I wrote in a previous post about trying to come up with a definition of the Charlotte Mason method by boiling it down to its principle components, and then wording those components without using any CM lingo so that even someone who never heard of CM would be able to understand it. This is what I came up with:
A Charlotte Mason education is distinct at its very core because it respects that the child is an individual made in the image of God, and he has a right to know and experience a variety of things, not for the purpose of making him suitable for some future employment, but simply because he is a Person, and is therefore entitled to a full life that includes knowing about everything that is good that the world has to offer that might help him to reach the potential that God designed him for.
This kind of education attempts to expose the child to a rich variety of knowledge in order for him to make meaningful connections with the world around him and develop authentic relationships with God, and with people both in his own direct environment, and from different times and places.
Because the child is entitled to learn about whatever the universe has to offer, his curriculum is carefully arranged for him with a goal of offering variety, much like a delicious, bountiful feast. Science, literature, the arts and practical skills are some of the mandatory dishes offered at this mental banquet. The teacher's role is to provide this well-planned feast, but the responsibility for partaking and digesting this food for the mind rests on the child. The teacher acts as a guide and fellow-partaker of the feast rather than as the authority dispensing knowledge, trying to lecture facts into the child's mind.
Training the child to maintain focused attention allows lessons to be kept short enough to keep his mind fresh and alert and still leave much of the day free to pursue his personal interests.
Ideas that encourage wonder and reflection from the greatest minds of all time are transferred through interesting, narrative books that spark life in the mind, instead of dry, dull textbooks. These books are so vital to this kind of education that the term "living books" is sometimes used synonymously with Charlotte Mason.
Rather than answering stock comprehension questions or outlining wearisome lists of facts, the child considers and clarifies for himself what he read and tells it back in his own words in order to make that knowledge his own. This is called narration, and, as a major part of the child's work in his own learning, is key to making this kind of education successful.
Language arts is learned, not through isolated workbooks and practice sheets, but integrated with his reading through role modeling by studying and copying well-written passages from the school books being used in other subjects.
Science begins with an emphasis on first-hand experience with the wonders of God's world. This direct observation and sensory participation in nature continues even after more focused science is added to the curriculum.
There is an emphasis on moral training, which includes putting oneself in someone else's shoes, and doing one's duty even when that's not the easiest or most convenient choice. Much of this is done through vicariously experiencing the consequences of right and wrong choices through classic books with substantial characters of depth rather than shallow, sentimental stories.
Students educated this way tend to be well prepared to pursue whatever path they choose, whether that be college, job, military or family. The AmblesideOnline homeschool community has many alumni who have graduated and gone on to successful adulthood. What makes a Charlotte Mason education distinct is that these students continue to pursue learning because their schooling has taught them that learning isn't a thing that ends with high school graduation, but something that adds vitality and meaning to their existence.