An Introduction to Charlotte Mason and “The Living Books Approach”

By Pamela Asberry



The “Living Books” approach to home education, sometimes referred to as “The Charlotte Mason Method,” is based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, a turn of the century British educator, who was disturbed by several tendencies in the educational institutions of her day.  She believed in respecting children as persons, involving them in real-life situations, and in allowing them to read great books instead of inferior material she referred to as “twaddle.”


The tenets of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy are these:


1.                  We must give children a good foundation in the “basics”—reading, writing, and mathematics—and then allow them to learn about all the other subjects through real-life experiences and  by reading the best books available.

2.                  We should rely on “narration” rather than testing to verify knowledge.  It is more important to find out what the child DOES know instead of exposing what he DOES NOT know.

3.                  We should put our children in touch with “ideas” rather than cram them full of “facts,” which are quickly forgotten.

4.                  Children should spend time outdoors every day in all kinds of weather and have direct contact with nature.

5.                  Lessons should be kept short, 15-30 minutes in length depending on the age of the child, and should occupy only the morning hours, leaving the afternoons free for hobbies, reading and play.  There should be no homework.

6.                  The humanities should be an important part of the daily schedule.

7.                  It is important to help children develop good habits.


There are many advantages to this type of education.  It does not involve purchasing curriculum.  Both structured and relaxed home educators can effectively use these methods.  They can be used successfully with children of multiple ages at the same time.  These methods can be adapted in whole or in part, and they allow time for subjects which are often neglected, like art, music, poetry and nature study.  Finally, contemporary scientific research is validating the wisdom of Charlotte Mason’s methods.  For example, the book Endangered Minds by Jane Healy supports many of Charlotte Mason’s theories on brain development and the effectiveness of such techniques as using living books as opposed to textbooks, using narration as a testing tool, the importance of helping children develop good habits, etc.


For my family, a Charlotte Mason education provides a perfect balance between structured and unstructured learning.  I do believe that there are certain skills that must be taught, and I do require my children to complete certain tasks, read specific books, participate in nature studies, visit art museums, attend musical performances, etc.  I believe in the saying, “We shouldn’t limit children to what they like.”  But since my children are left free to pursue their own interests in the afternoon, I do not have to plan my lessons around their interests.


In the months ahead, I will discuss the ways in which I incorporate Charlotte Mason’s methods into our daily educational lifestyle in all subject areas: language arts, history, art, music, poetry, and science.  In the meantime, if you want to learn more, please explore the other resources available on my website, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at


Copyright 2003 by Pamela Asberry

All Rights Reserved