Monday, September 18, 2017

Went to Bed Montessori, Woke Up Charlotte Mason

Kal-El, Once Upon a Time

A funny thing happened to me last year.  I went to bed one night a Montessorian and woke up the next morning in Charlotte Mason Land. (Is there a word for people who use the Charlotte Mason method in their homeschools?  Like "Masonites" or something?)

Those of you who follow me on Instagram @whatdidwedoallday are probably not surprised.  For those of you who only follow the blog, I am much more active on Instagram lately than in this space.  It is a much easier place to share the little moments from day to day.  This space is good for the "big idea" times though.

Anyway, this was all a big surprise to me.  I didn't even know it was "Charlotte Mason" until I had been doing it for months and months.  It certainly wasn't a planned transition although it was certainly a child-led transition based on observation and response.  Last fall I wrote about how our school year started out with a funky feel and how I fixed it.  I provided the boys with more of the types of learning experiences they were craving and asking for and less of the types they weren't.  All of a sudden they couldn't get enough literature-based learning.  At the same time, all of the things that seemed like "peripherals" in our Montessori-inspired homeschool started to take on a starring role.  Our day was chock full of history stories, literature, composer study, poetry, narration, dictation, copywork, picture study, drawing, notebooks full of little bits of our "favorites" from everything we were learning, a notebook full of interesting vocabulary words, Bible reading, hymn studies, Bible verses memorization, living math books, and the study of virtues and/or habits.  ALL of these things are things I introduced to the boys because of my study of Montessori.  All of them are part of a Montessori environment.  In fact, I'm not sure that what we are doing has "left" Montessori at all.  Maybe this is what Montessori looks like as the children approach adolescence?  As you run out of "presentations" that have "materials" the elements that remain have their day in the sun.

I don't know for sure and the days of "dying to know" what happens now in a "real Montessori environment" are behind me.  Kal-El will be twelve this December and is nearing the end of "Montessori elementary."  Maria Montessori had some very interesting things to say about adolescents, but the path isn't mapped in the same way that it was for the previous developmental stages.  We have no plans to move to a farm this year either.  If you would like to learn more about how Montessori can look in adolescence outside of an Erkinder program I recommend looking at the Montessori Rocks website.  But even beyond the Montessori crystal ball going dark, I've been teaching the boys at home now with Montessori observation of the child and preparation of the teacher and environment at the heart of our homeschool for many years.  I feel good going forward with that observation and preparation as my guide regardless of what the result is called or whether it matches what someone else would do.  However, I can tell you this, it matches a WHOLE LOT of what the Charlotte Mason method does.

I searched to find resources to fill our new needs and little ways to make my life as a their homeschooling guide a little easier.  I wasn't confident that I would find any because all of these were areas where I had never found a lot of resources via the Montessori literature I was reading or the Montessori companies I was used to frequenting.  I have a theory I am nurturing that these elements play a big part in a Montessori environment but are talked about less simply because they lack special "materials."  I wonder if because they take up so few album pages in relation to presentations that have "materials" they look less important on paper.  I have a feeling trained Montessori elementary guides have been taught the place of these elements in the environment but their training, specific to multi-age classrooms of thirty, wouldn't translate to the homeschool if they did try to pass it on.  I don't know, it's just a theory.

 Despite my misgivings I did find a lot of help, but over time I realized all the help I was finding had "Charlotte Mason" written on it.  So, I found some things to read about Charlotte Mason.  I have to say I am confused.  How did she know how *I* was going to want to homeschool *my* kids?

I have no intention of attempting to become an expert on Charlotte Mason, but I do enjoy reading about how to do the jobs I do as a mother, wife, and teacher better.  I am finding myself continually excited to find interesting writings that apply so specifically to the things I do with my boys every day.  As I do this reading I keep thinking things like "I wish I had know about that resource/company when I was looking for Montessori picture study help," "I wish I had known this information about fitting habit formation into a Montessori homeschool," or, "I wish I had this training in teaching my Montessori child narration."

So, I will continue to share on Instagram and, when I have something bigger to say, here on the blog.  Is it Montessori? Is it Mason?  I don't know.  I have to say that I think that anyone who carefully observes children is bound to reach some conclusions in common.  I've also said it before that a Montessori homeschool isn't going to look like a Montessori school and maybe that makes it look a lot more like Charlotte Mason sometimes.

I'm not actively "trying" to emulate a Charlotte Mason homeschool.  We have been a Montessori-inspired homeschool for a very long time and this is just what grew from that.  There are hints of all the Charlotte Mason we do in the Montessori literature and there are hints of Montessori things we do in the Charlotte Mason literature.  There are Charlotte Mason purists just as there are Montessori purists and I'm sure I will make neither of those groups happy.

For those of you who have Montessori-inspired homeschools or even Montessori classrooms, I plan to share those resources that I wish I had earlier in our Montessori primary and elementary journeys.  I hope they can be some help to you if you can get past the fact that the books and companies may have the words "Charlotte Mason" in the title.  There are probably some of you who have been following Charlotte Mason's methods all along and taking some inspiration here regardless.  I love hearing anyone's Montessori story or Mason story or any story in-between so I hope that some of you will share those with me in the comments.


  1. Your insights are always sooo helpful! Yes please share the resources that would help us with younger ones. As much as I believe in the Montessori method, this is what I love best about homeschooling -- figuring out how to teach to the child by following his or her lead. Fantastic job :)

  2. This sounds just like our family! We started homeschooling exclusively Montessori, but stumbled upon Charlotte Mason while looking for literature selections for my oldest when he was in lower elementary. Over the years, we have gradually added more Charlotte Mason like picture and composer studies and even added Commonplace Books this year. We still mostly practice Montessori style learning with our younger ones, but found that including more Charlotte Mason as they enter upper elementary and beyond really works best for our family.

  3. Yep! Still TOTALLY Montessori! Despite Ms Mason's scathing critique of Montessori, they are really quite similar!

    And your idea is absolutely correct. There is just less to write about in a sense, hence why upper elementary and adolescent blogs are fewer and further between, even among those who readily blogged the lower grades.

    Older elementary and adolescence definitely leans towards what appears more obviously as classical and Charlotte Mason. The only semi-noticable difference is the adolescent focus on the earth, on business, on service to others.


  4. I agree, MBT and Jessica. I am a trained AMI elementary Montessorian who homeschools my own children, and this year I'm back for primary. I can say 100% that these things that are labelled as "Charlotte Mason" in the homeschool world are exactly what the Montessori elementary and adolescence move towards to. I also read a lot of CM blogs and ideas over the past few years because what I found I truly loved, and on doing my elementary training last year I was super-happy to find that it forms the basis of elementary, particularly as the children move away from materials to books and experiences. CM was a very vocal critic of Montessori, but I think it is due to the fact that she was comparing her method, that starts from around age 7, to primary Montessori which is 3-6.She also dies before the Montessori elementary was developed, and had she lived long enough I believe she would have agreed with Maria on a lot of things. In my primary training this year I am seeing a lot more of her philosophy. I honestly believe that anyone who truly observes children will arrive at the same conclusion, and that "methods" have a lot more in common than they seem to be. I think the selling point of Montessori to a lot of people is the materials, but even in primary the focus is on real world experiences, stories, conversations, and interactions, before isolating aspects of the real world in the classroom. It is by no means indoor-only or separated from the natural world or books. The adolescent focuses on earth, business, and service to others, but again this is what it appears to be because it is what makes Montessori stand out compared to others. That's just the skeleton, the flesh is everything in between. Glad to know you are active on Instagram, I will follow you there. I still miss the blog and wish you can post of your adventures more (love to read your musings) but I know that every moment spent with the children is infinitely more precious. Glad to know you are in a better place this year, and wishing you all the best to come.

  5. Am glad to be reading this because you are always one step ahead of I have come to the same conclusions. I noticed that as I was looking for books to read on history and other subjects, and trying to build our library, I kept running into Charlotte Mason sites and ideas. I also have found her Picture Study and thought it would be great for Primary Art Folders. We are currently doing Composer studies and my kids have just taken off with Classical Music. It's truly amazing how many people come to the same conclusions. I agree with Jessica in that it is all Montessori only becuase Montessori just observed the truths about children and their development. All truth is truth! Many other educators notice one aspect or another but Montessori observed the whole thing, so it makes perfect sense that other methods always end up overlapping with Montessori. My son is turning 11 in a month, so we are nearing the adolescent age as well. Things are getting more abstract and we are reading much more than working with materials. Thanks for always checking in and posting all your BIG thoughts for us!


  6. I love to see the evolution of a homeschool as it grows with the children. I have truly seen our school settings change drastically over the last couple of years. While at first I internally bucked the shift, it was what the kids needed and trying to do anything else makes it hard on everyone!

  7. I am a MACTE trained primary teacher, and I used lots of Charlotte Mason ideas and materials when I homeschooled my own children ( lots ofMontessor too of course). I believe they complement each other beautifully. What I loved about Charlotte Mason was that I was learning right along with the children, and not having to make materials ( ! - busy mom of three), just picking up quality literature and reading ( well it helps that I'm a bookworm!).

  8. I am so glad I found this, that you shared it, and that I am not the only one who's come up against the same thing! I discovered Charlotte Mason after struggling with doing Montessori in the home, since I just couldn't ever make a replica of a Montessori classroom. Mason spoke more to mothers and home life, and that was what I needed. But I never wanted to abandon Montessori, and in reading some of Mason's writings it seems that's exactly what she would have had people do! My hunch is that in heaven they are in agreement as comrades, hopefully now both seeing in full what the other was trying to accomplish. I am sad that never happened during their lives on earth, but hope that perhaps some of us home educators can draw attention to how similar they actually are!

  9. Hello! I tried contacting you at your old email address and it got kicked back. I don't have an instagram account and I couldn't figure out if there was a way to send you an email directly. I know leaving email addresses in comments is probably a bad idea, so what's the best way to send you a message... other than commenting on a random blog post :) Thanks so much!