Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Is Charlotte Mason Education? I'm So Glad You Asked!

Wait, what was that? You didn't ask about Charlotte Mason Education? You don't want to hear all about the latest and greatest in CM methodologies?

Too bad! You're going to hear about it anyway!

Now that that's cleared up, let's sit back and get comfortable!

Getting Started

As y'all may or may not know, there are many different types of home education. I'll list some of them here for those of you who may not know the larger categories. In no particular order, home education styles include....

Textbook - Also known as "doing school at home," this method uses traditional textbooks, worksheets, reading comprehension questions, book work, seat work, etc.

Unit Studies - Tying all subjects into one particular topic. For example, one might do a unit study on "apples" or "Christopher Columbus," or any of an infinite variety of subjects - and every subject (math, spelling, science, history, etc.) would be tied to that subject. More commonly, parents will use unit studies for history and science, and leave other subjects to be studied independently.

Delight-Driven - The parent finds out what interests the child, and constructs lessons around those topics.

Classical (or Neo-Classical*) - Based on the Socratic method, using the three-phase "trivium" model of teaching different ages.

Unschooling - There are no formal lessons, but the parent encourages and provides all sorts of resources and opportunities for child-directed learning.

Charlotte Mason - Based on the teaching and philosophies of 20th century British educator Charlotte Mason - see below for details!

And the method that almost all of us use in the end....

Eclectic - A mix of all the above. Among home educators, there are very few purists who use only one teaching methodology - most people pick and choose. For example, our family currently uses the textbook approach for handwriting, math, and map skills, the Charlotte Mason and/or delight-driven method for literature, history, and science, and unschooling for vocabulary and physical education.

Read more about the different education styles here.

Now that you know the basics, let's talk about....

Charlotte Mason Education

When I first heard about the different types of home education, Charlotte Mason (CM) education was the only style that did (emphatically!) not appeal to me - primarily because it is the hardest to conceptualize and understand. Unlike the other styles, which can be clearly explained in one or two brief sentences, Charlotte Mason methods can take years to understand. It's not a quick and easy philosophy to understand. And in the beginning, I pretty much wrote Charlotte Mason off as confusing, discouraging, irrelevant, and completely uninteresting.

But in the past few years, my interest has been piqued again and again by various mentions of Charlotte Mason education methods. And I have discovered, to my astonishment, that many homeschooling ideas that have attracted me have, in fact, been Charlotte Mason based - such as notebooking and nature walks. In short, it seems to be fated that our family should get to know and love Charlotte Mason education, and I am now at the beginning of that journey.

I am not an expert on Charlotte Mason - I am at the most beginning stages of learning about this philosophy. Thus, I am not going to expound greatly upon Charlotte Mason - I am simply going to provide the basics, plus the resources that I am using to learn more.

So.... Who WAS Charlotte Mason?

Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the late 1800's and early 1900's. She started a system of British schools, as well as a teacher training school, based on her educational philosophies, and her ideas are now widespread among the home education community.

According to Ambleside Online (read the full FAQ article here):
"The Charlotte Mason method uses living books with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity, narration instead of comprehension exercises or composition, copywork for handwriting, spelling and grammar modeling, nature observation as the primary means of early science, and literature, poetry, art and music to give children's minds beautiful ideas to feed on."
That's a great definition! (Go and read the whole article.)

Charlotte Mason advocated for late-start education (at age six) and for vast amounts of outdoor time (the gold standard is four hours a day, though we only manage an hour or two) and nature study. She believed that children should be nourished and surrounded by large quantities of top-quality living books and other sources of beauty and information (through, for example, picture study and classical music), and that the processing of this information should take place through oral and written narration ("telling back") rather than using textbooks followed by comprehension questions.

I love Charlotte Mason's ideas, which were definitely ahead of her time (and ours, for that matter), and I am learning so much as I immerse myself in CM education.

Charlotte Mason Distinctives

The answer to "what defines a Charlotte Mason education" will differ by who you ask, of course, but here are the basic tenets of Charlotte Mason education according to "When Children Love to Learn" (a book that I am currently enjoying):

- Living Books - Real, living books instead of textbooks (whenever possible). Some of you may remember my article about this several months ago!

- Narration - This is "telling back" what was learned - orally in early years, or in written form in later years. This is basically the practice of notebooking!

- Reading and Literature - Lots and lots and lots of top-quality literature! Mmmm.

- Spelling and Composition - Learned through copywork, narration, dictation, and through reading living books.

- Poetry - At first, I was dreading this - but then I discovered that kids actually love good poetry! Now we love our daily poetry readings.

- Shakespeare - We haven't gotten here yet, but I know we will, and I can't wait!

- History - Again, from real and living books. Yum.

- Mathematics

- Nature Study and Notebooks - We are in the beginning stages.

- Science - In the early years, from nature study.

- Picture Study - We did this for the first time today! It was awesome!

- Music Appreciation

- Bible Instruction

- Foreign Languages  

- Physical Education

- Handcrafts - Charlotte Mason advocated "handicrafts" - as opposed to our typical "crafts" - projects of real use such as leathercraft, sewing, etc.

Books on Charlotte Mason Education

If you're interested in learning more about Charlotte Mason Education, the following three books are highly recommended in the CM community. I am reading the first, and hope to acquire the second two soon:

What to Know More? Join the Facebook Group!

I recently became a member of the Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers Facebook Group, which is an extremely active and vibrant internet community of home educators who use CM methods or want to learn more about CM methods. I highly recommend this group! Join us!

(There are also online forums and Yahoo! groups which you can find on the Ambleside website and other CM websites.)

Websites! Give Me Websites!

I have discovered two major Charlotte Mason websites. Both offer complete and FREE K-12 curriculum plans, and many people use them for their families:

Ambleside Online

Simply Charlotte Mason

Both of these websites contain a vast amount of information, and I am not anywhere close to completing my read-through of either site. Right now I am attempting to set my timer for 15 minutes a day of voracious reading, and I have the feeling that I will be reading for many months to come. Even if you do not end up using the curriculum plans, there is so much information on these two sites!


What About Other Websites?

There are many other Charlotte Mason websites and blogs, and I am just now beginning my collection. If you are a part of the Charlotte Mason Facebook group, you will get constant referrals to great websites. Sometime I may try to publish a list of Charlotte Mason blogs, but right now my collection is in its infancy. Here are just a few that I currently follow:

The Common Room

Higher Up and Further In  (This is also another free CM curriculum site!)

Childlight USA

Living Charlotte Mason in California

And there you have it! Comments, questions, things to throw? Fellow Charlotte Mason fans, anything to add? Feel free to share!

* For note on "Classical" v. "Neo-Classical" see Brandy's note in the comments section!


  1. This was vastly interesting. I am most interested in Classical Education, but your post made me at least want to investigate CM.

  2. This is fabulous!

    The only thing I would do is retitle "classical" as "neoclassical." Traditional classical education included the use of narration and was all about ideas and the formation of character. The idea of the three liberal arts of the Trivium being divided into developmental stages was first introduced by Dorothy Sayers in the 1940s and then popularized beginning in the 1980s and is not representative of the whole of classical tradition.

    In other words, CM was a classical educator, and I hate to see you give the term away at the outset. :)

  3. Brandy--Very, VERY small world. I knew you for a short while at Biola (my maiden name is Harrison) shortly before you got married, when you were working downstairs in the building across from the gym. When I saw your comment, I thought, no way can this be the same Brandy. But, it is you! So, hi!

  4. You know, when I saw your photo last night I thought, "This gal looks familiar!" but I wasn't sure where I knew you from. Hi! How funny to run into you after all these years!

    Oh and sorry to take over your post with a mini-reunion, Diana! :)

  5. No worries, Brandy! I'm thrilled that you two have hooked up here! Extreme awesomeness! :)

    And your note about neo-Classic education is duly noted (see above!). :)

    Oh, and Jen - I'm so impressed that you're thinking Classical - very cool! If you stick with that, we do have an active Classical Conversations group here in the east valley, and it's a great resource if you go in that direction!!


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