Is It Too Late to Start Homeschooling with the Charlotte Mason Method?

I often get asked, “Is it too late?” Is it too late to start homeschooling using Charlotte Mason?

Maybe you’ve just heard about the Charlotte Mason approach and the delightful way that it respects the child as a person, preserves a student’s love for learning, and sets her up to be a lifelong learner. 

Or maybe you’ve known about Charlotte Mason for a while, but for one reason or another, you’ve been using a different approach. 

Whatever your situation, you are looking at this method and wondering, “Is it too late to make the switch now?”

I believe that it’s never too late to start using Charlotte Mason. Since her approach is so whole-istic, taking into account the whole person, and her methods transcend all age levels, it just makes sense that anyone can benefit from starting at any age. Many homeschool parents have discovered the wonderful benefits that come from using Charlotte’s methods as adults.

I believe that it’s never too late to start using Charlotte Mason. Since her approach takes into account the whole person, and her methods transcend all age levels, it just makes sense that anyone can benefit from starting at any age.

So, no, it’s not too late to start. But as you know, it’s wise to enter into any change with your eyes wide open. To make this transition as smooth as possible, it would be good to think through a few important considerations. So as you ponder this new beginning, let me give you five factors to consider.

Let me say right at the outset, that these five factors are most likely not deal breakers, but they are things to keep in mind as you plan for and implement a change to the Charlotte Mason way of doing things. 

By the way, I recently read about the difference between a change and a transition, and I think it’s something that may be helpful here. A change is what happens on the outside; for example, you change the methods you use for your homeschool lessons. That’s the easier part. Instead of quizzing, you ask for a narration. Instead of marathon lessons, you keep lessons short but require full attention. Changing the methods is what you can see on the outside.

But transition is what happens on the inside. It involves all of the emotions and thought processes that come into play for each person who is part of that change. The transition on the inside can take longer than just implementing the outside changes. 

So just be aware of both outside change and inside transition as you walk through this new beginning. The five factors I’m going to share include both. I’m going to give them in no particular order, so let’s just dive in.


One very practical factor to consider is whether your student is a strong reader. This factor would mainly apply to students in fourth grade and up, since those are the students whom Charlotte expected to be reading their own school books. Fourth grade and fifth grade are the transition grades, and some children need those years to grow stronger in their reading skills. That’s fine. 

But if you are thinking about switching to a Charlotte Mason approach with a student in, say, eighth grade, just keep in mind that there will probably be an expectation that your student is ready for independent reading and written narrations at that level. Now, if she’s never done narration before, you can certainly start with oral narration and gradually shift over to written as she is ready. 

So, again, this factor is not necessarily a deal breaker, it’s just something to be aware of. To make the change smoothly, don’t throw a struggling reader into the deep end. If you have an older student who is not a strong reader, you might read the book with her or make audio recordings available so she can listen and follow along in the book. There are many ways to support and encourage a student who is still growing in her reading skills, but it is something to consider if you are planning to begin Charlotte Mason’s literature-rich approach with an older student.

High School Credits

And while we’re talking about older students, let’s consider another factor that applies to those who have a high school student and want to make the switch to Charlotte Mason. Make sure this new approach still allows your student to earn all the credits she needs for graduation in the time that you have remaining. You can take a look at a post we did on a high school schedule. It explains how, in a Charlotte Mason approach, high school credits are usually spread over several years. Because students are getting a wide range of subjects, they may earn only a portion of a credit in each of those subjects during one year; but over the four years of high school, those portions add up to a full credit or more. Depending on how many years your student has left in high school, that smaller-portions approach could affect her total credits. You don’t want to inadvertently derail your student’s graduation timeline. It’s still possible you to make the switch to Charlotte Mason, but in that case, you might make the switch in only some of the subjects. You can do that. Just make sure you consider this factor as part of the big picture. 

Desire to Change

The third factor has to do with your student’s desire to change and potentially her personality. Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean. 

A few years ago I got to watch a folk dancing group in a practice session. There were five ladies in the group, and these folk dances looked pretty complicated. Each lady had half of a hula hoop that she held with both hands, up over her head in an arch, as they all stepped in time to the graceful music. In the real performance, they would be holding arches of flowers over their heads, but they used hula hoops during practice. It was just amazing to watch them form intricate designs that gently changed into other intricate designs.

One of the dancers was new. Nobody said so, but you could tell. She seemed a bit flustered; and she was always turning her head to watch everyone else’s feet for a clue as to where she should step next. That strategy didn’t work so well, though, because most of the patterns were formed by the dancers all going different ways and stepping through highly detailed individual routes that then merged together in different patterns. This poor new dancer was often facing the wrong way or standing in the wrong place or sometimes bumping into other dancers.

As the practice wore on, you could see that her flustered feeling was not getting any better and she looked like she was getting very tired of holding that hula hoop over her head. But here’s the key: she kept going. She must have had the desire and a good dose of tenacity to keep on trying to learn how to do something that everyone else had been doing for years. 

That was the only time I saw that group of folk dancers. I don’t know whether the new dancer persevered and eventually began to enjoy the dances as she learned them or if she grew discouraged and quit the next week. But I do know this: the answer to that question depends a lot on that woman’s personality and character. 

And it’s the same for anyone trying to start something new. How you respond to a new challenge depends a lot on your personality, your past experiences, and your individual character. It takes tenacity, self-initiative, and perseverance to do something new and to keep going even when it’s difficult, even when you make mistakes, even when your arms get tired. 

How you respond to a new challenge depends a lot on your personality, your past experiences, and your individual character. It takes tenacity, self-initiative, and perseverance to do something new and to keep going even when it’s difficult, even when you make mistakes.

So as you think about switching to the Charlotte Mason approach, keep in mind the personality and character of your student. Making the switch in the elementary grades probably won’t be too daunting. You and your student will still have plenty of time to “learn the moves.” But starting in later years, especially in high school, could potentially add some extra challenges and, maybe, time pressure too. How you and your student respond to those challenges will depend on both of you as individuals. That’s something to keep in mind as you consider ways to smooth the transition.

How Much to Change

The fourth factor, then, deals with how many “new moves” you plan to incorporate. I find it interesting that on the curriculum materials that Charlotte Mason gave to parents using her approach, there was a note that if the students were new to the method or were feeling overwhelmed, they could omit three or four of the subjects. 

You don’t have to do everything. Now, is there an advantage to doing the whole range of subjects in a Charlotte Mason approach? Absolutely! And are there benefits to using Charlotte Mason methods for all of your school subjects? Oh yes! But is it an all-or-nothing line in the sand? No. 

Depending on the grade level of your student or the unique circumstances with your student, you can incorporate just some Charlotte Mason subjects and methods if you need to. One of the easiest places to start is by adding a living book that will make her history studies come alive. Some students think they hate history, when what they really hate is the way most history books present history—as fact dumps. A good living book can go a long way toward rekindling a love for learning.

You can also easily add the subjects that are done just once a week. They’re often called “enrichments.” You could add a 10-minute picture study on Mondays, take two or three minutes to read a poem on Tuesdays, spend 10 minutes or so doing music study on Wednesdays, learn a handicraft on Thursdays, and go outside for nature study on Fridays. You won’t get the full benefits of a complete Charlotte Mason education, but anything you can do to feed your student’s mind and heart in this way will contribute to her growth as a person. 

Plus, if you offer a wide variety of subjects, you might awaken in your student an interest that she didn’t know she had—an interest in music, in art, in a particular handicraft or art medium, or in a certain poet. So if you can’t do everything in a Charlotte Mason way, try to at least offer a generous feast and see what your student might be drawn toward.


The last factor I want to mention for you to consider in making the switch is the habits that your student has developed over the previous years. Habits are patterns of thinking and behaving. It’s easy to see habits of behaving; and, yes, some of those behaviors will be helpful and some will need to be worked on. But habits of thinking are just as important and could come into play as you make this transition. For example, some students might wonder “What’s the point?” to doing art study or music study because they have developed a habit of thinking about education as utilitarian and information focused.

Do you see what I mean? Your student may have developed habits of thinking about school in a certain way, and with this change, you could be asking her to view education differently. Remember, switching to a Charlotte Mason approach isn’t just about using different methods. Those methods flow out of a particular view of education. As you incorporate the methods, you are asking your student to think differently about her role as a student—that it is the student’s responsibility to learn and that the teacher is only a guide, not a force-feeder. You will probably be asking her to think differently about what she is working toward in her studies. A Charlotte Mason education is focused on forming relationships with people in the past and present, with God, with the things God has made, and with the student herself, not just remembering certain facts and information.

Depending on how many years your student has been immersed in an information-focused view of education, this switch to a relationship focus might require a big shift in her thinking. It will be an advantageous shift in thinking, but just remember that it will be a shift. If the student has been thinking along the lines of information-focused learning for several years of schooling, that’s hundreds of hours of repetition that have reinforced that idea and made it a habitual way of thinking. Can that habit be changed? Absolutely. But it might take some time for her to fully transition how she thinks about education and embrace the advantages of relationship-focused learning. 

Can it happen? Definitely. Many parents go through that change of heart and mind. In fact, for many, that’s why they want to start using the Charlotte Mason approach. It happens all the time. Just realize that it might need to happen, depending on how often she’s been told that education is all about information, and be patient with your student and with yourself as those old habits of thinking are replaced with new ones.

It’s never too late to start Charlotte Mason. And you can make that shift go smoothly if you think through how it may affect your student as a whole person, taking into account her past experiences, where she is in the educational process, and her personality. 

It’s an exciting time, starting something new! It can most certainly be done, and done compassionately and smoothly, as you keep the whole person in mind and guide your student through both the outside changes and the inside transitions.

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