4 Charlotte Mason Philosophies Adaptable to any Homeschool

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One of biggest benefits of homeschooling is the freedom to explore a variety of homeschooling styles and meld them to create the perfect blend for your unique family. In addition to there being many unschooling concepts even school-at-home families can use, there are many aspects of the Charlotte Mason style that will mesh well other schooling methods.

Charlotte Mason was a 19th century educator who believed that children are intelligent, capable learners who benefit from real-life experiences, short lessons, and free afternoons.

Try these four Charlotte Mason philosophies to see if they work for your family:

1. Nature study.

Charlotte Mason was very clear regarding her thoughts on being out in nature, saying,

"Never be within doors when you can rightly be without." 

Ms. Mason’s thoughts are quite contrary to today’s culture in which it seems that children are rarely outdoors. Regardless of your homeschool style, most parents would agree that it benefits children to be outside. Encourage your children to spend some time in nature study, which can be easily adapted to many homeschooling styles, from casual observation to themed studies.

Many families may begin to shy away from nature study as children reach the middle and high school years. However, there is no need to abandon the practice in favor or more serious science study. Rather, daily or weekly time outdoors can supplement your student’s science curriculum. Additionally, with older students, more adventurous excursions, such as snorkeling, rock climbing, or cave exploration, can take the place of simple backyard studies.

Practical application: Ensure that your children have daily free time outside as often as the weather permits. Encourage nature study at least once a week, either by making casual observations during your time outdoors or with a specific concept in mind, such as observing the variety of birds attracted to your backyard feeder or visiting a local pond to study its plant and animal life.

2. Short lessons.

Charlotte Mason espoused the idea of short lessons, which require more focus and allow for greater variety. No matter your education style, this concept is important for young children whose attention spans are not quite ready for longer lessons.

Older students, particularly those in high school, are often expected to spend more more time on each lesson. However, with focused attention and one-on-one help when needed, even the lessons for most high school students can be covered in much less time than the typical 45 minutes. 

Practical application: Use short bursts of focused attention to add variety to your student’s school day. For example, instead of expecting her to focus for an hour on grammar (or allowing her to dawdle over it that long), spend 15 minutes going over spelling words, 10 minutes on vocabulary, 15 minutes on copywork (covering grammar and handwriting), 10 minutes on poetry, and 10 minutes on journaling.

3. Handicrafts.

Ms. Mason recommended that children be taught handicrafts, which likely included the practical skills required for running a household in her time, such as sewing or knitting. We could expand this concept to include a variety of skills that homeschooled students will rely on as they move into adulthood – life skills.

Such skills could include:

  • Crochet, embroidery, or quilting
  • Cooking
  • Housekeeping
  • Auto maintenance
  • Woodworking
  • Gardening

The concept of teaching children handicrafts or life skills is clearly one that can be applied across the board, no matter a family’s homeschooling style.  

Practical application: Teach your children basic household chores, such as laundry or preparing meals, as a part of your everyday life. Introduce other handicraft skills, such as sewing, woodworking, or knitting, as part of your school day and allow time for your children to continue to pursue those for which they discover a particular skill or interest.

4. Living books

According to SimplyCharlotteMason.com:

“Living books are usually written by one person who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or narrative style. The books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and facts. Living books make the subject ‘come alive.’”

So, rather than learn about whales, for example, from a paragraph or two in a textbook or encyclopedia, a student might read an engaging book about them written by a marine biologist passionate about the study of whales.

I make a habit of regularly including captivating biographies, well-written historical fiction, and exciting period literature in our homeschool day. My oldest child and I have never forgotten reading Johnny Tremain while studying the American Revolution. It captured the daily life of the period and brought the key players to life in a way a textbook never could.

Practical application: Chose a great biography and/or an engaging historical fiction for each of your major topics of study this year. For example, if you’re studying pioneers, you might choose to read a biography of Daniel Boone, along with a Little House on the Prairie book.

You don’t have to go all-or-nothing to enjoy the benefits of a particular homeschooling style. Explore the concepts unique to each and incorporate the ones that are a good fit for your family into your personal homeschool approach.