Charlotte Mason Quick Reference

By Gina Reich Guzman. Reprinted with permission.

How to Use This Page 

Use this page as you would any dictionary or encyclopedia.  There are certain key terms that you may come across in researching Charlotte Mason that you are unsure of.  Rather than having to dredge through all of the pages in this website, or other books,  to double-check your understanding of the terminology come to this page for a quick reminder of what CM means by these key terms.  This can be particularly important for some terms since what CM means by narration is completely different from what other methods (ie. The Well Trained Mind) means by narration

Great Books 

I believe this may be more of a classical education term than a Charlotte Mason term but I feel this concept does have a place in a Charlotte Mason Education.  Great books are those books that help teach us about the moral world around us and inspire us to be better than we were.  These are the books that make us think about our own actions and whether we are making good choices with our behavior and decisions. Many, but definitely not all, classics would fall into this category. The works of Dickens, Mark Twain and others are good examples of Great Books. 

Living Books 

 Living books are written by an author who has a special interest in the topic and presents the facts in story form. The author presents the facts as accurately as possible while still maintaining an interesting storyline. Examples include, but are not limited to Seabird by Holling C. Holling, Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, and White Stallion by Margaurite Henry. With these books it is often important to read the forward, preface and introductions and these pages often explain WHY the author came to write the book which is important for the children to know. These books should evoke emotions and thoughtful contemplation, as well as present information

Masterly Inactivity 

Masterly Inactivity is the free time that children need to independently explore the world and apply what they are learning without adult oversight or interference.  Obviously, we still keep an eye on younger children to ensure their safety but this is a vital time when children begin learning how to independently navigate the world around them.  This is when they learn how to work out disagreements with siblings and other children without automatically going to an adult to settle the matter for them.  This is when they use their free time to take what they learned about boats and sailing to build their own little boats to sail in the local creek or mud puddle and so on. This is also when they have the freedom to act out their favorite scenes from their favorite books. Just think of all those times your little one pretends to be Robin Hood or one of the other heroes from your Great Books or Living Books!

 My personal motto in our homeschooling ties into Ms. Mason’s educational and masterly inactivity beliefs: Never do for the child, what the child can do for themselves!  If we do too much for our children then we are simply telling our children that we do not believe they are capable and they will become entrenched in a life of learned helplessness.  Every aspect of Ms. Mason’s teachings is geared toward teaching our children how to teach/learn/do for themselves instead of always relying on others or so called experts. 

Mother Culture 

Mother Culture is actually NOT a Charlotte Mason term.  Rather, it is a term created, and trademarked, by Karen Andreola in her Charlotte Mason Companion book. I am a firm believer in Mother Culture as a way to avoid homeschool burnout and highly recommend reading what Ms. Andreola has to say about it in her book and on her website.


This is the method by which CM teachers can assess what their students are learning.  It is also a gentle way to reinforce the wonderful language the learners encounter in their readings.  Note that unlike many other versions of narration, it is exceedingly difficult for a child to give a wrong answer in their narrations.  Instead of looking for specific “correct answers” the goal of CM narration is for the child to share with you, the adult, what THEY felt was important from the reading or the lesson.  You can find some more references to narration on the history page of this website.

Picture Study 

This is the method by which CM advocated teaching children art appreciation. It is a very simple, yet highly effective, technique for helping our children build a mental museum of art that will stay with them throughout their lives. Sometimes referred to as Picture Talk, although I believe Ms. Mason used this term specifically for the narrations given at the end of each Picture Study. See this website’s Art Appreciation/Art History page for more detailed information. 


Twaddle is the term Charlotte Mason used to describe books that are not well-written or are dumbed/watered down.  In her book,  Parents and Children, she referred to twaddle as “reading-made-easy”.  Unfortunately, in our modern world twaddle seems to be what sells and is what is at the forefront of most bookstore shelves.  In general, any book based on  tv/ commercial products or is part of a lengthy series is pure twaddle.  Ms. Mason advocates avoiding these as they do not fill our children’s minds with worthy thoughts and ideas. I avoid most twaddle because it does not model excellent language usage. In a nutshell twaddle is the polar opposite of the great books, whole books and living books that Ms. Mason recommended

Whole Books 

Whole books tend to be informational books written about one subject by one author who is passionate about the subject.  Many whole books are written and illustrated by the same person, but it is also common to have a different illustrator. Whole books are never written by committees! Examples of whole books include, but are not limited to Owls by Jim Arnosky,  The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin D. Wiker, Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick.  The key points to remember with whole books is that they are about ONE subject by ONE author (although some will have a different illustrator) or be written by a pair of authors equally passionate about the subject

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