A Charlotte Mason-inspired education isn’t necessarily a set curriculum


by Debi

j0386357Over the years, people have asked me numerous questions about Charlotte Mason-style home education and how to apply it in simple and inexpensive ways. I think Charlotte Mason’s ideas, philosophies, and methods can be much simpler to apply than many people realize.

In my personal opinion, a Charlotte Mason-inspired education isn’t about a set curriculum, or a particular reading list. If a parent or teacher can grasp Mason’s basic methods and ideas, they can make anything educational and worthwhile in their home or classroom. I’ve even heard somewhere that Charlotte Mason wanted her teachers to basically throw out their teaching syllabus each year and start from scratch in order to keep things fresh and to keep the students (and the teachers!) fully engaged.

This idea resonates deeply with me.

To me, personally, preset curriculum and hard and fast scope-and-sequence always felt too much like getting an education-in-a-box. I wanted to use real books that we could hold in our hand (not online books even if they were free). I wanted to have the freedom to follow my children’s interests as things came up, and to capitalize on the natural topics in our lives as the foundation of our learning experiences.

Especially in the younger years, I feel that Charlotte Mason seemed much more concerned with how a child learns rather than what they learn. Education was a matter of establishing relationships with a wide variety of materials and experiences.  Placing a large, varied, generous feast of education before them.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this right now, other than to stress that a Charlotte Mason education is more about developing a lifetime love of learning than about following a prescribed curriculum or scope-and-sequence of “what to learn when.”

I know it’s scary to step outside the education in a box paradigm, though. I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to things I wish I’d done differently or those lessons learned the hard way throughout our homeschooling years. Maybe I should write those lessons down somewhere.  😉

I feel that a Charlotte Mason-style education is much more about her ideas and methods and less about any particular scope-and-sequence chosen. While I often followed the various interests of my children in our 25 years of homeschooling, we did follow a “plan” (the “What Your Child Needs to Know” series for the elementary grades), but supplemented everything with living books, nature study, narration, copywork, short lessons, etc., etc.  But I don’t think the plan I followed is the end-all-be-all, either.  It just resonated with our family.

I believe that Charlotte Mason lived in a very specific time and place which contributed to her specific choices of curriculum and educational supplies. She was a cutting-edge personality during her time and I believe she would’ve been more than willing to use new twaddle-free living resources in her schools if she lived today, and not just recreate past book lists forever and ever.

On a side note, I would’ve loved to see Charlotte Mason, John Holt, and John Taylor Gatto sit down together and discuss education. There would’ve been differences and similarities, but I think those three great educational minds would’ve enjoyed the ways their methods and ideas intersect, as well.

I’m actually in the process of changing things on my website to have it reflect more of a Charlotte Mason-“style” of homeschooling rather than labeling it as specifically Charlotte Mason. The updates to the site are beginning with the “Twaddle-Free Education” subtitle. My homeschooling adventures have been Charlotte Mason “inspired” for more than a quarter of a century, but these ideas weren’t applied in my home in what could maybe be considered a semi-legalistic framework. A friend of mine often says, “Some people are just CM-ier than thou.” I hope I’m not.

Personally, I always tell people that they can do what they want in their homeschool, use whatever combination of methods, ideas and resources work for them. The Charlotte Mason Police won’t be coming to their door to check their curriculum choices.

I’m a firm believer that homeschoolers are a wonderful and independent-minded group of people, and I want to spend my time encouraging homeschoolers to find simple and enjoyable Charlotte Mason-inspired ways to educate their kiddos. Your mileage may vary. To each his own.

Also, to avoid confusion in the future, I will make an effort to distinguish my personal opinions and interpretations on this website from those of AmblesideOnline, Ambleside Schools International, the PNEU, PUS, Simply Charlotte Mason, Living Books Curriculum, Charlotte Mason Help, Sonlight, Mater Mabilis, My Father’s World, or whoever else is out there these days with Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum options.

I just don’t personally feel the curriculum choice is as important as the methods used to communicate the resources, books, etc., which parents choose to use with their families.  There are lots of great options available that can be tailored to Charlotte Mason-style methods and ideas.

~Debi 


For further information about Charlotte Mason, check out the following works from Simple Pleasures Press:

A Twaddle-Free Education  Habits  The Outdoor Life of Children  Book Cover A Twaddle-Free Education

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5 responses to “A Charlotte Mason-inspired education isn’t necessarily a set curriculum

  1. Not sure if you will see this comment, but I am wondering if you can offer any tips on how to build our own plan. I am doing that with most subjects by just using the library. My hang up is on history and how to go about it within time periods. I’m really at a loss and feel like I need to buy a preset history but I know my wallet and husband would prefer otherwise. Our children are 11,8,5 and 2. Btw, I love what you wrote about being able to read Potter and A.A. Milne to your 3 yr old. I need to work on this more with my 2 1/2 yr old.

    • One thing you could do is get hold of a Sonlight Curriculum catalog and check out their book lists for different history time periods. Then you could choose a time you want to study and borrow the recommended books from the library (most libraries can do inter-library loans if they don’t have the books on hand). I have some other ideas, too, but not enough time at the moment to dig into the topic here in the comment section. Feel free, Teresa, to drop me an email at DTAYLOR4@uw.edu and we could chat further.

  2. Hi! Thanks for sharing.

    I personally feel that a Charlotte Mason-style education is much more about her ideas and methods and less about any particular scope-and-sequence chosen. While I often followed interests of my children in our 25 years of homeschooling, we did follow a “plan” (the “What Your Child Needs to Know” series for the elementary grades), but supplemented everything with living books, nature study, narration, copywork, short lessons, etc., etc.

    I personally believe that Charlotte Mason lived in a very specific time and place which contributed to her choices of curriculum and educational supplies. She was a cutting-edge personality at her time and I believe would’ve been more than willing to use new twaddle-free living resources in her schools.

    I would’ve loved to see Charlotte Mason, John Holt, and John Taylor Gatto sit down together and discuss education. There would’ve been differences and similarities, but I think those three great educational minds would’ve enjoyed the ways their methods and ideas intersect, as well.

    I’m actually in the process of changing things on my website to have it reflect more of a Charlotte Mason-“style” of homeschooling rather than specifically Charlotte Mason. The updates are beginning with the “Twaddle-Free Education”(TM) subtitle. My homeschooling adventures have been Charlotte Mason inspired, but not applied in what could almost be considered a “legalistic” framework. I always tell people that they can do what they want in their homeschool, use whatever combination of methods, ideas and resources work for them. Because the “Charlotte Mason Police” won’t be coming to their door to check their curriculum choices. Perhaps I was wrong about that? (Just kidding!) 😉

    Honestly, I’m a firm believer that homeschoolers are a wonderful and independent minded group of people, and I want to spend my time encouraging homeschoolers to find simple and enjoyable Charlotte Mason-inspired ways to educate their kiddos. Your mileage may vary. To each his own.

    Also, I will make more of an effort in future posts to distinguish my personal opinions and interpretations on this website from those of Ambleside Online, Ambleside Schools International, the PNEU, PUS, Simply Charlotte Mason, Living Books Curriculum, Charlotte Mason Help, Sonlight, Mater Mabilis, My Father’s World, or whoever else is out there with Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum options. I just don’t personally feel the curriculum choice is as important as the methods used to communicate the resources, books, etc., parents choose to use with their families.

    • So you did follow a plan/ scope and sequence/ curriculum. Then why would you suggest CM wouldn’t have? When one looks closely at the PNEU schedules and booklists, one sees books repeated regularly. That in and of itself suggests she didn’t simply discard the plans from each year.

      I don’t understand why you felt it necessary to note that CM used modern, to her, books and materials. Of course she did. And following a plan, as you say you did, doesn’t prohibit that either.

      I do find it a bit offensive that you seem to be calling me the “Charlotte Mason Police.” Where in my comments have I expressed any such notion?

      • LMS – All I can say is I’m so so sorry. The comment really wasn’t directed at you (or anyone, for that matter). It’s just a long-standing sarcastic joke that a friend of mine and I have made for years. I guess it doesn’t translate well online. Anyway, we were always trying to reassure others that it’s okay to do what you feel is best for your family and nobody’s looking over your shoulder. And I really meant “just kidding” when I said that. Sadly, sarcasm doesn’t translate well online. Again, I’m sorry if I offended you. It truly wasn’t my intention.

        I read somewhere (I wish I had it available right at the moment but it’s buried somewhere in my stuff) that Charlotte Mason encouraged her teachers to come up with new curriculum each year. I’m wondering now if it was something I heard in a presentation by someone else? Perhaps I’m completely mistaken about the whole thing. Wouldn’t be the first time. 😉

        I also realized that I unintentionally bristled a bit at your post because I thought you were someone else. There was a woman who used to follow me around online just to argue with everything I said and nit-pick any opinion I shared (on any topic, not just Charlotte Mason). She only went by her initials online, and the first one was L, so unfortunately, I thought you were her. But as I’ve thought about it, I realize now that I read too much into what you were saying because I was filtering your comment through the things this other woman would have said.

        I am so, so, so sorry. From the bottom of my heart. You were truly the victim of mistaken identity combined with the hazards of trying to communicate clearly online.

        Peace to you and yours. Happy homeschooling!

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