Charlotte Mason Method vs. Traditional Curriculum

Traditional School

“What’s the difference between the Charlotte Mason Method and the traditional curriculum that I’ve been using?” Last weekend at the North Carolina homeschoolers convention we heard that question several times. It’s a great question.

In this series we are discussing how Charlotte Mason differs from four other homeschooling methods. This week we’re talking about the traditional method.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s define what we mean by traditional. A traditional curriculum uses textbooks and workbooks, for the most part, to dispense facts. And it usually uses direct questions to assess retention of those facts. The direct questions are commonly fill-in-the-blank, true-or-false, multiple choice, or short answer.

If you want to know simply how the methods are different, the Charlotte Mason Method uses living books instead of textbooks and narration instead of direct questions.

Why Charlotte Mason Used Living Books And Narration

Let’s look a little deeper. When we started this series last week, we mentioned three key questions that can help us determine the differences between educational philosophies. So let’s take a minute to ask why Charlotte Mason used living books and narration instead of textbooks and direct questions. The answer lies in how she defined education.

  • Living Books instead of Textbooks

    Charlotte believed that education is “a life”—that we should nourish the child’s mind upon ideas, not just dry facts. Therefore she used books that touched the imagination and emotions, that made the subject come alive to the student.

    “They will plod on obediently over any of the hundreds of dry-as-dust volumes issued by the publishers under the heading of ‘School Books,’ or of ‘Education,’ they keep all such books in the outer court, and allow them no access to their minds. A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader” (Vol. 3, p. 228).

  • Narration instead of Direct Questions

    Charlotte also defined education as “the science of relations.” She wanted the children to form relations with God, with mankind, and with the universe around them. By asking the children to retell in their own words, and with their own opinions and personality involved (narrate), she was inviting them to share those relations they had formed. And forming personal relations is a completely different concept from recalling information that someone else tells you is necessary.

    “It cannot be too often said that information is not education. You may answer an examination question about the position of the Seychelles and the Comoro Islands without having been anywise nourished by the fact of these island groups existing in such and such latitudes and longitudes; but if you follow Bullen in The Cruise of the Cachelot the names excite that little mental stir which indicates the reception of real knowledge” (Vol. 3, p. 169).

(If you’re wondering how to evaluate progress without direct questions you might want to see our series on CM-Style Assesment)

Well, we hope this brief comparison has helped you as you consider what homeschooling methods work best for your family. Feel free to leave comments or questions and we’ll try to answer them as we continue this series over the next few weeks.