Popcorn & Peanuts

"Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life."

Meet the Lady Study Guide


This page is my own notes as I read the original Charlotte Mason Home Education Series. These are NOT the notes for my study of the Series using Penny Gardener's Study Guide. Those may be found HERE.

Introduction /Volume 1 /Volume 2 /

Volume 3 /Volume 4 /Volume 5 /Volume 6 /




The Charlotte Mason Philosophy

Charlotte Mason was a British educator who was born in 1842 and died in 1923. During that time she developed a Philosophy of Education that has proved very adaptable. Designed for homes, private schools, and homeschools, her blend of practices (for she never claimed to have invented these, only to having adapted and combined them) includes Narration and copywork, Nature Notebooks, Fine Arts, Languages, a Literature based curriculum instead of textbooks, and real-life applications. She also did not claim to have finished or perfected her Philosophy. The complete title to her last book, Volume 6 of her Home Schooling Series, conveys this concept - "An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education". She was constantly developing, refining, adding as she learned herself. Her practice was to stimulate others with ideas and suggestions.

During her life she taught school, was a lecturer at Bishop Otter Teacher Training College in Chichester, England, wrote many books and pamphlets, started a training school for governesses which became Charlotte Mason College, became a popular public lecturer, established the Parents National Education Union (PNEU), and was Editor of it's magazine, "Parent's Review". Charlotte Mason also taught parents, held retreats and classes on building the family, and believed that all would benefit from a rich education and life. Quite a series of accomplishments for a woman who was in poor health!

Her book "Home Education", which included the notes from her 8 popular lectures, was a best-seller and became the first of the 6 that are considered her Series. Older editions of this Series are prized, and an abridged set is available in paperback. The "Parent's Review" may be read at the United States Library of Congress, at the University of St. Martin in England, and individuals are known to have other sets. Some articles have been reprinted in recent periodicals.

Ideas are the core of a Charlotte Mason Education. Quoting CM: "Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas; ideas are of spiritual origin, and that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another. The duty of parents is to sustain a child's inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food." (Volume 2, pg. 39)

However, the CM philosophy does not apply only to education. In "The Story of Charlotte Mason" by Essex Cholmondeley. (1960 - Aldine Press - London.) is a lovely quote: "A student, in answer to CM's question as to why she had come to the school said, "I have come here to learn to teach." CM responded, "My dear, you have come here to learn to live." "

The teachings of CM fell out of popular use approximately the time of the second World War, but a small number of original PNEU schools continue to this day. In the last decade there has been a resurgence of interest. While home schoolers are the largest group examining and applying these principles, there are also new PNEU-type private schools opening. Even people using the public schools, or without children at all, are examining ways to practice a CM lifestyle. It is truly an Atmosphere, a Discipline, and a Life.

Lynn B Hocraffer, BS
March 6, 1999


The Original Series is six volumes. They were written at different times, to different audiences, for different purposes, approximatly between 1885 and 1923. To understand them properly it is essential to read the Preface to each, written by Charlotte Mason herself. In each volume the Preface also contains a synopsis of 18 Principles, which Charlotte considered the heart of her philosophy. If you are following these 18 you may be said to be giving your child a "Charlotte Mason Education". Here are the 18, with some references for further understanding.

From the Preface to Volume 4 (which happened to be the top one on my stack):

1) Children are born *persons*.

2) They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and evil.

3) The principles of authority on the one hand and obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but -

4) These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon, whether by fear or love, suggestion or influence, or undue play upon any one natural desire.

5) Therefor we are limited to three educational instruments - the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.

6) By the saying, EDUCATION IS AN ATMOSPHERE, it is not meant that a child should be isolated in what may be called "a child environment," especially adapted and prepared ; but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live naturally among his natural conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the 'child's' level.

7) By EDUCATION IS A DISCIPLINE, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structure to habitual lines of thought - i.e., to our habits.

8) In saying that EDUCATION IS A LIFE, the need of intellectual and moral as well as physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefor children should have a generous curriculum. 9) But the mind is not a receptacle into which ideas must be dropped, each idea adding to an 'apperception mass' of it's like, the theory upon which the Herbartian doctrine of interest rests.
(see pages 58-61 in Volume 3, School Education -LBH)

10) On the contrary, a child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas ; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is it's proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal, and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

11) This difference is not a verbal quibble. The Herbartian doctrine lays the stress of education - the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels, presented in due order - upon the teacher. Children taught upon this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge ; and the teacher's axiom is, "What a child learns matters less than how he learns it."

12) But, believing that the normal child has powers of mind that fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, we must give him a full and generous curriculum ; taking care, only, that the knowledge offered to him is vital - that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. out of this conception comes the principle that -

13) EDUCATION IS THE SCIENCE OF RELATIONS ; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts : so we must train him upon physical exercises, nature, 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 make as valid as many as my be of - 'Those first-born affinities That fit our new existence to existing things.'

14) There are also two secrets of moral and intellectual self-management which should be offered to children ; these we may call the Way of the Will and the Way of the Reason.

15) *The Way of the Will*. - Children should be taught -
(a) To distinguish between 'I want" and 'I will'.
(b) that the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will.
c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting.
(d) That, after a little rest in this way, the will returns to it's work with new vigour.
(This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as *diversion*, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may 'will' again with added power. The use of suggestion, even self-suggestion - as an aid to the will, is to be depreciated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character. It would seem spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as success.)

16) *The Way of the Reason* - We should teach children, too, not to 'lean' (too confidently) 'unto their own understanding,' because the function of reason is, to give logical demonstration
(a) of mathematical truth ; and
(b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will.
In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide, but in the second it is not always a safe one ; for whether that initial idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.

17) Therefor children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests upon them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of initial ideas. To help them in this choice we should give them principles of conduct and a wide range of the knowledge fitted for them.

These three principles (15, 16, & 17) should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.

18) We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children ; but should teach them that the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties, and joys of life.

Charlotte Mason


Volume One


Home Education: Training and educating children under nine

This first volume was Charlotte Mason's best-seller when it came out. The original edition, in 1886, was composed of 8 "Lectures to Ladies" that Charlotte had delivered in 1885. They must have been very popular lectures! The 1886 edition used the same title, but the 1905 version which is the one included in the Series, contains only the first 6 Lectures. The material from the last two and the Appendix has been included in the other Volumes. They have been revised by CM, including much additional material. Part V, quoting CM in the vol 1 Preface, "now offers a fairly complete introduction to methods of teaching subjects fit for children between the ages of six and nine. The rest of the volume attempts to deal with the whole of education from infancy until the ninth year of life."(Preface to the Fourth Edition, CM)

Suggested Readings include

Dr. Carpenter's "Mental Physiology"
"Emile", by Jean Jacques Rousseau

The Lectures are:

Part I: Some Preliminary Considerations

Some, in offering the first lecture of what would be a series, eventually a set of books and a whole education Philosophy, might start off gently. Not Charlotte Mason. Her lectures must have been received as something of a shock, because from the first lines she challenges the mores of her society. Her very first paragraph of her first lecture on the topic of Home Education addresses neither Home nor Education. Instead, it encourages the education of women and that those educated women should find status, pleasure, and honor in useful work outside the home. She was not referring to women working of necessity, in menial jobs - she was speaking of Women's Rights, and of the idea she sometimes referred to as "Teacher Culture", that a woman's life and experiences away from her family can enhance her life at home and enrich her children's lives. She spoke on this theme many times, in many applications throughout her writing.

Do not, as you read her books, make the mistake of thinking CM was a dove. She was a zealot, a crusader. She was a woman with a Passion, a dream, a living idea which reached the hearts of those who heard her speak or read her writings. She reaches us today.

Having established, as a foundation, that a woman's work has value, she then proceeds to the application of that value in the care and education of children. Now, in her time women were only just gaining status, being given the right to vote, to work in responsible jobs, to control their own property. Children were less than this. Children were usually considered property, possessions, chattels of their fathers. Poor children were put to work early, and their wages were given to their fathers; or apprenticed. Upper class sons usually followed a set pattern- the oldest son, the heir, learned to manage the family property. A second son might be set up in the military as an officer on a purchased commission; a third son would usually be designated to the Church. Little choice was given. Arranged marriages were the norm.

Into this state of affairs comes Charlotte Mason. She said that children are born persons. In Volume 6 she said (on pages 34-35) "If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and beautiful as his little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for these occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind."

On page 1&2 of Volume 1, CM says: "But then, entrusted with such a charge, they are not free to say 'I will do as I will with my own,' The children are, in truth, to be regarded less as personal property than as public trusts, put into the hands of parents that they may make the very most of them for the good of society." Again in Volume 6, pages 65-66, she says "We must know something about the material we are to work upon if the education we offer is not to be scrappy and superficial. We must have some measure of a child's requirements, not based upon his uses to society, nor upon the standard of the world he lives in, but upon his own capacity and needs."

There is quite a bit more on this in Volume 2, Chapter 2, "Parents as Rulers", where the point is well brought out that the parents also stand under authority as well as exercise it over the child.

There was a political philosopher who wrote a book about a child, from his own view that children are born innately good and are corrupted by the influences around them. It has been said that every writer has at least one good book in them - "Emile" was Rousseau's. It was a best-seller! Everyone read "Emile", including Charlotte Mason.

Rousseau's view of the child as innately 'Good" was a direct contrast to the common view of the time that children were born creatures of Original Sin. The two extremes found expression in the culture of the time within the class structure. Children of the middle and upper classes were often perceived as being born "good'; children of the poor were perceived as having been born 'bad', of deserving their lot in life. Children of the upper classes who went bad were described as having 'bad blood'; but it was very difficult for children of the lower classes to move upward.

Charlotte Mason challenges both views. She said, in a very controversial passage, that children are born neither good nor bad but with the capacity for either.

The child is a Person, complete. Charlotte Mason respected the child. She said: "We must know something about the material we are to work upon if the education we offer is not to be scrappy and superficial. We must have some measure of a child's requirements, not based on his uses to society, nor upon the standard of the world he lives in, but upon his own capacity and needs." (Towards a Philosophy of Education, page 65, 66)

Let me take a question from CM herself:

Vol 1, pg 8 "What do you propose that education shall effect in and for your child?"
Here she is speaking of the difference between a Method of Education, and a System. This question is central to the whole philosophy of a CM education, and the details of the education of children consume a large portion of the rest of the chapter. She writes on the problems of offending the children on page 12, where she says "It may surprise parents who have not given much attention to a subject to discover also a code of education in the Gospels, expressly laid down by Christ. It is summed up in three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children: Take heed that ye OFFEND not - DESPISE not - HINDER not - one of these little ones." However, she is not desiring us to follow Rousseau at this point, for she finishes the same passage with this warning: "But, as a matter of fact, the positive is included in the negative, what we are bound to do for the child in what we are forbidden to do to his hurt."

In this she is returning to the theme of the parents as well being under authority.

Do not take these statements as saying CM did not believe in Original Sin - That is not what she is discussing here. She will deal with the 'Sin" question later in the Series - specifically, in Volume 4.

Part II: Out-Of-Door Life for the Children

" 'I make a point,' says a judicious mother, 'of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months.' That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October.....I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me *absolutely best for the children...* "What is to be done with these golden hours, so that every one shall be delightful? 1. They must be spent with some method... 2. They must be let alone... 3. At the same time, here is the mother's opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child... 4. And last, and truly least, a lesson or two must be got in." (p. 43-44)

Part III: "Habit Is Ten Natures"

Part IV: Some Habits of Mind - Some Moral Habits

Part V: Lessons as Instruments Of Education

Part VI: The Will - The Conscience - The Divine Life in the Child


A. Questions for the Use of Students



Volume Two


Parents and Children: the role of the parent in the education of the child

This is a 1904 collection of essays from the original "Parent's Review" magazine, addressed to members of the "Parent's National Educational Union", otherwise known as the PNEU.

"The foundation of parental authority lies in the fact that parents hold office as deputies; and that in a two-fold sense. In the first place, they are the immediate and personally appointed deputies of the Almighty King, the sole Ruler of men; they have not only to fulfil his counsels regarding the children, but to represent his Person..."p 14 "More; parents hold their children in trust for society. 'My own child' can only be true in a limited sense; the children are held as a public trust to be trained as is best for the welfare of the community..."p 15 "No doubt the State reserves to itself virtually the power to bring up its own children in its own way, with the least possible co-operation of parents. Even to-day, a neighboring nation has elected to charge itself with the training of its infants. So soon as they can crawl, or sooner, before ever they run or speak, they are to be brought to the 'Maternal School', and carefully nurtured, as with mother's milk, in the virtues proper for a citizen." p 15 "Certain newspapers commend the example for our imitation, but God forbid that we should ever lose faith in the blessedness of family life. Parents who hold their children as at the same time a public trust and a divine trust, and who recognise the authority they hold as *deputed* authority, not to be trifled with, laid aside, or abused-- such parents preserve for the nation the immunities of home, and safeguard the privileges of their order." p 16 chapter 25 in vol. 2, "Parents and Children." This is an article called "The Great Recognition." "This great recognition resolves that discord in our lives of which most of us are, more or less, aware. The things of sense we are willing to subordinate to the things of spirit; at any rate we are willing to endeavour ourselves in this direction. We mourn over our failures and try again, and recognise that here lies the Armageddon for every soul of man. But there is a debateable land. Is it not a fact that the spiritual life is exigeant, demands our sole interest and concentrated energies? Yet the claims of intellect--mind, of the aesthetic sense--taste, press upon us urgently. We must think, we must know, we must rejoice in and create the beautiful. And if all the burning thoughts that stir in the minds of men, all the beautiful conception they give birth to, are things apart from God, then we too must have a separate life, a life apart from God, a division of ourselves into secular and religious--discord and unrest. We believe that this is the fertile source of the unfaith of the day, especially in young and ardent minds. The claims of intellect are urgent; the intellectual life is a necessity not to be foregone at any hazard. It is impossible for these to recognise in themselves a dual nature; a dual spirituality, so to speak; and if there are claims which definitely oppose themselves to the claims of intellect, those other claims must go to the wall; and the young man or woman, full of promise and power, becomes a free-thinker, an agnostic, what you will. But once the intimate relation, the relation of Teacher and taught in all things of the mind and spirit, be fully recognised, our feet are set in a large room; there is space for free development in all directions, and this free and joyous dvelopment, whether of intellect or heart, is recognised as a Godward movement." (pp. 274-275, vol. 2)


Volume Three


Suggested Reading list: Wendi's collected original CM booklist, Forms I & II for ages 6-12

Mr. Benjamin Kidd, Social Evolution

Augustus Hare (George Allen), The Story of My Life

Augustus Hare, Memorials of a Quiet Life (about his mother)

Racing along at my snail's pace, I encounter Volume 3. This is the Volume about the education of children ages 9-12, and covers a wide variety of topics. It includes a long discussion of the various educational philosophies popular in CM's time, which we need to examine because many are still popular with Education Philosophers today. I'm not kidding - I took an entire college class titled "Educational Philosophy", and all we did was read and discuss these same theories.

She discusses the education of what we would consider middle-school students, those of ages 9-12, and her discussion not only gets detailed about what she wishes them to cover, but includes sample end-of-term questions as an Appendix.

So, where does CM choose to begin? With Discipline, Authority, and Habits. Now, she does this by examining in turn several philosophers and writers on education. Do not make the common mistake of thinking these are the ones she agrees with and is holding as examples. Some of them she agrees with partially, some not at all. In each case she gives her understanding of what they are saying before choosing parts to agree with, or to disagree. Some have mentioned that CM often wrote as a reaction to what someone else said, and this is very evident here.

The first chapters discuss rightful and wrongful Authority, with a discussion of how households were changing in her time from the Autocratic parents who produced the likes of Ruskin, John Stuart Mill, Tennyson.

Chapter Four: Some of the Rights of Children as Persons

Charlotte believed these things so firmly that she proposed something unheard-of for her time (when children and often women were considered chattels, or property). She proposed a selection of Rights for Children. Here are 9 of her suggestions, from Vol. 3 p. 36-43:

1) Children should be free in their play.
2) Organized Games are not play. (let them use their imaginations)
3) Personal Initiative in Work. (give them time for their own projects)
4) Children must stand or fall by their own Efforts. (allow children to fail)
5) Boys and Girls are generally Dutiful (following #4, allowing them to learn to develop personal volition)
6) Children should choose their own friends (after training in general principles of conduct and character, give them confidence)
7) Should be free to spend their own Pocket-Money (after training, trust them)
8) Should form their own Opinions (carefully. We teach living principles, not opinions.)
9) Spontaneity. ("In so far that it is a grace, it is the result of training, - of pleasant talks upon the general principles of conduct, and wise 'letting alone' as to the practice of these principles.")

Now do notice that none of these suggestions stands alone. For example, number 1. Charlotte believed in free play under supervision, such as in the yard with a box of props and dress-up clothes, or taken to the park where mother reads quietly on a bench or plays with the children. What she is saying here is the difference between sandlot ball and Little League. (Which has a place, but is a different place.) For number 6, remember that this is a time when upper-class children knew not to speak to children to whom they had not been "introduced" socially. This had a lot to do with the idea of a child being born "good" or "bad" by their class, which we discussed before. Charlotte did not support this idea - she says we should teach the children, then trust them to apply the principles. If the washerwoman's child and the Princess have a mutual love of painting, let them be friends if they so desired!

To my examination, CM Children's Rights are granted upon the mastery and exercising of principles. Freedom is within protected boundaries, not a right of birth. A Right is much the same as Authority, and with Authority comes Responsibility and often Accountability.

However, Authority and Rights are far from all she discussed in this volume. This is the volume that most directly concerns almost everyone educating a child, whether at home or in a school. The child is assumed to have been given a foundation (as described in Volume 1). Where to go next?

Several things need to be remembered here : That most children of her time would have had no more education than this covered by Volume 3, about equal to an American 8th grade. British children took examinations at the end of this time that tracked them into college-bound high school, or graduate into jobs. That nearly all of the middle and upper class children would either continue to be taught at home, especially the girls, OR would go to boarding schools. That bright children might go directly from the testing into college.


Volume Four



Volume Five



Volume Six



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