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Have you ever read an early primer to your young child and been bored to tears? Have you wondered if your child felt the same way? What if children didn’t need stickers, rewards, or candy to learn? What if learning was so joyful and gentle that children couldn’t wait to get started? The Charlotte Mason method might just be the philosophy you’re looking for.
History Of The Charlotte Mason Method
Charlotte Mason was a teacher who quickly recognized a need for reform. Over many years of teaching experience, she refined her ideas and methods, but the basics stayed the same. In 1886, her book Home Education was published and quickly became widely popular in Great Britain. Mothers looking for a better way to teach their children instantly gravitated towards Mason’s methods. In 1887, Mason started the Parents’ National Educational Union (PNEU), while she continued to offer lectures throughout the UK. In 1891, she founded the House of Education to train teachers and governesses in her method. The Charlotte Mason method became so popular that the training center couldn’t train governesses fast enough to meet demand. The PNEU also established schools throughout the UK that followed the Charlotte Mason method. Mason continued training teachers until her death in 1921 at the age of eighty-one.
The philosophy fell into obscurity after World War II with the advent of a national curriculum for all state schools in the UK. Fewer parents used nannies and governesses, and parents wanted a more competitive, fast-paced curriculum. Today, only a handful of PNEU schools remain in Britain.
In recent years, homeschoolers have rediscovered Charlotte Mason and her philosophy of incorporating nature, handicrafts, classical music, art, and the great literary works to teach children. As Mason herself said, “the aim of education… is to produce a human being at his best, physically, mentally, morally and spiritually, quickened by religion and with some knowledge of nature, art, literature and handicraft.”
Charlotte Mason believed that education has three parts: atmosphere, discipline and life. She believed the environment, or atmosphere, a child is educated in matters deeply. She didn’t offer grades or incentives for learning; rather, she gently encouraged children to do their best work every time and love learning for its own sake. She believed learning is best accomplished through real life experiences—through interactions with nature, good books, and warm companions.
Sound like lofty ideals? Charlotte Mason was an idealist, but she backed those ideals by plenty of practical wisdom and experience. Read on to learn tips on incorporating the Charlotte Mason method into your teaching.
- A teacher’s role is not to teach through lectures, but through experiences and books. Mason believed in using “real books” to teach children about history, science, social studies, and any other subject you might introduce. Real books are not dry textbooks, but books written by people who are passionate and knowledgeable about a particular subject. In addition to non-fiction real books, Mason also emphasized wholesome literary classics for children. For young children, you might choose books by Eve Bunting, Lio Lionni, Eric Carle, or Ezra Jack Keats. Common choices for older children include The Little House on the Prairie series, The Boxcar Children, or Ginger Pye. Choose books that are well written, have universal appeal, and offer examples of character and discipline.
- After reading a book or passage, children are asked to narrate or explain what they’ve learned. As they get older, they can write their narrations, but Mason felt this early practice in narration helped children learn to analyze information, logically organize it, and present it articulately.
- Forget workbooks, boring phonics exercises, and language drills. Instead, offer children the best books you can find, even if they’re slightly above a child’s reading level. If children develop a fire for reading, they’ll figure out the mechanics on their own.
- Keep lessons short to develop the habit of attention and quality of work. Mason believed that when lessons drag on interminably, children lose their zest for learning and become unmotivated. They may hurry through work sloppily or procrastinate. Instead, keep lessons interesting and short enough to maintain focus. In Mason’s schools, a typical day for younger elementary children lasted only two and a half hours. Older children attended for four hours.
- Teach children handicrafts and the arts. When teaching crafts, offer only those that have a real purpose, and teach children the proper skills for executing them. Take walks in nature and keep a sketchbook for nature drawings. Teach children how to sit and observe a plant or animal in order to draw it. Introduce master artists and show examples of their work.
- Young children learn math concepts by manipulating sets or groups of real objects—beans, Legos, buttons, shells, or raisins. Later, children gradually begin to think in numbers without the need for a concrete example.
- History lessons should revolve around well-written stories of real-life children and people living within a certain time, rather than an emphasis on dry facts and dates.
The Benefits And Drawbacks Of The Charlotte Mason Method
The Charlotte Mason method is an ideal philosophy to adapt in the early years. It fosters creativity, gentleness of spirit, and a true love of learning. This method is less structured than some curriculums and offers families a relaxed, flexible approach to education.
Because the method doesn’t rely on tests or drills, parents must learn to observe progress and document it through written notes. Children also keep a notebook, which serves as evidence of learning. Parents new to homeschooling may feel uneasy about the lack of structure and prefer workbooks or tests instead. As children get older, they may incorporate more structured learning methods in preparation for college.
Charlotte Mason wrote a complete volume of books on her philosophy, including Home Education, Parents and Children, School Education, Ourselves, Formation of Character, and A Philosophy of Education. These books offer an in-depth look at the Charlotte Mason method, and they’re available at most public libraries or for purchase online. The books are written for a nineteenth-century audience, and as you might expect, are a bit wordy. Still, if you want to get the method directly from the source, these books are the way to go.
For a more modern take on it, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote For the Children’s Sake, an important early book that rekindled interest in the Charlotte Mason method. Karen Andreola is also a renowned expert on the Charlotte Mason method. She’s written many articles for Practical Homeschooling magazine on the subject and also published A Charlotte Mason Companion, which breaks the philosophy down into manageable pieces and offers real solutions for incorporating it into your homeschooling.
There are also Internet resources available. SimplyCharlotteMason  is a wonderful website, packed with book lists, curriculum ideas, resources and helps. You’ll find a bookstore here, as well as a forum where you can meet others interested in the method. Be sure to visit Ambleside  for comprehensive information on the method, as well as ideas and resources for teaching everything from science to classical music.
The Charlotte Mason method is more than a curriculum or educational philosophy. It’s a way of life. Mason believed deeply that education should feed the spirit and soul as it trains the mind.