Homeschool Tidbit: What is the Charlotte Mason Method?

January 7, 2022

Welcome to Build Your Library’s “Homeschool Tidbits: Episode 1 – What is the Charlotte Mason Method?” In this new weekly video series, I will delve briefly into a topic related to homeschooling and will share some of my knowledge and expertise as a long-time homeschooling mother of 4 children. Three of whom have graduated!

I frequently talk about Charlotte Mason, and always pitch Build Your Library as a Charlotte Mason Inspired curriculum. But who was she and what did she have to do with homeschooling? This week I am going to go over a top-level, “Charlotte Mason in a Nutshell”. In the following weeks, our next several Homeschool Tidbit videos will feature many of her individual techniques and approaches.

Charlotte Mason

To kick this off, Happy Birthday to Charlotte Mason, born 179 years and a week ago, on January 1, 1842! Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived in the late 1800s/early 1900s. She was ahead of her time when it came to her teaching and educational methodology. She saw children’s not as buckets to be filled with knowledge, but as whole people who could make their own connections. Believing that learning was best accomplished not by memorizing names and dates from dull textbooks and boring lectures, she advocated using real-life experiences, interactions in nature, and well-written living books.

Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy

All of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy can be summed up in her quote: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” So, what does that mean?

She believed in surrounding children with ideas and things in their home environment that would lead to them deepening their education. Children absorb so much just by being at home and listening to the adults around them.

Discipline doesn’t mean punishments or corrections so much as guiding our children in good habits. She believed that children must have good habits, specifically those having to do with character, instilled in them from a young age. Can you imagine your homeschool day if children had the ability to work hard without needing to be told what to do every time?

And Life encompasses the academic aspect of education, but not with dull textbooks or tiresome lectures. She insisted that children were whole persons. They deserved the chance to learn with beautiful literature, observation in nature, and real experiences.

Major Tenents

The major tenets of her philosophy that I have used successfully in my own homeschool are Living Books, Copywork, Dictation, Narration, and short lessons in a wide array of subjects.

Living books form the backbone of everything we do. I choose the best of the best to offer my children a feast of ideas. We use those books not just for reading, but for our copywork and dictation assignments. We narrate from them and use them as the basis for all our writing assignments and research.

Because we employ short lessons, we can cover a wider range of material, from history and science to Shakespeare and poetry, music and art. Because we study from real books our lessons are never boring and short lessons help to keep their attention. And because our lessons are short, we are generally done with school by early afternoon. The rest of the day can be spent playing and spending time on other creative pursuits.

Charlotte Mason in Modern Homeschooling

Charlotte Mason’s ideas were seen as radical in the late 19th century/early 20th century. So we must then assume that if she were alive today, she would wholeheartedly embrace modern 21st-century technology. From e-books and audiobooks to podcasts and fantastic online courses. There are so many great resources at our fingertips today to assist us in giving our children the best possible education! She may or may not keep up with the latest model smartphone, but she would definitely have a Kindle on her nightstand and a cellphone in her skirt pocket.

As I said before, Build Your Library is Charlotte Mason “inspired.” I don’t necessarily adhere 100% to all of her ideas. I am by no means a purist. But like anything, as a homeschooling parent, I take what works best for my family and skip what doesn’t. I recommend you do the same.

For example, Charlotte Mason was a huge proponent of spending as much time as possible out of doors. However, we probably do not spend enough time outside. We do try to go out for a walk once a week or so. But living in New England, winter is unpleasant and I am decidedly an indoor girl. But maybe your family loves to be outside! Everyone is different and will come to this approach in a different way.

Charlotte Mason had a motto for her students – “I am, I can, I ought, I will.” She taught her students that with good habits and motivation, they were capable of learning anything they chose.  We can offer that to our children today, right now. Give your child a world full of heroes and myths. Allow them big thoughts to think about and things to fall in love with. Give them ideas to ponder, and inspire them. That is the best education possible. One in which they see learning as a life-long pursuit and not something that must be done within the “schooling hours” each day.

Coming up next…

In the next Homeschool Tidbit, I’ll be deep-diving into Charlotte Mason’s concept of living books – what is a living book? and how can I choose them? Until then, happy reading!

See Also:
Charlotte Mason in the Secular Homeschool
A Literary Education book
About Build Your Library

Homeschool Tidbits: Build Your Library’s Weekly Video Blog Series


Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full-year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 18 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.

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Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history?

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