If you’re new to homeschooling or are exploring new ways to homeschool, you may have heard of Charlotte Mason. She’s not from our time, but her ideas changed education in her day. Since then homeschoolers have latched on to her philosophy and incorporated it into their homeschooling day.
So who is Charlotte Mason and what does her educational method look like?
Charlotte Mason was a British educator who spent many years in classroom teaching. But, frustrated with the educational system of her day, Ms. Mason sought to explore better ways to help children learn more naturally so that they would both retain more information and actually enjoy the learning process.
In 1886, Ms. Mason published a popular book titled Home Education and then founded the Parents’ National Educational Union in order to help parents educate their children. She also founded the House of Education as a training center for teachers and governesses. Eventually, schools were established throughout England following her methods.
For Mason, this included the child’s spiritual life, the home environment, and habits (or character), as well as academic work. She believed in short lessons, especially during the younger years. She taught handwriting and spelling by assigning passages for copying from great literature. She introduced the great composers and artists. She believed students should spend time outdoors enjoying nature study as well as play and that they should be taught handicrafts.
In essence, Charlotte Mason believed in spreading a great banquet of learning before students. Students should be raised on wonderful thoughts and ideas, not just unrelated facts.
Components of a Charlotte Mason Education
These days, there are several educational approaches that claim to be based on the Charlotte Mason philosophy of learning, but many of them neglect to take education seriously. Ms. Mason herself was very dedicated to ensuring a full and rich education for the children in her care and advocated hard work. It wasn’t enough for students to simply pursue their own interests. There were critical academic concepts that needed to be explored and learned.
Charlotte Mason never set aside the idea that certain academic concepts needed to be learned. She simply argued that children learned best when they loved learning and were allowed to pursue learning in a way that more naturally fit with their growth and development.
With that in mind, Ms. Mason incorporated several key components into her educational philosophy.
Rich books that breathe life into learning represent the core of a Charlotte Mason education. Living books are incorporated through both read-aloud time and independent reading.
Children learn best when they engage all of their senses. This is why experiments, crafts, and hands-on projects are a critical component of a Charlotte Mason education.
Nature study is a very focused form of hands-on learning in the Charlotte Mason philosophy, ensuring that children get outside, explore the amazing world around them, and process what they’ve learned.
Another way to engage all senses is by having children verbalize what they have learned. That is the concept behind narration, as children are encouraged to either explain or teach back a concept they have just been taught.
Exposure to good literature is critical as children develop their own language and grammar skills. By copying passages from well-written living books, children slow down and process grammar, vocabulary, and more.
As children grow older, language skills are strengthened and reinforced as they write down passages that are read to them. This takes the skills that they learned through copywork and makes sure they are cemented.
Of course, a lot has changed in the world of education in the century that has passed since Charlotte Mason’s day!
The original Charlotte Mason approach did not incorporate mathematics or formal science, both of which are essential for a modern education. There was also no formal grammar training in Charlotte Mason’s approach. Because many fantastic living books aren’t necessarily written with our standard modern-day language structure, copywork and narration alone don’t always get the training job done for students today like they did in Ms. Mason’s day.
But, the beauty of Charlotte Mason is that the concepts of learning through living books and hands-on learning are foundational concepts that can be extended even into our modern education. When teachers take these concepts and build on them to nurture a love for learning, students can then carry that love for learning into even those subjects and concepts that require a more formal approach.
The key, then, is to teach students to love learning. After that, everything else will fall into place!