Charlotte Mason Method vs. Unschooling


We’re finishing up a series today on how the Charlotte Mason Method differs from other homeschool approaches you may have heard of. We’ve already discussed how Charlotte Mason is different from a traditional approach, unit studies, and the classical approach. Now let’s take a look at unschooling.

When we talk about unschooling, we’re referring to a spontaneous approach that is mainly child-directed. There is usually no set curriculum. The parent and child study whatever interests the child at the time. They try to take advantage of learning opportunities as they arise.

Respecting the Child

Both unschooling and Charlotte Mason respect the child as a person. Unschooling shows this respect by deferring to the child’s interests and encouraging his individuality to direct his studies.

Charlotte Mason respects the child’s individuality too. In fact, one of the key tenets of the Charlotte Mason approach is that the child is a unique person and should be treated as such. Many of the methods used in a Charlotte Mason-style education show respect for the individual.

For example, the nature notebook is the child’s own possession; he enters into it whatever he notices himself. Narrations, also, respect the child as a person. The parent listens carefully while the student tells what he took in, mixed with his own opinion and any relations that he formed with the ideas.

The Charlotte Mason Method spreads a feast of ideas before the child and encourages him to form his own personal relations with the ideas.

Who Chooses the Menu?

If education is spreading a feast, as Charlotte described it, unschooling allows the child to set the menu for the feast. He gets to choose which foods will be prepared. And that is where Charlotte Mason and unschooling differ.

Charlotte believed in the teacher’s planning and preparing the feast. She explained that teachers should present the feast of living ideas in a carefully planned order. “Their reading should be carefully ordered, for the most part in historical sequence” (Vol. 6, p. 341).

Yes, the children are free to take away from the feast what they are ready for at the time. They are encouraged to form their own personal relations with the ideas that are presented, but the ideas are presented in a well-thought-out, orderly way.

The studies are not haphazard, directed by the interests of the child. In fact, Charlotte specified that in her schools, “There is no selection of studies, or of passages or of episodes, on the ground of interest. The best available book is chosen and is read through perhaps in the course of two or three years” (Vol. 6, p. 7). And, “No stray lessons are given on interesting subjects; the knowledge the children get is consecutive” (Vol. 6, p. 7).

Individual Interests

Does Charlotte Mason then leave no room for individual learning or pursuing of interests? No, that’s what free afternoons provide for. In the Charlotte Mason Method, lessons are completed in the morning, leaving the afternoons free for students to pursue individual interests.

We hope this series on how the Charlotte Mason Method is different from other homeschool approaches has been helpful as you ponder various curriculum, methods, and schedules. Obviously, we prefer the Charlotte Mason Method, but we want to encourage you to use what fits your family at this season of life. Think through the three foundational questions, then put together an education that will work best for you and your children.


  1. Thank you so much! This series has been most helpful as I just started getting together with a local home school group and am the only CM-er. I will also pass it on to a friend who is looking at different approaches as she gets ready to home school this year.

    You don’t happen to have any workshops coming up in New England?

    Thanks again!

    • Glad it’s been helpful, Richele. I know what it’s like to be the only CMer in the group. 🙂

      I don’t currently have any workshops scheduled for the New England area. If we do schedule one, we’ll post it on our speaking schedule page and in our weekly e-mail. We’d love to meet any CMers out that direction.

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