Charlotte Mason was a turn-of-the-century educator whose philosophy and writings about education have inspired thousands of home schooling families during the last couple of decades. She believed firmly that every child is a person, and that we must educate the whole person, not just the mind. As a result, a Charlotte Mason education is not focused solely on the academics, but incorporates, in her words, "an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life."
By "Atmosphere," Charlotte focused on the surroundings in which a child lives; his home environment makes a big impact on how a child sees and experiences the world. That doesn't just mean the organization, cleanliness or decor of a home, but what he is absorbing from how his parents live, how they think, how they spend their time, what ideas rule their lives... Those things will rub off!
By "Discipline," she meant good habits of character. Just as any musician or athlete practices for hundreds and thousands of hours, so we must repeat actions as often as we can. Repetition forms pathways in our brain that eventually makes those actions automatic. And if we're focusing on education a whole peron, repetition of etiquette and manners is just as important as academic and technical skills.
But this is not quite enough. As she says:
"'Sow a habit, reap a character.' But we must go a step further back, we must sow the idea or notion that makes the act worthwhile."
—Volume 6: Philophy of Education, page 102
Parents and teachers should give their children access to books, stories, poetry, etc, that inspire them to want to make changes, form good habits, and enjoy those things around them. While we don't know what ideas will imbed and flourish in our children's imaginations, we'd like them to be noble, beautiful and inspiring!
By "Life," Charlotte was referring more specifically to education. She believed we should give children living thoughts and ideas, not just facts. She stressed using real, classic books for children, often called "living books," rather than just dry textbooks, and frequently used the term "twaddle" to describe much of what was taught in textbooks as a waste of a child's time and energy.
Through her many years of teaching, she determined there were better ways to teach children, ways that stimulated a love for learning and helped children to retain knowledge better than traditional methods. She believed that children can and want to learn, and that teachers should not control all learning opportunities, leaving room for spontaneity. She emphasized children learning through senses and recommended interaction wth nature, giving children plenty of time for exercise and outdoor exploration instead of always keeping children in the school room. Ms. Mason did NOT believe in "unschooling;" she absolutely believed that learning should be directed. And she emphasized the importance of developing the imagination and the value of making connections between topics studied to enhance memory.
She taught the progression of skill in education; learning isn't about meeting a particular standard. Just as a plant sprouts, then grows, then buds, blossoms, and then develops flowers or fruit, so it is with education. For example in the language arts, there is a natural progression: a child first hears, then speaks, then reads, and finally writes. So a child will first do "copywork," copying a model that shows exactly how letters or words should look, with the goal of producing as exact a copy as he can. As he masters this ability, he moves on to "transcription," where he will look at and then rewrite short phrases. Once he is comfortable with this, it would be easy to simply lengthen the phrases, but it is here that the educator can use "dictation," where passages are read aloud and the child writes them down. A skill beyond this (one of those she is best known for) is her use of "narration," which is basically a child re-telling a story he has read or heard in his own words.
She valued nature study and recommended spending about a half day per week going on nature walks, during which children could observe seasons, local geology, flora & fauna, and create notebooks of what they saw. This was not meant to be an outdoor hike for exercise, nor a lecture time to explain what was seen, except as children asked questions (in our day, when many adults don't know much about the outdoors, field guides are helpful for this part!).
Charlotte Mason's ideas are generally implemented in the elementary levels. The hallmarks to this approach are the use of "living books" vs. textbooks; the narration technique; nature learning; hands-on learning; making connections between topics; studying the fine arts; and a focus on developing good habits and a love of learning.
There are a number of companies/curricula that incorporate Charlotte Mason philosophy into their materials: Among these are Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason, Queen Homeschool Supplies, A Charlotte Mason Plenary, Charlotte Mason Education Center (The CMEC), Charlotte Mason's Alveary, A Gentle Feast, Living Books Curriculum, Wildwood, Homeschool Garden, and My Father's World. Specifically for Catholics, there is also Mater Amabilis. (Please suggest others!)
Important publishers reprinting books for the Charlotte Mason-inspired education are Yesterday's Classics and Living Book Press. These two companies specifically reprint old books that are recommended by many of the above curricula. Of course, Charlotte Mason recommended reading plenty of excellent living books, so these are not exhaustive and our many book lists include literally thousands of additional ideas! To find these, we suggest starting with our Doorways to Great Reading page, or our Summer Reading Lists page.
Important authors about her include Karen Andreola, Karen Glass, Cindy Rollins, and Sonya Shafer.
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