If the Charlotte Mason method of education is so wonderful and Charlotte Mason was an insightful lady, why is she so obscure?

The strong, Christian base upon which she built her philosophy became unpopular. Children became the chattels of adults. Children’s worth often became expressed in terms of dollars and cents. A child’s education centered around his being a cog in the machine. And the goal of education became a child’s being made fit for the highest paid job possible. (2)

What was Charlotte Mason’s vision?

Charlotte Mason’s vision was that good, wholesome aspects of life would bring joy, stability, and richness to every child. (2)

What results can I expect with the education of my children if I use the Charlotte Mason method?

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay attended one of the more well-known schools using the Charlotte Mason method, in Switzerland, at a time when almost no one was implementing the method outside of the English lake district in Ambleside where it was founded. Macaulay observed the unique characteristics of these graduates in contrast with their contemporaries.

Children will have a voracious appetite and ability to learn…. (2)

Parents who provide for their children’s growth will have enthusiastic, outgoing, and creative children. (2)

Reflective children are provided a depth which builds quiet confidence. (2)

Children treated as persons are secure. (To be treated as a person is to be loved, respected, talked with, listened to, and read to.) (2)

Children who have shared experiences with the family, and have had freedom to play alone and with friends,

  • will be eager to exploit life without a sense of boredom,
  • will think, and express their thoughts, and 
  • will try eagerly to master new skills. (2)

What IS this method, anyway?

A broad overview of the Charlotte Mason philosophy can be stated in three parts.

Part 1. Children Are Born Persons.

Each child is created in the image and likeness of God. Children’s minds work as ours do. We are created to live. To have life more abundantly. To share struggles together, to wonder together, to grow together. We are fellow-pilgrims. We are to walk side-by-side as human beings under the love and authority of Him who made us. (2)

To treat a child as a person in an educational setting, 

  • share the good things of life with the eager minds of children,
  • deal with them on an eye-to-eye level [when choosing ideas to share], remembering that children are never too young to appreciate what is good,
  • introduce them to all aspects of reality (with a positive joy), and
  • delight in their separate individuality. (1)

Respect the children’s thinking and let them come to any conclusions themselves. (2)

Part 2. Education Is the Science of Relationships.

The child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts help him make valid “those first-born affinities that fit our new existence to existing things.” (1)

A child retains knowledge about those ideas with which he first develops a relationship. Without relationship to an idea, the opportunity for real knowledge is lost.

A child explores and experiences life to gain knowledge in three areas. His relationships to ideas fall under these three categories:

Knowledge of God

Knowledge of Man

Knowledge of the Universe

To develop a child’s Knowledge of God, he hears the Bible read to him, he prays with his parents, he worships with other believers, and he acknowledges God’s truth. He works out his own relationship with God. He lives in an environment of love, truth, humility, and forgiveness.

To develop a child’s Knowledge of Man, he hears great literature read to him expressively and he reads about the lives of historical figures in the context of their culture to learn history, morals and citizenship. He listens to great composers and views great artworks. He develops skills in languages and composition. A feast of ideas is spread before the child.

To develop a child’s Knowledge of the Universe, he explores it and tests for himself the theories of science, the wonders of nature, and the truths of mathematics. He develops physical skills and abilities in handicrafts. Experiences, mistakes and successes, characterize learning in this area.

Part 3. Education Is An Atmosphere, A Discipline, A Life

Three tools are used to present ideas to and practice skills with children as they develop relationships

AtmosphereDo not create for the child an artificial child environment, but let him live freely among his proper conditions. (1) Let the children use real tea cups and real tools making items that are useful or beautiful or both. Take advantage of the situation or circumstances in which the child finds himself, whether city, country, suburban, or the mission field. Surround the child with an environment where the items with which he interacts daily are useful or beautiful — or both! Most importantly, he needs to be surrounded by love, truth, humility, forgiveness, and acceptance.

Discipline…Give to the child the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully — habits of mind and body. (1) The effort of decision is the greatest effort of life. (1) A gift of good habits, given to a child when he is young, will be treasured his whole life. 

Life…Give the child intellectual, moral, and physical sustenance needed to feed the mind on ideas. (2)

“[The child’s] mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind.” (emphasis added) (1)



What makes a Charlotte Mason education distinctive, practically? Do you just add nature and art?

When looking at a program which incorporates a full Charlotte Mason method, you will notice the following:

Short Lessons…are held in the morning hours and contain a wide variety of many subjects. Subjects are rotated and varied, so that not every subject is taught every day, alternated between skill lessons and the reading of a feast of ideas, using different parts of the brain to prevent day-dreaming and mental fatigue. Full attention is required for 10, 15, or 20 minutes, depending on age and topic, and then the topic is ended with the children still engaged, before their interest is lost, switched to a new topic as completely different from the previous as possible. Afternoon hours are spent in Masterly Inactivity, a very important part of the method.

Living Books…are biographies, entire works of fiction, an accurate historical novel, or other books by gifted authors where the child becomes a student of the author. Living books convey ideas in the form of a good story, with emotion, and “clothed in literary language.” (1)

Narration…verifies knowledge by having the student “tell back” what was read. By formulating the expressive language to convey his recollection, the child passes the ideas he read through the filter of his life’s experiences and unique personality. This practice exercises the brain and produces lasting knowledge, unlike comprehension questions and workbooks.

Many Hours in the Out-of-Doors…helps the child learn to be observant. In any weather, take the child out for hours daily. The object is not a science lecture, but rather, an opportunity to observe. And real observation takes time.

Masterly Inactivity…is an afternoon to be free under authority, which is liberty. (1) Perhaps the idea is nearly that conveyed in Wordsworth’s even more happy phrase, ‘wise passiveness.’ It indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action. (1) The child has all afternoon and evening free to enjoy being a child, to pursue hobbies, and to read. (3) During this afternoon time, the mind does not rest and the education of the child does not stop. The child’s mind mulls over the ideas presented earlier in the day. He has time to contemplate that which he has heard, read, and experienced. Ideas are accepted and ideas are rejected. Permanent knowledge is formed. This time of the day is crucial to a child’s education.

(1) The Original Home Schooling Series, Charlotte Mason.

(2) For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.

(3) A Charlotte Mason Education, Catherine Levison.