Charlotte Mason

I think my lovely blog followers know that up until now I have been pretty autonomous in my approach to home education with work books and trips to Tottington Library thrown in. This has been because it suited our lifestyle and it suited the children but things are changing.

I don’t know if it has been the horrendous non-summer we have had this year or whether it is just that the children are growing up, but the children have been asking to do their workbooks up to the table more and more. These were only ever meant to supplement our ‘hands on’ learning and I feel that if the children are looking for ‘up to the table’ learning I would prefer to provide them with something more stimulating than workbooks.

Cue Mel researching various teaching methods!

You are going to notice that when I was researching teaching methods I was more interested in what suits me rather than the children…but I am the type of person that as long as I am passionate and engaged and confident in what I am doing, I am capeable of engaging the children too. If I am struggling because the method doesn’t suit me I haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of engaging the children.

I looked at ‘Curriculum in a box’ methods which follow the National Curriculum and involve text books and excercise books but they are almost £200 for the year and I would need two boxes to cover the different ages. Then I thought how would I split myself into three in order to differentiate and supervise the work as they attempt it? So I decided against this approach. If I was thinking of sending the children back into main stream school any time soon this would be my first choice however since we feel that this isn’t so likely I am happy to give it a miss and pursue other methods (whilst keeping an eye on the National Curriculum so that if they do go back to school we know that we are covering all the bases)

Next was Classical Education (The Well Trained Mind) which I was sorely tempted by due to the fact that it offers such a complete education…my knowledge/education has LOTS of huge gaps and I am obviously attempting to offer my children a better education than I had myself! However the idea of teaching Grammar and Latin was a step too far for me at this stage! I find the books a little dry and felt outfaced by them. (I need large gaps between the paragraphs and plenty of pictures! ha ha)

Steiner has always been a method I’ve liked and when I have seen other parents doing it I have thought it was so lovely…a gentle and relaxed method. If you check out some Steiner blogs you will find pictures of peaceful homes with natural wooden toys and calm smiley Mummies. I am far too noisy and erratic for Steiner!

I looked at the Charlotte Mason Approach. And was half scared to death because it is a Christian approach to education. I am not anti-religion, but I don’t like the idea of teaching each subject from a Christian perspective so I discounted it without looking any further. Then I met a lady who follows her methods and I started to understand why the Charlotte Mason method was so lovely.

Her general philosophy is that Education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life. I liked this, we have been educating autonomously for just over a year and I have worked hard to provide an atmosphere where everything is a learning experience. What we are lacking (and the thing that I feel the children will benefit from) is discipline. I don’t mean that the children are rude and badly behaved, they are not…but we lack structure. They get up showered and dressed, we eat at set times and the children go to bed at 7pm but other than this our daily routine is all over the place. Elizabeth is on the autistic spectrum so she likes structure and Imogen is bossy and busy so structure will help her to stay out of trouble and focus her on a task rather than leaving her to instigate all kinds of rebellion!!!

Charlotte Mason believed that more things are caught than taught and that children should have a home setting where gentleness, courtesy kindness and respect are prioritised. Obviously like any family we have good days and bad days. I know I shouldn’t shout but sometimes I do…the children have clear boundaries and they try and push them…but I agree with Charlotte Mason’s ideas/ideals on the atmosphere of the learning environment. (Tick in the box, then)

Charlotte Mason believed in helping children form good habits and in natural consequences and rewards. This is something I also believe in.

Charlotte Mason believed that Education should be alive and based on living ideas. She promoted the use of ‘Living Books’ which are books written by someone who is passionate about the subject in the form of a story or personal account. I love this. If the children can’t experience something directly and learn by doing, then it makes sense for them to learn from someone who has learned by doing! And in the case of a history lesson it is much easier to learn about a person in history than it is to learn arbitrary facts. (In my opinion!)

So I agreed with her general principles…I then looked at the approach to learning.

The Curriculum…if you want to call it that…

One of the things that really suits me and the kids is that CM advocated doing really short lessons. (15 minutes) and I am going to stick to that for most things but the Nature study will take longer than that…and so will the Art. That’s because I have added extras! So that we stick to the 15 minutes and to help Elizabeth with the transition I have bought a sand timer

So…she offered Living books. The parent reads the book to the child (in the early years) and then asks the child to tell the story back to them (narration). This is important because it gets the child to listen actively to the story as they know that they are expected to remember the details and retell it in their own words. (Eventually this progresses to the child writing their own retelling of the story and later including their own opinions in their writing, but not at my childrens’ stage).

Her ideas on Maths are that children should do ‘hands on’ Maths using manipulatives. This is something we do already. We use workbooks for my benefit so that they learn sequentially and practice concepts once they are learned but I also use counters and blocks and drawings, money and clock faces and 3d shapes, mirrors etc etc in order to supplement these. We also have subscriptions to Maths Whizz which is a brilliant learning tool…don’t think Charlotte Mason would’ve used Maths Whizz since she died in 1923!!! But I reckon if she was around now she would be blogging and getting kids to use MathsWhizz!

Another idea Charlotte Mason promoted is ‘Nature Study‘. If you have ever seen the Edwardian Lady’s Diary a page to view on another blog I think that’s the kind of thing we are aiming for. Obviously I know this is really old fashioned and that ‘The Edwardian Lady’ was just passing the time and had no expectations of a future job to consider!!! However I like the idea of a walk in the countryside…we walk the dog anyway, so what better way to spend the afternoon than walking along, finding something like a flower or leaf or a bug, bringing it home and identifying it in the nature books! I have bought some sketch books and my idea is that we will take a photograph and paste it in, then the children can draw a picture of it and then write the date, where they found it and what it is. It’s Literacy, it’s Science, it’s Art and it’s fun!

Hmmmmmm. I thought this was totally old fashioned and pointless and wasn’t going to bother. She advocates getting children to copy out scriptures every morning. I didn’t like that. But then I read something  Susan Wise Bauer wrote about handwriting practice. She says something along the lines of if kids are not hung up on the mechanics of writing (ie their handwriting flows, quickly) then they can get get their ideas down on paper in a more coherant way. I reckon she has a point. I am not a paricularly fast typist so I often find it easier to write in pencil on paper in order to splurge out my ideas because it is quicker…I can then type things up and make changes on the PC. So my plan is this: get the kids doing handwriting practice (Elizabeth is doing Cursive Imogen and Leon are still printing) but copying little bits of poetry and short paragraphs from books they are enjoying rather than scriptures…and they have also been practicing touchtyping for some time now using the english Type Junior programme so that they (unlike me) will be able to get their ideas down just as quickly on the PC without all the typos I manage!!!

I have struggled with this. A lot of the CM websites and booklists include books which are ancient! And many of them are biassed anglocentric stories offering a view of the world from the perspective of a wealthy white Christian gentleman circa 1901. And I have a problem with that! Even though the kids are only little I want them to have a real view of the world. I have chosen to go with a book of stories from British History called Britannia which includes myths about giants and witches and legends such as the story of King Leir (later to become Lear) because despite the fact that the stories are not all true, the telling of them is history in itself. I like the idea of the children understanding and being aware of Oral Tradition and the old stories which impacted upon place names, language and culture of Modern Britain. I have chosen to follow Susan Wise Bauer’s story of the world for History. Yes, it is written slightly from a Christian perspective…but it isn’t so much that it impacts too greatly on the content and I can always explain things or add other points of view as we go along. There are four books in the series and it is intended that they are read over four years and repeated three times throughout the child’s education. This means that each time the child studies them the child is able to do more reading around each chapter and more research for themselves. She also provides a nice activity book which I plan to use. We won’t get to the end of the book this year as there are 42 chapters and only 33 weeks of my timetabled study time…but I am not going to get hung up about it, we can carry on with it next year before moving along to the next in the series.

Picture Study
This is a cute idea. She says you should get the children to look closely at an artist’s work until they can close their eyes and see it clearly in their minds…she then gets the kids to narrate what it looks like. I love art and I love looking at artists and their work and finding out about their lives…so this really appeals to me. We have a collection of books (72 of them) and each one covers a separate artist. I thought I would eventually make use of those. However this year I plan to use the Katie books which are all about a little girl who goes to the gallery with Grandma and gets into the paintings. I thought I would supplement these with the ‘real’ pictures in our library of art books and aswell as getting the children to talk about the pictures we could have a go at painting/crayoning/pastelling our own.

Music Study
The kids already have piano lessons, I thought I would introduce a bit of classical music too… might calm us all down a bit! I bought The Spectacular Classics Collection of CDs so that I can put Vivaldi on for a couple of weeks, then Mozart for another couple of weeks…hopefully by the end of the year we will be able to identify the composer when we hear a piece of music!

Some followers of Charlotte Mason’s Method stick with the Nature Study at my children’s level for Science however I fancied doing a bit more …and I have gone for Real Science Odyssey by Pandiapress. At Grade 1 level there is ‘Life’ and ‘Earth’. I’ve chosen ‘life’ for this year which covers all kinds of wonderful things like habitats and insects and butterflies and bodies and plants and….well have a look for yourself there’s a ‘try before you buy’ section which shows the first 72 pages.

My favourite bit! I have decided on the following texts for this year:

The Blue Fairy Book
This is an old text and I’ve picked an expensive copy which has beautiful illustrations. There are many books in the series and they cover lots of old fairy tales however they are the originals so the ugly step sisters get their toes cut off and Rumplestiltskin tears himself in two…I see no point in Disney-fying literature. Either tell it the way it was written or don’t bother!

Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare for Children
Again, I am really looking to give the kids a good grounding. I think Shakespeare’s stories are wonderful (yes I know I said stories not ‘plays’ I am talking about the ‘tale’ the ‘yarn’ and at this age it is just the story I want them to know)

Aesop’s fables

Winnie the Pooh

Just So Stories by Kipling

You don’t tend to find the likes of Enid Blyton or Jeremy Strong and his hundred mile and hour dog on Charlotte Mason reading lists, they are supposed to be well written texts…Charlotte Mason had quite lofty ideals! But that doesn’t mean I won’t be reading these kind of books to the kids…they are just extra to the main curriculum choices.

We are going to continue with our English books and Reading Eggs… I use phonics programmes with Imogen and Leon whilst Elizabeth can already read but needs extra work on her comprehension skills so that’s what I do with her.


Geography is covered in my Nature Study, my Science and also in the History books I have chosen however I need to find myself a good ‘spine’ book for this. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

She also taught handicrafts but we knit and craft and crochet etc anyway so we will carry on with this 🙂

I should also say that I have added lots of festivals from around the world to my diary so that as they come up we can do some work/craft/stories around the different festivals. These include Christmas, Easter, Divali, Eid, Ramadan, Midsummers’ Day, Equinox, Chinese New Year, Parinervana day, Makar Sankraniti etc etc  I don’t think it was high on CMs priorities to embrace other cultures but although we don’t follow a faith I think it is improtant that the children understand the faiths/cultures/festivals/beliefs of others.

I am only going to be ‘working’ with the children four mornings per week as we go to Tottington Library on Thursdays and they learn there. Our formal work will be finished by about 11am and I am doing three weeks on and one week off. This will enable me to catch up on any missed days through illness/sunny days/trips to the vet! It works out at around 33 weeks of work. That’s enough for us I reckon!

  3 comments for “Charlotte Mason

  1. July 9, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Lovely & inspiring Mel!


  2. sue
    July 23, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Wow, you have really, really inspired me!!!
    We have just ‘officially’ started our HE journey as charlie has just left a beautiful steiner kindergarten but it was just to far to travel. I live quite close to Bury so will have to check out the tottington library 🙂

  3. July 23, 2012 at 9:47 am

    oh so glad you liked my blog! I get lots and lots of wupport from the Totty group. It is on every Thursday at 10-11.30 (It might be earlier than that actually, I am always late! he he email me on and I will let you have my moby number and put you in touch with the others xx

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: