An Educational Classic: Home Education by Charlotte Mason (1886)

Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) was the founder of the House of Education, a college established in the English Lake District in 1892 to train governesses for young children. Located in the town of Ambleside, it was renamed Charlotte Mason College in 1938.
Mason had already published some educational books for use in schools but in 1886, her first book in a series of six on the philosophy and practice of education, Home Education, was published. This book found an appreciative audience and the Parents National Education Union (PNEU) was established soon afterwards with branches in a number of towns and cities. By 1890, it was publishing its own monthly magazine, ‘The Parents Review,’ edited by Charlotte Mason. By the 1920s the PNEU had established a number of schools plus a correspondence school that supplied resources to parents and governesses, especially those living overseas.



One thing to be noted about Home Education is that it is not principally a book dealing with ‘Home’ as opposed to ‘School.’
Its main concern is with the training and educating of children under nine and Mason stresses the responsibility of the home in regards to this. This is a very refreshing approach from the more modern attitude where teachers are often expected to do for children what should have been done by parents, or where the State assumes we are incompetent and that they would do a much better job if only they could get hold of the child early enough. In fact, Mason said in regard to thinking mothers that, ‘the education of their children during the first six years of life is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own.’

Considering this book was written over a hundred years ago, Home Education is incredibly relevant to our modern times, despite a few parenting practices that suited the conditions of Victorian England society but are outdated now.
Reading Mason’s words in in the twenty-first century, it’s apparent that she was far ahead of her time, and that her ideas are still applicable because they address universals. Children haven’t changed even if our methods of parenting and teaching have, and throughout Mason’s writing she presents principles that work because they take into account who the child is and where our responsibility lies in regard to them. The educational method she proposes is life-giving. It has a framework, but it isn’t rigid and confining. It is based on truth but it isn’t tied to the past therefore it can be adapted to different situations and locations. It can be used with gifted children and it can be used with children who have learning difficulties.

People are too apt to use children as counters in a game, to be moved hither and thither according to the whim of the moment. Our crying need to-day is less for a better method of education than for an adequate conception of children, – children, merely as human beings, whether brilliant or dull, precocious or backward.
Charlotte Mason

What Home Education covers:

•    Mothers owe their children ‘a thinking love.’ Parents are to supply their children with what is wholesome & nourishing in all areas: books, lessons, playmates, food.

•    The difference between a ‘method’ and a ‘system’ of education
•    The Gospel’s view of the child
•    Health aspects: outdoor life, brain activity
•    Habits – ‘Habit is Ten Natures’ – laying down lines of habit; the physiology of habit; brain plasticity:

Given, that the constant direction of the thoughts produces a certain set in the tissues of the brain, this set is the first trace of the rut or path, a line of least resistance, along which the same impression, made another time, will find it easier to travel than to take another path. So arises a right-of-way for any given habit of action or thought.

If it is so easy for ourselves to take up a new habit, it is tenfold as easy for the children; and this is the real difficulty in the matter of the education of habit. It is necessary that the mother be always on the alert to nip in the bud the bad habit her children may be in the act of picking up…

•    Habits of Mind and Moral Habits – the habits of attention, application, thinking, imagining, remembering, obedience, truthfulness & reverence

•    There is a section of the book devoted to Lessons as Instruments of Education in which the author firstly discusses the idea of the Kindergarten. Her view was that the success of such a school demands rare qualities in the teacher so the mother would naturally be better than any commonplace person who would personally influence the child.

‘…mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.’

•    She also thought that there were myriad teaching opportunities in the home that in the Kindergarten would likely become wooden and stereotyped. Mason thought that the ‘garden’ analogy of the Kindergarten, although attractive, is a false one and breaks down when applied to a person as it meant ‘undue interference with the spontaneous development of a human being.’

•    Mason covers the teaching of reading in a very practical and helpful way as well as other lessons at home including narrating, writing, spelling, composition, Bible, mathematics, and history.

•    The final section of the book deals with the Conscience, and contains excellent ideas on the Instruction of the Conscience and The Way of the Will. She describes the blunder we make when we describe a child as being ‘wilful’ when in reality they have no control over their will. This error leads the parent to neglect the cultivation and training of their child’s will.

•    The conclusion of this part of the book discusses the spiritual aspects of the child’s life: parental responsibility and influence; the correct view of God i.e. not portraying Him as an exactor or a punisher. There is much wisdom and richness in Mason’s ideas regarding the Divine Life in the Child and I highly recommend this section for anyone concerned with the spiritual life of a child.

Here is a thought to unseal the fountains of love and loyalty, the treasures of faith and imagination, bound up in the child. The very essence of Christianity is personal loyalty, passionate loyalty to our adorable Chief.

Let us save Christianity for our children by bringing them into allegiance to Christ, the King. 

How? How did the old Cavaliers bring up sons and daughters, in passionate loyalty and reverence for not too worthy princes? Their own hearts were full of it; their lips spake it; their acts proclaimed it; the style of their clothes, the ring of their voices, the carriage of their heads – all was one proclamation of boundless devotion to their king and his cause.

Home Education had been out of print for nearly thirty years and was republished by Living Book Press, an Australian company, earlier this year. This is the copy pictured above. The complete Charlotte Mason series has been available free to read at Ambleside Online (AO) for many years.

For information on Charlotte Mason, the PNEU or the Parent’s Review Articles see the AO website and Charlotte Mason Timeline.

The Original Home Schooling series published in 1989 by Charlotte Mason Research & Supply includes a foreword by John Thorley, Principal, Charlotte Mason College that was most helpful in providing information on Charlotte Mason\’s background.

Linking this to The Classics Club; Back to the Classics 2017 for the 19th Century Classic category and Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge 2017


7 thoughts on “An Educational Classic: Home Education by Charlotte Mason (1886)

  1. Excellent, excellent review. You said it much better than I could have. Though she was ahead of her time, her view or philosophy is extremely relevant. I wish parents would be convicted in their hearts to know that not only are they capable but they are much better equipped to raise up their children in the younger years. I'm really just only now getting to know Mason — and like I said already, I wish I knew her before I became a mother.


  2. Carol, this is an incredibly helpful and comprehensive review of Home Education. I have just recently been introduced to Charlotte Mason's teaching philosophy and am planning on homeschool pre-schooling my son (and possibly kinder as well). I found a great curriculum that is very flexible and includes plenty of play, reading, and nature-exploration that I will start implementing next fall when he is 2 years old that I will repeat the following year to help cement some of the catechisms, letters, numbers, etc that we will just barely touch if he doesn't seem to understand them the first time around. I am just really inspired and excited by all the resources I have found so far for preschool and am looking forward to it!


  3. Thank you, Carol! I had not heard that term (mother culture) but it definitely resonates, as you mentioned, because I’m a reader. It not only refreshes me, but helps me formulate ways to explain big truths into small words for my toddler. And it helps me explain things better when I feel a bit more confident in what I’m saying. For example, he’s really into birds, so I’ve been trying to learn more about birds and distinguish between them so I can point them out with their specific names on our walks or in his books


  4. Pingback: For the Family’s Sake: Ch 14 – the end | journey & destination

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