What Is the Charlotte Mason Method Anyway?

Apr 6, 2009

The Charlotte Mason method of education is the most child-friendly form of homeschooling.

Maybe you've heard of the Charlotte Mason method in homeschool circles, but didn't really know what it is.  This is a brief overview to give you more insight into this child-friendly form of education. #homeschool #charlottemason

Who Was Charlotte Mason?

Charlotte Mason was a British educator who spent her entire life improving the quality of education for children. Although she taught in schools, her methods of teaching are one of the primary methods of homeschooling being used today.

Charlotte Mason's thoughts on education, having filled 6 volumes, cannot possibly be written here. However, I have created a "simple" explanation.

Here are some terms commonly heard in Charlotte Mason circles and what they mean:

Twaddle-Free Books:

"Twaddle" was a term for what we would call 'dumbed down' information or literature. 

Twaddle can be compared to feeding our children child-sized fast food meals in place of a nutritious feast. These 'twaddle' books insult the child's intelligence, and fail to provide a rich, balanced education. 

A child's education should not be 'dumbed down.' Their intelligence and thinking abilities should be strengthened by materials that challenge them.

Living Books:

Living books are the opposite of dull textbooks. The books are alive and engaging. These books are typically written in a conversational or narrative style, and tell of life, death, marriage, and other life events. They give the reader a sense of entering another time or place, and getting to know new people.

Whole Books:

A whole book is just that: the entire book as the author intended it to be read. Books that have been condensed into a digest do not qualify as whole books. A whole book has not been altered in any way.

A great example
(Read the original "Arabian Nights". Then read "Aladdin" by Disney. They are exceedingly different stories.)


Children are expected to narrate or "tell back" what they have read. This is done orally. As the child grows older (around age 10-12) and his writing skills increase, the narrations can be written. This also can be done creatively through drawing, painting, sculpting, acting, etc.. The idea is that the child must process what he has read, organize it mentally and determine how to communicate what he recalls in his own words.

Short Lessons:

Charlotte Mason recommended short lessons for younger children, progressing to longer lessons as the child matures. Younger children should spend 10-15 minutes per lesson. Middle school ages usually use 30 minutes per lesson and high school ages 45 minutes. This develops the habit of full attention by keeping the child from becoming weary with an activity.

Nature Walks:

In Charlotte Mason schools, one afternoon each week was devoted to nature walks, rain or shine. Children attend these walks with sketchpads in hand on which they draw the various aspects of nature which they observe. These should be nature walks rather than nature talks. This regular study of nature opens the door to a better understanding and instruction of science.

Daily Play Outdoors:

Children should spend a large amount of time outdoors, regardless of weather, for fresh air and exercise. 3-6 hours is ideal. This outdoor time is important for developing imagination, getting fresh air, exercise and, frankly, building childhood memories.


Mason used prepared dictation as a means to teach spelling as well as reinforce grammer and composition skills. The child is given a scripture or sentence to study until he knows it well including spelling, capitalization and punctuation. Once the child indicates they're ready (this may be a week later), the teacher dictates it to the child, one phrase at a time, as she watches the child write it. 

In this way she can catch mistakes and correct them on the spot. Rather than having children learn their spelling through lists of words, dictation helps them to learn spelling within the context of rich language.

Picture and Music Study:

Art appreciation is taught through picture study. One artist is chosen along with 6 of the artist's paintings. The artist is studied for 12 weeks while each of their works are studied for 2 weeks. 

To study the painting: Allow the child to look at the work of art intently and undisturbed for 5 minutes asking him to take in every detail. Remove the picture and ask them to narrate what they saw. Do this 3x per week.

This can also be used for music/composers as well. Choose one composer for 12 weeks and 6 of their compositions. Allow the child to listen to a piece and tell you about it.


Keeping a personal journal can be a valuable learning tool, encouraging reflection and descriptive writing. Record activities, thoughts and feelings, favorite sayings, personal mottoes, favorite poems, etc...

Handwriting through Copywork:

Handwriting is, like spelling and grammar, taught within the the context of ideas and language. The children are a given a sentence, phrase or paragraph to copy in their best handwriting. This only takes a few minutes per day and develops a good habit.

Habits and Manners:

Charlotte Mason had much to say on establishing good habits in children. Attention, perfect execution, obedience, truthfulness, an even temper, neatness, kindness, order, respect, remembering, punctuality, gentleness, and cleanliness, were some of the habits. Habits take time. Choose one habit on which to focus. When it is firmly established, move to the next.

These are some of the most common features of a Charlotte Mason education. The method works because it is natural. With this method, we are working with a child's natural tendencies to give them the gift of knowledge.

What do you think of this method? What style of homeschooling do you use? Let me know in the comments.

Learn how to use the Charlotte Mason method in your homeschool! 

In just one semester you can be fully implementing the methods of Charlotte Mason in your homeschool. Learn one step at a time with this ebook by Cindy West. Read my review of Charlotte Mason Homeschooling and get your copy today. 

Pin it! 
Maybe you've heard of the Charlotte Mason method in homeschool circles, but didn't really know what it is.  This is a brief overview to give you more insight into this child-friendly form of education.

Happy Homeschooling!

1 comment

  1. For help in teaching lessons in kindness, please visit our website and check out our Big-Hearted Families™ program! We are a non-profit dedicated to helping families find family-friendly volunteer opportunities. We also help parents and educators teach kids about kindness and service to others.


Join the conversation!