Charlotte Mason was an educator in England around the turn of the century. Her philosophy of education has become quite popular with homeschoolers for good reason. She has a common sense approach that is both practical and inspiring. Respect for the minds and spirits of her students permeates her writing.
For many, her books seem unapproachable because of the old-fashioned and often difficult language. While I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading the originals (there really is no comparison, so much more material to mull over in the originals) there are several other books out that have explained her ideas, giving the basics in an easier to understand format.
Karen Andreola’s, Charlotte Mason Companion, Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning, is one such book. It is a refreshing, relaxed approach to teaching that emphasises good quality books and exposing your children to the best in every discipline.
Here is an excerpt from her book.
“Charlotte urges us to give children a regular feeding of ideas through sweeping tales of history, wonderful inventions and discoveries in science, lives of great men and women, stories that relate to the moral life as well as paintings, plays, Psalms, poems, symphonies, and everything else wonderful we can think of. She says these ideas are the children’s very breath of life. A child draws inspiration from the casual life around him. The thought of any of our poor words and ways being a daily influence on a child should make the best of us want to hold our breath. There is no way to escape, We are inspirers, whether we feel confident or not because, as Charlotte says, ‘about the child hangs, as the atmosphere around a planet, the thought environment he lives in. And here he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life long kinship toward sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine.’
These thoughts challenged me to be intentional about the ‘atmosphere’ in our home. I was challenged to rethink which of the books I offered my sons was ‘twaddle’ and which were ‘living’ books, able to reach their hearts and minds. I was challenged to see my children’s time as as valuable as my own, and to not waste it with pointless exercises and worksheets. This book encourages a complete paradigm shift for those of us who attended public, and most private, schools as children. (Although Charlotte Mason’s ideas were originally put to use in her ‘cottage’ schools in England.)
Beyond the philosophical underpinnings the book also offers highly practical ways to incorporate a rich thought life into your home. Here you will find practical ways to incorporate nature studies, history, and art into your daily life. Unlike many homeschool books, this one is not guilt inducing. There are no strict schedules or accelerated plans for academic success. Here the learning of your child is not a fragmented process, but a peaceful, joyous process of discovery.
Do not be deceived….just because this approach is ‘gentle’ compared to many others it draws the very best out of the child. They are truly learning and retaining what they learn because their minds are engaged. I have often heard my children say that we didn’t do much school work…or that they taught themselves in high school. That’s perfect. As younger children much of what we did they didn’t recognize as school, or learning, and as older children my role became more and more that of someone who makes introductions to authors or subjects and then lets them take it where they will. By the end of high school they owned their education and were more than capable of carrying on without me.
I’m sure I will have much more to say in the future about Charlotte Mason. She greatly influenced our homeschool years and I feel greatly indebted to her for her work and insights.