How Gentle are Charlotte Mason’s Ways?

Recently I met a prospective homeschool mom with 2 very young children and I encouraged her to read and find out more about Charlotte Mason.

I gave her my delightful blurb on a CM education … you know … the one about “reading living books and narrations“?  Somewhere in my enthusiastic description I mentioned,

“The Gentle Art of Education”

So I had to giggle at Sonya’s post  ~  Is Charlotte Mason a Gentle Education? (at Simply Charlotte Mason)  and her description of ~

“tea parties with lace tablecloths, snuggling on the couch with a sweet little storybook, and setting up an easel in the middle of a field of daisies as your children paint to their hearts’ content!”

I do love those CM moments though!

But it challenged my sugary comments and I wondered how I present CM’s ways.

This is what I realized:

Charlotte Mason’s high standards seem always just beyond my reach.  I can always challenge myself and my children to go a little further in our homeschooling.  Every term we extend ourselves in narrations, dictations and habit training. Charlotte Mason’s principles really develop us as we journey in our education and character training.

What do we find that is NOT “gentle” in our Charlotte Mason inspired approach?

  • Children must give 100% attention during readings.
  • Children should write or dictate a full, clear, detailed narration after 1 listening to the reading.  No repeating, no prompting, no clues.
  • The child must express himself correctly, have an opinion, make a judgement, develop a train of thought and use his imagination.
  • Encourage children to form relations with things, ideas, great thoughts, great minds.  I must not get in their way.
  • Each child must develop the habit of perfect executionin all their work.
  • Neat, correct dictationsMove on from mere copywork.
  • Perfect handwritingEvery time.
  • Remember spelling in their minds – visual photograph of the wordEnunciate properly.
  • Recitations of poems, plays, famous speeches and literature excerpts.
  • Read whole chapter, living books with great literature content.
  • Apply arithmetic processes accurately and perfectly.  Easy enough to be able, but challenging enough to stimulate mental effort.
  • Accurate and detailed geographic interestsread, discuss and discover maps, outdoor studies, weather and other geographic phenomena.
  • Read and then narrate in a foreign languageNot mere textbooks and worksheets.
  • ShakespeareStill not in our schedule.
  • Learn and narrate Scriptures and entire Biblical storiesand apply these to our daily walk in the Lord.
  • Develop the habit of reading their own Bibles daily, learn hymns, practice praising the Lord, pray with conviction and faith.
  • Journal and sketch detailed and accurate observations made on nature walks and develop a thorough knowledge of the fauna and flora of their district – identify flowers, insects, trees, animals, noticing changes through the seasons.
  • Appreciate great music and develop the habit of careful listening and personal enjoyment.
  • Develop an appreciation for art by studying famous artist and their most important works.  Each child should make their own detailed mental art galleries.
  • Recognise pictures and identify the famous artist (and even the style or era)  and narrate details after careful observation.
  • I must have incessant watchfulness to form and develop good habits in my children.
  • On character, Charlotte Mason instructs parents to expect prompt, cheerful obedience, courtesy, reverence, sweet temper, truthfulness, self-restraint, self-control, and fortitude without supervision or rewards.

This is a really high calling, but she encourages us to do this in grace.

Is this gentle?  No.  This is tough stuff. Sigh.

Impossible? No. It requires lots of training, perseverance and prayer.

(Pop over to read  Sonya’s post )

As I made up my list, I realized that Charlotte Mason’s standards are set too high for me.  It really brings me to my knees … in prayer.  Her ways make me a needy parent, dependant on the Lord.

This is good.

Without this, I would become independent and proud.

How I need the Lord to instill or encourage any of these principles in my life, let alone in my young children’s.

Only by grace can this be a “living” or “gentle” education.

So, I am still inspired …

Reaching onwards and upwards …

And I thank Charlotte Mason for such a beautiful way …

Which includes …

tea parties with lace tablecloths,

snuggling on the couch with a sweet little storybook,

and setting up an easel in the middle of a field of daisies as my children paint to their hearts’ content!


20 thoughts on “How Gentle are Charlotte Mason’s Ways?

  1. I’m so glad I found your blog. I have just started home educating my son – feeling rather lost. Your blogs has become like a “good book” of hope and encouragement for me. Thank you. CM standard is way to high for me, but you seem to have brought it down to earth. Thank you again


    • Welcome @Liza Traut, and I trust that your can gently ease into your homeschooling. Much can be achieved starting with just a few of the essential basics and lots of grace. Follow your heart and the Lord’s leading for you and your son. Blessings.


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  4. I just happened upon your blog today & I am so inspired by you, Nadene. What beautiful work you have on here! thank you for sharing it with the internet world.
    I love Charlotte Mason approach. But, we are pretty much in Preschool here. And, I am feeling really slacking on the reading dept. I’m getting a bit anxious about it. I should get on my “knees”, I think.
    Bless you!


  5. I love your posts Nadene! You’ve inspired me yet again! I remember when I was first understanding all CM curriculum involves, I was overwhelmed! I recall thinking “how is this gentle?” and “can I do this?”. I have a times felt tempted to go off to another curriculum ~ one I know will be easy for us all to excel at. I don’t because time and again God has confirmed that this is His path for our school and life. I think it’s not necessarily the curriculum or learning style that is gentle but the teacher that is gentle with the child. Not shoving or cramming all “this” into a child for them to spit back out like some kind of machine. Treated as a soul or “persons” whom has feelings and opinions and is striving to become. A lot of other curriculum can’t help but to seem mechanical at times but with CM you really can’t help but to have a relationship with the one you are teaching.


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  7. I’ve really been enjoying your blog and your thoughts here almost exactly echo my own. We are starting our second year (AO, Yr 2) of Charlotte Mason learning. Last year I took it easy and we just got our feet wet, but this year I am expecting more with narrations and art study and such. It’s challenging, and we are only on day 4! =)


  8. Thoughtful post Nadene.
    With regards to Shakespeare….its ok to take the asy route too! David (9) has just finished listening to his plays on tape. These are the children’s versions but it has sparked his interest.


  9. I love this! I never quite thought about CM this way before. It makes me love the method even more. And yes, brings me to my knees before the Lord, too.


  10. What a lovely post. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the term Gentle! 🙂 It gets a laugh to poke fun at the “Gentle Art of Learning”, but I think there’s a lot of merit in it.


  11. It is good to read a post which shows how tough it can be using CM. Homeschooling in general is hard work. We all need to be in prayer for strength and wisdom and stickability. Many of us have children who really struggle just to read and write… do so perfectly would be tremendous pressure on the child, to insist on it would be completely suicide for that mother’s home school.
    Just my thoughts. I appreciated your insights and honesty,.


  12. THANK YOU for this reality check! I follow your blog for encouragement as my husband and i have been praying about what to do with our childrens’ education (more like getting cold sweats every time the subject comes up! as the local public schools are just not an option and everything else is quit a drive). This post pretty thoroughly dispels with the romanticism AND YET has a very powerful centering effect. Again, thank you!!


  13. Hi Nadine, I too read Sonya’s post with much interest! I really enjoyed your thoughts and ponderings in this post. I found it to be insightful and inspiring. Thank you so much.

    Shirley Ann


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