The Charlotte Mason Method: A Living Education

“This idea of all education springing from and resting upon our relation to Almighty God-we do not merely give a religious education because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may at the same time be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.” 
-Charlotte Mason


Why I choose it? Although I studied and earned my master’s degree elementary education, I have not embraced all the methods of traditional education. In fact, many of my courses in college encouraged me to question things like grade levels, standardized testing, and the overuse of curriculum. I realized that although traditional education might have success in giving a teacher methods to impart information and evaluate students learning, it fails in building a love for learning. In the early years, children are naturally curious and interested, as that curiosity is stifled with mandatory home-work and a pressure to learn within given perimeters and methods. It is easy for a child to be spoon fed and learn information from traditional methods, but we must such learning is done at the loss of a child’s natural curiosity. Charlotte Mason believed a child could naturally develop a hunger and value knowledge on his own. After reading writings and books from Charlotte Mason, I found myself agreeing whole-heatedly with her Biblical philosophy of education. I think it was already my philosophy all along, she just put my thoughts into words. And she described how the goal of creating self-taught learners can be accomplished. I knew it was the course of education I wanted to use in home-schooling our children.

What is it? Charlotte Mason was a brilliant English educator in the early 1800’s. Besides writing down her philosophies of education, she created her own curriculum as well. Her books were written toward both the parents and the teachers of her day. Home-schooling parents have adapted her thinking, but her books were not written to or in favor of home-education. She was creating an educational system based on her philosophies of education. She was an educational philosopher similar to Montessori or Waldorf.

Charlotte Mason believed exploration and developing a healthy curiosity was the most important step in education. Even brilliant Albert Einstein stated: “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Charlotte believed that developing a curiosity about all things, begins with exploration of nature, and exposure to beautiful things like art and music. Charlotte did not promote teaching young children, simply exposing children to various experiences and letting them ask questions as they observe. She believed that children will develop a healthy curiosity if they explore the world at a young age.

Charlotte Mason method does not rely on textbooks. Instead she uses “living books.” From my educational background, this is still a method I am working on being confident using. I believe it will be effective, but it goes against the secure grain of traditional methods. “Living books” are an incredible method of retaining and applying information. Even as adults, we are far more able to remember and associate with a biography of Stonewall Jackson, than just by reading his name in a list of Civil War generals in the textbook chapter on the Civil War. Living books are classical books, historical books, biographies, autobiographies, and poetry. Along with those books we do students in the Charlotte Mason method give oral recitation. Meaning my daughter has to re-hash what we have read in the book. It helps her remember, learn to express her thought in speech, and it helps me know what she has learned. In time, she will write essays as well. The Charlotte Mason Method is method similar to the classical method of education that founded the one-room schoolhouses in America. Today Classical Conversations are the spin off that philosophy of education and similar in many ways to the Charlotte Mason method.

What We do. I began thinking I would create all our own curriculum. After it took be a week to put together a plan for our Bible lessons, I realized, I could not effectively do that for each child, each subject, and each school year. My time was too valuable for other needs at home. So, I researched various ways to implement the Charlotte Mason Method. The one I choose to use was Ambleside Online. Ambleside Online not only provides book lists and lesson plans, but support as well. And it is all free. We have a non-existent budget for education, so it made sense to use a method that was very inexpensive. The most I spend a year for one child is $200, less for each child after, because I can use the same books. Math is the most expensive book, because I do buy a curriculum called Math U See. Other than purchasing a math text, I use a few items like art picture studies from Simply Charlotte and some form of copy work text. The rest of our school year I use old books I buy online for a few dollars. I also use audio books and library books as needed. Ambleside Online does all the basic footwork for our education. It works well for us, and I love the books we have discovered through the website. Can you believe I had never heard of James Herriot’s Treasury for Children before? And what a joy we have had reading about early church history in Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula.

Last fall began our first year using the Ambleside Online format. To be perfectly honest, the first few months of home-schooling were a bit rough. I had visions of my children sitting nicely while we did group studies together sipping on morning tea. But the baby would choose our school hours as his fussiest, the littlest girls would whine and fidget, the phone rang, folks stopped in, we got sick, and life happened. I realized home-schooling was far more a lifestyle and not so much a formal moment. We began reading books throughout the morning and took breaks to feed a baby, switch loads of laundry, and spend a few minutes chatting with a neighbor. It was a lot more reasonable once I realized I had to allow myself more flexible than a teacher in a classroom.

So far, this is what we are doing for home-education. I feel it is very much new learning territory, even though I was home-schooled my entire life. Teaching my own children is a totally different genre than being a home-school grad. My children seem to like it, but they really don’t know anything different. Like any method of education, I do believe home-education has its advantages and disadvantages. This is simply what we are doing and where we are at in life. And I am enjoying the season of life and the wild and crazy blink in eternity I have to teach my children.