Charlotte Mason-style Learning

a girl reading in a beautiful outdoor environment. charlotte mason learning concept

“Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived during the reign of Queen Victoria. Her ideas such as educating the “whole person” feel like they were written specifically with today’s issues in mind.”

Step into the world of homeschooling, and you will soon come across the discussion of “styles.” As a newcomer, it is not uncommon to feel pressure to claim your style and use its vernacular to communicate to others what it is you are trying to accomplish with homeschooling. But spend a little more time with us, and you’ll realize that like most everything we do, these various methods are not cut and dried ways of executing your child’s education. You will likely find yourself picking up bits from different philosophies and putting them together in a unique way that works for your family.

One of the most popular styles of homeschool is the Charlotte Mason method. A little foray into her philosophy of educating the whole person, and it’s hard not to fall just a little bit in love with her ideas. If you have any familiarity with Charlotte Mason, you probably immediately picture days filled with nature walks, journaling and passing on the textbook in favor of the full glory of the classics. Certainly, those are parts of the Charlotte Mason experience, but I recently went back and read her original text on Home Education and discovered my knowledge of her philosophy just barely skimmed the surface of what her extensive research offers.

Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived during the reign of Queen Victoria. Her ideas such as educating the “whole person” feel like they were written specifically with today’s issues in mind. It is remarkable how similar the problems with the education system in the late 1800s are today’s problems! And, yes, she does lay out in-depth instruction on nature journals and handicrafts, but there is a deeper wisdom to be gleaned from her ideas on what makes an education. She breaks her idea down into three main tenets:

1. Education is an ATMOSPHERE – “…should let them live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring the world down to the ‘child’s’ level…”

Reading her original writing, it is hard not to giggle when she goes into detail about how a room should be ventilated in order for the child to best thrive, but looking past her dated references, Charlotte Mason explores the benefits of fresh air, freedom and movement in an environment where curiosity is nurtured. She shuns choppy textbook learning in favor of full texts. She encourages parents to express a “thinking love” toward their children. She suggests letting the children respectfully engage in the adult world instead of building a new world perfectly catered to the child.

2. Education is a DISCIPLINE- “…the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully…”

This component reminds me of one of my favorite points made in Susan Wise Bauer’s book “Rethinking Schools,” which was that we have to remember to separate academic skills and ability from organizational and functional skills. Both need to be taught, but they are not the same. Charlotte Mason recognized that building habits of discipline was a key foundation for learning.

3. Education is a LIFE- “…need of intellectual and moral, as well as physical…”

I think one of the reasons this school of thought has remained alive and well in the homeschool community is because once you bring your child’s education into the home, you see up close how the whole picture of habits, discipline and environment are crucial parts of what it means to educate. You become witness to the ways character and intent are directly tied to success in reading, writing and arithmetic.

Whether or not you find Charlotte Mason’s concepts applicable in your home, we all owe her a thank-you for recording her forward-thinking research and observations on education for future generations to explore.

Charlotte Mason resources:

Categories: Homeschooling