Charlotte Mason When You Don’t Homeschool

Perhaps you love Charlotte Mason’s methods and philosophy, and want to use them in your home with your children, but you can’t be homeschooling right now. We’ve received some notes from people asking if there is still a way they can use Charlotte’s methods in their homes if they’re not homeschooling. Short answer? Yes. Let’s talk about how. Here to join me with that discussion is my friend and coworker, Laura Pitney.

Sonya: Laura, good to have you back.

Laura: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Sonya: Let’s talk about the big picture first, and then we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty ideas of implementing it, but can a person use Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and methods if she’s not homeschooling?

Laura: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It’s a beautiful thing that Charlotte has taught us that it’s a natural way we love on our families, and her methods can be used in so many different situations. So don’t be discouraged in any way if you can’t homeschool right now. There are things that you can do to implement those lessons. So what are we going to talk about first?

Sonya: Well, what we don’t want to encourage parents to do is when the kids get home from regular school, “Okay, now it’s time to do Charlotte Mason lessons.” That’s not what we have in mind.

Laura: No, they would not like you, at all. (laughs)

Sonya: Their brains are tired. They’ve been working all day, and it would be overload for them. And keep in mind, they probably have homework too. I love how you said it was a natural part of life. That’s what we want to focus on. Some of the natural things, let’s start with those first, and then we’ll get into specific methods. I think of atmosphere, discipline, life. Atmosphere of your home. It should be almost an overflow of the parent’s own desire to keep learning and growing for herself.

Laura: I agree with that one hundred percent. That natural desire for the parent to learn and grow reaches over to the children because the parent wants to know how they’re learning and growing. And so, it becomes this natural ebb and flow of, “Well, this was my day, and how was your day?” And then the children can then tell back things that happened. It’s that relationship of caring, and also putting into words some life lessons that they learned, or school lessons that they learned. It’s this natural conversation that can happen while you’re washing dishes or in the car.

It’s the atmosphere that your children know that you want to know things that they’re learning and then the children genuinely care about you and want to know about you. That comes a little later, because often kids don’t really act like they care about the parents at all. But I have seen that fruit in my children as they’ve gotten older, where it is a give and take, which is important part of any relationship. That’s a natural component of atmosphere in your home; there’s a caring and a give and take, whether it’s knowledge or experiences. And that is Charlotte Mason, because of the telling back and the genuine concern and the heart issues, that’s definitely a component of the atmosphere.

Sonya: And the love of knowledge for knowledge’s own sake. We’re not asking the child to tell us about it because we’re going to get to some kind of trophy or a grade or anything for ourselves. It’s that we want to keep learning, as you said. That’s a huge component. If your child is in a situation that puts a big emphasis on grades, make your home a place that puts an emphasis on knowledge for knowledge’s sake. That’s another part of the atmosphere. Then discipline, good habits. Can we work on good habits, even if we’re not homeschooling?

Laura: You better, you’re in trouble if you don’t. Because if you think about that, if your children are away from you a good portion of their day, you can’t necessarily control the habits that are being promoted in that situation. So you want to be proactive and still try to focus on those habits every opportunity you can, because otherwise, if you don’t work on a habit, then some habit’s going to form.

Sonya: Probably not a good one.

Laura: Right. Because you love your children, you really want them to have good habits despite how much you’re with them or not with them.

Because you love your children, you really want them to have good habits despite how much you’re with them or not with them.

Sonya: Yeah, so they know these are the boundaries in our home. This is what our family culture is. That’s going to help form those habits in their lives in a huge way. So that’s atmosphere and discipline. Now let’s talk about some natural ways that we can incorporate some CM methods. Not in strict formal lessons, but just in everyday life. I’ve got several bubbling up in my head.

Laura: Go ahead.

Sonya: Okay, all right. Picture study. You can display the picture, choose one artist just as we regularly would do picture study. Stick with the one artist for 12 weeks, but each week we’re going to display a different picture of his or hers. Then if you want to actually have a time to look at it, hide and describe, look at it again, using the method of picture study, that takes five minutes. You could do that at supper one night, as a whole family if you wanted to.

Music study, again choose your composer and play that composer’s music in the car while you’re driving places or as background while you’re eating supper. Just naturally very informally mention the composer’s name when you put it on. You don’t have to do the whole read the biography, narrate the biography, put him in your book of centuries, all of that. You can just get familiar with the composer and the music.

Laura: Yeah, that’s a great idea. We’re in the car a lot.

Sonya: There you go, yeah. Scripture memory. You can do that. Again, it takes five minutes. Do it at breakfast, do it at supper, just make it a part of your family life. If you’re doing family devotions or family Bible studies, incorporate those, it’s just part of your family.

Laura: Right. There’s some grace given because in our minds, or maybe this is just me, I would love for every day to mostly be the same. For example, I know I’m going to have that scripture time every day or dinner together as a family every night. That doesn’t always happen for us. We just have so many things that we’re committed to, whether it’s church or sports or whatever. So there’s grace that I have learned to give myself that I’m going to at least connect with my children over their personal devotions on Sunday nights. That’s once a week. That’s the time I know I can give them, but if it happens other times during the week, great, but I at least know I’m going to make that my bookmark where I do it on Sunday nights.

To be proactive and plan is really important to where you can stay connected with these little touches of CM throughout your week. If we don’t have a plan, not saying it doesn’t ever happen, but it’ll set you up for success as the parent who wants to implement CM methods. So having that plan is a good place to start to really implement that life portion because so many circumstances come up or change. There’s grace, but there’s also some planning.

Having that plan is a good place to start to really implement that life portion because so many circumstances come up or change.

Sonya: Yeah, some intentionality about it. Because we say it should just be a natural thing, but it’s not just going to happen if you don’t plan for which artists we are going to study and which picture I am going to put up. And when I am going to put it up every week. So there is some planning, that’s a good point.

Laura: Yeah. It’s also the knowledge behind what you would need to know so that you can help it to naturally happen. If you are unfamiliar with the word narration and what that means, with what that looks like practically, and how your children maybe would tell back to you, it’s going to be really hard for you to naturally have narration happen over washing dishes.

Just becoming familiar with what methods you want in your home, so that it’s more natural than it being so scripted to have to go through the motion of it. That would help the mom too.

Sonya: If something feels uncomfortable to you or it’s unfamiliar to you, it’s very hard for it to come across naturally. You do need to make sure you feel comfortable and confident with the method in order to make it occur naturally in an everyday situation.

Another idea I thought of was a family read-aloud. You can use an audio book if you want to. Not all the time; I love reading aloud. There’s that personal connection, but there are ways to make sure you’re sharing good literature with your children.

At bedtime. I think I’ve mentioned before that one family who the dad wanted to read the bedtime story and they had all these kids and so they would put them all to bed and then the dad would pull up a chair in the hall and open the door to all the rooms and just read from the hallway so everybody could hear. Or you can snuggle up on the couch or whatever. However it works for your family is the thing.

Laura: That’s the key because sometimes as a mom, I get discouraged because there are all these things I want to do, or I want to make sure I’m doing right. Again, what works best for your family and your situation and your schedule, it’s okay for it to be that way. It doesn’t have to be this glorious thing that’s just always working without any hiccups.

Sonya: Yeah, it’s easy to get caught in that trap of all or nothing.

Laura: Yes, and that’s where I land and it’s hard not to get discouraged, but again, lots of grace. So plan and think about what works in your family and think about the specific CM methods and things that you want to do. Because if you don’t try to figure it out ahead of time, you’re going to be defeated before you start. And that’s not what you want, especially when you feel like this urge to want to implement CM outside of their regular school lessons, you really have to be proactive. I say that as an encouragement, because it’s a beautiful thing when the things do start naturally happening. It feels so good.

Sonya: There’s nothing wrong with just doing one at a time. For example, if I think I want to implement geography I’m going to put a world map up on the wall near where we eat and it’s just going to be there so that when we’re talking about current events, or if we happen to be reading a book together, or if one of the children mentions a place that they’re studying in their lessons, we can go find it. I’m putting that map up there knowing, keeping it in the back of my head, that anytime anybody mentions a country or a state, we’re going to go look for it. Get that ball rolling, and now maybe we will bring in going to go to a park once a week. And not to play on the playground first. But to walk in nature first, or we’re going to work in our garden. Or something like that for nature study. So just one at a time. Until you get that plate spinning.

Laura: That’s really important to understand that taking a walk in a park with your children for the purpose of enjoying nature also gives quiet time for your children to think, and to let those ideas cultivate that they’ve heard during the week. Having intentional downtime together is an important part of CM. They need that time to ponder all these ideas, and those scriptures, and even the ways they connected with their history lesson.

If your schedules are so full and every part of your day is always got something, that would be a simple way to add a CM time to your week so all those things that you’re pouring into your children can resonate with them. The Lord uses nature so freely.

That time, whether it’s walking in silence, or studying mushrooms, or looking for acorns, whatever it is, giving that time allotment, is a value in implementing CM, even if you don’t homeschool. I’ve experienced that in my own life and with my children, that quiet time. The conversations that happen, or wherever they go in their minds, connecting to these ideas, may come out with their words, or if they bring their sketchbooks, it may come out in their drawings. As much as we want to invest in our children’s education and their habits and their time, I have found there’s value in scheduling downtime too.

That [nature] time, whether it’s walking in silence, or studying mushrooms, or looking for acorns, whatever it is, is a value in implementing CM, even if you don’t homeschool.

Sonya: Yes. That’s a huge part of Charlotte’s philosophy overall. It comes down to that it’s not just which of her methods can we plug in, it is also her philosophy of the whole atmosphere of your home and the discipline of good habits. And then giving these life-giving ideas and opportunities, whether that is a new idea or time and margin to ponder the ideas you’ve already gotten. All of that is so important.

Laura: It’s beautiful.

Sonya: Yes. I have a couple of other ideas that come to mind. Keeping in mind margin, okay? Because this is going to sound like, go, go, go, but this is just throwing out other ideas for some families. There are things you can do on the weekends. It depends on the weather and where you’re living and all that, but you can do history museums, science museums, art museums, you can go to Shakespeare plays, you can go to live music concerts. And if those tie into the composer you’ve been listening to, or the artist you’ve been studying, that really makes it come alive to the child. It’s not like you have to go for the whole day either. Depending on the age of your child and what else is going on, maybe it’s going to be just a short trip, but who knows seeing that one Constable life-size picture might just stick in that child’s mind and enrich them for their entire lives.

Laura: It’s a great idea. That’s a misconception I fall into as well, that school happens Monday through Friday, and on the weekends I’m free to do what I want to do or just run errands or get caught up, but just because school’s out doesn’t mean school stops.

Sonya: Yeah, it’s the love of knowledge. We come back to that, knowledge for its own sake.

Laura: But I like it Monday through Friday, because then I know I’m getting it in, but take that to heart, there’s a great idea.

Sonya: If we make that a way of life. A lifestyle of wanting to keep learning and growing no matter what, we want to give that example to our children, of ourselves wanting to keep learning and growing as well as providing opportunities for them to do it. I think all of that can happen. Even if you’re not homeschooling with strict lessons.

Laura: Agreed.

Sonya: Thanks.


  1. This episode has been so encouraging to me since my family is in a situation where we can’t homeschool for awhile. I miss homeschooling and have been trying to sneak in some CM lessons on a daily basis. Thanks for your tips on how to do that more “discreetly”, and also how to keep a good attitude and the right mindset.

  2. Thank you very much for this episode. Homeschooling is illegal in my country (Spain), so I was looking forward for some ideas like these.

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