Logo Homeschool World ® Official Web Site of Practical Homeschooling Magazine Practical Homeschooling Magazine
Practical Homeschooling® :

The Charlotte Mason Method

By Karen Andreola
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #6, 1994.

Pin It

Karen Andreola


I can find no adjectives adequate to describe my admiration for the turn-of-the-century British educator, Charlotte Mason. She is my Christian heroine. The following two working principles gleaned from her works have so marvelously influenced our homeschool.

Living Books Instead of Textbooks

Many who have heard of Miss Mason's term -- "living books" -- have benefited from using whole books and firsthand sources rather than relying on dry-as-dust textbooks. If you are able to access a wide range of living books, you will be surprised how much your children will improve in all traditional school subject areas!

Living books, often called "classics," are the kind of books that joyfully enliven the imagination of a child. They are written by individuals -- not committees -- and display imagination, originality, and the "human touch." Living books do not talk down to a child's level or omit odd and interesting vocabulary. Children take to living books more than textbooks for these reasons; because such books are not crammed with facts and information at the expense of human emotion.

How can you recognize a living book? First examine the book yourself to see if it promotes noble thoughts rather than a jaded or misleading outlook on life. If so, simply give the book, whether fiction or non-fiction, the one-page test. Start reading it aloud and look for signs of it opening the doors of the child's mind. You will know it's a living book when you hear them beg, "Read me more!"

A homeschool cannot function without enthusiasm and curiosity. Enthusiasm enables the child to educate himself. Curiosity makes the child want to learn!

A homeschool that runs on the fuel of a child's wonder and imagination, rather than the artificial stimulus of grades, prizes, and happy-face stickers, is on the right track.

The Power of Narration

We cannot apply knowledge to children like we apply suntan lotion to the skin. Knowledge is more the result of what is happening from within, more like the results of a well-digested, nourishing meal. Children gain knowledge through the act of digesting living books. When children are in contact with the thoughts of thinkers, they become more thoughtful. (A good tongue twister to remember.)

As teachers, we should not stand in the way of this contact by constant lectures or excessive explanation. We must not attempt to do the learning for the child. He must do his own learning for the thoughts to become personal, to become his possession.

What did Charlotte Mason recommend to take the place of classroom lectures? Narration. Miss Mason said that asking a child to narrate -- that is, "tell back" or "write down" -- what he has learned is the best way for him to acquire knowledge from books. Because narration takes the place of questionnaires, paragraphs of fill-in-the-blanks, and multiple-choice tests, it enables the child to use all his mental faculties. He responds with his own paragraphs as he tells his version of what is read. When given books of literary quality, his mind does for itself the sorting, sequencing, selecting, connecting, rejecting, and classifying which workbooks or cleverly correlated curriculum attempt (usually futilely) to teach him!

With narration a child calls upon the picturesque vocabulary and descriptive powers of his favorite authors. He does not need an overly concerned teacher's guide instructing him to stop and look up a long list of words he "should" be gleaning from the text. Any vocabulary he leaves out of his narration now will assuredly and naturally be picked up later.

It is ideas that our minds feed upon, not facts and information alone. Give children the opportunity to be in touch with at least one new idea a day through living books and the use of narration, and they will become real thinkers, independent of thick workbooks and much-too-cleverly prepared study guides. Your teaching experience will be one of leading and drawing forth, not one of pushing.


Was this article helpful to you?
Subscribe to Practical Homeschooling today, and you'll get this quality of information and encouragement five times per year, delivered to your door. To start, click on the link below that describes you:

USA Individual
USA Librarian (purchasing for a library)
Outside USA Individual
Outside USA Library

Time4Learning University of Nebraska High School

Articles by Karen Andreola

Homeschool without Homework

Start a Nature Notebook

A Dickens of an Idea!

Narration Beats Tests and Reviews

Picture Study

Columnists Face Off - Charlotte Mason Method

"Does Poetry only belong to bygone days?"

Learn Writing Without Writing

Being Enthusiastic Educators

What Drew Me to a Charlotte Mason Education

Great Kids Need Great Thoughts

Illustrating Science Lessons is Another Form of Narration

The Atmosphere of Home

Learning from the Inside Out

Support Groups, Then and Now

Education is a Lifestyle of Establishing Relations

Beautiful Dreamer

12 Quick Tips

Holiday Cheer and Teachable Tasks

Real Life First!

Homeschool on a Shoestring or Otherwise

Mother Culture

Mother Culture & You

The Majesty of Motherhood

The Children's Magna Carta

Popular Articles

Montessori Math

Who Needs the Prom?

Montessori Language Arts at Home, Part 1

The Charlotte Mason Method

Interview with John Taylor Gatto

The History of Public Education

Character Matters for Kids

The Benefits of Cursive Writing

What We Can Learn from the Homeschooled 2002 National Geography Bee Winners

Shakespeare Camp

A Homeschooler Wins the Heisman

Discover Your Child's Learning Style

Phonics the Montessori Way

Patriarchy, Meet Matriarchy

Whole-Language Boondoggle

How to Win the Geography Bee

I Was an Accelerated Child

Art Appreciation the Charlotte Mason Way

Critical Thinking and Logic

Teach Your Children to Work

The Equal Sign - Symbol, Name, Meaning

How to "Bee" a Spelling Success

Columbus and the Flat Earth...

Classical Education

Joyce Swann's Homeschool Tips

Advanced Math: Trig, PreCalc, and more!

A Reason for Reading

Give Yourself a "CLEP Scholarship"

Myth of the Teenager

University Model Schools

Top Jobs for the College Graduate

Don't Give Up on Your Late Bloomers

Start a Nature Notebook

Teaching Blends

Getting Organized Part 1 - Tips & Tricks

Getting Organized Part 3

What Does My Preschooler Need to Know?

Why the Internet will Never Replace Books

The Charlote Mason Approach to Poetry

Laptop Homeschool

Narration Beats Tests

Saxon Math: Facts vs. Rumors

Can Homeschoolers Participate In Public School Programs?

The Benefits of Debate

Bears in the House

Combining Work and Homeschool

Getting Started in Homeschooling: The First Ten Steps

Top Tips for Teaching Toddlers

AP Courses At Home

The Gift of a Mentor