A Guide To Charlotte Mason’s Method Of Teaching

September 13, 2019Stacey Lynn

Charlotte Mason was an English educator in the 1800s. She firmly believed “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” She taught that a child is a full person and is capable of a full education.

Charlotte Mason’s method of learning is a philosophy that builds on the natural learning process of the child.

It was essential to her to provide children with the chance to discover things for themselves rather than learning isolated facts.

Her methods are widely taught in homeschool. These methods help educate the child as a whole.

Short Lessons

Charlotte Mason encouraged short lessons. These lessons would typically be 20 mins for younger children, and working up to 45 mins for older children.

This allows full attention for the child and engages in their learning. It also allows the opportunity to cover many topics.

Any subject being taught can benefit from shorter lessons.

Habits

Charlotte Mason believed that “The formation of habits is education, and education is the formation of habits.” (Vol 1, p. 97)

Children will have habits, whether they be good or bad. Good habits require effort, but this effort pays off in the character traits your child will have as an adult.

Charlotte Mason encouraged consistency and diligence to cultivate good habits.

It may seem paralyzing to think of all the habits to accomplish. But, by taking the time to train one habit at a time, these will add up to a foundation valuable in years to come.

Habits will form in the mother too. This requires the teacher to learn and utilize these habits in their own life. In turn, training your children becomes a habit in itself.

Examples of habits can be cleanliness, diligence, and truthfulness. The list goes on and can continue into the teen years.

Habits can be taught through examples and stories and through experiences

If you are training cleanliness, a mother can show that habit in her own life and have discussions with the children.

She can share the importance of washing hands before eating. Or share the feelings we have when we walk into a clean building verse an unkempt one.

They can be taught through stories. Even simple fairy tales can teach a child about cleanliness.

As you continue cultivating these habits, keep a watchful eye on the habits you have already formed. While you move on the new habits is important to keep the others in check.

Living Books

Living books are well-written and enjoyable for children and adults. They feed the spirit in some way.

These books make the subject come alive. Allow the child to build a relationship with the book subject.

It expands the child’s imagination and makes them think about what they are reading.

Living books were preferred over textbooks. Textbooks are generally dull and dry full of facts. Living books make that connection our brains love, they help us invest in the subject building upon ideas.

These give the child a better understanding and grasp of history, geography, science, and life in general.

Charlotte Mason warned against reading “twaddle” books. There are sides to what counts as living books, and what constitutes as “twaddle.” Generally, these are the books that talk down to children, poorly written and like junk food for your child.

Sometimes, this is a decision you have to make for your child.

Finding good living books is a joy to read with your child. You notice they remember more with them also.

One day you can be reading through Mr. Popper’s Penguins, then later that day talking about the North and South Poles. The child could chime in and tell you how there are no penguins in the North Pole, though it would be really fun if there were!

What a great way to remember those little bits of information.

Narration

“Narrating is not the work of a parrot, but of absorbing into oneself the beautiful thought from the book, making it one’s own and then giving it forth again with just that little touch that comes from one’s own mind” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 125)

Narration expresses what the child has learned. It can be from a paragraph or story, a picture of artwork they observed, or through experience in nature.

It’s a way to help the child understand and learn what they have taken in.

The benefits of narration are great for memory and retention. As they grow, it becomes more natural, and they gain so much more from it.

In the younger years, you can use oral narration for the child. Usually around 10, they can transition into a written narration.

Your child can show narration through the retelling of a story, drawing a picture, or even acting out the scene.

It may take some time getting used to, but you can use prompts to help them along. A few questions can get the conversation going.

- What were the character names?

- Where were they going?

- Who was in trouble?

- Was there something fun, you remember?

This all gives the child a chance to take in what they are learning. An opportunity to think on it and share in their own words what they have learned.

It also gives you as the teacher a chance to understand where they are struggling and what they understand completely.

Copywork

Copywork is an effective way to teach a child handwriting, spelling, grammar, and sentence structure and style.

There is an emphasis on quality over quantity. Often times taking one text and focusing on it for the week.

This allows the opportunity to become aware of letter formation and correcting where necessary. It also allows the teacher to watch for the correct usage of commas, periods, and capitalization.

Charlotte Mason shared that “Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory” (Vol 1, p. 238)

Throughout the process, the child studies the words, learns them, and even memorizes the text.

Charlotte Mason taught it was useful for thoughts and meditation.

Selections are carefully chosen of well-written language from quotes, poems, and Bible Verses.

Using select passages allows the child to focus solely on developing the mechanical skill of writing without having to come up with something from their own mind.

Art and Music Study

Charlotte Mason thought it important to study composers and artists through their masterpieces.

The student would take the time to study an artist and composer during a term.

The teacher would choose an artist and take 6-12 weeks to study their art, read living books about their life, and narrate different aspects of the piece of art. Using this time to analyze and get to know the artist.

In a short time each week, the child will have a great understanding of their work and who they were.

The same can be done with composers. Experiencing classical music can have a permanent effect on a child.

As with the artist’s study, the child would study one composer a term.

Taking the time to listen to their music, read living books about their life and work, and even put in the extra effort to learn the music.

The joys of an artist or music study are making an effort to experience it out in the world.

Take the time to visit a museum or concert. If you don’t have access, you can check online to watch or listen.

“Let the young people hear good music as often as possible, and that under instruction. It is a pity we like our music, as our pictures and our poetry, mixed so that there are few opportunities of going through, as a listener, a course of the works of a single composer. But this is to be aimed at for the young people; let them study occasionally the works of a single great master until they have received some of his teaching, and know his style.” (vol. 5)

Nature Study

Charlotte Mason firmly believed that a child should spend as much time outdoors as possible. Even up to 6 hours a day.

Allow the children to explore and learn while playing outdoors.

“Every walk should offer some knotty problem for the children to think out, ‘Why does that leaf float on the water, and this pebble sink?’ and so on” (vol. 1, p. 154)

You can start right outside your door. Watch what is going on in your own yard. Look up into the sky and observe the clouds, see what is growing in your front yard.

Anything outdoors is a chance to learn, study, and discover the world.

Charlotte Mason encouraged the children to start nature journaling what they find.

Nature study does not need to be overly formal. The teacher/parent should have an understanding or guide of what to see. But, the children will have their own ideas too.

The more time you spend outside, the more can be observed.

Handicrafts

With short lessons, Charlotte Mason encouraged free afternoons. This allows time for handicraft.

The child can learn and be interested in many useful tasks. The projects should aim to provide something wholesome and beneficial skill to the child.

Handicrafts are not to be a waste of time and should be taught carefully, in manageable chunks, not be too ambitious for a child.

These will change based on the child’s ability and interest.

Handicrafts can include:

  • Knitting/crochet
  • Candle making
  • Making a bird feeder
  • Bead a necklace
  • Soap making
  • Painting peg dolls
  • Cooking/baking
  • Sewing on a button
  • Hand-sew a pillow
  • Cardmaking
  • Dry flowers
  • Make play-dough

And so much more. As you can see the list is limitless.

“...Handicrafts and Drills-which should form a regular part of a child’s daily life.” (Vol 1)

Charlotte Mason From Preschool Through Graduating

Yes, it’s possible to use the Charlotte Mason method all through the homeschool years.

While the methods are the same, the length of lessons grow, the details of the subject goes more in-depth, and the child learns more as they examine deeper into the subject matter.

Under 6

Though no formal lessons are to be taught under the age of 6. The child is still learning every day.

Waiting for formal lessons doesn’t mean the child isn’t learning at all.

This is the time to embrace the child’s curiosity.

Let them learn through hands-on experience. It is such a fun time to let the child play and learn through their inquisitiveness.

Spend time outdoors in nature. Let them be investigating what is around them. It’s great to identify and observe what is going on in nature.

Read, and then read some more.

Take the time to sit down and let them absorb what they are hearing and seeing. You can ask simple questions for narration or have them color as you read.

Habits can also be taught at this age. Chores and helping mommy with small things are great to encourage good habits. These habits can become a natural rhythm to their day.

…” my object is to show that the chief function of the child - his business in the world during the first six of seven years of his life - is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses…” -Charlotte Mason

Ages 6-12

In this age range, you can still allow time for shorter lessons. Going from twenty up to thirty minutes as they get older.

This will allow time to reach all the subjects and continue implementing the lessons throughout the week.

The child will learn more through living books. Gaining an understanding of history, geography, and building that connection by reading books, the Bible, and poetry.

Spending approximately 1-2 hours reading split throughout the day.

It’s common to be reading from multiple books at a time. A chapter from one book, reading 2-3 poems during the day and then touching on something from history.

Around age ten, the child can switch from oral narration to written. Start small and build up as they grow.

Starting with one a week and building up from there. Remember the child is still learning their copy work, paying attention will help them as they grow.

Nature studies will continue to be explored more. Using watercolors is a great way to encourage nature journaling. Remember to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

Ages 12+

As the child transitions from jr. high into high school, their focused time on subjects should become longer, up to 45 mins.

The child should spend time exploring deeper into a subject.

Habits are still being formed. But, the child should also be able to self-regulate their actions.

Living books can be focused to study further into the subject matter.

Using books, biographies, and speeches to delve deeper into a specific time period. This will help them grow in their understanding of history, geography, and science.

Study nature continue to be outside learning about the world. Your state may require specific sciences for credit to graduate. Nature studies can easily fall into those categories.

Hone in on the handicraft they are interested in. Teenagers will find many interests, and the joy of homeschooling is that they can learn all about them. Handicrafts can grow into cooking, photography, fixing cars, sewing, organizing, and many other life long skills to learn.

The narration also continues through high school. Fill their notebooks with even more accounts of their learning.

Look at what your state requires for graduation and credits and work that into their studies.

In conclusion…

Charlotte Mason’s method of teaching opens a whole world to the child. You can see why her method is still applied today. Her philosophy is designed to help the whole child grow and learn.

“The question is not, - how much the youth know? What he has finished his education - but how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” - Charlotte Mason

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