Who was Charlotte Mason?

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the 1800’s and the early 1900’s who believed in “living books” instead of dry facts and textbooks, and whose revolutionary methods of teaching focused on three aspects: Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life. Atmosphere was the home environment and very important to the physical and emotional development, mind and soul of the child, discipline was the consistent exercise of good, daily habits, and life was academics.

When I first heard about Charlotte Mason, I thought, “Why would I want to use a homeschool method of a dead woman who lived in the 1800’s?” Not to be crass or anything, but I didn’t see the point at first. Then I began to study her writings in For The Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola, and then Charlotte Mason’s own works, The Original Homeschooling Series. Her methods are so freeing from the traditional, familiar, boring public school ways that you and I grew up on!

Charlotte believed children should be given “living thoughts and ideas,” and not given dry facts and boring textbooks. Let’s face it, how many of us loved the textbooks we used to have to read in public school? How many of our own children like textbooks in our homeschools?

Do you do “school-at-home?” I used to until I discovered Charlotte. I also confess that at times when I have been extremely fatigued, stressed out, or preoccupied, I have reverted back to old ways – ways that do not work – i.e., boring facts, dry textbooks and workbooks. As our daughter Leah has said before when I’ve done this, “You throw a book at me and expect me to get it.” And I can always tell a difference in Leah’s interest level when I do this. She complains, she whines, she resists. Every time I have used Charlotte’s freeing methods, though, Leah has learned so much, she is very interested in the subject, and she has fun!

With Charlotte’s methods, children are encouraged to read a wide range of “living books” in each academic subject. “Living books” are books told in story form by an author who is passionate about the subject, that whet the appetite for learning more. Examples would be stories like the Just So stories, Little Women, Tom Sawyer, Charles Dickens’ works, and other classics.

In case you think these are old-fashioned books and your kids wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested, there are also many modern books that qualify as “living book” – books told from a story point of view and stir the imagination, on subjects ranging from science fiction to medieval history to language arts. You can find some listed by grade and subject at Living Books Curriculum, in the catalog of Christian Books Distributors, Borders, and Barnes and Nobles bookstores.

Charlotte stressed narration of material covered to help the child retain what they had read, to fully use the powers of the mind, and to kindle the imagination. Narration is the child telling back in his own words what he read or has seen, either in writing or verbally. Children begin by narrating out loud a children’s story and stories from the Bible. As they grow older, they begin to write their narrations, which leads into learning how to write essays, stories, compositions, and research papers. It is amazing how much detail your children will remember from reading a story, or from studying a beautiful art picture (called “Picture Study”).

Copywork from the Bible and great literature, combined with dictation, help students to learn to think and write great thoughts, print and write in cursive well, spell correctly, and use proper grammar and punctuation. The copywork should be done with their best handwriting. Sloppy work is not acceptable.

You can keep the copywork in either notebooks that your children enjoy with their favorite characters such as Tinkerbell or Ariel the mermaid, in notebooks (called “Notebooking”), or in beautifully bound, more expensive journals. This is your child’s work and should be treated with respect by them and others. It is a source of pride and joy, especially as you see their handwriting, spelling, grammar and punctuation improving over the years. Initially you will be looking over their copywork books to check for mistakes and to give encouragement, and then they will do this themselves, catching their own mistakes in copying.

Charlotte believed children should be given short but effective lessons in a variety of subjects. A lot of times, children tend to dawdle and lose their concentration during long lessons, and Charlotte believed lessons lasting from 15-20 minutes was best for their minds to stay alert. If you have a child who gets easily distracted and bored like our daughter Leah, these short lessons are great. It makes such a difference in her ability to concentrate, and she does her work better when the lessons don’t drag on for an hour.

The bulk of all academic work should be done during the morning hours, so homework would not usually be required late into the night like today’s public school children often have to do. She believed lessons of the primary academic subjects should be done in the morning, and afternoons should be left free for reading, art, playing outside, hobbies, family time, resting, and other leisurely activities. This is when your kids can ride their bikes, skate, paint, have friends over to play, go to the library or a movie, or whatever they like to relax. Our daughter has a computer software program with a tablet for drawing graphic art that she enjoys doing.

Hands-on experiences during lessons are encouraged, such as holding and drawing leaves that changed each season, petting a baby bunny, feeling different types of clothing and other textures, doing science experiments, and using a variety of art methods. Charlotte believed children should engage all their physical senses if they have them. The world is meant to explore and to enjoy.

Charlotte believed that children should spend hours outdoors every day (unless weather was really bad) to appreciate God’s creation, to study nature, and to get fresh air and to play for overall physical, mental, and spiritual health. Along with plenty of physical exercise, she stressed nutritional, leisurely meals with the family and sufficient sleep. Charlotte would be horrified at today’s obese youth who sit around for hours playing violent video games and surfing the net, who live on diets of candy, sodas, and fast food. She believed children should be fed a steady idea of great ideas, something to think and learn about every day.

Most of all, Charlotte believed that the most important part of a child’s knowledge was the knowledge of God. “Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe-the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable and most happy-making.” (Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 158)

If you are looking for a homeschool method that can be used with any learning style (visual, auditory or hands-on learners), that encourages children to learn and to love learning without getting burned out, that excels academically, that fosters family closeness and intimacy with God, and that brings great freedom to your homeschooling, Charlotte’s methods are for you. You can learn more at www.charlottemason.com and www.cindyrushton.com. I also encourage you to buy Susan Scaheffer Macaulay’s For The Children’s Sake, Karen Andreola’s Charlotte Mason Companion, and Charlotte Mason’s The Original Home School Series.

I wish that I had personally known Charlotte, and could be friends with her. She seemed like such an interesting, intelligent, loving person. I wish I had been taught by her and that I could teach as wonderfully as she did. She is gone now, but her books and others’ Charlotte Mason books and teachings can tutor me and our daughter. As Susan says in her book (p. 11), “One day we will stand before the Creator. Were we willing to give, serve, and sacrifice for the children’s sake?”

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