Why a Charlotte Mason approach?

  The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.

Mary McLeod Bethune


Be warned that this won’t be a how-to on Charlotte Mason’s approach to education.   There are plenty of websites and wonderful blogs that elaborate on her methods and practical application.   I am writing to remind myself of where we started in our journey, and to bless anyone who reads this at this time of year when so many are making decisions about homeschooling, curriculum choices and transitions, and how to facilitate learning in the home.  


Every now and then I’ll hear parents speak of how they are reading books to their children, almost as punishment.   “They’re on a restriction from television, and so we’re reading books to them.”    Though I know the intent is good, I find myself cringing at the thought—when did reading a book become something you do when you’re in trouble?   The conversation continues.   “I quiz them to make sure that they’ve been listening, and they actually enjoy the books.”   I’m thinking, are you surprised?


Because reading of good books—living books, to use the appropriate terminology—is so fundamental to everything else we do, I take it very much for granted.   What would our school day be without rich literature?   Sadly enough, it wasn’t always this way.  I remember how we started, and where we were when we embraced Charlotte Mason’s approach.


Planted seeds are amazing.   We had never heard of homeschooling, but while visiting friends with our oldest child, then a baby, our unwitting mentors shared with us their homeschooling journey with their own children.  For some strange reason, they also “loaned” us a couple of books, and we became, equally unwitting, fertile ground.   For various reasons, we’ve never seen them again.   Talk about people being in your life for a season and a reason.   Fastforwarding seven years, I remember us making the decision to homeschool, while I was still working and we hadn’t “formally” begun.   Back then, our daughter used a homeschool curriculum that is fairly common in Christian schools, and she had monumental success with it.   In fact, she was successful and bored.   After completing her work within 10-15 minutes, she’d leave the table and watch television for hours, if left unchecked.    As an aside, one of our biggest homeschooling challenges was, and sometimes is, getting her to press in when school isn’t easy.   Those early successes, I sometimes think, hurt perhaps more than they helped.    Anyway, in those years spent in traditional school, we read to our children typical preschool reading—Dr. Seuss, First Steps to Reading, etc.   Though fun to share, this time together was still lacking, although I didn’t think so then.  


A student by nature, I began to read more and more about homeschooling.   One of the books the couple shared with us was Sally Clarkson’s Educating the Whole Hearted Child.   I would return to this resource many times, but after turning only a few pages, I began to grasp the idea of a living book.   One day I had the children turn off the TV and come and read with me.   They were accustomed to reading their favorite “twaddle;”  I, on the other hand, was a bit nervous because this time I pulled out one of my childhood favorites, Little House in the Big Woods, a bit thicker than they were accustomed to sitting still for.  I didn’t read this series myself until I was in 3rd grade.  As I read, I noticed them sitting still, being introduced to Laura as a new friend, and listening intently.    When I stopped that day, and over the next several days, they would ask for more.   This was what I thought school should be—not boring worksheets, not forced time at the table or anywhere else, but excitement, anticipation, and curiosity.   I also remember one of our son’s first narrations as he told his dad about the bugs that came through Laura’s house and ‘ate every green thing.’  Less than five years old, he was quoting the book exactly on this part.   I became an instant believer in Miss Mason’s educational approach.


Fastforwarding a few more years, the one constant amidst whatever changes we make is great literature.   Our kids haven’t memorized every important date in history, nor can they quote phonics rules.   They are learning how to learn, a lost art in today’s educational process.   The kids love to read, and instinctively take books with them everywhere.   Their thoughts and conversations are full of those things that are noble, trustworthy and of good report, in large part because of the ideas that come from living books.   I also love hearing them recall stories and lessons learned from books they’ve read years ago—another mark of quality literature.   I have more on living books in this post, also listed as a favorite, in response to an African-American mom’s questioning whether a Charlotte Mason education was appropriate for African-American children.


We are still challenged with some of Miss Mason’s ideas.  We don’t get outside as often as she prescribes, and we certainly don’t stay outside as long as she prescribes; laying the same groundwork of a 19th century countryside mentality is not without its challenges living in a 21st century metropolitan area.   Our art studies could stand more focused effort.   There are still places where we use curriculum that are in disagreement with her teachings.   Our masterly inactivity is sometimes not so masterly and too inactive (translation: we could all stand more discipline from the television).   Yet overall, my task is much simpler having gone this route.   There isn’t as much curriculum to buy, and I can free myself from the teacher’s guides and limitations of the traditional school environment that I know from my own educational experience.  My primary job, with the good Lord’s help, is to shape the environment such that the kids’ minds can feast on ideas.    From where I sit, this is learning.   It’s not always fun and games, but it sticks.  Ideas are chewed upon, digested, and revisited years later.   Those things that are noble, trustworthy and of good report are the outpouring their hearts and minds, and I couldn’t ask for more.


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9 thoughts on “Why a Charlotte Mason approach?

  1. "My primary job, with the good Lord’s help, is to shape the environment such that the kids’ minds can feast on ideas." Well said, Belinda! I enjoyed reading about your journey and congrats on your feature on HSB. You are such a blessing!


  2. Very well written. I really enjoyed your entry and I so love reading to my children. Imagine! Reading being a punishment. I adore listening to my children play Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web. The most popular make believe activities right now.

  3. I love your take on the Charlotte Mason approach. I studied it quite thoroughly before this school year and implemented a few of her practices, but ended up dropping so much of it as the year progressed. We started the living books with narration, but the narration took all the fun out of the reading for the kids. They loved the books, but hated being asked to "tell me about what they just heard/read". It quickly killed their enthusiasm for the story. We started and continued the copywork. I don't know how much it has helped their writing, but I should be able to tell soon. They are just now starting creative writing from writing prompts.

    Next year, I'm not sure how I'll use CM methods in our school day. I'm just so unsure of what will work for my kids. Thanks for sharing.

  4. How many books have you done since your "Little House in the Big Woods" debut? (just kidding!) I'm certain I couldn't answer that either!

    With lots of love,

  5. You have such a way with words! I really enjoyed this post as you expressed much of the way our family approaches learning and it's so nice to fine others following the same path. I could never have said with your eloquence! Blessings to you! I will be back to visit :o)

  6. good to hear about others' journeys. I like the Charlotte Mason approach, though I'm not tied to it. Some areas just require a little more traditional approach in my world due to number of kids. We are blessed to have space and ability to get out of doors, and our kids learn a lot from the gardening and animal care.

    Time to play and role play, as well. 4 yo the other day was ringleading three other siblings in a game of pirates. They spread blankets out everywhere, and those were the ships. Except for 2 yo. Hers was a horse?! Yesterday, 4yo was saving his princess (2yo), as the dragon had dropped her! LOL! Some of the ideas seem to come from that terrible TV, but at least they can make do when it's off!

    Great post! I responded to your post over on my poem (As Water Before Thee), but realize you may not get a chance to read it there, just saying that I didn't recognize the song you mentioned, and yes, some of my poems do become songs…just in our home, though!


  7. Funny, I was just working on a draft of a post on this same topic (check my blog tomorrow morning for that!)! It's also funny that you mention kids being read to as punishment… there have been times when I've run out of priveledges to revoke and my daughter loves reading so much that I've (VERY briefly) considered taking books away! Thanks for your encouraging post. Blessings, Jamie

  8. That was absolutely phenomenal, Belinda! My heart was right with you the entire read…..

    Thank you for putting into words what my hearts been saying for the last several months as we've moved into a Charlotte Mason approach to learning!

    Absolutely wonderful!!

  9. I know what you mean. We are beginning our third year of homeschooling and I am beginning to realize "twaddle" doesn't engage my kids like a rich novel does. We use Jim Treleaase's Read Aloud Handbook as a guide for now. I use lots of books on tape as well to try and duplicate myself. 🙂

I'd love to hear your two cents!!