Approaches to Homeschool: Charlotte Mason

Dear Reader,

[This is part of my series on different homeschooling styles. Read about unit studies and unschooling. Still to come are classical education, Thomas Jefferson education, Montessori, Waldorf, and perhaps more.]

It occurred to me that in my series on different homeschool styles, I hadn’t scheduled in a post specifically on the Charlotte Mason method. This is the approach I take and I cannot help myself from comparing all the others to it, but I should answer my questions about it too.

The four questions I am trying to answer for each are:

1. What do they assume about how learning works?

2. How do they view children?

3. How do they view human nature?

4. What do they believe is the goal of education?

Charlotte Mason’s approach is very definitely a philosophy so it has a lot to say in terms of the how and why of learning (in some other approaches one has to read between the lines to discern these). Two of Miss Mason’s most famous quotes are:

“Education is the science of relations.”


“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

And beyond these there are Charlotte’s 20 principles to help elucidate her position.

Principle number 13 expands upon the first quote:

“‘Education is the Science of Relations’; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of–
‘Those first-born affinities

‘That fit our new existence to existing things.'”

And put in more modern language by Ambleside Online:

“‘Education is the science of relations’ means that children have minds capable of making their own connections with knowledge and experiences, so we make sure the child learns about nature, science and art, knows how to make things, reads many living books and that they are physically fit.”

There are two key points in  here: first, that children are educated when they form relationships with the materials before them, and second, that teachers and parents do not so much teach as help children form these relationships. It is ultimately something they must do for themselves. Good books and pictures and music are put before the child but it is up to them to interact with and absorb this material, to make it part of their being. And this is why narration is such a big part of Charlotte’s approach. Narration is the tool whereby one processes and integrates the material for oneself.

In principle five, we find,

“Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments–the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.”

This is further elaborated in principles 6 through 8. “Education is an atmosphere” means that children should interact with real things, real books for instance and not summaries dumbed down to their level.

“Education is a discipline” alludes to the use of habit training. Miss Mason alleges that we all have habits, paths our minds and actions tend to run in. If we do not deliberately cultivate good habits, we will fall into bad ones by default.

“Education is a life” means that ideas are the central food of the mind and spirit. Education is not a separate part of life but is always being done. The mind needs to eat just as the body does and what it feeds on is living ideas, not dry facts.

And what I think is really one of the key concepts for me in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is found in principle number twenty. It is that there is no real distinction between the intellectual and the spiritual. It is God’s Holy Spirit that works in the mind and teaches us all things. He is the Giver of all wisdom though we may call the subjects secular. Principle 20 reads:

“We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”

To sum up, I would say that in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy education is the mind feeding upon the ideas found in quality materials. This ingestion is just as necessary to the mind as food is to the body. The result of our consumption of such nourishment is that we form relationships with the things we study.

This then gets us to the fourth question above, the goal of education. Here Charlotte is quite clear:

“Our aim in education is to give children vital interests in as many directions as possible –to set their feet in a large room.”   [School Education, p. 166]

It is the number of relationships a child forms that matters in this approach. What these relationships are will vary from individual to individual. There is no set core curriculum which one is expected to learn. Rather it is a very individualistic approach because it depends not upon the teacher, whose job is to lay out good materials and then to get out of the way, but upon the student. Elsewhere she says that what matters in the end is not how much one knows but how much they care.

Which brings us to Charlotte Mason’s view of the child. Her first principle is “Children are born persons.” I have discussed this previously in my post on the biblical nature of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. To me this principle gets to the fact that we are all made in the image of God and that even the tiniest baby has his or her own standing before the Creator. We are complete people; all our faculties are there from birth and do not need to be developed. So it is that Charlotte can say that even the youngest children do their own learning. They have capable minds which can form relationships with what is set before them.

I have also written on the second principle: “[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.” This is one I have struggled with. But in the end, I think I take it not so much as a theological statement about our innate goodness or badness, but as an expression of confidence in every child’s ability to learn, no matter how humble their circumstances.

So how does Charlotte Mason view children? As inherently valuable and innately able to learn.

And what does this say for her view of human nature as a whole? I think it is clear that Charlotte values individuals. She places a high price on the uniqueness of each of us. She does not ignore the sinfulness which is in us; this is addressed largely in her sections on habit training. But overall, her view is a very positive one which expects much from each person and respects each one’s distinct personality.


45 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kim on July 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

    awesome post! Thank you for sharing it. It helps remind me of why I homeschool!


  2. […] methods. Here are the previously published parts: Intro, Unit Studies, Unschooling, Classical, Charlotte Mason, and Thomas Jefferson […]


  3. […] is only a matter of degrees but two of the other methods I have looked at thus far, unschooling and the Charlotte Mason method, express the goals differently. It is a bit hard to say for unschooling because it is by its very […]


  4. […] is easy to see initial similarities with Charlotte Mason’s method. Charlotte and Maria (we are all on a  first name basis, you know) were near contemporaries and so […]


  5. […] on it for my continuing series on different approaches to homeschool (see the intro, unschooling, CM education, classical, TJEd, Christian classical, Montessori, and the Puritans’ Home School Curriculum, […]


  6. […] Writer’s Jungle. This is a very Charlotte Mason-styled approach to writing (I am a big fan of CM-style educating). I found it very interesting to read, and it contains many helpful hints. So my initial plan was […]


  7. […] of each of the homeschool approaches I look at in my series on them. And I have done a post on Charlotte Mason for that series which addresses the issue. It has also come up in a number of other […]


  8. […] Trivium Pursuit is similar in many ways. I find less talk about wisdom in it, however. Instead, there is a strong emphasis on the family. There is one model of Christian family life which seems to be the goal of this approach to education (see this earlier post). Families are good and God-ordained and certainly godly families can bring glory to God. But for myself, I think they limit themselves too much to one model of how Christian life should be. […]


  9. […] approaches to homeschool (see these posts on Unit Studies, Classical Ed, Christian classical ed, Charlotte Mason, Thomas Jefferson Education, Unschooling, the Puritans’ Home School curriculum, Montessori, […]


  10. […] couple of weeks or so, I do not view them as the only thing we do to build writing skills. Taking a Charlotte Mason approach to education, we do a lot of narrating. Most of what we do is oral at this point, but the […]


  11. […] of the differences between a Charlotte Mason education and a classical education (as we term it today; Charlotte can be called classical depending on how […]


  12. […] I feel like he should be doing more of his own reading, hence the move to more independent work. A Charlotte Mason education I believe is really fairly simple. Reading and narration are a large part of it. And then there […]


  13. […] studying this year, but I realized that especially for new homeschoolers, or perhaps those new to a Charlotte Mason education, there may still be questions about exactly how it all works. So I thought I would say something […]


  14. […] a certain glee at reading Gatto’s words. We do in our homeschool do some memory work (a la Charlotte Mason) but memorization itself is by no means the backbone of our approach. I have at times been […]


  15. […] to say, as a fan of Charlotte Mason, I love the talk not just of art study but of observation, patience, and above all relationship as […]


  16. […] together bits spread throughout the book. Since my approach to homeschool is mostly based on Charlotte Mason’s writings, I can’t help comparing what he has to say with her approach. And there are a lot of […]


  17. […] a little context, we take a very Charlotte Mason approach to history. We don’t do projects or worksheets. Pretty much we just read and narrate. The one […]


  18. […] tie this back to homeschooling, this is why I like the Charlotte Mason approach. Charlotte begins by respecting the personhood of each child (her first principle is […]


  19. […] you do reading comprehension in your homeschool? Do you have a curriculum for it? In a Charlotte Mason Education, such things are not needed. Narration takes the place of reading comprehension. In narration, a […]


  20. […] here) but had never read this document. As you know if you have been here any time at all, I take a Charlotte Mason approach to education, so my remarks will make frequent reference to Miss Mason’s ideas. It is hard for […]


  21. […] they speak of each child’s personhood which I usually consider a good thing. A a devotee of Charlotte Mason and her approach to education, I am big on treating children as people. But as they continue and get to the quote I have above, […]


  22. […] come up with: When we read a book, we connect with the mind of the author (this I have learned from Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy); if there is no author, there is nothing to engage us, no one to connect with. I realize this is […]


  23. […] to fall in the classical education camp. Though my own approach tends to follow along the lines of a Charlotte Mason education, I was intrigued by some of what he had to […]


  24. […] participate in some online forums (fora?) about homeschooling and particularly about Charlotte Mason style education. I have noticed on these that while most of those participating are trying to educate […]


  25. […] know where I am coming from — I am homeschooling four kids, ages 9, 10, 12 and 14. We take a Charlotte Mason approach to our schooling. We read “spine” books together which give an overview of the era and […]


  26. […] him a picture of the time he is reading about. It allows one to form connections, the heart of a Charlotte Mason education. But what happens when not everything in such a book is […]


  27. […] also be an excellent choice. The Mayapple School is very nature oriented, an emphasis my beloved Charlotte Mason would have approved of. Their approach is one of “interdisciplinary learning that helps […]


  28. […] I never doubted whether we should be homeschooling and I have come to love the approach (Charlotte Mason) that we have taken and to appreciate it and to like who it is turning my kids […]


  29. […] see, along with Charlotte Mason whose philosophy of education I do my best to adhere to, I would say that the value in books is in the ideas they present and that we are able across time […]


  30. […] on literature about how and when we should be engaging in literary analysis. As you know, I follow Charlotte Mason’s approach to education in our homeschool, and I know she is not a fan of tearing apart books in the name of analysis. I am […]


  31. […] found the items. Below are some samples so you can see how it all worked. I don’t know how Charlotte Mason would feel about this approach, but I think it worked well. Clearly they have fond memories of it […]


  32. […] second reason Foster’s apprach resonated with me is that it seems to fit so well with a Charlotte Mason approach to education. CM’s philosophy is about making connections and that it exactly what Foster is […]


  33. […] philosophy behind unschooling (see here), but I have often thought that if I couldn’t take a Charlotte Mason approach to schooling and had to pick another, that unschooling might not be a bad choice. I ran […]


  34. […] which was reignited by Dorothy Sayers’ famous article. When one asks in this context if Charlotte Mason was a classical educator, the answer is no; I don’t think she would have bought into what now […]


  35. […] entirely up to the individual what they will pursue. I prefer an education with a broad base. Like Charlotte Mason, I am wary of the specialist who may often become an eccentric. A broad base, which one is less […]


  36. […] thought I’d just make a post so I have something to refer to. How do you get started with a Charlotte Mason (CM) education? If your kids are young (below 7) I would encourage you to spend some time reading, reading, […]


  37. […] between these two extremes there are of course other positions. Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education, on which I have blogged extensively, tries to bridge the gap. Miss Mason did believe that there is […]


  38. […] come to this enterprise with my own particular bent, coming from  homeschooling and having used Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. Most of these other authors come from Christian schools often with a classical bent, or at least […]


  39. […] or we will learn whatever comes across our path which will likely not be good.  This is a very Charlotte Mason thing to say and, though I have in many ways moved away from her philosophy, it is one I agree with. […]


  40. […] philosophy I have spent most time on is  Charlotte Mason’s. She too seems to combine approaches. She believes in truth so there is an element of the […]


  41. […] philosophy of education,which has largely influenced my own, does this quite well (see here but also some of my objections to it […]


  42. […] Charlotte Mason believed that the main thing in education was to put children in contact with other minds. Ideas, she believed, are caught from one mind to another. Given contact with other minds, children do not need a lot of commentary from us which only serves to interrupt the conversation (so to speak): […]


  43. […] terms of method, Cornerstone seems to have a bit of Charlotte Mason (CM) in it and a bit of classical. The site quotes CM in a number of places and there is talk of […]


  44. […] in progress and the world wars had not yet come to disillusion him and show him of his depravity. Charlotte Mason (CM) worked in this period (though beginning a bit earlier) as did Maria Montessori and Rudolf […]


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