the basics of the charlotte mason homeschool philosophy

I am, I can, I ought, I will.

Charlotte Mason

The above quote is directly taken from Charlotte Mason’s words. She suggested that kids do what they set their minds to. We used it as a daily affirmation in circle time for years.

Before we officially took the kids out of school to home educate, I spent two years reading and reading about all things homeschool.

I read about classical homeschooling, child-led schooling, eclectic homeschooling, project-based homeschooling, even the confounding unschooling.

The list goes on and on.

I heard that Charlotte Mason focused on nature study. Until a homeschool conference where I listened to Catherine Levinson. The more Ms. Levinson shared, the more I realized I was already doing most of what Charlotte Mason suggested.

I had come by her ideas on my own accord, by watching my children’s needs and rhythms.

Undergirding Charlotte Mason’s education philosophy, she is quoted:

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. Education is a discipline — that is, the discipline of the good habits in which the child is trained. Education is a life, nourished upon ideas; and education is an atmosphere — that is, the child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule his own life”.

Charlotte Mason

Education is a discipline.

There is as much, or more, value in teaching a child character than sifting through ideas or knowledge. This surprised me in the first year homeschooling. I knew that children needed a lot of guidance and that sometimes their inclinations weren’t helping them, or others. I could see the value in character training, but I wouldn’t have thought it would be so profoundly necessary.

If the kiddos could pay attention when I asked them to do something, they would also be more fully present in their studies. If they didn’t dilly dally with their chores, they were also more likely to focus on their math problems. If they didn’t stir up trouble with their sister, they had a peaceful, happy day that also contributed to the happiness of those around them.

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny“.

Education is a life, nourished upon ideas.

Practically speaking, Charlotte Mason is a fond proponent of short lessons. The child should be fully engaged, but not unrealistically engaged for extended periods. An hour of math worksheets might be our instinct, but it might also be encouraging self-induced torture.

As the child flails about, pokes their sibling next to them, or whines until you’re crying, she’s come to learn little math. Get her to work against a timer for a reasonable period, and expect her best work for a short period, and she’ll increasingly be attentively present. Well, most days.

To engage a child in ideas and knowledge, the child must be fully present. Overload anyone with too much activity, and they’ll want to curl in the fetal position, or at the very least, not be fully present.

Living books are used as curriculum choices, rather than standard textbooks.

Instead of focusing on a collection of knowledge found in textbooks, Charlotte Mason encourages using resources such as historical novels, Shakespeare, unabridged versions of novels, stories about animals, mythology, and biographies to help explain the backdrop of the concept.

Books written by a historical character are an effective history teaching approach. These stories help us attach our mind’s-eye to a story and all its details.

When studying Canadian history, we’ve read from the Dear Canada or Our Canadian Girl series. Rather than singularly reading dull and abbreviated excerpts from textbooks, living books are written from a young girls’ perspective.

Get the kids something to do with their hands while they read, and they will more likely listen with rapt attention.

Charlotte Mason covers loads of different subjects: reading, writing, arithmetic. Also, poetry, geography, nature study, grammar, music and art appreciation, and even Latin and other languages.

Encourage them to narrate what they’ve heard.

If your children can speak back what they’ve just heard, they’ve engaged the concept. Expose the child to tons of ideas and ask them to share what they’ve heard, and they will come to integrate those thoughts into themselves.

An education is in the atmosphere.

See mommy be gentle, the child will grow in gentleness. See mommy snap, the child will snap. Now I don’t want to take all responsibility for my child’s behaviour, but what we set the atmosphere.

See mommy be eager to learn, the child will be eager to learn. What we really believe, they will catch. Value osmosis is a benefit of parenting. The values we value, not the values we necessarily teach or preach, are the ones they will truly value. An education is definitely in the atmosphere.

The charming Charlotte Mason…

Besides the fact that Charlotte’s Mason’s values are similar to my own, I just enjoy this method: it’s just plain fun. 

Pursuing the interests of the kiddos, and myself, occurs naturally in this approach. (No pun intended.)

Charlotte Mason has certainly charmed me, so she fits well in my attempt to capture the charmed life.

Are you considering homeschooling your kids?

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Teresa Wiedrick
Teresa Wiedrick

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