What Charlotte Mason Means to Me

Have you read Charlotte Mason’s original writings? I haven’t — I have read a fair amount of the paraphrases done by Ambleside Online, and most of the books published about a CM education. I’m not one of the WWCMD [What Would Charlotte Mason Do] type of people.

Some things just won’t work for us. Picture her ideal of a mother sitting outdoors on a blanket for 4 hours, while her children cheerfully bring back natural objects for her to see and talk about. That’s where I start laughing (or crying, depending on the day). Hahahaha….what happens when the very-pregnant mother is desperately searching for a restroom 30 minutes later? Or the 2 year old falls in the creek and is turning purple and we forgot to bring a change of clothes? Or the three older kids are fighting and someone needs some discipline and someone else needs a snack and someone else needs some alone time…and we are supposed to do this every day?!

But what I take away from that ideal is that outdoor time is beneficial, and so the way I accomplish that is by sending my kids outside to play…while I nurse the baby in a comfortable chair and get stuff done around the house. Or we spend a weekend camping. Or go for a hike on a Saturday when DH is here to wrangle kids with me. Or meet a friend at a park or the zoo. And we encourage cups and jars full of bugs and worms and spiders, and bouquets from the yard or the mountains, and getting dirty and playing in the treehouse with friends. All of that helps accomplish nature study, in a way that is practical for us. Anyway, here are the main ideas that add up to a CM education for our family:


  • Literature-based learning. This means we use very few (if any) textbooks, read lots of real books, and supplement with DVDs, excursions, classes, concerts etc.
  • Living books. The books we read differ from textbooks in that they are written by a single author with a passion for and knowledge of the topic, and are written in an engaging style. Living books are not necessarily old! There are old “dead” books, and new living books.
  • Slow readings. Reading lots of books spread out over a long time (a term, or 1-2 school years) allow time to chew and digest the material.
  • Short lessons and lots of subjects. We cover lots of topics, but spend a short time daily or weekly on each. We want to expose the kids to as much of the wide world as possible. Alternating subjects allows the brain to rest. Short “school” sessions equals more time for childhood.
  • Narration. At this stage (age 7 and under), I read aloud, and then the child tells me back in her own words everything she remembers. This trains the child to listen carefully the first time around, helps her assimilate the information, and lays a foundation for future written compositions and public speaking skills.
  • Emphasis on nature and outdoor time. This is great for children’s development and health. They also gain familiarity with and ownership of nature, and get first-hand experience with concepts they might otherwise just read or hear about.
  • Beauty, truth, and challenge. We aim to give our kids material that is beautiful and true, and that challenges their ability to understand, think, and express.
  • Good habits. Obedience, diligence, persistence, helpfulness, neatness…these are all things we work on while the kids are little. They are essential qualities for (relatively) smooth school days, and are characteristic of the kind of adults we hope they become.
  • Delayed academics. Our kids do nothing academic before age 5, and very little before age 6 or 6.5. More on that in another post.

It seems most useful to me to figure out the “whys” of what CM did what she did, and then decide how to incorporate those principles today, rather than to try to re-create what she did. Around here, practicality trumps mostly everything else! 🙂


1 thought on “What Charlotte Mason Means to Me

  1. Shesourceful

    Beautiful! I love hearing your reasonings behind what you are doing. (And I’m trying to take deep breaths and be okay that we aren’t doing all of those great-sounding things…) Your kids are going to have a wonderful and rich relationship with learning! Wish we lived closer, friend!


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