Charlotte Mason Education 101

Today we had the visit of a friend and her daughter who is almost four, and my friend wanted to know about my understanding of  a Charlotte Mason education and what we do at home in terms of this homeschooling thing :). She homeschools and she is a former school teacher, like me.

Of course the best way to learn about her is to read her original series. And it is great to start learning about CM and other aspects of homeschooling to prepare for it when your children are young, but any time you can is a good time to learn.

Could someone present a bit of Charlotte Mason to the new to her parent without being vague, overwhelming or  too cryptic? I am going to try to. I intend to give a general overview for those parents wanting to start researching deeper or to start implementing some CM with their children but who don’t know where to start.


CM is not a packed curriculum, it is a philosophy of education that inspires many to a more or less degree. Many things from CM can be applied into our homes no matter our believes, our parenting styles (I do not know what labels to mention that do not have negative connotations, but I could say “traditional” or “new wave”), regardless our homeschooling styles (unschooler to school at home), our methods and curriculums, and our schedules (some like to do all their readings and “school” in the morning, some spread it throughout the day, some work four days some seven, this is different for each family and even for each year), and CM is adjusted to different ways of life and education. Is not this a contradiction? There are definitely those who take more from her, and who study much and have their own ideas about what it is to be more faithful to her thoughts, but to me I am not as worried as being a so called PURIST as to adjust what I consider of much importance and interest from her to my home, with our own believes, principles, and modus operandi.

There is not a boxed curriculum that can claim to be CM, but there is AMBLESIDE ONLINE, which is a website where many have worked hard to bring to us a list of the books and reading schedules as well as her philosophy and resources to recreate a CM education at home.  All these we can access free of cost, and that to us has already been a wonderful resource we are using since I found it almost two years ago. They have groups, general and specific, and you can join them freely too. Now they have launched a forum too.You can use boxed curriculum if you want to, although you will miss then the joy of the living books. It is up to you, truly. You may not be a purist, but you need to do what works for you, and as you learn more about CM, it is possible that either you lean more of her or that you depart to other methods better fit for your family.

What is that attracted me most about this education?
– The idea of NARRATION,
– Habit formation (working on these always, specially in the young years)
– Her idea of EDUCATION as a relationship with the Lord, other people and the world around us.
– The importance of being outdoors, and her famous nature studies.
– Her concept of the teacher not as a LECTURER, but as someone who learns and inspires.
– Her statement that children are born PERSONS, not blank slates to be filled with information to be parroted back.
– Her assurance that if we feed them a rich diet of IDEAS they will thrive.
– Her understanding of the early years (before six or seven), as a time to observe, learn habits, walk outdoors, establish these relationships she talks about.
– Her amazing understanding of true learning as the inward reward for children, versus using punishment or prizes to make them work or “learn”. My own idea that she was against busy work.

She is not reading, she is making up funny stories

Her educational philosophy is not just an empty theory, it is something that works, it is simple yet powerful. I have seen it in my own girls, even with the deficiencies and shortcomings on our side (we could do a better job in many areas). But I do not take CM as a rigid list of areas to work on at home, she is plainly my inspiration. So far there have been many things I have experienced “success” with (I do not like that word, but I cannot find the right one), whenever we follow her indications. The doubts, stress, dark moments of desperation and feelings of inadequacy, of not doing enough or of doing too much, those were not because of CM, they were my fault and only mine. I succumb to outside pressure or my ego builds up that stress when I compare with the rest of the world at times. However, I can say with hope for many out there, that it gets better every day, every month, every year. Things I was eager to see at work (such as children listening to readings without having to look at pictures) come with time, when they are mature. Their ability to pay attention gets developed by observing nature. The connections happen in their minds without us planting them artificially in them. I have all the reasons to strengthen my faith in this type of education.

What do we do and what could you do at home that is CM inspired? I am writing some things in a random order as I think of them that may inspire you too:

1. Read her original series, the sections that catch your interest, or books related to her if you wish.

2. Start learning about wholesome books versus twaddle to decide if that is a concept you like to follow for the most part, and learn from wholesome books, with the many suggestions you can find at AO online, or that you can start to find yourself. *This is one of the best parts for me, to hunt for wholesome books at the library or bookstore sales.

3. Take your children outdoors all the time, for as long as you can.

4. Start learning about birds, plants, insects, nature. (This is also very enjoyable to us) Do not FORCE this upon them, just learn yourself and model for them, they will come along and learn themselves when they are ready. Do not kill the moment (I have done this, ;). Children do love being outdoors, specially if you are not running after them and lecturing all the time.

5. If you believe the Bible to be His inspired Word, read it, live your Christianity and bring up your children in the Lord according to his precepts and admonition. TELL (specially when they are little, you do not have to always read, but telling them is great) them the Bible stories, sing hymns with them at home and church. Grow spiritually with them.

6. In my case, we have to consciously think about Internet, and media time. I do not believe to be a CM type of family you need to not have TV or video games, but in our home it works that we do not let the girls unlimited time in front of the screens, because this way they are more time outside or to themselves, and it is very important to me children learn not be bored or not to expect to be constantly entertained. Families will have to decide about this for themselves.

7. I like math taught orally in the early years, such as in ARITHMETIC FOR YOUNG CHILDREN, and with manipulatives. I like MEP too, but again, at Ambleside Online and other places you can read about math recommendations.

8. I believe in learning about history, geography, literature, math, science, etc. through wholesome books and with narrations. I do not think you have to do “all subjects” everyday. Instead, I do know that reading slowly many books at a time, and the child narrating from those, is a powerful learning approach because it is intrinsic with the way humans of all ages learn (from six or seven, not before).

9. I totally agree with SHORT and CONSISTENT lessons. Some children will like math more than writing, others will like drawing more than narrating…but all can do all these, and all will if you present them at the RIGHT time, and in the RIGHT amount, with the RIGHT expectations and manner. They do not have to write a whole letter, just one line might be enough. They do not have to fill thirty math problems, a few well done will suffice. But they need to do it the best they can, and put their heart in it. They will enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.

10. I like CM’s approach to reading. Her combination of phonics and looking at words and memorizing visually how they are spelled. I like also that she encourages you to work with familiar nursery rhymes, write and cut them, ask them to put them in order, read the words, match them to the whole text, etc. And her idea of not having to use twaddle for teaching reading either, but books that may have simple words but that are not watered down. I am not sure how often she did reading lessons in her school and the length of the lessons per age, but I know I am always trying to balance the idea of having high expectations from my daughters and asking for the discipline to practice something they do not particularly like, and not burning them, forcing, or pushing to the point of killing their love for learning. That is a balance we all have to find. No method will give you the total answer. I only know that it is true that if you are doing this right (for the most part), they will soar. This doesn’t mean your days will all be smooth, but you will sit down after a week, or a month, and look back to your days and see they are feasting upon ideas, loving their learning, and moving forward in their education.

* Keep your main goals as the motor that guides your day, not the small “showy little things your children can do”, and most certainly not the public school or schools in general as your model of what to do and when to do it. Not even other homeschooling families. It is hard, but you need to find your own way to live and learn based on your believes, your understanding, your convictions and your main goals. There is not an age to start with reading instruction, to me if a child is interested in something (reading, math) I see nothing wrong with lessons. It is my conviction not to do this at the expense of outdoors time or teaching habits, though, and it is my personal option not to reproduce schools at home.

11. Appreciate music, listen to classic music and grow in this too yourself. Appreciate art, and learn yourself. We may not do this all the time, or in a deep manner yet, but it is truly enriching.

12. Find a friend or many, and some blogs (that has been helpful to me), of other parents that have CM as an inspiration, or other philosophies if those seem to attract you. You will start finding what you are looking for once you start. And you will be able to either give your homeschool a CM twist if you are in the middle of your children education, or to prepare before you “start” with all these practices.

13. It is very cost effective and inexpensive education. It may require more time on your side to create your own schedule, to gather the books, but you will learn and grow as much or more than your children. You do not need a Kindle, but if Ambleside works for you, from the first year it will save you tons of money in books, if you don’t have one, a Bible, a library card, the groups where books are sold for little, Internet access, and a COMMITTED PARENTS, you can give your children the best education on a budget.

14. There are many more things for later on, such as her book of centuries and use of time lines, or her ideas for spelling, composition… Much room to grow along with your children.

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