“Charlotte Mason” is a term that is often heard in homeschool circles, but for many new families, it is a bit of a foreign concept. With terms like “living books,” “twaddle,” “Mother culture,” and “gentle learning,” it can seem a bit overwhelming to figure out.
Never fear, I’m here to help!
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Having discussed Traditional and Classical Homeschooling methods, it’s time to move onto our third topic in this series: Charlotte Mason. So who was Charlotte Mason, and why did she have such a huge impact on education?
Charlotte Mason was a British teacher and educational reformer in the late 19th and early 20th century. She lived during the time of Dickens, when children (especially poor children) were often thought of as burdens or commodities rather than people. Children from well-to-do families were educated, but by a tutor or governess; they often had little contact with their parents.
It was a society in which children were often either used or put aside, and Ms. Mason saw some serious problems with that attitude.
So she set out to change it.
She set out to build an educational philosophy which saw, understood, and respected the academic, emotional, and spiritual needs of a child – one which saw them not only as being valuable in the present, but that recognized the need to educate each child intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually in a nurturing way.
This philosophy capitalized not only on the inherent value and abilities of a student, but on the fact that this boy or girl will someday grow into an adult that will help to raise the next generation of society.
Having worked and taught in the state-run school system, Charlotte saw another way. She worked to form a chain of parent-controlled schools called the Parents’ National Education Union (or PNEU), wrote a volume that is now published as The Original Homeschooling Series. She also trained teachers and governesses at her training school in Ambleside, the House of Education.
The Charlotte Mason Method
Charlotte’s method is what many of us may wish we grew up with. Oddly, it is also a method that is hard for us to accept, at least at first.
This is because a day in the Charlotte Mason method includes little to no lecture-based lessons, dry textbooks, fill-in-the-blank worksheets, strict scheduling, homework, or checking boxes off a list.
Yes, such a thing really does exist!
Instead, it includes introducing your children to classic literature, from early picture books on up through Great Books novels. It involves studying composers and their genres, artists and their works, and nature. Charlotte Mason homeschooling even includes crafts or hobbies of their choice, and – wait for it – free time!
Not even kidding on that last one. Lessons are short, since the mind can only hold what the seat can endure. Comprehension is gauged through an activity called narration (more on this in a moment). An appreciation for beauty and ideas is cultivated by actually exposing your child to beauty and ideas – and appreciating it with them.
The school day is generally over by 1:00, at which time children are given free time to pursue whatever interests them. They can build projects, learn a new skill, craft, or game, write or read, or investigate something that has caught their attention.
This is a skill that (if they’re not used to it) takes a little guidance at first, but soon becomes something kids really tend to look forward to.
Short Lessons with No Grades
Ok, short lessons are something most of us can get on board with, but no grades? Isn’t that blasphemy?
Not really. As proof, my own son didn’t have grades until high school, and at that point it was mostly so I could format a transcript. He’s a senior in college today pulling a double major, triple minor, and a 4.0 GPA. I don’t say that to brag, but to give a little weight to Charlotte’s philosophy.
When children learn to love learning for its own sake, rather than for some sort of reward (whether it be stickers or grades), this tends to carry on later in life. The point of learning, in Ms. Mason’s mind, is learning itself. It’s not a subset of life, but rather part of every area of life. As such, it is its own reward.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t keep grades…in some states, you have to. Or you may simply want to. But if possible, according to the CM method, don’t make grades the point of any activity in your homeschool.
So what is narration?
Narration is a comprehension and writing (or pre-writing) exercise that teaches a child to analyze and really absorb what they read or hear, rather than just fill in the blank on a worksheet.
It is the practice of your child telling you what they have learned, in their own words. Narration allows students to absorb what they have learned to the point that they can explain it, apply it, and communicate it in their own words, rather than in the words of the author.
This is something that even a preschooler can do, and it becomes an incredibly important skill once the student reaches high school, college, and adulthood.
This forms the basis for both public speaking skills and writing/composition skills, but in a very natural way.
When speaking with Charlotte Mason fans, you’ll often hear them refer to something called “living books.”
But what the dickens is a living book?
A living book is what Ms. Mason called any book that could inspire a child (or an adult)…a book that was well-written, that taught a lesson, that presented ideas in a way that would cause the child to truly grasp onto them.
Rather than being written to present information in a dry, straightforward way, rather than being written in a shallow way that’s easy to read and set aside, a living book is one that draws you into its world and brings you out the other side in a memorable way.
Obviously, a living book for your three-year-old will look very different than one for your ten-year-old, which will in turn look different than a living book for your high school junior – or for you.
Charlotte was insistent that her students spend time regularly in nature. She wanted them to immerse themselves in all the natural world had to offer.
She was so insistent, in fact, that they would be taken on nature walks on a daily basis, even in the English countryside rain. You don’t necessarily have to tromp through the woods with your kids in the rain, sleet, snow, or hail! Nature study is often an integral part of the CM method, though.
This can consist of reading books about nature, animals, etc., taking walks when the weather (and your schedule) permits, and keeping nature journals that your kids can keep or sketch their findings in. It often serves to give kids a love for science and the world around them, and leads naturally into other scientific studies.
Implementing the Charlotte Mason Method
One of the amazing things about this method, in my opinion, is how amazingly flexible it is. It mixes really well with the Classical and the Unit Study Methods. CM is pretty much tailor-made for you to customize to your family’s needs!
First, be sure to check out my CM Pinterest board, which is constantly being updated with plenty of goodies for you to pick and choose from.
A Charlotte Mason Companion:
A Charlotte Mason Companion is an excellent resource for understanding and implementing the CM method in your homeschool. It is written in a very engaging way, with short chapters and tons of great information. This is a book I have read several times over the years, and I always manage to find something new.
A Charlotte Mason Education:
A Charlotte Mason Education is a small volume (only 104) pages, but it’s meaty. It gives the how-to and why behind everything in a CM day. This allows you to easily plan out and teach your chosen material. Also available is More Charlotte Mason Education. As the title would suggest, this is a sequel offering even more quality instruction and ideas.
Wrapping It Up
So I’m curious: does the Charlotte Mason Method appeal to you as an option for your homeschool, and why? What questions come to mind? Comment below – I’d love to hear your answers!
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