Charlotte Mason Knew the Secret to Learning Relationships

Charlotte Mason didn’t invent the idea that true learning only comes from relating living ideas to things in our life. She did make it a core belief in her method of teaching, assuring her fellow teachers that they could trust that students would form these learning relationships if they provided living ideas and varied sources for the child to glean from in their reading. (Read from volume six here.)

How do we apply that today with our high school students?

First of all, like Charlotte Mason, we need to trust that our high school students are capable of making their own connections with their reading assignments. If we truly believe this concept, the idea of testing for mastery seems redundant for most subjects. We don’t have to waste time getting our students to answer pre-made sets of questions in their every day work and we don’t need to test them at the end of each unit.

Note: This depends on the high school course and our family still uses tests in math as a measure of progress. Although Charlotte Mason didn’t test students, she did administer an end of the term exam which is much different than most textbook style tests. See the links at the bottom of this post for more information on how our family uses end of term exams.

How Do We Promote This Principle In Our Family?

1. Students read their assigned books and regularly make notes in their commonplace book or they create a written narration of some sort – journal, notebook page, map, sketch, diagram with labels, mind map. This is done for every reading. (More on written narration in this entry: Narration in Our High School Plans.)

2. Provide time to discuss what they read with you perhaps even up to a week later. This helps you to see whether your student has taken the information in and not just memorized it. You will hear if they have connected it to something they already know and then were able to add it to their store of knowledge. (More on our Friday discussions in this entry: Friday Discussion-What Do We Talk About?)

3. Encourage students to go further than the reading, writing, and oral narrations by asking themselves questions and then finding a means of answering those questions.

Ellis Island NY April 2012
We visited Ellis Island during our New York trip earlier this year.

4. An additional step that our family has enjoyed over the years is to make additional connections to our reading and study by traveling to places of interest. This could be a day trip or an extended vacation where you allow time and opportunity to relate their reading to something in real life.

I always like a good example in posts like this so here is one to use as a starting point. I am sure you have lots of ideas that will work in your family and I would love for you to share any additional ideas in a comment. I have one year left and I would love to take it to the next level. I am especially interested in any concrete examples of Charlotte Mason style term exams for high school students.


  • You assign a good number pages to be read in their history course. This reading can come from a biography, speeches, first hand accounts, primary source documents, or context books (fiction or non-fiction) written in the time period.
  • They read through the material one time and record a list of quotes or important facts. Quotes may be used in a separate written narration, perhaps a short biography or a summary of an event in a person’s life. Facts can be added to a timeline or be included on a notebook page.
  • After the written narration, they share an oral account with you of what they found in their reading, perhaps relating an event from history.  This is where you can build from week to week as you move through history and see how one person or event is not in isolation.
  • Now is the time that they can really personalize their learning and make connections in their minds. Encourage them to ask a question about their reading…or you ask a leading question. I tend to think of these as questions that have no right or wrong answer but their goal is to stimulate thinking and connections. There is an art to forming these kinds of questions but I try to remind myself that if they can be answered with a simple yes or no then I need to rephrase the question. (More on how to know what to ask your student: Question from My Weekly Wrap-Up.)

Examples of questions I might use:
Tell me what you know about the Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade.
How does this information fit in with what we learned last week?
Describe what it would have been like to be a part of this event.
What three events did you put on your timeline this week?

Charlotte Mason Style Exams-Resources 

Please note that this really is a work in progress and holding my boys accountable for their reading and then their own learning has been something that I have focused on over their high school years. It does get easier as they mature and work more independently. Your family may use a different process but the point is to offer lots of living ideas for your child to think about…ideas that will spur them on to learn more.

IPlease visit and share with us at the CM blog carnival! We'd love to have you! am submitting this entry to the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival and if you have any entries you would like to submit, you can send them to this email address: [email protected].


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