Charlotte Mason tea time

Charlotte Mason vs Montessori – homeschooling methods

Charlotte Mason developed her educational approach in Victorian times and predates some of the more well known and popular systems, such as Montessori and Waldorf. Yet, she made a large contribution to the ethos of homeschooling and her approach still resonates today. In this post we will look at the some of the differences and similarities with Montessori.

You can learn more about how other approaches compare in our articles about RIE, Steiner and Reggio Emilia.

Who was Charlotte Mason?

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was born in 1842 and developed her vision of a liberal education during her early teaching career. At that time, there was a big distinction between the way social classes were educated. Literature and fine arts were reserved for children from wealthy families, while the lower classes were taught skills to develop a trade.

Charlotte wanted to see a world where all children were exposed to a wide curriculum, regardless of their social status or family income.​

She gave a number of lectures to help parents understand how to bring up children, which were published as Home Education.

She then set up the Parents' Educational Union in 1887 to provide home educating resources, before establishing her own training school called the House Of Education.

Charlotte's approach was that it is important to educate the whole child, not just their mind. She said “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life”.

Charlotte Mason quote

She believed home environment and parenting style have a large influence on a child's education.

She also encouraged creating good habit of cleanliness, neatness and order, obedience, good manners, good pronunciation and attention.

Finally she focused on academic learning by bringing it to life with thoughts and ideas.

Difference and similarities between Charlotte Mason and Montessori

Charlotte Mason's approach and Montessori both see education as an aid to life and that it is important to educate the whole being - physical, social, emotional and cognitive.

Her emphasis on atmosphere is similar to Montessori's prepared environment.

Both believe in the importance of a prepared space for children, who absorb their surroundings.

Plus both believe that how the parents feels and acts will influence how the child feels and learns, and that the adult is a role-model for the child.

The biggest difference between the two approaches is with Charlotte Mason's use of good habits.

She believed that punishments were useful in some instances while Maria Montessori was against all form of punishments, privileging self-discipline.

Charlotte Mason also stated that any academic lesson needed to be less than 20 minutes until the child was 8 years old and the role of the teacher is to actively correct.

While in Montessori, the teacher is seen as a guide, observing, presenting, then allowing the child to explore by himself. 

Maria Montessori observed that a 3 hour unscheduled work cycle is the best time frame to allow children to learn by choosing their own activities and to work for as long as they wish.

Charlotte Mason's system of education is a homeschooling system, which was originally taught by the nanny or governess.

Nowadays her ideas are mostly know by home-educators and are not used in any school system.

Montessori ideas, however, are used equally by parents, home educators or not, and by teachers as it’s a school-based curriculum.

What Charlotte Mason thought of Montessori

Charlotte Mason was not impressed by the Montessori method and strongly criticised it in a letter to a newspaper in 1918 [].

She explained that the results obtained by Montessori: children eager to learn, children with charming manners, who were neat and respectful were not that exceptional.

At the time, the Montessori method was in its infancy and Charlotte Mason felt that it was a training of the child instead of a wholesome education.​

She said:

“We're grateful to Maria Montessori, the gracious Italian lady who showed us that, if we treat children with courtesy and consideration, we'll see the dignity and grace that are within every child. She showed us that children's rights include the freedom to educate themselves, and she showed us that every human being is precious and worthy of honor, especially during childhood. But I think that's where our gratitude ends. The expensive equipment needed in her method, and the reliance on sensory touch instead of sight, and developing the senses at the exclusion of everything else, are serious mistakes” .

However, she died before the most formidable ideas from Montessori were written and I bet her vision of Maria Montessori would have evolved.

Maria Montessori, like Charlotte Mason, insisted on putting the children in contact with nature and her concept of sensitive periods, her ideas about how the brain develops and the “absorbent mind” are all now corroborated by science (see the book: Montessori, the science behind the genius)

How can Charlotte Mason's ideas inform your parenting?

Despite the feud between Charlotte Mason and Montessori, Charlotte Mason's ideas can inform your parenting and many of them are very popular with homeschoolers and parents of young children.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Offer your children some “living books” - books chosen for their literary values,  with rich language, a great story to explain facts and beautiful illustrations.
  • Read aloud: read stories to your children even when they can read. One way is to read out loud a great story while they play or draw or just chill out around you.
  • Lay an educational feast. She said “We spread an abundant and delicate feast… and each small guest assimilates what he can.” So you could have a topic and gather resources. Have a beautiful display and make the topic attractive.
  • Morning time: Many Mason homeschoolers practice a morning routine where they read poetry at breakfast, explore a specific painting, listen to classical music during the early morning. You can make it a ritual by lighting a candle or preparing a basket of resources to share during the morning time.
  • Poetry tea time: Similarly, some families enjoy a “special tea time” where they come together eating a snack that they bake, setting up a beautiful table, sharing poetry etc.

  • Go on nature walks. Charlotte Mason said “"Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.". Outdoor time is what is the most important in the early years and one way to explore nature is by going on specific nature walks, keeping a nature journal and taking your materials outside, such as a drawing set to draw what you observe.

For more in depth info about Charlotte Mason, I recommend visiting the Simply Charlotte Mason website [] or following Modern Miss Mason on Instagram []/

Eloise Rickman also talks about Charlotte Mason way of homeschooling in her course “a beautiful childhood”.

So do you incorporate any of the Charlotte Mason’s ideas in your home? Tell me in a comment!


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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.