Charlotte Mason’s Living Math: A Guided Journey

Charlotte Mason’s Living Math: A Guided Journey

Charlotte Mason’s Living Math: A Guided Journey shows parents how to teach arithmetic using Charlotte Mason methodology. The main source for understanding Charlotte Mason methodology, The Original Homeschooling Series, pays scant attention to math, so Charlotte Mason aficionados have been left with little direction for that subject. Richele Baburina went beyond the obvious source, digging back through other sources to determine exactly how Charlotte Mason actually taught math. The results are presented on two DVDs and in a companion book by Baburina.

On the two DVDs, Baburina explains the methodology through discussion and interaction with Charlotte Mason expert Sonya Shafer as they work through lessons as they would be presented to children. This makes it very easy to grasp this way of teaching.

You can use the teaching methods presented here to teach children from first grade up through about fourth grade without using any purchased math program, or you can use the methods to supplement another math program. Baburina and Shafer do suggest that those using the methodology as their core math program consider using Ray’s New Primary Arithmetic as a source for sample problems so that they don’t have to continually make them up. Applying the methods taught here, you can teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and an introduction to fractions and geometry.

This method of teaching is totally interactive; a parent provides direct instruction, working one-on-one with each child.

Charlotte Mason taught using real life applications, all the while requiring from children attention, accuracy, and neatness. This corresponds with Mason’s emphasis across the board that children need to be self-disciplined to pay attention and apply themselves diligently. She also believed that teachers should not coddle students, allowing them to do sloppy or careless work. In addition, she didn’t believe in helping children through their work to make it easier for them. In math, Mason’s students generally learned through inductive activities. Through guided explorations, they would discover rules or algorithms rather than first having them explained.

While children use manipulatives in this approach, they are simple items like craft sticks, buttons, and coins. To become familiar with numbers, children begin by identifying one object, three objects, or whatever number of objects represent the number they are learning. The teacher then shows the child what the numeral looks like, possibly writing it on a white board. They then look at a card with the number written on it. Next, the student writes the number on a white board. Then, if students are ready, they will write in their math notebooks. So while lessons begin with concrete objects, they gradually move to representation then abstract math. Lessons need to be kept short and interesting.

The process is definitely more interesting than in most math programs. Even before students might have learned all of their numbers, you might introduce simple addition and subtraction concepts using only numbers already introduced while also using physical objects in their environment as manipulatives. For example, you might ask a child, “If you have one cup, and I give you two more cups, how many cups do you have?” You would also have your child learn to count forwards and backwards as they become familiar with numbers. Even advanced concepts are subtly introduced as children discover and work with numbers.

Symbols such as +, -, and = might be introduced when children are learning about the numbers 4 and 5 rather than saved until they have mastered numbers through 10 or 20.

Lessons introducing numbers up through ten will take quite a while since so much is happening beyond simply learning the numbers themselves. The activities I have described are expected to be used for the beginning of first grade level.

Children next learn about money since coins provide a real-life tool for teaching many math concepts. For example, children might count out enough pennies to buy five-cent candy for a number of children, but they readily discover that the pennies start to get heavy. This leads to teaching the value of nickels and dimes. With the introduction of the dime as a replacement for ten pennies, they begin building a foundation for understanding place value. From there, lessons move on to actual teaching of place value using craft sticks or anything else that might easily be bundled into groups of ten. Students will become familiar with numbers up through 100 as they build a foundation for mathematical thinking.

According to a chart in the companion book, if you follow Charlotte Mason’s scope and sequence, in second grade, students move on to more complex addition and subtraction. They are likely to begin working with multiplication as well, possibly mastering multiplication facts up through 6 x 12. Division might also be introduced toward the end of the year. Third grade continues with mastery of the rest of the multiplication table along with division, including long division. You might take longer with each concept since the later concepts taught in this teacher training are generally presented around fourth grade level in most other programs. In addition to conceptual development and written math practice, this approach also stresses mental math skills.

While children begin with oral work, they gradually shift to written work. A white board might be used as children learn concepts, but they soon learn to write math problems in a notebook. Graph paper is recommended for the notebook. First graders should start with large grids (with about 2.5 to 3 squares per inch). You will gradually reduce the size of the squares on the graph paper as children get older. Students do not do a great deal of writing since the emphasis is upon experiential and oral learning activities. Nevertheless, they will complete practice problems in their notebooks.

Presentations on the DVDs are broken up into segments covering various topics in a sequential fashion. You could watch the first few sessions and then get started, coming back later to watch additional segments. Total run time for the DVD segments is a little longer than 3.5 hours. You'll need to spend some time up front learning how to teach this way, but once you've grasped the principles, prep time for teaching should be much lower.

The companion book, Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching does not follow along with the DVD segments. Instead, it is arrange topically, incorporating many quotes from Charlotte Mason along with others from sources used by Mason herself such as The Teaching of Mathematics to Young Children by Irene Stephens. The companion book might serve as a refresher on methods demonstrated on the videos, but it is not particularly easy to locate a topic quickly since there is no index.

The companion book goes further than the DVDs with a section on the relationship between geography and arithmetic, including practical ideas to implement. Geometry and algebra also receive brief attention in the book, highlighting Mason’s thoughts and some suggestions rather than outlining a complete curriculum for geometry or algebra. While the book has some useful information, the DVDs are the “main event.” You can purchase the DVD set on its own if you don’t think you’ll need the book.


As I watched Charlotte Mason’s Living Math, I enjoyed the “Aha!” moments when I grasped how various strategies dovetailed with the rest of what I already knew about Mason’s methodology. I also appreciate the simplicity and practicality of this approach, not to mention cost-savings, for those who have the time to provide direct instruction. Thanks to Baburina and Shafer for finally showing us what a Charlotte Mason approach to math should look like.

Pricing Information

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DVD set and book - $40.90, DVDs only - $21.95

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Instant Key

  • Need For Parent or Teacher Instruction: high
  • Learning Environment: parent or teacher resource
  • Grade Level: grades 1-4
  • Special Audience: adults
  • Technology: DVD
  • Educational Approaches: Charlotte Mason
  • Religious Perspective: secular but Christian friendly

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