Charlotte Mason was an English educator from the 19th century, who responded to the needs of her time by developing a philosophy of education that centered on the motto, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Six volumes detail her educational philosophies, formed from her experiences with children whom she viewed much differently than her contemporaries. She saw children as more than blank slates. She viewed education as more than preparation for a vocation.
‘Education,’ said Lord Haldane, some time ago, ‘is a matter of the spirit.’ — no wiser word has been said on the subject, and yet we persist in applying education from without as a bodily activity or emollient. We begin to see light. No one knoweth the things of man but the spirit of a man which is in him; therefore, there is no education but self-education and as soon as a young child begins his education he does so as a student. Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant and orderly serving.
The best way to understand Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophies is to read her works yourself. There are several authors who have nicely summarized her ideas and provided us with a practical look at her theories. However, these resources cannot take the place of digging in, reading Miss Mason’s writings and pulling out those ideas that will serve our own families. If you have young children a good place to start is with Vol. 1. If your children are school age, you might begin with Vol. 6.
Here are just a few of the ideas we can borrow from Charlotte Mason:
Learning is a way of life. Learning isn’t something that just happens from the ages of 6 to 18 from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Learning is something that occurs our entire life during all of our waking hours. And the only real education is self-education. Viewing every opportunity as a learning opportunity helps us provide our children with a rich environment for learning.
Individuality of children. Children should be treated as persons in their own right. Our educational methods need to meet their needs in further developing them into who they are. “[Some educators'] notion is that by means of a pull here, a push there, a compression elsewhere a person is at last turned out according to the pattern the educator has in his mind. The other view is that the beautiful infant frame is but the setting of a jewel….”
Read to know. There is “only one way of learning, and the intelligent persons who can talk well on any subjects and the expert in one learn in the one way, that is, they read to know.” Miss Mason viewed the mind of children not as a container to be filled, but as a spiritual organism paralleling the physical; that is, a mind in need of healthy food. “They bring with them not only that intellectual appetite, the desire of knowledge, but also an enormous, an unlimited power of attention to which the power of retention (memory) seems to be attached….” By providing our children with many living books (see below) on many subjects, they read, develop their power of concentration, work on their spelling and composition, and become “well-informed, intelligent persons.”
Living books. All material written by adults for children that “dumb down” the subject matter would be considered “twaddle.” We feed our children the facts without their informing ideas, when the ideas are what our minds need to feed upon to give the facts relevance. “Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur….” Living books, then, are those books where the author knows his subject, and makes a robust presentation that carries the reader along with him. “How living would Geometry become in the light of the discoveries of Euclid as he made them!”
Narration. Tests typically include true/false or multiple choice questions to find out what a child has learned. Rather than ask these types of questions of our children (which actually puts the focus on what they didn’t learn), let the answers bubble up out of the child. Have him narrate the subject matter to you. “…In the act of narrating [he will find that] every power of his mind comes into play, that points and bearing which he had not observed are brought out; that the whole is visualized and brought into relief in an extraordinary way; in fact, that scene or argument has become a part of his personal experience; he knows, he has assimilated what he has read.” This is in contrast to memorizing. “In order to memorise, we repeat over and over a passage or a series of points or names with the aid of such clues as we can invent; we do memorise a string of acts or works, and the new possession serves its purpose for a time, but it is not assimilated; its purpose being served, we know it no more.” Narration really isn’t a replacement for a test (although it can serve that purpose), it is a process by which a person expresses the information he has learned. In the process of narrating, the information becomes knowledge that has purpose and sticking power. Narrations can also lead to interesting and meaningful discussions.
Nature studies. Miss Mason taught that “‘Education is the Science of Relations’; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books….” One way she advocated providing these opportunities to our children was through nature studies, or science by observation, where the child can watch “science” happen. The heavens declare the glory of God and we can provide our children with ample opportunities to learn more about their Creator by observing His creation.
Art and music appreciation. For the same reasons mentioned above, we train our children to observe beautiful works of art. They learn to see why a particular artist’s work has stood the test of time. Likewise, we teach our children to observe beautiful music by listening to the great composers. Later in life they will have a yardstick by which to judge the fine arts they encounter.
- 8 Ways to Incorporate Art Appreciation
Simple, time-saving ways to enjoy beautiful art from our DIYHomeschooler site.
- 10 Helps for Nature Study
Resources for implementing nature studies from our DIYHomeschooler site.
- Ambleside Online
A free online curriculum utilizing the Charlotte Mason approach.
- Charlotte Mason
Other reviews, helps, how-tos, and free eBooks.
- For the Children’s Sake
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, daughter of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, draws from the works of Charlotte Mason to describe education from the foundations up emphasizing a “joyous adventure and celebration of life, as well as a solid preparation for living.”
- Living Books
Tips for incorporating living books into your educational mix.
Nature study helps from our DIYHomeschooler site.
- The Original Home Schooling Series
While there are several guides and other contemporary writings that draw from Miss Mason’s works, none will give you a better idea of how to implement her ideas in your home than reading the original works yourself.
- Pocketful of Pinecones
Pocketful of Pinecones offers an engaging storyline which serves as a framework for the book’s broader appeal as a “how-to” for nature study.
- What Drew Me to a Charlotte Mason Education
Article by Karen Andreola from Practical Homeschooling Magazine outlining a few of the basics.