Learn about 11 secular preschool programs that work with a Charlotte Mason homeschool.
Are you searching for a preschool program that will help you bring Charlotte Mason's ideas to your little ones? Need a little hand-holding? Are you tired of asking for recommendations only to find that the program that looks lovely also will "provide a firm foundation in Christ"?
I've done the research for you and found several preschool programs and resources that are both secular and easily adapted to a Charlotte Mason education lifestyle.
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through my link I may get a small commission at no additional cost to you.
What criteria did I use to narrow down the choices?
- First and foremost, they had to be secular. Any religious holidays had to be cultural holidays. For example, if a program has activities for St. Patrick's day, that wasn't disqualifying because virtually no one thinks of March 17 as a religious feast day. However, making an Advent calendar as a countdown to Christmas, or a Garden Goddess to watch over the yard meant it got the boot.
- Limited academics, and those done in a Charlotte Mason-appropriate manner. That also means not an emphasis on nature books, but instead a focus on the child experiencing the natural world for himself.
- If coming from a creator who is not well versed in Charlotte Mason, the program needed to be very easily adaptable to her methods and ideals. If there were only small portions that I considered Charlotte Mason, it didn't make the cut. However, there are several Waldorf-inspired resources included because Waldorf and Charlotte Mason are almost identical in the early years.
- And last, what is the underlying purpose of the program? Is it to support the child's development, encourage wonder and connection, and have a healthy home life, or is to actively teach the child, with "readiness skills" and "solidifying learning"? Are the activities natural extensions of life, or are they contrived? (making a mud kitchen for open-ended play vs labeling leaves and beans with numbers and asking the child to match the numbers while pretending to be a caterpillar). Is the parent viewed as a mentor to help the child make discoveries, or as a teacher who should give information to build up the child's store of facts?
Remember that just because a curriculum has the kids learning a lot about animals doesn't make it a Charlotte Mason program.
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And now for the selections, in no particular order....
I hesitated to put this one first, for the simple reason that I wrote it. I don't want you to think I'm tooting my own horn and everything else is just a pale imitation.
But I truly believe that if you use my guide, especially as an adjunct to any of the other programs mentioned below, you will be able to craft a lovely Charlotte Mason preschool experience.
Charlotte Mason's method of education is about developing the whole person. The guide is not a book list, a schedule, or a long list of activities. I take Charlotte Mason's words and ideas and put them in plain English, as well as give you practical suggestions for how to use them in your life.
It is a guide to creating a Charlotte Mason, magical childhood.
As with all my work, I hold your hand and give you practical encouragement and advice, all in a non-religious, non-judgmental way.
My passion is helping moms connect the dots from Charlotte Mason's theory to how to apply it to their own families.
For a sample to see if it will work for you, check out the page here.
Modifications required: None
Rooted Childhood is one of those programs that when you open it up in your email, you sigh in contentment. (Use coupon code juniperpines10 for 10% off your purchase!)
If you are looking for ways to foster connection with your children through handwork, crafts, and activities, this is for you.
It's not a checklist to do each week. You won't be making yet another paper chain or waiting until the kids are in bed then secretly disposing of their 'creation' of glue and construction paper and macaroni noodles in the trash.
These are real projects that are appropriate for children but won't drive Mom crazy. It is also filled with poems, songs, recipes, and ways to connect with your children and make those memories sweet.
Use this with A Quiet Growing Time, and you will have a wonderful, winning combination.
Recommended? Yes, enthusiastically
Modifications needed? None
Here is a nice classical and Charlotte Mason mix. While there is a loose timetable and schedule, the creator also encourages you to not stop a child's play in order to follow the schedule.
The Pre-Preparatory Notes are particularly valuable.
The Preparatory level (presumably age 5) is based on the PNEU programmes from the 1950s-1970s, a full 30 years after Charlotte Mason's death, and as such they had begun to stray from her original vision and became more academic at an earlier age. (The PNEU was Charlotte Mason's organization that sent curriculum to registered families.)
Modifications needed? Yes
- Cut way back on the books. The pre-preparatory level has 139 books scheduled for the year. In Home Education, Charlotte Mason says that a few books read repeatedly is much better than an endless train of them in the young years.
- I would also skip the numeracy and literacy games in the schedule, because the instructions they are drawn from are based on a small group nursery situation. Instead, weave numeracy (counting, one-to-one correspondence) throughout the day. For literacy games, consider doing the games from this free resource to encourage phonemic awareness, the building block of reading.
- Add handwork like finger knitting if your child is ready for it, lacing, making toys like sock dolls, and gardening. Handwork was a huge part of the early years and it builds neural connections in a way that supports future academics.
Volume 1 is a lovely Charlotte Mason preschool experience, weaving arts, nature experience, and connection. Along with the suggested activities for the week is a page where you can create your own schedule for the week of what you'd like to do on what days.
However, they schedule one new painting every week, while Charlotte Mason's school-age programmes schedule six paintings over a 12 week period.
Their age recommendations are off, too. The website states that Volume 1 is for ages 2-4 and Volume 2 for ages 4-5.
Volume 2 is based on the Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six and as such has specific teaching strategies for these. It is also much more academic, with the sample showing a letter of the week and making a graph of what objects float and what objects sink.
However, the Formidable List was not "what a child should know before he turns six" but instead was an early "term programme" of what a child of six can be learning.
The lessons in Volume 2 are 40 min to an hour long daily, and Charlotte Mason later said that regular lessons should not begin until age 6.
As such, I would recommend Volume 1 as a wonderful curriculum for ages 3-5, and Volume 2 as a lovely introduction to Charlotte Mason for 6 year olds, or a child who will turn 6 during the school year.
Modifications needed? Yes
- Change the age recommendations to Volume 1 for 3-5 year olds and Volume 2 for 5-6 year olds
- Decrease the number of artist prints studied. Remember slow is good.
- I can't tell from the sample if there is a new picture book every week in Volume 1. If so, decrease that. I am NOT saying "don't read a book every week" but don't read a NEW book every week. Remember that fewer books read over and over is better than a constant parade of new books.
If you want to bring music to your littles but don't know quite what to do, are stuck for ideas, or just want a guide for inspiration, this is for you.
Every time I think about this offering, I smile and relax because it is just so .... perfect.
Filled with not only songs, music, music themed picture books, but gentle and encouraging ideas to hold your hand, this collection is a treasure.
And it is completely free.
Download and use this resource. You will not regret it.
Recommended? Yes, enthusiastically
Modifications needed? None
From their website:
The Simple Seasons Preschool-Kindergarten Homeschool Curriculum has been designed with three main 12 week terms for the school year, plus a bonus shorter 10 week long summer study, and an optional 4 week Advent unit. Each unit includes a weekly schedule that focuses on the rhythm of the seasons with a special emphasis on holidays and nature. Each seasonal unit can be used as a stand alone program. You can also begin your homeschool year at any time by choosing the seasonally correct unit.
Many families repeat Simple Seasons for two years in a row, delving a little bit deeper the second time through. Young children enjoy the repetition of the stories and will learn even more with the repetition."
My impression: This simple curriculum for ages 4-6 follows the seasons and focuses on nature, being outside, and activities that are developmentally appropriate.
There are too many books (around 75 for three terms, 95 or so for the full year) so I would use only the literature books and even cut those back to about half. Remember a few excellent books read repeatedly is better than an endless parade of new books.
The instructions say that to be a full Kindergarten curriculum, you must add a math program. I would instead use Games for Math by Peggy Kaye (recommended in Wee Folk Art). I would also not do the phonics for a 4 year old, but save that for age 5 if your student is interested. If your child is not interested, just set it aside.
There is a page for weekly narrations. Children under 6 should not be expected to do narrations in a Charlotte Mason education, and at 6 they should not be written but oral. Charlotte Mason narrations are also not summaries of the material, but what stood out to your child.
Recommended: Yes, with modifications
Modifications needed? Yes
- Cut back on the amount of books, or spread the program over 2 or more years
- Delete the narration requirements for ages 4-5. If you are using this program with a 6 year old, change the narrations to Charlotte Mason-style oral narrations.
- Save phonics and a math program for age 6.
- Also, be aware of the activities that are scheduled from the Nature in a Nutshell book. Nature in a Nutshell was written for 2nd-4th graders, so while observing the scales on a fish with a magnifying glass is wonderful for the preschoolers, getting into the explanation of circuli is a bit much. Remember that our aim with a Charlotte Mason preschool is to increase nature connection and wonder, not to "enhance the educational value" of activities.
Twelve Little Tales is a story-starter and 12 prompt cards that will gently guide you on your storytelling journey each month. Including enchanting stories and delightfully creative prompts adorned with original watercolor illustrations created just for the tales.
Modifications needed: No.
Hearth & Gnome Song and Storytime Circles are inexpensive instructional guides to bring music to your preschoolers.
They come from a Waldorf methodology and as such are compatible with a Charlotte Mason lifestyle in the early years (Waldorf and Charlotte Mason are very similar before the school years).
The Song and Storytime Circles are secular, but Music Unfolds (for school aged children) and a few of the stand-alone products (Music for Michaelmas, Music for Advent) aren't.
The biggest problems I see with the Song and Storytime Circles is that they are written in a "lesson plan" format with Objectives ("The children will") which can be off-putting to home educators. Also, the samples appear to be written for small group situations, so if you have an only child you will need to make some modifications.
Modifications needed: Maybe.
The guides appear to be written for small groups, so a few of the games might require modification if you have an only child.
A twelve week curriculum to gently carry you and your family through the seasons, with a rhythm and flow that leaves you feeling calm, happy and connected.
Each twelve week seasonal curriculum has six two week units, and each unit has a theme. Unlike a unit study though, the theme isn't "let's learn all about this topic and make sure every activity is related to it in some way". It is merely a unifying thread.
Each unit has weekly and daily plans, a story, songs, rhymes, finger plays, reflection activities, nature walks, recipes, purposeful work ideas, and art and craft ideas.
I love the look of this program, though be aware that the craft ideas might be contrived and busy work. Instead of coloring a pre-drawn picture and cutting it out, or making a cat-ear headband out of paper, I would instead substitute those activities with open-ended projects and letting your child decide if and how he wants to make cat ears.
Recommended: Yes, with minimal modifications
Modifications needed? Minimal.
Be aware of busy work and contrived paper crafts. Instead skip these, substitute real projects, or substitute open-ended projects where your child is the one who decides how to make the objects.
Wildwood Curriculum is a free, secular, inclusive Charlotte Mason curriculum. Since Charlotte Mason did not advocate formal lessons before age 6, we have included a page with suggestions for what to do with your children before this age.
I am one of the creators of Wildwood Curriculum and helped write this page. It is a framework for you to use, but is does not go in depth into any one area.
Modifications needed: None
Build Your Library is a Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum, and Level 0 is their "Kindergarten" year.
It is a trip around the world to visit children, see some animals in other parts of the world, and listen to folk tales from all over the globe. There is no letter of the week, nor is it a "First Grade Readiness" program.
Because there seems to be a focus on books rather than experiences, I would definitely save this for ages 5 or 6.
It does need some modification for CM families. In the intro to Year 0, Emily Cook (the creator) writes, "I have created this curriculum based on the idea that children learn best through reading and hearing great literature." Charlotte Mason writes, however, that children in this age group learn best through direct interaction with things, rather than the symbols of things (words).
Thankfully Year 0 is not so filled with books that it crowds out other activities.
Emily comes from a Charlotte Mason background. Even though the Build Your Library isn't strict Charlotte Mason, because Charlotte Mason ideals and methods are ingrained in Emily, the "sense" of Charlotte Mason underlies her curriculum.
The emphasis in Year 0 is on learning about children in other parts of the world, and exploring their cultures by hearing folk tales, making art, and eating the foods they eat.
Recommended? Yes, with modifications
Modifications needed? Yes
- Don't do the activity sheets. Just forget they're there
- Use the literature and tales as nighttime reading so you can spend a lot of time outdoors during the day
- I would recommend you pair this with my guide, A Quiet Growing Time: Charlotte Mason with Your 3 to 6 Year Old. If you use BYL as written, it can easily become a list of books and activities to check off without Charlotte Mason's philosophy underpinning it
These programs would all fit nicely in a Charlotte Mason home, and even if you choose to go with a free rather than paid option, they should give you plenty of ideas if you're in need of inspiration.