Charlotte Mason

Who was Charlotte Mason?

Our aim in education is to give a full life. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was a classical English educator at the turn of the twentieth century. She wrote volumes of material and trained educators her unique educational philosophy. Her philosophy is so rich that we continue to pursue it in modern education. Her motto for students was, “I am, I can, I ought, I will.” Charlotte Mason emphasizes serving an educational feast to students of all ages. Below are eight unique traits of a Charlotte Mason education.

1. Living Literature

Children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough.

Charlotte Mason

Living books are the foundation of a Charlotte Mason education. Living books can be fiction, biography, nature lore, historical fiction, and even non-fiction. You can identify living literature by the following traits:

  • Written in narrative form or in a conversational tone
  • Well-written with rich language (not short, choppy sentences) 
  • Well-told, igniting imagination 
  • Touches emotions
  • Includes ideas (not just facts)
  • Subject matter comes alive

2. Narration

Narrating is not the work of a parrot, but absorbing into oneself the beautiful thought from the book, making it one’s own and going it forth again with just that little touch that comes from one’s own mind.” – Charlotte Mason

Narration aids in comprehension and evaluation. It quickly becomes a habit when integrated into weekly lessons. Narration encourages students to read and listen with attention. Narration allows you to asses student comprehension in real time, so you can quickly address any gap in learning or misunderstanding.

Narration is an oral or written response to literature.

When introducing oral narration, students may initially need your guidance in retelling the details of a story in their own words. Modeling narration and asking engaging questions will help students develop narration confidence. 

Oral narration is a precursor to good writing skills. If students are doing well with oral narration and copy work, they are ready for written narration. Written narration builds a foundation for more complicated writing assignments. 

Written narration should be used in moderation and should not completely replace oral narration. Written and oral narration are both valuable and should be used alongside one another. 

3. Recitation

I hope that my readers will train their children in the art of recitation; in the coming days, more even than in our own, will it behoove every educated man and woman to be able to speak effectively in public. and, in learning to recite you learn to speak.” -Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason calls recitation “the children’s art”. Recitation comes naturally for children. The goal of recitation is to understand and communicate the nuance of the meaning of the words, and to speak beautiful words beautifully. This process allows the student to slow down and absorb meaningful passages. Memorization is not the goal of recitation, although it is often the fruit.

4. Copywork & Dictation

First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson — a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work — humpy ‘m’s, angular o’s.” -Charlotte Mason

Copywork is copying an assigned passage in perfect formation, including exact spelling and punctuation and using best penmanship. Copywork reinforces proper spelling habits, while also improving grammar and penmanship. Copywork is a whole language approach alternative to traditional spelling lessons.

Lessons should be short (5-10 minutes, 3 times a week). Parents should supervise lessons and gently re-direct if a misspelling emerges. 

After successfully completing copywork for a specific passage, students can progress to dictation. Dictation reinforces the practice of visualizing words, which directly improves spelling. For dictation, students transcribe the assigned passage into their copywork/dictation journal upon hearing it read aloud to them. Unlike copywork, students should not have access to a visual cue of the passage when they do dictation. 

5. Nature Journal

As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.

Charlotte Mason

A nature journal is a place to record observations from a nature walk or an object lesson. Nature journal entries should include the date and location of the observation and a brush-drawing illustration of the observation. Older students should include noted characteristics and species identification. Adding embellishments such as poetry, quotes, and scripture make each journal unique.  

6. Book of Centuries

A Book of Centuries is a timeline notebook in which each century of history is given a two-page spread. Charlotte Mason insisted on keeping it simple so students could view an entire century in just one glance.

Students age 10+ should add to dates to their Book of Centuries. It will be an ongoing project over the course of their education.

A Book of Centuries is most engaging if students are involved in choosing people, dates, and events from their lessons that are meaningful to them. 

The Book of Centuries is not limited to history lessons. When learning about people/events in any subject area, add details to the Book of Centuries. Examples of things to include in a Book of Centuries are: historical events, historical figures, poems, quotes, illustrations, maps, scientific inventions, artists, etc. 

7. Special Studies

Charlotte Mason recommends slowing down and choosing a single artist, composer, and poet each term.

  • Artist Study: Choose an artist for the term, studying one of their best paintings each week. After looking at the painting for several minutes, remove the image and ask students to narrate what they have seen. Give an opportunity to create art inspired by the artist study. 
  • Composer Study: To inspire a love for music in your home, choose a composer (historical or modern) for the term. During a dedicated time of listening, play the composer’s best music. Do this at least once a week. Your student will become familiar with the composer’s style. 
  • Poet Study: Select a poet for the term. Read a poem from the selected poet once a week. Over the course of the term, students will become familiar with the poet’s style. They will start to feel comfortable in the world of poetry. Students should recite the poetry.

8. Habit

The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason emphasizes habit training as the foundation of a quality education. Good habits lead to a disciplined, productive life. Charlotte Mason focuses on one habit at a time, for three to six weeks or until the habit is learned. This is more effective than attempting to implement a long list of new habits all at once. It allows students to master a habit before moving on to another habit. She recommends beginning the habits of attention, obedience, observation, and truthfulness. Habit training should also include things such as personal hygiene, household chores, and spiritual discipline. 

Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education is rich and we continue to pursue it in modern education. It remains popular in classrooms and homes across the world today. She emphasizes, “Our aim in education is to give a full life.”

Charlotte Mason wrote volumes of content on her unique and detailed philosophy of education. For inspiration directly from Charlotte Mason, read Home Education