Recommended Reading | A Charlotte Mason Education: A Home Schooling How-To Manual

As some of you may know, I am struggling to decide whether or not to homeschool Jack. I have plenty of reasons for and against but have not entirely made up my mind. Plus, it’s hard to say if homeschooling will still be practical for our family by the time Jack is five. I’m also considering a satellite or hybrid public education as a viable but possibly more expensive option, and I am looking into “umbrella schools” as well.

Jack is only three years old now, which is apparently pre-school age according to his pediatrician. However, I’m not interested in placing him in preschool at this time. I don’t think it’s necessary and I’d like to continue to nurture his mind and indulge his imagination at home while he’s still little.

In addition to researching how to homeschool within the confines of the law here in California, I’m also reading up on homeschool theories and methods. I came across the Charlotte Mason method while doing a little browsing on Pinterest and some of her theories caught my attention, and while looking over Charlotte Mason books on Amazon, I found a brief overview / how to guide by a woman named Catherine Levinson.

Levinson breaks down Charlotte Mason’s teaching philosophies into short chapters organized by school subject. The book itself is a quick read; I burned through it in a single weekend.

At first, glance what’s great about the Charlotte Mason method as noted by Levinson is that you don’t need to purchase a curriculum, you simply need a library card.


About Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason was born in England in 1842. She was taught at home by her parents and went on to become “founder of the homeschooling movement” She wrote Home Education and conducted home schools in England through mail correspondence. She began a monthly magazine called the Parents Review, and its purpose was to support the parents of her schools who opted for home education because they didn’t want their children in public school and couldn’t afford private school ( I can relate). Charlotte believed children are “born persons” with “love for learning” and we ought not to kill that love. With that in mind, lessons begin officially at six years old when a child is old enough to sit and focus on various subjects.

Whole Books and Living Books
Charlotte emphasized using what she referred to as “whole books” and “living books” A whole book is essentially a novel, and the opposite of a whole book is an anthology. A living book is the opposite of a textbook, and more like an accurate historical novel or a biography.

The Method
The method consists of short morning lessons on a large variety of subjects. For each subject, you set the timer. Younger children have a shorter attention span, so each lesson lasts 15-20 minutes. The afternoon and evenings are spent on free time, hobbies, crafts, and exercise.

Literature- is the most important aspect of the Charlotte Mason method. Classroom style education was developed in Europe without funds for books. Teachers had to convey knowledge to children through lecture and the use of a blackboard. Charlotte thought that this style put a child in danger of receiving “too much teaching and too little knowledge.” Her message was “don’t get between the child and the book, don’t talk too much, and don’t lecture.” She felt lectures were a waste of time and a strain on a child’s attention and that that energy is better spent on good books that delight children’s minds and stir their intellect. Children read to themselves when they are able, and anything outside their ability or depth is read aloud to them. They will also benefit from first-hand exposure to well-composed writing. She advises parents not to drill young children in composition and assures them that “they will be able to write if they have had good books.”

Narration- is another important aspect of the Charlotte Mason method. The child uses it as a tool to assimilate information and re-tell it. Children listen closer if they are expected to re-tell what they’ve heard. The parent reads aloud from the book being used for the lesson for 10-13 minutes doing their best to keep the child’s attention. After the parent is finished reading, they ask the child to tell them about what was read. The rationale behind this is that most kids narrate easily because human beings enjoy re-telling a story or event to a friend or loved one. Children begin narration at six years old, and they do it orally. Then at ten years old, they start to write out their narrations while the parent avoids pointing out errors in the writing at this stage.

Poetry- is also important especially poetry relevant to the child’s age. For example, a parent might read Wynken Blynken and Nod aloud to their six-year-old student while the student plays quietly or draws. This approach is different than that of literature narration, but a child should be able to memorize and recite the poem from hearing it like this.

Art Appreciation- calls for children to learn about pictures from the pictures themselves; this begins at six years old at 10 minutes a week. The child looks at the picture closely absorbing every detail. Then when the picture is removed from view, you ask them to describe it. Trips to museums to see original works in full-scale are also essential. Children are encouraged to create their own illustrations and parents are encouraged to supply them with quality tools.

Music Appreciation- can be organized as a lesson, or selected pieces could be played in the background during other subjects. Children are encouraged to try out different musical instruments for themselves and attempt to learn one with practice.

History- centers the lesson on literature including firsthand accounts of historical events whenever possible. Starting at age six children are read forty pages per term from a large well written and illustrated book. Visiting historical monuments in person whenever possible is also encouraged.

Geography- lessons use a travel guide rather than a textbook, because of the literary language, again the children are read to, and then they narrate. The idea is to inspire a child enough to want to experience the world and other cultures for themselves. Children also learn to use maps, and compasses, as well as learning about rivers.

Regarding Math- Charlotte wanted people to study math for its own sake. Narration is incorporated into the lesson when a parent asks a child to tell them all they know about the concept they have just studied, either after a course or after a daily lesson. Children are taught the concrete before the abstract and young children use “counters” for as long as they need. (Math is the only area in which purchasing a curriculum and using additional learning software might be helpful/necessary for parents.)

Science- lessons call for children to head outside even at pre-school age; they observe the scenery while parents point out the details. Nature walks are necessary to make observations and collect specimens. Findings are recorded and illustrated in a nature journal. Flowers and leaves are pressed in a notebook to return to later. A field guide is implemented for identifying both flora and fauna. Attention is paid to the ecosystem in a child’s own backyard or at e neighborhood park. Some parents even make arrangements to visit nearby farms.


Additional lessons include handwriting, which begins slowly and then advances to transcribing passages into a copybook. Spelling is also practiced, as is a foreign language.

Another significant aspect of the Charlotte Mason method is its emphasis on the bible and Christianity, which may be applicable for some, but serves no purpose for us. I do appreciate Charlotte’s emphasis on morality and the formation of good habits, but some of the attitudes don’t sit well with me.

Furthermore, Catherine Levinson is deeply religious, and this book is peppered with her feelings about what is appropriate and what isn’t for her family. She “censors” art books and forgoes stories about ghosts. However, none of this by any means turns me off of the method itself.

Overall, I find the Charlotte Mason method as outlined by Catherine Levinson both encouraging and inspiring, but just as I do with everything, I take her philosophy with a grain of salt. For my part, I would ditch some lessons and adapt others to include the use of technology. The method itself leaves plenty of room for adaptation. The thing I love most about the Charlotte Mason method is that good books, in hard copy, are at heart of nearly every subject taught. This quaint, yet brilliant approach to learning speaks to my soul, and I hope to have the opportunity to teach Jack at home in this meaningful way.

For now, Jacks lessons are unpretentious and informal, and they include but are not limited to:

Intro to Fashion-

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Flower Appreciation-

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Intro to Photography-

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Plant Appreciation and Irrigation-

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