An Introduction to Charlotte Mason

An Introduction to Charlotte Mason

All of us contributing to Simple Wonders have been introduced to Charlotte Mason and her philosophy at different points in our lives, but one thing is common among us all: we immediately fell in love with her ideas and methods of educating children. Something inside each of us recognized Miss Mason’s ideas as eternal truth, and we have found so many parallels with the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many of us have been trained as educators and, unfortunately, what we were taught about education clashed with Mason’s philosophy; we loved Miss Mason’s ideas, but we were unsure how to implement them. Her ideas go against traditional educational methods, and paradigm shifts are never easy.  We pushed formal lessons on our children at a young age, assuming the earlier the better. We purchased curriculums with scripted lectures and one-size-fits-all lesson plans based on textbooks, all tied together in carefully prepared schedules. The joy during that school year was short-lived. After a month or two of these lessons we couldn’t wait for school to end. Instead of feeling excited for each school day to begin, we felt dread; instead of feeling energized after morning lessons, we felt drained.

Eventually we  took the plunge and decided to follow Mason’s methods fully, and it is unanimous: this decision has been the greatest blessings to our homes!  We finally have a good balance in our homeschool day; learning is natural and enjoyable, and we can cover a wide range of subjects in a day without taking away precious time for our children to create, read, and play. We are excited for each school day to start, and feel content and full of life when lessons are finished. 

For those who are not familiar with Mason’s philosophy of education, this is our attempt to give you a better idea for what this type of education can look like for your family. We are continually studying and applying Miss Mason and her methods,  we are by no means experts, but this document will give you a basic idea of her philosophy and methods and how they correlate with the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, if you want to learn more than what we cover here we encourage you to check out the Resources page for podcasts, articles, and books that can teach you more in-depth on different subjects.

Charlotte Mason believed that children were born persons. Thus, she believed in educating the whole person, not just the mind. If we believe children are born persons, then lessons should be enjoyable. They should enhance the individual and give him the ability he needs for life. If we believe that children are born as unique individuals then each child has a right to be exposed to several fields of knowledge, not just those needed for a career or practical life. Miss Mason believed every normal child has a natural appetite for this kind of knowledge, and this appetite, or natural desire, is all a child needs to motivate him to do his lessons, if the knowledge is presented properly. The biggest philosophy that divides Miss Mason’s methods from traditional methods is the role of the teacher. Miss Mason declared often that the teacher should not be the “showman of the universe.” She believed the teacher kills the desire to learn in her students by:

  • Too much talking at the child, offering diluted knowledge without giving the child time and space to reflect and digest that knowledge.
  • Lectures that are assembled and arranged from different sources by the teacher. These usually offer knowledge that’s so condensed and well-prepared that the child doesn’t need to think about it, and doesn’t assimilate it.
  • Textbooks that are compressed and filtered and recompressed until they bear little of the original living ideas from the mind they started with.
  •  The use of competition and desire for achievement as motives to do lessons, instead of the natural hunger and love for knowledge that are all a child needs to learn.

Children learn best from real, tangible things, and books. Tangible things include:

  • Natural structures for physical activity like climbing, swimming, walking, etc.
  • Resources for working and building with, such as wood, fabric, and clay.
  • Natural objects in their native habitat, like insects, plants, dirt, and stones.
  • Works of art.
  • Scientific Instruments

You  might be wondering how a teacher can effectively teach her students if she is not to use lectures, textbooks, reward charts, grades, and worksheets. Mason explained how the teacher can influence her students by famously declaring “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” What she meant by this is that there are three main parts of a child’s education. We like to think of Atmosphere as real-life (the best teacher); the relationships with diverse people, the wide-array of experiences encountered, and the knowledge they gain from solving real-life problems. The second part of a child’s education is the development of good habits of character. This can be seen through habits of attention, cleanliness, honesty, and so on. Instilling these lifelong habits into our children are not only a huge blessing for them, but also for us as parents. Teaching and promoting good habits are vitally important to success in life. An individual can be highly intelligent and educated, but if they have not learned to be honest, hard-working, or kind they will never be successful or happy. The third part of the child’s education is academic learning through living ideas, through books and things.

The two main ways we teach through living things is by reading “living” books and handling tangible things. A living book is a book written by one author who is knowledgeable and passionate about a specific topic. It is often written in a story format, making the topic come alive for the reader. In the lower elementary years, the teacher/parent reads the living book aloud to the child. To cement these living ideas in the child’s mind, the child narrates what has just been read. When a child narrates, they tell back, in their own words, what they just heard. The process of listening to the living book, comprehending what was read, and telling what they hear helps the child retain the information so much more effectively than reading a textbook then being tested with a multiple-choice test.

Passages from living books can also be used for copywork. Copywork is a way for the child to practice handwriting, grammar, and spelling all at the same time. It is surprisingly simple, efficient, and effective! Copywork is when the parent or child chooses a short passage for the child to copy. The child practices their best handwriting, sees and writes words spelled correctly, and the parent can ask them about basic grammar such as punctuation, capitalization, and so on within that passage. 

In a Charlotte Mason education the child learns from a wide variety of subjects, from handicrafts to nature study. At first this can seem a bit overwhelming. But Miss Mason recommends that the lessons be kept short and varied throughout the day and  week so that your child can be exposed to a broad “feast” of subjects and ideas. By keeping lessons short and varied the child’s attention will be held and their brain will not become exhausted by using one area for too long.


Below you will you find a list of educational terms commonly used by Charlotte Mason and a chart of all the subjects and how often they are taught. I hope this can give you a general idea as you start to plan fi

Dictation: Having a passage read aloud and writing it down as correctly as possible from just hearing it. 

Oral Narration: After a book is read aloud to them, the child tells back what they just heard in their own words. 

Written Narration: After reading a book or having one read aloud to them, the child writes, in their own words, what they just heard from the story.

Copywork: Copying a short passage, poem, or scripture using best handwriting while also observing words spelt correctly and punctuation, capitalization, and basic grammar used. 

Book of Centuries: A book where children write down dates and events they read about during all their subjects.

Recitation: Learning to read and recite beautiful passages of  poetry and scriptures with clarity, emotion, and style. Often the result is these passages becoming committed to memory.


Lessons are kept short and varied. By varied we mean that you wouldn’t put lessons that require reading back-to-back, but instead stagger them with lessons that use different parts of the brain, like drawing or math.

Subjects taught in a Charlotte Mason Education
What that looks like

How often it is taught

Time spent
Scripture StudyReading the scriptures with your children, telling them the stories from the scriptures, etc. Daily10 minutes
PoetryReading a few poems and just enjoying them with your children.Daily5 minutes
RecitationLearning to read and recite poetry and scriptures with clarity, emotion, and style. 3x a week10 minutes
SingingThis can be done during family gather time. Songs chosen are usually hymns or folk songs. Another option is using SolfaDaily5 minutes
MathFind a program that is developmentally appropriate and fits your child’s needs. We highly recommend The Charlotte Mason Arithmetic Series.Daily20 minutes
Physical ExerciseSwedish dill, yoga, or traditional exercisesDaily20 minutes
Nature StudyGo on  nature walks and have  object lessons on special study topics.1x a weekObject Lesson- 15 minutes
Reading LessonsUse Mason’s methods for teaching this in our Reading+Spelling guide.Every other day. Alternate with word study. 10 minutes
Word StudyUse Mason’s methods for teaching this in our Reading+Spelling guide.Every other day. Alternate with reading lessons.10 minutes
ReadingHave your child spend time reading daily.Daily10-20 minutes
Copywork Once handwriting is mastered, child copies a passage from a living book. Child sees and writes words spelt correctly. Notice and talk about grammar principles within the passage. Daily10 minutes
Handwritingmaster a few strokes or lettersDaily
Natural HIstoryReading from natural history books in these categories : Biome/season, general species, & special studies topic3x a week15 minutes
ArtDay 1- lesson about drawing/sketchingDay 2- lesson on watercolor technique2x a week20 minutes
Handicrafts and Life SkillsThings such origami, cooking, sewing, crochet, clay modelingDaily20 minutes
HistoryUse living books and narration 2x a week20 minutes
Habit/Character Trainingread scriptures, poetry, and role-play2x a week15 minutes
Geographylook at map while answer questions; fill-in blank maps when finished2x a week15 minutes
Literatureread classics and historical fiction3x a week20 minutes
Artist Studypick an artist and study six of his/her paintings during the term1x a week
Composer Studypick a composer and study six of his/her pieces during the term1x a week

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