Homeschooling Styles: Charlotte Mason

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Today, I would like to introduce the third in a series of guest posts on homeschooling styles. First, we heard from Sandra Dodd on unschooling. Then, Valerie Bendt discussed unit studies. Today, we’re blessed to have Catherine Levison, author of A Charlotte Mason Education, who will be sharing with us a bit more about the Charlotte Mason method.

Not only has Ms. Levison agreed to talk with us about the Charlotte Mason method, but she has also graciously agreed to give one lucky reader an autographed copy of her book, A Charlotte Mason Education! I’ll give you the details on how to enter in a separate post so that we can keep the comments on this post open for discussion about the Charlotte Mason method. Now, I’d like to introduce Catherine Levison.


At this point nearly every homeschooler has heard of the Charlotte Mason method of education. Some know very little about it and others are using it full time as their primary homeschooling style. And somewhere in-between lies a very practical approach to a successful and enjoyable home based education where learning is “loved” and not dreaded. This in-between place is easily obtained.

The “love for learning” is at the very top of Charlotte Mason’s priorities. We parents are to reach for that goal above all other educational goals as we teach our children. There are many methods of education and some of those do not put any value on the love for learning. Charlotte Mason was born in 1842 and she was well-acquainted with various styles of education. So what made her different?

Simply put, she loved children and wanted them to enjoy their childhood. Mason did not invent the Liberal Arts or the Classical Education method; instead she took what she liked from all the available philosophies and made every effort to have thoroughly educated students who retained what they learned and enjoyed the entire process. And she did all of that without avoiding the less attractive subjects.

Anybody could promise you a “fun” education if they allowed you to skip all the dreary parts that make up a well-rounded education. Grammar is a good example. Mason did not care for grammar and considered it to be one of the unattractive subjects. Rather than ignoring it and not teaching it she did something about the problem—she wrote a grammar book and made the topic more enjoyable for both the parent and the child.

That is one key to the CM method. We parents look at all the subjects and see how we can make each of them more enjoyable without skipping any of them.

We also cover a lot of subjects: 15 to 21 per week, to be exact. We cover these at a rather fast pace with a system known as “short lessons.” You’ll see, in the opening of the article, acknowledgement of the skepticism that parents often have toward short lessons.

My response is, try it. If you like it then stay with it, if you don’t, then return to long lessons. I find short lessons to be the perfect balance between un-schooling and highly structured scheduling. It allows the children to have whole afternoons, evenings and weekends to be children and to have time to pursue their interests.

Another pivotal key to the CM method is narration. We rely heavily upon this. It is an easy and normal function of the human brain. Briefly, this is the mental process of assimilating information. People experience an event (like a field trip) or learn a new math technique or read from a book and then tell you all that they now know about it.

What else is there to this method? A lot more. We avoid boredom for both the parents and the children. We assume a very high IQ for our children and that inspires parents to bring adult level reading material to them as early as six years old. Our goal throughout the years is to bring the students to the point of self education. We don’t impede that by lecturing and making the student dependant on us. We choose “whole books” over textbooks. A whole book on whales or dolphins will bring far more retention than a little mention of them in a textbook.

We use a Century Book that we create from a three-ring binder and we sketch and make small entries there. We keep a Nature Diary which is a sketch book for drawing and noting what we see with our own eyes outside, in nature. Speaking of that, we go outside, a lot! We also make use of “good habits” as we have come to realize that habits are powerful and much of what we do, day to day, is habitual. We use real eye-witness accounts to study history.

We use CM’s approach to language arts which includes a painless and “free” method of learning spelling and much more. We also choose the BEST literature and poetry to make reading worthwhile. As if that weren’t enough CM has a great way to appreciate the best Art and it’s FUN and inexpensive and even quick. On a typical day I learn about four new things that I didn’t know when I woke up that morning…that learning along side of my children keeps me alert and interested.

I have to end this but I want to tell you that I started the Charlotte Mason method by giving it only 5% of my week. I did that for an entire school year. “So what,” you ask? That proved to me concretely that anyone can dabble in CM and use various parts of her method to any degree that you want to.

I crept up to using CM about 50% of my school day. Then I increased further until I tried an all-Charlotte Mason summer. It was that summer that convinced me that this is a great method. It is very thorough, fun, and complete in every sense. However, you can take an element or two and apply her techniques into what ever method or program you are already using.

Just this month I taught some homeschoolers how to do the CM method. I explained that they could use it all the time for Kindergarten through to 12th grade and it would be complete and in fact a superior education compared with some methods. Or they are free to pick and choose what they liked and simple add to what they were currently comfortable with.

Here is some feedback that I just received from last month’s workshop:

This week we applied some Charlotte Mason philosophy to what we were already using. And we all enjoyed ourselves.” — Nebraska Homeschooler

I have many letters and emails that say the same thing and I believe them wholeheartedly because the same thing happened to me many years ago. We applied one CM tip at a time and we enjoyed ourselves. We also learned and retained knowledge.

That is the key to a Charlotte Mason Education.

Catherine Levison
Copyright 2009

Catherine is the author of, A Charlotte Mason Education—A Home Schooling How-To Manual and More Charlotte Mason Education—A Home Schooling How-To Manual. Her latest book is, A Literary Education—An Annotated Book List. She is also a contributing author to Homeschooling Methods; Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles published by Broadman & Holman, 2006. In addition Catherine has many articles on her website: www.CharlotteMasonEducation.com


Thank you so much, Catherine, for sharing your thoughts and your wealth of information with us. I know that I picked up some new nuggets of wisdom. If you have questions or comments about the Charlotte Mason method, I hope that you’ll visit Ms. Levison’s website or leave them here in the comments.

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6 Comments

  1. You know, I have never considered myself a CM homeschooler, and yet this sounds very similar to my own educational philosophy and practice. I probably need to look into this a bit more. Thanks!

  2. This is a very timely article! Thankyou. I ordered Catherine Levison’s book from book depository earlier this month, and it just arrived yesterday! (it’s okay, I’m an international reader and not able to enter the competition – good luck to all who are!)

    We’d already decided to pursue a Charlotte Mason-style approach – having read some of her own original writings (which our local library had in their original editions – 100 years old!) and also some modern interpretations of her method (like Karen Andreola’s book).

    So far, Catherine Levison’s book looks like the most easily practical book I’ve seen. I’d still highly recommend reading Charlotte Mason herself – that’s where you catch her vision and excitement for children, and get a feel for her philosophy, but Levison’s book helps greatly when it comes to the “okay, now what about spelling?” type questions.

    We still have very young children – my eldest is not even the 6 years old that CM recommends as a beginning age – but we do a lot of reading and some nature studies.

    As I’m still at the beginning of my home ed journey, I’m still finding what works for us. I really like the ideas of philosophy of unschooling, but on a day to day basis I find that I am less stressed and the kids are more settled when we have some structure.

    A literature-based gently-does-it approach like CM is a good amount of structure for us – too much structure and I tend to turn into some control-freak box-ticking dictator, too little and I feel lost.

    Thanks!

  3. Thanks for this post. In recent years I have found myself pulling towards a more Charlotte Mason approach. I appreciate the links and info as I continue to enjoy exploring this philosophy of education.

    Thank you!
    Erin

  4. I really enjoyed this post, particularly the links to further information on this methodology. Funny–we do short lessons every morning, vary them up, and spend tons of time outside and doing other open-ended things with our afternoons, but I knew very little about her philosophy. Going to look into it more. Thanks!

  5. Great article! I love her suggestion to look at each subject and find a way to make it enjoyable.

    Thanks!

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