The Charlotte Mason method is quite popular in the homeschool world, with many families using its principles to guide their learning to one degree or another.
The method is quite flexible and open-ended, and its principles and suggestions can be applied and implemented in a number of different ways.
While this leaves parents with a good deal of room to really personalize and customize learning around their students, understanding and implementing the method at home can sometimes be a bit confusing those new to homeschooling.
To help out, we’ve created this guide that lays out the basic principles and common features of a Charlotte Mason approach, and provided a number of high quality Charlotte Mason-inspired or compatible resources we’ve looked at that can parents can take a look at and use.
Who Was Charlotte Mason
Born in 1842, Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason was a British educator, writer and advocate who founded the Parents Educational Union (PEU), an organization that supported homeschooling parents in Victorian England.
Mason later founded the Parents Union School in Ambleside, England, which taught students according to her own educational methods, philosophies and beliefs.
She later published her ideas in a series of books and articles, which later became the basis for one of the major approaches in homeschooling education, the Charlotte Mason method.
Briefly, What Is The Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Method
The essence of Charlotte Mason’s approach to teaching lies in the belief that children are born with a natural curiosity and an unrivaled ability and desire to learn about the world around them.
Young students, it is thought, therefore learn best when provided with a positive, child-centric learning environment that nurtures this natural orientation for learning, with lessons focused more on instilling concepts and ideas than drilling facts into a child’s head.
As a result, Charlotte Mason’s methods can be thought of as providing a very holistic homeschooling approach, being focused on educating the whole child and going far beyond simply imparting information.
Instead, Charlotte Mason seeks to help parents shape and develop a child’s character, values, habits and even the environment around them.
To do so, it uses a three-pronged approach, which Charlotte Mason referred to with her statement “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
A key component of a Charlotte Mason approach is the child’s surroundings.
The overarching idea is that parents should create a home learning environment that is nourishing and safe, surrounding the student with positivity, laughter and learning so that they feel encouraged to explore and engage with their learning materials.
Parents, for example, are encouraged to fill their houses with books and make them readily available to their children to encourage curiosity and literacy.
They may also be encouraged to have areas designated for arts and crafts in order to stimulate creativity and tactile learning, and be ready (and willing) to head into the real world in order to offer opportunities for outdoor and on the go learning.
Touching on the development of a child’s character, the Charlotte Mason method is also concerned with discipline – that is the discipline of habits, not punishments.
Charlotte Mason considered the formation of proper behavior and habits to be inseparable from the overall development of a child and compared the discipline of habit to the rails of a train, with the idea being that proper habits instilled in childhood can help properly guide children as they grow up and navigate life’s complexity.
Consequently, she recommended that parents intentionally and carefully work on instilling good habits in a child rather than letting habits and behaviors develop naturally and correcting them afterwards.
What habits a parent should instill according to this method and approach is, of course, left to the parent and can include things like adhering to lesson schedules, cleaning, being kind and gentle, daily reading and so on.
Alongside the coursework, parents and students deliberately practice these habits, which serves to reinforce them, and are expected to actively correct bad ones.
In line with the idea that kids are natural born learners, Charlotte Mason also advocated that parents avoid hammering them with facts, dates and drill (a process now referred to as “drill and kill”).
Instead, the Charlotte Mason method recommends that parents present their students with as wide a range of ideas from as many different sources and subjects as possible.
Rather than just being handed dry facts from a textbook, the idea is to provide students with a living education, feeding their mind by allowing them to explore and engage with knowledge from many different types of engaging sources, such as:
- Living books
- Nature studies
- And more
Unlike other homeschooling methods, which may use these sources of information as enrichment options or for fun, this variety of material can act as a main source of ideas and concepts for each subject (yes, even math and science).
The general idea behind this is that parents can never really know what will “spark” for a student, and a diversity and variety of engaging learning materials will let students explore and derive knowledge from where they can, perhaps even developing a love or passion for a subject along the way.
Notable Features of A Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Approach
As can be seen from the above, the Charlotte Mason method can be seen as more of a broad guideline than a rigid, rule-based approach to teaching.
It’s not hard, then, to see why it can be very appealing for homeschooling parents, as it allows for a great deal of built in flexibility and personalization that can help parents tailer learning around a student’s needs and interests.
While it’s true that Charlotte Mason homeschools can look quite different from one another, there are some features that many have in common.
The use of living books to impart knowledge and guide learning is probably the hallmark of the Charlotte Mason method.
In short, living books are books that are written by an authoritative or passionate author, that are written in a way that brings the subject matter to life, presenting the material in a way that is engaging, entertaining and informative.
Compared to textbooks or even illustrated reference books, they tend to draw students in and are intended to spark their interest and get them thinking deeply about the ideas presented.
Charlotte Mason-style living books can be found for pretty much every subject matter, including science, math, history, social studies, geography and even engineering and technology.
The definition of what is or isn’t a living book is a bit murky, and parents tend to have different ideas of what is and isn’t a living book.
While we’ve discussed the matter in greater detail in a previous post, by and large living books tend to have a few features that parents can look for:
- They are written by an authority or someone with a passion about the subject
- They are engaging, interesting and even entertaining
- They are often, but not always, written in a narrative style
- They aren’t childish, babyish or condescending (what Charlotte Mason referred to as “twaddle”).
The Charlotte Mason homeschooling style is notable for its shorter lessons.
While there is no set time to this, the idea is that lessons should be kept to a length that will prevent students from becoming frustrated or from losing focus.
As a result, lessons in a Charlotte Mason curriculum tend to be a little less lengthy and more easily digestible for kids than a unit study or classical curriculum might otherwise be.
That said, the length of a lesson is intended to be age appropriate, and parents are encouraged to gradually increase in length based on the child’s developing attention span and capacity to sit and learn.
Thus, while earlier lessons might be 10 minutes long, by later grades students are typically capable of sitting through a full 45 minute to an hour session.
One interesting exercise that is often found in Charlotte Mason curricula (and the homeschools that use them) is narration.
In a narration exercise, a parent reads something aloud to a student, who is then required to repeat back in their own words (or later on in writing) what they’ve just heard, even inserting their opinions or ideas as they go.
In this way, students can be assessed on their understanding of the material without formal tests or quizzes, while at the same time get much needed practice on their comprehension and analytical skills.
Copywork and Dictation
Copywork and dictation exercises tend to be staples of Charlotte Mason language arts programs.
With copywork, students are given a piece of high-quality writing to copy out by hand, practicing their handwriting while also being given examples of proper grammar, spelling and punctuation in context.
With dictation, on the other hand, students listen to word lists or entire passages and write what they hear by hand.
In this way, students can practice their spelling, grammar, mechanics and handwriting, all without needing to memorize or drill.
Art & Music Appreciation
Art and music studies were part of the Charlotte Mason method from its inception, with the idea that exposing children to fine art and great works could be very important and beneficial to their development as a person.
As a result, many Charlotte Mason homeschools often integrate picture or music studies, where students study or listen to a work of art and then narrate their thoughts, ideas or feelings to the parent.
Aside from integrating art and creativity into a student’s daily life, the general idea is to help students hone their analytic and observational skills, while perhaps even integrating subject-specific learning (such as a connection to history or literature).
Giving students the opportunity to go outside once a week and interact with the world around them in the framework of a lesson is a popular exercise in the Charlotte Mason approach.
A nature study generally involves four steps – setting a focus or destination, going there, carefully looking and studying the area, and then either discussing or recording one’s observations and thoughts afterwards.
This intentional and careful approach separates a nature study from a more casual walk and, with a little forethought and planning, it can be adapted to many different subjects.
Those living a bit far from nature can also adapt the process to fit natural museums, zoos, parks and so on.
Pros and Cons Of Charlotte Mason Homeschooling
Although a popular and relatively widespread homeschooling approach, the Charlotte Mason method does have some advantages and disadvantages that interested parents will want to consider.
Very customizable, personal approach to teaching
While it offers a lot of guidance and suggestions for creating a positive and nurturing learning environment, there aren’t as many hard and fast rules in putting together a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool as there can be with other approaches.
As a result, within reason, parents can easily pick and choose what features, activities and exercises best fit their child and really tailor their learning and environment accordingly.
Engaging living books
Living books can be a very useful and fun addition to just about any subject.
They tend to be a lot more engaging than a standard text or textbook and tend to allow students to work on their reading and literacy skills in tandem.
Lots of parent-student bonding opportunities
By and large a good deal of Charlotte Mason learning involves discussion and interesting back and forths between parent and child, which can be very enjoyable and a great bonding experience for families.
Lessons tend to stay short and manageable for students
The Charlotte Mason method inherently recognizes that many children have a hard time with long, intensive lessons, regardless of how interesting the material or teacher might be.
As a result, the method emphasizes shorter lessons that are more in line with a student’s abilities and development, which can go a long way reducing inattention and frustration on the part of students.
Very art and creativity oriented
Encouraging the use of literature, art, music, crafts and nature studies, the Charlotte Mason method tends to encourage creativity and an appreciation of the arts more than most other approaches to teaching.
Not a lot of testing
Although they can have formal assessments, Charlotte Mason curricula tend to involve more narration, dictation and other in-lesson exercises rather than dedicated, memorization-based testing.
As a result it can be a more accommodating and approachable way of teaching students who are prone to test-anxiety.
Popular and well-supported
The Charlotte Mason method is very popular in the homeschool community and there is a great deal of support for it, with parents being able to seek resources and advice through a wide variety of private companies, forums, social media, websites and more.
Can be pricey
With the inclusion of living books, hands-on learning, art, music and more, a Charlotte Mason curriculum can involve making a few more purchases than a simple textbook/workbook combination.
Can be parent intensive
The Charlotte Mason approach tends to encourage parents to do more to create a positive learning experience for their child, which can involve re-organizing the learning environment quite a bit.
Its lessons also tend to involve dialogues, nature studies, hands-on activities, reading aloud and other exercises that require parents to be present and involved in their child’s learning.
As a result, it does require parents to dedicate a considerable amount of time and effort to their child, which can be an issue for those who are very busy or otherwise time-poor.
May be an unfamiliar approach to many
A Charlotte Mason homeschool does look quite different than many other, more traditional forms of learning and so may require a parent to reassess or even reset their assumptions about education, which can be stressful and may involve a kind of leap of faith to get started.
Those raised on top-down, chalkboard lectures may, for example, have a hard time appreciating the use of living books for instruction or the integration of art and nature studies into a weekly schedule.
Resources To Get Started With Charlotte Mason Homeschooling
Life of Fred (K-12)
It’s rare that you see a math curriculum that is itself a series of living books, but Life of Fred is just that.
Created by former teacher and professor Dr. Stan Schmidt, Life of Fred is a series of math books that teach math from kindergarten to college through the use of engrossing and fictional stories starring child-prodigy and six-year-old math professor Fred Gauss.
Although written in a very approachable manner and written in a very engaging, albeit usual, way, the program does teach math in a surprising amount of depth and can be a great resource for homeschoolers who are sick of the usual math textbooks.
Miquon Math (Gr 1-3)
Based on the work of educator and innovator Lore Rasmussen at the famous Miquon School, Miquon Math is a relatively affordable homeschool math curriculum that emphasizes hands-on and kinesthetic explorations of math.
Taking a student-centric approach to math, students physically explore abstract concepts in math labs with the help of various manipulatives such as Cuisenaire Rods with the goal of strengthening their conceptual understanding of the subject.
Singapore Math (Dimensions or Primary Mathematics) (K-8)
Based on the concepts-first approach to math that transformed the Singapore primary school system into an international math powerhouse, the Singapore Math method is a popular choice in many Charlotte Mason homeschools.
Rather than just drill math problems to build speed and accuracy, the program emphasizes developing an understanding of why math works the way it does and is notable for its process of using hands-on activities and visual representations before progressing to abstract equations.
Math in Focus (K-8)
Math in Focus is an alternative program to Singapore Math’s Primary Mathematics and Dimensions programs that is also based on the popular Singapore method of teaching math.
Essentially an updated and US-adapted version of My Pals Are Here, the original Singaporean curriculum, the program also focuses on developing a deeper and comprehensive understanding of math concepts and gradually introduces students to abstract concepts via hands-on learning and drawings.
On the whole, the program strongly favors critical thinking and problem solving skills over rote memorization and drill.
Math With Confidence (K-6)
Math with Confidence is a math program that aims to help students develop stronger math skills and a strong understanding of math concepts through the use of hands-on learning and various multisensory demonstrations and activities.
In addition to the main lessons, the program also offers enrichment lessons that can include the use of various math-related living books, which is a nice change of pace.
Math Lessons for Living Education (K-6)
Math Lessons for a Living Education is a Christian Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool math program that weaves together storytelling, math problems, activities, copywork, narration and more to create a pretty dynamic and multisensory learning experience.
Although a conceptual math program that stresses problem solving and understanding, MLFLE is actually fairly gentle in its approach.
With fairly straightforward problems and instruction, a story-based approach, lots of fun activities and ample opportunity for review, it can be a good option for students who have a fear of math or have struggled with the subject in the past.
English Language Arts
Brave Writer (K-12)
Brave Writer is a Charlotte Mason-inspired writing program that uses a rather unique activity-rich, discovery-based approach to help students learn to write and write well.
Through conversations, art appreciation, nature journaling, poetry tea times and more, students discover new ideas and inspirations for their writing and then begin a process of learning and honing their grammar, spelling, style and vocabulary skills through various exercises, such as literary studies and copywork/dictation.
A considerably open and student centric approach, the program is guided through the author’s own guide, the Writer’s Jungle, which serves as a philosophical and instructional basis for the program.
First Language Lessons (Gr 1-4)
First Language Lessons is a grammar program that is inspired by both Charlotte Mason and classical homeschooling methods.
Lessons include exposure to literature, poetry and art, which serve as the basis for narration and discussion, and the program makes extensive use of copywork and dictation.
In addition, the program also borrows some techniques from more traditional language instruction, such as recitation, memory work and sentence diagramming, which creates a more rigorous, blended and holistic grammar program that parents might find interesting.
Learning Language Arts Through Literature (Gr. 1-12)
As one might suspect from the name, Learning Language Arts Through Literature is a literature-based language arts program that teaches reading, writing, oral presentation skills, spelling, grammar and more.
To do so it makes use of high-quality, classic and often living literature, workbook lessons, copywork, dictation and other activities to create a well-balanced, thorough and pretty comprehensive language arts program.
Draw Write Now (K-3)
Draw Write Now is one of the more interesting handwriting programs we’ve come across and potentially a good fit for those interested in a Charlotte Mason approach to the subject.
The program blends handwriting and drawing instruction into a single curriculum, teaching kids to reproduce impressive drawings, such as cars, trains, buildings and more, while working on their letter formation and handwriting through dedicated copywork exercises.
Compared to rival programs, Draw Write Now integrates a lot more art, analysis and creative practice into handwriting instruction, which can potentially make it far more interesting and low stress for students.
History and Social Science
Notgrass History (Gr 1-12)
Notgrass History is a Christian history curriculum that might be interesting for those interested in more of a Charlotte Mason approach to American, ancient and world history.
In addition to primary source readings and a main text, the program also uses a variety of high quality books and stories to help students learn in a more enjoyable manner, and it includes a wide variety of hands-on projects and activities, including nature studies, arts and crafts, whole family activities and more.
As well as history, Notgrass also includes courses in civics, economics and geography, which is kind of interesting.
History Quest (Gr. 1-6)
Although based around a unit study approach to history, History Quest actually has a number of features that make it attractive to Charlotte Mason homeschoolers in our opinion.
Covering history to the 17th century or so, the program’s history texts are written in a colorful, engaging and interesting storytelling-style that can quickly capture a student’s imagination.
In addition, the program also offers a variety of craft-based activities and a fairly extensive literature list that includes a good number of living books.
More than this, however, the program includes what it calls Hygge history units, where students explore historically-linked books and art in a comfortable, positive and relaxed setting, something that is pretty close to the ideal Charlotte Mason environment in many ways.
Beautiful Feet Books (K-12)
Beautiful Feet Books is a Christian Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool history curriculum provider that can offer parents a lot of different subject options across the K-12 grade range.
Whether students are studying early US history or high school level medieval history, each course provides parents and students with colorful and engaging teacher’s guides and a huge variety of living books (10-20 options per lesson) to help them explore ideas and concepts.
In addition to its living books, the program also provides homeschools with a number of Charlotte Mason-inspired activities, such as artwork and music resources, handicrafts, coloring, modeling, baking and cooking, field trips and more.
As a result, the program can offer a far more engaging, hands-on and fun exploration of history that really brings things to life compared to most of its textbook-based rivals.
Elemental Science (K-8)
Elemental Science is a fun, hands-on science program that eschews the usual science textbooks in favor of interesting and illustrated reference books (such as those by Usborne or Kingfisher) and a wide variety of living science books that bring learning to life and introduce students to the lives and discoveries of important scientists.
In addition to its literature-based component, the curriculum also features a diversity of student activities, including notebooking and lapbooking, memory work, poems, narration,. sketching and more.
Overall, while the program is structured around a classical homeschool approach, with its Grammar and Logic Stage structure, we feel it can be well-suited to Charlotte Mason learners, as well.
Sassafras Science (K-5)
Sassafras Science takes a bit of a different approach when it comes to teaching science, and one that we feel can suit a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool quite well.
Rather than teaching from a textbook, the program is centered around a series of living adventure novels that cover a particular subject in science, from Zoology to Astronomy.
The books follow the adventures of two twins who use their scientist uncle’s planet-spanning zipline to set off from adventure to adventure, exploring different concepts in science as they go along.
As they read through the series, students do notebooking/lapbook exercises, read a number of reference and other living books and do copywork and dictation to properly expand their scientific vocabulary, all of which make the curriculum fun and very Charlotte Mason-friendly.
Noeo Science (Gr. 1-8)
Noeo Science is a faith-neutral homeschool science curriculum that blends elements of Charlotte Mason with Classical education to create a pretty comprehensive and thorough elementary to middle school science curriculum.
The program is divided into the classical trivium (Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric stages), and teaches biology, chemistry, physics and more through short lessons filled with engaging and extensive hands-on experimentation, a rather extensive grade-leveled living book list, journaling and similar activities.
While perhaps not a pure Charlotte Mason science program, Noeo does an excellent job at bringing in a number of CM-inspired elements and can ultimately be an excellent and thorough science option.
Full Curriculum Boxes
For parents who are interested in building a Charlotte Mason-inspired learning environment but don’t really have the time or ability to go out and buy resources for each grade and student, Bookshark can provide a full and curated year’s learning in a single box.
The company pre-screens and packages a full complement of curriculum options from well-respected educational providers for each grade level, relevant lesson plans, hands-on learning materials, as well as including a huge number of living books that form a strong literature-based learning component, particularly when it comes to history.
In addition, many of the curricula that Bookshark includes are Charlotte Mason-inspired or friendly and the company offers its own grammar program that includes a good deal of copywork, dictation and other CM-style activities.
Many parents interested in the Charlotte Mason method, especially those without a strong music background, find it hard to add music appreciation into their teaching.
SQUILT offers these parents a ready solution, helping instill a love of music and a greater understanding of it through the use of live lessons, recorded music, coloring pages, hands-on activities, drawing activities, connect the dots and even a journal-like Listening Map.
The program is available as zoom-based lessons, as well as a la carte-style DIY and self-study formats, and in general can a fun and guided way of introducing music into a child’s life.
About the Author
Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.
Jennifer Keenes is a writer and a new mom living in Florida. She studied education and, prior to becoming a freelance writer, worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary and middle school level. She is a big fan of the beach, working out and homeschooling her two daughters.