Who is Charlotte Mason?
Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) was a British educator whose educational philosophy and methodology followed the natural human formation, the goal being to develop a student’s internal desire to self-educate and become life-long learners. She also believed the knowledge of God, as found in the Bible, is the primary knowledge and the most important.
According to Mason, learning was best done in the morning hours. With this approach educational topics would be laid before the students like a feast for them to engage and interact with. Each segment would be taught in short 10 to 20 minute increments (longer for older students) in an effort to allow the mind to engage and to teach children the skill of paying attention. This rigorous but engrossing schedule allowed for play, life skills, chores, family time, and other interests to be enjoyed in the afternoons.
As for teaching materials, Charlotte Mason encouraged the use of what she called “living books” – books written on subject matter about which the author passionately wrote. Living books avoid dry, staid lists of facts and instead encourage the reader to learn and explore within the context of meaningful, rich content.
Along with living books, the use of narration (both orally and in writing) is fundamental in the Charlotte Mason approach to education. Lectures and other declarative statements by teachers should be minimal and discouraged as these tire the mind. Instead, children narrate what they’ve read or heard in their own words, follow a sequential train of thought, and therefore make their learning personal. The life of self-education requires growth in character, strength of the will, development of habit, and a well-nourished mind. Children learn to self-educate growing in character, habit training, and intellect. This approach is very different from today’s teaching methods whereby learning is judged largely by multiple choice testing results.
Because the mind feeds on ideas, Charlotte Mason provided children a variety of subjects. Art, literature, language, poetry, math, science, hand writing, nature studies, and more were part of the curriculum offered to children. Charlotte Mason stated, “Varied human reading as well as the appreciation of the humanities is not a luxury, a tid-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life.”
In addition to excellent material, the atmosphere and environment are tenets to good learning. Charlotte Mason expressed the need for a joyful, respectful atmosphere between teacher and student. A place where the child was safe to learn, ask questions, stumble and struggle. An environment where the child could learn and was encouraged to learn for himself – not for the pleasure of parent or teacher; not for the pleasure of rewards like candy, treats, or additional free time. Learning is a reward in and of itself. In addition to a joyful and respectful atmosphere, the environment had access to the beauty of creation and was comfortable and lovely – not distracting and chaotic.
But it’s the following quote from Charlotte Mason that so beautifully gives reason to her methods:
Children should have relationship with earth and water, should run and leap, ride and swim, should establish the relation of maker to material in as many kinds as may be; should have dear and intimate relations with persons, …, through tale or poem, picture or statue; through flint arrow-head or modern motor-car: beast and bird, herb and tree, they must have familiar acquaintance with. Other peoples and their languages must not be strange to them. Above all they should find that most intimate and highest of all Relationships, – the fulfillment of their being [their relationship with God].