Charlotte Mason’s Principles – A Commentary

Charlotte Mason's Principles

This is a Christian commentary I began 10 years ago as I contemplated Charlotte Mason’s Principles.

Nearly 100 years after Charlotte Mason wrote her 20 principles we find they are still relevant for today’s Christian home educator.

If you want to know a little more about Charlotte Mason the person, here is a quick summary of her methods and who the woman was.

Children Are Born Persons

“Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with as he chooses.”

Children Are Individuals

Children are born persons — what an obvious statement!

In today’s society this Charlotte Mason principle is not always understood. Respect for life and even the unborn infant is often thought of as more of a possession than a complete human person. Genetic testing, abortion, even evolution all see the mass of cells that is a person as more of a scientific entity devoid of spirit but as Charlotte puts forth “children are born persons.” This Charlotte Mason principle lines up beautifully with what the Bible says:

Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying:
“ Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” The Bible: Jeremiah 1:4-5

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me. The Bible: Psalm 139: 1-5

Reading this chapter I was reminded that we need to respect the child and realise that they are unique people who need nourishment in their minds as much as adults. We are not to insult them with watered down ideas but rather give them food for their minds that delight and challenge them. We are also to be diligent with the food that we present to them. I think that today we might translate today as each child is an individual and should be taught as such. It’s not cookie cutter education. One size does not fit all.

Charlotte reminds us that the mind of a child is “astonishingly alert” and this mind is the instrument of his education. She challenges us to feed the mind with the food it needs—ideas!

The food of ideas is a core to Charlotte Mason principles and this is a high call for us as homeschool parents as we examine the ideas we are presenting to our children. Charlotte was writing this book to share her ideas and I am now able to take those ideas captive into my mind and mull them over.

The Greatest Idea

“Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with as he chooses.” Volume 6 p.40

I have been pondering this thought and asking myself what are the great ideas of life? Are they just ideas that are well known and accepted by others? Are they ideas that the culture accepts? Is there a way to know what those ideas are? And how can I present them all to my children? What if I don’t know all the ideas?

In my heart I know that the greatest idea of life that I can give my children is eternal life through Jesus Christ. This is the most important idea and I am always mindful of this goal as I present more of the great ideas of life. I do not feel that this is the only idea that should feed their mind but it is certainly the one that I want to make sure they know. God’s great gift of free will means that they will choose how they use that idea but my role as a parent is to show them God’s ideas from a Biblical world view.

Charlotte Mason's Principles - Born Persons

Children are Neither Good or Bad

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

I think this one of Charlotte Mason’s Principles was upholding the popular philosophical idea (theory) of “nurture not nature”. This idea also links closely to her ideas on habits.

When I consider the statement alone I do have to disagree with the first half –Children are not born either good or bad…

When I read this principle for the first time, I began to seriously doubt Charlotte Mason’s philosophy for I know that we are all born with a fallen nature-that is the condition of man and why we need salvation. To assume children are born amoral denies a scriptural principle.

I’m not the only one to ponder this principle –

Read these two Charlotte Mason Guru bloggers.

Brandy Vencel – Charlotte Mason, Total Depravity, and the Divine Image

Karen Glass – Why Did She Have To Say That

Romans 3:22-24 states;

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Within their little hearts there is, like mine, a desire towards sin. Temptation comes their way and they can fall. This is why we need God’s redemptive grace. They do have the possibility for good and evil.

Charlotte believed in nurturing children to reach their full potential. She did not believe that some children were incapable of a rich education just because of their “nature” or upbringing. She wanted all children to have the opportunity of an education full of great ideas not stale textbooks. She believed if children were “nurtured” in the right environment they would thrive. Her nurturing included developing an appetite in children for great things and giving them a hearty education, rich with the masters and literature.

I agree we do need to “nurture” our children and give them the best environment that we can. They come with gifts and talents and these need to be encouraged. As parents we have a heavy responsibility and we cannot leave their environment to chance. Our Father God delights in these precious “little ones” . Children are our responsibility while they are young and it is our duty to provide an atmosphere that will help them grow and develop into all that God wants them to be.

“And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” The Bible, Mark 9:42

In summary to my thoughts on this principle I will have to say I somewhat agree. I don’t believe in Charlotte’s amoral stance. I do believe that there is an innocence in childhood that we need to protect and nurture. I do believe in giving children a “good” education. I do believe that children have a choice for “good or evil” – God gave us all free choice.
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Authority and Docility

“The principles of Authority on the one hand and Docility on the other are natural, necessary and fundamental.”

This Charlotte Mason’s principle is all about children having a teachable heart and the teacher being aware of their authority and not abusing it. It’s also about the necessity of order in education.

Not only the outward signs of order but also the inward qualities of self government. She does not see this as being a harsh discipline but rather something that brings delight as it allows accomplishment. High ideals to aim for!

She encourages natural consequences for the ‘natural laws of conduct.’ She says this can be done by the teacher showing that they also are guided by rules of order and obedience. She challenges us to be self governed and not doing as we please.(I can feel her stinging glance at me for my efforts in times past!) She says, rightly so, that we are their role models.

She wants children to be taught the business of learning, and to begin to set personal goals.

“We may not pose before children, nor pride ourselves on dutiful getting up of knowledge in order to deliver it as emanating from ourselves. There are those who have a right to lecture, those who have devoted a life-time to some one subject about which they have perhaps written their book. Lectures from such persons are, no doubt, as full of insight, imagination and power as are their written works; but we cannot have a score of such lecturers in every school, each to elucidate his own subject, nor, if we could, would it be good for the children. The personality of the teacher would influence them to distraction from the delight in knowledge which is itself a sufficient and compelling force to secure perfect attention, and seemly discipline.”

She implores the teacher to not be the “know it all” of a child’s education but to be more of a facilitator leading the children to great ideas and living books. She wants children to have unprocessed mind food that has not been predigested by the teacher’s interpretation.

Charlotte believed strongly that education was the key to an improved life with great moral standing.

“The maimed existence in which a man goes on from day to day without either nourishing or using his intellect, is causing anxiety to those interested in education, who know that after religion it is our chief concern, is, indeed, the necessary handmaid of religion.”

I found this chapter challenging as I ponder my influence as a teacher but I asked myself:

  • Am I not influencing my children by the type of education I am giving them?
  • Are not the books and spare time all choices that I make?
  • Does God not require that we are the primary influence?

I believe we do have a God given authority when it comes to our children’s upbringing. I need to take it seriously!

Charlotte Mason's Principles - Sacredness of Personality

The Sacredness of Personality

Charlotte Mason saw the uniqueness of a child’s personality and she felt this was ignored by many educators. She wanted the teacher/parent to respect the personality of a child and not place the burden of conformity on an individual.

In this Charlotte Mason’s principle she emphasised some of the pitfalls that are present when educating a child, that on the surface look like a “good thing” but in reality they hinder education; for they encourage a child to perform for external sources rather than a love of learning or knowledge.

Charlotte sees that there are hindrances to education and that out of proportion they will retard or extinguish a child’s love of learning. Here is a list of the pitfalls.

  • Fear—do it or else!
  • For your sake as a duty of love
  • Suggestion -teaches what to think rather than how to think.
  • Influence of the teacher. Idolizing the teacher above the learning.
  • Need for approval
  • The desire of excelling. Working for “marks and prizes” alone.
  • Ambition of others can hinder a child as they are dominated by the stronger personality.
  • Society and social class expectations—what a child may need to know.

It is evident that our culture does employ all of these strategies as motivators to learn and these can be detrimental. Charlotte Mason is encouraging teachers to be aware of these pitfalls and not to use them unduly and therefore hamper a child by imposing our will over theirs or cultivating unhealthy desires in their hearts.

Once again after reading CM I am challenged by the responsibility of teaching and thankful that we, as a homeschooling family, are able to avoid some of the pitfalls that are present in school. I am not, for example, subject to the lottery of teachers that a school provides. I understand that it is important to develop a love of learning but I also believe that these “pitfalls” can motivate and should have a “use with caution” label on them.

The Science of Relations

“Education is the Science of Relations’; that is, 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.”  Charlotte Mason

Another way of explaining this Charlotte Mason principle would be to say give children a holistic education. Help them to see how it is all connected. Teach them more than they need in practice. She says do not teach from a utilitarian point of view.

“What is education after all? An answer lies in the phrase – Education is the Science of Relations. I do not use this phrase, let me say once more, in the Herbartian sense – that things are related to each other, and we must be careful to pack the right things in together, so that, having got into the brain of a boy, each thing may fasten on its cousins, and together they may make a strong clique or ‘apperception mass.’ What we are concerned with is the fact that we personally have relations with all that there is in the present, all that there has been in the past, and all that there will be in the future – with all above us and all about us – and that fullness of living, expansion, expression, and serviceableness, for each of us, depend upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of.” (Charlotte Mason V6 p. 185-186)

This principle is about teaching children to care about what they were learning and to have a personal connection with their studies. Help them to see how things are all connected, to make their lessons mean something to them. This is why you don’t just give the facts because children won’t connect with the facts alone but when you give them the story they can relate to the subject matter and absorb “facts only as these are connected with the living ideas upon which they hang” (V 6 p. 20).

Teach them more than they need in practice. She says do not teach from a utilitarian point of view; one where children only learn the skills they need for useful employment but give them a rich and generous curriculum.

“It is even possible for a person to go into any one of the great fields of thought and to work therein with delight until he become incapable of finding his way into any other such field. We know how Darwin lost himself in science until he could not read poetry, find pleasure in pictures, think upon things divine; he was unable to turn his mind out of the course in which it had run for most of his life. In the great (and ungoverned) age of the Renaissance, the time when great things were done, great pictures painted, great buildings raised, great discoveries made, the same man was a painter, an architect, a goldsmith and a master of much knowledge besides; and all that he did he did well, all that he knew was part of his daily thought and enjoyment.”  V6 p. 53-54)

The Science of Relations is where Charlotte Mason begins to spell out her syllabus in quite specific detail. Here she gives her three points for devising an educational plan:


  1. Children need a great deal of knowledge given to them that must be full of lots of mind food. Do not neglect the study of God Almighty, poetry, art, literature and science. Teach their mind and hands with excellent ideas and encourage them to have a relationship with their leaning.
  2. Knowledge should be interesting and varied. It should encourage curiosity.
  3. Knowledge should be given to children using quality literature they can understand. This helps them to naturally respond to what they are learning. A child’s knowledge is absorbed through the process of reproduction. Charlotte believed telling back after a single reading (narration) was the best way to do this.

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The Way of Reason

We should teach children, also, not to lean (too confidently) unto their own understanding because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration of (a) mathematical truth and (b) of initial ideas accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide but in the latter is not always a safe one, for whether the initial idea be right or wrong reason will confirm it by irrefragible proofs.

Therefore children should be taught as they become mature enough to understand such teaching that the chief responsibility which rests upon then: as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas presented to them. To help them in this choice we should afford them principles of conduct and a wide range of fitting knowledge.

Encouraging Critical Thinking

Charlotte Mason’s principle in this chapter is about the importance of children learning how to think through a matter. How can it be done, is a worthy question to ask and how was that made is another. Another interesting suggestion is to teach them some of the thinking in the psychology of crime, for example when reading a book and a character makes a bad choice ask the child, why did they make that choice? This training will help a child to see that people always do what they see is right in their own eyes but does that make it right.

For ourselves and our children it is enough to know that reason will put a good face on any matter we propose; and, that we can prove ourselves to be in the right is no justification for there is absolutely no theory we may receive, no action we may contemplate, which our reason will not affirm.

She encourages us to help children expose fallacies, but not waste their time discussing endless blasphemous propositions that come their way. But we must give them principles that enable them to discern and the understanding that humans are fallible and that we should not be carried away by every wind of doctrine. The Fallacy Detective by Hans and Nathaniel Bluedorn is a good book to teach this. We use it in My Homeschool Grade 8.

Facts are good to learn and some children excel in Maths and grammar but she implores us to not stick only to these subjects or give them too much undue attention. Allow children to realise that not everything can be proved and reason comes with continued practice in congenial fields of thought.

I will finish with Charlotte’s words.

We would send forth children informed by “the reason firm, the temperate will, endurance, foresight, strength and skill,” [Wordsworth] but we must add resolution to our good intentions and may not expect to produce a reasonable soul of fine polish from the steady friction, say, of mathematical studies only.

Charlotte Mason's Principles - Way of the Will

Charlotte Mason Principles – The Way of the Will

We may offer to children two guides to moral and intellectual self-management which we may call ‘the Way of the Will’ and ‘the Way of the Reason.’

Children should be taught to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’

Charlotte Mason principles are for all of us. Her question in The Way of the Will is – How can you tame the will!

Character and Conduct

Charlotte makes the statement that our children’s education is more about their character than their conduct. Sometimes as mothers we can focus on our child’s behaviour, or conduct, and this can discourage us. But that is the small picture, the big picture is character. Are we working on their character, their nature? The immaturity of childhood can and does show up, but let us train their character, their personality.

Charlotte then talks about training a will—helping them to master it. So often humans follow the “path of least resistance” and they go with the flow rather than making a choice of the will.

The Will, we are told, is ‘the sole practical faculty of man…yet most men go through life without a single definite act of willing. Habit, convention, the customs of the world have done so much for us that we get up, dress, breakfast, follow our morning’s occupations, our later relaxations, without an act of choice. For this much at any rate we know about the will. Its function is to choose, to decide, and there seems to be no doubt that the greater becomes the effort of decision the weaker grows the general will.’

Training a child’s will is helped by exposing them to noble ideas through books and pictures of the lives of outstanding men and women. This will hopefully stimulate the will and a child learns to choose the” right”. She believes as we train their character we give an opportunity for the will to develop.

Thinking Right

She emphasises the importance of learning how to think not just critically to also think “right”, being guided by the righteousness of God.

I will finish with this excellent quote:

“It is well to know what it is we choose between. Things are only signs which represent ideas and several times a day we shall find two ideas presented to our minds and must make our choice upon right and reasonable grounds. We shall thus be on our guard against the weak allowance which we cause to do duty for choice and against such dishonest fallacies as, that it is our business to get the best that is to be had at the lowest price; and it is not only in matters of dress and ornament, household use and decoration, that we run after the cheapest and newest. We chase opinions and ideas with the same restlessness and uncertainty; any fad, any notion in the newspapers, we pick up with eagerness. Once again, the will is the man. The business of the will is to choose. There are many ways to get out of the task of choosing but it is always,––”Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” There are two services open to us all, the service of God, (including that of man) and the service of self. If our aim is just to get on, ‘to do ourselves well,’ to get all possible ease, luxury and pleasure out of our lives, we are serving self and for the service of self no act of will is required. Our appetites and desires are always at hand to spur us into the necessary exertions. But if we serve God and our neighbour, we have to be always on the watch to choose between the ideas that present themselves. What the spring is to the year, school days are to our life.

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Making Use of the Mind

We hold that the child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas but is rather…a ‘spiritual organism’ with an appetite for all knowledge

Again Charlotte Mason’s principles challenge the thinking of the time. She argues vigorously against the views of Herbartian Psychology (German educational philosopher in the 1800’s) that a child is a mere receptacle: That philosophy endangers children of much teaching and little learning.

Her View On British Education and Higher Education

Here she outlines the outworking of education as it was in those days. Boys in particular may have been taught by good teachers but the emphasis was on the teacher and not the student. Boys were being raised to be clerks and nothing more. At the age of 14 most boys were ending their education and then getting jobs. Some employers were finding that boys couldn’t sit and memorize, for example, the railway signals; for they had no entertaining teacher to help them along. They were seeing a large number of boys drop out of work with no further prospects. She quotes the writings of Alexander Paterson.

She applauded the government for its decision to lift the leaving age of school from 14 to 16, but she argued what is the point if you don’t change the way you teach them. Are they not worthy to be taught more than just spelling and arithmetic? She argues that they need to be challenged and taught how to work at their education at a higher university level and not be spoon fed or taught a trade, but rather to give them a generous education. She also praises the education system in Denmark and Scandinavia.

Utilitarian Education In Germany

Charlotte Mason’s principles are opposite to the efficient utilitarian trade based education of Germany and warns against these methods.

I’ve included this quote because I found it so interesting. Remember that this was written before the Second World War.

“Here is one more reason for treating the Continuation School as the People’s University and absolutely eschewing all money-making arts and crafts. Denmark and Scandinavia have tried this generous policy of educating young people, not according to the requirements of their trade but according to their natural capacity to know and their natural desire for knowledge, that desire to know history, poetry, science, art, which is natural to every man; and the success of the experiment now a century old is an object lesson for the rest of the world.

Germany has pursued a different ideal. Her efforts, too, have been great, unified by the idea of utility; and, if we will only remember the lesson, the war has shown us how futile is an education which affords no moral or intellectual uplift, no motive higher than the learner’s peculiar advantage and that of the State. Germany became morally bankrupt (for a season only, let us hope) not solely because of the war but as the result of an education which ignored the things of the spirit or gave these a nominal place and a poor rendering in a utilitarian syllabus. We are encouraged to face the fact boldly that it is a People’s University we should aim at, a University with its thousands of Colleges up and down the land, each of them the Continuation School (the name is not inviting) for some one neighbourhood.

The theme of this chapter is that we should continue to provide a rich education as our children get older. And we need to make sure that they work hard at their own education. She shifts the responsibility from the teacher to the student. She also challenges the teacher to think about her role, are they the entertainers or the facilitators? Is it with the clever teacher that the children learn more?

She talks about the object lesson curriculum (which some interpret as unit studies) and gives two examples, 100 lesson from an apple and a year with Robinson Crusoe. She believes the teacher is clever indeed to work out these lessons but are they good for the student. She thinks not, as it trivializes their education and to be sure they won’t like Robinson Crusoe at the end of it.

Charlotte Mason ends this chapter with her hopes for continuing education past the age of 14.

Every man and woman will have received a liberal education; life will no longer discount the ideas and aims of the schoolroom, and, if according to the Platonic saying, “Knowledge is virtue,” knowledge informed by religion, we shall see even in our own day how righteousness exalteth a nation.

This principle – Charlotte Mason how we make use of the mind should be read by those thinking about high school. It gives you such food for thought. I am reminded that I am not raising my children to function in society but rather to serve their Maker and contribute to society.

Education is an Atmosphere

‘When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ specially 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 freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s’ level.’ Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason Motto

I have seen the phrase “education is an atmosphere” in many Charlotte Mason books. I needed no further explanation; the quote encompassed it all—or so I thought! To explain my interpretation of that statement prior to reading this chapter I would have said, “A good learning environment stimulates a child’s education and facilitates holistic growth.”

The cult of aesthetics, still present today, holds the belief that parents should painstakingly provide an environment that is “perfect for the child”. Lovely surroundings of beauty, nice books and lots of cotton wool are used to shield children from the harsh adult world. Charlotte Mason believed this carefully constructed artificial environment is not beneficial to a child, for it makes them morally weak and prevents them maturing. She wanted a children’s environment to be one that nobody has been at pains to constitute (a natural environment). FYI – she was not a Maria Montessori fan!

This atmosphere was not meant to be “come what may”, but rather to be one where the child’s intelligence is respected, where their ability to acquire knowledge is encouraged and self-education is promoted.

At home it is easier to provide such an “atmosphere” rather than school. Why —because school can take the lessons to a child’s level in a watered down, sweetened condescending way. She encouraged her teachers to make sure that school had “the bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity”. I agree home is a natural place for raising and educating our children. Home life offers many opportunities to learn about the things of the world.

At home there is a danger though that we can succumb to the “cult of aesthetics” —only providing our children with “nice things”. As the ‘mummy’ I want to shield them and make their life easy. This means that I may remove natural consequences for actions. For example, sloppy work becomes acceptable and hard work is not expected. As parents we can molly-coddle our children and this too produces children with a weak demeanour that are ill prepared for a life of renown.

Cultural “norms” need not be our benchmark. We need to set standards that respects them and prepares them for the future. A modern book that encompasses some of these ideas is “Boundaries with Children”.

There are two courses open to us in this matter. One, to create by all manner of modified conditions a hot-house atmosphere, fragrant but emasculating, in which children grow apace but are feeble and dependent; the other to leave them open to all the “airts that blow,” but with care lest they be unduly battered; lest, for example, a miasma come their way in the shape of a vicious companion.

This Charlotte Mason Principle encapsulates much of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. I have gleaned many insights into what we need for an inspiring education. Charlotte Mason reveals why the atmosphere that she proposes works.

Education is a Discipline – Staying on the Rails

“By this formula we mean the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully whether habits of mind or of body.”

Charlotte Mason’s principles on habits reaches far beyond the educational realm. She emphasises how important it is to “lay down the rails” of good habits in our children’s lives (and our own).

In this chapter Charlotte talks about the habits that we need to instill into our children to ensure that they develop good habits in their educational pursuits and personal lives.

We have lost sight of the fact that habit is to life what rails are to transport cars. It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends and after careful survey, or the jolting and delays of life become insupportable.

Good Habits
Establish good habits! It sounds simple but it is not easy. The will is often present but the ability to implement these good habits can elude us.

If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord.

Identify the Habit

When we identify a new habit that we want to establish we then need to work at that habit. Charlotte wisely encourages us to only work on one habit at a time. I do agree that too many habits worked on at once leads to failure but as a mother I do work on more than one at a time. One housework habit may bed clean up the bathroom after you have a shower. For school work with one child I taught them not to dawdle over their maths. I sat with them encouraging them to keep pressing on with the sums and I am keeping the lesson short.
Spiritual Habits
A major goal for me as a parent is to lead my children into a strong relationship with God—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is a relationship and I don’t want it to become a mechanical habit absent of true communion with God. But there are spiritual disciplines that I know will help them in this relationship. Bible reading, prayer, devotion, worship, giving and church attendance are all habits that need to be established for an effective Christian life. Therefore I make sure these habits are practiced in our home.
Housework Habits
I have tried to set up chores in my house so that the children can have success. There is no point trying to set up a habit that has a slim chance of accomplishment.
Educational Habits
This is hard in the early years before they can read but once they can read for themselves they need to start coming in to contact with the books themselves so that they can perform the act of knowing.

I used to wonder how to do this. How could I organise their day in such a way that they did the work for themselves? In the early days of homeschooling everything was so dependent on me and if I fell of the rails so did everyone one else. Since I have been using the workbox system I have found it so much easier to keep them going when I was off on a needed detour.

Physical Habits
This encompasses personal habits plus exercise. I need to work on the physical exercise one!
Habits of the Mind
It is as we have seen disastrous when child or man learns to think in a groove, and shivers like an unaccustomed bather on the steps of a new notion. This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions.

Allowing our mind to stretch and digest new ideas. This will be covered with my next post Education is a Life.

A more modern speaker on this topic is Steven Covey. Here is an interview he did for Seven Habits of a Highly Successful Homeschooler

Again I have been challenged by the power of setting up good habits in my family and homeschool. We do have many established good habits already in our home that I am pleased with, but there are still many more to work on.
” Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Education is a Life.

That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food.

So many times I have said to non homeschooling friends that homeschooling is a lifestyle not school lessons at home. That is exactly what Charlotte Mason’s principle is saying by this statement.

Education becomes a lifestyle of learning—feeding our mind with the mind food of great ideas.

Charlotte Mason encourages us to make sure we put quality ideas into our children’s lives.

What is an Idea?

An idea is a live thing of the mind. It strikes, seizes and catches hold of us. Ideas form the basis of our inspiration. An idea can possess us. Without ideas education is dull.

Ideas in Education

Charlotte argues that in many schools the concept of ideas is curiously absent. Curiosity is stilted with dull textbooks, wrote learning and dry facts—I would add force feeding of political agendas and peer group pressure. Before children receive the ideas of others it is watered down, pre-digested and often manipulated.

Giving Children Great Ideas

Charlotte Mason wanted children to be exposed to great thinkers and great ideas; these thinkers nourish their mind and feed their life.

“Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food.”

As the educator living literature is an instrument for giving idea. It allows the child to touch the author’s mind with their own words. This literary powerhouse helps them connect with these thinkers. Ideas clothed upon the factual stories seem to be recalled; for the delivery of an idea seems to require much padding.

Charlotte Mason cautions us to not to confuse opinions with ideas. Allow the children to express their own thoughts and ask them questions before you express your opinion.

“All roads lead to Rome, and all I have said is meant to enforce the fact that much and varied humane reading, as well as human thought expressed in the forms of art, is, not a luxury, a tit-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life, which they must have in abundant portions and at regular periods. This and more is implied in the phrase, “The mind feeds on ideas and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.”

*Quotes unless otherwise stated are from Charlotte Mason “A Philosophy of Education Volume 6”. Read the whole chapter online at

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