A Charlotte Mason Education, A Basic Tutorial

a Charlotte Mason Education spreads the banquet of ideas before your children.

I. Read Miss Mason’s books. If you can’t read the entire six volume set before beginning (and I say that tongue in cheek, because of course you can’t! Okay, some people can. But most of us find Charlotte Mason after our children are born), then read volume 6. While she wrote volume 6 for high school, she also wrote it as an attempt to formulate and summarize her philosophy of education, so there is much there for the parents of younger children, too. It’s also the last book she wrote and several decades separate it from her first book. That’s a link to the book online. I suggest you copy and paste it to your word processing file, adjust the format to suit you, and print out a week’s worth of pages to read at a time (you decide what that is). That way you can write in the margins, scribble, underline, and spill your coffee on it, all nicely contained in a peechee folder.

If you can’t read the entire book, read the first section, from page 23 to page 233- this is where Miss Mason goes over her 20 principles and fleshes out what she means. Keep in mind what my smart friend Donna-Jean has said about these books- they seem harder than they are, but that is because we are used to reading an entire chapter that might have a 99 to 1 fluff to ideas ratio. We are accustomed to wrapping up the meaty, important ideas in a huge envelope of puff pastry. This means we don’t have to think very hard. Miss Mason didn’t do fluff. Nearly every sentence has an idea worth thinking through. Her writings are densely packed with information and ideas. You can also rummage about a bit at the above link and find Leslie Noelani’s paraphrased version. It’s good, and if that’s what you need to do, that’s what you need. But you would learn more by paraphrasing it yourself.

Next, look around at home and see what books you have on hand that you would enjoy using. Descend upon your local library like a locust on the Egyptians. Inflict depredations upon your friends’ personal libraries.

Once you know your resources, decide which period of history you want to study. If your children are 5 or 6 it doesn’t matter much, just pick one and do stories about the people who made things happen. If they’re ready for more formalized studies, pick what seems good to you. There are good reasons to plan to study history chronologically, and there are legitimate reasons to do things otherwise at times. You decide. You can also plan to buy other books, but if you assess your resources first you are less likely to duplicate.

I suggest that you then go look at the AmblesideOnline schedule and use it as a template to build your own year (assuming that you don’t want to use AO. I use AO, but you don’t have to).

By that, I mean look at the subject headings. We have history. Plug in a book you choose for history. Make sure it is of high literary quality. This is another area where the AO list can be useful even to those who do not use AO- click on the links to the books and read a page or two here and there. Make sure that what you decide to use isn’t twaddly and oversimplified. Don’t overdo it. Just because you own 300 books on the Viking era is no reason to read all of them. Pick one or two well written texts and control yourself (I preach to myself here).

AO includes biographies, so choose two or three biographies of people who were important to the time period you’ve decided to study. (perhaps a Childhood of Famous Americans or one of Diane Stanley’s interesting books, if you have a younger child, something more substantial for an older child).

We have Baldwin’s Famous Stories and we might use that, or you might pick up an old Childcraft, one titled Pioneers and Patriots, or something similar, and read through that.

Ao lists poetry- so get a nice poetry anthology for children (I like the older Childcrafts for this, too- before 1965 or so, but others will certainly do). You can pick a poet who wrote during the time period you are studying, and for a child about 8 and older, this is probably what you should do if possible.

Pick one or two titles of supplementary reading for literature. Look at the overall booklist on AO (including free reading), or look at a book like Honey for a Child’s Heart for a good list.

For younger children pick any nice fairy tale anthology and read one fairy tale every three weeks or so. If you are not comfortable with magic, pick folk tales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, The Gingerbread Man, The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, and The Three Sillies (this has other names). Plan to toss in a handful of oral retellings of your childhood.

And that’s about it, follow along, roughly, the AO schedule or one of the older PNEU schedules on the AO blog, but plug in your own book titles. Go to the Contemplator website to find a good group of folk songs to sing, pick three hymns to learn over the next 12 weeks, and pick a composer and an artist who matches your time period. Plan the Bible stories you wish to cover.

Plan to learn to identify three to five new things of nature over the next few weeks, birds, wildflowers, rocks, trees, constellations, etc.

Pick your math curriculum. Pick a new skill to learn. It might be anything, cross stitching, carving soap, leatherwork, calligraphy, cake decorating…

Get some stick it notes for bookmarks. On the bookmarks write down which days of the week you wish to read those books (we do Old Testament three days a week, and New Testament two days a week, for instance). Set your timer and read aloud (or have your children read) for a set period of time. This would be about 10-15 minutes for the youngest children, about 40 minutes for the oldest children. Then have five to ten minutes for narrations. You keep that stick-it note in the book so that if you miss a few days you can just pick up where you left off without stressing over unchecked schedules in your planner.

And if I might insert a suggestion- excepting the historical connections, do not try too hard to otherwise correlate the books one with another in a unit study approach. Charlotte Mason really isn’t a unit study. In fact, she didn’t care for them much. She thought that children should have a _wide_ variety of material to stir their interest and keep it sharp. She felt that too much of a muchness would sort of dull their interest. If everything they study for weeks at a time is all about apples or Robinson Crusoe (two hilarious examples CM used), they rather quickly tire of it.

The idea with a CM education is that the parent/teacher spreads the banquet, and then does less so that the student can do more- the student discovers and builds her own connections with the material. This is lovely to see. Sometimes we moms want to do more because we feel like with the CM method ‘we aren’t _doing_ anything.’ Well, I’ve learned that this is really as it should be- we are not the ones who are supposed to be doing the most work, our children are. So spread a wide, wide banquet before your children, letting them read different books that are not related or apparently connected to one another (exceptions were made for historical period- Charlotte did like the students to read biographies of people from the historical event studied, and also literature and poetry of that historical period, although she made a big exception for the earliest years).

While I make no claims for this as a perfect program, it’s a good solid basic introduction to an attempt at a Charlotte Mason education using what you have on hand as much as possible.

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  1. jdavidb
    Posted April 6, 2006 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    The Three Sillies?

    I always thought this was a tale my grandfather invented himself… I never knew anyone else in the world had heard of it.

  2. Mama Squirrel
    Posted April 6, 2006 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    It’s in a lot of fairy tale collections, jdavidb. Paul Galdone did a nice picture book version.

    GREAT summary, DHM.

  3. Tim's Mom
    Posted April 6, 2006 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    You make it sound so easy!

    And, yes, you’re right – the best way to really know what CM was saying is to paraphrase it yourself. 😉

  4. Rebecca
    Posted April 7, 2006 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful post…I am going to chew on volume 6 for a while and use your list as a guide. Thanks!

  5. Carol J. Alexander
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Great ideas. I'm bookmarking this site for when I finally sit down and seriously think about the new year.

  6. Aaron
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    A quick question:

    Everything I read on CM is really exciting and I want to begin my kids on it this summer. My only question is, can it be tweaked to mimimize, if not eliminate the biblical/creationism elements that seem very prevelant on various blogs? I prefer to keep that aspect of the kids education active through our church, but not through our homeschooling. Thanks very much.

  7. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Aaron, of course. A Charlotte Mason education is not a particular booklist. It's a philosophy of education based on Charlotte's principles of education, which you may find here:http://amblesideonline.org/CM/6_0_0_intro.html
    You choose the well written books and use them as Miss Mason outlined in her books within the liberal arts framework she also lays out in her books.

    Best wishes!

  8. Tina
    Posted June 30, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I am interested in AO but I am trying to figure out if there is a way to do it with the “one-room schoolhouse” approach? I have 5 kiddos and really like the idea of learning together as much as possible. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

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