Charlotte Mason for Adult Education

What’s your dream?

Chances are if you have a dream, you will need to learn some things to get you there.

Brittney has a dream to give her children a rich and enjoyable home education that will launch them into adult life well prepared. She wants to learn more about Charlotte Mason homeschooling.

Geoff would love to grow his cooking hobby into a catering business. He needs to learn more cooking techniques and the ins and outs of catering for different size crowds in a variety of occasions.

Kelly desires to make her home more comfortable and better organized. She has a list of areas that she wants to learn about: decorating, home maintenance, and project management.

Sam dreams about being an intentional, involved father for his children. He wants to learn more about good parenting.

Whatever your dream may be, achieving it depends on your learning something new. And many of the things that you want to learn probably aren’t offered as a class or study group near you.

Achieving your dreams often requires learning as an adult.

Learning as an adult often requires teaching yourself.

And that’s where many people get stuck. How do I go about learning something by myself?

If you’re stuck on that question, don’t be too hard on yourself. You probably spent twelve years, at least, learning how to depend on the system to teach you anything. Think about it. In most school systems, you depend on others to compile a summary of information for you to read (a textbook); give you a set of questions to answer about that information, so you know which parts are most important; prepare worksheets that highlight what you need to know for the test; offer a list of pertinent facts for you to memorize; and outline a pre-determined project for you to duplicate.

It’s no wonder many grown-ups don’t know how to self-educate. We’ve been conditioned to depend on others to tell us what and how to learn.

The good news is that if you are familiar with six simple Charlotte Mason methods, you can teach yourself just about anything. It’s true. Charlotte designed her methods with that goal in mind: self-education.

You can take control of your own learning. You don’t have to wait on anything or anybody else to educate yourself.

Here are six Charlotte Mason methods that you can use to teach yourself just about anything.

Six Methods Grown-Ups Can Use for Self-Education

1. Observe closely and carefully.

You can learn a lot by watching. Observe a person or several people, observe them live or on video; observe how something works. If you’re watching an expert, you can see what to do. If you’re watching a poor example, you can make note of what not to do. The key is to turn the full gaze of your mind upon what you are observing.

Look closely and attentively. What do you see? What do you not see?

Think about any other personal experiences this reminds you of. How is it similar? How is it different?

Watch for any patterns. What do you see happening repeatedly? Can you trace any cause and effect?

Close observation can teach you a lot.

2. Read literary-style books.

A well-written book that tells the story of someone’s life can “take you there” in your mind’s eye. It’s almost like observing second-hand. That comes in handy when it’s impossible to observe the person or event that you want to see—a historical person, for example.

A literary-style living book is usually written in a way that allows you to observe in your imagination. You can still form personal relations between what that person experienced and what you have experienced in your own life. You can still look for patterns and trace causes and effects.

But remember, a textbook is rarely going to lend itself to those types of observations. If at all possible, use a book that presents a well-told story. Biographies and autobiographies are a great place to look for good stories. You will be able to observe quite a bit as the story unfolds before you.

3. Tell what you observed.

Once you have observed a person or event, either firsthand or through a literary-style book, tell what you observed. Put your observations into your own words. Don’t just give a summary sentence or two. Seek to put into words everything that you want to remember. If you can tell something, you know it. Or as Charlotte said, “Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot tell, he does not know” (A Philosophy of Education, pp. 172, 173).

Don’t get caught up in whether you’re telling the “right” parts. That’s baggage from the old way of learning. Your education is no longer a matter of guessing what the teacher wants; it’s a matter of choosing what is important to you. Remember, this is self-education. You decide. Putting an idea into your own words will help to cement it in your mind.

Then, once you have solidified it in your own mind, you might find someone to discuss it with, if you want to. Such a discussion will give you an opportunity to tell about your findings again and potentially add to them or adjust them based on someone else’s observations too.

But don’t try to substitute discussion for telling in your own words first. Don’t depend on others to do the work for you. Make sure you can present your observations clearly and accurately. This step is so important; Charlotte called it The Act of Knowing (A Philosophy of Education, p. 99).

4. Record your observations.

Get yourself a blank notebook (or open a blank document on your laptop) and record your observations. Draw sketches. Make lists. Write questions that come to mind.

Whatever you record in your notebook should be personal. Remember, this style of learning is not about what a teacher expects, it’s about what you want to remember from what you observed or read. Write it down so you can refer back to it later, add related ideas as you come across them in the future, and even potentially discover new relations as you slow down enough to write or draw.

You can decide what you want your record to look like, but don’t skip this step. It might take some getting used to, especially if you have grown up with fill-in-the-blank worksheets or lists of questions to answer at the end of the chapters. But those techniques are based on what someone else tells you to learn. In self-education, you start with a blank notebook and make it a reflection of your personal style and growth as you walk through learning for yourself. Getting your observations down on paper is a great way to solidify what you have learned.

5. Memorize important ideas.

Now that you have observed or read for yourself, put it into your own words, and recorded your observations, you probably have a pretty good idea if there is something in those notes that would be helpful to have memorized. If so, do it. Memorize any important ideas.

Notice how this step comes after you have grasped ideas and made them your own, after you have spent time considering the big picture and how the pieces fit into it, and after you have determined which of those pieces would benefit you by committing them to memory. Memory work should follow understanding, not precede it.

And memorizing can be a good learning tool when used in the right way for self-educating.

6. Create something of your own with what you learned.

Now that you have observed closely or read closely (or both), told what you observed, recorded it in a journal, and memorized any key ideas that you think would be helpful, it’s time to take all that you’ve learned so far and use it.

But don’t just copy a project that someone else has done, come up with your own idea. And try to make it useful, something that will benefit and bring joy to you or someone else.

Creative projects can be as diverse as the personalities all around us. Remember, a person can be creative with words, with numbers, with food, fabric, animals, people, music, wood, space, photography, movement, paint, time, iron, paper, and much more.

Applying what you have learned to a problem and solving it is a project. So is applying what you have learned to improve the quality of life for someone or to challenge a lie or just to challenge yourself.

This is the step where you pull together all that you have learned so far and put it to use with a purpose.

So Brittney, who wants to learn more about Charlotte Mason homeschooling, could read Charlotte’s own writings a bit at a time and put each bit into her own words. If possible, she might spend a couple of mornings observing an experienced CM mom homeschooling her own children and write down what she observed. She could memorize poignant quotes that help her focus on creating the atmosphere that she desires in her home. And she could put what she learned into use by creating a schedule and a resource list and trying to incorporate each method and principle with her own children as she goes along.

Geoff, the hopeful caterer, and Kelly, the home administrator, can follow suit—reading books written by and about people in those fields, spending time with and watching videos of caterers or home decorators and organizers, putting what they have observed into their own words, recording it in their notebooks or computers, memorizing pertinent ideas, and then using their observations to create useful projects along the way. Geoff might put together his own potential menus for five different events. Kelly could redo her entryway or create her own home office that incorporates the organizational system she wants to use. The possibilities are endless.

Sam, whose dream is to be the best father he possibly can be for his children, could read biographies of great fathers and hang out with a wonderful dad interacting with his children. He could tell that dad about the biographies and discuss the ideas he has learned from them. Sam’s project, of course, would be to incorporate each great idea into his own life and time with his children. His journal might be a vlog, in which he tells about his observations and documents how he is seeking to instill good parenting habits in his own life.

The point is, you don’t have to wait on a class or purchase some kind of official prewritten course to teach you. There are many, many things you can learn on your own by using Charlotte Mason’s methods for self-educating.

Those methods happen to be the same ones that we use with our children in a Charlotte Mason home school. Charlotte incorporated the methods into the school subjects so students would become self-educators. That was her goal. The more you use these methods in your home school, the more your students will get used to using them to learn. Soon the methods will become a natural way of life for them and self-education will become the norm. And your children will already know how to continue learning about whatever interests them throughout their entire lives.

But their greatest example will be seeing you self-educate too. Learning is a continuous process. Now you know how.

Only one question remains.

What’s your dream?


  1. Yes, that’s exactly how it works! This is an excellent article! As part of the learning process, I also review many of the books I read, a practice that blesses others as well.

    I also like to read several different books at once, because the relationships that are formed are often both surprising and illuminating. For example, I am finding interesting connections between Nancy Pearcey’s Love Thy Body, Ed Welch’s Depression, and Margaret Helder’s No Christian Silence on Science.

    But it is hard to find people interested in discussing these sorts of things, and that is unfortunate.

    Once again, thank you so much for putting the whole process into words.

  2. This piece is brilliant and so helpful for Mother Culture as we endeavor to be life-long learners. All your recommendations make for a pleasing and interesting life-style. When I came across your mention of “fabric” in the paragraph on creative projects I had to chuckle. This week I am doing more seam-ripping than I’d like as I am experimenting with a quilt I am designing for an upcoming grandchild. (I’m particular about my ‘pinks’.) I’ll keep sewing and hopefully the quilt will turn out close to what I’ve imagined. Thanks for the encouragement.

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