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Charlotte Mason

unrecognizable crop kid playing with toys and stones on rocky ground

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 in 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 emphasis highlighted in 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 Literature is the foundation of a Charlotte Mason education. It replaces the textbook, which quickly dulls an education. You can identify living literature by several 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

Narration is an oral response to literature, helping with evaluation, comprehension and retention. If used properly, it becomes a habit. Narration increases a student’s attention as they read or listen. You can assess their comprehension in real time using narration.

Narration should include specific details and an ordered sequence of events, avoiding generalizations. Older students can discuss moral topics during narration.

3. Recitation

Charlotte Mason calls recitation “the children’s art”. Reciting poetry, literature or scripture comes naturally to students. We simply need to draw it out of them, giving them an opportunity to speak. 

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

Copywork is Charlotte Mason’s approach to spelling. Copywork is copying an assigned passage perfectly, including proper punctuation. A student should complete copywork in her best handwriting in a dedicated copywork journal. Lessons should be short (5-10 minutes, 3 times a week). Parents should supervise lessons and gently re-direct if a misspelling emerges. 

Dictation is copywork without a visual cue. It reinforces the practice of visualizing words. After a student has successfully completed a copywork passage, they can move on to dictation. The parent reads the passage aloud to the student and the student  transcribes the passage while listening. 

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 collection of the details of outdoor adventures and should include: 

  • Date and location of observation
  • Brush-drawing illustration of observation
  • Species identification and noted characteristics (older students)
  • Optional poetry, quotes or scripture embellishment

6. Book of Centuries

A Book of Centuries is a timeline notebook and should be consistently used in fifth grade through high school. In a Book of Centuries, each century of history is represented on a two-page spread. Each student should include a variety of details in their Book of Centuries including:

  • Historical events
  • Names of important historical figures
  • Poems
  • Quotes
  • Illustrations
  • Maps
  • Titles of books read about the time period

7. Special Studies

Slowing down to study a single artist, composer, poet or scientist celebrates the contribution of one life. Charlotte Mason encourages us to choose one person at a time.

  • Artist Study: Choose an artist focus for a semester, studying one of their best paintings each week. After looking at the painting for several minutes, remove the image and ask your student to narrate what they have seen. Give them opportunities to create their own art inspired by the artist they are studying. 
  • Composer Study: To inspire a love for music in your home, choose a composer (historical or modern) to focus on each semester. During a dedicated time of listening, play their best music. Do this at least once a week. Your student will become familiar with the composer’s style. 
  • Poet Study: Read a poem written by your selected poet once a week. Over the course of the semester, your student will become familiar with the poet’s style. They will start to feel comfortable in the world of poetry. Don’t underestimate what your child can understand! 
  • Scientist Study: Reading scientific biographies for leisure will inspire your student! Individual scientists have made a huge impact on our world.

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 incorporates habit training into a quality education. Good habits lead to a disciplined, productive life. Charlotte Mason suggests focusing 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 your student to master a habit before moving on to another habit. Habits can include things such as personal hygiene, household chores and spiritual discipline. 

Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education is rich and timeless. It leads to a home environment where mothers and children thrive. Charlotte Mason emphasizes, “Our aim in education is to give a full life.”