October 8



homeschool, masterly inactivity, narration, short lession

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Charlotte Mason’s Approach to Education

Charlotte Mason: Christian Educator

Charlotte Mason was a Christian educator that taught in the late 1800s. She believed that children were whole persons, created by God, and deserving of quality education.

Karen Andreola articulates Charlotte Mason’s love for the Lord and how that influenced her regard for people. Charlotte Mason felt that children where unique individuals with specific characteristics and personalities. They have a particular destiny, calling, and personality that deserved to be nurtured.

This sentiment was in direct contrast to the more utilitarian attitude of many people during her lifetime. People felt that children were to be raised and used for the benefit of the state. Charlotte disagreed with this perspective. She believed children were to be raised and nurtured in a way that would draw out their gifts and talents.

As I spent time in the classroom, I noticed my thoughts about children and education changing. Charlotte Mason taught me to see children as whole, complete human beings. Her writings drew my attention to the unique gifts and talents God had given each child. These gifts are to be identified and nurtured.

Read on to find out more about how my thoughts changed in relation to children and education.

Transformation of Thought

Educators can be found throughout my family. There are classroom teachers and principals. My uncle, David Dendy, was the principal of an elementary school in Clinton, S. C. The school’s name was changed from the Bell Street School to the Martha Dendy Elementary school in honor of his mother and my great grandmother.

Education has been a big part of my family for quite some time. Looking back on this fact, it is no surprise that I am an educator. In fact, I have a brother and sister that are educators, and my daughter has decided to step into the education arena. Education, however, was not my plan as a young child.

In fact, I was convinced that I would never be a teacher. It seemed that the life of a teacher wasn’t a life of advancement. The teachers I knew stayed in the same grade while the students moved on.

Clearly, this is an example of thinking like a child. I was also convinced that I had an allergy to paper. I simply detested the piles of paper teachers had to deal with. There were worksheets, charts, folders, and spreadsheets that seemed to multiply at will. Computers have made things better but there is still a lot of paper in the life of a teacher.

The Lord Birthed a Love for Education

As I matured, the Lord began to open my heart to His desire for me to teach. He began to show me that I was called to impact the lives of children and their parents.

Furthermore, I learned there were many things I loved about teaching. It is a privilege to help a child go from being a non-reader to an excellent reader. Helping a child discover the fun of math is sheer joy. The teacher gets to engage and connect with young lives. They get to help identify and nurture gifts and talents. When a child embraces their gifts and talents, they begin a life-long journey to fulfilling their destiny.

The typical classroom left me feeling like there was something missing. During those early years of my being in the classroom and having children of my own is when I began to seek something deeper and richer in the area of education.

Meeting Charlotte Mason Click To Tweet

The typical classroom fell short of fully engaging the imagination of most children. Many children learned to play the game and jump through certain hopes to move onto the next stage.

But school did not seem to ignite creativity and a love for learning in most children In addition, my mother made a comment in a casual manner that stuck with me. She mentioned that my peers and I didn’t learn certain things that she learned as a child. That always bothered me. Why was my education not as rich and diverse as my mother’s? Why did it seem that as time progressed the rigor in education seemed to be declining?

My mother was well aware of this decline because she taught school and she was didn’t have the opportunity to teach certain poems that she learned as a child. I’m sure this bothered her as well.

This is just one example but it left me wondering about the change in what children were being exposed to during my years of teaching I wasn’t satisfied to think that this was the way it had to be. This is when I met Charlotte Mason. I began to study her approach and fell in love with the fact that her approach was undergirded by a love for the Lord. In addition, her approach appreciated children as individuals.

Important Elements in a Charlotte Mason Education Click To Tweet

This post will highlight some of the major elements of a Charlotte Mason education and lifestyle. You will understand how her approach to education differs significantly from the more traditional forms of education.

In addition, many resources for further study will be listed. You are encouraged to examine these resources to gain a deeper understanding of who Charlotte Mason was and how you can implement some of her methods in your home. Her methods have greatly impacted the homeschool world.

Interestingly, families that may not homeschool can benefit from her influence on parenting. Read on to discover more about Charlotte Mason.

Charlotte Mason Observed Children

Charlotte noted that many children were educated in a manner that served another man’s purpose. This conflicted with her belief that children should be educated in a way that nurtures the gifts and talents God placed in each child. She believed that education was an Atmosphere, a Discipline, and a Life.

Charlotte Mason Biography

Charlotte Mason was a British educator. She was orphaned at the age of 16. Charlotte was a Christian and she believed that children should be treated as whole human beings instead of creatures to be used to benefit others.

It did not matter what station in life a child lived in. She believed each child should receive a broad and rich education. This type of education would allow each child to discover interests and talents.

She believed this could be done by giving all children a rich liberal education. Charlotte noticed children from poorer families received a utilitarian education that suited them for menial work. Some of these children received little education.

They, instead, were sent to work long, hard hours in factories and warehouses. These children were regarded as commodities to be used for the benefit of other ones. Children from more affluent families were blessed with an education that included rich literature and fine arts. This did not sit well with Charlotte.

Spread a Broad Feast

She envisioned that all children would receive a rich liberal education. Her desire was to see every child receive a broad education that covered many subjects including hymn and art studies.

Charlotte Mason Learned through Observation

Charlotte never married or had children of her own. This did not stop her from loving and valuing children. She learned about children by watching them. I am sure she mixed in plenty of prayer as she developed her philosophy of child-rearing and education.

She developed her theories of child development as she watched children play and interact with others. Charlotte shared her observations with parents and governesses in order to give them an idea of how to make educating children a richer experience for children and adults alike. Her insights into children and education gained popularity which culminated in a series of lectures on child development entitled Home Education.

What is the Charlotte Mason Philosophy?

A Charlotte Mason education is one that acknowledges each child as an individual person with unique God-given gifts. These gifts need to be nurtured and cultivated so that the child is able to pursue interests and talents that align with who he or she is.

They have a destiny and a calling to fulfill and a rich education will make that happen. Charlotte embraced specific elements in developing her approach. Some of the critical elements to her approach include living literature, narration, short lessons, and healthy habits.

Living Literature

Charlotte Mason stressed the importance of living literature to feed the mind of these unique individuals. She felt that children learned best by reading books that were written in narrative form.

Her definition of Living Literature included the idea that the book was written by one person with a passion for that particular topic. You will find a more complete description of what living literature and a living book is here, here, and here. Living literature is the type of literature is the kind of literature that awakens the mind.

Children grow to care about the topic if they are reading living literature. They read and want to read more. You will find wonderful information on how to start and use a homeschool book library here. It’s great to be able to share books and libraries that families have used.


Narration is another critical element in the Charlotte Mason philosophy. Children engage with living literature either through their own reading or an adult reading to them.

In either case, children are encouraged to pay close attention. Close attention is important to learning and giving through narrations. When a child is paying close attention to the text and is then able to narrate what they have read, they have demonstrated that they have truly learned something. Probing questions can be asked to determine the depth of learning.

Children realize that without a deep level of concentration and focus, they will not be able to glean much from the text. The adult has the responsibility of conveying to the child that something of great value has been lost when there is a lack of attention. Children feel the sting of loss and will, hopefully, pay more careful attention going forward.

Short Lessons

Another important characteristic of a Charlotte Mason education is conduction short lessons. She believed that short lessons kept the child wanting more information and would lay the foundation for further study at another time. She felt that children absorb more knowledge if they engage in a particular activity and then switch to a different type of activity.

Specifically, the mornings were generally for academics while the afternoons usually involved some sort of outdoor activity where bodies were active. Children reflected upon the ideas and information they learned earlier in the day.

Healthy Habits

Charlotte Mason also talked about the importance of good habits. She taught that when mothers teach their children good habits, they are laying a foundation for smoother days ahead. Habits are those actions that are done without thinking. Charlotte taught that if you want certain characteristics in your adult children, you have to create that adult when they are young.

You do this by establishing good habits. Charlotte emphasized two habits in particular. These two habits are attention and obedience. You can find more discussion of these habits as well as others here. Additional resources on habit training can be found here. You will find a free Habits checklist on a blog post I wrote.

I encourage you to take a look at it and use the checklist. Establishing good habits in our children is critical for success later on in life but we, as adults, can also work on habits in our own lives. The checklist may be helpful to you as you work with your child or you may want to use it for yourself.

Masterly Inactivity

Charlotte Mason believed that Masterly Inactivity was another important aspect of learning. If we were to describe the flow of a Charlotte Mason day we would find the academics in the first part of the day with the masterly inactivity in the latter part of the day.

This masterly inactivity is the time when the child participates in outdoor activities or other interests that engage the brain in a different way. Academics happen in the morning, as described above, then masterly inactivity takes place later in the day.

Children are then able to reflect upon the ideas they learned during the morning. This also gives the Holy Spirit to further the teaching that took place earlier.

Mother Culture for our Children

Mother culture is a critical key to the Charlotte Mason approach. It is interesting to note that the term Mother Culture is not mentioned in any of Charlotte Mason’s works but there is mention of the author of Mother Culture in an 1892 PNEU article.

The idea behind Mother Culture is that mother’s need to continue growing intellectually and spiritually so that conversations between child and mother can continue as the children grow.

Children Grow Up

Mother’s are preparing for the beautiful shift in mothering that will come as the child grows. Just as children have different needs for food as they mature, they will also have different needs in the relation between mother and child.

As children learn and increase in their intellectual capacity, mothers, as well as fathers, need to be able to keep the conversation continuing. Pursuing mother culture equips mothers with knowledge and wisdom they can share with their children as they grapple with difficult questions maturity brings.

This a beautiful transition and transformation in the mother-child relationship. I am grateful for the idea of Mother Culture. There was a sentiment, in past years, that the homeschooling mother was to be wholly self-sacrificing. Care for Mother was not a priority in the early days of homeschooling.

At least, this was the message I thought I was hearing. That frightened me away from the homeschooling scene to some degree. I couldn’t imagine how not taking some time to care for myself would be a good thing for my children.

How could not paying attention to myself bring benefit to my children and my husband? I understood the need to sacrifice but not to the point where I totally neglected my needs and interests. When mothers don’t nurture themselves and continue to learn they do feed their minds and hearts for their children’s questions as they grow.

Mother Culture Encourages Growth

Mother Culture gives a place for mothers to cultivate interests and friendships in order for intellectual and spiritual growth to continue. It is a beautiful picture of mother and children growing together.

In fact, growth will occur for both child and mother. If attention is not given to how the growth occurs, there will be growth in ways that will cause conflict and discord. Parenting is a challenge and there will be difficult days.

It makes sense to practice those things that allow for healthy growth. This will bring about the evolution of a relationship that will be beneficial for parents and children.

Thank you, Charlotte Mason

We say a big “Thank You” to Charlotte Mason. Through her love of the Lord and children, she developed an approach to education and family life.

We thank you, Charlotte Mason, for giving us an excellent perspective on family and education. Have you thought about using the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling? Do you know much about her? What questions do you have about Charlotte Mason’s approach? Get more Charlotte Mason resources below.

Share this post with your friends that may have questions about homeschooling or Charlotte Mason and her approach.

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