Charlotte Mason

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For the American philanthropist and socialite see Charlotte Osgood Mason.
Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason
Charlotte Mason.jpg
Born 1 January 1842
Bangor, Gwynedd
Died 16 January 1923(1923-01-16) (aged 81)
Residence Ambleside (from 1891)
Alma mater Home and Colonial Society
Occupation Educator
Employer Bishop Otter Teacher Training College, self-employed
Home town Worthing, England

Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason (1 January 1842 – 16 January 1923) was a British educator in England at the turn of the twentieth century. Her revolutionary methods led to a shift from utilitarian education to the education of a child upon living ideas. She was inspired by current brain research[clarification needed], by the writings of John Amos Comenius, Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin.

After the release of a book by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children's Sake in 1984, Charlotte Mason's six volume educational series was republished by Karen Andreola, author of A Charlotte Mason Companion. This led to a resurgence of Charlotte Mason's educational methods for a new generation of teachers and students.[citation needed]

Charlotte Mason schools can now be found across the United States in homes, at charter schools and independent private schools. Mason's methods are used widely within the homeschool community. Regional and national conferences, retreats, and study groups have sprung up across the country and have increased Mason's methods' popularity.[citation needed]


Charlotte Mason was born in Bangor. An only child, she was mostly educated at home by her parents.[1][2] Mason taught for more than ten years at Davison School in Worthing, England. During this time she developed her vision for "a liberal education for all".

Between 1880 and 1892, Charlotte Mason wrote a popular geography series called The Ambleside Geography Books:

  • Elementary Geography: Book I for Standard II (1881)
  • The British Empire and the Great Divisions of the Globe: Book II for Standard III (1882)
  • The Counties of England: Book III for Standard IV (1881)
  • The Countries of Europe Their Scenery and Peoples: Book IV for Standard V (1883)
  • The Old and New World: Asia, Africa, America, Australia: Book V (1884)

Mason was later a lecturer at the Bishop Otter Teacher Training College in Chichester, England, where she stayed for more than five years and gave a series of lectures about the education of children under 9, later published as Home Education (1886).

She co-founded the Parents' Educational Union (PEU), an organisation that provided resources to parents educating their children at home. She launched and served as editor-in-chief at the Parents' Review[3] to keep in touch with PEU members.


Charlotte Mason - painted in 1902 by Frederic Yates

Mason moved to Ambleside, England, in 1891 and established the House of Education, a training school for governesses and others working with young children. By 1892, the Parents' Educational Union had added the word "National" to its title to become the Parents' National Educational Union (PNEU), and a Parents' Review School had been formed (later to be known as the Parents' Union School), at which the children followed Mason's educational philosophy and methods.

Mason wrote and publish several other books developing and explaining her theories of education:

  • Parents and Children:[4] Parents and Children is a collection of her articles and essays previously published in various sources.
  • School Education:[5] outlines her methods for educating children from approximately age 9 to 12.
  • Ourselves, was also published in 1904. In it, Mason addressed herself directly to the children, or for parents to read aloud with their children, to help them learn to examine themselves and develop high moral standards and self-control. The first part is for children under age 16. Book two of Ourselves is written for students over 16.[6]
  • Formation of Character, published the following year, in 1905, was developed from a revision of earlier volumes. Mason explained in the preface to volume 5 (Formation of Character) that "In editing Home Education and Parents and Children for the 'Home Education' Series, the introduction of much new matter made it necessary to transfer a considerable part of the contents of those two members of the series to this volume, Some Studies In the Formation of Character." Her purpose with this volume, she said, was to demonstrate how her methods should assist children to naturally develop and strengthen good character traits.

"We may not make character our conscious objective," she wrote, but she believed that parents and teachers should "Provide a child with what he needs in the way of instruction, opportunity, and wholesome occupation, and his character will take care of itself: for normal children are persons of good will, with honest desires toward right thinking and right living. All we can do further is to help a child to get rid of some hindrance––a bad temper, for example––likely to spoil his life."

Mason's last book, Towards A Philosophy of Education was published in 1923, nearly forty years after her first book. It is written primarily to address the application of her methods and principles with high school students, but she also revised a summary of her principles, and in some cases revises and refines what she had written in previous volumes. Many home educators who read her volumes recommend starting with volume 6.

In addition to the geography series and her six volumes on education, Mason also wrote and published a six volume work called The Saviour of the World (published between 1908–14), a study of the life and teaching of Jesus in verse.

Over the years between the publication of volumes 1 and 6 of her education series, other schools adopted her philosophy and methods, and the Ambleside establishment became a teacher training college to supply all the Parents' Union Schools that were springing up, as well as to assist with correspondence programs provided for British parents living overseas. Mason spent her final years overseeing this network of schools devoted to "a liberal education for all."

After her death, the training school became Charlotte Mason College and was run by the Cumbrian Local Education Authority. In the 1990s, due to financial pressure, it became the tenth college of Lancaster University. An unfavourable Ofsted report four years later led to a merger with St Martin's College to become the Ambleside campus of St Martin's College.[7]

The buildings now form part of the University of Cumbria and a health centre. There is also a museum attached. In March 2008, the University announced plans to end teacher training in Ambleside, developing the campus for postgraduate work and a conference centre.

Teaching philosophy[edit]

Mason's philosophy of education is probably best summarised by the principles given at the beginning of each book mentioned above. Two key mottos taken from those principles are "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" and "Education is the science of relations." She believed that children were born persons and should be respected as such; they should also be taught the Way of the Will and the Way of Reason. Her motto for students was "I am, I can, I ought, I will."

Teaching methods[edit]

Living Books: Mason claimed that usual education books were "written down" to children, while teachers should make use of "living books"; that is, books that are "written by one person with a passion for the topic and a broad command of the language as well as the ability to write in an engaging, literary style while communicating great ideas rather than mere facts."[8][9][10][11] The size of the book is not as important as the content and style- it should be alive and engaging.[12]

Narration: According to Mason, asking children to tell about what they have read require the child to intentionally train his powers of attention, to synthesise all he has read, to organise the material in his mind, and to determine how best to communicate all that he recalls in his own words. "Corrections must not be made during the act of narration, nor must any interruption be allowed."[13][14][15][16][17][18][19]

Habit Training: Mason believed that formation of good habits was a vital part of her educational method. It is such an important part of her educational philosophy that it forms the seventh point in the 'short synopsis of the educational philosophy' she included in the preface of each of her six volumes on education: "7. 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." She believed that a proper education included "the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully".[20][21][22][23][24][25] She believed that habit training was a powerful force in helping children to take charge of their own education.

Mason specifically encouraged a child's learning the habits of attention, perfect execution, obedience, truthfulness, an even temper, neatness, kindness, order, respect, recall, punctuality, gentleness, and cleanliness, among others.[26]

Lessons: Mason advocated that lessons be kept short and focused for younger children, seldom more than 20 minutes in length.[27] As children mature and develop greater mastery of their powers of attention, lessons grow progressively longer.[28] Students were given a schedule so they knew they had a limited time to complete the lesson.

Mason believed that dreary or dawdling lessons 'stultified a child's wits' and blocked his intellectual progress at the start.[29] Mason believed these short, concentrated, focused lessons encouraged the habit of full attention, and securing such a habit early in life equipped the children to receive a broad education encompassing a well-ordered feast[30] of subjects. Mason also recommended alternating lessons so that children were doing a variety of work so as not to fatigue the brain- sums would be followed by a lesson in writing, for instance, rather than two history readings back to back.[31]

Language arts[edit]

Handwriting Mason used A New Handwriting for Teachers, by M. M. Bridges (Mrs. Robert Bridges[32]) to teach handwriting to her students.[33] Mason's approach to handwriting was based on her belief that "No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required of him as a matter of course".[34] In keeping with her theories about short lessons and focused attention, she thought it more important that the student produce six perfect strokes than an entire slateful of slovenly work.[34] Once a child had mastered the formation of individual letters,[35] children were given a phrase, sentence, or paragraph to copy in their best handwriting. These copywork exercises should take only a few minutes each day so as to encourage the habits of attention and perfect execution without becoming tiring.[36]

Prepared Dictation: Once children had mastered the basic mechanics of handwriting, Mason introduced them to prepared dictation.[37] She used copywork and dictation to teach spelling and reinforce grammar and composition skills. In prepared dictation, the child is given a sentence, a passage, and eventually a few pages to study until he feels confident that he is prepared to accurately reproduce all the spelling, capitalisation, and punctuation in the passage.[38] Younger students would reproduce a short passage as the teacher dictated. Older students, given two or three pages to study over the course of a week, would transcribe or reproduce a selection chosen by the teacher once each week.[39] The teacher dictates to him from the passage, one phrase at a time,[40] watching carefully as he writes to catch any misspelled word and correct it immediately.[41] Mason believed in immediately correcting misspelled words so as not to let a misspelled word imprint itself on the student's memory. Mason believed that before learning the rules of spelling, punctuation, and syntax, children should first become familiar with fine writing and see the mechanics of grammar and spelling within the context of great thoughts and rich language. They also used dictation for practical skills, such as writing out a recipe from dictation.[42]

Poetry was an integral part of daily life in Mason's schools. As in other subjects that introduce great ideas from the past, poetry is shared and allowed to stand on its own, without analysis or critique. Rather than telling the child what to think, this approach allows individual interpretation, with emotional, as well as intellectual, responses.

Shakespeare and Plutarch: Students in Mason's schools studied Shakespeare and read Plutarch regularly, as well.

Grammar: Since grammar is the study of words, not of things, Mason thought it is a difficult concept for young children to grasp. She recommended postponing the formal study of grammar until the child reached the age of ten. Consistent practice in narration, dictation, and copywork lays the foundation for grammar study.

Foreign Language: Mason's students studied French as a second language as well as learning some Latin and German. Foreign language lessons began with children's songs and stories. Consistent with her philosophy, a foreign language is best taught in a living setting.


Art: Charlotte Mason believed that children deserved direct contact with the best art.[43] The great ideas of men and women of history are revealed in their works, whether paintings or writings or music. Art appreciation is taught through Picture Study, which introduces the child to six works of a great artist one at a time over a sixty-day term.[43][44] The children study the print for several minutes undisturbed, then the parent or teacher looks at the print and asks the child or children to describe it. Another approach is to have the children sketch a general outline of the picture, or to pose a tableau in imitation of the picture- done from memory first, and then compare the sketch or tableau to the print.[44][45]

Music appreciation: Mason's students would listen to a few works by a single composer over a term. The composer was chosen to correlate with the period of history the children were studying that term. The goal is for the children to learn to appreciate classical music[46] and to have enough familiarity with major works and composers that they recognise them when they hear them.[47] "About six works by some great composer are chosen for study each term. These compositions are played or sung to the children constantly and studied carefully. The children are taught something about the form, harmonic structure, thematic development of the composition and some information is given about the life of the composer." Where possible, children were taken to live concerts as well.[44]

Handicrafts: Mason's students practised "various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials..."[48] About the role of daily handiwork in her schools she wrote: "The points to be borne in mind in children's handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not be allowed..."[49]

Math and science[edit]

Nature Study and Outdoor Education: Mason believed that young children should spend several hours outdoors every day that the weather permitted.[50][51] In Mason's schools, one afternoon each week was devoted to spending time outdoors. For nature study, children take along a sketchpad to draw and label the different aspects of nature they observe. Students kept a calendar of the first finds of each season- birds, flowers, and other species were sketched, described, and dated.[52] High school aged students continued to keep nature notebooks, but they were more complex. In addition to their lists of birds and plants observed throughout the year, they kept records and drawings in their books and made "special studies of their own for the particular season with drawings and notes."[53] They would study habitats and ecosystems as a whole rather than the individual plants and species of their younger years, enabling them to complete exam questions such as "Make a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put in the names of the plants you would expect to find."[54]

Mathematics: Mason emphasised the importance of children's understanding mathematical concepts before ever doing paper and pencil equations. They should be encouraged to use manipulatives and to think through the whys and wherefores of solving word problems—in other words, how mathematics applies to life situations.

Social sciences[edit]

Bible: Mason's method of studying the Bible was simple: read it every day. She gave children credit for being able to understand passages directly from the Scriptures, and she assigned several large portions to be memorised and recited each school year.

History is considered most relevant to children through the use of living books, biographies, autobiographies, and narration. In addition, Mason's students kept a 'Book of Centuries' that was similar to a personal time line in a notebook. They added people and events to the pages as they studied about them.

Geography: Just as history is the story of what happened to a person, geography is the story of where he was and how his surroundings affected what happened. Geography is best taught through living books, also. Short map drills can supplement.


Charlotte Mason was the first person to perceive the educational potential of Scouting applied to children. In April 1905, she added Aids to Scouting by Robert Baden-Powell to the syllabus of the Parents' Union School. Later, Baden-Powell credited a governess trained by Mason, coupled with the reputation of Mason herself, for suggesting the educational possibilities of Scouting. This, amongst other influences, lead to Scouting for Boys and the formation of the Scouting movement.[55][56]

Mason and her teachers organised the Parents' Union Scouts for boys and girls around the country, both those educated at home and those at schools using the P.N.E.U. system (date?). When the Girl Guides were established, Mason suggested that the P.U. Scouts amalgamate with national organisations for boys and girls respectively.

Mason vs. modern Classical Education[edit]

  • Some versions of the Classical education movement put less emphasis on the fine arts, especially visual art, although other classical Christian educators like George Grant,[57] draw heavily from the insights of both Charlotte Mason and Dorothy Sayers.[58]
  • Classical Education may sometimes be described as rigorous and systematic,[59] separating children and their learning into three rigid categories, Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric.[60] Charlotte Mason believed that all children are born persons, and should be educated on real ideas, through their natural environment, the training of good habits and exposure to living ideas and concepts from the beginning.[61][62]
  • Classical Education often will introduce writing composition earlier and teaches it as a separate subject, while Mason depends on oral narration and a smooth transition into written narration in later grades without studying composition as a separate subject until the upper years.[63][64]
  • Classical Education also introduces formal grammar at an earlier age than Mason does, and Mason believed in beginning grammar lessons with whole sentences rather than parts of speech.[65]
  • Classical Education allows more parental explanations and distilling of information than Mason does.[66]
  • The version of classical education developed by Dorothy Sayers relies heavily on rote memorisation for young children.[67] Mason's students memorised scripture, poetry, and songs,[68] but she did not value rote memorisation for the sake of rote memory. She believed that children should be fed upon the best ideas, which she called 'mind-food.' She believed even the youngest children should be given 'ideas, clothed upon with facts' as they occur, inspiring tales, and worthy thoughts.[69][70]
  • The Classical Education approach in The Well Trained Mind relies on abridged books and simplified version of the classics for younger children in what this version of Classical Education terms 'the Grammar Stage'.[71] Charlotte Mason believed that children should be introduced to subjects through living books, not through the use of "compendiums, abstracts, or selections."[72] She used abridged books only when the content was deemed inappropriate for children. She preferred that parents or teachers read aloud those texts (such as Plutarch and the Old Testament), making omissions only where necessary.[73]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cholmondley, Essex (1960)The Story of Charlotte Mason, (1842–1923)
  2. ^ charlotte mason Archived 28 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine.,
  3. ^ "Parents' Review" Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., AmblesideOnline Parents' Review Article Archive, Retrieved 11 November 2015
  4. ^ Parents and Children Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., Charlotte Mason, 1896, Retrieved 11 November 2015
  5. ^ School Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., Charlotte Mason, 1904, Retrieved 11 November 2015
  6. ^ Preface to Ourselves, by Charlotte Mason Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ History of St Martin's College Archived 2 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Mason, Charlotte Home Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. pp 6, 229, 281
  9. ^ Mason, Parents and Children, pp 263, 279
  10. ^ Mason, Charlotte School Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. preface pp 81, 84, 124, 125, 178, 227, 246
  11. ^ Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. preface, pp 7, 13–30, 53,90, 91, 109, 117, 154,172
  12. ^ Mason, School Education, p 178, Archived 1 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine. "A fit book is not necessarily a big book."
  13. ^ Mason, Charlotte Towards a Philosophy of Education Archived 5 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine., see 'narration' in index.
  14. ^ Amblesideonline, Narration Archived 3 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Parents' Review Volume 35, 1924 p. 610 Some Notes on Narration by G.F. Husband Archived 6 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Parents' Review, Volume 39, 1928 p058 Concerning Repeated Narration by Elsie Kitching Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ Parents' Review Volume 68, 1957 p. 061 Some Thoughts on Narration by Helen E. Wix Archived 6 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ Parents' Review, Volume 2, 1967 p. 170 We Narrate and then we Know by E.K. Manders Archived 4 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ Parents' Review, Volume 31, 1920 Lawe, Clouston, and Millar, A Liberal Education in Secondary Schools Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ Mason, Home Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., preface
  21. ^ Mason, Charlotte Parents and Children Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., preface
  22. ^ Mason, Charlotte School Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., preface
  23. ^ Mason,Charlotte Formation of Character Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., preface
  24. ^ Mason, Charlotte Ourselves Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., preface
  25. ^ Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., preface
  26. ^ Mason, Charlotte Home Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. pp 96–169
  27. ^ Mason, Home Education p 142
  28. ^ PNEU Programmes Archived 30 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine., Compare programmes for the younger years with those for the upper years.
  29. ^ Mason, Charlotte, Home Education p 17
  30. ^ Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, pp 51, 183, 189, 302
  31. ^ Mason, Charlotte Towards a Philosophy of Education p 158
  32. ^ Designing Letters Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  33. ^ Home Education, pp 236–338
  34. ^ a b Mason, Home Education page 160
  35. ^ Mason, Home Education page 236
  36. ^ Mason, Home Education p. 239
  37. ^ Mason, School Education, page 286
  38. ^ Mason, School Education page 307
  39. ^ Mason, School Education page 305
  40. ^ Mason, Home Education pp 241–243
  41. ^ Parents' Review, Volume 17, no. 6, June 1906, pg. 467 Notes of Lessons by Stephanie Wilkinsin
  42. ^ Mason, School Education page 358
  43. ^ a b Levison, Catherine A Charlotte Mason Education
  44. ^ a b c Parent's Review Volume 34, 1923, pgs. 75–84 Archived 18 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  45. ^ Picture Study Archived 18 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  46. ^ Parents' Review, Volume 14, no. 7, July 1903, pgs. 535–537, Music and Art in Schools by L. Winifred Nicholls Archived 16 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  47. ^ Music Archived 18 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  48. ^ Mason, Charlotte; Towards a Philosophy of Education Archived 21 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine. p. 31
  49. ^ Mason, Charlotte Home Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. pp.315–6
  50. ^ Gardner, Penny; Charlotte Mason Study Guide
  51. ^ Mason, Charlotte; Home Education, pp 42–95[permanent dead link]
  52. ^ Mason, Charlotte; Towards a Philosophy of Education page 223[permanent dead link]
  53. ^ Mason, Charlotte; Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 219[permanent dead link]
  54. ^ Mason, Charlotte; Towards a Philosophy of Education, pp 219–220 Archived 6 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  55. ^ "Aids to Scouting". Johnny Walker's Scouting Milestones. 2007. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  56. ^ "Be Prepared". DGS: Scouting, Interview from Listener magazine. 1937. Archived from the original on 20 January 2007. Retrieved 22 January 2007. 
  57. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 May 2016. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  58. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 15 October 2016. Retrieved 2010-07-22. 
  59. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  60. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 May 2016. Retrieved 2010-09-28. 
  61. ^ AmblesideOnline, Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles: A Synopsis of her Educational Method Archived 9 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  62. ^ Mason, Charlotte; School Education, chapter 19, "Educational Manifesto" Archived 11 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  63. ^ Mason, Charlotte; School Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. page 286
  64. ^ Mason, Charlotte; Towards a Philosophy of Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., pp 15, 108, 154, 190,
  65. ^ Charlotte Mason, Mason, Charlotte; Home Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., page 295-300
  66. ^ Mason, Charlotte; School Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. page 229
  67. ^ Sayers, Dorothy; "The Lost Tools of Learning" Archived 16 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  68. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 November 2016. Retrieved 2010-09-28. 
  69. ^ Mason, Charlotte, Parents and Children Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., p. 263
  70. ^ Mason, Charlotte Towards A Philosophy of Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., pp.88–90 109, 253, 256
  71. ^ Bauer, Susan Wise; Wise, Jessie; The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home page 61
  72. ^ Mason, Charlotte; School Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine., page 247
  73. ^ Mason, Charlotte, Home Education Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Home Education page 233


External links[edit]