Methods: Charlotte Mason

Who was Charlotte Mason?

Charlotte Mason (18?? - 1923) was a Protestant educator who is often considered a pioneer of the homeschool movement. While I would recommend using some care in reading books by and about her philosophies, her common sense and understanding of how children learn have made her ideas very helpful to many homeschoolers - whether Protestant or Catholic. Her ideas on the use of narration and dictation for reading comprehension and the use of the very best in music, art and literature are particularly insightful.

A Charlotte Mason Companion

Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning
Book cover: 'A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning'
Author(s): 
Karen Andreola
Copyright: 
1998
Publisher: 
Charlotte Mason Research and Supply Co
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
383 pages
Review: 

I have talked to a number of people who read For the Children's Sake, loved it, and wanted more. Karen Andreola has really provided for that need with this book. It was delightful to read Mrs. Andreola's personal experiences and ideas for applying the philosophies of Charlotte Mason to her own family's homeschooling years. Reading through some of the chapter headings gives you a sense of the flavor - The Atmosphere of Home, The Happiness of Habit, How We Use Whole Books, Narration: The Art of Knowing, Teaching Composition, Kernels of Wisdom, Simply Grammar, Hero-Admiration as a Factor in Education, Picture Study, Music Appreciation, Once Upon a Time - Fact or Fairy Tales, Shakespeare: A Mother's Secret Resource, Neighborhood Nature Study, Magnanimity and Enthusiasm, Picnics Any Time At All, etc. Each chapter also includes "Questions for Personal Reflection or Support Group Discussion". Although Karen Andreola is not Catholic, I didn't detect any anti-Catholic bias in her own writings. However, I would use caution with regard to books she recommends (such as Pilgrim's Progress) which may be inappropriate. I think you'll also find that most of her ideas are very compatible with our faith. I would even go so far as to say that using this book might be very helpful in giving your children a Catholic education. Her chapter entitled "Hero-Admiration as a Factor in Education" is a good example. You may at first be frustrated that she doesn't even mention the Saints here. You may realize, however, that the points she makes in this chapter are highly applicable to learning about the Saints and the importance of encouraging your children to know and love them. As with any homeschooling book, there are ideas that I wouldn't agree with on a practical level.

Perspective: 
Protestant
Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 

Charlotte Mason's Original Home Schooling Series

Book cover: 'The Original Home Schooling Series'
Author(s): 
Charlotte M. Mason
Copyright: 
1935
Publisher: 
Tyndale House
Review: 

6 volume set, reference work for adults.

Living books instead of textbooks for teaching. "Narration" or retelling what one has read, rather than fill-in-the-blanks workbooks. Short lessons of 10 to 30 minutes, leaving time for handicrafts and exploration in the afternoon. Plenty of time outside in God's creation, learning to draw and identify plants and animals. If you are using any of these ideas in your homeschool, you may owe a debt of gratitude to Charlotte Mason.

Charlotte Mason was a British Anglican educator of the nineteenth century. She founded a set of schools in Britain and also wrote a 6 volume series of books explaining her ideas and philosophy. These books have influenced many homeschoolers, including Catholic ones, whether directly or indirectly.

Charlotte Mason was an Anglican educator of the 19th century who had a significant influence on British educational thought. Her 6 volume set of books laying out her philosophy of education is still read today, particularly by homeschoolers who are attracted to her vision of a more natural education based on excellent books.

More and more Catholic homeschoolers are feeling her influence whether directly or indirectly. She believed strongly that the overriding principle of educational philosophy should be that children are "born persons" and that they should be treated as such. They should be given access to the thoughts and creativity of great minds expressed in literature, art and music, not isolated in a childish ghetto of "twaddle" - which was her word for teaching materials that talk down to the child. She believed that the hours spent in educating a child should be largely devoted to these "living" ideas, and that plenty of time should be allowed for free play, exploration of materials and most of all, time outdoors to strengthen and invigorate body and mind.

Of the six books, the first one Home Education: Training and educating children under nine is directed at mothers of children ages 6 to 9, assumed to be at home receiving the basics of literacy under the tutelage of the mother or a governess. It attempts to lay a foundation of training in good habits and knowledge of and reverence for God. It tells us that home is the best environment for young children, that obedience and attentiveness are foundational habits upon which all others build, that mothers owe a "thinking love" to their children, and that bad habits should be uprooted at the source before they have a chance to flourish. It also lays out some practical advice for teaching the basics of reading, ciphering, nature study and Bible study.

The second one, School Education, is subtitled "Developing a Curriculum" and discusses how to apply her educational philosophy to choosing a course of study for children in the middle grades. One particularly interesting feature of this volume is the Appendix, which gives sample exam questions and answers by typical students on different levels. It is helpful to look at not only to show the breadth and depth of learning a child can acquire but also to evaluate older children who are being taught by these methods.

The third volume, Parents and Children, is subtitled "The role of the parent in the education of the child". It has as its main premise the truth that families, not individuals, are the building block of society, and summarizes the thoughts of some scientists, psychologists and sociologists of the time in light of this premise. It tells how parents should rule, inspire, train, and teach their children.

Volume 4, Ourselves, is subtitled "Improving character and conscience" and is an attempt to discuss conscience and will in the light of her educational philosophy laid out in her other books. It has an allegorical theme of "The Kingdom of Mansoul" and is directed to children of (I would say) high school age. The fifth volume, Formation of Character: Shaping the child's personality is largely a series of stories written to illustrate how to develop character in children. It starts with a series of episodes identifying problem situations with children in home life - Kitty, who has the attention span of a butterfly, Guy, who falls into intense fits of rage, Agnes, who broods and sulks - and gives ideas on how to deal with these situations. The second part offers some biographies of individuals with particular emphasis on what influenced the development of their personalities. These two books seem more dated to me, perhaps because of the story format in which they are written.

The last one, called A Philosophy of Education and subtitled "Curiosity -the pathway to creative learning" is more generally written to other educational philosophers and defends the value of a "liberal education" for every child, not just those of the upper classes. Since it talks about what the goal of education should be, and what kind of citizen should be result, it is interesting to read for someone whose children are in high school and preparing to go out into the world.

A recurring theme of all the books is the gospel admonition that we must not, "Offend not, despise not, hinder not" the children or keep them from truth. She maintains that authority and obedience are the most important moral principles and the axis upon which all other moral laws must balance. The worst offense of parents against children is that they misunderstand and misuse this principle either by being arbitrarily harsh or arbitrarily mild. She contends that parents are not given children as property but as trusts to God and society, which they must fulfill responsibly. These are all, of course, in accordance with Catholic doctrine (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church on family and morals). Educational institutions are subordinate to the family and child, and a liberal education (by which she meant one fitted to expand the child's horizon) should be the birthright of everyone, not just a selected few.

Some have criticized some of Charlotte Mason's philosophies as un-Christian or un-Catholic. One example is her contention that "children... are not born either good or bad, but with possibility for good and evil." Some have felt that this denies original sin and allies Charlotte Mason with modern humanism. My sense from the context of her words is that she is making a distinction between original sin and actual sin. The fact is that an infant has never committed a personal sin, and that the sacrament of Baptism wipes out even the stain of original sin, while leaving a tendency to concupiscence. In this light, what she is saying is that any child can become a saint or a demon as a result of what they do during their lives. If you read her words in this way they are thoroughly orthodox and were stated as a counter to the Calvinism of her time, which contended that small infants were corrupt limbs of Satan and that the evil must be punished out of them.

Another criticism is that she spoke approvingly of thinkers like Rousseau who were violently anti-Christian and anti-Catholic. In fact, she did think it important to reference and discuss the works of philosophers of her time who had a wide influence, but her seeming object in doing so was to sort out what was true in their thought from what was false and dangerous.

There are parts of her books that will seem quaint, outdated and even self-contradictory to the reader. Some examples are the way she emphasizes wearing wool as superior to cotton or linen; or discusses the latest scientific theories that habits leave physical imprints on the brain. These types of things have to be taken in their historical context and referred to a more general principle - that physical health is important for mental health and that habits are the building blocks of virtue (these, of course, are also thoroughly Catholic principles). I find some of her specific precepts on training children a little bit impracticable and discouraging - she will say that a child should be trained in good habits, but without recourse to "direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire". I am assuming she believes that a child's motive for doing well should be "for love of the good Lord" as St Therese's family taught her, but it is not altogether clear by exactly what steps one should guide one's child towards this highest and best of all motives.

And of course, lastly, this is not a Catholic series and one will not find mentions of the sacraments as the best ways to nourish the virtues in a family.

In general, this is a valuable series for the home schooling family. It is not an easy read. The most useful way I have found to read the books is to pick them up a little at a time. If you want a friendly introduction to Charlotte Mason's ideas, I recommend Karen Andreola's A Charlotte Mason Companion" or Susan Schaeffar Macaulay's "For the Children's Sake" (both written from a Protestant perspective). There are also several resources on the web.

Additional Comments: Although I bought the six volume series written by Miss Mason herself, I found it very slow going and hardly dipped into series. I recommend reading the books by Mrs. Macaulay and Mrs. Andreola before purchasing this series.

- Alicia Van Hecke (3-26-01)

Perspective: 
Protestant
Review Date: 
3-26-01
Reviewed by: 

For the Children's Sake

Foundations of Education for Home and School
Book cover: 'For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School'
Author(s): 
Susan Schaeffer McCauley
Copyright: 
1984
Publisher: 
Crossway Books
Number of pages: 
165 pages
Review: 

The information in this book is mostly gleaned from the writings of Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educator who has had a great deal of influence on the homeschooling movement of the late 20th century.

This book will help you look at your child's educational needs and potentials outside the realm of the "school system." The ideas and suggestions are fresh and creative (and especially helpful for the early years). I especially like her focus on introducing children to great art, great music and great literature. After reading her book, I put on a Mozart CD especially for my three year old daughter to listen to - and was delighted to discover that she loved it! A trip we made to an art museum became a treat for her and much more enjoyable for my husband and I because of some other ideas we tried from the book.

Her description of "twaddle" (books and materials that are inferior, "cheezy", - especially many books "written down" to a child's level. etc.) and why to avoid it is so refreshing. Some of these ideas could well be applied to Catholic books - which should not only be Catholic in content, but intelligent and beautiful in presentation. We live in a culture that encourages us to fill our lives with loads and loads of cheap clutter that's usually made in China. I'm trying to buy things more carefully. When choosing new materials for school or even toys for Christmas I'm trying to find things that are beautiful and lasting. This also forces me to buy fewer things because the quality can be more expensive. I believe this is better for my children and my sanity!

Perspective: 
Judeo-Christian
Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 

Real Learning

Education in the Heart of the Home
Book cover: 'Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home'
Author(s): 
Elizabeth Foss
Copyright: 
2003
Publisher: 
By Way of the Family Press
Number of pages: 
255 pages
Review: 

Elizabeth Foss, mother of seven homeschooled children (ranging in age from 16 down to toddler), has done a great job synthesizing her approach to "educating a child in the heart of the family given to that child by his Creator" in her book, Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home.

The book mixes Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy (lots of living books, short lessons and "masterly inactivity") with pithy quotes from Edith Stein, Pope John Paul II and other Catholic thinkers and educators. She points out that although Charlotte Mason and Edith Stein never met or read each other's writings both emphasize the "absolute necessity of engaging the whole child - heart, soul and mind - in order to educate him".

For the first third of her book, Foss explains her philosophy of educating in the home. It is a different way of looking at how to homeschool. She explains that no subject should be an entity unto itself but instead, all courses should feed off each other. Learning becomes then such a part of the student's world that learning is a "24/7" activity. I especially like that teaching the Catholic faith to our children is not taught in a vacuum. Liturgical celebrations - the cycle of feasts and famines - enliven the school year. The Catholic Church's actions and her many heroes illustrate different periods of history. Liturgical music (classical, chant or contemporary) defines different music styles. Art takes off by incorporating the study of various forms of religious art - iconography, renaissance, church architecture and others. Religion passes from textbook memorization into the heart and soul of the student, to carry them through to adulthood. The Catholic faith is lived in the heart of the home.

Mrs. Foss points out this is not a "how-to" book, but rather a "fly on the wall" perspective of real learning in the Foss (and other) household. Each home will develop its own curriculum. She has detailed quotes from other homeschooling veterans who also use their own form of Charlotte Mason education.

Suggestions for reading books, a sample unit study for Advent, and quotes from other "real learning" homeschoolers make Real Learning a very usable, practical guide to develop your own "real learning" curriculum. I read it at the beginning of my journey with my little ones and again about halfway through. Each time I took away so much more. I'll read it again this summer to refresh my teaching "in the heart of the home".

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
6-14-05
Reviewed by: 

When Children Love to Learn

A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today
Author(s): 
Elaine Cooper (ed)
Publisher: 
Crossways
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Who, in the homeschooling or education world has never heard of Charlotte Mason, the late 19th/early 20th century British education philosopher? Her writings, which helped to change the face of schools in England, had been long-neglected until the penning of books like Susan Schaefer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake or Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning. Elizabeth Foss, a Catholic mom of (soon-to-be) eight children wrote Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home, which helped bring Catholic homeschoolers into an understanding of this Anglican educator.

When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today helps to bridge the gap between “traditional” schools and home schools trying to apply the CM philosophies to the school day. A collection of essays by “traditional” school educators – those who have implemented the philosophies in “real schools” both private and public – apply just as much to the home school environment. You’ll find how schools have implemented CM’s picture studies, nature journaling and handicrafts into their daily lesson plans. Tweaked a bit, the advice from these veterans can be translated to the homeschool schoolroom.

Mason’s techniques such as narration, living books and the absence of “twaddle” are translated into American classrooms and, again with tweaking, into American homeschools. Proven practices of how to implement the four pillars of education – education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life, a relationship between teacher and student – within a classroom setting are invaluable to the homeschool setting. The focus of a CM classroom – whether a private, public or home school – is the child as an individual made in the image and likeness of God and with the attendant responsibilities to be nurtured and taught accordingly.

The second section of the book – An Applied Philosophy – takes all the CM techniques and develops weekly lesson plans and sample schedules for lower and middle schools. This is by necessity a broad-brush approach to lesson planning, but still has some gems of wisdom.

If you’re interested in CM philosophy and education methods, this book When Children Love to Learn: a Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today is a great addition to your resource shelf. For further information about CM from a Catholic viewpoint, check-out Elizabeth Foss’ forum at www.4real.thenetsmith.com/ or her blog Real Learning: Education in the Heart of My Home.

Crossway Books publishes this, as well as many other, Christian-based education books. Some of their books are inappropriate for a Catholic audience, but this one should prove quite useful!

Review Date: 
2-21-06
Reviewed by: