Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way

Before we had children, I taught in a Christian school. Often people will make comments to me indicating that I am somehow more qualified to homeschool because I was a teacher before. Actually, if you talk to many of us who were teachers in our pre-homeschooling lives, we'll tell you that the experience of teaching in a classroom hindered our ability to homeschool well instead of helping.

When my children were old enough to "do school" I expected to mimic "real school" at home. I had desks for them to sit in. We used a structured workbook curriculum. We said the pledges in the morning in a formal beginning of our school day.

All of this was fine in the early days of school. The kids- only Kathryne and Charles, my oldest two at the time- were excited at first because this was something new and different. But this formal, structured school seemed to get old quickly. I was frustrated, and they were frustrated. And I didn't understand why this wasn't working. After all, it had worked fine in the classroom where I taught before. But I knew this wasn't what I wanted homeschooling to be. I didn't want our home to be run like a classroom. But this was really all I knew.

Charlotte Mason homeschooling

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And then a friend introduced me to Charlotte Mason.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was a British teacher who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She had been orphaned at a young age, and she studied at a teacher's college. In England at the time, there was a great discrepancy in the education of a child from a well-to-do family and a child of the working class. Charlotte believed in a "liberal education for all" and she out to reform education.

One of the key things that Charlotte concluded from her experiences teaching was that parents needed to be involved in their children's education and could do certain things that would better prepare their children to learn. She gave a series of lectures about this topic, and those lectures were then turned into a book- Home Education.

In 1891, Charlotte moved to Ambleside, England and opened a school to train governesses and teachers of young children. The school was called the House of Education. Schools that used Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy to teach children were beginning to crop up and were called Parents' Union Schools. The school in Ambleside became a training college to teach teachers for the Parents' Union Schools.

In addition to the first book- Home Education- Charlotte also wrote Parents and Children, School Education, Ourselves, Formation of Character, and Towards a Philosophy of Education.

The Charlotte Mason Education Method

Charlotte Mason said that "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life." 

Atmosphere- The environment in which a child grows up significantly effects his education. Even though Charlotte taught teachers who then taught in schools with her methods, she emphasized over and over the importance of parents in shaping the life of the child. When I read her original volumes, I found so much of value in regard to parenting as well as her thoughts about education.

Discipline- Charlotte emphasized again and again the importance of helping children develop good habits. Not only did she focus on habits that would help the child academically, but also habits that would help the child to grow and mature in all areas of life.

Life- All of Charlotte's educational methods are built on the idea that we should give children living ideas and not just dry and dusty facts. What they are learning should come alive to them if they are going to absorb it and learn from it. Otherwise they just hear and perhaps memorize facts that then slip away.

Based on these principles, the Charlotte Mason teaching method included these teaching methods.
  • Reading living books- books that children would identify with and enjoy- instead of dry textbooks that were a collection of facts
  • Building habits that children could use to focus on academics and to grow as a person
  • Spending time in nature and enjoying God's creation
  • Narrating or telling back stories or parts of stories that the children have read or have had read to them
  • Using meaningful passages to teach handwriting and spelling, instead of just using meaningless lists of words
  • Introducing children to Shakespeare, works of poetry, artists, composers, and a wide variety of subjects that would allow them to experience many different things
  • Using short lessons- about twenty minutes- and teaching the children the habit of attending and not allowing their minds to wander during these short, focused times

Charlotte Mason and Me

When I began to read about Charlotte Mason and then to read her original works, her philosophies resonated with me. Her instructions to parents reflected principles that we used in our parenting. Her emphasis on the importance of parents and what they teach in the early years confirmed what I had seen in my years of working with other children and what I was seeing in my own children. Her gentle methods were what I wanted in our home- the smooth flow, the desire that children are loving learning, the use of great books that we loved to read.

Although I don't consider myself to be fully a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I do incorporate many of her methods. And reading about her and reading her works touched my early years of homeschooling in so many ways. Even if you haven't thought of homeschooling with Charlotte Mason's methods, I think you can learn by reading about her and reading her own works.

Charlotte Mason's methods for homeschooling

Charlotte Mason Resources

Simply Charlotte Mason is one of my all time favorite Charlotte Mason resources. The site has so much information about Charlotte Mason and her methods. It also has quite a few free ebooks and a free curriculum guide that will show you how you can incorporate the Charlotte Mason methods into your homeschooling for all ages. I've used that guide as a reference so many times when planning what subjects and methods to introduce to kids and an at what age. The site also has some resources that you can purchase to teach a variety of subjects using Charlotte Mason's methods.

Ambleside Online has amazing, totally free resources. You can read all of Charlotte's original works online for free. And you can find a full twelve year Charlotte Mason curriculum laid out for you. The curriculum covers every subject area except math and has free lesson plans and links to the books you'll need. (Many of the books they use can be accessed for free online.) I've never used this as a full curriculum. But I have used the booklists here as a resource to find good, age-appropriate living books for a variety of subjects.

A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola is one of the first books I read about the Charlotte Mason method. It- and other books by the author- is an excellent resource to help you understand Charlotte's principles and put them into practice in your homeschooling.

A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison are two other books I read when I began to learn about Charlotte Mason. They are extremely practical guides for using Charlotte Mason's principles in your homeschooling. The author breaks down each of her methods and shows how homeschooling families can put them into practice. There are weekly schedules and practical examples here to get you started.

If you love reading great books and you're looking for a gentle homeschooling method that fits learning in with the ebb and flow of daily family life, read more about Charlotte Mason. You may find that the Charlotte Mason method is a good fit for your homeschool.

My Charlotte Mason and Living Books Pinterest board has more resources and information about Charlotte Mason homeschooling.

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