Category Archives: Blog

Practices are linked to Principles

Just a note–I’m going to let the sale of Principles at the Helm run through the end of the week, so there’s still time to grab it at 50% off if you want to.

In the first post in this series, I mentioned that all educational practices are based on educational philosophies. This is always true, but it is pointedly true in Charlotte Mason’s case, because she was trying on purpose “to sketch out roughly a method of education” which rested “upon a basis of natural law.”

What that means is that the specific practices of a Charlotte Mason education—narration, the use of living books, nature study, her approach to art and music, and much more—are firmly grounded in the principles. In Vital Harmony is divided into two parts—the first part of the book covers the natural laws of education that Charlotte Mason included in her principles, and the second part of the book is devoted to the methods and practices.

However, this isn’t a “how to” book. I have not merely described Charlotte Mason’s approach to every area of the curriculum, because you can find that elsewhere. Maybe you’ve been using the methods already for a while, and could explain them yourself just as well as I could. I’m not really interested in writing books that simply rehash what Charlotte Mason already said.

Instead, as I’ve discussed the methods and practices and areas of study, I’ve taken care to focus on the way that the practices are grounded in the principles. Why narration? Why chronological history? Why nature study? I think if we connect the practices to the principles, we’ll find them more easy and intuitive to implement. Charlotte Mason said:

Every subject has its living way, with what Coleridge calls “its guiding idea” at the head, and it is only as we discover this living way in each case that a subject of instruction makes for the education of a child. (Parents and Children, p. 279)

In the practical part of In Vital Harmony, I’ve called attention to some of the “guiding ideas” that should govern our studies of math and history and science and more. When you know why you’re including these things in the curriculum, you’ll find the answers to your questions about what to do are resolved as easily as deciding where to build a fire in your house or yard. It’s not really that hard when you understand the principles well, and it’s as easy and natural as Charlotte Mason promised it would be.

I’ve got a free gift for you!

Beginning in 2020, I’m launching a newsletter (to be sent out as frequently as I manage to create each one) which I hope will be an encouragement to you as you continue to learn and study the natural laws and principles of education, particularly as Charlotte Mason explained them to us. If you plan to read In Vital Harmony, you might find it convenient to have a list of the principles on hand for reference, as I refer to them by their designated numbers throughout the book. (Children are born persons is the first principles. Education is the science of relations is the twelfth principle.)

I’ve created a printable, two-sided bookmark with all twenty principles in abbreviated form for quick reference, and that’s my free gift to you for signing up for the newsletter. I think the newsletter will be a real encouragement to you as you learn and grow as a mother and teacher, so the bookmark is just a nice bonus.

To comply with GDPR requirements please just click “email,” which will give me permission to send you the newsletter. I don’t plan to mail anything to your home or target you for advertising. But I do hope you’ll subscribe to receive exclusive articles, news about what I’m reading and studying, and updates about new projects. I’ve got some interesting things in the works. (You’ll receive an email asking you to confirm that you want to subscribe—be sure to check your spam folder and add the newsletter to your address book.)


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Vitalizing Principles and a special offer

I’ve been talking about natural laws, and now it’s time to talk about the natural laws that govern education. There is another word we use to describe these natural laws, and that word is principle. Charlotte Mason used the words together to underscore the fact that they are essentially the same thing:

We labour under the mistake of supposing that there is no natural law or inherent principle according to which a child’s course of studies should be regulated. (Philosophy of Education, p. 156)

And there you have it. The simple statement that education—a child’s course of studies—should be regulated by natural law, which might also be called an “inherent principle” of the universe. Charlotte Mason listed twenty principles for us, but they do not carry equal weight. In The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley, Miss Mason raised the question:

What if those two or three vitalizing educational principles could be brought before parents?

Why, if there are only two or three vitalizing (life-giving) educational principles, did she give us twenty? The fact is, there really are two vital principles, and all the rest of the twenty can be understood as adjuncts or aspects of those two. I’m going to tell you what they are—it’s not a secret—but I don’t have room here to make a complete case for this, nor to explain how the rest of the principles operate in harmony with those two to form a unity of thought and purpose that underpins all of Charlotte Mason’s methods. That’s what In Vital Harmony is all about.

So, here are the two—Children are born persons and Education is the science of relations. (I discussed the idea of a principle and these two vital principles in the seminar Principles at the Helm.) If you are acquainted with Charlotte Mason, you may not be able to rattle off all twenty of the principles, but I am willing to guess that you have heard of these two principles.

I found it interesting that in the 1960s, long after Charlotte Mason’s death, the PNEU claimed exactly these two principles as the ones that guided all their work:

The educational principles of Charlotte Mason which guide us in our work are: the value and importance of a child as a person, and the fact that ‘education is the science of relations.’ ( )

Understanding how the rest of the principles support these two will make them stronger and clearer in your mind. You’ll be able to use these principles to support your educational endeavors in the same way you know how to use fire to grill steaks or heat your home. They are easy and natural, and the better you understand these principles in all their aspects, the easier it will be to spot them when they show up in other guises, being discussed in other terms. Perhaps even the ponderous academic ones.

I recorded the Principles at the Helm seminar last year because I knew In Vital Harmony wouldn’t be ready until now, and I wanted to share these ideas a bit sooner. If you want a sneak peak at part of what’s in the book, the seminar will be on sale for the next three days at the best price ever—50% off. Use the code LAUNCHDISCOUNT or just click on the title.

Heating up with principles

I mentioned last time that our fire-managing practices are guided by principles that we understand. Because fire burns, it has to be contained by something nonflammable. You can toss paper and scraps of wood on your fire safely, but not aerosol cans (they’ll explode) or plastic (it produces toxic fumes). Because fire burns, you won’t try to build a fire with wet wood and you won’t build a fire at all in a hot, dry climate currently experiencing drought.

Who made up all the rules about fire management? No one did, really. The guidelines grew out of the principles that we have learned about fire. That stuff is dangerous. But also useful. These universal principles about managing fire are based on “natural law.” The natural law is the simple fact that “fire burns” and the guidelines for good, safe practices are based on understanding how that principle works and all that it means.

Perhaps you live within the boundaries of a city or town which forbids you to build a fire in your yard. That is not a natural law, but a man-made law. It’s still within the possibility of natural law to build a bonfire to burn your leaves or toast marshmallows. But even the man-made law is grounded in the knowledge of natural law—fire burns and spreads easily—and was created in the interest of safety.

If you break a man-made law about fire, the consequences will be man-made consequences. You’ll pay a fine, go to court, maybe even go to jail. If you break the natural laws of fire, you risk the natural consequences of breaking that law. Property may be destroyed. Someone may be hurt or killed. Because fire burns. We might occasionally escape the consequences of breaking a man-made law, but rarely do we escape the consequences of violating natural laws.

I shared all that to focus our attention on the way that natural laws operate in the world. We must remember that physical laws are not the only laws of the universe. There are also natural laws that govern human behavior and thinking. There are natural laws that operate in the realm of education, and it was Charlotte Mason’s stated purpose to build educational methods (like fire-safety practices) that were in perfect accordance with the natural laws she perceived. In the first chapter of her first volume, she wrote:

My endeavour in this and the following volumes of the series will be to sketch out roughly a method of education which, as resting upon a basis of natural law, may look, without presumption, to inherit the Divine blessing. (Home Education, p. 41, emphasis added)

I want to add a few words about that “Divine blessing.” Just as there are natural consequences of defying natural laws, there are natural blessings as well. If you shape your behavior correctly according to the natural law that fire burns, you can warm your house, cook your food, and dispose of your trash. This is a divine blessing because it comes from following natural law, which originates with the divine Lawgiver. If you shape your educational methods correctly according to the natural laws that govern education, you will be rewarded with the blessings of education and what it is meant to effect in the life of a person.

Now that we’ve established that, the next question is—of course—what are the laws that govern education? And I’ll talk about that a bit next time.

Get ready for In Vital Harmony—Coming very soon!

Educational philosophy. I know—those words don’t really inspire anyone. They sound heavy and ponderous. If someone is holding forth on the topic, we may believe that we are (probably) capable of understanding it all perfectly well, but even if we are not entirely perplexed, we expect to be rather bored. Not too many people get excited about educational philosophy.

But they should.

If you are involved with children, you are involved in some aspect of education. Whether you understand and acknowledge it or not, you are operating according to some philosophy of education. Even if you tend to operate according to a set of rules or guidelines, those rules or guidelines were created somewhere, by someone, on the basis of some philosophy. Do you know what it is? Are you sure you agree with it? It is true?

And does it matter at all? Perhaps educational philosophies are much like socks, and one is pretty much as good as another, so long as they keep your feet warm. Dull gray, bright patterns, and even mismatched socks get the job done, so maybe it’s just a matter of preference. That’s a comfortable way to think, but is it the right way? Are educational philosophies as interchangeable and relatively unimportant as socks?

I don’t think so. And if you’re here, reading this, I don’t think you think that, either. Educational philosophy matters, and it matters because it is the foundation we have for teaching the most precious things in our lives, the most valuable resource for the future—our children. Nobody wants to mess that up, and the truth is, if we think about it too much, we can find ourselves paralyzed by fear which manifests itself in many ways. Maybe you’ve done one these things, or know someone who has:

Have you spent hours researching curriculum, hoping to find that comprehensive, all-in-one program that will fill every gap? Have you jumped from one curriculum to another or from one educational method to another within the same school year? Have you listened to speaker after speaker, lecture after lecture, podcast after podcast, convinced each time that you’ve found the answer, only to find yourself in doubt when you hear the next? Are you afraid to skip a lesson, substitute a book, take a year and half to finish a book meant for one year? Do you find yourself asking other people what you should do for math, or Latin, or which foreign language you should study?

There is an antidote to this fear and uncertainty, and it is knowledge. Not knowledge about which curriculum is best or which foreign language you should study, but knowledge of that ponderous thing, educational philosophy. The good news is, it’s much, much simpler than it sounds. Charlotte Mason wrote:

The fact is, that a few broad essential principles cover the whole field, and these once fully laid hold of, it is as easy and natural to act upon them as it is to act upon our knowledge of such facts as that fire burns and water flows. (Home Education, p. 10)

Educational philosophy doesn’t have to be ponderous and heavy. It should be “easy and natural.” And that’s what I’m hoping In Vital Harmony will make it—I want to take these ideas out of the rarified sphere of academic language so that we can discuss them as easily as we might discuss how to build or manage a fire. There are different ways to manage fire under different conditions, but there are some things we must never do and some things we must always do. You can wear any socks you want to, but you can’t put anything at all on a fire. There are principles to guide us. I’ll talk more about that over the next few weeks leading up to publication—before Thanksgiving!

Announcing a new book!

At the recent AmblesideOnline Camp Meeting 2019 (#AOCM2019), where I was privileged to speak to 400 women about Charlotte Mason’s principles, I shared this announcement, and now I want to share it with all of you.

After studying and thinking about  Charlotte Mason’s twenty principles very purposefully over the last several years, I realized that the two most vital principles are Children are born persons and Education is the science of relations. If you listened to the audio seminar, Principles at the Helm, you already heard a bit about that.

However, realizing which were the two primary principles made me want to understand how all the principles related to each other. They are not twenty individual things—they are part of the “science of relations” themselves. In Consider This, I devoted quite a bit of time to understanding synthetic, relational thinking, which helps us explore the ways in which “all things are bound to all other things.” Charlotte Mason understood the connected-ness of all things very well, and described her philosophy as “having a central idea, a body of thought with various members working in vital harmony.”

Therefore, I want to introduce my next book, In Vital Harmony: The Integrated Principles of Charlotte Mason:

You see, what I learned was that all the principles do have a relationship to each other—shaping themselves around the two primary principles—and understanding those relationships makes the whole philosophy cohesive and comprehensible. Charlotte Mason wanted her principles to be understandable and accessible to all parents, and so do I, which is why I’m going to share them in a way that relates them to our own time and culture. Charlotte Mason said:

That system which shall be of use to practical people in giving purpose, unity and continuity to education, must satisfy the following demands:—It must be adequate, covering the whole nature of man and his relations with all that is other than himself. It must be necessary, that is, no other equally adequate psychology should present itself; and it must touch at all points the living thought of the age. (emphasis added)

Notice how the “adequate” philosophy of education covers 1) the whole nature of man [children are born persons] and 2) his relations with all that is other than himself [education is the science of relations]. Those two principles are the keys to the rest! However,  the thought of our age is not what it was during Charlotte Mason’s lifetime. Principles don’t change, but sometimes the way we need to think and talk about them changes because the  ideas that drive our culture do shift.

Does that second principle about good and evil make you a little uneasy? Do you grasp how the authority and obedience principle which is “natural, necessary, and fundamental” gives purpose to education? Do you know how the Way of the Will and the Way of Reason relate to the two primary principles?

What if I could show you—graphically, all on one page—how everything fits together?  And did you know that Charlotte Mason essentially gave us her educational philosophy “in a nutshell”—just one sentence that covers the whole ground? It’s not unlike Jesus’ summarizing the law and the prophets as “love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself.” Yes, there are details, but that’s the essence. Charlotte Mason did the same thing for her entire educational philosophy.

In Vital Harmony will give you a strong, clear grasp of the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, but that is not all. If you read Know and Tell, did you find that the “why” behind the practice of narration made the details of “how” much more understandable? In Vital Harmony is also going to help you connect the philosophy to many of the practices that are part of a Charlotte Mason education. It’s an (easy-to-understand) philosophical book with a practical twist.

And the big question—when will it be available? I don’t have an exact date set, but I hope it will be ready before the end of 2019. In time for Christmas, maybe? Let’s hope so! I’ve been very excited as I’ve anticipated sharing the news about In Vital Harmony (and my cover!) with you, and I hope you’re looking forward to reading it.

Just for fun—which principle do you wish you understood a little better?

Introducing: Encore books!

This is a project I’ve had on the back burner for a while. I’ve come to realize that when it comes to blogging, I mostly enjoy doing a series to accompany a reading or studying project of my own, along with the occasional single post. When I’ve done series in the past, I’ve been encouraged to collect the posts into a digital book so they can be easily read together, but I never took the time to do that.

As the years go by, blog posts scroll down and go off the radar. If you’re a new reader or a mom who wasn’t thinking about a particular topic two years ago, and now you are, the very post you might like to read may be impossible to find. So, I finally took my friend’s advice and created the “Encore” series of digital books to make some of this content more accessible, and perhaps more convenient to read and refer to.

I’ve been working on the project for a while, and quietly published the first two a while ago, although a few enterprising readers have already found them and purchased them. (How did you do that?) I’ve been waiting to have three books ready together so that I could also offer a collection for those interested (it’s a good deal). I will be adding books to this collection, so if your favorite blog series isn’t available now, perhaps it will be in the future.

All the posts, which are free to read on the blog, will remain there. However, I’ve created a bit of bonus content which is exclusive to the Encore book, as a thank-you for those who make a purchase.

This is what I’ve got for you so far:

Book 1:

A close look at principles thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen, which are the practical principles added to the philosophical ones, “for the use of teachers.” These are the practices Charlotte Mason found vital enough to include as principles.

Some Practices are Principles (Kindle Version)
Some Practices are Principles (e-pub version)

Book 2:

Charlotte Mason thought she had found the answer to Comenius’s quest for “a liberal education for all.” This is an eclectic collection of observations about the many similarities in their thoughts and approach to education, in spite of the fact that they lived over 200 years apart.

Charlotte Mason and Comenius (Kindle version)
Charlotte Mason and Comenius (e-pub version)

Book 3:

This was not a blog series, but includes a collection of posts that I’ve written to address various questions about the link between Charlotte Mason and classical education. It does not contain absolute answers, but provides material for your own thoughtful consideration. (Hint: If you want to see which posts are included, use the “Look Inside” feature of the Kindle version.)

Classical Considerations (Kindle version)
Classical Considerations (e-pub version)

If you like the idea of loading up your e-reader with several books at once, I’ve collected these first three together in one.

Collection of Encore Books 1-3 (Kindle version)
Collection of Encore Books 1-3 (e-pub version)

And there you go! Something new for anyone interested, and one project off of my plate for the moment. I’ll be giving away a handful of these Encore books on Facebook and Instagram–you get to choose the title you want. I’ll also be giving a few away here on the blog. Not long ago I added a “subscribe via email” button in the sidebar. If you’re subscribed, you’ll automatically be included in the drawing, and if you subscribe by Friday, March 15, you’ll be included, too.

I’m happy to hear your thoughts about this new project. Do you read digital books?

Last chat about Formation of Character

This is my final post in the “Take the Fifth” blog series, and here’s Anne’s last thoughts. We’re saying good-bye to Formation of Character, but we do hope you got to know this volume a little better during this month-long series. If you do feel motivated, now or in the future, to pick up the volume and want a study guide of sorts, I led a book study on the AmblesideOnline forum in 2015. Forum membership is free, and you can access all the study posts here. Remember that every chapter in the book is a stand-alone article, so you can dip in and read whatever interests you, and you don’t have to read through the volume from front to back.

I sometimes joke that Volume 5 is both my favorite and least-favorite volume. It’s my “least favorite” because I find the stories in Part I a little tedious, and I know that Charlotte Mason tempered her views on habit a little bit later in her life, although the primary ideas expressed here are sound. But really it’s my favorite volume because of the wealth of wisdom which is found here and no where else in the series. I’m a little sad to say good-bye, but I’m already immersed in another volume (Parents and Children this time—although I’m not blogging about it), and Charlotte Mason never fails to teach me something new.

Anne and I have a bit of a surprise for you as we wrap things up. We recorded a live chat, in which we go over the four parts of the volume, share our feelings about them (we don’t have the same favorite parts!), and discuss meaningful alternative titles for the stodgy “Formation of Character.” Make a cup of coffee or tea, and join us for cozy chat.

Thank you for being part of this peek between the covers of Volume 5!


Read all the posts in this series.

Words of Wisdom from Formation of Character, Part IV

This is the last excerpt I’ll be sharing in our “Take the Fifth” series, and I couldn’t resist recording the passage in which Charlotte Mason talks about synthetic and analytic learning. (Both important, and best in their proper places.) Be sure to read the lovely testimony to a great educator, a great man, that Anne has shared.
From pages 380-82:

We are casting about rather wildly to find out what education is, and what it is to effect. There is certain knowledge, no doubt, which it is shameful not to possess, and, wanting which, the mind is as limp, feeble, and incapable as an ill-nourished body. There is also a time for sowing the seed of this knowledge, an intellectual as well as a natural springtime; and it would be interesting to examine the question, how far it is possible to prosecute any branch of knowledge, the sowing and germination of which has not taken place in early youth. It follows that the first three lustres [up to age 15] belong to what we may call the synthetic stage of education, during which his reading should be wide and varied enough to allow the young scholar to get into living touch with earth-knowledge, history, literature, and much besides. These things are necessary for his intellectual life, and are especially necessary to give him material for the second stage of his education, the analytic, which, indeed, continues with us to the end. It is in this second stage that the value of the classical and mathematical grind comes in. It produces a certain sanity of judgment, and therefore a certain capacity for affairs, an ability for the examination of questions, which are rather the distinguishing marks of the public schoolman.… Whatever be the faults of the public school, it is not a manufactory of ‘cranks’; and the danger of a transition period like the present is that it may produce a crop of these persons of unbalanced judgment and undisciplined will.

“‘O friend,’ said he, ‘hold up your mind; strength is but strength of will;
Reverence each other’s good in fight, and shame at things done ill.”‘
[from The Iliad, Book 5, Chapman’s translation]

This exordium of “Atrides” might well be the motto of our public schools; it sums up with curious exactness that which they accomplish,—the steady purpose, public spirit, and fine sense of honour which adorn our public services, recruited for the most part from our public schools.

But these fine qualities, of which we are proud, may co-exist with ignorance; and ignorance is the mother of prejudice and the obstinate foe of progress. The task before us in setting in order the house of our national education is a delicate one. We must guard those assets of character which the education of the past affords us, and recover, if we may, the passionate love of knowledge for its own sake which brought about an earlier Renaissance.

I really want to say: read the rest here.



Read all the posts in this series.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Have you got a bit of the winter blues? February is a month that seems to drag on forever while we anticipate spring. From today through Saturday, the Principles at the Helm seminar is on sale for 20% off. It’s an encouraging reminder of the vital principles that bring a living spark to our educational efforts—just the thing to combat the gray days of late winter.

Use the code “lovetolearn” to get your discount.


When Charlotte Mason reads a book…

Anne is diving into one of the book studies in Part IV today:

Have you ever read The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes and Misfortunes, His Friends and His Greatest Enemy, by William Makepeace Thackeray? It’s an English novel which contrasts the hope that good fortune will just come along, or that it can be come by cheaply, with the value of earning it through good character and hard work.

Like the other books described in this section of Formation of Character, there is some value in having read it first, but it’s not necessary. Like a sermon that begins with a story and then turns to a point of faith, the plot is outlined, excerpts are given, and then Miss Mason gives her “exegesis” of the story. As we might expect, incidents relating to the upbringing and education of Arthur Pendennis receive the closest examination.

The Story of Pendennis…a little of it

“Pen” is raised by his mother, with as much luxury she can manage, and without any requirement that he apply himself to anything tedious or distasteful. She lives very much for her son, in the same way that readers of Understood Betsy will remember “Aunt Frances” devoting herself to “Elizabeth Ann” without benefit to either. Read the rest.