Charlotte emphasized treating each child as a person, not as a container into which you dump information. She believed that all children should receive a broad education, which she likened to spreading a feast of great ideas before them. Charlotte encouraged parents to have an active role in teaching and training their children in academics, fine arts, faith, citizenship, and habits of character.
You can summarize Charlotte’s approach to education in three words. Charlotte believed that “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” By “atmosphere,” Charlotte spoke of the environment our children grow up in. She knew that the ideas that rule our lives, as parents, will have a profound impact on our children. “The child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives” (Vol. 2, p. 247).
By “discipline,” Charlotte emphasized the importance of training our children in good habits—habits that will serve them well as they grow. In fact, she likened good habits to railroad tracks that parents lay down and upon which the child may travel with ease into his adult life. Good habits are a powerful influence on our children and must play an important part in their education. “It rests with [the parent] to consider well the tracks over which the child should travel with profit and pleasure” (Vol. 1, p. 109).
By “life,” Charlotte wanted to remind us that “all the thought we offer to our children shall be living thought; no mere dry summaries of facts will do” (Vol. 2, p. 277). And the methods that Charlotte used presented each subject’s material as living ideas. Here is where the reading, writing, and arithmetic come in, along with all the other school subjects. But notice two important points: first, they are presented as living thoughts; and second, those school subjects occupy only one-third of the big picture of education.
All three components of Charlotte’s three-pronged approach are vital in the education of our children. Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. What a well-balanced, all-around approach!
If you would like to learn more about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, we encourage you to
- Download our free e-book, Education Is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life, that includes lots of practical tips and encouraging ideas;
- Read Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series: Home Education, Vol. 1; Parents and Children, Vol. 2; School Education, Vol. 3; Ourselves, Vol. 4; Formation of Character, Vol. 5; A Philosophy of Education, Vol. 6; and
- Check out the books below.
A Charlotte Mason Education, by Catherine Levison, gives a great overview in short chapters. If you’re looking for a quick get-started guide, this is the place to begin. You might also check out Catherine’s website for more great articles about the Charlotte Mason approach.
More Charlotte Mason Education, by Catherine Levison, adds more details, deals with some specific questions especially with older students, and even gives some sample schedules.
A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning, by Karen Andreola, offers a look at how one mom incorporates Charlotte’s methods into her homeschool. Lots of wonderful ideas, recommendations, and practical tips.
Charlotte Mason Study Guide, by Penny Gardner, arranges pertinent quotes from Charlotte’s original writings into sections centered on various topics, such as the child, habits and character, narration, goals of education, the arts, and more.
When Children Love to Learn : A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today, edited by Elaine Cooper, is a collection of articles by various teachers and administrators who have sought to incorporate Charlotte’s philosophy and methods in modern classrooms.