As busy moms, learning a new homeschool teaching method can get downright frustrating and stressful! Homeschooling alone is difficult, but learning a new concept can be even more overwhelming. That’s why we’re here to help with this simple, yet practical guide to Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles of education!
Written in the 20th century, Charlotte Mason’s linguistic verbiage can be quite intimidating. However, we don’t want anyone to stumble trying to use the Charlotte Mason approach based on these limitations.
Without further ado, this quick cheat sheet below will guide Charlotte Mason homeschoolers into a joyful and delightful road to twaddle free education! All of these Charlotte Mason Philosophies outlined below can be found in the preface of volume 6, Towards a Philosophy of Education.
Principle 1: Children are Born with Personalities
Children are born persons.
To put it mildly, children are real persons just like us. They are not blank pieces of paper. They come naturally with curiosity, energy, and a love for life.
Have you ever noticed your child is super excited when they wake up? They already have the innate ability to learn with enthusiasm through wonder and curiosity! They love God’s world and want to explore it. Charlotte Mason supplies us with encouragement to cultivate these key traits while they are still young.
Principle 2: Children have a Will to be Good or Bad
They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good or evil.
Children are born with a sin nature yet, they have a choice to make the right or wrong decisions. And, can make the right decisions if we teach them good character traits. Our guidance and direction will put them on a path to righteousness and goodness.
Principle 3: Teach Children to Respect Authority
The principles of authority on the one hand and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary, and fundamental; but—
There is always someone else in authority, and we must teach self-control through submissiveness in order for any group to thrive. This is regardless of whether it’s society or family. There is no room for child-led activities, you are the parent. Teach them to respect and obey their elders.
Principle 4: Use Daily Tools to Teach children
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.
However, authority (parents) should not use their power to intimidate, manipulate, or provoke children to wrath. Instead, reveal to them the beauty of learning through daily habit training, hands-on creatives, and nature studies.
Principle 5: Charlotte Mason’s Three Key Educational Ideas
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.
Utilize the child’s natural surroundings, good routines, and exposure to real-life situations will help effectively guide children. There’s no need to set up a classroom with expensive manipulatives or twaddle books.
Instead, keep a bible by their bedside, go outside and watch the ant carry its food umteen times their weight, and/or bake a cake together.
Principle 6: Environmental Education Provides Natural Surroundings
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.
Take advantage of their daily environment by providing helpful tools for education. This can be simply pencils, paper, or a backyard of bugs. Children are real persons and must stay in a real atmosphere, not a hyped up, synthetic classroom.
Principle 7: Disciplinary Education Forms Good Habits
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.
Teach a child to develop consistent, good habits mentally and physically for a lifetime of success. When he/she gets up, show him how to pray and read the bible. Train him/her to find ways to serve others daily. For example, pick flowers and give them to an elderly neighbor, bake cookies for a church family, or pass out tracks in a close neighborhood.
Principle 8: Provide Life Skills Education to Cultivate Ideas
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.
All education should be applicable to the body, soul and spirit. Be generous with a feast of the child’s curriculum including a ton of various ideas to glean from and build upon.
Principle 9: 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.
A child’s mind is not an empty shell! It’s living and growing daily like any other organ in the body. It’s ready to learn, but it needs materials to develop and expand like a stomach requires food.
Principle 10: Build Learning Skills to Gain Knowledge
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.”
Herbart’s philosophy that the mind is blank puts on too much responsibility and stress upon the teacher. Too much teaching with little application will not gain knowledge. It’s not HOW they learn, it’s WHAT they learn that matters.
Principle 11: Feeding a Child’s Mind with a Generous Curriculum
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,—
A child’s mind is much more capable of absorbing and digesting truth and facts than we realize. Providing your student with a rich curriculum gives them a huge opportunity to learn fascinating ideas, concepts, and sparks creativity. They may even discover their true calling when they are presented with a feast of discovery.
There are many stories of struggling readers who begin using living books based on simply Charlotte Mason’s recommendations. By the end of the year, they are loving books and avid readers. Weaving a story with facts defines ‘living books’ and children can understand them. Don’t underestimate them!
Principle 12: Relations Education Builds Connections
“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 make valid as many as may be of— “Those first-born affinities that fit our new existence to existing things.
Making real connections between Charlotte Mason subjects such as nature, science and art allows the child’s mind to expand and ignites more curiosity with existing things. For example, a study of a gardening unit study would be a wonderful way to introduce how food is grown.
Then, show them how to cultivate seeds into fruitful plants (a.k.a hands-on activity). Finally, ask your student to draw and write about their newfound knowledge and experience with growing plants in a garden.
Principle 13: Provide a Feast of Knowledge for Growth and Stimulation
In devising 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.
Devising sufficient Charlotte Mason lesson plans with a healthy supply of knowledge allows their mind to stay active. For example, reading twaddle-free books allows thoughts to be constantly stimulated with challenging thoughts and ideas. It’s guaranteed to bust boredom with true, real-life events and situations!
Principle 14: Narration is a Key Tool for Learning
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.
In simple terms, narration is the art of telling back or writing down what they’ve learned by reading or hearing. This method is not only a wonderful tool to use for creating mental ‘tags’ in a child’s mind. It’s also a great skill to learn for teaching someone else a concept or tell a story in sequential order.
Principle 15: One Narration Reading is Sufficient
Principle 15: 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, summarizing and the like.
Acting upon these and some other points in the behaviour 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.
Narration after one reading keeps the child’s attention. Requiring a child to re-read passage waters down his/her focus. Even asking questions or summations may cause a deficient in their attention as well.
Principle 16: Use the Right Way to Guide Moral and Mind Growth
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.’
There are two guides to help children their moral and intellectual growth: will and reason.
Principle 17: Occupy a Child’s Time with Positive Conditions
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 ad 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 success.)
Children can learn the difference between “I want” and “I will”. Understanding the difference will help them control their foolish desires into wholesome activities. Let’s say a child sees a sibling using his toy and wants to hit him. Instead, he can be taught to find something else to occupy his time with vigor and enthusiasm.
A nice diversion of his trouble will keep him focused and trained for the next encounter or obstacle.
Principle 18: Use Reasoning Skills Only for Mathematical Truth
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.
For mathematical purposes, a young child can reason appropriately. However, they are not capable of developing their own reasoning when judging ideas. They can convince themselves of anything if the desire is strong enough.
Principle 19: Moral Principles will lead Children to make the Right Decision
Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rest 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.
When maturity sets in, teach your student that reason CANNOT be trusted when forming opinions. Their responsibility is to determine which ideas to accept or reject. Wholesome knowledge and moral principles will equip them with the necessary tools to make the right decisions.
Principle 20: A Child’s Spiritual and Mental Life is Intertwined
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.
The Holy Spirit is not separate from their daily walk with education. Instead, He is the Helper and Comforter. He will guide them in all aspects of life whether it’s hobbies, chores, interests, and pleasures in life.
Charlotte Mason’s Resources
If you like to go more in-depth with each principle, I have wonderful news for you! Each month, we’ll dive deep into these invaluable 20 principles for more practical tips and include priceless Charlotte Mason resources. Just think of it as FREE Charlotte Mason teacher training!
For additional Charlotte Mason resources, you’ll find a plethora of insightful books with tips and how-tos right here!