Explaining the Charlotte Mason Method to Your Relatives

Holiday dinner relatives

You’re sitting on the couch, drinking cider from a holiday-themed paper cup, and carrying on a friendly conversation with Uncle Joe and Aunt Phyllis.

Uncle Joe smiles and leans forward a bit. “We understand that you homeschool,” he says. “Our daughter is thinking of homeschooling. Can you tell us about it?”

“Oh, we enjoy homeschooling,” you reply. “There are actually several different styles of homeschooling that your daughter could use. We use one called the Charlotte Mason Method.”

“And what is the Charlotte Mason Method?” Aunt Phyllis inquires.

At that moment Aunt Flo comes into the room in her apron and announces that dinner is ready.

You have time for one sentence, maybe two, before your audience heads to the far end of the table and your opportunity is lost.

Get set, go!

“Um, . . .”

Explaining CM

It’s tough to explain the brilliance of Charlotte Mason and the richness of her wonderful methods and sound philosophy in just one or two sentences! If you make it too philosophical, your listeners will have a hard time picturing what it looks like. But if you mention only one or two methods, your listeners won’t get the full picture.

Most of us could present an enthusiastic description—with detailed explanations and examples—if given enough time. But how do you accurately represent something you love so much in 15 seconds or less?

We thought it might be helpful if all of us put our heads together during these weeks leading up to the holiday season and came up with some tips for explaining the Charlotte Mason Method succinctly.

We’ll get the discussion started with a few ideas that came to our minds.

Assess how interested the person is.

It’s the same as when you’re in a crowd and someone asks, “How are you?” Some people are just being polite; others are truly interested in your well-being. You can usually tell the difference.

And you can usually tell the difference in people who inquire, “What is the Charlotte Mason Method?” Some are just being polite. They need a short answer that can stand on its own or invite more dialogue.

“Lots of great literature, a wide variety of subjects, and a focus on good habits.”

If they are truly interested, you might give a bit longer answer.

“Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She believed in educating the whole child, not just his mind. Instead of dry textbooks, we use rich literature. Instead of fill-in-the-blank questions, we ask the child to read the passage then tell it back in his own words. And then we also include a wide variety of subjects; like art, music, poetry, Shakespeare, nature study, and handcrafts, as well as the basic ones.”

If the person is interested in learning more, that short explanation gives her plenty of ideas to ask further questions about. If she is really interested, feel free to point her toward some of our free e-books, like Getting Started in Homeschooling and Education Is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.

Use familiar words.

The more you become immersed in the Charlotte Mason Method, the more you get used to its unique jargon. But those who are not familiar with CM-specific terms will have no idea what you are saying. It will seem as if you are speaking a different language if you spout off an explanation filled with phrases they don’t recognize.

For example, if you use the term living books, you’re going to have to explain what you mean. The same goes for narration, living ideas, or copywork. It will save you time and save your listener from frustration if you try to use terms that are familiar to him.

Practice ahead of time.

Trying to come up with an answer on the spur of the moment is stressful. Those are the situations in which we usually flounder and falter (and then berate ourselves later). Far better to prepare ahead so you can answer with confidence and focus your full attention on your partner in the conversation. You will feel more relaxed if you have a go-to explanation solidly in your mind before you head into the holidays. Practice saying it out loud with a smile. Better yet, practice a short version and a shorter version.

Now it’s your turn. What are some phrases or ideas that you have found helpful when briefly explaining the Charlotte Mason Method to interested family members and friends? Leave a comment and let’s compile a list that we can all draw from.

Next week we’ll consider some ways to deal with naysayers—people who are antagonistic toward homeschooling in general or opposed to what you’re doing.


  1. Reading great books, studying a wide feast of ideas in all subject areas including the arts, and letting the child form relationships with the information instead of hurrying through material just to take a test.

  2. Thank you for posting this article. I am in a family where no one homeschools. These tangible responses has eased my nerves. We appreciate you and your family.

  3. Not sure if this truly fits in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, but my favorite short answer about homeschooling is “we’re teaching our children to teach themselves”.

  4. I’m going to start practising! We’re going to get lots of these questions coming our way now that we’ve decided to homeschool. I think I’d say something along the lines of… “it’s more than just academics, there is a big focus on quality literature, exploring nature, building life skills as well as a wide variety of subjects that are taught in a more hands on way.”

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I get this question so many times, and I never know where to begin. You just can’t put Charlotte Mason into a nutshell and fully explain her philosophy and methods, in about 2 or 3 minutes, to someone whose only concept of education is the typical utilitarian, fill-a-bucket mentality of the current system. CM always likened it to treating the child like a cog in a machine. The machines of her day have become the computers of today, so now it’s more like treating a child like a computer – input/output.

  6. When asked just last week about Charlotte Mason vs. Classical, I encouraged a friend with: I love Charlotte Mason style because you are lighting a fire and encouraging imagination instead of filling their heads with just facts (shorter version), check out scm’s site.

    using great literature and taking time to ponder and discuss, spreading out a wide variety of subjects. It gives the child hooks to hang those facts on. You can almost see the lightbulb moments as they tie in stories with those facts.

  7. Great point about discerning how interested the person asking actually is…I can get carried away if I am asked about something I am passionate about and this is a good reminder that sometimes people are just being polite. Also, there is a need for respecting people where they are (for instance, if their own kids are in a public school or they are people with grown children who don’t know anything about home education to begin with. I have found it amusing how genuinely fascinated my in-laws are with how we do this thing. I try to share gently with them as we go along, though. CM is a wonderful method and I am very grateful to have been blessed with many books and resources like Simply Charlotte Mason to help me on the journey. I would have probably given up halfway through our first year if I hadn’t read A Charlotte Mason Companion because it was such a hard transition. Praise God for answered cries for help! 🙂

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