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The religious imagery in poems, the outdated information, the colonialism.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


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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