All posts by Karen Glass

Some Practices are Principles—Part 3

We’re looking at the practices that Charlotte Mason considered important enough to make into principles. Basically, these are the practices that define what is and what is not “a Charlotte Mason education.” If your educational efforts line up with these educational practices, you can feel confident that you are giving your students a “CM” education. (In my introductory post, I abbreviated the principles for the sake of space, but in the course of the rest of the discussion, we’ll be looking at them in full.)

Before we begin, remember #12—Education is the science of relations!

Today, we’re going to look at principle #13, which has three parts.

13. In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:

These are the guidelines for “devising a syllabus” which I think probably corresponds to “designing a curriculum.” You don’t have to design your own, of course, but these are the guidelines you can use to evaluate your curriculum choices if you want to follow a CM education. (I have used AmblesideOnline with all my children, and I can recommend it as an excellent CM curriculum, but it is not the only one that will meet these criteria.)

Okay, the first point:

(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.

Your curriculum needs to offer “much knowledge.” No stingy, starvation diet will do, because you are feeding a growing mind. Charlotte Mason elaborates on this principle when she divides knowledge into three categories—Knowledge of God, Knowledge of Man, and Knowledge of the World. She measured the “quantity” of knowledge by page counts, telling us that:

These read in a term from one thousand to between two and three thousand pages, according to age and class, in a large number of set books; the quantity set for each lesson allows of only a single reading. (Philosophy of Education, p. 241)

(There were three terms in each year, so multiply the numbers by three to see how many pages were read in a year.)

You don’t have to make your page counts match hers exactly, and I hope you realize that isn’t the point. These are a “plumb line” against which we can determine whether or not we are acting in accordance with the principles. A difference of 100 pages per term is probably of no great import, but doing half as much, or twice as much, is probably straying from the “best practices” of a CM education. Give your students sufficient food, but don’t overwhelm them so that they lose their appetites, and above all, don’t leave them hungry and unsatisfied.

The second point dovetails closely with the first:

(b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)

I’ve already mentioned the three-fold division of knowledge. When you take it altogether, it makes a long list of “subjects” that get covered. This is the list from a sample programme (for a child of 12) in Appendix IV of School Education:

Bible, Recitation, French, German, Italian, Latin, English History, French History, Roman History, Geography, English Grammar, Singing, [Hand]Writing, Drill, Dictation, Drawing, Natural History, Botany, Physiology, Arithmetic, Euclid, Reading, Composition, Handiwork

For whatever reason, this one doesn’t even mention picture study, but it was included under “drawing,” and it is interesting to note that three options for picture study were given. This note is included, too: “Children who are beginners or have just been moved up from [a lower class], or who find the work difficult, may omit three subjects.” (emphasis added)

The principle/practice of a “wide and generous” curriculum is the standard, but do you see how flexible it could be? The needs of the child—because the first principle that “children are born persons” is always at work as well—allowed the practices to be flexible for them.

Maybe a child couldn’t handle all the foreign languages, so those would be reduced. Maybe he is struggling in math, so Euclid could be set aside this term. Ideally, you’d work it in later, when the child was ready to tackle it. Maybe a child reading below grade level would be given fewer books, or a child recovering from an injury would omit Drill (PE). Or maybe, the student would dive in with gusto and do it all, and the teacher would be on the lookout for an extra book or two to challenge him.

But what you wouldn’t do, if you were following this principle, is to cut out a whole realm of knowledge, or straighten the program to utilitarian subjects, or just the ones that a child liked. “Education is the Science of Relations” is at work here, too, so we labor to form relations in as many areas as we can.

The third part of our curriculum-building principle is extremely pertinent:

(c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.

Living books. Need I say more? It’s one of those things that lies at the heart of a CM education and permeates all our thinking on the subject. Whatever books we choose should be living and literary, so we won’t choose dry textbooks, or magazine-style books with lots of graphics and little text (no more than snippets of information). I’ll just tell you now that tomorrow’s principle is going to be about narration, and narration can only be done well from well-written books.

I don’t feel the need to belabor this point, because most of us—CM educators—are inveterate book collectors at the same time, and shelf space is always at a premium. Wherever you are, reading this, I’d be willing to bet you can glance up at a well-filled bookcase. Some principles are just so easy to comply with, aren’t they?

Yesterday I shared about how Charlotte Mason's vision for atmosphere has more to do with attitudes than aesthetics.  Even though that's the case, Miss Mason doesn't ignore aesthetics entirely.  We are both body and soul, after all, and we were created for beauty and order.  The spaces we spend our day in absolutely help to set the tone for our homeschooling. But thankfully, we don't need to have picture-perfect rooms to create an environment that inspires virtue, encourages joy, and speaks to what we believe about life and learning. Our home is nothing special decor-wise.  It is a place I am grateful for and it fits our style as a family.  There are also things I would love to change about it. 😉  But that doesn't keep it from helping to cultivate our family culture. What we display, how we order our rooms, where we do lessons — these all depend on family needs, priorities, and yes, limitations too. Here's a peek at how that combination has worked out in our home, where I hope that our ordinary spaces reflect our educational philosophy. (Swipe left to see them all!  I'll add a few notes in the comments about the individual snaps.) Check out @charlottemasonirl for more thoughts on atmosphere in the Charlotte Mason homeschool!

A post shared by Celeste (@celeste_cruz) on

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5

(Pictures are used with permission and are found on Instagram in the community @charlottemasonirl [Charlotte Mason In Real Life]. I’m sure they’d love to have you join in.)

Some Practices are Principles—Part 2

I know I pointed out yesterday that principles 13-15 are the “practical” ones added to the original more abstract principles, but before we dive into those, we need to back up to number 12:

Education is the Science of Relations

There is an awful lot implied by this principle, as I wrote recently. It is also the foundation of the “practical” principles we are going to be talking about, because all of Charlotte Mason’s methods are relationship-building methods.

The full principle reads:

12. “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, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––

“Those first-born affinities
“That fit our new existence to existing things.”

You can see some explicit suggestions there for things that should be included in a “CM education:” physical activity, nature, handicrafts. Those are enriching, real-life activities, things that get you away from the desk, include movement, and maybe some fresh air. But there are more academic relations to be developed as well: science, art, and of course—living books!

"How do we prepare a child, again, to use the aesthetic sense with which he appears to come provided? His #education should furnish him with whole galleries of mental pictures, pictures by great artists old and new…in fact, every child should leave school with at least a couple of hundred pictures by great masters hanging permanently in the halls of his imagination, to say nothing of great buildings, sculpture, #beauty of form and colour in things he sees. Perhaps we might secure at least a hundred lovely landscapes too,––sunsets, cloudscapes, starlight nights. At any rate he should go forth well furnished because imagination has the property of magical expansion, the more it holds the more it will hold." – Charlotte Mason . . #picturesstudyportfolios @simplycharlottemason #simplycharlottemason #charlottemason #charlottemasonirl #educationisanatmosphere #picturestudy #homeschool #atmosphere #truthbeautygoodness #charlottemasonliving #charlottemasoneducation #commonplacebook #digitalcommonplacebook #shelfie

A post shared by Jen McBride (@old.paths) on

But our job isn’t to give our children a body of knowledge, to make sure there aren’t any gaps. No, CM included in this principle the idea that there probably are going to be gaps— “our business is not to teach him all about anything.” So, okay, they aren’t going to learn everything.

But what they are going to do is develop relationships with all the different areas of knowledge. If we are doing something—math is a frequent bugbear—in a way that is causing a child to dislike the material, we are interfering with this principle.

The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? (School Education, p. 170-71)


Is your child getting stressed about something you are doing? This can happen in so many ways—we feel pressured to have them keeping up or making progress. Are they reading well? Are they “caught up” in math? Do they “perform” well enough to make you look like a successful homeschool mother? This kind of stress is counterproductive.

Because education is the science of relations, all the relationships in this relational method of education matter—the relationship between you and your children, and between your children as brothers and sisters, and between each child and the lovely enticing knowledge that is there for him to find in math, science, literature, art, music, and more. Bearing in mind each and every day, as a teacher, that “Education is the science of relations” will keep us mindful of what we are doing. We won’t make a child sit 45 minutes over a page of math problems. We won’t weary everyone by doubling up the lessons to make up for not getting everything done yesterday.

We will take a deep breath and make sure every day is a harmony of atmosphere, discipine, and life that creates an environment in which relationships can grow. Remember that when you know a principle well, you act upon it intuitively.

Of course, this isn’t actually an explicit “how do I do this?” principle. It’s just the principle that is the springboard for the rest of the practical ones. I’m confident of this, because rather than tacking them onto the end, Charlotte Mason chose to insert them exactly here. The new principles are 13 through 15, so number 12— “Education is the Science of Relations” will be fresh in our minds as we consider them and their role.

Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

(Pictures are used with permission and are found on Instagram in the community @charlottemasonirl [Charlotte Mason In Real Life]. I’m sure they’d love to have you join in.

Blog series this week!

In spite of genuine concern that I might actually be mistaken for a faithful blogger, I have written a whole series–five posts!–which is going up this week, one new post each day, beginning today. I’ve been writing about Charlotte Mason’s principles, but I am mindful that some practices in CM’s philosophy of education actually are principles. So that’s the series: “Some practices are principles.” If this topic interests you, I hope you’ll read along. The first post is here.

Enjoy your week!

Karen Glass

Some Practices are Principles—Part 1

I’ve written a bit about principles recently (here and here) because it’s so easy to get caught up in the “what” and the “how” of our day-to-day educational endeavors that we lose touch with that “why,” which is the living, life-giving touch that makes our busy-ness purposeful and meaningful.

I think most of us who have devoted years and years to educating children with Charlotte Mason’s methods know that just looking at the principles alone—laid out at the beginning of each of her volumes—isn’t going to give you any confidence or guidance about how to get started. It’s lovely that Charlotte Mason has, with the principles, identified the path— “this is the way”—but we are still in need of guidance to make it possible to “walk ye in it.”

Charlotte Mason knew that. I’m going to tell you something rather funny from the annals of modern “CM history,” but I hope you won’t laugh at us.

The CM series was republished (thanks to the Andreolas—we owe them much) in the pink volumes we all know so well in 1989. When I acquired my set in 1994, the internet was in its infancy. I found others who were interested in Charlotte Mason, and we plunged in and read the series together, but, as far as the community goes, no one I ever met had read more than one or two of the volumes. We read them together, and there was no one to tell us that volume 6, Philosophy of Education (such a daunting title compared to the friendlier, more accessible Home Education) was a good place to start, because no one had read that far! We observed that there were 18 principles listed at the beginning of each book. We talked about the “18 principles” and even worked systematically through a study of the “18 principles.”

I had been reading and studying about Charlotte Mason for some years before I got to Volume 6, and noticed the difference there—20 principles! There were two new ones? No, there were three new ones, because Charlotte Mason had combined two of the earlier principles into one. I got out my books, and compared them side by side.
The next generation of younger CM educators knows that there are 20 principles, and probably can’t imagine how we missed that for so long, but that’s how it was. Thank goodness we kept on learning and studying, and didn’t stop after Home Education.

Do you know which of the 20 principles are the “new ones,” that CM added later in her life, after many, many years of experience?

I’m giving them in shortened form for the sake of space, but you can find them in full here.

13. In devising a SYLLABUS (I think we might say “curriculum”) for a normal child, three points must be considered:—
(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food.
(b) The knowledge should be various.
(c) Knowledge should be conveyed in literary form.

14. As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part.

15. A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising, and the like.

Thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.

If you look carefully at these added principles, you will realize, as I did, that they are not just abstract principles in the nature of “Children are born persons”—rather, they are explicit descriptions of the practices that are indispensable to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. These are the practices Charlotte Mason included in her appeal to the wider British public to adopt.

These vital practices are the ones that should shape our Charlotte Mason homeschools and classrooms. There are some important “dos” embedded in there, as well as a few prohibited “don’ts.”

I was interested to find in The Story of Charlotte Mason, by Essex Cholmondeley, a brief explanation of these additional principles:

Miss Mason added the following paragraphs for the use of teachers when the ‘liberal education for all’ movement was active. [emphasis added]

The other principles were expressed with parents in mind, parents who were bringing up their children, but not necessarily attending to their “school” education (although they are applicable in that setting). These additional practical principles are the ones that were given to those of us actively engaged in teaching. They bear a closer look, and that’s what we’ll do over the next few days (there are five parts in the series).

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

(Pictures are used with permission and are found on Instagram in the community @charlottemasonirl [Charlotte Mason In Real Life]. I’m sure they’d love to have you join in.

The Quote and The Context

There’s a quote from Charlotte Mason that I like a lot. I’ve been aware of it for a long, long time, and it has underpinned my own homeschooling efforts. This is the quote:

The reader will say with truth–‘I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles’; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not ‘more or less’ but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated. I suppose the difficulties are of the sort that Lister had to contend with; every surgeon knew that his instruments and appurtenances should be kept clean, but the saving of millions of lives has resulted from the adoption of the great surgeon’s antiseptic treatment; that is from the substitution of exact principles scrupulously applied for the rather casual ‘more or less’ methods of earlier days. (Philosophy of Education, p. 19)

There was a time when I thought the “practices” mentioned included all the practices of the PUS (Parents’ Union Schools). I thought it meant we needed to adhere to things like strict page counts, and learning three modern languages plus Latin, and doing school in the morning so free time happened in the afternoon, and so on. I really can’t remember now when I realized that isn’t what this is about at all. Lately, I’ve seen this quote misunderstood in the same way I misunderstood it quite a few times, and not long ago, I shared with one Facebook group what I’m going to share here.

It begins with understanding the audience for the book, Philosophy of Education. Charlotte Mason’s first five books were written for the PNEU—the group of parents who adhered to her philosophy and were trying to implement it with their children. This final book was not written for them, but was addressed to the wider British public—to present CM’s philosophy and the work of the PNEU to people unfamiliar with it, in hopes of spreading their work even further. (It worked for a while, too.) Some of the chapters were even published earlier, as stand-alone pamphlets, and part of it appeared as a series of letters to a newspaper.

With that audience in mind, read the quote again, giving special attention to the part I have emphasized— “I have indicated.” What practices? Indicated where? Well, that’s where the context comes in—right there on the same pages. I urge you to read the full context for yourself.

The quote is self-limiting. It can refer to nothing but the principles and practices “indicated” right there, on those pages. I really do invite you to see for yourself what principles and practices Charlotte Mason considered vital—indispensable—in order to make her philosophy work. But I’ll give you a hint—there aren’t that many of them, and none of them are as specific as “have school in the morning” or “do this for history.” Not at all—as principles should be, they are broad and robust. As practices go, they are fairly flexible, involving putting a child in touch with a wide program of living books, and using narration to insure attention and assimilation. That’s the context that goes with that quote, and I hope my fellow Charlotte Mason educators will learn, sooner than I did, how truly freeing it is to apply a set of “exact principles” to your educational practices and watch them take root, germinate, branch out, and bear fruit.

Addendum: I’m editing this post to add some information that I think might be helpful. It has been suggested to me that I am incorrect about the audience for the book—that Charlotte Mason was not actually addressing herself to anyone beyond her colleagues in the PNEU. I just want to let you all know that this is not a fabrication on my part. Charlotte Mason says, herself, in the preface to the volume: “My object in offering this volume to the public is to urge upon all who are concerned with education a few salient principles…” (emphasis added).She addresses herself to “all who are concerned with education”—casting a wide net—rather than those already associated with her work. She assumes no prior knowledge of the PNEU and its work, and explains her principles from scratch, as it were.

Many Irons in the Fire

It’s been a while since I sent out an update (I did promise they’d be infrequent and I wouldn’t be bombarding your inbox!). However, I wanted to let you all know about a few things I’ve done so far this year.

There are a couple of new articles up, which I hope will be informative and refreshing.

Education is the Science of Relations

The Spirit and the Letter of a Charlotte Mason Education

And I did a podcast with the Schole Sisters, if you want to hear us talk about some of those same ideas.

The Norms and Nobility discussion is in full swing at the AmblesideOnline forum. Lots of good participation, and I think we are all learning more than if we were reading on our own.

The Spanish translation of Mind to Mind is in the formatting and editing stage, and I hope to announce a release date (and show you a picture of the cover) very soon.

Much of my time is going into one big, big project that I’m still not ready to talk about, but it won’t be long. I can’t wait to tell everyone what I’ve been working on!

As the weather warms up in the northern hemisphere and we look forward to spring and summer, I hope you’ll find time to keep on learning. Charlotte Mason urged her students to teach from a moving stream, not a stagnant pool. I hope you’ll pick up a good book or two for summer reading. Next week, on the blog, I’ll be making a few suggestions.

Blessings to you!

Karen Glass

The Spirit and the Letter of a Charlotte Mason Education

Parents are persons. That’s not one of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles of education, but it is implied in the first principle, because if children are born persons, and they grow up to be parents, they are presumably persons still. What does that mean for parents as educators? (And all parents are educators of their own children, whether they homeschool or not.)

Just as Miss Mason reminds us that personality in children is not something to be encroached upon by undue influence and pressure from without, so personhood in parents has a role to play, and should not be artificially burdened by excessive rules, lists of “dos” and “don’ts.” What we need is a principled approach to education, to bringing up children. A few solid principles upon which to frame our practices will be far sturdier than a slippery ladder of rules. Continue reading The Spirit and the Letter of a Charlotte Mason Education

Education is the Science of Relations

Charlotte Mason’s 12th principle of education is “Education is the Science of Relations.”

You really have to think about it.

Science. Of Relations?

Relations don’t seem all that scientific, really–more organic and, well, relational. But let’s just roll with it, because in Charlotte Mason’s lifetime, “science” was a buzzword, and everything was a science. Housekeeping was a science. Hygiene was a science. There were mental science and moral science. So why not a science of relations? At least it makes you stop and think.

What is the science of relations? This principle is similar to Charlotte Mason’s first principle, “Children are born persons,” in that there are are layers of meaning and multiple applications. It’s a principle, not a rule, and it has broad implications, which grow more complex as the children themselves grow. Continue reading Education is the Science of Relations

Update, January 2017

Well, it’s a new year, and I hope it will bring, among other things, the announcement I’ve been wanting to make for months.

In the meantime, the initial Spanish translation of Mind to Mind has been completed, and we are moving on to the formatting stage. We don’t have a definite publication date yet, but I hope it will be in the early part of this year. Do you know anyone who would like to read Charlotte Mason in Spanish?

I finished up the blog series, “Charlotte Mason and Comenius” with a total of 8 posts. I linked to the first 4 in my last update. Here are the links to the rest:

5 Charlotte Mason Comenius–Narration

6 Charlotte Mason and Comenius–Nature Study

7 Charlotte Mason and Comenius–Will and Reason

8 Charlotte Mason and Comenius–Conclusion

Some of you may be aware of a lengthy critique of Consider This by Art Middlekauff, published in May 2016 on the Charlotte Mason Institute blog. I wrote a response to the critique, and you can find it on the Charlotte Mason Institute website in two parts (it’s long, but not as long as the original critique).

Part I
Part II

If you weren’t aware of the critique, or didn’t care to read it, you probably won’t find my response of interest. But it’s there for anyone who is interested.

The discussion of Norms and Nobility has begun on the AmblesideOnline forum, and so far it has been amazing. It’s not too late to join in, as we are reading at a nice, slow pace throughout all of 2017. It will be harder to catch up later, so if you are interested in joining the discussion, now is the time.

I look forward to continuing to read and share some of the things I’m learning. 2017 is shaping up to be a great year, and I hope all of us will look back on it twelve months from now and think, “Wow, I learned some amazing new things this year!”

Blessing and a belated Happy New Year!

Karen Glass

A few more Comenius thoughts…

I mentioned some time ago that I had one more thing to share about Comenius, and this book, Education That Is Christian, is what I had in mind. Lois LeBar worked at Wheaton College for many years, and this book is one of her contributions to education, specifically as it concerns teaching the Bible.

One of the things that makes it interesting is that Ms. LeBar looks at the educational influence of Herbart (yes, that same Herbart) on the typical teaching in churches and Sunday Schools, and recommends instead practices based on the ideas of Comenius. It is quite interesting and remarkable to read another modern educator’s thoughts on these two older educators.

I have no idea if she ever heard of Charlotte Mason or not, but it is startling to read this in the Introduction and see the points of similarity:

Lois LeBar is a revolutionary. Forty years ago she rebelled against traditional Bible teaching that “starved people with Biblical facts.” …But she also rebelled against so-called progressive teaching that ignored the authoritative Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sounds like she and Charlotte Mason would have appreciated each other, doesn’t it? Especially as a good portion of the discussion in the book revolves around psychological considerations, such as inner and outer factors in learning.

Rousseau, Froebel, and Dewey get brief mentions, but this book is less a theoretical work of education than it is a practical one. If any of your teaching activities are conducted in the church community, you might find this book a very valuable read, and it is actually set up to be read and discussed within a group. Above all else, it brings a good deal of Bible wisdom to the task of teaching the Bible, and for that purpose, I do recommend it.

I was startled recently to run across a reference to Comenius in the tribute to Charlotte Mason published after her death, In Memoriam:

Like Comenius, she believed in a course of reading which is massive and many-sided. Like Comenius she had to guard against the dangers of superficiality.

Since I spent a good portion of the fall comparing Charlotte Mason and Comenius, it was interesting to me that even within her own lifetime, one of her colleagues drew a connection between them.