How To

Charlotte Mason picture

You took an online quiz that said you scored high for Charlotte Mason, but you have only a vague idea what it is. You’ve looked at blog after blog, website after website, but you’re still fuzzy on the details.

You don’t want to spend days reading about the fine points of a CM education, you just want a general overview so you can see if it might even be something you want to look deeper into.

Here it is.

A simple, easy to understand overview of Charlotte Mason Philosophy.

SHORT AND SWEET

Charlotte Mason was a late 19th/early 20th-century educator who used a whole child approach with a liberal (broad) education, using real books written for a popular audience by authors who love their subjects. No workbooks or worksheets, and plenty of space for childhood.

NEED A BIT MORE?

Intrigued? Let’s go a bit deeper.

A LIBERAL (BROAD) EDUCATION

Charlotte Mason believed in giving all children a liberal education. That has nothing to do with political leanings, rather it’s used in the sense of a liberal arts degree in college — a broad education, covering a multitude of subjects. It is not, however, limited to the ‘liberal arts.’ Charlotte Mason used cutting-edge science books and her aim was to raise naturalists.

LIVING BOOKS

Living books give new people more fits than any other area, I think. Living books are literary quality books filled with ideas rather than simply a litany of facts. When I say ‘literary quality’ I don’t mean narrative or wrapped in a story. They sure can be, but it isn’t necessary.

The language should be beautiful but not excessively flowery. It should not be dumbed down using simplified words and sentence structure.

They can be either fiction or non-fiction, though most of the books in the PNEU programmes are non-fiction. Fiction books tend to be catogorized under Literature and Reading.

Most classics are living books, but that doesn’t mean that modern books can’t be. It’s simply that living books tend to stand the test of time, so classics tend to be living. However, modern books like A Really Short History of Nearly Everything, I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition), and A Little History of the United States are also living books.

Ask yourself these questions when looking at books:

  • Would I read this if it weren’t required for school?
  • Is it written well enough that both children and adults find it interesting?
  • Will the writing stand the test of time? Would I want to save this for my grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren?

It’s something you have to develop a sense for.  Read this post for for a more thorough discussion of living books.

One more point about Charlotte Mason and books — books are savored rather than gulped. They are read slowly, often only 4-5 pages per week, and often a single book is spread over several years.

RAISING NATURALISTS

Charlotte Mason’s aim was to raise naturalists. People who had a deep knowledge of place, a thorough knowledge of their surroundings. We try to educate our children in such a way that they develop a profound connection to their environment, the plants and animals that live in their same space, and the land itself.

We do this through journaling, yes, but also through adventures. Scout games and adventure was an integral part of a CM education. Nature should be experienced, not read about or quietly observed!

INTERESTING EDUCATION

This is not a boring education filled with dry, dusty old books. Children are not dragged through the school day, but “children delight in their studies.” If your kids think their CM education is dreadfully boring, then something is very wrong.

We read books about exciting, inspiring people, both modern and old. We read tales of adventure and travel around the world meeting other cultures.

We play scout games and get covered in mud, track animals after a rain, pretend to be the boy from My Side of the Mountain. We build forts and live life outdoors. We play with the chickens and come inside with straw all over our clothes.

EDUCATING THE WHOLE CHILD

Body, Mind, and Soul. It sounds cliche, but it’s true.

  • Body — working with our hands to make useful objects, gross and fine motor movements, breaks in the school day for play, dancing, physical activity, as well as plenty of time every day outside to practice whole body movements naturally (read: climb trees and roll down hills)
  • Mind — Academics. CM is gentle but rigorous and thorough. Our students get not only the standard school subjects, but also art and music appreciation, Shakespeare, multiple foreign languages, and high quality literature.
  • Soul — Religion or philosophy, appreciating art and music but also creating both. Plenty of time in nature feeds the soul.

CULTURES

Charlotte Mason believed that people should not insulate themselves.  They should be exposed to a broad variety of cultures around the world, and speak several languages.  Cultural exposure begins early, and by the time a student was in 15, he would be studying 3 languages,  not including English.

WHAT IT IS NOT

After all that, you may be wondering what Charlotte Mason is NOT. Here’s a few:

IT IS NOT WALDORF

While very similar in the early years, the academics deviate significantly around 3rd grade. Also, Waldorf is done in blocks while CM is not. With Waldorf, you’ll dive deeply into a subject for 3-6 weeks depending on grade level. In Charlotte Mason, you’ll spend a year on that same information, but you will also be working with multiple other subjects at the same time.

Waldorf is a pour of one topic, Charlotte Mason is multiple topics dripping at the same time. Over the course of several years, you’ll have covered a similar amount of information.

IT IS NOT UNSCHOOLING OR CHILD-LED

Charlotte Mason is structured, and no provision is made for children’s interests in the choice of school books.

CM doesn’t discourage children’s interests; on the contrary, hours every day are left for the child to pursue his or her own interests. They are exposed to a wide variety of activities and subjects so that they can experience and then choose what they’d like.

But there is a definite structure. It is not leaving your child to decide what he wants to study when.

IT IS NOT INDEPENDENT

By that same token, CM is not a method where you hand your kids the books, tell them what to read, then see them hours later.

Charlotte Mason requires discussion and interaction. Discussion allows the parent to clear up misunderstandings, help develop the student’s logic and thinking skills, and share the material.

Parents are also expected to provide object lessons occasionally, where a specific point is cleared up, or information that is not provided in the books is covered. Object lessons can be done in any subject.

IT IS NOT TEXTBOOK OR COMMON CORE

Some textbooks may be used in the older high school years, and a grammar text was used in the PNEU programmes beginning at about age 10. But the vast majority of books used are real books written by one person who is passionate about the subject.

There is no effort to align a Charlotte Mason curriculum with Common Core, and textbooks in general are avoided. They are usually written by committee and transmit facts rather than ideas, the opposite of a living book.

The Takeaway

I hope by this point you have enough of a picture of CM to know if you want more information, or to be able to say nope, this isn’t for us.

If you’d like to continue learning about Charlotte Mason, there is no better place to begin than with her own books. She wrote six!

I plan to start a podcast soon about living a Charlotte Mason lifestyle, regardless of your spiritual beliefs. I’ll keep you posted!

Do you have specific questions about Charlotte Mason? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe (button on the right) to get tips and techniques for a Charlotte Mason education.

I’m sure you’ve seen them — curricula that people tell you is Charlotte Mason and is absolutely loaded with historical fiction.

When I first started homeschooling 17 years ago, the choices for curricula were slim.  Facebook didn’t exist, forums were in their infancy, and email lists were spread mainly through word of mouth rather than search engines.  Even learning what curricula was available was a challenge.

I chose a literature-based homeschooling curriculum, but we struggled with it.  Later, we switched to a different literature-rich curriculum with less historical fiction.  And suddenly, our joy was back.   It’s no that the first curriculum was bad.  With that switch,  I realized that my daughter simply did not learn well from historical fiction.

Sure, they were fun, but as far as learning history that way?  A bust.

Both of these curricula though were — and still are — widely touted as using the Charlotte Mason method.  

I thought that while Charlotte Mason was a nice philosophy, it obviously couldn’t work for my kid-who-doesn’t-like-historical-fiction.

I was wrong.

Historical Fiction in the Programmes

When I first began really digging into the PNEU programmes in preparation for writing Wildwood Curriculum, I still held that deeply ingrained belief that Charlotte Mason = historical fiction.

What I found was something else entirely.

While historical fiction can be used to help ‘flesh out’ studies or even bring them to life, they are not a major component of a Charlotte Mason education.

In Form I in the PNEU (Parent’s National Education Union) programmes from the 1920s and early 1930s, we see no historical fiction used for either literature or history.

What we do see is books about children in other countries, and fairy tales from various cultures.

Literature vs. History

Forms II and above for that same time period do have historical fiction, at a rate of 1-2 books per term. These are listed under “literature” rather than “history”.  While they could be used to add flavor to the historical studies, they were never intended to replace the non-fiction living books used for history.

This is good news for those of us whose children shy away from historical fiction.  If your child doesn’t like it, simply use a different high quality book for literature.

Look at those figures again — 1-2 books per term.  That’s 3-6 books per year, though I found that the programmes tended to have 3-4 books per year of historical fiction.  This is a far cry from the literature-based curriculum I used when I first started, which has 25 books of historical fiction for their program meant for ages 8-12.

What would Charlotte do?

Some would argue that historical fiction was in its infancy in this time period, and that is the reason that Charlotte Mason didn’t use historical fiction as extensively as many literature-based curricula that call themselves CM do today.

This is a rather touchy argument. It’s rather like saying, “If this were as popular and widespread when Miss Mason was alive as it is today, surely she would have used it more. Therefore, we are justified in using these in a much higher proportion than she did.”

This is problematic on a few levels. First, no one actually knows what Charlotte Mason would do with today’s resources. She may have used historical fiction much more than we do now, or she may have used it much less. She may have used exactly the same amount, that is, approximately one book per term.

Second, when we say with a broad stroke “this is what she would have done,” we take away from the purpose of studying her works and programmes. In my opinion, it’s fine to say “this is what I have decided for my own family” but not “this is what Charlotte would have done if only ….”

Third, historical fiction as a genre was actually established in the early 1800s. Sir Walter Scott was the one who brought it to popularity, but he wrote Waverly in 1814. There had been a full hundred years of additional historical fiction to draw from by the time the PNEU programmes were in use.

And yet, we still see generally only one book per term that might be considered historical fiction today.

Does “Living Book” = Historical Fiction?

Why the disconnect? I think it’s the emphasis on “living books” in a Charlotte Mason education. That is not a problem; as a matter of fact, living books are indispensable to the method. The problem comes when people think that “living book” equals “fiction.”

I plan to do a blog post on living books in the near future, but let me just say this here: while a living book can be fiction, it is not a requirement. The requirement is that they be written in a literary manner.

As a matter of fact, the vast majority of living books in the PNEU programmes were non-fiction.

The Takeaway

Judicious use of historical fiction in a Charlotte Mason education is fine, but don’t rely on them for the bulk of your children’s education.

One to two books per term should be the maximum, beginning at approximately 9 or 10 years of age (Form II).

More than that and you are taking away from other essential elements of a CM education.

 

Habit training:  give me a shout if you love it.

(Silence)

Yeah, me neither 🙁

I think habit training is one of the areas that we get asked about the most, both from a Charlotte Mason lifestyle perspective and simply a parenting one.  In particular, ones that don’t come from a strictly Christian viewpoint.

While I don’t have any modern secular resources to offer you, we do have Charlotte’s own words from the May 1890 Parent’s Review.  Yes, that’s right:

Parents have been struggling with dawdling children for at least 120 years.

You are not alone, my friend.

How to cure a dawdling child

p 243:  “How is the dilatory child to be cured?  Time?  She will know better as she grows older?  Not a bit of it”

Don’t think this is something your child will grow out it.  She won’t.  At least, not on her own.  However, we have specific instructions on what we can do to help our child break this habit.

p 244: “This inveterate dawdling is a habit to be supplanted only by the contrary habit, and the mother must devote herself for a few weeks to this cure as steadily and untiringly as she would to the nursing of her child through measles.”

Here we go — dawdling is a habit, and can only be countered by replacing it with the habit of *not* dawdling.  This requires the parent’s devotion for several weeks.

Not a day or two, but several weeks of determined effort.

“Having in a few–the fewer the better–earnest words pointed out the miseries that must arise from this fault, and the duty of overcoming it, and having so got the (sadly feeble) will of the child on the side of right doing, she simply sees that for weeks together the fault does not recur.”

We’re not going to give a long lecture.  We all know that kids tune those out anyway, right?  We tell them short and sweet why dawdling is bad, and get their agreement that they will work on it.

Note the “sadly feeble” will of the child.  Miss Mason didn’t pull any punches here, did she?  LOL  She knew that your child is likely to give you a sigh and “ok” rather than an enthusiastic “yes!” to which you will have to put in no further effort.

Here’s how she sees it playing out:

“The child goes to dress for a walk; she dreams over the lacing of her boots– the tag in her fingers poised in mid air–but her conscience is awake; she is constrained to look up, and her mother’s eye is upon her, hopeful and expectant.”

Kid is tying her shoes and starts day dreaming mid-tie.  (is CM spot on here or what?)  Kid feels mom’s eyes boring into her, and glances up — yep, mom is looking at her with a pleasant face and eyebrows raised.  Not scowling.  Not rolling her eyes.  Just that gentle reminder… maybe a cough is in order here, a gentle reminder if Kid says in confusion, “what?”

“She answers to the rein and goes on; midway in the lacing of the second boot, there is another pause, shorter this time; again she looks up, and again she goes on.”

There.  Right there.  Our child, whom we have just reminded not to daydream while tying her shoe, is now daydreaming while tying the other shoe. 

We’ve all been there.  Moms have been there going back generations.  Here’s your proof.

“The pauses become fewer day by day, the efforts steadier, the immature young will is being strengthened, the habit of prompt action acquired.  After that first talk on the subject, the mother would do well to refrain from one more word on the subject; the eye (expectant, not reproachful), and where the child is far gone in a dream, the lightest possible touch, are the only effectual instruments.”

Note here, that the pauses become fewer day by day.  Not that this is an instant fix, but that it has to be done day by day.  And probably with both shoes day by day 🙂

I also want you to notice the next part — we are not yelling at the child.  No “come on, Sally!  How many times do I have to remind you?”  Just an expectant look, or for those kids who are so caught up in a daydream they don’t see it, a light touch.  Maybe a cough (my own mother’s favorite prompt)

The habit is formed

“By and bye, ‘Do you think you can get ready in five minutes to-day without me?’ ‘Oh, yes, mother.’  ‘Do not say ‘yes’ unless you are quite sure.’ ‘I will try.’  And she tries and succeeds.”

Yeah!  Success!  And we are done now, right?

Wrong.

“Now the mother will be tempted to relax her efforts– to overlook a little dawdling because the dear child has been trying so hard  This is absolutely fatal.  The fact is, that the dawdling habit has worn an appreciable track in the very substance of the child’s brain  During the weeks of cure new growth has been obliterating the old track, and the track of a new habit is being formed.  To permit any reversion to the old habit is to let go all this gain.  To form a good habit is the work of a few weeks; to guard it, is a work of incessant, but by no means anxious care.”

 

How many of us have done this?  I know I have.  “Oh, just this once, she’s been so good lately!”

And then we’re back at square one.

It has taken us weeks (or longer!) of sustained attention on our own part to help our child overcome the dawdling habit in this one area.  Now it will take months of a watchful eye to avoid relapse.

Habit training is not for the faint of heart.  It requires as much discipline in the parents as it does in the kids.  More so, I’d wager.

“One word more, — prompt action on the child’s part should have the reward of absolute leisure, time in which to do exactly as she pleases, not granted as a favour, but accruing (without words) as a right.”

What this means, is that if you’re working on not dawdling while getting dressed for an outing, then if the child does everything promptly and it’s not yet time to go, the child should have that time to play, to read, to do whatever she wants (within the rules of course).  She shouldn’t have extra chores piled on top of her (oh, since she got ready so fast she can quickly clean the bathroom).

The takeaway

Habit training for dawdlers in a nutshell:

  1.  The child will not ‘grow out of it.’  It is up to the parents to help replace the habit of dawdling with the habit of prompt action.  Take on one thing at at time.  Not all dawdling, but start with a single instance, like dawdling while getting ready to go out.
  2. Talk to your child briefly (don’t lecture) and get her agreement to work on this.  This does not mean you then call it done and start yelling the next day when she doesn’t.  The child has a “sadly feeble will.”  It’s normal.
  3. Be diligent!  Kid will daydream while tying shoes.  A light cough or touch if she doesn’t catch it herself, and you don’t yell.  A raised eyebrow with expectant look, or a very, very brief reminder if the child is truly clueless why you’re looking at her.
  4. Again with the second shoe.  Really.  It’s normal.  Count to 10 internally and smile, and remember that your great-great-grandmother had this same struggle with your great-grandmother.
  5. Repeat, day after day, week after week, never letting down your guard on this one expression of this one habit.  It will be weeks.  This is not Jello Instant Pudding.
  6. When the habit is formed, child will slip and you’ll be tempted to let it go.  Stay strong.  One false move and all is lost.
  7. Guard this habit as if your sanity depended on it (because it very well might).
  8. And last, don’t add extra work as a “reward” for not dawdling.

How are you at habit training?  Is this something you want to try?

Classical Music for Halloween

Add this beautiful spooky music to your Halloween playlist.

We want our families to experience and learn to appreciate beauty.

But who says that beautiful music must only be light and upbeat?

Classical Music for the Halloween season

Here are several classical music pieces that are perfect to add to your Halloween repertoire.  Play them throughout the day to add some spookiness to your life.

Night on Bald Mountain

Danse Macabre

Marche Funebre d’une Marionette

March to the Scaffold

In the Hall of the Mountain King

Toccatta and Fugue in d minor

Ride of the Valkyrie

I’ve even made it easy for you with a YouTube playlist!

WANT TO REMEMBER CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR HALLOWEEN? PIN IT TO YOUR FAVORITE PINTEREST BOARD!