More than 17 years ago we embarked on a journey which would change the course of our lives. We began homeschooling. At first it was a rocky road. Feeling like we needed to do it “right,” we began with a textbook/workbook curriculum which took away all the joy of learning. But after a few weeks, I discovered living books and our homeschool took on life!
The following year I was introduced to a lady named Charlotte Mason through a book entitled Forthe Children’s Sake. As I’ve learned more about Charlotte over the years, I’ve been blessed by her wisdom and endearing love for children. So it is, as we approach the anniversary of her birth, I wish to introduce her to you.
Charlotte was born January 1, 1842, an only child of only children. Charlotte had a rather lonely childhood but was blessed with a father who was fond of books. It was during her young years that she discovered the power of these living books.
When she was eight, she had a life-changing experience. She says, “One day I saw a tall lady with a dark shawl thrown scarfwise across her shoulders, a bonnet whose black strings floated, and a whole train of tiny children holding on to her skirts and following her…this was the mistress of a girls’ school near by. The idea did not take shape at the time, but somehow I knew that teaching was the thing to do, and above all the teaching of poor children like those I had been watching.” This lady took Charlotte to school now and then and Charlotte observed “girls who would now be doing great things at a high school. They belonged to the professional classes, girls who wore watches and, sometimes, rings, and who read English history out of a miserable little book a quarter of an inch thick and entirely uninteresting. I found out from that lesson how necessary it is that children should have books, good books, considerable and well-written books.”
In 1858 Charlotte’s mother died and her father soon afterward, leaving Charlotte a penniless orphan at the age of 16. She stayed with friends until age 18, then attended a teacher training college for a year. She began teaching in Worthing on the south coast of England where the school became very well known for its “perfect order without any severity and the pupils worked with intelligence and eagerness.” Charlotte herself suffered from ill health for much of her life, yet she never complained. She continued teaching, writing, lecturing, and training parents, teachers, and governesses. In 1891, when she was nearly 50, Charlotte moved to Ambleside where she founded a college of education. Her model of education spread all over England and, indeed, the world with tens of thousands of children being educated through her methods.
Though she never married, Charlotte loved children. At one point when she was too ill to visit with the children she wrote this letter of greeting:
“I think that is a joyful thing to be said about anybody, that he loves knowledge; there are so many interesting and delightful things to be known that the person who loves knowledge cannot very well be dull; in doors and out of doors there are a thousand interesting things to know and to know better. There is a saying of King Alfred’s that I like to apply to our school – ‘I have found a door,’ he says. That is just what I hope your school is to you – a door opening into a great palace of art and knowledge… But you will remember that the school is only a ‘door’ to let you in to the goodly House of Knowledge, but I hope you will go in and out and live there all your lives – in one pleasant chamber or another, for the rich people are they who have the entry to this goodly house, and who never let King Alfred’s ‘door’ rust on it hinges, no, not all through their lives, even when they are very old people.”
Charlotte likened education to spreading a feast before the children. Students in her schools learned many languages, music, art, sciences, history, Bible, Shakespeare, poetry, Plutarch through “books and things.” Short lessons, full attention, and wonderful living books were central in her teaching. “Let their books be living books, the best that can be found in liberal supply and variety.”
A devout Christian, Charlotte believed that the Holy Spirit is the teacher of all truth. All truth is God’s truth and our job as parents and teachers is not to be the fountain of all knowledge, but to present the feast in order to allow God’s Spirit to feed the minds and spirits of children. “The great recognition that God, the Holy Spirit, is Himself personally the imparter of knowledge, the instructor of youth, the inspirer of genius, is a conception so far lost to us that we should think it distinctly irreverent to conceive of the divine teaching as co-operating with ours in a child’s arithmetic lesson, for example. …Every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognized whence his inspiration came.”
Charlotte spent her life striving to achieve this goal for children from every walk of life, rich or poor…
“Thou hast set my feet in a large room; should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. The question is not, - how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
Charlotte Mason died peacefully on January 16, 1923. But she left a legacy of life-giving knowledge to countless children who have been blessed by knowing her…for the children’s sake.
Thank you, Charlotte.
If you would like to get to know Charlotte better, you might consider: