How to Home-School: Charlotte Mason Method

This post is the fourth in a six-part series on “Teaching Methods.”

Charlotte Mason (January 1, 1842 – January 16, 1923) was a British educator who believed that children learned better through exposure to real books, nature, and life.  She eschewed textbooks in favor of great literature; her students spent a large portion of their time outdoors studying and recording nature; and creativity was also emphasized.  One of the main features of the Charlotte Mason method is its use of “living books.”

I would define “living books” as books that are the kind you would pick up and read for pure enjoyment.  Keep in mind that what you would pick up for enjoyment, and what I would, may very well be two different things.  For the last couple of years, my book of choice is a crime thriller (a whodunnit).  Jeffrey Deaver books, for example.  But I also read books on politics, religion, health, and others.  You might like books about crafts or home decorating or hunting.

I hope it is clear then, that including living books in your curriculum is not complicated.  What are your interests?  What are your children’s interests?  How can you include books on those topics in your curriculum: language arts, science, history, the arts, life skills…

I have particularly found “living books” to be a great foundation for our studies of history and science.  To give some specifics:

1) As I discussed in my post on Traditional Methods, I found early on that, for my family, history textbooks were far too dry…and boring.  I was beside myself with joy (seriously) when I found Greenleaf Press’ series on “Famous Men.”  Greenleaf’s series divides history up into: Old Testament History; History of Ancient Egypt; History of Ancient Greece; History of Ancient Rome; History of the Middle Ages; and The Renaissance and the Reformation.  I love the fact that they teach history chronologically because well…that’s how history happened! 🙂  I love that they discuss the famous men (and women) of the particular era AND they pull in “living books” that provide depth and context to what the kids are learning.  I am not going to go into more detail; I plan to do a thorough review of these materials at another time.

2) Until high school, I find that science is taught much more effectively using the unit studies method and part of the unit studies method involves the use of living books.  If you take a look at the KONOS method of unit studies (which I discussed here) you will find that living books figure prominently.  For many families, the use of “nature notebooks” – something the Charlotte Mason method uses extensively – are also part of their science “curriculum.”

How else might you use “living books” in your home-school?  As an example, you could build part (or even most) of your curriculum around great literature.  Spend a year delving into books by Charles Dickens, for instance.  Pull out ideas and concepts that are presented in his books and develop a debate topic.  Have your children write book reports or chapter reports.  Have your children illustrate scenes from the books.

As I pointed out in my post on unit studies, I spent one year with my middle son (then in eighth grade) reading and studying 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for his language arts, science, and geography.  I had actually not planned it that way.  It was something that just happened “organically” (for some reason bloggers like to use that word a lot so I thought I’d throw it in) – but the point is, it worked!

I would like to leave you with some links you might want to check out if you are interested in learning more about the Charlotte Mason method.  I want to point out (as you might have figured out already) that this method actually dovetails quite well with other methods of home-schooling.  In fact, you can use the principles of the Charlotte Mason method to enhance any home-schooling method you might choose to use.

Any one of these websites can give you a fantastic overview of the Charlotte Mason method and also provide ideas that you can implement in your own home-school program.  I would love it if my readers who have used this method would also share their experiences in the comments!

  • TheSurvivalMom

    We used Ambleside Online for two years. It’s a free curriculum online that tries very hard to stick closely to Charlotte Mason’s methods and materials. I really liked it. This year we’re doing something that’s a polar opposite: Switched on Schoolhouse. I’m writing a book and need lots of time, and this seemed to be the best option for making the kids be more independent with their learning. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m already missing using living books.

    • Anonymous

      From what I’ve read Switched On Schoolhouse seems an excellent resource for home-schooling parents who are short on time (as you are right now). But like you, I would miss the variety of the eclectic and Charlotte Mason “living books” approach. Good luck with your book!

      (And thanks for mentioning Ambleside as a resource. Hopefully others may see it here and check it out for themselves!)