Who is Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was a British educator at the turn of the twentieth century. Her belief was that children benefited most from a wide classical liberal curriculum. For Mason, education was a focus on the whole child, not just academic subjects but character development and a love of learning.
Charlotte Mason is another major component of our particular Classical model. We have learned that Classical schools have different shades of gray in their approach to education. Many Classical schools are very reserved, orderly, and controlled; some loosely follow the Classical model. Our goal was to incorporate fun, hands-on experiences into our education model but retain the structure and format that has made Classical education effective for 2500 years.

In America, Charlotte Mason is very popular in the home school market. She believed that children were adults becoming and should be treated with respect. In our model, children come to us knowing much; it is our job to provide a safe, nurturing environment to explore. Her model incorporates read-alouds, copy books, and hand on nature studies with observations over a period of time and creative documentation of what the children are observing.
"Parents and teachers should provide a child with what he needs in the way of instruction, opportunity, and wholesome occupation, and his character will take care of itself: for normal children are persons of goodwill, with honest desires toward right thinking and right living. All we can do further is to help a child to get rid of some hindrance––a bad temper, for example––likely to spoil his life."
Mason's philosophy of education is probably best summarized by the principles given at the beginning of each book mentioned above. Two key mottos taken from those principles are "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline; a life" and "Education is the science of relations." She believed that children were born persons and should be respected as such; they should also be taught the Way of the Will and the Way of Reason. Her motto for students was "I am, I can, I ought, I will." According to Mason, children have a natural love for learning, and she devised strategies that facilitated this through the creation of a positive learning atmosphere. Her approach is child-centered and is focused on liberal arts. It also emphasizes more on concepts rather than facts.

The Power Of Relationships

Relations are at the core of our model. In our schools, we've sought out teachers that make an impact on the lives of children. Our Character Education curriculum, in particular Pillar 3, outlines the concepts of Dr. William Glasser and Dr. Rudolf Druikers and their expansion of the ideas of Alfred Adler into the classroom.

High Quality Literature

Mason placed great emphasis on the reading of high-quality literature, and coined the phrase "living books" to denote those writings that "spark the imagination of the child through the subject matter." Her philosophy has had a tremendous impact on homeschooling around the world.

What we’ve learned in running our Classical schools is that there are a number of shades of gray within the Classical movement. From very Stoic and rigid with less emphasis on the arts to programs like ours that are more hands-on, experiential, and fun. Charlotte Mason’s influence on our program is the reason why our model is perhaps not acceptable to some Classical school purists.

Philosophy of Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason and Classical Ed Explained

What we’ve learned in running our Classical schools is that there are a number of shades of gray within the Classical movement. From very stoic and rigid with less emphasis on the arts to programs like ours that are more hands-on, experiential, and, well fun. Charlotte Mason’s influence on our program is the reason why our model is perhaps not acceptable to some Classical school purists.

To review the nuances between a purely Charlotte Mason, Ambleside style and a Classical Ed school, here are some of the  areas of similarity and difference (Source) :

  • Some versions of the Classical Education movement put less emphasis on the fine arts, especially visual art, while others do not. The Medici/Ethos Logos model draws heavily from the insights of both Charlotte Mason and Dorothy Sayers
  • Classical Education breaks the learning stages into three categories, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. These stages are marked with a primary focus (memorization and facts in the grammar stage for example) but with the Charlotte Mason influence, these learning stages are not as ridged as some traditional Classical schools. Charlotte Mason believed that all children are born as full persons, and should be educated on real ideas, through their natural environment, the training of good habits, and exposure to living ideas and concepts from the beginning. In our schools and with our homeschool families we line out the trivium grade bands but encourage teachers/parents to experiment and push their scholars. It is not uncommon for a 2nd or 3rd-grade teacher to experiment with a Socratic discussion around a novel or history lesson. The Rhetoric stage in many Classical Education models starts in high school, wherein our model, we are introducing Logic in 6th grade and beginning rhetorical lessons in 7th and 8th. Dorothy Sayers, in her book, Lost Tools of Learning lamented that “although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.” (page 77-78). Our schools, the Classical Education model and we believe the highest purpose of an education is to help the next generation HOW TO THINK.

(Lost Tools of Learning - Dorothy Sayers) The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to “subjects” at all. First, he learned a language; not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of a language, and hence of language itself—what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked. Secondly, he learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and Logic and Disputation. Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language—how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively. (pages 92-97)

  • Classical Education often will introduce writing composition earlier and teaches it as a separate subject in English class. Our model dedicates time in English as well as history and science to get our students writing across styles and curriculum subjects. The Charlotte Mason influences we have added include oral narration by the teacher during Read Aloud times as well as group reading with narration opportunities to check for understanding.  We begin the memorization of poetry starting in Kindergarten and that continues through our entire program. The passages get more complex but the ability to be able to stand up in front of their peers and recite from memory a passage is a lifelong skill.  Below is an outline of the framework of our early-ready program which reflects, Classical Education, Charlotte Mason, and the latest research in teaching young scholars to read.
  • Classical Education introduces formal grammar at an earlier age than Mason does. She believed in beginning grammar lessons with whole sentences rather than parts of speech. The Medici/Ethos Logos program introduces basic grammar starting in Kindergarten as part of the English instruction period. We’ve added interactive jingle and chant-based learning to our grammar instruction. Research has found that the jingle memorization process helps to anchor concepts that stick with our students all their lives. Remember back to the School House Rock songs of your youth. Those catchy rules of sentence structure stick with you all your life!
  • The version of classical education developed by Dorothy Sayers and detailed in her book, Lost Tools of Learning, relies heavily on memorization for young children of times tables, vocabulary, and grammar conventions. Mason's students memorized poetry and songs, but she did not value rote memorization for the sake of rote memory. Our schools blend the two philosophies with poetry memorization and recitation occurring in every grade as well as regular vocabulary words and times tables.
  • Mason and Classical education, both believe that children should be provided with the best ideas, which she called 'mind-food.' She believed even the youngest children should be given 'ideas, clothed upon with facts as they occur, inspiring tales, and worthy thoughts." 
  • The Classical Education approach in The Well Trained Mind relies on abridged books and a simplified version of the classics for younger children; this version of Classical Education terms this period as 'the Grammar Stage'. Mason believed that children should be introduced to subjects through living books, not through the use of "compendiums, abstracts, or selections." She used abridged books only when some of the content was deemed inappropriate for children. She preferred that parents or teachers read aloud those texts (such as Plutarch), making omissions only where necessary. Our model uses abridged versions of classical books to expose younger grades to classics that may be too far above their reading and comprehension levels. We feel that helping our scholars to explore the world of great literature available to them is a process. Abridged versions are suggested at various ages to encourage engagement. Our read loud selections are designed to follow Mason’s philosophy of adults reading higher-level books out loud to students.
  • Doing picture studies with students is uniquely Charlotte Mason's concept and a way to make an artist's work come to life. The idea is that we have our students study a masterpiece, learn all they could about the work and retell the picture depicted in their own words. The student is then encouraged to recreate the picture on their own. We feature one artist and composer each semester at every grade. These are focused on the classroom as well as the art class.
  • The copybook is an important part of the Grammar stage of a Charlotte Mason/Classical school. The students either copy, with their best art and writing, poetry, snippets from classical books, or history facts or ideas they are working on. These copybooks are compiled and sent home at the end of the year as a family heirloom to remember their year.
The Power of Read A-Louds and Narration

Narration and or Read Alouds, done correctly can open a world of literature to scholars of all ages.
Educators use read-aloud and discussions to teach elementary students character (Laminack & Wadsworth, 2012).

"We believe focused read aloud experiences with carefully selected children's literature followed by guided conversations is one way you can create a climate in your classroom, school, or district where bullying is not an accepted or rewarded behavior. A climate where an individual's humanity and human dignity trump any difference(s) and kindness is the order of the day."

  • Recent research shows that punishing students who bully is not enough, that we must begin every child's education by establishing relationship skills and building empathy among students. We recommend a series of read-aloud books that focus on our shared humanity and can be used on day one of Kindergarten and throughout the elementary years. Integrating Read Alouds and purposeful narrations into a classroom support the development of children's insight into compassion and awareness of others. The power of a story and the active process of listening to an adult read with inflection and passion is a great way to expose kids to advanced vocabulary and concepts. The literature options provided in our schools help define and discuss the important lessons about bullying, empathy, and a whole host of characteristics exhibited by the book's characters. The integration into the English Language Arts curriculum will help develop literacy skills and strategies, conversation, critical thinking, character analysis, and reflection connect read-aloud experiences to the anchor standards for reading.

    Narration was the key tool for Charlotte Mason and a part of our classroom instruction in the lower grades. We use the process of read aloud by the teacher and students narrating back the story to evaluate what the kids retained from their read-aloud or reading. Mason believed that this retelling, in the student's own words, helped to ensure information was retained and remembered.

    A great place to understand the nuances of Charlotte Mason’s philosophies can be found at Simplycharlottemason.com

An Atmosphere - A Discipline - A Life

By “Atmosphere,” Charlotte meant the surroundings in which the child grows up. A child absorbs a lot from his home environment. Charlotte believed that the ideas that rule your life as the parent make up one-third of your child’s education.
By “Discipline,” Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits—and specifically habits of character. Cultivating good habits in your child’s life make up another third of his education.

The other third of education, “Life,” applies to academics. Charlotte believed that we should give children living thoughts and ideas, not just dry facts. So all of her methods for teaching the various school subjects are built around that concept.

What we believe in:

Encourage students to HELP ONE ANOTHER
Emphasize student STRENGTHENS and minimize WEAKNESSES
Help students LEARN FROM MISTAKES, as valuable lessons
Always speak in POSITIVE terms, never NEGATIVE
Be OPTIMISTIC & ENTHUSIASTIC - a positive outlook is contagious
Living Methods

As an example of utilizing the Living Methods concept, Charlotte’s students used living books rather than dry textbooks. Living books are usually written in narrative or story form by one author who has a passion for his topic. A living book makes the subject “come alive.” And the students were required to tell back or narrate, in their own words what was read in the living book, in order to secure it in their minds. No fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice for them; they practiced using rich language as they pointed out the ideas they gleaned from the reading and any mental connections they made between it and other ideas already residing in their growing minds and hearts.

In the Ethos Logos/Medici platform this concept is achieved by pairing classical novels with time frames in history.  From reading about the trials and tribulations of Ranofer, a 12-year-old orphan boy in 1400 BC Egypt (Golden  Goblet) to Jack London's, Call of The Wild and the tails of the gold rush Klondike, to brothers Sam and Tim's struggles of which side to support in the American Revolutionary war, these deep and rich stories transport our scholars into the time period. History becomes more than dates, facts, and events, and our students are learning what it was really like to live 3400 years ago.

She taught handwriting and spelling by using passages from great books that communicate great ideas rather than using just a list of words. We have done the same, each of our novels comes with spelling words from the novel your child is reading as well as Latin root words and grade-appropriate, Scripps Spelling word lists. You have a choice of how you would like to teach vocabulary.  We provide templates and suggestions but it is your choice of how many, which ones, and how you decide to teach handwriting and vocabulary.

She encouraged spending time outdoors, firsthand, and learning the living ways of nature. She introduced the work of great artists and composers to her students and let them spend time with each other, getting to know their works personally.

Hands On Science

One of our top teachers that joined our schools after a 20+ year background in teaching Elementary School in public schools brought to our teachers the idea of conducting science as nature studies. She was frustrated that some Principals would let her explore and venture outside to teach science while others tried to keep her in the box. She came to us early on and explained what her science classed looked like and we did our best to provide her with the resources and time to make science come alive for her 5th-grade class.
Little did I know then that was Sandy was doing was purely Charlette Mason and hands-on. Sandy’s students would go outside and observe an anthill or bird's migration over a period of time. They would study online, write reports, do presentations, and document their work in beautiful nature journals.

We ended up adopting Sandy’s model system-wide and had her lead professional development classes for our teachers. You can imagine her students loved Sandy as a teacher and got more out of their science classes than they ever would have from a book.
At the root of classical education schools are a few consistencies: history is the arch for each grade, character education and a focus on a child’s understanding of values and virtues is interwoven with all we do and nothing checks these two boxes better than including classical literature in the English courses.

Reading opens a world of ideas and sets a foundation of a broad vocabulary, increased language comprehension, and greater cognitive function. Screen time and video games are where our children’s attentions are but if we can make the reading process fun and engaging there is a whole new world of ideas that can change lives.

The Power Of Story

The failure, in my opinion, of Common Core to move student test scores is a failure in understanding a couple hundred thousand years of human development. For thousands of years, we have learned about life from stories passed down from the generations and told from elders to the youth around the fire. Common Core Standards push students to become surgeons on a piece of text all within the ‘four walls' of the text provided. Instead of relying on context, prior knowledge gained through the study of history, art, music, or science, Common Core focused on a strict interpretation of what was presented. States like Massachusetts have blended fiction and non-fiction quite well and bucked the trend started by Common Core and continue to see the results.

The work of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, C.S. Lewis, and others uniquely spell out the role of story, the parables learned from moral dilemmas of the characters, and the idea of the Hero’s Journey. George Lucas gave Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey credit as the model for the 1977 Star Wars story. Luke is a hapless young man on a distant planet that gets thrown into an adventure where he must confront the dark forces and his evil father in order to make the galaxy right again.

Think about the Hero’s Journey story arch in sitcoms, superhero movies (Peter Parker to Spiderman, Clark Kent to Superman), old westerns, Harry Potter, and on and on. These stories resonate with us at an entertainment level but also on a deeper evolutionary level. Deep characters built with humans' emotions of doubt and fear that rise above these limitations and become the courageous hero of the stories are identifiable to our kids. Students can feel the emotions help decide what they would do in the same situations. That concept doesn’t happen in informational text and we are missing an opportunity if we don’t embrace the power of story.

Trying to explain to our school-age kids the nuances of envy, greed, wrath, pride is much easier when they are transported into a story where the main characters wrestle with these concepts in their interactions with others or their environment. Ever wonder why Jesus told so many parables? The Bible is riddled with riddles and stories that have a message that is important for us to be learning from. Shakespeare is the king of crafting stories that show the ins and outs of human emotions of jealousy, power, infidelity, anger, and much more. Reading classic literature teaches us life lessons through human history. These books are like a mirror through which we can see the lives of others. We can make ourselves better by comparing their good deeds and their bad points. Books like “Night,” by Elie Weisel, “Call of the Wild”, “1984,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” etc., give us the opportunity to learn a lot from the characters animating these novels. Classical novels help us to tap our inner selves. Watching the stumble of a character who struggles with the events thrown at them makes these characters better. By reading and engaging in these stories, our hopes are that our students can achieve these life lessons without having to go through the pain and drama.

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