Charlotte Mason Homeschooling: Principles of Education

Free Charlotte Mason Study 20 Principles

Let’s talk PRINCIPLES. Charlotte’s principles should matter a great deal to you if you intend to implement her method. It’s her principles that you need to know, not so much the subjects or how to do them. It’s the principles. Let me say that again: 


Why would I tell you not to worry about the subjects? Or how to implement them? How could I suggest such a thing?! I’m sure that is the opposite of everything you’ve been told. Everyone in the CM world is shouting at you about HOW TO DO THIS or HOW TO DO THAT if you want to “do” Charlotte Mason.

But here’s the thing: It’s a METHOD, not a system. 

A method is based on certain principles. It isn’t just a set of rigid rules. Instead, a method’s principles tell us the WHY behind it. A method is flexible and adaptable to each individual person. But A SYSTEM ONLY HAS RULES with no principles behind them. Or if a system does have principles, they are at odds with the dignity of a person.

Once you grasp the principles involved in Charlotte’s method, you are able to support the organic process of how a child grows and how he naturally learns. 

Charlotte’s Principles guide you and allow you to find the beauty in education and learning that has always been there. And here’s another truth: the principles SIMPLIFY the process for you. They remind you of what is truly important. They allow you to let go of preconceived notions or ideas that don’t work for you. And they become a natural guide in the atmosphere of your daily life. 

A method evolves and adapts to serve you and your way of life. An education that serves you is worth having. A system that enslaves you is not. So don’t get stuck on the “What” or the “How.” Instead, embrace the “WHY.” The principles are why you’re here.

In our FREE 20 Principles Study, I’ll be taking a look at each individual Principle in a series of blog posts and videos.

Each Principle inside our Free 20 Principles Course comes with:

You don’t need to own any of CM’s Volumes for this study because I will provide you with everything you need! (But if you would like to read from an actual book, most of the readings will be found in Volume 6: A Philosophy of Education. You can find the Annotated Edition here.)

The PDF Study Guide is yours to download for free.

It will have ALL the relevant reading material you’ll need, including text from Charlotte’s Volumes. PLUS study questions and some of my tips on how to apply the Principle in your own home. 😉

As each new blog post gets published, we will discuss the Principle over in The Plenary Facebook Group too! Fun, fun, fun! 


But before we get started, let’s first take an overview of Charlotte’s 20 Principles (click through to any Principle for a summary and a video):

Children are born persons.

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

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

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

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. The P.N.E.U. Motto is: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”

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’ 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 freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s’ level.

By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits.

In saying that “education is a life,” the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.

We hold that the 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 its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of Education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on 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.”

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

“Education is the Science of Relations”; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of –

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

In devising a Syllabus for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:
(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
(b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity).
(c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form. 

As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing, or should write on some part of what they have read.

A single reading is insisted on because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising, and the like.
Acting upon these and some other points in the behavior of mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment.
Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behavior of mind.

There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, which we may call “the way of the will” and “the way of the reason.”

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 its work with new vigor.
(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 as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character. It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)

The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to “lean (too confidently) to their own understanding”; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs. 

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

Principle #20

We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but 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.

Whew! That’s a LOT of info! But don’t worry, we’ll sort it out!

Be sure to subscribe to the following so you don’t miss anything! 

I look forward to chatting with you as we learn and grow with Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles.

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