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.
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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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for this. I thought the comparison with Waldorf was interesting. I’ve only really explored Waldorf in the early grades.
I love Waldorf in the early years! I should say, I love the Waldorf influence using Charlotte Mason methods 🙂 Unfortunately for us, there is a lot more content and help available for Waldorf early years than there is for Charlotte Mason.
Love this post! Would’ve been super helpful when I was first discovering Charlotte Mason.
Thanks! Is there anything else you’d add to it? I was trying to keep it concise while still covering the bases, but when I look at the post I feel like there’s so much more to add! But then it’s meant as just an intro, not a Complete Guide to All Things Mason 🙂
One of the reasons in Waldorf that one topic is covered and then moves on to the next is the importance of sleep and rest. You explore something for a time and then you put it to sleep, when you come back to it, then there is a growth period that occurs naturally. This growth period allows you to scaffold topics and skills.
I’ve seen this in my own children, they are young, but the first time I noted it was when they used a sewing board. My son’s exploration with it was very sporadic “stitches,” quite messy and chaotic. He had several frustrations, knots to work out, holes to line up etc. Then in about 4 weeks his interest naturally tapered off; or in Waldorf they will say “he put it to sleep/to rest.” I wanted to only observe his behavior and inclinations at this age, so I did not offer any suggestions that he continue. Instead we explored other handwork. Sure enough in about another 4-6 weeks he again picked up the sewing board. He had truly grown by leaps and bounds in his skill set! His stitches were no longer chaotic, and he was able to skillfully, almost out of the blue, create patterns on his sewing board.
I am wondering if there is even a period of rest in CM, is rest an important element to learning at all? In some regards this slow steady drip, almost seems like a slow steady dreamlike pace. Does the constant pace of multiple topics ever create burn out in the students? I remember in school I much preferred our block-scheduling in high school, 4 classes a semester versus the 7 classes all year. I am wondering if cm and waldorf approach is basically block scheduling versus traditional scheduling and if the same sort of pros and cons apply?
Thanks for your comment! This is definitely a difference between Waldorf and Charlotte Mason. The rest period in CM is week to week, rather than doing a lot and then letting it go for a month or longer. A student in Form 1 would have 2 science books running at a time, and 2 periods per week in which to read them. Each book would be read during one period, with a week rest in between. This allows time to forget and then remember, so a different philosophy of rest.
I’ve seen the same thing as you with handwork, and handwork isn’t a scheduled activity per se in CM. There are scheduled times in Form 1 for handwork, but it’s not something that you’d necessarily schedule out as “knitting on Monday, sewing on Tuesday, weaving on Wednesday”, instead you could work on knitting for 2 solid weeks until interest wanes and then move to something else.
That slow steady drip isn’t traditional scheduling like high school, because the time periods that you do lessons in is not only shorter but they are much more varied. CM does many subjects each week, much more than the “traditional 7” of modern high schools, and each one isn’t done each day. For example, in CM high school a student would have science for 4 periods a week, from 25-45 min per period. Two of those would be Biology or Botany, one Astronomy, and one General Science. You would never do Biology for 5 days per week for a solid year.
This is where the burnout is avoided. While each week is generally the same as the next, within each week (day to day) there is a lot of variety.
In Form 1 (ages 6-9), the PNEU schedules have a child doing 10 time slots per day (in a 2.5 hour period), each slot 10-20 minutes. Midway there is 1/2 hour for movement, play, or singing. While reading, math, and writing are daily, on a 6 day schedule history is 1x per week, geography 2x per week, natural history (science) 2x per week, tales 1x, drawing 1x, brush drawing (painting) 1x, handwork 5x, French 4x. That’s not everything, either.
I think this is also where you need to see which style best fits your child. My own children do much much better with short lessons and lots of variety each week, and can sustain that for a long time. When I tried block scheduling with my older daughter, she loved it for the first 2 weeks. Then she would get so burned out on a subject that she didn’t even want to look at it again, sometimes for months, other times it was years before she wanted to look at that subject again. And often that deep dive and then subsequent avoidance meant that she wouldn’t remember much from it.
For some kids, it’s the opposite, and for them it might mean that Waldorf is a better fit.
What a wealth of insight! Thanks for the thorough reply and highlighting the rest periods in CM. I can see how this would balance burn out for the student, but does the homeschool teacher ever burn out from planning so many sub topics within a subject?