Living Books (Charlotte Mason)

From the brochure …

This approach is based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-century British educator.

She was appalled by several tendencies in education: 

  • to treat children as containers to be filled with pre-digested information instead of human beings
  • to break down knowledge into thousands of isolated bits of information to be fed into “container” children; and
  • to engineer artificial learning experiences.

Miss Mason believed that children should be:

  1. respected as persons & taught good habits
  2. involved in an array of real-life situations
  3. allowed to read good books instead of “twaddle”
  4. given time to play, reflect & create.

Living Books is a very family friendly approach, especially with younger children, although successful application is also possible at high school levels.

To Elaborate …

Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) was herself home educated as a child, and became an educator who was primarily concerned with improving the educational lot of underprivileged children. Considered by many to be the founder of the home education movement because of her assistance to many British students through correspondence, Charlotte Mason dedicated her life to education.

Believing that children are able to deal with ideas and knowledge, Charlotte Mason did not consider that they were blank slates ready to be written upon, or empty vessels waiting to be filled with information. She considered that teachers often acted as a sort of ‘middle man’, dispensing filtered knowledge, rather than allowing children to do the work of dealing with ideas and knowledge for themselves.

A structured morning of basic academics was the foundation of her structure, emphasising the use of narration as a significant learning tool. The remainder of the day involved exposure to real-life situations. These included play, exploration, nature walks, museum visits and reading, and allowed education to be a life enriching, joyous, adventurous experience.

Miss Mason’s motto for her students was, “I am, I can, I ought, I will.” Children were taught good habits, to be involved in a broad spectrum of real-life situations, and given ample time to play, reflect and create. Her own motto was, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

Some Advantages

  • the reading of excellent literature is encouraged
  • curiosity, creative thinking and a love of learning are fostered
  • stresses the development of a strong character and good habits
  • no meaningless tasks or busy work are included
  • treats the child as an active participant in the learning process

Some Disadvantages

  • traditional texts and methods would still be required for higher levels of study
  • may put undue emphasis on mental knowledge rather than applied knowledge, depending on how it is practiced
  • may be too unstructured for some families

Personal Comments

Personally, I’ve always liked the concept of Charlotte Mason’s approach.

Unfortunately for us, much of our early exposure to its practice involved families who seemed to prefer life in a previous century, which has never been appealing to us. It’s only been of recent years that we’ve met modernist proponents of Charlotte Mason, and realised that all its merits are not dissipated by modern practice. My misconception was that we’d have to practice Little House living too, if we wanted the approach to work for us. I know, I can be pretty dense sometimes.

Whether or not you wish to dress for a bygone era, the Charlotte Mason approach has a lot of merits well worth exploring. If you do enjoy old-time dressing and ways, please feel free to indulge your own preferences – some of the loveliest people we’ve ever met enjoy that style.

Useful Links

  • Home School Favourites
    This Australian site provides a treasury of resources to support the Living Books approach.
  • Ambleside Online
    A free curriculum designed to be as close as possible to the curriculum that Charlotte Mason used in her own schools.
  • Penny Gardner
    The author of the Charlotte Mason Study Guide has a great range of resources to help you start applying this educational method.

An internet search will yield additional resources, which you will be able to assess according to your own criteria.

.“There is no difference between living and
learning … it is impossible and misleading
and harmful to think of them as being separate.
Teaching is human communication and like
all communication, elusive and difficult …”
~ John Holt