There are a lot of different homeschool methods out there. The Charlotte Mason method is probably one of the most popular ones. Have you heard about it and wondered what it is? Or do you like the sound of it but don’t know where to begin? Let me help you get started.
Be sure to grab my cheat sheet of directions on all the basics of the Charlotte Mason Method and a dictation form at the bottom of the page!
*Full Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase after clicking through, The Unexpected Homeschooler may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read full disclosure policy here.
Table of Contents
Who Was Charlotte Mason
An Atmosphere, A Discipline, A Life
Charlotte Mason- How to Teach the Charlotte Mason Way
Charlotte Mason Homeschool Schedule
Charlotte Mason Resources
Charlotte Mason Cheat Sheets
Who Was Charlotte Mason?
Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) was a British educator who spent her life trying to improve the education of children. Being orphaned at the age of sixteen, she enrolled in a training program to get her First Class Certificate for teaching. She went on to teach for 10 years at Davison School in Worthing, England.
It was during those years of teaching she began to have the idea for a “liberal education forall.” In the 1800s, England’s education system was based on your status in society. The poor were automatically taught a trade, while the rich were introduced to the liberal arts and literature.
Charlotte had a vision for all children to receive a broad education. She firmly believed a child is a person and he should be educated that way. We shouldn’t just educate his mind, but his whole person.
Eventually, Charlotte received an invitation to teach and lecture at the Bishop Otter Teacher Training College. While working there for the next five years, she came to the realization that parents would benefit from understanding how to raise their children. She decided to teach a series of lectures, which later were published a Home Education. As a result of this, a Parents’ Educational Union was formed and then a periodical called “The Parents’ Review.”
At almost 50 years old, Charlotte moved to Ambleside, England, where she started the House of Education. This was a school that trained governesses and other individuals on how to work with children.
Over the years, many more of Charlotte’s collections of writings were published. Numerous schools took on her methods and philosophy, and Charlotte spent her later years overseeing this school system to ensure all children there received a liberal education.
An Atmosphere, A Discipline, A Life
Unlike a lot of other methods, the Charlotte Mason homeschool is not about a specific curriculum. It’s so much more! It’s a philosophy, or way of life if you will, and once you grasp that, any curriculum can be adapted to fit it.
I think what you are going to enjoy most about this method is how it removes the chaos in your school and replaces it with a peaceful feeling and gentle rhythm in your home. Because you are educating the whole child and not just his mind, every aspect of your daily routine is teaching. It becomes easier to see that your daily actions and rituals are part of the learning process. This isn’t something you can get from a package.
The home is to be a safe place where a child can learn, observe, and process the information around him. Charlotte believed that one-third of a child’s education was based on how the parent’s lived their own lives. Most of what children learn is picked up from what they observe around them.
What does the atmosphere in your home look like? Is it patient and forgiving? Is there anger and expectations of perfection? Do you allow children to learn from their mistakes or do you get irritated when something spills or is done wrong? These attitudes are what create the learning environment your children are observing.
It’s easy for us to focus on the packaged curriculum and forget that our children are learning way more from what they see us do or not do. Creating the right atmosphere is the first step in the Charlotte Mason Method.
When you hear the word discipline being referred to in this method, Charlotte was talking about habits, specifically developing good habits that teach character. This made up another third of the child’s education.
Charlotte Mason placed a lot of emphasis on this and designed her school methods around it. She believed that learning good habits would naturally lead to good character, and the result of that would be future success.
The term “life” is referring to the living books that make up a large part of Charlotte Mason homeschooling. This concept made up the last third of what Charlotte Mason taught in her education.
“Living” refers to providing ideas that come to life for a child instead of dull facts. They encompass a whole subject instead of just one topic and are often written in story form. I’ll talk more about this later.
Charlotte Mason Homeschool-How to Teach the Charlotte Mason Way
These are the essential characteristics that make up a Charlotte Mason education.
Formation of Habits
Charlotte believed the formation of habits could start at a very young age. A mother is to watch over her child and help guide him in this training using repetition and motivation. She likened it to laying down railroad tracks, which help the child’s life run smoothly. The mother is essentially building a solid foundation to guide the child along life’s path.
I have already mentioned living books above, but because it is such a large part of this method, I wanted to explain a little more. You will hear the words “living books” over and over again. Some examples of living books are biographies and autobiographies, classical writings, Scripture, and poetry. They give a first-hand experience and are filled with living ideas.
These ideas are what help to shape a child’s thoughts and lives because they bring about emotions that will make the story come alive. You will often hear books that aren’t considered living books referred to as “twaddle.” Unfortunately, many of today’s books fit into this category. Choose your books wisely!
I think one of my favorite ideas from this style of teaching is the concept of short lessons. When we teach in shorter increments, the child is able to focus and be completely engaged. He will actually learn more in less time because he is giving his full attention.
Charlotte suggested lessons in the early years be kept to 15-20 minutes. As children get older, that time can be increased. Even in the older years though, she had a limit of about 45 minutes per session.
When a child becomes bored with a lesson or his eyes are glazed over, it’s time to put it away. The next subject should be something completely different. This allows the mind to stay fresh and interested. Varying the routine and order of lessons each day makes it more exciting.
Charlotte Mason felt that children should spend a lot of time outdoors, even in the winter (if the temperatures weren’t dangerously cold). She believed the outdoors was a place where children could learn by observing nature.
The guidelines for using nature study in your homeschool are as follows:
- Go on a nature walk once a week
- Observe nature and notice things in their natural habitat: Examples-bees, caterpillars, animals, seasons changing, weather, etc.
- Do not stage formal lessons- let things happen naturally
- As the opportunity arises, ask your child questions to get him thinking
- Give information about the subject being observed if it lends itself (it’s okay if you don’t know either)
- If the child asks about something you don’t have an answer for, this allows you to research the topic together
Just like Charlotte was particular about the type of book a child should read, she felt the same way about what a child should use for copywork. If you are unfamiliar with copywork, I have written an article explaining what it is, along with all the benefits.
As you can guess, Charlotte pulled passages from living books for copywork. Great literature, poetry, Scripture, and quotes were the most commonly used sources. These passages helped to instill ideas as the child copied them, but also gave examples of proper grammar, spelling, vocabulary while developing handwriting at the same time.
Dictation was Charlotte’s formal method of teaching grammar. With this technique she able to teach grammar rules, spelling, sentence formation, and listening skills.
While it may not seem like you are doing much in the process, if you stick with it, you will be surprised at the results you get and how easy it is to use.
Narration was the primary method Charlotte used to determine if a child understood what was read. Instead of having children fill out worksheets or do “busy work,” simply asking for them to narrate back what they learned is an effective method to evaluate them.
I have found narration to be an excellent way for children who have an aversion to writing to demonstrate what they have learned. They are less likely to clam up, and most have no problem talking.
Children naturally want to come tell us about things they are learning throughout the day. This feels like a natural extension of what they already do. The added benefit of using it with their lessons is when children retell information, it helps to store it in their mind.
Just as great literature played an important role in a child’s education, Charlotte felt that great art should be studied as well. She selected masterpieces that were introduced to the children and had them study them and then describe the art in their own words.
If you would like to try picture study in your homeschool, here are the steps to follow:
- Select one artist per term (or set amount of weeks)
- Choose one work from that artist per week to study
- Start by having your child observe the picture for a few minutes
- Take the picture away and have your child picture it in his mind
- Have your child try to describe what he saw, giving as many details as he can
- Have your child describe his favorite part of the picture
- Repeat this several times throughout the week
- Select a new picture the next week and repeat the steps
As your child gets better as focusing on the details in each picture, you will be amazed at what he can tell you by the end of the week.
In addition to studying the pictures themselves be sure to mention the name of the artist and picture each time. Give a couple of interesting details about the artist’s life. You can research more if your child shows an interest.
Charlotte taught music appreciation the same way as picture study.
Here are the steps you can follow:
- Select one classical artist per term
- Listen to one composition per week
- Let the child simply listen the first time and tell anything he likes or notices about the piece
- As you continue listening throughout the week, you can have your child listen for certain things:
1. identify instruments
2. emotions the song creates
3. elements of the song such as getting
louder and softer
4. how the instrument is being used to
sound like something
Again, mention the name of the composer and song each time and a few facts. Dig deeper into the life of each if there is an interest.
Don’t be surprised if you are walking through a store that has music playing in the background and your child says, “Hey, I know that song! We listened to that in school.”
Free Time- Handicrafts
Because lessons were short and school did not take as long, Charlotte’s students had their afternoons free to take all the ideas they had learned and put them into practice. They often worked on hobbies and learned handicrafts. They were also encouraged to explore outdoors.
This free time is so important. Children today do not seem to have a lot of time to just be kids and discover their interests and learn new skills. They are too busy running from activity to activity or doing homework.
Charlotte Mason Homeschool Schedule
There are a lot of different schedule options you can choose from. They range from a 5-day or 4-day schedule, block, loop, year-round, and on and on. There isn’t any right way to do it. The main thing is to cover specific areas each week. If you choose a 4-day plan, you can leave Friday open for a hike or other outdoor activity.
This is Charlotte’s suggested length of time for each subject by grade level:
Grades 1-3- 15-20 minutes per subject
Grades 4-6- 20-30 minutes per subject
Grades 7-12- 30-45 minutes per subject
The easiest way to set up your weekly schedule is to pull out a blank planner and start filling it in with the areas you would like to cover daily. Once that is done, you can go back and fill in the other topics you only want to do 2-3 times a week. Finally, finish it by adding in the subjects you wish to teach 1-2 times a week. Here is a list of the topics and a suggested amount of times to cover them:
Many families start each day together with a morning time. One of the most popular ways to do this is with Pam Barnhill’s morning basket method.
This is a time where your family will gather together to cover topics such as picture study, music appreciation, poetry, Scripture, or read aloud books. You can pick and choose a few to concentrate on and then rotate through all of them weekly, monthly, or quarterly. It’s up to you. This is an opportunity to bring some beauty and goodness into your school. It’s a way of creating the atmosphere Charlotte talked about.
These are some examples of subjects that can be covered daily.
- nature journals
2-3 Times a Week/Every Other Day
1-2 Times Per Week
- Habit Training
- Nature Study
- Timeline Work
Charlotte Mason Resources
Charlotte Mason Books
Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series (The Pink Books)
Home Education (The Home Education Series) (Volume 1)
Parents and Children (The Home Education Series) (Volume 2)
School Education (The Home Education Series) (Volume 3)
Ourselves (The Home Education Series) (Volume 4)
Formation of Character (The Home Education Series) (Volume 5)
A Philosophy of Education (The Home Education Series) (Volume 6)
For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School
Mother Culture: For a Happy Homeschool A Charlotte Mason Education: A Home Schooling How-To Manual
More Charlotte Mason Education: A Home Schooling How-To Manual
A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning
Pocketful of Pinecones: Nature Study With the Gentle Art of Learning: A Story for Mother Culture
Habits: The Mother’s Secret to Success (Charlotte Mason Topics) (Volume 1)
The Outdoor Life of Children: The Importance of Nature Study and Outside Activities (Charlotte Mason Topics) (Volume 2)
Ideas and Books: The Means of Education (Charlotte Mason Topics) (Volume 3)
Handbook of Nature Study
Home Geography for Primary Grades (Living Book Press)
When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today
Know and Tell: The Art of Narration
The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason Websites
Simply Charlotte Mason
Moments with Mother Culture
Bible Readings– Scripture references for stories from the Old and New Testaments
A Day in the Life of a Charlotte Mason Homeschool
What Is Copywork?
AmblesideOnline Artist Rotation Schedule– Links to free online artwork
Art Question Cards– Help With Picture Study
Squilt– Squilt stands for Super Quiet UnInterrupted Listening Time. This is a wonderful music appreciation program that teahes children to really listen and identify elements of music such as tempo, rhythm, instrumentation, dynamics, and mood. It’s done in a gentle Charlotte Mason style and your kids will enjoy the selections as well as the stories behind the composers.
Charlotte Mason eCourse
Charlotte Mason was an amazing woman who had a significant influence on the idea that children should be treated and educated as a whole person. Her views had a tremendous impact on the type of education offered to children in England, which eventually carried over to other places.
Don’t let the ideas of short lessons and a 4-day week schedule make you think this is not a quality education. It is anything but! You will be amazed at the amount of material your children will cover in a year. Keeping the assignments short quickly develops attention and perfect execution, two of the main habits in the Charlotte Mason method. Children are focused, engaged, and able to absorb a lot in a short amount of time.
Does this style of teaching appeal to you? Are you a Charlotte Mason fan and would be willing to share how it’s working in your homeschool? Please let me know in the comments below. I’m sure others would benefit from hearing how it’s working for you.
8 thoughts on “Charlotte Mason Method- How to Get Started”
I love this. I’ve learned so much from reading your blog. The first thing that struck me about this method is how progressive Charlotte Mason must have been. The second thing is that it appears to be like Montessori. Is that accurate?
She really was! They were similar in the fact that they both believed the parents could play a large role in the child’s education if they understood it more. They also both believed children should experience nature first hand, but that’s where the similarities end. So glad you are enjoying my blog! Thanks for reading!
This was a really interesting read. I have never heard of Charlotte Mason. My grandparents lived in Ambleside and there is a teaching training college there in a beautiful old house. I always wondered why the college was in the middle of nowhere, but I now know it is called the Charlotte Mason College!
Thank you! That’s so neat that your grandparents lived in Ambleside!
This is a great article. The Mason method can be so overwhelming to people who haven’t used it before, but the way that you break it down is wonderful. We don’t use this teaching style exclusively, but I do use certain aspects of it and I love the overall concept of teaching the whole child.
Yes, I think you are right that it can be overwhelming. I’m glad you thought my explanation was easy to understand. That’s what great about the CM method. You don’t have to do everything. You can just pick what works for your family.
Thank you for sharing all this! I’ve been intrigued by Charlotte Mason, but I find her books to be a bit overwhelming. This was an excellent summary!
Yes, I agree about her books. Some people really love them, and I think that’s great they can read them. That’s why I have included both the old and new versions on my site.