Updated: Apr 21, 2022
In one of my recent posts, I wrote about how my core philosophy is gentle holistic learning. This is really simply put, believing that children learn best through opportunities to learn with their bodies and hearts as well as their minds, and that learning should be centered around the child’s development and interests. Today I want to talk about two approaches that fit really well with this philosophy and how I combine them: The Waldorf and Charlotte Mason homeschool approaches.
There is a ton of overlap between these two homeschool approaches, it almost seems like they were designed to fit together. First, let’s do a very brief overview of each approach.
The Waldorf Homeschool Approach:
No formal academics until the child’s seventh year
Emphasis on holistic learning (head, heart, hands)
Follow the natural rhythm of the seasons
Learning through storytelling
Subjects are taught in main lesson blocks (children will have one main lesson about one topic such as Greek mythology each day for three to six weeks, then switch to another such as Geometry)
The Charlotte Mason Homeschool Approach:
Academics start at age six
Emphasis on life skills and good habits
Nature study and spending as much as time as you can outside are important values
Learning through high quality literature (living books)
Subjects are taught through short focused lessons (multiple subjects are taught each day)
Obviously this is a very brief overview, and there is a lot more to it, and I plan to delve into more specifics in later posts. However, I think it's fairly easy to see that there is a lot of overlap and similar ideas in the Waldorf and Charlotte Mason homeschool approaches.
The Waldorf and Charlotte Mason Homeschool Approaches are similar in that:
Both approaches delay academics
Both approaches believe in spending time on life skills and hand work
Both approaches value learning centered on nature and the seasons
Both approaches use stories to bring wonder into academic learning rather than dry textbooks
Now, let’s look at the key ways the Waldorf and the Charlotte Mason Homeschool approaches are different (please note this is my personal opinion after spending several years researching both approaches).
Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers usually start academics at age six, whereas Waldorf homeschoolers wait till age seven
Charlotte Mason emphasizes the practical and “real” a lot more, whereas Waldorf seems to emphasize fantasy, especially in regards to nature study: A Waldorf nature table is going to be decorated with wooden peg doll fairies and silk scarves, while a charlotte Mason style nature table is going to have charts and graphs for example.
Charlotte Mason puts more emphasis on high quality books whereas Waldorf puts more emphasis on storytelling.
Perhaps this is the biggest difference: Waldorf does one longer main lesson per day and continues with one core subject for several weeks, whereas in the Charlotte Mason homeschool approach, you will have multiple lessons in multiple subjects each day, and all the lessons will be short.
If you are homeschooling with one of these methods already and looking to integrate the other one, or if you are looking to start out with integrating the two of them here are a few things you can consider:
Does my child enjoy one longer lesson each day (for example, they really enjoy thoroughly exploring one topic before moving on), or would they do better with shorter lessons on a variety of topics?
Is my child a very creative, artistic learner or do they have more of a logical approach to learning? (Waldorf is going to appeal to more artistic, creative types).
Does my child like listening to stories, or would they prefer to read books to themselves? Children who love to read will enjoy living books and Charlotte Mason Style lessons.
Remember you don’t have to choose! You can integrate the things you love about each method into your homeschool day.
What integrating the Waldorf and Charlotte Mason Homeschool approaches looks like for my family:
I know many homeschoolers who combine these two approaches, and everyone does it a little differently, here is what it looks like for us:
We begin our day with morning time: This is something I see a lot of Charlotte Mason homeschool families doing, but we also integrate Waldorf Elements into our morning time. We light a candle, say a verse (both very “Waldorfy” practices) work on poetry memorization, do picture study (Charlotte Mason), Music and composer study (also Charlotte Mason), and sing together (this is something I see in both Waldorf and Charlotte Mason homeschool families).
Then we do a short, academic lesson, practicing basic skills: This is something that really has elements of both approaches to it. As I said before, a major hallmark of Charlotte Mason Homeschool is short lessons, but those following a Waldorf approach also begin the main lesson with skills review and practice.
Next, head outside for as long as possible: Spending as much as time as possible outdoors definitely is something I see both Waldorf and Charlotte Mason Homeschool families prioritizing, but when I think of making it a big part of your morning, I have mostly seen this with Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers. We also focus on nature study and nature journaling for two days of the week
The next part of our day is our main lesson: This is where I feel the most strongly influenced by Waldorf, although our main lesson also includes several Charlotte Mason elements. For one thing we combine living books and storytelling together for our main lessons.
Throughout the day we take long breaks for inside and outside play: I tend to think of this as more of a Charlotte Mason inspired behavior although I’ve definitely spoken with many Waldorf families who do this as well. Free afternoons are definitely an integral part Of the Charlotte Mason Homeschool philosophy though.
We end our day with tea time: This is something that has become associated with Charlotte Mason Homeschool families although I don't think it’s stated anywhere explicitly in Charlotte Mason's writing.I really look forward to this part of our day especially now that I have older ones who work more independently. I love how this is a time we can come together and share about our day, work on art or a craft, and read a story or enjoy poetry together.
I hope you find some inspiration in all of this for your own Waldorf or Charlotte Mason homeschool journey! If you follow either of these approaches, or both of them, I’d love to hear how you do it!
If you are interested in learning more about Waldorf or Charlotte Mason homeschooling check out the following resources:
Waldorf Homeschool: Check out the book, Waldorf Education: A Family Guide edited by Pamela Johnson Fenner
Charlotte Mason Homeschool: Check out the book, A Charlotte Mason Companion Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning™ Written by Karen Andreola at https://charlottemason.com/
If you would like to get started with morning time, tea time, picture study, composer study, or nature journaling, or if you already do all of them but need more ideas and inspiration check out my Celebrate the Seasons Curriculum coming this summer. You can download and try an entire week of this beautifully illustrated, step by step guide for free right now.