Monday, September 1, 2014

A Peek at Charlotte Mason's Principles of Education, by Karen Andreola

A Peek at Charlotte Mason’s 
Principles of Education 
Are you relatively new to home teaching? Perhaps it’s the new school year that leaves you feeling a bit daunted. May I simplify some thoughts for you?  

Charlotte Mason & living books

Recently the publisher of The Old Schoolhouse magazine sent me an invitation to describe Miss Mason’s principles in 400 words. Yikes, a 400 word piece - really? Apparently, a handful of methods will be presented to give new teachers an introduction to each. My first reaction was to cringe. A twitch of an eyelid, followed. I’d never written anything so abbreviated on Miss Mason before, having resisted the task of reducing my heroine into a nutshell. Nevertheless, I felt it an honor to be chosen to write it. And, happy to include Miss Mason into the company of other modern-day sound bites, I complied. It was an exercise of adding and subtracting words fastidiously for five afternoons.  On this post I share it with you.  

Here’ Goes

The teaching method of Christian British educator, Miss Charlotte Mason, makes a good fit in today’s homeschool.

In her writings Miss Mason insists upon using “living books,” as schoolbooks. These enliven the mind and secure interest. Classroom textbooks, compiled by a committee, tend to be crammed with dry facts and information. Living books, by contrast, are often written by one author who enthusiastically shares his favorite subject with us.  

With living books children gain knowledge through their own effort. They dig out the facts and information clothed in literary language, expressing what they’ve learned by narrating it in their own words (composing orally or in writing). Their thinking is personal, follows a train of thought, and isn’t stunted by a page of multiple-choice.

Teachers needn’t be trained in giving lectures. Children educate themselves by narrating from the well-chosen words of authors. Too much explaining by a teacher elicits boredom. True education is self-education.

No bells announce the end of hour-long class periods. Children are free to move promptly onto the next lesson. When drills and skills are kept short children develop the power of attention. Dawdling is discouraged. Students are encouraged to give their best effort. Education is a discipline. This means establishing good and helpful habits, built one action at a time, one day at a time.

Education is an atmosphere. With living books children are motivated by a love of knowledge rather than artificial stimulants such as prizes (stickers, candy, money), competition, and grades. They retained their inborn curiosity. Cramming for tests is avoided. Examinations require the child to narrate what was read during the semester.

Charlotte Mason & Nature Study

Inspiring the love of knowledge in children depends of the presentation of ideas. Ideas are what the mind feeds on. Miss Mason served children a wide curriculum of subjects. She says, “Varied human reading as well as the appreciation of the humanities is not a luxury, a tid-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life.” Education is a life.

homework withheld

Miss Mason places an emphasis on being outdoors to observe nature. Students keep a Nature Notebook. They record their “finds” in drawings, adding poems and mottoes.

After-hours homework is withheld. Children apply their minds at the time of morning lessons. Afternoons provide recreation. For children this means running, climbing, yelling, all out of doors. Handicrafts, chores, life skills, practicing an instrument, and play, are their homework.

Charlotte Mason & Nature Notebooks
Nature Notebook of Yolanda Andreola - 1990s

End of Piece 

Although high school has lessons that overflow into the afternoon, the above is quite doable with elementary age students. Not all at once - at least to start, but as a goal that will be reached as the days and weeks unfold. 

Warming Up to a New School Year

In our house we’d warm-up to a new school year. After breakfast, after shared chores, (usually dishes into the sink, laundry into the machine, guinea pigs fed, etc.) we’d gather around the table for a group reading – the Bible, sometimes a song, a devotional theme, a poem, or a seasonal nature-minute reading. Then, I’d introduce a new book per child and they'd go off on their own. I might display a new painting, assign the drawing of a picture for the cover-page of a notebook, or review multiplication with cuisenaire rods. Light daily lessons made our first week. 

feeding pet rabbits

While our warm-up-week brought forth a series of new things in small steps, it enabled me, the teacher, to gradually gain a firm footing on the schedule. For the student, harder tasks were soon up-and-coming, but the first week (or two) of lessons were intriguing and suspenseful. And, opening the first pages of a fresh supply of living books at the start of a school year felt a little like Christmas.  

schoolbooks - living books

Post Script
My photograph above shows a small sampling of what Miss Mason would call schoolbooks. Pulling them off our shelves, they fit into a particular time period but are not meant to create a curriculum here. They are to be an affirmation to my readers that books of various kinds will enliven and enhance history in a more memorable, more detailed, more expansive, more interesting, and more enjoyable way, than any one textbook can possibly accomplish. The freedom to use living books, and the freedom to home teach in America, is a freedom won and held by activists and is nothing short of a blessing from our Heavenly Father.

Happy new school year to you.

Thoughts off the top of your head (on any part of this post), fond memories, and sentiments are invited.
As Always,
Karen Andreola 


  1. Dear Mrs. Andreola, What a joy to wake up on this, our first day of school for the year, and find that a new post was waiting for me to enjoy. A reminder and highlight to help me keep my focus this morning. I had been wishing for a special nugget and there it was! I was hoping to be able to ease in to this year over the course of a week or two. Everyone seems to be jumping in head first, so to read about easing in slowly and securing that rhythm of schedule...refreshing. Thank you so much and have a lovely day.

  2. This way of life, of learning, is such a joy! It is fun, and not burdensome. We ease into our year too, every year. It is so helpful to me getting into the routine of daily work.

    I could talk with you about this for hours, Karen! Tea soon, okay?


  3. Karen,
    You are an encouraging, faithful guide. Your calm, gentle manner instills confidence and joy.

    My students have long since grown and moved away, but I still have to remind myself to not overwhelm them with my enthusiasm when I find something new and interesting that I think would delight and/or benefit them.

    Have you seen the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? I am reminded of Millie's comment to the brothers, "Don't go grabbing at her like she was a flapjack. Hold off a little. Offer her your arm..."

    The warming up to lessons that you describe is an offer of the arm to our students.

    Happy September!

  4. Oh, goodie, I am very happy to hear that this post on Miss Charlotte Mason's method is a helpful nugget of an idea.

    Chatting comes naturally with us when set on the subject of children and Miss Mason's ideas, doesn't it? Please let me know when your next tea party will be, Deanna.

    I've watched the old musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers with my daughters years back - a video borrowed from their girlfriends (a pair of sisters) and actually thought is was funny. I liked the "impromptu" ballet done in PJs and long skirts by the young ladies in the loft bedroom. I don't remember the line of offering an arm - but I like how you apply the concept to guiding our students. It fits.

    By-the-way, I read that you can recognize a mother by how she is always looking for improvement in her 45-year-old children - he, he.

    There is always something more for us to learn - as we grow in Christ.

    Thank you, Ladies.
    Karen A.

  5. Mrs. Andreola,

    Oh, yes, fond memories........this is our thirteenth year of homeschooling and following dear Miss Mason's methods. I am so thankful to have found your book so many years ago. The closer I have stuck to the methods you outlined, the more peaceful our little home school.

    All blessings,

  6. Karen, you made me giggle with the 45 year old children comment!

    I am 48, and can be somewhat opinionated at times (imagine that...). Now that my children are grown, I have become more attuned to my own mother's facial expressions when she hears/sees something in me that she would like to temper. It was quite humbling the first time I realized that she sees traits and behaviors in me that need pruning. I believe I actually might have been arrogant enough to think that I saw my own adult children's while mine were safely hidden or already outgrown so that my mother would never even think such a though of me!



  7. You met the challenge well, Karen, as you summed up Charlotte's philosophy in a nutshell! :)

    We begin school on Monday (after Ron's week of vacation from work), and I love the idea of easing into our schedule. There is such joy in learning "the gentle way."

    I hope you don't mind that I quoted you in a blog post I wrote earlier this week. It is a statement that you once made in your comments that I have thought of many times. (And it isn't even a thought about homeschooling or Charlotte Mason this time!)

  8. I happened to have been reading your blog "Thinking About Home" yesterday (or was it the day before?) -- anyway, when I saw that a comment of mine was pertinent to your post I was happy that you found my thoughts to be of value.

  9. Thank you for this article. This is my fourth year of homeschooling and first year implementing a more classical approach. It is so freeing and much more enjoyable. I would love book ideas. We are going to the library once a week and coming home with a stack. I am always interested in good twaddle free books.
    Thank you again,

  10. Dear Karen,

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I know our family will benefit from it significantly. This will be our fifth year home instructing but our first year using a Charlotte Mason approach. For months I've attempted to create a schedule that was true to Miss Masons methods but when we had our first day yesterday I quickly realized that what I planned was too much too soon. This post gives me the assurance to follow my intuition and scale back so we can ease in.

    Thank you!

  11. Dear Mrs Andreola, With my birthday money this year, I purchased CM Companion, Pocketful of Pinecones, and Lessons from Blackberry Inn. As we are missionaries in Ghana, West Africa, I've been waiting with anticipation for them to arrive. I gobbled up Pinecones and Inn and was greatly encouraged to just slowly take the small steps every day, thus securing the education I truly desire for my children. I'm now slowly working my way through Companion. It's a gem. Thank you for sharing your years of wisdom ~ Charlotte Mason and now you have added such beauty and truth to our lives. Thank you!
    Patty Sommer

  12. Wonderful, timely reminders, Karen. Thank you so much!

  13. Bravo Karen! You did a capital job explaining Miss Mason's philosophy in so little vocabulary. I can imagine the temptation to add here or there must have been great:-) We are warming up too. I find it gets us into the swing of things by gently getting back into a schedule and routine. Co-op starts in another week and those subjects will be added too, but it won't seem so much as cold water being splashed in the face as it will just another assignment that needs attention. Also, I picked up my copy of Lessons At Blackberry Inn and starting reading a chapter before bed. So fun to reread. I hope you are feeling well:-)

  14. Off the top of my head ....I love your blog and I'm glad you are willing to share your experience and love of Charlotte Mason's style with the rest of us.

    Thank You.

  15. A very wonderful article. That Ms. Mason was a very wise woman, as are you dear Karen . I always enjoy reading your lovely post. Blessings friend

  16. Hi Karen, just received your CD in the mail and really enjoyed listening to it. Thanks for the encouragement and humor you put into the message. I love your blog - I just wish you wrote more often, but I am sure you have more meaningful things to do! Always look forward to the next post.

  17. "Education is an atmosphere." Oh, thank you for the gentle reminder! It's so, so true! We are preparing to dive in on the 15th -- my 23rd year of home-teaching! My, what I've learned along the way. I always re-read my copies of your books, Karen. Like this post, they remind me, once again, of what is important. And while we do use some textbooks, particularly in math and science, they can and do serve as terrific guides as we study/read our way through history. Thank you, my friend, for the many years of encouragement! xo Lisa
    PS: I received my strawberry sachet pattern and am looking forward to creating them with my AnnaLynn this fall when it gets dark early and our woodstove is ablaze. We will enjoy a cup of tea or cocoa and wish you could be with us as we stitch. :)

  18. A very well put nutshell! Lots of memories here. I still enjoy nature walks and will take the grands along with me, and whoever else will come. :-)
    Enjoy your Sunday,

  19. It's hard to believe, after being home with my children and teaching from birth for twenty-eight years, I'll be finishing next year. I think the kids should throw me a retirement party!

    I shared your post this morning on my Facebook page.
    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage