Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Alright, a homeschooling question

Who is Charlotte Mason?

Yes, yes, I've heard of wikipedia. The internets are my friend. But the local library, to which I turned to find some resources on or by Miss Mason, has nothing. So I'm doing what real people do: I'm asking friends to give me the low-down and tell me whether home-education Mason-style is something worth researching.

I've been doing some educational reading lately. Darwin and I were both homeschooled, and as such, have felt no need to find some kind of philosophy to bolster our own decision to homeschool. I know that homeschooling works, and that most fools can do it with a moderate degree of success, and I don't need to justify it to my mother-in-law. We have plenty of ideas about what constitutes a good education and what one ought to know in order to consider oneself "educated".

Now I hear a friend talk about the Montessori method and I realize that I have no idea what Montessori education is. Various bloggers throw out references to the educational philosophies of Charlotte Mason, and I don't know what they're talking about. I've read Dorothy Sayers's essay on the Trivium and I like it, but I haven't done much serious thinking about how to implement her ideas.

Part of this lack of research, perhaps, is that my children are still very young -- too young, really for formal school work. I want to be doing something, but I'm finding that at this age formal schoolwork is a frustrating proposition for both mother and child. My oldest is about to turn five, and I'm only just now seeing a real readiness in her to sit and do schooolwork -- a quality that was lacking during our year-long haul through a kindergarten math workbook and the 100 Easy Lessons. I've been working with my 3 1/2-year-old on the 100 Easy Lessons, but I've realized that I want her to read early because reading is important to me. On the one hand she is learning the sounds of her letters; on the other, she doesn't seem quite ready to put the sounds together into words.

I don't want this to turn into a long rambling post, but as Noogs approaches kindergarten age, I want to have the resources to give her what I consider a good education. I've dabbled a bit in educational philosophy; now it's time to get serious about using the resources that are out there.


Kiwi Nomad said...

I don't know about the others, but Maria Montessori originally developed her very structured techniques for using with children with special needs. She was extraordinarily successful in enabling learning for children who failed by other means. She later developed her techniques for use with more 'ordinary' children. These days, her ideas have become 'trendy' here in NZ for a small number of preschoolers, mainly amongst more middle class parents.

CMinor said...

For Montessori's teaching philosophy I recommend The Discovery of the Child or one of her other works. For practical application of her methods, an oldie but goody is Teaching Montessori in the Home. I think I still have some sandpaper letters around here somewhere.

Charlotte Mason was an educator who wrote a series of books (currently sold as The Original Homeschooling Series) to advise 19th-century English parents in the home education of young children (at this time, remember, most middle and upper class kids were taught at home by a parent or governess until they were "sent away" to school at about ten or later.) I've read the first few of her books; they are basically common-sense advice on child-rearing with a Christian worldview and a fairly good understanding of child psychology given the time. I think they are of more interest to the educational theorist than of practical use to the parent trying to organize a curriculum today, unless there are some outlines in the later books I didn't see!

I have a copy of a doctoral dissertation on ed philosophies around here somewhere that was written by a Mary Hood, a homeschool mom emeritus who used to be popular on the conference circuit. I remember that she described Mason as a "Perennialist" in education philosophy but unless I can locate the paper (can you picture the state of my house?) I can't tell you much more about it. I'll keep looking, and let you know if I find it.

CMinor said...

BTW, the author of Teaching Montessori i/t Home is Elizabeth Hainstock. It seems to be out in paperback now (Amazon, of course,) with a new editor or coauthor who's tacked his name on. I'm not sure there's much diff between the original edition & the newer one.

Unknown said...

Hi! I wanted to invite you to visit my blog, where I am in the middle of a series of post on the CM method, including overviews and how-tos. The link is and then click on Charlotte Mason in the right sidebar.

Happy reading!

Melissa Wiley

mrsdarwin said...

Thank you, Lissa. I'd be glad to visit.

C -- did you homeschool your children?

CMinor said...

Boy, Blogger is crotchety today. Here's hoping I don't double-post.

Yes, up to 8th grade (one 6th--she's just that way) with one still at home. I did find that paper, and have tried to digest the Mason/perennialism stuff below:

This is actually a workbook for prosopective homeschoolers (though I think it came out Hood's dissertation work) titled Countdown to Consistency There might still be copies floating around your homeschool community, if you want to look it up. Again, more theory than "how-to."

Hood stops short of calling Mason a perennialist (one of four philosophies governing modern education theory) but says she tends strongly in that direction. Perennialists, according to Hood, believe:
--that certain things are timeless
--in eternal truths and absolute values
--that all people are basically the same; therefore education all over the world should be similar
--students should be prepared for life with a liberal education; early specialization should be avoided
--education is lifelong; child education is only the preperatory phase
--wisdom comes only with maturity
--the primary aim of education should be development of the mind

Perennialists favor classical education and the passing on of the great ideas of Western civilization. Because they do not believe in early specialization, vocational programs in secondary schools are avoided. Developing self-discipline in the student is a goal, but while the teacher has understood authority, blind obedience from the student is not expected.

Perennialists tend to emphasise "living books"--classic literature or high quality works about things--over standard textbooks, and oral or essay-format evaluations over worksheets and tests. Students are involved in the selection of their courses and materials, within the teacher's parameters. Thoughtful discussion of ideas is a positive, so books are not generally screened for specific religious content.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it's a philosophy, not a system. You can inject some perennialist philosophy into your schooling even if you are using workbooks for certain things.

As with any philosophy, actual results may vary. For example, we probably all know somebody who was taking machinery apart before he'd gotten to his teens and knew from childhood that he was destined to be a mechanic or engineer--there may be a case for early specialization for such kids.

I looked again at the Mason books. It looks to me like her last volume, A Philosophy of Education, does include descriptions of coursework. The book having been written in 1925 for an English readership, some of it is probably obsolete or irrelevant today.

The books may also be floating around your local homeschool community, so I would recommend borrowing them or getting them secondhand rather than buying the whole set new, at least until you've decided whether you want to read them over and over. For practical purposes, you might want to start out with a list of educational standards from your state. I refer to those "check-off" lists that exist mainly so that all teachers are hitting the same milestones at the same time: "By the end of first grade, students should be able to...." You don't have to be fascistic about them; the fact is that any given student will do some things before she is expected to and some things after, but it's handy to have a way to quantify what your kids are doing anyway, and it helps you not to forget something that might be necessary later. It also helps for record-keeping purposes, if your state is fussy about that sort of thing.

mrsdarwin said...


Thanks for laying that out for me. Would you mind terribly writing a bit about your own homeschooling process? If you don't want to cram the comments box you can feel free to drop me an email, or put it on your own blog -- I check it every day.

Actually, there probably are not copies of Charlotte Mason's works floating around at least my immediate circle. I know (in person, I mean) very few homeschoolers with a "philosophy" of homeschooling other than items such as "I won't let those awful public schools corrupt the minds of my children" or "really, we're homeschooling for religious reasons, because what's more important that getting your kids to heaven?" I mean to post on this sometime soon, but the difficulty is in meeting local homeschoolers for whom education is more than just ticking off the list of subjects from a packaged curriculum. One of my friends is seriously studying Montessori, which is what started me researching that method, but that's about it.

(I except, of course, the Opinionated Homeschooler, who is extremely informed and quite articulate about her educational ideas and systems, but alas, we've only met once.)

CMinor said...

Wow--I'll have think that one through and get back to you tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

Karen Andreola wrote about CM type schooling in her book "A Charlotte Mason Companion."

There is a Catholic CM curriculum at and a yahoo support group for said curriculum called MaterAmabilisTTF.

Anonymous said...

While you're reading up on educational philosophy, some good books are "Homeschooling with Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling", "A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century", and "The Latin-Centered Curriculum". None is perfect, but there are good ideas to ponder in all of them!

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Ooooooh, I feel a blog post coming on... I'll try to organize my thoughts this evening.

All Saints Academy said...

Mrs. Darwin,
Please check out

It is a website with access to a forum all about Catholic Charlotte Mason method. I have started using this in the past few years - alas since you left town - and have found it to be much more relaxed and natural way of learning. From what I knew about you when you were homeschooled, you would be a natural fit. Elizabeth Foss's book Real Learning is a wonderful place to start.

Motherhen in Cincinnati

Maureen said...

Maybe you can get a sampling of these through inter-library loan:

Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss [By Way of the Family]
A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola
For the Children’s Sake by Susan S. MacAulay
The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason
When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today by Elaine Cooper

Also check out:
Education in the Out of Doors by MacBeth Derham in The Catholic Homeschool Companion, pg. 169-173

Anonymous said...

Mrs Darwin,

I went to Catholic school and then public school and had never even heard of homeschooling until a few years ago, but now I'm positive it's what I want to do with my own kids.

My first baby's only 9 months old, so for me homeschooling is pretty much just theory at this point. But last spring when I'd quit my job and was waiting for my baby to pop I decided I needed a project to keep me busy and out of trouble. So I started doing research about home schooing and posting my findings on my blog.

I'll second the recommendations for Lissa's site and 4Real Learning. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss and A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola.

I went into my homeschooling research with no real philosophy of education, but many firm ideas about the subject. I've not read much Charlotte Mason directly, but everything I've read secondhand has led me to think that hers is a philosophy I can be friendly with. I've really been inspired by many of the homeschoolers who claim to follow a Charlotte Mason style or method.

I'd add that before providing a curriculum for homeschoolers, Charlotte Mason founded schools.

Another resource you can check out is a website that provides a modern curriculum that tries to be as close as possible to the curriculum that Charlotte Mason used in her schools.

CMinor said...

Okay, I've got a post going up at my placein a few minutes, God willin' and I don't crash the system.

To anyone interested in figuring out where they fit on the ed philosophy spectrum, I do suggest Mary Hood's Countdown to Consistency.

Amber said...

I highly recommend starting out with For The Children's Sake - that is an excellent introduction to Charlotte Mason.

Personally, my educational philosophy largely comes from two books - that one and The Well-Trained Mind. The Well-Trained Mind provides the how and For the Children's Sake provides the why.

Sorry for the late comment, it seems Bloglines somehow removed your blog from my list and it took me a little while to realize it! (and here I was, thinking you all were just being quiet for a bit *grin*)

Kiwi Nomad said...

If you have time, are you going to look at some general educational theorists, who have ideas about how we learn best? eg Art Costa (habits of mind), Gardner (Multiple intelligences) and Vygotsky (scaffolding)?

mrsdarwin said...


I had a roommate who was getting her master's in education, and I think she was studying multiple intelligences. Am I correct in remembering that this was a cluster of six or seven different styles of learning? Was there a kinesthetic intelligence and a mathematical intelligence? It's been a while... Thanks for these references.

Kiwi Nomad said...

From one website here are the seven areas for multiple intelligence:
"Linguistic: the intelligence of words.

Logical-mathematical: the intelligence of numbers and reasoning.

Spatial: the intelligence of pictures and images.

Musical: the intelligence of tone, rhythm, and timbre.

Bodily-Kinesthetic: the intelligence of the whole body and the hands.

Interpersonal: the intelligence of social interactions

Intrapersonal: the intelligence of self-knowledge"

Some also say there is an eighth area of naturalist intelligence. Here is a website that has a useful intro:

Multiple intelligences are not the same as 'learning styles', which to be honest I have always found a bit suspect, as whoever has presented the info around here always seems to have a 'business' of charging large amounts of money to tell you what learning style you have. Learning styles are more about whether you prefer to learn using visual, auditoy or kinesthetic and tactile methods. A website:

Kiwi Nomad said...

One more from me! Here is a website that outlines Art Costa's "habits of the mind".
The adobe download at the bottom of the page gives more detailed info.