decided to try home education for the twins' kindergarten year and our educational journey began.

Charlotte's philosophy of education captured my heart with the gentle approach to learning, treating a child as a person and not a vessel to be filled with facts—facts that would soon be forgotten. Education should be treated as a lifelong journey, encouraging the child's God-given desire to learn and building character along the way with the overseeing power of the Holy Spirit.

Let me introduce you to this lovely lady whose ideas were well ahead of her time. Charlotte Mason was a distinguished British educator, a pioneer at the turn of the twentieth century. Her ideas and insights were brought to life in many homes and many schools. “She founded the Charlotte Mason College of Education in England where she developed an educational philosophy that stressed bringing broad and stimulating education to a child in a noncompetitive, biblically-based way.” - The Original Home Schooling Series, back cover

She said education is “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life”: atmosphere is learning real things in the child's real world (not contrived); discipline is training of good habits and self control; life is ideas applying to mind, body and soul (a generous and diverse curriculum). She believed that real life is the most effective teacher and encouraged implementing natural opportunities to learn. This is a beautiful fit with homeschooling because children are learning at home where real life happe

“Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas…. An idea fitly put is taken in without effort, and, once in, ideas behave like living creatures—they feed, grow, and multiply.” Parents and Children, vol. 2

Here are a few—certainly not all—unique aspects of a Charlotte Mason education:

  • Short lessons, in variety of sequence to maximize focused attention and use of the brain—We utilize multiple five to ten minute sessions on topics such as copy work, memory work and verse recitation as well as thirty minute sessions on math, geography, history, science readings, foreign language and music. Because of these short lessons, the child has more time for play and exploration of his or her world.
  • Ideas that are living and inspiring in stories of history, biography, science, geography—The emphasis is on the ideas that bring the facts to life and not just the dry facts. These living storybooks are meant to be read slowly so the child (and parent) can bask in the story and ponder, reflect and live with the characters. Examples include Carry on Mr. Bowditch, Across Five Aprils, Poor Richard, and Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels.

  “The children should have the joy of living in far lands, in other persons, in other times—a delightful double existence; and this joy they will find, for the most part, in their story-books.” Home Education, vol. 1, p. 153

  • Literature with rich language, from great authors such as Shakespeare, Dickens, Pyle, Stevenson, Plutarch, C. S. Lewis and Defoe, that helps the child to learn character and quality literature—We enjoy reading each night, being immersed in the stories and relishing time together as a family. Each term we read or listen to a Shakespeare play and try to see an actual performance. Being exposed to well crafted literature helps students to learn from great writers and to become good writers themselves.
  • Poetry, art (picture study), and music (composers, hymns, folksongs) giving the child's mind beautiful ideas to feed on and appreciate—A continual exposure to poems, art and music allows our children's observation skills to grow. It gives them an appreciation of the arts, expands their world and stimulates their creative nature.

“Great artists, whether they be poets or painters, builders or musicians, have the power of expressing and showing to the rest of us some part of the wonderful visions Imagination has revealed to them. But the reason why we enjoy their pictures, their poems, or their tales, is because Imagination does the same sort of thing for all of us, if in a less degree.” Ourselves, vol. 4, p. 48

  • Nature study fostering observation and appreciation of God's beautiful and orderly creation—A highlight of our week is when a new aspect of nature captures our attention (a bird or flower blossom or ice crystals in mud), and we paint or draw it. Experiencing nature lays a foundation for appreciating and understanding the higher level sciences.

In fact, Charlotte encourages all of us to be outdoors much of the time, for health and growth. “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” Home Education, vol.1, p. 42

  • Copywork and studied dictation used for handwriting skills, spelling and grammar modeling—We use excerpts from rich literature or poignant quotes for copying or dictation, depending on the age of the child. Spelling, grammar and punctuation is more effectively taught when studied in the context of real writing.
  • Narration (or retelling of the story) used to help the child remember the ideas which are personally meaningful and to learn to communicate those ideas—It is a natural progression of composition to go from oral to written—learning from and emulating the greatest writers. The process of narration, putting the information into the child’s own words, helps the child make the knowledge his or her own while also teaching the communication of that knowledge. We use various methods such as recitation, acting a scene, writing questions or paragraphs and drawing, all to help the student know and express the story in their own words. This is not for the purpose of testing.

Starting out in homeschooling, I struggled to apply the Charlotte Mason principles since there was no boxed curriculum that truly fit because it really is a philosophy and way of life and habits. It remains a process of continuing education. There are many resources that are helpful including handbooks and websites. The primary helps for me include:

This is a free-to-use curriculum and booklist designed and moderated by homeschool moms to be true to Charlotte Mason's high literary standards.

  • The Original Home Schooling Series, Charlotte Mason's six volumes, originally published in 1925

The most direct way to learn about this philosophy is through Charlotte's writings. Even more enriching is to study chapters along with a group of like-minded people. There is much to glean from her ideas in parenting, education and spirituality.

Childlight USA is home base for disseminating information about Charlotte Mason including blog articles, links to digitizing of archives, conference information, etc. An annual conference is held every June for educators (homes and schools) to re-unite from across the country. A retreat of sorts, it is a wonderful reunion of like-minds where we are immersed in Charlotte Mason's principles and learn how other veterans apply her ideas to their schools or homeschools.

So as we move towards an educational destination, let us remember that it is a journey that can in fact lead our children to develop a passion for learning if we provide the proper framework and allow their innate learning abilities to blossom. In reading, in learning, in doing—as the reality of CM philosophy materializes in our homeschool—it is clear that an educational atmosphere that emphasizes these ideals has allowed our children to flourish, not only in learning, but in the fullness of character that God intended.

Whatever your path of education, here are some encouraging words from Charlotte Mason:

“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?” School Education, vol. 3, pp. 170-171

“We hold that the child’s mind is no mere sack to hold ideas; but is rather—a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet—(we take) care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. 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 the facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.” A Philosophy of Education, vol. 6

GREENHOUSE is NCHE's flagship publication. 

GREENHOUSE magazine is published fall and spring plus an annual graduate issue in May. GREENHOUSE is mailed to NCHE members.



Leslieann Gourley's picture

Excellent introduction and summary of Charlotte Mason's ideas - certainly no easy task! To homeschool according to CM philosphy is a wonderous journey of learning. I am glad we are on this journey together.

Teresa Wiedrick's picture

I am with you all the way! This is a great approach to home educating. I wrote a blog about being a charlotte mason wannabee only a few weeks back!