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Living Geography: This is What Happens When You Update Charlotte Mason

Finally, a secular, updated version of Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Geography! Living Geography for the Primary Grades

Reading Elementary Geography to my seven-year-old, I grimaced, face scrunched as I rushed to cover the blunder, “Whoops! We CAN go to the moon now. When this was written we couldn’t.”

Later, reading about hot and cold countries, my stomach lurched. My shoulders tightened as I thought, “Do we really need a throwaway line that people with dark skins live there? Because everyone who reads this must be light-skinned, right?” 

Wish you could read aloud from the book without pre-reading, without editing-on-the-fly, without your stomach doing gymnastics, and knowing you have everything you need for today’s lesson?

Me, too.

While I love Charlotte Mason’s geography book, some bits have always been sticking points. 

The religious imagery in poems, the outdated information, the colonialism.

Oh, the colonialism.

If I could write the perfect book, they would be gone.


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I dreamed also of an updated version with a variety of poetry styles written by diverse authors, supply lists so I’d be able to easily do the demonstrations when we read about them, notes that would explain sticky portions.

After years of waiting, I finally realized no one was going to do it for me. Faced with yet another year of using Elementary Geography, I grabbed a notebook and pen and sketched out what my ideal version would look like.

Charlotte Mason’s voice, but better.

Be the change you want to see in the world, right?

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Living Geography for the Primary Grades

Announcing: a completely secular and updated version of Charlotte Mason’s first geography book, with the new title Living Geography for the Primary Grades: Secular Charlotte Mason for the 21st Century.

Let’s go through the changes.


Secular Geography

I’ve altered all in-text references to “God” by either changing to “nature” or “the universe”, removing throwaway lines, or rewording the sentence.

The poems, though? Charlotte Mason loved poetry, that’s no secret. She felt we should read it every day. But many of the poems had Christian references in them, which right off the bat is a no-go for non-Christians.

I searched high and low for wonderful poems to replace her choices. Not only do the new poems reflect a variety of styles, but I deliberately searched for diverse poets.


Diversity in Poets

This might be the improvement I’m most proud of. After I found replacements for all the religious poems, I sat back and looked at the poets.

My satisfaction turned to unease as I realized there was little diversity. Most poets were English.

As I searched for more diverse authors, I ran into a problem — there isn’t much in the public domain written by poets of color. There are many reasons behind this, but mostly it was difficult to get published as a non-white author before the early 1920s, which is what is in the public domain in the United States.

Though I had a limited pool to draw from, I was excited to find several amazing poems that slid right in to the themes in Living Geography. So many, in fact, I added even more poetry than Charlotte Mason had.

Here’s the breakdown of poets:

Deaf or Blind:

  • Fanny Crosby
  • Joseph Schuyler (2 poems)

Poets of Color:

  • Angela Weld Grimke 
  • James E. McGirt
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar (3 poems)
  • King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti
  • Langston Hughes
  • Sarojini Naidu

(8 of the 17 poems)

Male Poets:

  • James Schuyler (2 poems)
  • James E. McGirt
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar (3 poems)
  • Coleridge
  • King Akhenaten
  • Langston Hughes

(9 of the 17 poems)

Female Poets:

  • Jane Taylor
  • Eliza Cook
  • Fanny Crosby
  • Mary Howitt
  • Valerie Dohren
  • Queen Nefertiti
  • Sarojini Naidu
  • Angela Weld Grimke
  • Lydia Maria Child

(9 of the 17 poems — one is attributed to both King Ahkenaten and Queen Nefertiti)

Now, many of these poets do have a Christian background, but each poem is secular. No worries about being blindsided by a reference to heaven.

Living Geography: Updated Facts

Surprisingly, very little required updating here. Galileo lived about 400 years ago, not 300. Men have been to the moon and gotten off the planet. 

I’ve kept the bulk of the map-making lesson but reworded it to reflect that even though we now have satellites and computer technology, before those came into use people mapped the land by hand.

No More Colonialism and Gender Bias

The original Elementary Geography contained some cringeworthy colonialist phrasing, especially towards the end. Much of it couldn’t be salvaged.


Women are and have been astronomers and mapmakers and serve in the army and navy, and our children need to see that.

I rewrote phrasing to “men and women”, “people”, or in one case, “humans”.

But you know what would make it even better? If you could have notes about facts and terms you’re not familiar with.


Notes on Teaching

Many lessons now include a short “Notes on Teaching” at the beginning. These notes range from what “to speak a ship” means, to definitions of “star” and which one Charlotte Mason was referring to, to when and why the word “Negro” fell out of favor regarding Langston Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. 

And that’s all good, but as you’re reading through the lesson in Elementary Geography, it says, “take an orange and run a knitting needle through it”.

You cast your mind to the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter and suck in a breath as you remember… all you have are bananas. 

Welp, you won’t be doing this demonstration today.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you knew ahead of time what supplies you needed for the lesson?

Supply lists, check

This new version includes not one, not two, but three supply lists.

  • A master list of all supplies you’ll need
  • a supply list sorted by lesson so you can look ahead at what you need this term
  • supply lists at the start of each lesson so you know what you need today

Yep, let’s make it easy.

Digitally enhanced images

All the original images are here, but they’ve been enhanced or recreated for crispness.

Teddy bears should be fuzzy, not illustrations.

Original Image:

fuzzy image of solar system

New Image:

crisp new image of solar system

The result of this massive reworking? 

An amazing living geography book, easy for busy homeschooling parents to use…written in Charlotte Mason’s voice but safe for all families.

No matter what ethnicity your family is, what spiritual beliefs you have or don’t have, or what gender your kids are, you can read through this book OUT LOUD without your stomach doing backflips.


How to Schedule Form I (ages 6-9)

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What Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers Ought to Learn from Waldorf

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How to Make the Best Loop Schedule to Banish Overwhelm

Want to remember this post? Pin it to your favorite homeschooling Pinterest board!

pinterest pin girl in red shirt and braid lower rigth corner pointing to the sky, boy in blue striped shirt with aviator hat, binoculars, and scarf behind her, chimney behind them. text reads Living Geography for the Primary Grades checkmark secular checkmark supply lists check mark up to date checkmark diverse poets

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  1. Yes!!! I have tried to use the original numerous times, only to cast it aside over and over. This is such an important contribution Marjorie! Thank you.

  2. Thank you. We are Christians, and our ideal version would have kept the religious references. But otherwise, the updates here are all ones that we’d prefer–especially the updates to facts and the adding of diversity in the authorship of the poems. Thanks for your hard work and for making this available to us.

    1. You’re welcome! I wanted to make it usable by all families, regardless of religious background. Many of my readers either practice a different religion than Christianity, or they aren’t religious at all. There were only two or three references to “God” in the text, so the changes there were minimal. The big change was the choice of poems to non-religious ones. Another family is simply adding back in the religious poems from the original for their own use 🙂

      I hope you find it helpful and find a solution that works for you.

      Have a great day!


  3. I haven’t read the original source material in its entirety, and I’m sure some updates to the data would be beneficial, but I am confused by your description of throwaway lines. To say that the people who live in a geographic area have dark or light skin is not a judgement, but a simple fact of geography, and if you don’t mention it, the child might simply picture people from all parts of the globe looking only like themselves, or like what they see around them. Or, they may get the opposite mistaken impression, that people in foreign countries have no similarities to them. I thought seeing the differences between places was the point of studying geography. To know that not everyone dresses the same way, believes the same things, or sees the same landscape when they look out of their window should be the goal, right?

    1. Great question! Absolutely, we want children to know that people don’t see the same things around the world. This isn’t a book on cultural geography but on the broadest physical geography.

      The original lines was this: “Here are the hot countries, where the people with dark skins live, and the palm trees grow; where there are beautifully flowers of every colour, and large juicy fruits; where the feathers of the birds are crimson and purple and gold and green; and where huge wild beasts, both fierce and gentle, roam about in the forests.”

      This was absolutely a judgement call on my part. I debated leaving it in there and making a note to discuss how people evolved with different melanin production in different parts of the world.

      But the thing is, this is the ONLY line in the whole book that mentions skin color. In the passages on cold areas, there is no mention of where light-skinned people live. The assumption is that children reading this are light-skinned, and need to know where “dark skinned” people live.

      The truth is that 40% of the United States population is darker skinned, and the only portion of the US that could fit this description is Hawaii. Dark skinned people live all over the world, just as light skinned people do.

      This book is safe for all families, regardless of heritage. I didn’t want any brown children to feel “othered” — like where they currently live isn’t where they’re supposed to be. We have too much racism in “go back to where you came from” for that line to stand.

      In a Charlotte Mason education, children should be reading picture books about children from all over the world. They will see in those how people look and dress and are different in various countries of the world.

      I hope this helps explain why I made that decision.

      Have a great day!


      1. You were right to remove this. IMHO this information is incorrect. It leads to the impression EVERYONE in that place is dark, everyone here isn’t, and so and so belongs here or there. For example, a lot of people incorrectly assume all arabs are brown with black hair. Which is incorrect…

  4. Thanks a lot for all your work .The curriculum you provided is very helpful esp the thoughtful and intentional selection of all the poet’s and poem.
    Again, thanks a lot.

  5. When will the book be available on amazon? I’d love to have a physical copy! Thanks for your work in updating this text!

    1. Soon, I hope! I’m waiting on the proof copy from Amazon which should be in Monday, and if everything looks good I can authorize it.


    1. Hi Sarah! It was used by Charlotte Mason throughout Form 1, approximate ages 6-9 or 1st-3rd grades.

      You could use it for older children – I actually learned things in there that I had sort of known but never verbalized – but older children would go through it quickly.

      I hope this helps!


  6. I have your eBook, and the supply lists call for an orange in Lesson 23: a poem. Have I correctly assumed the orange is actually utilized in Lesson 26: “When the Sun Rises and Sets,” and referenced again in Lesson 27: “Mid-Day Lines”? Thank you for clarifying!

    1. Ooh! Thank you! Yes, that’s a typo, it should be Lesson 26 for the orange and permanent marker/colored chalk.

  7. Hi Marjorie! How would you map out the lessons for a IB student? Is this meant to be finished in one year? I would also love to combine with my IIB. Would you recommend this? Thanks!

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