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Where we learn history through classic children's books.
 
Charlotte Mason Made Easy: Your Quick and Simple Guide to Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason Made Easy: Your Quick and Simple Guide to Charlotte Mason

Are you interested in using Charlotte Mason’s methods in your teaching?

Are you finding it difficult to get your head around what her methods are all about?

Then this post is for you!

Here, I will go over the key educational concepts that Charlotte Mason promoted. You can also download the free ‘Charlotte Mason Made Easy’ Guide!


Who Was Charlotte Mason?


Charlotte Mason was a British educator between the 19th and early 20th centuries. She’s known for her unique system of home education. If you’re interested in learning about alternative homeschooling methods – especially ones that involve a literature-rich curriculum – her methods might just suit you down to a t.

What Were Her Key Concepts?

Charlotte Mason wrote at length about her ideas regarding education in her six-volume series on home education. Running throughout her writings are certain fundamental ideas which are key to understanding her educational approach. These include:

  • Living books
  • Habit formation
  • Living Ideas
  • Exploring Nature
  • God at the centre
  • Focusing on the Family


Charlotte Mason Made Easy #1- Living books


If you have children or have taught children, then you’ve probably seen how demoralising fact-heavy content can be when a child is trying to learn something.

There’s nothing inspiring about a list of dates when studying history. There’s nothing to capture the imagination in a table of raw data about different countries when studying geography.

Charlotte Mason, too, noticed how uninspired certain ‘miserable text-books’ were leaving her students and so she proposed another way.

She proposed that students use ‘living books’ – books that were narrative driven and human interest centred – to help them learn. That way, a child’s imagination could be harnessed in the learning process.  

Once their imagination had been set alight by a gripping tale, the process of teaching a child about a topic related to it could be made so much easier.

Activate:

  • Brainstorm great stories that you think could help you to teach particular subjects.
  • For information on how to use living books to teach history, as well as a list of history living books, click here.
  • For help choosing good living book history curricula, click here.
  • For living book history online courses, click here and here.

Your Thoughts

What next steps will you take to incorporate living books into your child’s/student’s studies?


Charlotte Mason Made Easy #2 – Habit Formation


Charlotte Mason believed that one of the educator’s most important tools was that of habit formation, describing it as

the instrument by means of which she [the parent/educator] turns out the design she has already conceived in her brain. 

Through encouraging or discouraging certain habits, Mason thought a child’s whole character could be developed. In other words, they could be encouraged to develop positive character traits such as being organised through the promotion of tidy habits (like cleaning up after themselves).

On the flipside, they could also be discouraged from developing negative characteristics like laziness. The daily routine of habits that the child participated in, therefore, could have an extremely powerful effect on their developing personality.

Not only could habits develop the child’s personality, but they could also have a massive impact on the course their future would take. This was, in part, because the educator/parent could guide the child through habits of thought as well as behaviour.

A child could be encouraged towards positive, fulfilling and ethical goals in life by guiding their thoughts into the habit of admiring such aspirations. When making moral decisions – such as whether to lie or be honest – they could be encouraged towards habits of truthfulness. In this way, the educator could determine (in large part) the kind of person the child would become on a deeply moral level:

What we can do for them is to secure that they have habits which shall lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places.

Activate

  • Brainstorm the personal characteristics you would like your child/student to develop (e.g. tidiness).
  • Consider: what daily habits could you enforce to encourage these characteristics?

Your Thoughts

What next steps will you take to incorporate habit formation into your child’s/student’s studies?


Charlotte Mason Made Easy #3 – Living Ideas


There’s something very special about that moment when a child’s face lights up with an idea that has really got them thinking.

Perhaps it’s something strange they learn people used to do in history.

Maybe it’s some peculiarity regarding the way plants pollinate, or another scientific process.

Whatever it is, it’s amazing how all-absorbing this idea can quickly become in a child’s mind. You might even start seeing it crop up in other areas of their life outside their studies too – for instance, when they’re playing.

Charlotte Mason believed in the potential of even just one truly inspiring idea to propel a student’s education forward. She believed that ideas were all connected, and that education was simply understanding how ideas were connected, or as she called it – ‘the science of relations’.

This being so, once a child had found something in their studies that truly captured their imagination, educating them from then on was fairly straightforward. All you had to do was pursue understanding this idea as deeply as possible. In the process, you could reach an understanding of other important subjects along the way.

Activate

  • Is there anything that your child/student is really interested in right now (e.g. dinosaurs)?
  • Consider: how could you make connections between their interests and their schoolwork?

Your Thoughts

What next steps will you take to incorporate living ideas into your child’s/student’s studies?


Charlotte Mason Made Easy #4 – Exploring Nature


For Charlotte Mason, there were huge benefits to be had in encouraging children to spend time in nature. So much so that she encouraged parents to take their children out of doors for 4-6 hours a day!

She believed that children could learn so much from simply seeing and observing the natural world around them – even going so far as to say that

the chief function of the child––his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life––is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses.

By observing and learning all they could on long walks outside, the child could develop invaluable skills and knowledge:

the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment,––when they ask, ‘What is it?’ and ‘What is it for?’ And she is training her children in truthful habits, by making them careful to see the fact and to state it exactly, without omission or exaggeration.

Activate

  • Brainstorm interesting outdoor places you could visit with your child/student.
  • Consider: what could they learn about from visiting these places? How could you relate it to their school subjects (e.g. looking at plants in biology, or looking at an old historic ruin in history)?

Your Thoughts

What next steps will you take to incorporate exploring the outdoors into your child’s/student’s studies?


Charlotte Mason Made Easy #5- God at the Centre


Charlotte Mason had a strong Christian faith and her educational theories are, as a result, strongly rooted in Christian beliefs. This being so, she emphasised the importance of teaching children about God – even saying that

the knowledge of God is the principal knowledge, and the chief end of education. 

By this, Charlotte Mason didn’t just believe that it was important to teach children how to pray or read the Bible (although she did think these were very important). Instead, by saying that the knowledge of God was ‘the chief end of education’ she meant that all other areas of study were connected to a knowledge of God.

As we have seen when discussing ‘living ideas’, Mason held the view that all ideas were connected. Given that God is the ‘principal’ idea at the centre of all knowledge, all types of knowledge could lead to a deeper understanding of Him. For this reason, she encouraged teachers and parents not to suggest to a child that their spiritual life was somehow cut off from other aspects of their life – such as their intellectual life:

We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children; but should teach them that the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.

Far from it, children should be trained to see a continual connection between their spiritual and intellectual lives.

Activate

  • Brainstorm ways that you could incorporate God into the study of other subjects.
  • Some ideas to help you:
    • You could study a Christian poem in English
    • You could learn about Christian influences on famous pieces of music in music (e.g. Christ on the Mount of Olives by Beethoven).
    • You could learn to play a Christian song on the piano in music
    • You could learn how Christian faith influenced famous scientific work in science (e.g. Sir Isaac Newton).

Your Thoughts

What next steps will you take to make God at the centre of your child’s/student’s studies?


Charlotte Mason Made Easy #6- Focusing on the family


One of Charlotte Mason’s most popular quotations is:

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

While much can be said about this quotation, one of the ways it can be understood is by seeing its application to the home environment. Children absorb so much that we hardly notice. The way their parents speak about people behind their backs. The things their family members prioritise in their daily routines. The interesting topics that crop up in casual conversations. Children lap it all up – which is why the family environment is central to Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on education.

In particular, she believed that the final responsibility for a child’s education lay with their parents. It was their job, ultimately, to make sure that their child became

‘ … better than they are, and to bless the world with people, not merely good-natured and well-disposed, but good of set purpose and endeavour.’

Activate

  • Brainstorm ways that the family and home environment can contribute to your child’s/student’s education?
  • Consider: what messages might they be receiving from how adults behave and what they prioritise?
  • What might they be learning about from conversations at dinner or the TV shows they watch at home?

Your Thoughts

What next steps will you take to incorporate a focus on the family and home environment into your child’s/student’s studies?

What do you think?

So, what is it that attracts you to the Charlotte Mason method?

Let me know in the comments!

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