Joyful Motherhood--

Influenced by our Catholic faith,
Charlotte Mason, Lifelong Learning
and the
Everyday Realities of Homeschooling and Family Life

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Charlotte Mason - Who Is She?

I am perfectly inadequate to describe the life of Charlotte Mason, to define her educational concepts or to explain her philosophy of life.

I am now, a novice, a beginner's student of Charlotte Mason. I will most likely be her lifelong student.

As she has made a great, life-changing impact on me, on our homeschooling and on our family life, many friends are curious to know more.

I will give a very humble, feeble attempt at briefly summarizing what I have learned so far.

Who Was She?

Charlotte Mason was an Anglican educator in England at the beginning of the 20th century. She was a principal and oversaw the education of thousands of students from all walks of life. Through her experience, she developed 20 Principles of education.

She was a bit of a REBEL, a revoltionary. At a time when children were to be "seen and not heard," Charlotte Mason insisted that children are born persons, and should be treated with the respect as such. This may seem obvious, but as a parent or an educator, the implications are endless. Charlotte believed it to be so important that it is her first principle of education.

Charlotte Mason believed that "education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." It consists of so much more than just job training, passing exams, or becoming a cog in the economical machine. 

Education is a spiritual process, in which we continue to grow and learn, becoming closer to the people God intends us to be. 

It is living a rich, full life, with wonder, curiosity, discipline and grace. 

Again, I am paraphrasing. Furthermore, most of what I have read so far have not actually been Charlotte Mason's actual works, which make up six volumes. Like most homeschooling moms, my reading time is limited. I do hope to eventually read her actual texts, but for now, reading the summaries and practical applications given by other homeschooling moms has been so rewarding and extremely helpful.

I could never write all of the ideas of Charlotte Mason's, nor should I. There are too many other bloggers, web sites, books and of course the actual works of Charlotte Mason, that do a much better job than I ever could.

I can explain the main changes that we have made in our own way of learning at home.

Living Books

Charlotte Mason believed in what she called Living Books. Living Books are written by individuals who are passionate about their subject matter, not by a board or a committee. They include the text as a whole, rather than snippets cut out of a text or an abridged version. They usually have a story, a narrative. Rather than just reading and learning about meaningless facts, one reads stories about the people of a place or period in time. This helps the reader to make an emotional connection with the text, helping them to connect with what they're reading, care about it, own the knowledge they gain from it and remember it. Charlotte Mason believed that the goal of education was for one to CARE about as many subject matters as possible.

If a person doesn't care about the subject matter, they won't remember it, and what would be the point anyway?

Living books are rich stories, with developed characters and plot, full of rich vocabulary, and are not dumbed down for children or what Charlotte Mason called "twaddle."

In the past few months, my children have listened to Little Women, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The Cat of Bubastes, many of the books from the Narnia series, a short story and some poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, the poetry of Robert Frost and The Green Ember, 

and have LOVED them all. 

On Friday nights, our four-year-old, Veronica, gets to go have a sleepover in her brothers' room, who are eight and ten. They get to listen to an audiobook for about an hour, but they all have to agree on it. Last night, they chose to listen to the first disc of Little Women again, as they have enjoyed it so much.

We are studying Shakespeare together, right now focusing on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Our 10, 8 and 4 year olds can all recite two Shakespeare passages from the play, and the 8 and 10 year olds can explain what they mean and what is happening in the play at that point.

I DO NOT share this to boast. Not in the slightest. This is TYPICAL and AVERAGE for Charlotte Mason students. There is nothing particularly advanced about our children.

Charlotte Mason had high expectations for her students and they thrived with them.


Charlotte Mason believed that rather than children being tested on how much they don't know, they can share how much they DO know through the simple act of narration. It is EXTREMELY simple, so much that in the day and age of SAT's, state testing, end-of-chapter tests, etc, it makes one wonder if it actually works.

It is somewhat a leap of faith for me. However, I have spoken with so many like-minded mothers and read so many books that believe in this process.

Furthermore, it's a natural process that makes sense.

Basically, one reads or listens to a text, and then shares what they recall about the information or story.

That's it.

I realize it seems overly simple.

But think about it. When you read an article, a book or see a great movie that really touched you, what do you do? You share it with others, don't you? You want to discuss it. You exchange ideas about it with others. And in doing so, you have processed those ideas further, and have made them a permanent addition to your library of thoughts. You now own that knowledge and can draw from it years later.

We are simply using this very natural process not to test our children, but to help them process their own thoughts and own the information that they have learned.

Time Outdoors

Charlotte Mason believed that science begins with the love, appreciation, awe and wonder of nature around us. I had never really thought about it that way, but it makes sense to me! She believed that children and adults alike need DAILY time spent in nature.

This is an ideal, but we are striving for it. We go on daily walks, and get to nature trails and parks hopefully a few times a week.

Lifelong Learning

Charlotte Mason believed that education is a lifelong process. It doesn't end once you become a certain age, pass a certain test or earn a certain degree. She created colleges for teachers, where they learned how to learn alongside their students. Students and teachers alike were to grow in curiosity and wonder alongside one another.

This is another major change in my life. I am continuing my own education, and am learning daily. I have my own nature journal, commonplace book, and book of centuries. I have begun a Schole Sisters group, and am trying to learn to draw and paint when I have the time. I have joined our church choir and am trying to enjoy the gift of singing once again. I feel inadequate in all of these things, but oh well.

I am learning and enjoying the process.

Also, my children are witnessing me learn and enjoy the process.

The Books and People that Helped Me Begin the Journey

As I have learned and read about Charlotte Mason's ideas, it has consistently been like reading the truths and beliefs that I have been developing in the past six years of homeschooling, the past ten years of motherhood, and even since my own experiences in formal education.

In the past year, however, there have been some major influences that have helped me to understand and embrace this lifestyle.

Sarah MacKenzie
First of all, there is Sarah MacKenzie, her book Teaching From Rest and more recently, her podcast and web site, The Read Aloud Revival.

I DARE you to read her material and not be forever changed by it.

The Circe Institute, Dr. Christopher Perrin, Schole and The Mason Jar
Sarah pointed me to the ideas of schole and to the lecture of Dr. Christopher Perrin about schole.  From there, I created a Schole Sisters group. From there, I found the Circe Institute and their podcast on Charlotte Mason, The Mason Jar.

Karen Andreola - A Charlotte Mason Companion
In the past few months, I have connected with and met another homeschooling mom in the area who has been using Charlotte Mason's methods for the past three years. When I asked her what books to start with, she first recommended A Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola. I am still working through it, but it has been an encouraging, helpful, real resource helping me to understand how to implement these philosophies in our daily life.

Susan Macaulay - For the Children's Sake
Susan Macaulay was one of the pioneers in the United States, bringing Charlotte Mason's ideas to life in an accessible way to families in 1984. I am now reading her book, For the Children's Sake, with a Charlotte Mason's mom group, and it is so enormously helpful in understanding this philosophy and way of life.

Brandy Vencel
In September, I was able to attend the West Coast Charlotte Mason Conference, and see Brandy speak. She was lovely and helped me so much in understanding the 20 principles. Our Charlotte Mason's group is going to be reading Brandy's Study Guide about the 20 principles alongside For the Children's Sake.

Catherine Levison
I also had the pleasure of seeing Catherine Levison speak at the conference, and have read her book, A Charlotte Mason Education. It is a short, concise book, which gives very practical advice about how to implement these philosophies into everyday homeschool life.

Ambleside Online
From their web site, Ambleside Online is "a free homeschool curriculum that uses Charlotte Mason's classically-based principles to prepare children for a life of rich relationships with everything around them: God, humanity, and the natural world. AO's detailed schedules, time-tested methods, and extensive teacher resources allow parents to focus effectively on the unique needs of each child."

They also give a much better summary of Charlotte Mason's life and her ideas that I do. You can see that here.

We do not follow their curriculum exactly, but more use it as a guide and as a great source for finding Living Books.  

The To-Read List
There are too many to list. But when I am done reading what I have started, I have already purchased The Living Page, by Laurie Bestvater and Consider This, by Karen Glass, both of when are supposed to be wonderful.

That's it for now! I hope this may have given you a tiny insight into who Charlotte Mason was and what her philosophy is about. To learn more, you can see her works or any of the materials above, all of which will do a much better job than I just have :)

I will end by saying that Charlotte Mason has been an enormous blessing to me and our family. I believe that God meant for me to find her philosophies, as they were always in my heart. I now just have something to refer to and to call this way of life. I believe that God inspired her those many years ago, as her writing contains such truth and beauty. I am so grateful for her works, and that through her experience and writing, we may live a richer, fuller life.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rebecca, I came upon your blog while searching for CM homeschoolers in or around Seattle. We are new to Charlotte Mason and to homeschooling, and I'm trying, as it seems you are, to learn as much as I can! If you are in the Seattle area, I'd love to connect sometime. Thanks!