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.  However, 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 curriculum 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.

        We all eventually 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 of what this type of education can look like for your family. We are continually studying and applying Miss Mason and her methods–we do not consider ourselves 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. If you want to learn more than what we cover here, we encourage you to complete the Teach Ye Diligently course where you will gain a deeper understanding of Ms. Mason’s principles and methods. 

PHILOSOPHY

        At the core of her philosophy, 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 (a good balance of challenge and interest). 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. 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 belief 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:

  1. Too much talking at the child, offering diluted knowledge without giving the child time and space to reflect and digest that knowledge.
  2. 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.
  3. Textbooks that are compressed and filtered and recompressed until they bear little of the original living ideas from the mind they started with.
  4.  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.
  5. 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

METHODS

        The question is then raised “How can a teacher effectively teach her students if she is not to use lectures, textbooks, reward charts, grades, and worksheets?” Mason explained how the teacher/parent influences 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 that the parent or teacher can directly influence. We like to think of atmosphere as real-life experiences (the best teacher); the relationships with 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 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. They have actually lived what they are writing about. It is often written as a narrative, 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 book, comprehending what was read, and telling back what they processed helps the child retain the information much more effectively than reading a textbook and being evaluated with a multiple-choice test. The process of narration is setting a strong foundation for later writing skills. 

        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 carefully copies the passage into a notebook, taking note of correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. After a few years of copywork, the child moves on to dictation, which is copying a passage down as the parent reads it, adding the correct spelling, punctuation and grammar to the best of their knowledge. Any mistakes are noted by the parent and supplemental teaching is given. 

        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.

EXAMPLE OF FORM 1 (GRADES 1-3) WEEKLY SCHEDULE

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. This list looks overwhelming, but you will find (as many mothers have) that if you just add one subject at a time you will easily fit it all in. And the variety of subjects makes school interesting and enjoyable. There are many courses on YouTube, Udemy, and Skillshare for drawing, art, and handicrafts.

Subjects taught 

What it looks like

How Often 

How Long

Scripture Study

Reading the scriptures with your children, telling them the stories from the scriptures, etc. 

Daily

 10 minutes

Poetry

Reading a few poems and just enjoying them with your children.

Daily

5 minutes

Recitation

 Child picks 2 poems for each term, along with scriptures memorized as family.

3x a week

10 minutes

Singing

 Hymns, folksongs, foreign language folksongs, and singing lessons (Solfa)

Daily

 5 minutes

Math

Find a program that is developmentally appropriate and fits your child’s needs. We highly recommend The Charlotte Mason Arithmetic Series.

Daily

20 minutes

Physical Exercise

 Swimming, running, biking, climbing trees, soccer, tennis, yoga, Swedish drill etc.

Daily

20 minutes

Nature Study

Read books about nature, take a nature walk once per week, and do an object lesson about once every 3-4 weeks.

3x a week

Object Lesson- 15 minutes

Reading Lessons

Use Mason’s methods for teaching this in our Reading+Spelling guide.

Every other day. Alternate with word study. 

10 minutes

Word Study

Use Mason’s methods for teaching this in our Reading+Spelling guide.

Every other day. Alternate with reading lessons.

10 minutes

Reading

Have your child spend time reading daily.

Daily

10-20 minutes

Copywork 

Copying a passage from a living book. Using best handwriting. Seeing and writing words spelled correctly. Noticing and talking about grammar principles within the passage. 

Daily

10 minutes

Handwriting

Once good handwriting skills are mastered, the child moves on to copywork.Daily  10 minutes

Natural History

Read from a different natural history topic each day: Biome/season, general species, & special studies topic

3x a week

15 minutes

Art

Day 1- lesson about drawing/sketching

Day 2- lesson on watercolor technique

2x a week

20 minutes

Handicrafts/Skills

Things such origami, cooking, sewing, crochet, clay modeling

Daily

20 minutes

History

Use living books and narration 

2x a week

20 minutes

    

Geography

Read books about travel and geography. Make land forms out of sand or clay.

2x a week

15 minutes

Literature

Read fairy tales, Aesops fables, etc.

3x a week

20 minutes

Artist Study

 Pick one artist per term and study 6 of their paintings. Study 1 painting for 2 weeks.

1x a week

10 minutes

Composer Study

 Pick one composer per term and study 6 of their pieces. Listen to a new one every two weeks.

1x a week

10 minutes