So in my last post on home education I introduced you to Charlotte who developed a theory of education that continues to be used by thousands of home educators worldwide today, including myself.
I also did my best to summarise, in one short paragraph, what the Charlotte Mason philosophy means to me and today I’d like to unpack that a little further, to help you see what a Charlotte Mason education looks like in practice and how you can implement the philosophy in your own home.
Now it’s important to remember that Charlotte created an educational philosophy not a curriculum (although she did create some of these for use in the PNEU schools). You can find some modern day curriculums out there based on Charlotte Mason’s principles, but these are not needed to create a Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool, you simply need to implement her methods in your home.
So what are her methods I hear you ask?
Well below is by no means an exhaustive list of Charlotte Mason’s methods, but they are perhaps the most recognisable aspects of a Charlotte Mason education and the ones that in particular drew me to her philosophy of education.
For each point I’ll try to explain how we are currently implementing each method in our home, not that this is the one and only way to do so, but just so you can glean ideas and get a better picture of what this could look like in your home.
10 Ways to Implement a Charlotte Mason Education:
1. Delayed Academics
“In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life…” (Vol. 1, p. 44)
Charlotte believed the early years of learning should be “a quiet growing time” for children and formal lessons, including learning to read and write should wait until the child is around 6 years old. Families providing a Charlotte Mason education are often interested in protecting childhood, using the early years to develop useful life skills and to connect with their child through play.
In our home Blossom, only started to regularly practice reading, writing and maths at age 6 once she started the equivalent of Year 2. Before this I considered her to be in the early years of education and did not require her to sit still to practice such things. She had learnt phonics at age 5 and would attempt to sounds things out and write things off her own initiative, but not at my request.
2. Habit Training.
“What you would have the man become, that you must train the child to be.” (Vol. 2, p. 15)
Charlotte Mason encouraged parents to instruct their children in the formation of good habits and positive character traits. Now it’s never too late to work on instilling good habits in our children, but the early years of education, before the introduction of formal lessons is a great time to focus on habit formation, leading to smoother and easier school days in the years that are to follow.
Now in our home a big part of habit training in the early years has focused on encouraging the girls to gain independence in activities of daily living like washing, dressing, feeding and toileting and encouraging them to take part in household chores. These life skills are important and definitely part of habit training, but they aren’t what habit training is all about.
Over the course of Charlotte’s six volumes on education she mentioned 60+ different habits, some physical habits, some mental habits, others moral and religious. There’s a lot to work on!
3. Living Books
“Children must have books, living books, the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough.” (Vol. 2, p. 279)
Charlotte believed in reading children rich literature as opposed to dry textbooks and the dumbed down “twaddle” that so many of the modern day children’s books have become. Books should spark the imagination and connect with the soul, not merely entertain. As C.S. Lewis said “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” I think Charlotte would have agreed.
In our home this involves reading a lot of classic children’s literature like Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, Milly-Molly-Mandy and The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse and avoiding the gaudily illustrated stories about underpants and bogeys that seem to be the focus of much of children’s literature these days. As with all things though the 80/20 Principle does apply. I do let my girls bring home books from the library at times that aren’t particularly to my taste, but I do not keep such stories on our bookshelves at home.
4. Nature Study
“It is infinitely well worth the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects.” (Vol. 1, p. 71)
Charlotte advocated for ample amounts of time outdoors, particularly in the early years of education before formal lessons start. Children receiving a Charlotte Mason education often spend hours outdoors everyday, go on regular nature walks, keep nature journals and become familiar with the natural flora and fauna of their local landscape.
In our home this looks like attending a weekly nature explorers group with other home ed families, taking a weekly nature walk through the same public garden so that we can familiarise ourselves with this specific nature spot, completing a phenology wheel and calendar of firsts in our nature journals and dedicating time during our Monday morning book basket to learn more about natural history.
5. Art Enrichment
“The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore a child should have a generous curriculum.” (Vol. 6, p. 111)
Charlotte believed in spreading a liberal feast of ideas before the child. She wasn’t just concerned with educating the mind, but educating the whole child. Children receiving a Charlotte Mason education fill their hearts and minds with the beauty and wisdom of hymns and folksongs, they memorise poetry and scripture and also study the works of great artists and composers.
In our home we implement this by having a poet, artist and composer whose work we study for the term as well as familiarising ourselves with a new hymn every month or so. Practically we do this by including an art enrichment slot in our morning book basket everyday. On Monday we do hymn study, on Tuesday picture study, on Wednesday composer study and then on Thursday we review one of our old hymns. As for poems we read a few every day during our morning basket and try to memorise a couple of our favourites over the term.
6. Short Lessons.
“… the lessons are short, seldom more than twenty minutes in length for children under eight.” (Vol. 1, p. 142)
Once a child is ready for formal lessons these lessons are kept short so as to engage the child and keep them fully attentive. A child may have lessons in reading, writing, maths, literature, history, picture study and poetry all in one day, but no lesson is more than 20 minutes long for a new student and some last only 5 minutes or so.
In our home our Table Time work, which includes copy work (writing practice) and maths for my 7 year old only takes about 30 minutes for the two subjects. Our morning book basket, which consists of our daily devotions (bible reading, prayers and gratitude journal), art enrichment as mentioned above and then our main lesson (either history, geography, natural history or PSHE) is all done within an hour. The short lessons means all our formal school work is currently done within an hour and a half every morning a little longer if we add in craft projects to accompany our main lesson.
“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 come’s from one’s own mind.” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 125)
Charlotte recognised that children naturally narrate or “tell back” stories from their day so she used this as a key tool in their education. Once a child is receiving formal lessons from around age 6 they can then be asked to narrate orally (and creatively) and then around age 10 they can begin to write their narrations. Narration has the double benefit of enabling the child to express and process what they’ve learnt from a lesson without the need of having to fill in a dry comprehensive worksheet.
In our home we are just starting out with oral narrations for my 7 year old and I have chosen to start with our art enrichment subjects of picture study and composer study. After studying a picture or listening to a piece of music I simply ask a question about what we’ve studied, questions like; How did that piece of music make you feel? What instruments could you hear? What do you think the people in this picture were feeling? What do you particularly like about this picture?
In time, we will start adding in narrations for our history, geography and nature read alouds too, making it 1-2 oral narrations per day. I have personally chosen not to do narrations for our literature read alouds as I want these books to simply be savoured and enjoyed as a family.
8. Copy work
“A certain sense of possession and delight may be added… if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem or another.” (Vol. 1, p. 238)
Copy work is another of Charlotte’s methods introduced once formal lessons have begun around age 6, although Charlotte called it transcription. Copy work initially begins as a way of practicing letter formation and hand writing but in time, if done well, it is also a fabulous way of getting a child to slow down to take notice of spelling and grammar and also enables them to internalise words of great beauty.
For my 7 year old, who started copy work at the start of this academic year when 6 years old, I simply write out scripture verses, poems, or hymns that she’s enjoyed into a little handwriting exercise book and encourage her to copy it using her best handwriting. She started by writing just a short list of words back in the autumn term and now as we come to the end of the school year she will write out several lines and has also moved on to joined up (cursive) handwriting.
Now some people choose to buy handwriting curriculum to use for copy work, but I have to say I have found this simple approach to be highly sufficient not to mention cost effective. The improvement in my 7 year olds handwriting over this academic year with just a few minutes of writing practice every school day has been incredible.
“The human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause for joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success.” (Vol. 6, p. 328)
Children receiving a Charlotte Mason education are encouraged to learn meaningful arts and crafts and produce useful pieces of work, as opposed to throw away crafts that often come in a pack. Think knitting, sewing, pottery, woodwork, sculpting, baking and calligraphy, all things that make for great life long skills.
In our home this currently looks like embroidery and weaving which we aim to work on once a week, but it’s often more like once or twice a month. With their embroidery the girls will eventually be making some personalised bags as gifts and with their weaving they are due to start making a wall hanging to display in their newly decorated bedroom.
10. Free Afternoons
There is “… satisfaction to do the day’s work in the day, and be free to enjoy the day’s leisure.” (Vol. 4, p. 173)
Charlotte advocated that children should have afternoons free from formal lessons, made possible by the short lessons mentioned above that ensured that school work was out of the way by lunch time. The afternoons aren’t a time to simply be idle but a time to be productive and learn in more hands on and practical ways.
Things like going on nature walks, music practice and lessons, working on handcrafts, serving in the community, pursuing hobbies and following their own interests.
In our home this looks like poetry tea time on a Monday, handcrafts or baking on a Tuesday, a play date on a Wednesday, nature walk on a Thursday and Girl Guiding on a Friday, all with lots of free play throw in.
So there you have it. Ten ways that you can implement a Charlotte Mason education in your own home.