Charlotte Mason vs Montessori: What Every Homeschooling Family Should Know

When it comes to homeschooling methods, two giants in the field are Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori. Their educational philosophies have shaped home education for generations, but they have key differences. In this article, we’ll dive into the core principles, teaching approaches, and practical methods of Charlotte Mason and Montessori. Whether you’re trying to choose between them or blend these influential styles, you’ll discover the key similarities and distinctions. Understanding the unique viewpoints of Charlotte Mason vs Montessori will help you make the best decision for your child’s learning needs and preferences.


What is the difference between Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori?

Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori were pioneering educators who developed influential teaching philosophies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though they shared a passion for nurturing children’s natural curiosities, their approaches had key differences.

Charlotte Mason’s approach

The British educator Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) emphasized cultivating a child’s innate love of learning. Her method focused on providing a broad, liberal arts education rich in living books and firsthand experiences in nature and the arts. She structured short, interactive lessons across diverse subjects each day. Charlotte Mason trusted children’s abilities to learn from worthy ideas, so she advocated concise, appealing presentations versus drilling facts. Her approach encouraged children’s observation skills and reflection through nature study, handicrafts, and other hands-on activities.

Maria Montessori’s method

Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952) pioneered child-centered learning. Her scientific observations of children led her to create special environments and materials that built concentration, coordination, independence and self-discipline. In Montessori classrooms, multi-age groups of children freely choose activities that match their developmental stage and interests. Specially designed manipulatives and activities promote engagement through the senses and movement. Children receive individual and small group lessons when ready. The prepared environment, child-directed pace, and lack of rewards/punishments were hallmarks of Montessori’s method.

Comparison of Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori

While both Mason and Montessori valued child-led learning, key distinctions emerge:

  • Focus: Mason emphasized broad humanities education; Montessori focused on sensory learning and practical skills.
  • Materials: Montessori classrooms were filled with special manipulatives; Mason used ordinary household items.
  • Instruction: Montessori teachers gave personalized lessons; Mason delivered group lessons on a subject schedule.
  • Individualization: Montessori allowed children to self-direct; Mason provided all students the same quality ideas.

Differences in their educational philosophies

At the core, Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori had differing views on how children learn best. Mason believed that children have innate curiosities that should be nurtured through living books, nature observation, and the arts. She focused on developing a child’s character and intellect. In contrast, Montessori felt children learn best through concrete sensory interaction and movement. Her priority was cultivating children’s independence, coordination, and practical life skills.

Mason advocated structured lessons across a broad curriculum, while Montessori preferred uninterrupted blocks of work time for children to self-direct. Mason provided all students the same quality ideas at scheduled intervals, while Montessori allowed children to individually choose activities tailored to their developmental readiness.

Ultimately, Mason emphasized the mind and intellect, while Montessori focused on sensory learning. Mason sought to build a child’s knowledge and relationship with God, while Montessori wanted children to construct themselves through purposeful work.

Role of the teacher in Charlotte Mason and Montessori

The role of the teacher differed as well. In the Charlotte Mason approach, teachers were to deliver concise, appealing lessons across a diverse curriculum to inspire learning. Teachers selected living books, guided nature study, and demonstrated handicrafts. Their role was preparing a rich feast of ideas for students to digest.

In Montessori, teachers carefully prepared the classroom environment and modeled the use of materials. But their primary role was observing children unobtrusively to determine their readiness for new lessons. Teachers provided individual and small group instruction geared to each child’s developmental stage and interests. Their role was facilitating independent learning rather than directing group activities.

How do Charlotte Mason and Montessori differ in their homeschooling methods?

Both Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori developed educational philosophies that lend themselves well to homeschooling. However, they have distinct approaches to implementing home education.

Charlotte Mason’s homeschooling approach

Charlotte Mason’s method aligns beautifully with homeschooling families. She recommended short, interactive lessons across a wide range of subjects each day. This variety integrates nicely into homeschool routines. Mason felt children learn best from living books rather than dry textbooks. She advocated reading quality literature, studying nature, and learning handicrafts. Charlotte Mason homeschoolers use engaging books, nature walks, and hands-on activities to bring concepts to life.

Mason promoted the habit of attention and reflection. Homeschool parents model focused observation of nature, art, and music. Narration, or orally summarizing key ideas, is a signature practice. Children narrate back selections from living books to exercise attentive reading and improve retention. Copywork of prose or poetry passages also develops attention skills. Charlotte Mason homeschooling emphasizes firsthand experience over worksheets and emphasizes ideas over facts.

Maria Montessori’s homeschooling method

Maria Montessori’s child-directed approach can work well for independent homeschoolers. Montessori home educators carefully prepare the learning environment with activities tailored to the child’s developmental stage. Shelves are organized with meaningful tasks that build concentration, coordination, and practical life skills. Montessori homes have periodicals of uninterrupted work time where children choose their activities.

Montessori manipulatives like the Pink Tower, Brown Stair, and Red Rods become home classroom materials. Children receive personalized lessons on using these tools when ready. Peer teaching is common since multi-age grouping is ideal. Montessori homes may join together for special classes. Core to Montessori is letting children set the pace rather than pushing academics too early. Homeschool parents observe sensitively when children are developmentally ready for new lessons.

Practical life in Charlotte Mason and Montessori homeschooling

Charlotte Mason promoted practical work to build character, though not to the same extent as Montessori. Children participated in gardening, handicrafts, cooking, and home responsibilities. These real-life skills connected learning to tangible outcomes. Montessori homes focus intensely on practical life skills – pouring, scooping, sorting, scrubbing. Mastering these activities develops coordination, independence, and concentration needed for later academics. Charlotte Mason valued practical work but in moderation, preferring to spend more time on nature study, artist and composer study, and living books.

Learning style in Charlotte Mason and Montessori

The Charlotte Mason method appeals to auditory, visual, and kinetic learners. Students hear compelling living books read aloud. They diagram nature specimens and illustrations from readings. Creative projects allow tactile learners to learn by doing. Montessori relies heavily on tactile, kinesthetic learning via concrete materials. Children build literacy moving letter tiles, gain math concepts stacking number rods, and refine motor control transferring beans with tweezers. Charlotte Mason balances auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning, while Montessori focuses more exclusively on hands-on learning.

Comparison of homeschooling materials used by Charlotte Mason and Montessori

Montessori homes have shelves filled with specialized manipulatives. These hands-on materials are introduced sequentially as children develop. Charlotte Mason users rely on living books, nature artifacts, artist prints and music recordings as their primary learning tools. Their materials are more affordable and accessible. Montessori families invest significantly more in purchasing expensive didactic materials. Charlotte Mason’s approach allows homeschoolers to utilize the library for free living books rather than buying costly manipulatives only used for a short time.

What are the fundamental principles of Charlotte Mason and Montessori education?

While Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori shared a passion for reforming education, their core principles differed significantly. Examining these foundations helps reveal their distinct perspectives on empowering children.

Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy

At the heart of Charlotte Mason’s method are several key ideas:

  • Children are born persons – Children have complex minds from birth capable of digesting real ideas, not just facts.
  • Education as vital spiritual food – Children require a nourishing feast of living ideas and books to feed their minds, just as the body needs wholesome food.
  • The Way of the Will/The Way of Reason – Children have an innate will that can be gradually trained to submit to God’s divine will and reason.
  • Habit training – Good habits of behavior and learning are cultivated incrementally through gentle guidance, not coercion.
  • Atmosphere, Discipline, Life – A respectful, cheerful atmosphere allows children’s intellect to flourish naturally.

Charlotte Mason aimed not just to educate, but to cultivate children’s character, intellect, and relationship with God through a broad, enriching curriculum feast filled with living books, nature, art, and music.

Maria Montessori’s educational principles

In contrast, Maria Montessori founded her methodology on the following pillars:

  • Scientific observation of children – Careful observations of children’s development should guide education.
  • Prepared environment – Children’s learning blossoms through purposefully prepared spaces and materials tailored to developmental stages.
  • Autoeducation – Children are empowered to absorb knowledge from their surroundings without direct instruction.
  • Sensitive periods – Children pass through unique sensitivities toward acquiring certain abilities, so education should align with these.
  • Absorbent mind – Young children naturally and effortlessly absorb knowledge from their surroundings, so education should nurture this.

Rather than imparting knowledge, Montessori teachers carefully design child-centered environments. Children then construct themselves through purposeful activity within this prepared space.

Children’s first teachers in Charlotte Mason and Montessori

Mason felt that parents were charged with providing children’s earliest vital exposures to living ideas through loving relationships and rich stories, poems, games, and nature observation. Montessori believed the environment itself educated the child, so parents should prepare the space completely for independent learning.

Role of the child in their own education in Charlotte Mason and Montessori

Mason advocated child-led learning within the context of the planned curriculum feast the teacher prepared. Montessori allowed children almost full autonomy based on their self-directed interests. Mason struck more balance between child and teacher direction.

Building a love for learning in Charlotte Mason and Montessori

For Mason, children’s innate curiosity flourished through exposure to living books and arts, nature and handicrafts. Montessori’s prepared environments used concrete materials and activities tailored to developmental needs to spark children’s active engagement in learning. Both approached instilling a lifelong love of learning but through different means.

How do Charlotte Mason and Montessori approach the development of children?

Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori agreed that childhood development should guide education. However, their methods for nurturing children’s growth differed.

Charlotte Mason’s approach to the development of older and younger children

Mason divided children into two developmental planes:

  • Birth to age 9 – During these formative years, Mason felt children should absorb a diverse feast of living ideas through exposure to great books, nature, art, and music. Formal academics are kept light.
  • Age 9 to 18 – In these reasoning years, children are developmentally ready dig deeper into subjects, though education should remain interactive and connected to life. Studies emphasize logic, reason, and rhetoric.

Mason believed education should nourish the whole child – intellect, character, physical health and soul. Her approach to children’s development focused on providing vital nourishment for the mind across the curriculum rather than targeting specific skills.

Maria Montessori’s approach to the development of children

Montessori also recognized developmental planes, but emphasized different stages:

  • Birth to age 6 – The absorbent mind stage focuses on sensory learning, language acquisition, and movement.
  • Age 6 to 12 – The reasoning mind stage focuses on intellectual development and mastery of academic skills.
  • Age 12 to 18 – The humanitarian stage focuses on moral reasoning and social contribution.

Montessori designed unique materials and activities tailored to these planes of development. Children were free to choose activities matching their developmental needs and interests rather than follow a prescribed curriculum. Montessori focused intensely on cultivating children’s independence, coordination, and concentration.

Practical life activities in Charlotte Mason and Montessori

Montessori made practical life activities like sweeping, shoe polishing, and table washing central to developing independence and coordination. Mason advocated handicrafts like knitting, gardening and cooking in moderation to build character and enrich learning. She preferred children spend more time studying living books, nature, art and music.

Montessori materials for child development

The Montessori classroom contains specialized manipulatives like Pink Tower blocks, Metal Insets, and Movable Alphabet letters to target developmental skills. These materials isolate concepts and teach through hands-on activity. Charlotte Mason preferred real-life interactives like cooking, gardening and field trips over prescribed educational toys and manipulatives.

The role of play in Charlotte Mason and Montessori

Maria Montessori felt free play wasted children’s time and believed structured activities were superior. Charlotte Mason valued imaginative child-directed play outdoors and artistic play like acting out stories. She felt play developed creativity and expression. Montessori dominates playtime with productive activities while Mason allows for more unstructured play in balance with nature study, handicrafts and living books.

Both Mason and Montessori recognized stages in childhood development but approached nurturing children’s growth differently. Their views on play and developmental materials diverged as well. Charlotte Mason delivered a rich feast of diverse living ideas while Montessori methodically developed specific skills through structured materials and activities.

Which homeschooling method is best: Charlotte Mason or Montessori?

When choosing between Charlotte Mason and Montessori for homeschooling, there’s no universally superior method. Each has unique strengths that may align better with a child’s learning style and family’s values. Here we’ll explore key advantages of each philosophy.

Advantages of the Charlotte Mason homeschooling method

Charlotte Mason offers several benefits for home education:

Broad, liberal arts focus – Children receive a wide feast of diverse subjects – Bible, math, history, science, art, music, nature study, and more. This develops a well-rounded learner familiar with key domains of human knowledge.

Living books – Mason stressed living books – wholesome, inspiring literature – over dry textbooks and workbooks. This brings lessons alive and stokes curiosity.

Love of learning – Mason’s approach nurtures children’s innate thirst for knowledge by making education an inviting feast. Her interactive style suits many learning preferences.

Short lessons – Charlotte Mason recommended short 20-30 minute lessons and alternating sitting subjects with outdoor time or handicrafts. This fits well into homeschool routines.

Habit training – Gentle habit formation of good character, attention, reflection and behavior are emphasized over coercion. This aligns with many parents’ values.

Affordable – Mason’s method doesn’t require specialized manipulatives so it’s budget-friendly. Nature items, artist prints, music recordings and library books provide diverse “living” resources.

For families seeking a rich liberal arts education rooted in living literature and arts, Charlotte Mason is a rewarding choice. Her approach develops not just intellect, but character.

Advantages of the Montessori homeschooling method

Montessori offers its own assets:

Self-directed learning – Children choose activities matching their developmental level and interests. This builds initiative, independence and strong work skills.

Mastery of concepts – Montessori materials isolate specific skills and concepts allowing children to thoroughly master them through repeated hands-on work.

Concrete learning – Montessori emphasizes concrete sensory interaction with real objects. This benefits tactile, visual learners who thrive on manipulation and movement.

Multi-age grouping – Mixed age classrooms allow older children to teach youngers. Younger ones absorb advanced concepts from overhearing lessons.

Practical life skills – Montessori’s intense focus on cultivating real-world practical abilities around the home prepares children for independent living.

Movement – The Montessori method incorporates considerable movement, which aids children who learn best actively. Classrooms often lack desks.

For self-motivated learners who prefer autonomous, concrete learning, Montessori can be life-changing. The sensory approach and mixed age dynamic benefit many students.

Considerations for choosing between Charlotte Mason and Montessori

As you weigh these two influential philosophies, reflect on these key points:

  • Your child’s learning preferences and needs
  • Your educational priorities and values
  • Your teaching style and temperament
  • Your family’s schedule and structure
  • Your child’s maturity and independence
  • Your budget for curriculum materials
  • Access to specialized Montessori tools

There’s no universally “superior” method. The optimal approach depends on the fit for your unique child and family situation.

Matching the educational philosophies to your child’s needs

Observe your child closely. Do they thrive when self-directing or do better with more guidance? Do they prefer varied activities or deep focus on projects? Would they blossom reviewing diverse living books or mastering tactile materials? Tailor the approach to how your child learns best.

Personalizing your homeschooling approach with elements from both Charlotte Mason and Montessori

It’s not necessarily an either/or choice! Blend these influential philosophies for a personalized education. Use Charlotte Mason’s living books and nature study, while also incorporating Montessori manipulatives. Or take Montessori’s child-led approach while providing Mason’s diverse subject feast. Integrate what works for your family.

There’s no rigidly defined “right” way. Let your child’s learning blossom by being open to tailoring the homeschooling approach over time.

Homeschooling offers flexibility. Observe your child’s learning style and experiment to discover if the Charlotte Mason or Montessori method (or both!) is the best fit for them today. As children develop, be willing to evolve your approach to nurture their growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Charlotte Mason and Montessori?

Charlotte Mason and Montessori are both educational methods, but they have some fundamental differences. Charlotte Mason’s approach is more focused on the liberal education of the child, emphasizing the child’s natural inclination to learn through literature, art, and nature. Montessori, on the other hand, focuses on providing a carefully prepared environment in which children can learn at their own pace through hands-on activities.

What is the Montessori method?

The Montessori method is an educational approach developed by Maria Montessori. It is based on the idea that children learn best through active engagement with their environment. Montessori schools provide a prepared environment with specially designed materials that encourage exploration and independent learning.

What is the Charlotte Mason method?

The Charlotte Mason method is an educational philosophy developed by Charlotte Mason. It emphasizes the importance of a liberal education, focusing on the child’s natural curiosity and love for learning. It advocates for a broad curriculum that includes living books, nature study, and art.

How do Montessori and Charlotte Mason differ in their approach to education?

Montessori and Charlotte Mason have different approaches to education. Montessori emphasizes hands-on learning and individualized instruction, while Charlotte Mason focuses on the child’s love for learning and exposure to a wide range of subjects through living books and real-life experiences.

Are there any similarities between Montessori and Charlotte Mason?

While Montessori and Charlotte Mason have different educational approaches, they share some similarities. Both methods recognize the importance of allowing children to learn at their own pace and following their interests. They also emphasize the role of the environment in supporting the child’s development.

Can I homeschool using the Charlotte Mason method?

Yes, the Charlotte Mason method is popular among homeschooling families. It provides a framework for a liberal education that can be adapted to the homeschooling environment. There are many resources available for homeschoolers interested in implementing the Charlotte Mason approach.

Can I use the Montessori method at home?

Yes, many parents choose to incorporate Montessori principles into their home environment. With some adaptations, you can create a prepared environment that encourages independent exploration and learning. There are also Montessori-inspired materials and activities available for home use.

What are the main differences between Montessori and Charlotte Mason?

The main differences between Montessori and Charlotte Mason lie in their educational philosophies. Montessori focuses on individualized instruction and hands-on learning, while Charlotte Mason emphasizes a broad liberal education and exposure to a wide range of subjects. Additionally, Montessori places a strong emphasis on the prepared environment, while Charlotte Mason encourages learning through living books and real-life experiences.

What did Charlotte Mason believe about education?

Charlotte Mason believed in providing a liberal education that includes exposure to living ideas, great literature, and real-life experiences. She believed in nurturing a child’s love for learning and giving them ample time for outdoor exploration and nature study. Her philosophy was centered around the idea that education should be a feast of ideas that feeds the child’s mind.

What are the differences between Montessori and Charlotte Mason in terms of learning style?

Montessori and Charlotte Mason have different learning styles. Montessori emphasizes self-directed learning and hands-on activities, while Charlotte Mason believes in short lessons that provide a broad range of knowledge. Montessori encourages children to work at their own pace, while Charlotte Mason emphasizes discipline and attentiveness.


When it comes to choosing a homeschooling approach, Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori offer two intellectually-rich yet differing perspectives. Mason provides a diverse feast of living books, arts, and nature study while Montessori allows self-directed learning with concrete materials. Mason gives structured lessons across subjects whereas Montessori facilitates individual mastery. While both nurture a love of learning, their views on child development and practice vary. As a homeschooling parent, carefully consider your child’s learning style and family’s goals. Blend elements of each philosophy or focus on one. Above all, let your child’s unique needs and growth guide you in shaping an engaging homeschooling journey, drawing insight from the indispensable ideas of Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori.

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Written By Ella
As a passionate parent and Montessori follower, I encourage child independence and share my personal parenting insights. In my downtime, I enjoy family activities, tea, and reading, and I invite you to join my journey in the Montessori way of raising resilient children.

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