Charlotte Mason Curriculum

The Knowledge of Man - Literature

charlotte mason curriculum

Charlotte Mason Curriculum for Literature:

In Volume 3, School Education, Developing a Curriculum, Charlotte Mason writes, "The intellectual life, like every manner of spiritual life, has but one food whereby it lives and grows - the sustenance of living ideas. It is not possible to repeat this too often or too emphatically, for perhaps we err more in this respect than any other in bringing up children. We feed them on the white ashes out of which the last spark of the fire of original thought has long since died. We give them second-rate story books...." (p121)

And as far as children's literature, she states, "...children have no natural appetite for twaddle, and a special literature for children is probably far less necessary than the booksellers would have us suppose.... What they want is to be brought into touch with living thought of the best, and their intellectual life feeds upon it with little meddling on our part." (p122)

From these quotes, we know that to educate the child, one needs to open doors to many avenues of instruction and delight; to provide a living education - to initiate a number of interests and to inspire children with vitalizing ideas.

The reading of literature allows the child to enter into the world of human relationships. Thus, the reading of literature is so closely tied with history, and this is the Charlotte Mason Curriculum Approach to Literature.

Years 1-6

Except for Form 1 (age 6), the study of literature goes hand in hand with that of history. The literature studied early on are: Fairy Tales (Andersen or Grimm); Aesop's Fables; Parables of Nature;The child re-tell these tales through the art of narration.

Ages 7-9: Chapter by Chapter narration of Pilgrim's Progress; Andrew Lang's Tales of Troy and Greece; and more classics such as Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, Alice in Wonderland, and Just So Stories by R.Kipling. These stories cultivate delight in beautiful names and there is no attempt to reduce any of these works to a "child's level."

Ages 9-12; In these years, the child should read a great deal of the set work for themselves - their own geography, history and poetry. Books such as Bullfinch's Age of Fable, Stevenson's Kidnapped, and Goldsmith's poetry. The child continues to narrate. Shakespeare's , Twelth Night, Scott's, Rob Roy and Gulliver's Travels should be read to them and narrated.

Suggestions to design your Charlotte Mason Literature Curriculum

Application: Years 1-6

Let us consider how Charlotte Mason taught Literature.

  • Literature was mostly studied in connection with history.
    See Teaching History through Living Books.

    The literature books which Miss Mason chose were those which reflected the history curriculum of the year. Therefore, time-period books were chosen accordingly. Also poets and essayists were mostly connected to the time period. Certainly, today we have a host of wonderful historical fiction novels to choose from. For example, Squanto by Feenie Ziner or Landing of the Pilgrims (Landmark Books) by James Daugherty.

    Yet, there are many books which do not tie in directly with history such as, Wind in the Willows by Kennethe Graeme and Winnie the Pooh by A.A.Milne. These wonderful classics need to be inserted into the curriculum which you develop. How can this be done? One way in which you can do this is by collating a list of the classic books you would like to read to your children at one time or other and make it into a checklist. The children or you, can mark off the books when they have been read aloud or read alone. If you have a few children, this is a good way to keep a record.

    Check out what we've done with The Hobbit. I have made our language arts lesson plans into an e-book for multiple ages.

    Or perhaps, you like to work to a scheduled approach in which you follow a program pre-selected by someone else. If all your children follow the program, you will know that they have all enjoyed the classics.

    The Ambleside Curriculum, is written per year level and includes wonderful living books, poetry, essays, speeches and so on, in accordance to Charlotte Mason's own writings and philosophy. It is a wonderful free resource, which you can choose to use completely, or part thereof. It is based on Charlotte Mason's idea that when children are old enough, much of their reading is done on their own. Therefore, one way of working with a few children would be to keep certain studies together as a family (read aloud literature/ history?), but set individual reading assignments for the other subjects. Read the Ambleside Online site for more information.

    Literature based homeschool curriculum such as Tapestry of Grace and TruthQuest History give literature lists which coincide with historical time periods, according to various ages. This can be useful in large families.

    The Robinson Curriculum also works on a Literature based approach. Each child individually works through books, which progress in difficulty through the years. They work independently and vocabulary tests are included following many of the books.

    One question you need to ask yourself as you approach various curriculum and approaches is -
    • As a parent and teacher, do you want to be directly involved in what your children are reading and engage with them in the history/literature being studied? 
    • Do you see your role as opening many doors and allowing your child to interact with the book without your direct involvement?

    The way in which you see your role, will in a sense determine the type of approach you will use.

    Many parents, however, do choose the middle path and this can be done successfully with whatever approach you use. You may choose to continue your history study by reading aloud various books - either the literature (historical fiction) or the spinebook (which Miss Mason would advocate. See Charlotte Mason History Curriculum for further details.) Then you can also set your child some independent reading from your list - combining the literature with history as C.Mason would do. You will also notice as you read more of Charlotte Mason's Curriculum, that independent,set reading occurs in a great variety of subject areas - geography, poetry, Bible and so on.

    The Ambleside Curriculum successfully includes independent reading lists, but allows you freedom to use it as you please, perhaps deciding to read certain books aloud for the study of history etc.

  • Literature read aloud and narrated chapter by chapter.

    Just simply asking the child, "What happened in that chapter?" allows the child to focus, sequence events and clearly explain the activity that went on. (In other words - character development, plot, resolution, conclusion...)

    Narrations -both oral and written, are simple and effective. It doesn't take preparation or imaginative ideas to do. Yet, it helps the child to gather facts and information logically and learn to clearly present it. However, narrations can take many forms. You may choose to be more imaginative.

  • Children reading many books on their own from age 9/10.

    There are so many wonderful books to read. Excellent books to read aloud and treasure the time together, and also great books for children to chew on themselves. A child learns to read by being read to and by reading, so Miss Mason has the children become involved with books and likes to leave them to interact with them.

Years 7-12

Ages 12-15: History of English Literature (50 pages per term). The course of reading includes Shakespeare and is closely tied to the historical studies, with contemporary poets, and essayists. "The object of children's literary studies is not to give them precise information as to who wrote what in the reign of whom? - but to give them a sense of the spaciousness of the days, not only of great Elizabeth but of all those times of which poetrs, historians and makers of tales, have left us living pictures."

Ages 15-18: More comprehensive and more difficult - It continues to follow the lines of history. In the proper time period, this includes Essay on Man by Pope, Macaulay's Essays, Boswell, The Battle of the Books, contemporary poets and current literature.

Suggestions to design your Charlotte Mason Literature Curriculum

Application: Years 7-12

Designing your own Literature based homeschool Curriculum for higher grades simply means choosing more difficult books, essays, speeches and poetry from the historical time period being studied.

The greatest difficulty is deciding what to include and what to leave out. Each family should develop their own set of principles which guide them in wise judgement of what to read and what to leave out. Remember, as you read booklists collated by others, you still need to make the final decisions.

Here are some suggestions which Harvey Bluedorn from Trivium Pursuit, has developed for his family:

  • Do what is pleasing to the Lord (Col 1:10)
  • Do not follow the World (Rom 12:2)"Do not allow the world to define you. If you are a Christian, then you must allow the Lord to define you and all that you do, as you seek to please Him. Do not decline to define all things from a Christian perspective."(p 218 Teaching the Trivium)
  • Do not allow the world to follow you. (James 1:27)"If a piece of Literature cannot be used to build Christian culture in our children, then, no matter how neutral it may seem, it will be used to build something culturally anti-Christian in our children. The world will defile us, spot us, with ungodliness and worldly lusts." (p 218 Teaching the Trivium)
  • There is only so much time in the day (Col 4:5)
  • Older does not necessarily mean better (Col 2:8)
  • Is this profitable? (1Cor 6:12) "What we use must bring things together for us in a helpful and profitable way."
  • Does this promote good habits? (1 Cor 6:12)
  • Will reading this further my education? (1 Cor 10:23) "Some things do not promote healthy growth. Some things promote perverted growth."
  • Does this material have lasting value? (1 Cor 7:31) "If something cannot be redeemed for His use, then it is useless. If it cannot serve Biblical goals, then it will necessarily work to undermine Biblical foundations by pursuing other worldly goals." (p221)
  • When in doubt, leave it out. (Rom 14:23) Life is too short, and things are too many, to be fretting over a few little things which, if we discover they are really so important, can always be picked up in more mature years."

This is a shortened summary from one section out of the comprehensive chapter eight, "Principles for the study of Literature", Teaching the Trivium, by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn.

Teaching the Trivium, is an excellent book showing how Classical Education must be sifted through the screen of the Scriptures to be transformed into a Biblical model.

Check out Trivium Pursuit Website here.

Booklists - Great Literature when reading to children

Here are some collated book lists. Remember, when you read them - sift them through your family's principles and then make your own decisions.

Charlotte Mason Curriculum - Summary and Application

The Knowledge of God
The Knowledge of Man

  1. History
  2. Literature
  3. Morals and Economics
  4. Compostion
  5. Languages
  6. Art

The Knowledge of the Universe

  1. Science
  2. Geography
  3. Maths
  4. Physical Development, Handcrafts
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