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On Charlotte Mason and Unit Studies


While I have used many of Charlotte Mason's methods, and they helped shaped my homeschool from the beginning, I never considered myself to be a Charlotte Mason homeschooler because Charlotte Mason did not approve of unit studies.

She did not object to making connections between subjects, but rather that it is the teacher that is making the connections for the students in unit studies.

While I do not agree completely, I think Ms. Mason has some valid points. I want my children to be making these connections on their own and most often in planned unit studies the connections are being made for us already.

But, when I read Ms. Mason's example of a unit study with Robinson Crusoe as the focal point in Vol 6, something wonderful stirs inside me and I get excited. I want to do everything on that list and proudly sing “I am the monarch of all I see.”

But if you take away Robinson Crusoe as the focal point, the list becomes lifeless.

However, I agree with Ms. Mason in that we should not try to correlate every possible school subject around a theme because such contriving is forced and does not make the subject come alive.

But if the key is to make a subject come alive, then I believe connections can be presented, even if they are not naturally formed in the child's mind, because in my experience, once a child is taught to make connections, they will begin to make them on their own.

So, I ask...

Can we use Ms. Mason's methods with literature based unit studies?

I can. But ought I?

Charlotte Mason methods that tie easily into unit studies:
  • Narration and Illustration 
  • Copywork and Dictation 
  • Historical Literature 
  • Living History and Geography books
  • Bible, Scripture Memory, Hymn Study
  • Music Study 
  • Handicrafts and Lifeskills 
  • Nature Study and living science books
  • Habits and Character Study 

Written 04.04.16. Found in my drafts box and published 09.12.19.

I have pondered this over the years. Do you think unit studies have a place in a Charlotte Mason home school?

5 comments

  1. I kind of pondered some of these very thoughts in several areas of learning. I think the conclusion I arrived at is to find the joy behind CM's methods and still find joy in what works for our own individual family. I can't call myself a "purest" of any philosophy but our own. I know not much help. I guess to answer your question, "but ought I?" would only come from within you and your family. My return thoughts - "If unit studies bring your family joy and keep the love of learning alive, then your answer is clearly a yes. If the unit studies do not accomplish that, then you have your answer of no. And if you fall in between, then your answer is to include a few unit studies as you choose."

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    1. I'm wondering if I could do both... follow an authentic interpretation, but present the living ideas ONLY.

      On my shelf, for example, are Pagoo and the Burgess Seaside Book for Children. We will spend 8 days on the coast, so I am excited to present these books to read; but, I want to see how the Spirit moves them and be receptive to how God is working in their lives – and not make my own suggestions.

      For example, when we rowed Cranberry Thanksgiving last fall, I read the book to Boaz and asked him what he wanted to do. He said "have a thanksgiving dinner and invite friends." I planned out a few activities, such as branch weaving (since Maggie begins with collecting branches) and making silhouettes, but we just ate and played. I feel like I would have had to force my will on my child in order to "row" as intended.

      I also need to let go of "everything has to tie together" – that zaps my joy. Just thoughts I have now, and I published this because I wrote this three and a half years ago and am ready to process it now. =)

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  2. Copying Tristan's comment here so it doesn't get lost ~ I'll be back to reply. =) (Thank you for turning comments on!)

    My thought is simple - the methods you listed as Charlotte Mason's were used by her, but not owned or created by her. She didn't own them. Many others throughout time used some combination of them.
    I think any time we tie our identity exclusively to one person's methods (collection of practices) we risk cutting our freedom to home educate as God leads us for our unique family and each individual in it.
    Unit studies? Go for it! Mix it with any methods Charlotte preferred that you like using, and any others you are led to use.

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    1. My reply to Tristan:

      Are you saying that we should be slow to identify exclusively to one person's methods... or that we should be cautious to not let anyone one method strip us of our liberties?

      What I really meant to ask in my post is this: IF I WANT to follow an authentic interpretation of her methods, then ought I?

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    2. If you want to follow her methods then it is something to do prayerfully - staying open to the leading of the Spirit. Some days you may quite easily move forward within her methods and it all goes well and is enjoyable and feels 'right'. Other days you may feel a nudge to do something differently than Charlotte would have done - and you can be responsive to that prompting of the Spirit and follow it wholeheartedly. Then come back to your base of Charlotte's methods the next day and adjust when prompted.

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