Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason

Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason
January 1st, 1842
January 16th, 1923

     Charlotte Mason is my heroine. I stitched her name into an historic sampler a while ago and had it framed.

Charlotte Mason sampler
      As much as I’ve put pen to paper about her work, words faintly describe my admiration for her accomplishments - and her modesty. Have you noticed how little she talks about herself in her writings? Rather, the founder boasts of her findings for the children's sake. She was a Christian not merely by church association (the Anglican Church) but by her commitment to live for Christ. 

     Here is a photograph of my desk in the attic where I write to you. I made it tidy for the picture. On another wall (not shown) is an old bookshelf (painted pink for a young daughter) and the sewing machine - where I enjoyed making a pink cushion for a chair. The oil painting portrait of Charlotte Mason, commissioned for the cover of my purple book,  keeps me company.    

Charlotte Mason protrait

Idealism at Work
     At Charlotte Mason's memorial service a gentleman who gave the prayers and addresses said, “She was . . . the living example . . . that it is character that matters. She had a shrewd, saving north-country common sense which kept her idealism from ever becoming an unpractical fact.”*1 Reaching for ideals we labor to put into practice those things that inspire us. Instead of being frozen in our tracks - fretting about feeling inferior to the huge task before us, we get busy making mistakes. Consequently, by and by, we learn to do things better. A superior education is the result as we meet with success in odd hours. Out of love and duty we quietly seek to advance His kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” How grateful this imperfect Christian is to know that when we yield to the Holy Spirit, the Divine Educator, He works in us and through us.

We Grow When Fed
     I fervently hope that my reader will take time for Mother Culture this year. One way is to feed her mind. This equips her for guiding her children. In the earliest years of my motherhood I was an eager, but slow, learner. The “slow” was leftover from my less-than-empowering youth. Nevertheless, I poured through articles and books. I read in fifteen-minute-snatches while my energetic children played in the afternoon. I read beside the sandbox or beside the puddle pool (where my pages and I survived splashes). I read on the edge of the hot drive while tricycles wheeled happily around in circles. I read on rainy days while children played inside the living-room tent (a blanket supported by kitchen chairs.) Does this give you any ideas?
     Fifteen minutes of reading now and again will do a mother a power of good. It takes two-to-three minutes to read a blog post. Perhaps in today’s on-line world fifteen minutes with a well-written book would be considered luxurious lingering, and not the quick “snatch” it once was.  

Harmony of Lifestyle
     Eventually I began to call the collection of Miss Mason's principles “The Gentle Art of Learning™.” They harmonize so well with the background of sane living that it becomes difficult to tell the two apart. The living books, narration, early hours, short lessons, the way of habit and reason, the picture study, music appreciation, nature study, love of God and service to others, etc., are pearls of great value. Parents reading about Miss Mason for the first time are struck with the sensibleness of it all. Their letters to me confirmed this. “This is what I’ve always thought education should be but haven’t been able to put into words.”

Not a Fad
     In these modern times we can glean from the same principles Miss Mason advocated in the 19th century because they are not a fad. They are fundamental, simple and straightforward. “Lifestyle” wasn’t a word in Miss Mason’s day. But the concept of a lifestyle of learning was what she strove to bring to our notice. And although we may say, “of course, this is the way to do it, this is what we want for our children,” little pearls of great value can be left undefined. On this blog and in my books I point out the pearls.

The Lake District of England
     Every once in awhile I am privy to someone, who with light-hearted anticipation, plans a trip to England’s Lake District - where Miss Mason lived and taught for a good part of her life. I am asked what to see. To the surprise of my questioner I respond curtly but politely. “I’ve never been. It’s Dean who’s been. In the 1980s he visited the (then) Charlotte Mason College,” I say. 

     I had the opportunity once. In the 1990s I was sent a formal invitation to take part in a reunion of PNEU teachers, the few remaining teachers who were trained decades prior at Miss Mason’s House of Education in Ambleside. It was a big deal to me. I felt honored. But I was exhausted from our recent household move, and not having the courage to hop on a jet plane by myself, to travel so far from my family, I gracefully declined. It is doubtful that I’ll ever get to the Lake District in my lifetime.

     That’s why some months ago, when asked by email, “What shall I see?” my closing remark surprised me. “Miss Mason is buried at St. Mary’s. If you visit her grave would you place a flower on it for me?” My eyes were wet with tears the instant I clicked “send” and caught up with what my fingers had so boldly requested. But I didn’t amend it. And, Lynnda (a friend from Maine who taught her four children K-12 treasuring a wide variety of living books) wrote back to say she would.

Mission Accomplished
     A few months passed. I heard from Lynnda again. With her email she attached these photographs her daughter had taken. I felt my heart move and thanked her most sincerely. And when I asked if I could share parts of her letters she said, “Certainly.”

"Dear Karen,
     . . . Our first view of St. Mary’s Parish Church in Ambleside was from a narrow, twisting lane that dropped steeply from the high fells overlooking Ambleside. I spotted the church steeple from this bird’s-eye view. It reminded me of looking down on Camden [Maine] from Mt. Battie.
     After a stop at a florist to select a flower, we proceeded to the churchyard. I was afraid it might take us quite a while to find Charlotte Mason’s grave since there are a considerable number of stones. Evidently there have been many people seeking out Miss Mason’s grave because there was a discreet sign pointing us to the right direction. I was curious to learn when the sign had been placed there, but no one I asked knew the answer.

     I was very pleased to be able to fulfill your request of laying a flower on Charlotte Mason’s grave. You’ll notice that the flower was red. I thought it a fitting choice since red seems to be a favorite of yours.

     The tag I attached to the stem was a last-minute thought, otherwise I would not have torn a page from my journal and written the first thing that came to mind. I wanted anyone who saw the flower to know it was from you, as you’ve done so much to bring Miss Mason’s teachings to light and make them accessible for so many grateful homeschoolers. I still remember how I devoured A Charlotte Mason Companion. It was such an encouragement for me to know that what I had been doing by gut feeling with my children was practiced by others, and that I wasn’t alone in what I felt education should be. Even if I had never met you, I’d feel like you were a cherished book friend. . .

      The Lake District is as picturesque as I could have imagined. I particularly enjoyed visiting Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top and seeing the places she painted in her little books. I do hope you’ll be able to make a visit there someday. . .”  Love Lynnda

End Notes
*1 Parents’ National Educational Union, In Memoriam – Charlotte M. Mason, page 223.
Photographs at St Mary’s are used with permission.

Thank you Lynnda for helping me honor Charlotte Mason today.

Happy New Year to all, 
Karen Andreola 


  1. Once again, a thoughtful, encouraging post! So interesting to hear of your friend's trip and to see the pictures of CM's grave...and the special flower left in her honor.
    Sue R.

  2. So lovely. And I join with Lynda in thanking you for your contribution.


  3. Your blog continues to remind me of the joy of schooling our (now adult) children and ourselves with lovely living books. Thanks for bringing Charlotte Mason to so many. It's a delight to see that now my grandchildren enjoy reading and learning in a similar fashion.

    Motherculture remains an important part of my life as a grandmother and older Titus woman.

    Happy and Blessed New Year to you and yours,

    Mary Chiles

  4. How beautiful. When I first began to research homeschooling and came across the name of Charlotte Mason along with a description of her education style, I knew I had found a guide for our learning. Our lifestyle was already a "fit" for her principles; it was wonderful for me and my husband to find an actual resource for the type of education already laid on our hearts. Your book, A Charlotte Mason Companion, was a wonderful, encouraging gift as we began to transition from informal toddler learning to a more structured day of learning with our children. Mason's principles do simply fit with how we desire to live each day, there is no need to complicate learning and living. Thank you for continuing to share here.

  5. Oh Karen,

    This brought tears to my eyes! How beautiful.

    Miss Mason shares a birthday with Lindsay, I never realized it.

    Happy New Year to the Andreola family!


  6. How beautiful!


  7. How simply wonderful of Lynnda to leave that flower for you. It brings a tear to my eyes that you may never visit Miss Mason's grave yourself; I hope you do get to go one day, dear Karen. :) I'm working on lesson planning this week and picked up my own well-worn copy of your contribution to the "gentle art of learning" -- that purple book -- for inspiration and encouragement. Thank you, Karen! :) A most happy and blessed new year to you and your dear family. Love in HIM,

    Lisa :)

  8. This made me cry. How kind it was of Lynnda to leave the flower and she was right in the color.
    For Christmas I purchased Simply Grammar and Story Starters for our home school journey. Can't wait to get started.
    Once again thank you for sharing with us.
    Hope you and Dean have a Happy New Year

  9. Oh my this post brought tears to my eyes. Happy wonderful kind tears.
    As you know Karen your book has been such an inspiration over our homeschooling years. Now that I am studying to be a naturopath I am using many of the techniques for myself in my study.
    And Lynda thank you for placing such a sweet note with the flower PERFECT.
    Love Leanne NZ

  10. When I began our home schooling journey, over 18 years ago, I knew that Charlotte Mason will be my guide through it all. Her approach to schooling is exactly the way I always knew children should be taught, so when my children were old enough I began.

    It is the way I found you Karen, through the book you so graciously wrote for all of us mothers that were starting our journey.

    Thank you for sharing her with me... many moons ago :0) Maria

  11. What a great way to start off the new year. I especially was grateful to be reminded to keep moving. A moving person will accomplish the task, rather than being overwhelmed and afraid to make mistakes.
    The Charlotte Mason tribute was touching and yes brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for enclosing the pictures.
    For the children's sake,
    Martha B

  12. www.thefaithfulfamily.comJanuary 2, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    Simply beautiful. Thank you for sharing this and for sharing yourself- for sharing your education, your discipline, your life. We are all so very blessed by it.

  13. What a wonderfully sweet thing for Lynnda to for you. I hope, one day, you are able to visit there yourself. If not, I know you will have quite the reunion in Heaven. Thank you for all you have done for me. You changed the course of homeschooling for our family through your purple book.

  14. Karen,
    You continue to amaze me. I treasure every single word you write. Thank you for being the gentle, kind soul that you are. Always grateful...

  15. That is such a touching story, Karen. It was a sweet desire on your part, and a lovely gesture by your friend who went the extra mile.

    As you are grateful to dear Miss Mason, so many of us are grateful to you for introducing us to her ideas and making them "doable" for the homeschool moms in the trenches.

  16. Dear Ladies,
    I'm filling up on "tea and sympathy" this Saturday morning as I read your comments - less on the tea.

    The sky is blue, the cold air is still, the blanket of snow is bright. And I'm content to be here in my parlor with my lap top in the company kindred spirits far and wide.

    . . . now to tackle the kitchen. Onions await chopping and I've something to put in the oven.

    I enjoy our visits,
    Karen A.

  17. I have read your blog for a very long time - rarely comment - and this is one of my favorite posts. The person who did this for you is surely a sweet Sister in Christ.

    Thanks for sharing with us all.


  18. How lovely for you to now have those pictures, and how sweet of your friend to do that for you.
    Blessings Gail

  19. Thank You for this lovely post! So inspiring. I really do hope you can visit. I really Fell in love with Beatrix potters ''little bunny books'' and then a friend offered me to borrow The Charlotte Mason Companion. I couldn't put it down. I always wonder if Beatrix and Charlotte Mason where friends! I could imagine them being the best of friends. Blessings, Elena

  20. The "Companion" is one of my favorite books. I even love the weight and the pretty color of the cover - everything is so promising, and I just love it to take it out of the shelves.
    Thank you for the glimpse in your serene writing room! It seems peaceful and inviting to write uninterrupted. And I like your curtains!

  21. A delightful read!

    Just the perfect post to begin the new year and exactly what I would expect your attic room to look like. It's cozy and inviting. The pink and red are ideal. Your taste is simple and romantic.

    You do a fine job of presenting your readers with a moment here and there of mother culture. Thank you. I'm looking forward to this new year and the wisdom that I will continue to glean from "my" heroine...Mrs. A.


    Love from the backwoods,


  22. Dear Karen,

    What a treasure you are! How nice to have a friend leave a flower for Miss Mason, from you. Your little corner area of the attic is such a nice little sunny spot; a treasure in itself!



  23. Thank you for this informational and enjoyable post; I did not realize CM was from the Lake District. Some time ago, I purchased the CM Companion, your book, because it looked interesting. Dave and I didn't have children but I've enjoyed your book and found it quite thought provoking, which is a very good thing.

  24. I really enjoyed this post. Regular reading of Charlotte Mason's books (and your Companion) have been so helpful to me.

    Happy New Year.

  25. Dear Karen, I've been reading through your old blog posts little by little. When I came to this one and read of your request to your friend to place a flower on Charlotte's grave I found myself in tears. Those of us whose homes have been so profoundly influenced by this Spirit-led woman can understand your request. We are indebted to her, and not only to her, but to you and all those who have labored to spread her philosophy. When I was expecting my first child (who is now eight years old), an older homeschooling mother gave me the book, For the Children's Sake. Not long after I found your Charlotte Mason Companion at a local private library. Reading through the volumes soon followed. I have never looked back. I find so much encouragement in your writing for it's very style seems to embody the principles Charlotte Mason layed down. I can also very much relate to being an "eager, but slow learner." This is why I am here rereading your posts, why I am continually reading Mason's volumes, just ordered A Pocketful of Pinecones, and am hoping to order the PNEU magazines you put together when I get some birthday money later this year. Thank you. Thank you for laboring so faithfully. What a harvest has followed. Sincerely, Jessica

    1. Happy to learn how you glean encouragement from Miss Charlotte Mason and also that you are enjoying the writing here, Jessica. It is kind of you to share your excitement. Thank you for your uplifting words.