What if I want a Charlotte Mason education for myself?

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  • Milo

    Hi all, I realize I have an unusual request… I don’t have children yet, but I have been reading about Charlotte Mason education as part of a general self-education project. I am a big believer in homeschooling; in fact, I believe that my years in school were largely a waste of time (I learned much more when I was sick and reading in bed) and taught me bad things (which I won’t get into here). Anyway, what intrigued me about Charlotte Mason was the focus on habits, character, and living books. I’m in my thirties, but I would love to learn all those things that a Charlotte Mason education teaches. (Just in case this is at all relevant, I’m a Christian—specifically, Roman Catholic—and I started getting serious about my faith in my twenties.) Do any of you have any recommendations for an adult who’s trying to make up for lost time and give himself (yes, I’m a man) the Charlotte Mason education he never had? I mean, there are tons of living books out there… how do I sift through them all and know which will be useful to me? Also, how would I do habit and character training on myself after decades of bad habits (again, I won’t get into those)? Is there a book on this topic, like The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, except a Charlotte Mason version? Any advice—book recommendations, “life hacks,” whatever—would be greatly appreciated.


    So awesome that you are interested in educating yourself. I am giving myself a CM education as well, of course it would never have occurred to me to do it before having kids to educate. I think The Well Educated Mind is a great place to start. Although SWB is Classical you will find a Charlotte Mason and Classical education will use the same living books. Reading through the books in The Well Educated Mind would be amazing. You might also check out Ambleside Online. As I go through history with my kids I often head over to Ambleside and use their junior high and high school source document/speech links for myself. Right now I have been reading through the list for Civil War era. You can also find links to Charlotte’s writings through their site. You could actually start with Ambleside’s year 6,7 or 8 and read through the book suggestions for all their subjects. This site also has history recommendations and guides, which I love for my homeschool, but I think for myself it would be easier just to read through a list like Ambleside’s, using the library or online materials. Have fun!


    Hi Milo,

    Interesting concept.. I haven’t imagined being an adult student of a CM education. Sounds delightful! If I were in your shoes, I would first read some of Charlotte Mason’s 6 original volumes,  maybe “A Philosophy of Education” and “Ourselves.” Then learn how to implement the education from free SCM materials, and from Karen Andreola’s book, A Charlotte Mason Companion. I would then order up a curriculum, like SCM and go through all the lessons, starting at the beginning. Keeping a notebook of narrations. Sounds enjoyable!



    Thanks! I’m looking at Ambleside, and plan to look into those other resources mentioned.

    Ambleside brings up a few more questions. I hope my questions don’t sound too stupid…

    1. How would I triage these? In year 6 alone, there are 30 required books, plus 43 listed for free reading. To read all these in one year, I have to finish one every 5 days on average (and this is if I want to have years 6-12 done in 7 years!). This doesn’t include all the other things I would be learning (art, music, etc.). There’s only so much time I can devote to reading each day (plus I have to read for work). I know not all these are required, but the point is, how do I know which ones are more important to read? If I could only read, say, 20% of the books on the lists, how do I choose which ones? Or, is this question already answered by the pre-7 and emergency lists?

    2. At what point do I “have a Charlotte Mason education?” How is progress measured?

    3. I plan to marry and raise children (and homeschool them with at least some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas); do I need to know anything in particular in advance?

    Thanks again!



    Milo first off let me say a Charlotte Mason education s never “done.” So take a breath, its not a race to get through X amount of reading in X amount of time. My favorite Charlotte quote is “The question is not “how much does the child know” when he has complete his education, but “how much does he care?”  And about how many orders of things does he care. In other words how large is the room in which he finds his feet set, and therefore how full the life before him.”  Or something to that effect. Her goal for education was to make people lifelong lovers of learning and lovers of life and lovers of others. Not to finish all of the best or most worthy books. Experts all disagree on what are the most important to read anyway. So…

    1. Pick a place to start and start. Skip some. Use someone’s Great Books list, there are a multitude available. The Well Educated Mind has a great one, and she assumes you are an adult with a job, family etc so her suggestions are doable.

    2. Never done, always more to read. Read, narrate to yourself, once you can narrate well write your narration, if you want. You will be surprised how difficult narrating aloud to yourself will be at first, and equally surprised how much you retain by doing it. It is hard work, so take your time, expect a slow process.

    3. Read Charlotte’s own writings. If they are a bit overwhelming start with the free resources here, maybe buy a few handbooks from here or another CM mentoring site.

    I applaud you for your desire to re-educate yourself. Its so much more fun this way.


    I am a homeschool graduate who discovered Charlotte Mason twelve years ago, and have since been educating myself with the idea that I would also one day educate my own children. (My husband and I are now expecting our first-born any day!)

    I expect that you (like me for almost the entirety of those twelve years), have a full time job and other adult responsibilities. One of the principles of a CM education is that of allowing students time to assimilate and form personal relationships with knowledge. So attempting to cram the Ambleside (or other full-time) schedule into your adult life may not only be unrealistic and frustrating but also antithetical to your goal.

    I believe if you start with the following three suggestions, you will be laying an excellent foundation for the life-long endeavor that is a Charlotte Mason education. As you read her books and better understand her philosophy, other life changes will come to you, and I think it’s better they come that way than by an explanation of my own experience.

    May God bless you as you seek to know him and his world better!



    I follow CM educator Karen Andreola’s advice to have three books going at a time: a “stiff” book, a moderately difficult book, and a quality novel. (I would include poetry and Shakespeare in that third category.) In this way, I have been able to make steady progress in my reading goals while honoring the reality that my energy and available time fluctuates day to day. (I often leave my novel at the office to read during my break. I have gotten through a surprising amount of Shakespeare and Dumas in 30-45 minute periods, over a packed lunch.)

    I suggest choosing a CM original volume for your “stiff” book. As suggested, Towards a Philosophy of Education seems best suited to your aims, and Karen Glass has an excellent, respectfully abridged version called Mind to Mind.

    You can review Ambleside Online or another quality book list for ideas for your other two book choices. Amazon usually has generous sample texts that will help you make a choice for each category. I use my local library when I can, and it helps when cost and space are factors.

    I encourage you to keep a commonplace alongside these books, which is a notebook for you to copy down passages that strike you for their wisdom, originality, beauty, or something else. Copying by hand takes more time but makes a greater impact on your mental process than underlining or highlighting in a book. It also forces you to slow down, which, again, is a great thing!



    We’re in the midst of concert season! If you aren’t already a regular patron of the arts, find out what your area offers in the way of music performances (as well as Shakespeare in the Park, and art exhibits). Many amateur or student symphonies offer free or inexpensive concerts, and some world-class performing groups will offer discounts to attract younger people. (Yes, in our thirties we are still “young people” in a symphony audience!)

    (Also, do you use a music streaming service that will allow you to listen to music by a single composer? One of my most rewarding experiences in self-education was “listening through history.” I used an encyclopedia of music history to choose a composer for each month, beginning with Gregorian chant and moving consecutively through the schools of music. This was such a beautiful and instructive experience! And this is something you can easily do during your commute, housework, etc.)



    At different times in my self-education journey, I have chosen to focus on one or two special topics/ skills. Sometimes life demands one or another fall by the wayside for a time, other times I am able to find a wonderful balance in maintaining many. Do what you can. As someone has already said, when you are growing in the scope of your interest, joy, and vitality, then you are living the CM education. It’s not a checklist, it’s an approach to life.

    As examples, at different times I have learned to play recorder (as someone who is emphatically not musical, but believed it worthwhile), completed a course in Latin, taken many hikes in local preserves and kept a nature journal, practiced brush-drawing, did picture studies drawn from that period’s “moderately difficult” book on art history, started a Book of Centuries after my visit to the Met, etc. etc.


    Also, there was a similar question recently asked on this forum. You might find further recommendations in that thread: “Prepping Yourself for Charlotte Mason and Homeschooling before the kids come.”


    Thanks again! I’ll have to read Mason’s books and look at those other resources. Sounds like I have a lot to learn about her philosophy of education—I’ve done courses and exams my whole life (my career requires exams). I love the three books at a time suggestion.

    I figured trying to cram in the whole curriculum wouldn’t work… that’s why I’m wondering about which ones are the highest priority to get in. I don’t necessarily mean just an ordered list; I’m wondering how a person would know this in advance of reading them. I know Shakespeare and Plutarch are key (I’m not very familiar with either, I hated literature and history classes in school, but find both much more enjoyable without a classroom). Beyond that, it’s hard to tell whether book X or book Y is more important to read before I read both. There are the Great Books, and then there are the children’s books I missed out on growing up. I’m just concerned because I don’t want to end up finding out that I’ve been spending my time on XYZ books when I should have been reading ABC books all along, just because I like XYZ—and then it’s too late to get much ABC in because I’ll be busy with my kids by then. “The night cometh, when no man can work.”

    Or, put another way, you’ve heard of Pareto’s Law? What are the 20% of items on the reading list that will get me 80% of what I need?

    Larkrise: I love finding out that someone else has done what I’m seeking to do!


    I don’t think you can go wrong if you start reading Charlotte Mason’s writings and classics! I really like Andreola’s 3 book suggestion as well and have followed it often. So I would start with one of Charlotte’s books, a classic you just want to read, and a living history book or nature book.

    I think the only books that really need to be read in order to implicate a Charlotte Mason education are her writings. Most of us weren’t aware of CM before homeschooling and we had to hit the ground running. We learned along side our children and began implementing Mason’s principles as we learned them.

    The more you read her writings and apply them in your own life, the more prepared you will be to teach them to your children. If you are reading classics, living history books and appreciating nature, for instance, your children will be much more likely to value those same things.

    I also highly recommend Simply Charlotte Mason’s DVD series. Ambleside Online is a wealth of information as well.




    Hi Milo,

    We currently use Ambleside online and I’m doing alot of pre reading (I have 4 children)

    I would join the Ambleside forum because there is a section specifically for self education where the parents are encouraged and talk about what they have learned.  There is also book discussion threads where a chapter or two of a selected book (mostly upper year books) are discussed and you can generally ask for advise on what the key books are.

    In the highschool schedules, you can often see what the ‘spine’ or key books are…often the ones read over the course of a year or even more.

    I have a stack of books beside my bed…I read for about 20mins from each book and either tell my husband about it (narrating) or do a mental  narration or note something down in my notebook. I also (sometimes) do this in the morning after my Bible reading.

    I agree with everyone else above…dont try and fit it all in! Enjoy it. It’s really a way of life rather than a checklist. Something else…although the schedules have things planned out at least weekly it’s still totally acceptable and still yields results to do some things sometimes. So you may not be able to do nature study with a painting  every week but you CAN start noticing nature straightaway and developing appreciation for it.


    Thanks Bek! I’ve just registered at AO forums.

    Tamara Bell

    Hi Milo,

    The women here have given you wonderful advice and suggestions.  As Charlotte said, Education is a life.  One of the most important things to understand is that there is no “end game.”  There is no 20/80.  It is ongoing and will continue to be long after you’ve had children.  The idea, “…the 20% of items on the reading list that will get me 80% of what I need,” is in contrast to Charlotte’s philosophy.  She believed each person will take from readings what their mind is ready for and needs. A Charlotte Mason education will look different for each person (even children in the same family).

    AO is a wonderful resource and they schedule many excellent books however AO is not the only option or the only “true” Charlotte Mason education.  It is important to better understand Charlotte’s method and that it is only a method, not a rigid system.

    Besides the suggestions above I encourage you to check out our Learning Library.  It is a wealth of information.

    Some series that I appreciate and believe can help to better see/understand Charlotte’s method are:

    6 Reasons I Love the Charlotte Mason Method

    6 Tools for Self-Education

    Books and Things

    Good Habits

    I’m thrilled you’ve taken an interest in Charlotte’s method and desire to learn more.  I wish you many blessings on this journey.


    Thanks Tamara!

    I realize how my questions demonstrate a misunderstanding of what Charlotte Mason education is. All I know is, my knowledge of history, classic literature, etc. isn’t even enough to pass the Ambleside Online first-year exams (thank you school for turning me off to both for so long). I’ve been reading some of both for years and learned a lot… I guess I’m just looking to maximize the effectiveness of the process given the limited amount of time I have to devote to it. (Sorry about using math-like language—that’s my career, and it was my major, so I’m not really sure how else to describe it.)


    I have just finished reading all 6 volumes she wrote – it took me 4 years. I have also read most CM books that I can find.

    Seriously, the fastest way I know to get a solid working knowledge of CM is start with SCM Learning Library and read through it. Start with the free ebooks. Their handbooks are also full of direct quotes from CM’s volumes in one place on one subject. They are very helpful. Once you have, you will know where YOU need to start. PLUS, it gives you enough background to be able to read CM’s volumes with a better understanding. 😉

    For history, start with some comprehensive histories of the time periods you need/want to read. Comprehensive histories are books that start at the beginning and go to the end. As I read those, I found that my interest sparked in this person or event, and read a book about those. This is a good way to get a decent idea of the story of the time period. So find a time period you are interested in and start reading. Add a biography. Read about someone’s travels in that country. Find a map and follow the events in the books on a map.

    Some excellent comprehensive histories (free online from Heritage History or baldwin project) are:

    The Story of Greece by Mary MacGregor

    The Story of Rome by Mary MacGregor

    The Story of the 13 Colonies by HA Guerber

    The Story of the Great Republic by HA Guerber

    You can read short biographies of the influential people in Famous Men of Greece, Famous Men of Rome, Famous Men of the Middle Ages, etc.

    SCM Stories of America and Stories of the Nations are excellent too.

    Start reading classics. Enjoy them. Don’t worry about tearing them apart. Read them. Enjoy them. You will be amazed at what you can learn.

    Get some field guides and go outside. Find a tree, bird, insect, plant, etc and look it up. Identify it. Try drawing it in a notebook. Be aware. Have wonder. Nature Study sets the stage for more serious science study.

    Learn a new life skill or handicraft (aka hobby). If it is something that requires your hands but not all your total concentration, then listen to an audio book. I have listened to lots of Great Courses and books as I have quilted/sewed.

    If you are interested in AO, then start with AO year 1 and read the books. Lots of them are available as audio books (libivox.org) and you can listen to them as you exercise, clean, drive, do dishes, laundry, hobby, etc. Just keep going on up the years. You can do the same with SCM. I usually end up with a mix between the two.

    The Circe Podcast has some podcasts that you would probably enjoy and learn from. The Daily Poem (poetry), The Play’s the Thing (Shakespeare), Close Reads (classics) and Perpetual Feast (Homer) are dedicated to helping you gain a broad, liberal CM/classical education.

    The Literary Life podcast by Angelina Stanford and Cindy Rollins is a really good place to study classic books. I have learned a lot from these ladies.

    My best advice is to set a daily study time and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be long, but with consistent effort you will be amazed to see what you have learned. And yes, that 3 books going at a time is a great idea.


    There is a list of the 1000 Good Books to read before reading the 100 Great Books. Having read some of both, I suggest starting with the 1000 Good Books to prepare for the Great Books. 😉



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