Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Beginner's Summary of Charlotte Mason's Principles of Education

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If you have been a reader-friend for a little while, you would know that I have been getting acquainted and getting a deeper understanding of the Charlotte Mason way of homeschooling. As soon as I began researching education for our wee family at home, it was this philosophy that resonated with me immediately and profoundly. Even after reading the other predominant homeschooling groups, the CM way is the way for us! 

Did you catch the video I made of my Argh! I Don't Know What Kind of Homeschooler I Will Be! moment? See it here!

A few years back I briefly read through Miss Mason's book Home Education. I enjoyed it but my kids were still young preschoolers and so I didn't take too much of it all in. I kept reading loads of blogs. And I also read Catherine Levison's A Charlotte Mason Education (a good brief summary) and fell in love with Susan Schaeffer MacCauley's For the Children's Sake (which I am currently reading through for the third time).

Now that we are homeschooling officially and I believe the Lord has confirmed for me that this is the way He wants us to go for us to have a beautiful, rich, and varied curriculum, it is time for me to dive into Miss Mason's writings head-on. It's exciting! It's daunting! And I wanted to share with you the beautifully true and wise principles she has for the education of children from the early years (0-6 years) to 9-years-old.

Before I begin, I just wanted to remind you that I am just beginning to homeschool and I am a beginner Charlotte Mason-er! This summary is from that perspective only. If you want a more experienced voice, try this "real-life" post from Mom Delights (great blog, by the way), this incredible page of wisdom here, and this wonderful post for the early years from Around the Thicket.

Children Are Born Persons

Miss Mason bases her entire philosophy upon the idea that God has made children people right from birth. They are not blank slates to be written upon or empty buckets to fill. From birth, God has uniquely made each and every child their own person, with their own personality, will, and reason. Their education, therefore, must be grounded on feeding that little person good, noble, pure, and beautiful truths (which she calls 'living ideas').

"The principles of authority on the one hand and obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but these principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of the children, which must not be encroached upon, whether by fear or love, suggestions or influence, or undue play upon any one natural desire."

Children Need Loving Authority

Miss Mason recognised that children are their own people and should not be manipulated by adults. Yet, she fully understood that children have sinful natures and that they need the teaching and guidance of the parent and the teacher to help them grow up in obedience to be adults who can be used by God.

She taught, in this respect, of the two principles: the Way of the Will and the Way of Reason. A child ought to be shown and taught how to from from "I want" to "I will". No-one can be used by God by having a disposition of "I want". As the child matured, she believed that he could be shown how to reason well - that is, to be able to discern truthful ideas and reject those that are wrong. Their education is their learning to take responsibility for this skill so that, as adults, they can choose the right path for life.

A large part both the Will and the Reason training was the careful and deliberate work of the mother in training her children with good habits. Both moral and physical habits were encouraged and Miss Mason had a generous list of habits as guidance. Before formal lessons would begin at age six (she did not recommend any earlier), character/habit training was a key task of the mother. She likened it to laying down the rails so that, as years go by, there would be smoother days for both child and parent.

"There are also two secrets of moral and intellectual self management which should be offered to children [the two ways]...These principles...should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which most of us live at a lower level than we need."

Children Need a Living Education

Miss Mason advocated for children to have a natural learning environment where they could learn freely and in their own element. Contrived, "twaddle"-ised settings would only block and hinder children from receiving nourishing truths and ideas. Instead of dry textbooks or trivialised books ("twadde"), a parent was to give living books - that is, books passionately written by an author on a topic, usually in story form.

Exposed to large amounts of outdoor time (she recommended six hours a day), children should keep nature journals and be part of the world God had created. Artist appreciation, composer study, hymns, handicrafts, copywork, narration, and lots of reading would be the feast of curriculum exposed to young children.

A Living Book Example

Our current Art Appreciation read-aloud

Fundamentally, Miss Mason reminded parents to not separate learning from God. There is no "education time" and then "spirital time". All that is here - physics, sunflowers, language, a good story, beautiful handwriting - is inexplicably tied to God, and children, implicitly sense this within themselves. The educator mustn't block or hinder this relationship between God, His world, and children.

"We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and the 'spiritual' life of children; but should teach them that the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual helper in all interest, duties, and joys of life."

A Rich and Generous Feast

I really believe, as I look more and more into this philosophy of education and see examples around the internet of homeschooling families, it really seems to be the most excellent life of learning and living. Gentle and quiet, yet vigorous and deep, the Charlotte Mason way of educating a child will give both parent and student an incredible homeschooling experience.

Despite revolutionising the English education system well over one hundred years ago, the truths she wrote are timeless. The proof is in the thousands of homeschooling families who implement her principles into their goals for family life and a child's learning.

I didn't think that I would ever become a Charlotte Mason "purist". It seemed so much to wrap my head around, especially when I see the incredible curriculum offered at Ambleside Online.com. There is still a long way for me to dive into the depths of her thoughts and advice, and yet I sense myself becoming more and more loyal to her wise experience. More than that, I see the fruit in my children's lives and the love they have for us sitting down together and exploring living ideas in beautiful books made by a living God. How could I put a halt to that?

Are you a Charlotte Mason homeschooler? If not, what do you think about some of her principles of education?


  1. Happy birthday Sarah!Hope you had a lovely day. My birthday is also this week, but apparently I'm a fair bit older than you! Love the the new blog header- it's really appropriate :-)

    1. Gwen, thank you so much! And happy birthday to you! :D

  2. Hi Sarah, I am a former homeschool mom of two. I didn't use the Charlotte Mason method, but read a lot of good reports of the curriculum. I pray many blessings for your family as you go through this wonderful journey of homeschooling together. :)

    1. Penelope, thank you so much - we need them! :D

  3. Many homeschool moms I know may not have started out Charlotte Mason style, but as they become more seasoned homeschoolers they start to lean more and more toward that style of education. I'm intrigued by Charlotte Mason. I love her principles. I'm not ready to jump all in, just being honest, but I try to use some of her principles mixed in with others that are more structured. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your journey as you start your homeschooling year. Thanks for linking up with us at #LiveLifeWell

    1. Thank you for hosting!

      What I love about homeschooling is that it is flexible and works around how the family works. Who knows if CM will forever suit us? But really thankful for these younger years and all that it enables for us, it certainly works well right now :D

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I have always loved her style though we do not really use it. I have always thought it was wonderful!

    Thanks for linking up @LiveLifeWell!