The Role of Ideas in a Charlotte Mason Education

Dear Reader,

In my continuing series on Charlotte Mason’s original six book education series, I have reached volume two. Here I find quite a lot on the subject of ideas. They are, indeed, the goal of education in Charlotte’s approach:

“Now that life, which we call education, receives only one kind of sustenance; it grows upon ideas.”    [Parents and Children (Seven Treasures Publications, 2009), p.25]

These ideas are in contrast to dry facts and rote memorization. Such things Miss Mason calls merely mental gymnastics which do not reach the mind or soul of the child:

“We must disabuse our minds of the theory that the functions of education are, in the main, gymnastic. In the early years of the child’s life it makes, perhaps, little apparent difference whether his parents start with the notion that to educate is to fill a receptacle, inscribe a tablet, mould plastic matter, or nourish a life; but in the end we shall find that only those ideas which have fed his life are taken into the being of the child; all the rest is thrown away, or worse, is like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury to the vital processes.”   [p.28]

Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is based on her view of how the mind works. So it does not matter what the parent or teacher’s approach is, the child will still only take in as mental and spiritual nourishment the  ideas. If the educator relies on an approach that seeks to fill the child with facts as a pitcher is filled with water, then there will be little actual nourishment given though the pitcher may be overflowing with the information given. These things are like dry bread crumbs which fill up the mind without giving it the life-sustaining ideas it needs. Indeed, they can even crowd out these ideas.

I have found for myself that the approach a homeschooling parent takes seems more and more evident over time. Those hidden values seem to come out as the child gets older and has more and more to learn. So whether our goal is to produce a thinking child or a kind one or a well-informed one may seem to make little difference in the early years. But over time the various homeschools I see look more distinct and it is easier to guess who is concerned mainly with academic learning and who values character and so on. I wish for myself that I had thought more deeply about these things when my children were younger which is the whole reason for this blog, to inspire others to think about the whys and hows of education.

There is lots more in volume 2 on ideas, but I think I will save the next part for another post.


3 responses to this post.

  1. […] this discussion of  The Role of Ideas in a Charlotte Mason Education,  is Nebby from Letters from Nebby. Her thoughtful post discusses Charlotte Mason’s ideas […]


  2. Do you think there is some legitimacy to memorizing Scripture and the like, which may not reach the heart of the child at the moment, but the substance will be there and come to mind later in life when they need it? I know Charlotte did advocate memorization of Scripture. My kids just don’t seem to get why we need to memorize it. It doesn’t seem to touch their heart right now. Maybe I need to look for passages that they do connect with and let them memorize those.

    Thank you for your thoughts. I’m reading Volume 2 now also ~ I’m always glad to get someone’s take on her volumes. It aids in understanding.


  3. Lanaya, I struggle with Scripture memory. I have tried it a number of times with my kids in various ways but it always fizzes out. I do not like just memorizing random or disconnected verses. My kids had to do this for Sunday school and it was very stressful for my younger boy who has auditory processing issues and was about the youngest in the class too. I am more comfortable with memorizing longer passages of Scripture because there is at least a context. Though the times we tried that, it never worked out very well either. The kids got bored of the passages.

    For myself, I never had scripture memory as a kid. I did have it in college and as a young adult because it was required or strongly encouraged in church. Those verses have nevr stuck with me. There are some verses I know by heart (and many more I can essentially paraphrase) but they tend to be ones that have had some particular significance to me at certain times in my life.

    I know CM used memorization a lot, not just scripture but poems and things. But I also think she would not want us to cause our children to tire of scripture because it is over done, out of context, and becomes tedious.

    So in the end, I don’t know what the best thing to do is. If your kids are rebelling against the memorization, you can still read lots of scripture with them. Reading and discussing the meaning is way more important to me than just memorization.



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