Our Method

I want to talk briefly about someone called Charlotte Mason, the person whose method we claim has inspired our courses.

Miss Mason was a Victorian educator who wrote extensively about effective ways to teach children so that they would be inspired by their studies rather than subjected to boring rote learning. She put these principles into practice in her Ambleside school, both with school pupils and students who were learning to teach. It's her principles of education that form the backbone for courses at Dreaming Spires Home Learning.

Miss Mason's Volume 6 is key to our Curriculum at DSHL

A very short version of Miss Mason's philosophy is that she was fighting against that stultifying, oppressive environment of early public schools in the late 1800s in England. Instead of forcing children to memorize facts, and receive smacks on their hands if they got it wrong, she wanted to offer an academic diet of rich and interesting books, full of ideas that the children could get excited by, and that allowed them to come up with their own ways of relating to the information.

In addition to the books she chose, which she termed "living books" because of their living ideas, she arranged the school day into short lessons of about twenty minutes per subject, packed back-to-back over several hours. By changing subjects frequently after a short period, the students were able to concentrate for the whole morning at a stretch, stimulating different parts of their brain along the way.

She also was a big proponent of nature study, looking and appreciating great art, listening to classical music, exposing children to foreign language via conversation with native speakers, and three techniques known as narration, copywork, and dictation.
Narration is the technique of telling back what a child has read. This helps them to pay more attention as they're reading in the first place, and also, to remember it better in the long term.

Copywork, or for the later years, transcription, is when a student copies word for word from a great book, learning not just the style of the author by imitation, but learning how to hold words, punctuation, and sentence structures in their head, often then naturally adopting the writing style of the master in their own writing. 

Dictation is when a passage is studied for spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, and then the student is asked to write it out as it's being read to them, trying to imitate the mechanics exactly so that they gain mastery in their language skills.

These techniques have all been proved effective with students for over a century, and so Dreaming Spires has adopted many of the ideas into the curriculum that each of our subject tutors have designed.

What may be confusing to you, however, is that we say that we're CM "inspired" rather than Charlotte Mason purists.

The truth is, we aren't any less CM in how we approach our different subjects, but we recognize a true Charlotte Mason household is going to study a wide variety of subjects during the course of the day, focusing on each one for about 20 minutes, and spreading those studies over a year, two years, maybe even more.

This is how I run my OWN homeschool with my four children. You can see a glimpse of our CM-homeschool in action in this article from The Telegraph, a national newspaper from the UK that featured our family in a piece about the lifestyle of home education.


So even though I know what a CM household usually looks like, we aren't trying to re-create that daily variety at Dreaming Spires in the same way: instead, we want to be PART of YOUR variety, using Miss Mason's principles while helping you aim for the modern quest for qualifications and opportunities.

To do that, we've adopted some of the main qualities of CM: to incorporate reading only whole books, to spread the reading throughout the week, to expect at least one written narration, to pose thought-provoking questions that often have more than one answer or a personal response, to encourage copywork, and in short, to work toward lighting a fire rather than just filling a bucket.

Some people then worry that we're not doing enough to UK exams, if we "light the fire" when a syllabus needs to be followed and past papers need to be perfected. Both Miss Mason and Dreaming Spires say, "Don't be too hasty!"

Excellence in a subject, owning it for oneself, being inspired by it, all go a lot further toward mastery than getting a past paper down pat, and will last longer into a student's life, too.

If you're really unsure and want to focus on technique for exams, you can always take our courses for the breadth they'll offer you, or even start younger at about age 12 where the foundation will be really strong for those exam years.

Over a thousand students have done so with us so far, and their acceptance to Cambridge, West Point, Durham, etc, are our proof in the pudding.

Kat speaking at the CM Conversations' UK 
Conference, 2018

Whether you consider yourself a CM household or not, we want you to be inspired by her vision for the possibilities that your child can achieve through her methods, and excited that there's a provider of courses that can help you on that journey of exploration and excellence.

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Suggestions, ideas, tweaks, or maybe you're just a happy Dreaming Spires student who wants to leave some encouraging words! Thanks for posting! Kat