Educational Philosophies: Charlotte Mason

I am excited to be starting a small series on educational philosophies. This represents hours of reading and research that I have done for my own benefit and the benefit of my family. It is certainly not exhaustive, but I hope that my research will benefit others.

My purpose is not to share my opinions as much as to let you know what the major tenants of each philosophy is, and give you helpful resources. I plan to do one philosophy a week, but if I do not feel I have properly researched I will not post. I want to give you the best information I can. You understand. :)

Detailing each philosophy helps me understand it better, but I truly want it to be beneficial for others, so feel free to send others to the post. As always, please feel free to ask for clarification or details in the comments.

Whether you homeschool or not, you might find some helpful resources.


Charlotte Mason was a 19th-century British educator who revolutionized education in her time. She had no children, debunking the myth that one must have children to understand how children learn, and spent her entire life devoted to researching, teaching, and eventually writing an entire philosophy of education.

In a time in England when education was only available to the elite, Charlotte believed that all children could and would learn given the right conditions. She preferred to think of children, not as empty vessels needing to be filled with information and learning, but as people with legitimate ideas, thoughts and opinions. She despised talking down to children and trained the teachers in her teacher’s college to respect each child as a person and his ideas as legitimate. She did value the authority of the teacher, but viewed it as setting the boundaries, opening up the world of the child, and providing the child with all the necessary means to learn himself/herself.

Key Components of the Charlotte Mason Philosophy:

  • Real living books, not textbooks: She was a firm believer that children should be directed right to the source, not given “twaddle” as she called it, and be read books that were above their level and of the highest literary quality. Read-aloud times were a key component and used daily in her classrooms.
  • Narration: This is where students were given opportunity to respond to the text that had just been read. Teachers were encouraged to use open-ended questions or simply allow the students to tell their thoughts on the given passage. Students also would practice their penmanship and writing skills by writing their narrations down. Younger students, and those not proficient at writing were asked to dictate to the teacher, and then draw a picture. Things like spelling were taught from these written out narrations rather than from lists of words.
  • Nature: Charlotte believed firmly in being outdoors. In the elementary ages, she believed that children should spend half the day outside. This was a time to romp in nature, discover plants, insects, and all types of living creatures. This was a time when teachers were to remind students of it being God’s creation, explore interesting creatures they had discovered, and experience nature. These afternoon nature times allowed for children to get a healthy amount of fresh air and exercise, which Charlotte believed should make them enjoy and learn better.
  • Short Lessons: Charlotte believed that teaching time should be 15-20 minutes at a time and up to a maximum of 45 minutes for high school students. The teaching time should then be followed with interactive narration, writing, moving, drawing, music, art observation, etc.
  • Habit-training: It would take you a long time to get through the list of habits Charlotte Mason has written. She believed in educating the whole child and teachers were supposed to encourage and enforce habits of character (i.e. respect in greetings, thank you, please, etc.), responsibility (i.e. keeping their desks neat, putting things away, etc), and learning (i.e. attentiveness, doing your best work, reading for learning). Education was to be viewed as a discipline.

Charlotte Mason did use memorization on a small scale (primarily math), but she preferred to enlighten her students with the world of ideas. Art, music, nature, history, and science were areas in which she used living books. Teachers were not to give them “saw dust,” the term she used for imposing their own ideas of a work of art or literature on the child. She despised rewards, and wanted to ignite each child’s inner passion for learning.

What is widely known about Charlotte Mason and those teachers that were trained directly under her is that they genuinely loved children and respected them as persons. Perhaps therein lies her biggest success? She loved them, she wanted them to love learning, and she was hugely successful.


(Her original writings are difficult to find sometimes. As is usually the case, it would be great to go directly to primary sources, and not simply rely on peoples’ writings about her writings. However, she wrote volumes of works, and most of us will not have the time or inclination to research that so we are indebted to those who have.)

I have done my best to be as thorough as possible based on the research I have done to this point. I know, though, that I have probably missed some important concepts or resources. Please chime in in the comments.

Have you had any experience or researched anything about Charlotte Mason or education in general? Please join the discussion.


  1. Even though my daughter is only two I’ve done lots of reading about education and educational philosophies. I was homeschooled for 1st through 8th grade and we plan on homeschooling our kid(s). I find education philosophies fascinating (because I’m a nerd) so I’ve learned a lot just through casually checking things out. I’m looking forward to reading your series.

    As far as Charlotte Mason goes, I love her emphasis on kids being people with their own ideas and opinions and her focus on living books. I want to avoid textbooks as much as possible.

    • Johanna says:

      We must be nerds together. :) I’ve been reading since my oldest was a baby! I love the “treating kids as people” as well. So important to remember as parents (and teachers).

  2. My daughter is only 13months but I’ve been looking for resources to learn more about homeschooling and education methods. I a m therefore looking forward to this series :-) I’ve been enjoying reading your articles. Found the blog through Keren’s :-)

    • Johanna says:

      Welcome, Chelo! So glad to have you reading! There is so much information out there about homeschooling. It is sometimes overwhelming actually. But I’m still thankful for so many options!

  3. I found this post both helpful and interesting. I have not done extensive research on educational philosophies but my daughter’s special needs is driving me to find out more and more concerning different methods/philosophies.

    I love how she encouraged elementary students to be outdoors for learning through exploration! When I read that it caused me to go…”Hmmm…” as my daughter has not been doing well in a traditional classroom setting but through our own observations, (as well as the her teacher’s) she seems to respond completely different when outside (more talkative, cheerful, engaging in task at hand etc.).

    I will definitely be taking a look at the links you provided and I look forward to the rest of your series on education philosphies! =)

    • Rachel, that is one of the things that I like about her philosophy. She advocates a lot of outdoor time which is so helpful to most children. Also, because she uses living books and narration, her method involves very little “testing.” If you have a child that panics or is not a good test taker, this is a great option. In general, though, I think the fewer tests the better especially when they are young, and increase as they get older.

      That is so neat that she likes the outdoors. Maybe you could at least let her do her homework outside now that it is nice? She might enjoy doing homework better that way. :) Just a thought!

  4. I’ve been looking forward to this series–especially the Charlotte Mason post!–since you mentioned it a few weeks ago. A couple of years ago, I did a good bit of reading to get a jumpstart on homeschooling prep–primarily to shape our philosophy as best as possible before launching into the nitty-gritty of school. I definitely appreciate CM’s philosophy overall and probably rely most heavily on it in relation to the other influences that have shaped our schooling–well, other than the Bible!

    I have the CM Companion and have been on both Ambleside and SCM numerous times, but I’ve just dabbled in her own writings. Just curious if you have specific recommendations either that you’ve read or that from your research seem to be key texts. Thanks so much for sharing your work!


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