CM Method Explained

What is the Charlotte Mason Method?

Plenty of curriculums claim to be Charlotte Mason inspired, but what does that really mean? What is the Charlotte Mason method? And better yet, why would you want to have a Charlotte Mason homeschool?

Who Was Charlotte Mason?

Before we look into what the Charlotte Mason method is, it helps to know a little more about the person responsible. Charlotte Mason was a British Educator from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. Mason started off with her teaching certificate at a typical 19th century English school but eventually realized there was a better way.

The wealthier students were taught art, advanced literature, and the “finer” subjects. While the poorer classes were resigned to learning a trade. Charlotte Mason proposed a broad and rich education for all students.

She eventually formed the Parents National Education Union (PNEU). And in 1891 Mason started a teacher training facility in Ambleside England.

The rest is history.

Charlotte Mason 1864

What is the Charlotte Mason Method?

According to Mason, children are born persons. They are not blank slates to be written on or empty vessels to fill with our own ideas. Our job is to set the feast of learning before them and let them have at it.

“Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” – Charlotte Mason

Mason doesn’t just stop at what books to use for history class. Her idea was to nurture the whole child, body, mind, and spirit.

As homeschooling moms, we have the unique opportunity to create an atmosphere in our homes for this purpose. We not only choose the homeschool curriculum, but we can create a positive learning atmosphere that saturates everyday life.

“The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when 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, School Education: Developing A Curriculum

There are several main components to a Charlotte Mason education.

Habit Training

Before we even crack open the first book we’re teaching our child habits. The other day I watched a mom playing with her toddler while pushing him in the grocery cart. For some reason he thought the word “no” was funny, so she had made a game of it. She’d say no in a funny voice, and the toddler would laugh.

Cute? Certainly. Dangerous? Definitely.

Said child has now been taught that “no” means mom is playing around and not to pay any attention. Habit training is the foundation of the Charlotte Mason method and starts well before formal lessons.

What are the Charlotte Mason Habits?

We teach our children habits whether consciously or unconsciously. Mason urges educators and parents to start with the habits of obedience, attention, and honesty. Without these good habits, a child is destined to fail, not only in academics but in life.

“The formation of habits is education, and education is the formation of habits.” Charlotte Mason, Home Education


What is a Charlotte Mason education? - Pinecones and Primers
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Living Books in the Charlotte Mason Method

When I was younger I devoured historical fiction books. I can still remember specific dates and events in the stories I read over 20 years ago. What I don’t remember (and don’t care too) are the endless, boring details from my history textbooks.

Living books, like the ones from my childhood, present ideas in an engaging way that children can learn from.

“Children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child’s intellectual life.” – Charlotte Mason

Living books are engaging, challenging, and worthwhile. They are usually written by one author who is passionate about the subject. Dry, boring, fact stuffed books are out. Insipid storylines that are choppy or preachy are likewise out.

Any book that didn’t live up to these standards was labeled “twaddle.” You can read more here about what are living books and what’s twaddle (including examples).

Nature Study

Getting outside and into nature is a core piece of a Charlotte Mason education. Mason recommended 4-6 hours of outside time every day! While that’s not quite doable for many in this day and age, the more time outside the better.

Along with free play outside, Mason encouraged a weekly nature study. Observing the world around us helps us connect ourselves with the parts of a larger whole. We can appreciate God’s creation and learn from it. Adam and Eve were created in a garden of all places. We were meant to have ample time outside!

Quality over Quantity

Another hallmark of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy is the quality, depth, and richness of it. Children aren’t spending 6 hours a day listening to lectures and filling out worksheets (all to pass a multiple choice test)! Lessons are short so students can give their best attention and best effort.

In elementary school this translates to 5-20 minutes per lesson, depending on the subject. For high school the maximum lesson time is 45 minutes. A Charlotte Mason preschool and kindergarten are different since formal lessons don’t start until age 6.

Narration in Charlotte Mason

If we’re not giving our children standardized tests and multiple choice quizzes, how do we know they’re learning? Let me turn that question around.

Most tests don’t do a good job of measuring what students really know.

If you’ve just read a book about the Civil War and your child can’t recall the date of the battle of Gettysburg on the quiz, is that failure?

What if they can describe in detail a Civil War officer’s uniform? How the soldiers dealt with the harsh conditions on the battlefield? Or that Harriet Tubman was a spy and how she led slaves to freedom?

Just because a child doesn’t know a specific fact on a test doesn’t mean they don’t know anything about the subject.

Narration asks a child to narrate back from beginning to end what was just read and to integrate it with their current knowledge. The Charlotte Mason method uses narration to put things in context and gives us a better picture of what our child does know.

Beginning a Charlotte Mason Homeschool

There are other details to a Charlotte Mason curriculum, including a Book of Centuries, a commonplace book, Shakespeare, and Plutarch. The best way to understand the full scope is to read Mason’s writings.

Charlotte Mason Curriculum

There are so many good options out there, but here are a few favorites. Note that there are many curriculums that claim to be Charlotte Mason inspired, like the Good and the Beautiful and Our Father’s World, but they don’t follow the Charlotte Mason approach 100 percent.

Because this method is so unique and works best when all the components are present, I’ve only included links to genuine Charlotte Mason curriculums.

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Mama to two littles. Former education major, private tutor, and nanny. Barefoot book addict.