Here is the “real deal” about Charlotte Mason: it’s not a “curriculum.” Not even a little bit. So many times as homeschooling parents we get caught up in the idea of curriculum. We rush around asking each other the infamous question, “What are you using for_________?” As if finding the right program for spelling or math will practically teach our kids for us. That’s wishful thinking, huh?
The truth is, Charlotte Mason is a method of teaching. You can use the Charlotte Mason method without ever purchasing a single item that would be considered “curricula.” Of course, this would require a well-stocked public library and access to the internet, but it’s possible. You can embrace the idea of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and apply it to your life without a catalog from a homeschool publisher. Sure, there are lots of things we can order that will make our lives easier, but they are not a requirement of this method.
If you are interested in Miss Mason’s style of learning/teaching, all you really need is a paradigm shift in your thinking. Because this is about more than teaching, it’s an idea and a lifestyle. Exposure to living ideas is enough to get a quality education. Those living ideas do not have to come solely from books. That bears repeating: living ideas do not have to come solely from books. They are everywhere because they come from people.
Living ideas are ideas that inspire. The impetus behind inspiration is passion and conviction. The best place to learn about nature is from someone who is passionate about nature. The best place to learn about Shakespeare is from someone who is passionate about Shakespeare. The best place to learn about God, social justice/activism, classic literature, car mechanics, biology, or anything else under the sun is a knowledgeable, passionate person. In the absence of such a person, we often turn to books. But we can also turn to modern technology. There is a video for everything on YouTube and many of them are full of regular people sharing their knowledge and passion.
The truth is, the entire basis of the Charlotte Mason methodology is exposure to living ideas. That’s it, really. Sure there are other elements, like narration and nature study, but the main component is living ideas. She believed in a liberal (generous) education. This includes exposure to the humanities and arts, as well as math, science, and other academics. But never in a boring, textbook, “traditional school” kind of way. Charlotte understood that passionate teachers inspire passionate students. Whether the teacher is standing in the room, writing from a page, or lecturing on the web. So stop getting so hung up on what to use, and start focusing on things that inspire!
Start with yourself. Are you passionate about teaching your kids? Do they know you want to be teaching them? Can they feel your enthusiasm for learning? If you have a subject area you don’t love teaching, consider asking your spouse or a friend to help out. Or just buck up and “fake it ’til you make it.” Sometimes it really works.
The point is, CM is not about book lists and curriculum. It’s about finding living ideas. At some point we all need to learn to seek them out for ourselves. It’s very liberating to chuck the book list and the “scope and sequence” and just go with the things that make us feel alive and eager to learn. Trust yourself. Hone your instinct for what is “good.” Step out of the box for a while and discover that the world is teeming with amazing possibilities. THAT is what this type of education should offer you.