How Charlotte Mason Is Changing the Way We Homeschool

During the second half of the school year, I discovered Charlotte Mason.  Mason was a British educator around the turn of the last century who established many schools and articulated a philosophy of education.

I was aware of Charlotte Mason and knew something about homeschooling in this style, but I didn’t really understand it until recently.  But I knew we needed work in the department of good habits, and I remembered she addresses how to build good habits in kids.

Some Charlotte Mason principles I discovered:

  • The goal is not to fill the bucket of the child’s mind with as much as possible so much as it is to light a fire that will keep on growing.
  • Read, read, read lots of “living books” with your children—ones that excite the imagination and bring kids to grapple with worthwhile ideas, even from a very young age.
  • Don’t get in between the author and your child by creating a filter with explanations and your own interpretation.  Let the author do the talking.
  • Don’t worry if words go over their heads.  They will learn the words by hearing them in repeated contexts or they will ask.
  • Teach math more through conversation, interaction, and the use of manipulatives than through math problem after math problem.
  • Get outside and study nature for as many hours a day as possible. Keep a nature journal where you (and your children, in their own) sketch flowers, trees, birds, butterflies, anthills, grubs, etc., noting seasonal changes.
  • Have children narrate back to you after they’ve read something, but don’t harangue them to give more details, and don’t re-read the passage for them.
  • Keep lessons short.  This encourages the habit of paying attention.
  • Try, as much as possible, to let kids deal with the things themselves and not an abstraction of the things.  In science, this means nature study and experiments.  In geography, it means measuring and mapping the house and neighborhood before moving on to maps of Europe.

And much more! I have many inspiring quotes from Mason just waiting to be shared.

So, since we started out this year taking a classical approach, which is also what we did last year, we were using Tapestry of Grace, which assigns books for each week or sections of spine books to read, and it gives projects and worksheets as well as teaching points.

I found—not necessarily because of Tapestry of Grace, but because of me—that we were continually slipping into getting our book work done and never having much time left to do “fun” school.  Thus, we might read a chapter on Mars but not get to the recommended experiments.  Or read about Charlemagne but never act out the Battle of Tours or make a coat of arms.

*In fact, CM and the classical approach are very similar in many ways.  I suspect some of the differences are (almost) semantics, but the CM way of articulating philosophy of education seems to be communicating the goal to be more effectively right now.  I’m still in favor of rigor and of reading the classics.

Charlotte Mason has made me see that we need to spend more time working with things themselves than sit-still work.  This is not to rule out reading by any means, but it has inspired me to start with some of the things that Mustard Seed seems to learn best from anyway and to keep reading and “lecturing” short. It’s also made me see the importance of making sure we get some beauty into our activities, even if that means starting with them some of the time.  This is the stuff that lights people’s fires.

So this is some of what our school week included last week.  It was a lot of fun and whereas I usually have to bring her attention back to her task frequently or ask her to stop fidgeting, there was not as much of that.


  • Learned about the Fibonnaci sequence and then made Fibonacci rectangles rectangles on graph paper, following a lesson plan from and Mensa for Kids
  • Used vintage buttons and an egg carton to create a “button factory”–to practice multiplication skills. I gave her orders for 6 packets containing 3 buttons, for example and she had to figure out the total.  Or I told her how much each button was worth and she determined how much money we would receive from the order.
  • Also practiced multiplication using Fun Multiplication
  • Talked about perpendicular, parallel and straight lines and their angles. I Introduced her to acute, obtuse, and reflex angles. We played “guess the angle” games on the computer and practiced measuring them with a virtual protractor. We practiced drawing circles with a compass and learned about radius, diameter, “inners and edges” (i.e., perimeter and area), what pi is.  Read Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter for this.
  • Checked out some of the living math books found on Living Math website and read them


  • We read The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and Mustard Seed narrated on it.
  • I read Twelfth Night and Taming of the Shrew from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, and we acted them out using animal finger puppets.
  • Mustard Seed read 7 Little Golden Books on her own for reading practice, besides some of the living math books.


  • Mustard Seed knitted a “doll’s blanket” (her first knitting swatch on huge needles) while I knit my patchwork blue blanket

Science and Nature Study

  • Finished up Apologia chapter on Jupiter and checked out astronomy videos online.  We’re renewing our plans to figure out how to use the telescope we were gifted so we can see some astronomy first-hand.
  • Took a blanket out behind the house, picked dewberries and sketched cosmos


  • Drawing lesson from Drawing With Children


  • Mustard Seed chose lines from poems and Bible verses the called her attention.


  • Outdoor words like flower, grass, fence, colors


  • Read the story in the Bible of the man who got lowered through the roof, reviewed some of the story of David and Saul, and worked on Psalm 100 as a memory verse


  • We practiced violin, sounding out rhythm in 4/4 time, and singing songs to the rhythm of a metronome.

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