Review: As of about a week ago I had never heard of Charlotte Mason. I was peripherally involved in a conversation about education and I mentioned how my 5 year old goes to a Montessori preschool. An acquaintance made a comment along the lines of, “Montessori’s alright, but I’m planning to use Charlotte Mason with my kids.” I had no idea what Charlotte Mason was and it wasn’t really the appropriate moment to ask, so when I went home, I put this book on hold at my library. I’m embarrassed to say that at first I almost decided to just skim it when it became clear in the introduction that this was a method for Christian homeschoolers. As a Catholic, I consider myself Christian, just not a very good one, and I definitely want my kids to be taught evolution. I initially very narrow-mindedly assumed that this was going to focus on an anti-science, Bible-centered curriculum. However, I was wrong. I enjoyed this book a great deal. This book was an excellent introduction to the Charlotte Mason philosophy and was convincing enough that I’m even thinking about reading her original work (which can be found for free here: http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/toc.html).
I should note that the book consists of several very short chapters about how the author practices a Charlotte Mason education for each of a wide variety of subjects (narration, literature, poetry, composition, handwriting, spelling, foreign language, grammar, science, math, art appreciation, music appreciation, free-time handicrafts, Bible, history, geography, citizenship and morals). There are also chapters that introduce the method and a chapter on the formation of habits. Some of the chapters were only a page long, which I appreciated. The author is clear and concise. It took me a few days to read this book, but had I had a little more time, I probably could have finished it in a day.
There were a number of aspects of this teaching method that sound appealing to me, and a number of ideas that I might not have thought of otherwise. Charlotte Mason believed that children should only use whole, living books. By whole, she means a whole work as the author originally wrote it, not an anthology or a collection of works by different authors. By living books, she seems to mean a book filled with people living real lives, not a textbook full of facts. The author of such a book would have a special interest in the subject matter and other people interested in that topic would read the book for pleasure, not only as a school requirement. (i.e. In contrast, nobody reads text books for fun.) She believed an education filled with whole, living books would make lectures unnecessary. She also did not believe in testing children to discover what they did not know. Rather, she focused on narration or essays as a way of having children tell what they DID know.
I’m particularly interested in her treatment of nature. One practice the author describes is taking the kids outside for a short period each day, regardless of the weather. This is something that would be difficult for me, particularly with a baby and living somewhere it regularly gets below freezing. However, I can see the value of the practice and it is a reasonable goal I can see worthy of setting for myself. She also describes having the children keep their own nature notebooks where they can draw or describe what they see in nature. Even though my kids are pretty young, I’ve started doing this about once a week with my 2 older kids (3 and 5 years). They both enjoy this activity and my five year old really seems to understand the process. (My 3 year old still regularly “draws” rockets and fairies.)
Overall, I feel this is a worthy read for any homeschooler regardless of their religious beliefs. Even for atheists, it would be easy to skip over the Bible references. I think anyone who believes in gentle parenting and an unpressured, stress-free education, particularly those who want to cultivate a deep appreciation of nature in their children, would approve of this method of learning. (Personal Rating: 8/10)