Archive for the ‘Homeschool’ Category

Booklist: the Early 1900s

Today we are looking at books on the early 1900s up to World War I. Some of these topics overlap with my previous list on the late 1800s.

Living Books on the Early 1900s

China and the Boxer Rebellion

Preston, Diana. The Boxer Rebellion. Teens.

Silbey, David. The Great Game in China. Slightly shorter and more accessible than Preston’s book. Teens.

Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Foster, Genevieve. Theodore Roosevelt. Foster’s books made wonderful spines for a wide range of ages. Elementary +.

Fritz, Jean. Bully for You Teddy Roosevelt. Elementary.

Kent, Zachary. The Story of the Rough Riders. Cornerstones of Freedom series. This series is good if you get the older books whose titles all begin “The Story of . . .” Elementary-middle.

Marrin, Albert. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America. Teens.


Crew, Gary. Pig on the Titanic. Picture book. Elementary.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the San Francisco Earthquake. Cornerstones of Freedom series. This series is good if you get the older books whose titles all begin “The Story of . . .” Elementary-middle.

Women’s Suffrage

Fritz, Jean. You Want Women to Vote Lizzie Staunton. Elementary.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Nineteenth Amendment. Cornerstones of Freedom series. This series is good if you get the older books whose titles all begin “The Story of . . .” Elementary-middle.

Wise, Winfred. Rebel in Petticoats. Middle years (?).

Woolridge, Connie. When Esther Morris Headed West. Elementary.

Immigration and Immigrants

Bartone, Elisa. Peppe the Lamplighter.  Elementary.

Bunting, Eve. Dreaming of America. Elementary.

Estes, Eleanor. The 100 Dresses. A Polish girl in Connecticut. Elementary-middle.

Forbes, Kathryn. Mama’s Bank Account. Norwegian immigrants in San Francisco. Elementary-middle years.

Judson, Clara Ingram. The Green Ginger Jar. A mystery set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Middle years.

Stein, R. Conrad. Story of Ellis Island. Cornerstones of Freedom series. Elementary.

Wells, Rosemary. Streets of Gold. Elementary.

Industry and Invention

Judson, Clara Ingram. Andrew Carnegie. Middle-teens.

Quackenbush, Robert. Along Came the Model T and Ahoy! Ahoy! Are You There? A Story of Alexander Graham Bell. Elementary.

Silverberg, Robert. Light for the World: Edison and the Power Industry. Teens.

Spier, Peter. Tin Lizzie. Elementary.

Yolen, Jane. My Brothers Flying Machine. Elementary.

Factory Life

The Lowell Mill Girls: Life in the Factory. Letters. Elementary-middle.

Marrin, Albert.  Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy. Marrin manages to tell quite a bit about the whole era. Middle-teens.

Paterson, Katherine Lyddie. Middle years.

Selden, Bernice. The Mill Girls. Middle years.

General Life

Steig, William. When Everybody Wore a Hat. Elementary.

Charlotte Mason & Other Philosophies of Education

Charlotte Mason Relative to other Philosophies of Education

In trying to grasp Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education, it can be helpful to compare and contrast it to other popular approaches. 

CM and Unschooling

What they have in common: A view of the child as a person (CM’s 1st principle) and a belief in his or her innate ability to learn without having to be taught to think or to use or develop his/her faculties (principle 11). Education is (largely) self-education.

Where they differ: Unschooling assumes a natural goodness that enables the child to gravitate towards and choose what is good and needful for him. CM says that children have possibilities for good and evil and may not naturally choose what is good (principle 2). Therefore the work of the teacher is largely in placing good things before the child. 

Bottom line: Unschooling is child-led in the choice of materials but in CM the teacher chooses the materials. In both the child does the work of education, taking in what he can and will from what is before him. 

CM and Unit Studies:

The modern unit studies approach is akin to Herbartianism, a philosophy popular in CM’s day which she discusses and rejects in her 10th principle.

Where they differ:  In unit studies, the teacher groups subjects together and presents them to the child in that form. For example, in a unit on amphibians, a child might read Frog and Toad books for literature, study frogs and toads for science, studying the plagues of Egypt (and particularly the second one) for history, and count frogs for math. CM believed strongly in making connections across subject areas but thought that the child needed to make these connections for himself (principle 12) and not have them spoon-fed by the teacher. Unit studies essentially have the teacher doing the work that the child needs to be doing. CM often uses the analogy of a feast for education so we might say that unit studies pre-digest the student’s food for him. 

Furthermore, there is often an assumption behind unit studies that they will encourage education by making the subject matter fun and interesting for the child. CM believed that education is inherently interesting and that we do children a disservice when we try to dress it up and make it entertaining. Using the food analogy again, if we always hide the child’s veggies in his brownies, he never learns to appreciate the flavor of veggies in their own right. 

Bottom line: Some take CM’s avoidance of unit studies to an extreme and never allow subjects to naturally overlap but it is not anti-CM to allow one’s geography or artist study to be on the same period as one’s history. The important thing is not to make the connections for the child. 

CM and Montessori

CM and Montessori worked at the same time (though Mason was older). CM knew Montessori’s work and wrote against it. Because they reacted against some of the same societal trends, from our modern perspective they perhaps have more in common than they realized. 

Where they agreed: CM and Montessori both reject the Victorian models which precede them and in particular the idea of the child as a blank slate or an empty vessel that needs to be filled. They both rejected the use of rewards and grades as motivating factors in education (principle 4). They were both teachers who observed what went on in their classrooms and adjusted their educational models to fit what they saw working or not working. Both seek to some degree to educate the “whole child.” The role of the teacher also differs. In CM the teacher primarily selects materials and the child is trusted to incorporate or ingest them according to his innate abilities. In Montessori the teacher seems hands-off compared to traditional schools but in reality is quite involved in directing and shaping activity. 

Where they disagreed: Montessori saw her ideas a coming from science while Mason saw her unique contribution as coming from her “gospel principles.” Montessori’s use of environment is often compared to CM’s atmosphere (principle 6), but the two are fairly different. Montessori’s environment is very much a physical thing. For Mason an atmosphere is intellectual above all else. Montessori always begins with the physical which in her philosophy precedes the intellectual. Mason gives ideas, the food of the mind, to even young children. Montessori encourages long chunks of uninterrupted time (three hours) while Mason keeps lessons short to maintain attention. 

Bottom line:  In practice Montessori education often begins with young children while Mason’s did not begin formal education till age 6 so much of what they may have done in the early years may have been similar, or at least more similar than they are given credit for. A Montessori education also becomes more intellectual and book-based as the child ages so in that way again narrows the gap between them. But there are some fundamental differences in the theory behind these two that play out over time. Above all Mason is focused on the spiritual and intellectual and Montessori on the physical first and then the intellectual. 

CM and Waldorf

Waldorf is a philosophy of education created by Rudolf Steiner circa 1919. Though he would have overlapped with Mason, there is no indication (that I know of) that they knew each other’s work. 

What they have in common: An interest in educating the “whole child” and a large role for the arts. 

Where they differ: Like Montessori, Waldorf sees the physical as preceding the intellectual. Waldorf makes heavy use of imitation, especially in the early years, through the use of story songs and finger play which Mason does not seem to discuss or use at all.  Waldorf teaches subjects in chunks before moving on to the next topic. CM teaches many subjects at once, keeping each lesson short. Steiner believed that children develop – even evolve — through various stages from willing to feeling to thinking while Mason sees even young children as fully equipped to deal with intellectual matter. 

CM and Classical

There is some debate in CM circles as to whether Mason should be included under the heading “classical.” Karen Glass on one side argues that CM is classical while Art Middlekauff on the other argues she is not (see also my take on CM and classical here). Complicating the discussion is the fact that classical is a widely used term these days that does not have just one meaning. We will look today at CM relative to that variety of modern classical education evidenced by Dorothy Sayers’ “Lost Tools of Learning,” The Well-Trained Mind, and Douglas Wilson

What they have in common: A use of good books, especially older books and some techniques like narration. Both encourage the study of ancient languages and the reading of older sources like Plutarch. Both have some level of acceptance of the idea that there is a common body of knowledge which each child should be presented with. 

Where they differ:  Though they may overlap in books and methods, yet these things are often used or applied in different ways. CM tends to have more books going at once but to read them more slowly. Narration is done differently as well and towards different ends. Modern classical education is based on three stages — grammar, logic, and rhetoric — through which the child advances (see also: stages in classical and CM). Mason has nothing equivalent but believes even young children are equipped to take in ideas (principle 9) and not just facts. In fact, she argues very much against the memorization of facts for their own sake (principle 11). Though both accept that there is some core body of knowledge, classical presents the knowledge and expects all children to learn it while Mason presents knowledge but acknowledges that not every child will take in the same things but each will get what he can and what he needs from it.  In terms of goals, there is some degree of overlap but classical speaks more of inculcating virtues while Mason speaks more of the relations that the child forms with what he studies (principle 12). 

Booklist: the Late 1800s, Pioneers and the West

In my ever-growing lists of living books we are now up to the late 1800s (i.e. post-Civil War). We are including in this period pioneers and the settlement of the west. Some topics which span the turn of the century, including industrialization and immigration, will be saved for the early 1900s list.

Living Books on the late 1800s


Robinet, Harriette. Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule. Middle years.

Taylor, Mildred. The Land. Book 1 of the Logan family saga. Middle years.

Werstein, Irving. This Wounded Land. Middle years-teens.

California Gold Rush

deClements, Barthe. Bite of the Gold Bug. Elementary.

Roop, Connie. California Gold Rush. Elementary.

The Pony Express (1860-1861)

Bulla, Clyde Robert. Riding the Pony Express. Elementary.

Coerr, Eleanor. Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express. Elementary.

Great Chicago Fire (1871)

Hoffer, Peter Charles. Seven Fires: The Urban Infernos that Reshaped America. Teens.

Quackenbush, Robert. They’ll be a hot time… Elementary.

NYC Blizzard of 1888

Stevens, Carla. Anna Grandpa and the Big Storm. Elementary.

Chicago World’s Fair (1893)

Lawson, Robert. The Great Wheel. Elementary.

Peck, Richard. Fair Weather. Middle years.

Blizzard of 1896

Bird, E.J. Blizzard of 1896. Middle years (?).

Spanish American War (1898)

Marrin, Albert. The Spanish-American War. Teens.

Werstein, Irving. 1898: Spanish American War. Middle-teens.


Lomask, Milton. Andy Johnson (1865-1869). I really like this older author. Middle-teens.

Venezia, Mike. Venezia has a series of humorous books on the presidents. Elementary.

Pioneers & Pioneer Life

Avi. Prairie School. Elementary (?).

Brinks, Carol Ryrie. Caddie Woodlawn. Don’t miss the sequels too. Elementary-middle.

Bunting, Eve. Dandelions and  Train to Somewhere. Elementary. (re orphan trains). Lovely picture books. Elementary.

Cather, Willa. O Pioneers and My Antonia. I love Cather. Teens.

Caudill, Rebecca. Tree of Freedom. Elementary (?).

Coatsworth, Elizabeth. Sod House. Elementary.

Coerr, Eleanor. Josefina Story Quilt. Easy reader. Elementary.

DeFelice, Cynthia. Weasel (series). We listened to the first one and found it a little freaky so not for the timid child. Middle years.

Fleming, Alice. King of Prussia and a Peanut Butter Sandwich. Russian immigrants make their way to Kansas. Elementary.

Fritz, Jean. Cabin Faced West. Middle years.

Gregory, Kristiana. Legend of Jimmy Spoon. Middle years.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Trouble at Otter Creek. Elementary.

Holm, Jennifer. Our Only May Amelia and Boston Jane (series). May Amelia is set in Washington state in 1899. Middle years.

Larson, Kirby. Hattie Big Sky (series). We loved these. Middle years.

MacLauchlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. Check out the rest in the series as well. Elementary-middle.

Rounds, Glen. Sod Houses on the Great Plains. Elementary.

Steele, William O. This favorite author has lots of books on pioneer and Native American life that will appeal to boys. Some are: Flaming ArrowsWinter DangerWestward Adventure, Buffalo Knife and Wilderness Journey. Middle years.

Stein, R. Conrad. Story of the Homestead Act. From the wonderful Cornerstones of history series. Look for the older books whose titles start “Story of” NOT the newer ones. Elementary.

Turner, Ann. Grasshopper Summer (A plague of locusts hits the prairie) and Dakota Dugout. Elementary.

Whelan, Gloria. Next Spring an Oriole. Easy reader. Elementary.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie (series). Little House in the Big Woods is a fairly easy read. Elementary-Middle.

Yates, Elizabeth. Carolina’s Courage. Elementary.

Cowboys and Such

Dewey, Ariane. Narrow Escapes of Davy Crockett. Tall tales. Elementary.

Fritz, Jean. Make way for Sam Houston. Elementary.

Holling, Holling C. The Book of Cowboys. Elementary.

Hurley, William. Dan Frontier. A Davy Crockett type character. Elementary.

James, Will. Smokey the Cow Horse. My librarian was very excited about this one. elementary (?).

Miers, Earl Schenck. Wild and Woolly West. A wonderful older author if you can find him. Middle years (?).

Marrin, Albert. Cowboys, Indians and Gunfighters and War Clouds in the West (re Native Americans and cavalrymen). Marrin is a favorite author.  Middle-teens.

Quackenbush, Robert. Quit Pulling My Leg. Re Davy Crockett. Elementary.

Rounds, Glen. Cowboys. Early elementary.

Silverberg, Robert, Ghost Towns of the American West. Teens.

Steele, William O. Story of Daniel Boone. Elementary (?).

Steig, Jeanne. Tales from Gizzard’s Grill. Poetic. Elementary.

Werstein, Irving. Marshall without a Gun. Middle years-teens.


Dalgliesh, Alice. Bears on Hemlock Mountain. Elementary.

Glubok, Shirley. Art of America in the Gilded Age. Elementary-middle.

Marrin, Albert. Saving the Buffalo. Middle years.

North, Sterling. Wolfling. Middle years.

Roop, Connie. Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie. Lighthouse keeper. Elementary.

Twain, Mark. Life on the Mississippi.  There is also an abridged version called The Boy’s Ambition. Middle-teens.

Whelan, Gloria. Wanigan. Life of a girl in timber country on Lake Huron in 1878. Middle years.

Yolen, Jane. Mary Celeste. Shipwreck in 1872. Elementary.

Happy reading!

CM: Living Books and Language Arts

Previously I gave an overview of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education through her 20 Principles. Today I’d like to look at one of the subjects that seems hardest to adjust to in a CM education: language arts. It can seem very counter-intuitive to those of us who were educated in more traditional ways and often one feels like one is not doing enough. 

Living Books

Let’s begin with one of the cornerstones of a Charlotte Mason education: “living books.” Living books are used in almost every subject from history and science to literature and art history. Because they form the basis of so much of what we do, we must begin by looking at these living books, what they are and why we use them.

As we saw, Mason’s 13th principle states that knowledge should be conveyed “in well-chosen language . . . in a literary form.”  The main criteria for living books, why Mason chose to use them, is that they convey ideas from one mind to another. Ideas are “caught” in this way from the authors of our books and become our own. One helpful analogy, which Mason herself uses, is that of food.  Ideas are the food of the mind (principle 8). Just as there are different kinds of foods, so there are different kinds of books. The best ones, these living books, are well-written and contain the vital ideas our minds need. Just like wholesome, tasty foods nourish our bodies, so they nourish our minds. Books which contain facts but in a dry, textbook-like form are more like dry fiber bars. There may be something in them but they are not enjoyable and we will not thrive on them. The junk food of the book world are what Mason calls “twaddle.” Twaddly books may be enjoyable; kids often like them, especially if they have not developed a taste for the finer things, but there is no real nutrition in them.

 Throughout her volumes, Mason expands upon the notion of living books and gives us some guidelines as to what are and aren’t living books and how to recognize them. 

  • Above all, living books are known by their effect; they are living because they give life to the mind.
  • Living books are well-written. They use fine language.
  • Living books have a literary style. This can be true whether they are fiction or non-fiction. They tell things in a narrative fashion.
  • Living books usually have only one author. Books written by committee are almost never living.
  • In general, books should be whole books, not abridged, excerpted, or children’s versions. (One notable exception is narrative versions of Sakespeare’s plays.)
  • Living books are written by someone who knows and loves their subject. 
  • Living books can be of any level from picture books to Shakespeare and Moby Dick
  • A helpful test for picture books can be whether the adult wants to read it, or to read it more than once. If you as the adult are sick of it quickly, it is probably not living. 
  • Living books are true. This applies to non-fiction, of course, but even fiction can convey truth through completely made-up stories. 
  • Living books are not preachy. If a moral lesson is very obvious to you, it probably is to your child as well. Messages that lie on the surface are not the same as ideas which must be dug out of books. Remember that reading and narrating living books is meant to be work. 
  • Living books are worth reading more than once. If you can read a book a second or a third time and get something new out of it, it is probably living.

Language Arts in a Charlotte Mason Education

Language arts itself involves a few different skills or knowledge areas including: reading comprehension, grammar, spelling, and writing. In a Charlotte Mason education, all these areas are covered through living books, narration (oral first, then written), and copy work and later prepared dictation. 

Living books are the key to CM language arts. Children who are educated with such books will develop a taste for and an innate recognition of what makes good language. As they read their school books, children slowly imbibe good writing. They come to understand harder and harder texts (reading comprehension) and they develop and feel for what makes good, well-written language (writing, grammar, and spelling).  As with many elements of a CM education, this is a gradual process that takes place over a number of years so that one may not see progress on a day-to-day or even a month-to-month basis but progress is being made. 

Narration in a Charlotte Mason education takes the place of reading comprehension and builds writing skills. Rather than asking a child to answer set questions about what he or she has read, narration lets the child tell what they have gotten from their reading. When we pose questions to a child, they fail if they don’t get the answers. They may actually have gotten quite a lot from the reading, it just wasn’t what we expected them to get. Narration lets the child tell what he has gotten in a positive way rather than measuring him by adult expectations of what is important. At times one may guide narration to some extent by asking open-ended questions or allow a child to narrate in other ways, eg. by drawing a picture or acting out a story, but the most basic form of narration is just to say “tell me what that was about.” Living books, again, are key. It is hard to narrate form bad books. Well-chosen books give the child some meat to dig their teeth into.

Narration is really composition, first oral composition and then as the child progresses, written composition. While some children love creative writing, many find it hard to know what to write. Narration gives the child a subject, because they are composing based on what they read, and takes off some of the pressure many feel when faced with a blank piece of paper. Narration is not easy. It is meant to be challenging and to require one to dig deep and to learn to put one’s thoughts together and to communicate them. One usually begins with oral narration and transitions to written after a few years. Oral narration never completely ceases, however, but continues alongside written narration. In the high school years, narrations can become more guided and a transition to other kinds of writing can occur. Karen Glass’s book Know and Tell is a wonderful resource for all narration questions and describes the process of transitioning to other kinds of writing. 

Young children begin copying short passages, at first even just a couple of words, and then move on to longer passages and then to prepared dictation. Again these passages may be taken from living books, either from their school books or from other good writing. As always, the idea behind the CM method is to provide language in context. Spelling in particular is very visual and prepared dictation teaches children to see words so as to be able to recognize if they are written correctly in their own writing. One helpful resource for how to do prepared dictation is Sonya Shafer’s video at Simply Charlotte Mason

Booklist: the Civil War

Today we are looking at books on the American Civil War (including the build-up to it).

Living Books on the Civil War

Adler, David. Picture Book of Abraham Lincoln, Picture book of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Picture Book of Harriet Tubman. Adler has a number of these picture book biographies. Elementary.

Arnold, James and Roberta Wiener. Various titles. These two have a series of books on specific years of the war. They are not truly living books but if you have a child who wants a lot of detail they are good. Elementary-middle.


Avi. Iron Thunder. Middle years.

Beatty, Patricia. Turn Homeward, Hanalee. Middle years.

Beller, Susan. Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War. Not the nest living book but some of the kinds of details boys like. Elementary-middle.

Brown Paper School (pub.). Book of the American Civil War. Not a true living book but I do tend to like books from this publisher. It is a series of stories, anecdotes etc. on the Civil War including some hands-on crafts and recipes. The stories themselves are not bad and use characters to bring the time alive but it is not a continuous narrative. Elementary-middle.

Coit, Margaret. The Fight for Union. On the build-up to the war. Middle years.

Crane, Stephen. “The Red Badge of Courage.” Famous short story. Middle-teens.

Fleischman, Paul. Bull Run. Middle years. (My post on literary analysis of Bull Run is here.)

Foster: Genevieve. Abraham Lincoln’s World. Foster’s books always do a  good job covering an era and can be used for a wide range of ages. She also has a biography simply titled Abraham Lincoln. Elementary +.

Fradin, Dennis. Bound for the North Star. A collection of stories from the Underground Railroad. Middle years +.

Fritz, Jean. Just a few words, Mr Lincoln. Re the Gettysburg address. Elementary.

Fritz, Jean. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Stonewall and Brady. Longer books from this prolific author. Middle years.

Gauch, Patricia. Thunder at Gettysburg. Elementary-middle.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Abe Lincoln’s Birthday. Elementary.

Hunt, Irene. Across Five Aprils. Middle years.

Jerome, Kate. Civil War Sub: The Mystery of the Hunley. Easy reader. Elementary.

Kent, Zachary. The Story of John Brown’s Raid. From the Cornerstones of Freedom series. This is a great series as long as you get the older books that begin “Story of . . .” Elementary.

Marrin, Albert. A Volcano beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War against Slavery and Abraham Lincoln: Commander in Chief. One of my favorite authors for older grades. He also has books on Lee and Grant. Middle-teens.

McGovern, Ann. Runaway Slave. Elementary.

Monjo. Me and Willy and Pa (re Lincoln) and The Drinking Gourd (re the Underground Railroad). Elementary.

Moss, Marissa. Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds. Elementary.

Myers, Laurie. Escape by Night. Features Covenanters (yay!) but I am not sure they are portrayed accurately. Middle years.

Paulsen, Gary. Soldier’s Heart. Paulsen writes books boys like. Middle years.

Peck, Richard. River Between Us. Middle-teens.

Philbrick, Rodman. Mostly True Adventures of Homer P Figg. Middle years.

Polacco, Patricia. Pink and Say. Elementary.

Read, Thomas. Sheridan’s Ride. Loved this poetic account. Elementary.

Roop, Peter. Take Command, Captain Farragut. Elementary.

Sobol, Donald. Two Flags Flying. Tells the story of the war through characters on both sides. Could be a good spine for younger kids. Elementary.

Steele, William O. Perilous Road. Middle years.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Underground Railroad. Also from the Cornerstones of Freedom series (see Kent above). Elementary.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book that started the war (according to Lincoln). Teens.

Turner, Ann. Abe Lincoln Remembers and Nettie’s Trip South. Elementary.

Venezia, Mike. Various. Venezia has a series of humorous but informative biographies of the presidents. Elementary.

Vinton, Iris. Story of Robert E. Lee. Middle years.

Werstein, Irving. Abraham Lincoln vs Jefferson Davis. Middle years-teens.

Introducing Charlotte Mason & Her 20 Principles

The following is an edited version of a project I have been working on for a different forum. I thought it could also be worth sharing here.

Introducing Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century (1842-1923). Her training was as a teacher. In working with students, she became frustrated with their lack of progress and retention of material and began to develop her own approach which blossomed into a full-blown philosophy of education. 

In her own day, Charlotte Mason established a teacher’s training college and many schools using her philosophy existed and were quite popular. She also ran a kind of correspondence program for those teaching their own children at home. Though her influence died out for a time, it saw a resurgence due to the modern homeschooling movement. Her work is preserved for us in a number of articles and shorter works and above all in her six-volume Home Education series. [1]

Though there is no doubt that Miss Mason both reacted to and made use of what had come before her, [2] she saw her unique contribution as being bound up in what she called her “gospel principles.” At the core of Mason’s philosophy are a respect for the child as a person and a belief in his or her ability to take in the good things which are presented to them. A Charlotte Mason education has been described as the spreading of an intellectual feast — an array of good, living books, fine art, and good music are put before the child and he takes in what he can and will. 

Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles

Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education is encapsulated in her Twenty Principles. [3] These principles can be said to capture the spirit of a Charlotte Mason education. There is a natural progression among them as one principle leads into the next. Our goal today is simply to give an overview of the principles and to explain some of their logic. There is certainly much more that could be said (Charlotte herself took six long volumes to do so).

Charlotte Mason’s first principle is that “children are born persons.” This principle is first not just in order but in importance, forming the foundation of much of what follows. Though our tendency today is to see this principle as a statement of the child’s individuality and uniqueness (which might lead one to a more interest- or child-led philosophy of education), for Mason what this principle meant was that the child was not an empty vessel or a blank slate (popular conceptions at the time) but a fully formed human being sharing all the faculties and abilities of adults. A child, for instance, did not need to be taught to use his senses or to think. 

Charlotte Mason’s second principle says that the child has “possibilities for good and for evil.” This statement is a little more controversial. [4] Suffice it to say, Miss Mason believed that all children — even those her society labeled as inherently defective  — which would have included the children of the poor and illegitimate children — were able to make use of their faculties and to become educated. 

The third principle acknowledges the role of authority and obedience in the teacher-child (or parent-child) relationship, but it is quickly limited by the fourth principle which states that those in authority may not use any means at their disposal. They may not use children’s natural desires — for praise, for love, for success — against them as motivating tools. [5] 

Instead, the fifth principle tells us, we may only use three education instruments. These are summed in the maxim: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” She goes on to expand upon each of these in principles 6 through 8. “Education is an atmosphere  . . .”  is not about creating an environment but about allowing the child to live freely in a natural intellectual atmosphere. [3] At atmosphere may have physical manifestations in things like the artwork that is on the walls and the music that is playing but above all it is about a concern for truth, beauty, and goodness and a love of knowledge for its own sake.

“Education is  . . . a discipline . . . “ speaks to how children are trained. For Mason this is habit-training, a pro-active kind of discipline which seeks to shape the child’s character from an early age, one habit at a time. She eschews physical discipline and employs natural consequences with an emphasis on training and discipleship.

“Education is . . . a life” encapsulates the idea that children need intellectual food. For Mason ideas are the food of the mind. She expands upon this idea in the following principles. In principle 9, she tells us again that the child is not an empty vessel but that he is born with the ability to digest and assimilate intellectual food. In principle 10, she rejects a school popular in her day, the Herbartian school, which was something akin to modern unit studies, because it  essentially predigests the child’s intellectual food for him, making connections that he should make for himself and regurgitating knowledge in discrete chunks. In principle 11 she again states that the child is able to digest his own intellectual food — to assimilate ideas for himself. Knowledge, she says, must not be presented as isolated facts but in context. When we present knowledge to the child within the proper context, he is able to connect with it and to gain the knowledge for himself. Thus in principle 12, we find another famous CM maxim: “Education is the science of relations.” The goal of education is for the child to form relationships with as many things as he can. In order to facilitate this, principle 13 tells us, we much give him a diet that is plentiful and varied, a broad education. 

The latter part of principle 13 tells us that this knowledge must come in a literary form. Books may be fiction or non-fiction, easy or hard, but they must be well-written, living books which contain ideas.

The child takes in the knowledge that is in these living books and assimilates it. They do this by telling back, as principle 14 says. This is narration. In narration the child tells back, either orally or in writing, what they have read or heard. Narration is meant to be work and it is the child’s own work. It is how they “digest” their books, how they get knowledge and ideas from them. 

Principle 15 expresses again that all children are capable of doing this work. It adds that they should narrate after a single reading. Things should not be repeated for them. This builds the habit of attention. 

Principles 16 through 18 deal with the Way of Reason and the Way of the Will. To will, for Mason, is to chose and do that which one should do. It is the opposite of being wilful which is insisting on one’s own desires. For Mason one first accepts a proposition and then uses one’s Reason to defend and justify that proposition. This is why so many are led astray by their reason. The key is to let in the right ideas first and not to give free reign to reason which is fallen can justify evil things as well as good.

Principle 19 continues this thought, that it is so important what ideas and thoughts we let in. The responsibility of children as persons, Mason tells us, is to discern which thoughts to let in and which to exclude.

Finally, principle 20 tells us that children are not alone in this thing called education. Their intellectual life is not distinct from their spiritual life but there is a Divine Helper, God the Holy Spirit, that aids them and whom Mason elsewhere calls the Great Educator.

Looking for more? See this page for all by Charlotte Mason posts listed by topic.


[1] There have been a number of editions of this series, including some more recent, very well-done ones. They can also be found for free online at Ambleside Online

[2] There is some ongoing debate in CM circles as to whether her approach should be called “classical” or not. Personally I am of the “not classical” school as I discussed in this post.  

[3] There are some slight differences in the number and wording of these principles. You will notice differences in her earlier volumes, but it is customary now to speak of the 20 Principles. These can be found at the beginning of each of her six volumes and online at Ambleside Online

[4] To the best of my knowledge, I am the main holdout in the Charlotte Mason community arguing that when she wrote her second principle Charlotte really did mean that children are capable of both moral good and evil. I have discussed her theology extensively in a number of posts which can be found here.

[5] These are Mason’s “gospel principles.” Looking at the biblical book of Matthew she finds that we may not offend, despise, or hinder children. (Home Education, p. 12) 

[6] It is on this issue of an environment versus an atmosphere that Mason disagrees with her younger contemporary, Maria Montessori. I am planning a more extensive post in which I will discuss the similarities and differences between Mason and Montessori. 

Booklist: the Early 1800s

Last time I gave you the books we used on the American Revolution. This time we will look at books covering the period from the Revolution until the Civil War, so the very end of the 1700s and the early part of the 1800s.

Living Books on the Early 1800s

Adler, David. Picture Book of Thomas Jefferson, Picture book of Lewis and Clark and Picture Book of Sacagawea. Adler has a number of these picture book biographies. Elementary.

Avi. Hard Gold. 1859 Colorado gold rush. Middle years.

Avi. True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Historical fiction set in the 1830s. Middle years.

Bacheller, Irving. Light in the Clearing. This is one of my favorite books ever. Martin Van Buren is a minor character; it is mostly fiction. I am calling it high school age but there is nothing inappropriate in it so you could read it to young children. Teens.

Barsotti, Joan. Grandmother’s Bell and the Wagon Train (set in 1849). Elementary.

Bohner, Charles.  Bold Journey: West with Lewis and Clark. Middle-teens.

Carr, Mary Jane. Children of the Covered Wagon. Middle years (?).

Commager, Henry Steele. The Great Constitution. I was really pleased with this older book. I would say the level is middle school but you could use in late elementary or early high school.

d’Aulaire, Ingrid and Edgar. George Washington. Elementary.

Davis, Louise Littleton. Snowball Fight in the White House. Re Andrew Jackson. Easy reader.

Fleischman, Paul. Path of the Pale Horse. Re Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in the 1790s. Middle years (?).

Fleming, Candace. A Big Cheese for the White House. A giant wheel of cheese is given to President Jefferson. Elementary.

Foster: Genevieve. Year of the Horseless Carriage: 1801. Foster’s books always do a  good job covering an era and can be used for a wide range of ages. Elementary +.

Fradin, Dennis. Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words. Elementary.

Fritz, Jean. Great Little Madison and Make Way for Sam Houston. Longer books from this prolific author. Middle years.

Fritz, Jean. Shh We’re Writing the Constitution. Fritz has a number of these short books. Elementary.

George, Jean Craighead. Ice Whale. Japanese whaling. Middle years.

Guerber, Helen. Story of the Great Republic. A good older spine book. Elementary.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Mary’s Star (re orphans in Virginia in the 1780s) and For Ma and Pa on the Oregon Trail. Elementary.

History Channel. The Presidents. A video series on the presidents that is helpful if you are not studying each one individually. The first 5 presidents are covered in 45 minutes so you can tell it is not in-depth but does mention major events in their terms. All ages.

Kelly, Regina Zimmerman. Miss Jefferson in Paris. Middle years.

Knight, David. The Whiskey Rebellion. Middle years.

Latham, Jean Lee. Carry on Mr. Bowditch. A young man growing up in the nautical world in New England. Middle years.

Lindop, Edmond. George Washington and the First Balloon Flight. Elementary.

Lomask, Milton. John Qunicy Adams and This Slender Reed (re James K. Polk). Middle years.

Marrin, Albert. George Washington and the Founding of a Nation and 1812: The War Nobody Won and Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People. One of my favorite authors for older grades. Middle-teens. See also the end of his Sea Rovers re the Barbary pirates in Jefferson’s day.

Marshall, H.E. This Country of Ours. A good spine book for this era. Elementary +.

Martin, Patricia Miles. James Madison. Middle years.

McKissack, Patricia. Amistad. Picture book version of the story of this famous slave ship. Elementary.

Meader, Stephen. Whaler Round the Horn. Re whaling. Middle years.

Monjo. Slater’s Mill. Elementary.

Myers, Laurie. Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale. Elementary.

O’Dell, Scott. Streams to River. Re Sacagawea. Middle years.

Peterson, Helen Stone. Abigail Adams: Dear Partner. Elementary.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Revenge of the Whale. Re whaling. Middle years (?).

Quackenbush, Robert. James Madison & Dolly Madison and Their Times and Who Let Muddy Boots into the White House (re Andrew Jackson). Elementary.

Redmond, Shirley. Lewis and Clark: a Prairie Dog for the President. Easy reader.

Richards, Norman. Story of Old Ironsides (The story of the USS Constitution) and The Story of the Alamo. From the Cornerstones of Freedom series. This is a great series as long as you get the older books that begin “Story of . . .” Elementary.

Roop, Connie. California Gold Rush. Elementary.

Schiel, Katy. The Whiskey Rebellion. Not the nest living book but it is hard to find books on this topic. Elementary-middle.

Siegel, Beatrice. George and Martha Washington at Home in New York. Might be a little dry. Middle years.

Sperry, Armstrong. All Set Sail. Re whaling. Middle years-teens (?).

Spier, Peter. Erie Canal. Elementary.

Stanley, Diane. The True Adventures of Daniel Hall. Re Whaling. Elementary.

Steele, William O. Andy Jackson’s Water Well and We Were There on the Oregon Trail. Elementary.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Oregon Trail. Also from the Cornerstones of Freedom series (see Richards above). Elementary.

Steinberg, Alfred. James Madison. Middle years.

Sterne, Emma. Long Black Schooner. Re the Amistad. Middle years.

Venezia, Mike. Various. Venezia has a series of humorous but informative biographies of the presidents. Elementary.

Vinton, Iris. We were there with Jean Lafitte. Re the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans. Middle years (?).

Widdemer, Mabel.  James Monroe: Good Neighbor Boy. Middle years.

Young, Stanley. Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too! Middle years.

Booklist: the American Revolution

  Living Books on the American Revolution

Adler, David. Picture Book of Paul Revere and Picture Book of Patrick Henry. Adler has a number of these biographies. Elementary.

Amstel, Marsha. Sybil Luddington’s Midnight Ride. Easy reader. Elementary.

Anderson, M.T. Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. Has some mature content but we liked it. Teens +.

Benchley, Nathaniel. Sam the Minuteman and George the Drummer Boy. Easy reader. Elementary.

Blackwood, Gary. Year of the Hangman. Middle-teens.

Bodie, Idella. Secret Message. A girl in SC in 1781 has to deliver a secret message. Elementary.

Borden, Louise. Sleds on Boston Common. Fun  story. Elementary.

Brady, Esther Wood. Toliver’s Secret. Elementary.

Bruchac, Joseph. Arrow over the Door. A Quaker boy in 1777. Elementary-middle.

Bulla, Clyde Robert. Daniel’s Duck. Easy reader. Elementary.

Collier, James Lincoln. War Comes to Willy Freeman. Re an African American boy. Elementary (?).

Dahl, Michael. Row Row Row the Boats and Midnight Riders. Story songs. Elementary.

Dalgliesh, Alice. Adam and the Golden Cock and 4th of July Story. Elementary.

Fleming, Candace. Hatmaker’s Sign: A Story by Benjamin Franklin. Elementary.

Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain. Middle-teens.

Foster, Genevieve. George Washington’s World. Foster’s books make good spine books for a wide range of ages. Elementary +.

Fritz, Jean. Fritz has a lot of books on this era. Most are elementary with titles like: Can’t You Make them Behave King George and Why don’t You Get a Horse Sam Adams. Early Thunder is a slightly longer book.

Gauch, Patricia. This Time Tempe Wick. Elementary.

Griffin, Judith. Phoebe the Spy. Elementary.

Haugaard, Erik. Boy’s Will. Older hard to find book re John Paul Jones.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Hays also has a number of books on this era including George Washington’s Birthdays and Fourth of July Raid. Elementary.

Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. Middle years.

Krensky, Stephen. Dangerous Crossing. Re John Qunicy Adams. Elementary.

Kroll, Steven. By the Dawn’s Early Light and Boston Tea Party. Elementary.

Lasky, Kathryn. Voice of Her Own. Re Phyllis Wheatley. Elementary (?).

Lawson, Robert. Mr Revere and I and Ben and Me. Elementary.

Lomask, Milton. Charles Carroll and the American RevolutionThe First American Revolution, and Benedict Arnold: the Aftermath of Treason. I have not read these but Lomask is a favorite author. Middle-teens.

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Paul Revere’s Ride. Picture book of the famous poem. Elementary.

Lowrey, Janette. Six Silver Spoons. Easy reader. Elementary.

Marrin, Albert. The War for Independence: Story of the Revolution. Marrin is just about my favorite author for history for teens. He also has books on Thomas Paine, Washington and more. Middle-teens.

Marshall, H.E. This Country of Ours. A good spine book for this era. Elementary +.

McGovern, Ann. Secret Soldier. Elementary. 

Miers, Earl. Magnificent Mutineers. Re Mad Anthony Wayne. Older, hard-to-find book.

Monjo. King George’s Head was Made of Lead and Namesake for Nathan. Elementary.

O’Dell, Scott. Sarah Bishop. Middle years.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Ben’s Revolution. The Battle of Bunker Hill. Elementary.

Pratt, Mara. American History Stories. Older book. Elementary.

Paulsen, Gary. The Rifle. The title rifle is used in the Revolution though that is not what the book is mostly about. Middle-teens.

Quackenbush, Robert. Daughter of Liberty. Elementary.

Rappaport, Doreen. Boston Coffee Party. Easy Reader. Elementary.

Reit, Seymour. Guns for General Washington. Elementary.

Rockwell, Anne. They Called Her Molly Pitcher. Picture book. Elementary.

Roop, Connie. Buttons for General George Washington. Easy Reader. Elementary.

Schick, Alice. Remarkable Ride of Israel Bissell. Elementary.

Schurfranz, Vivian. Message for General Washington. Elementary.

Syme, Ronald. Benedict Arnold and John Paul Jones. Elementary.

Turner, Ann. When Mr. Jefferson Came to Philadelphia. Picture book. Elementary.

Vinton, Iris. Story of John Paul Jones. Older hard to find book. Elementary ?.

Walker, Sally. 18 Penny Goose. Easy Reader. Elementary.

Werstein, Irving. 1776: The Adventure of the American Revolution told in Pictures. I love Werstein. Not sure of the level of this one.

Booklist: the Settlement of the US

Living Books on the Settlement of the United States

Aliki. Story of William Penn. Picture book. Elementary.

Avi. Finding Providence. Re Rhode Island. Easy Reader. Elementary.

Brill, Ethel. Madeline Takes Command. Re New France. Middle years.

Bulla, Clyde Robert. Bulla is a favorite author for elementary. He has books on John Billington and Squanto (Plimoth colony) and Pocahontas and the Jamestown colony (A Lion to Guard Us) is about the latter. Elementary level.

Campbell, Elizabeth. Carving on the Tree. About the lost colony of Roanoke. Elementary.

Coatsworth, Elizabeth. Wishing Pear. New Amsterdam. Elementary.

Curtis, Alice Turner. Little Maid of Massachusetts Colony. There are a number in this series. Elementary-middle.

Dalgliesh, Alice. Courage of Sarah Noble. A girl in the early 1700s. Elementary. Her America Begins is talked up a lot in homeschool circles and it is a good book if you can find it but not worth the jacked-up prices. Also elementary.

d’Aulaire, Ingrid and Edgar. Pocahontas. The d’Aulaires’ books are lovely long picture books. Elementary.

de Angeli, Marguerite. Elin’s Amerika and Henner’s Lydia. Wonderful books on Swedish immigrants. Set in Pennsylvania I believe. Elementary. See also her Bright April about a black child in Philadelphia.

Edmonds, Walter. Matchlock Gun. 1750s New York. Elementary.

Field, Rachel. Calico Bush.  Set in Maine. Middle years.

Foster, Genevieve. The Year of the Pilgrims, 1620, World of Captain John Smith and The World of William Penn. Foster’s books make wonderful spine books because they cover so much territory, often including international events too. I use them even with older children and they would work well for a family with a wide range of ages. Elementary +.

Friskey, Margaret. John Alden and the Pilgrim Cow. Elementary.

Fritz, Jean. The Lost Colony of Roanoke and Who’s That Stepping on Plymouth Rock. Fritz is a prolific author. The Roanoke book is one of her longer ones and is middle school level. The Plymouth one would be elementary. She also has one on Pocahontas; I don’t remember the level of that one.

Guerber, Helene. Stories of the Thirteen Colonies. A good spine book. Elementary.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. A favorite author with a lot on this period. Look for her books on Plimoth colony and Seige The Story of Saint Augustine 1702 for the settlement in Florida. Elementary. She also has one on the French-Indian wars called Drummer Boy for Montcalm and one set in New Hampshire — Trouble at Otter Creek.

Howard, Ginger. William’s House. House building in the 1600s. Early elementary.

Leeper, John. Meet the Dudleys, Not quite living but tells how a family in Connecticut lived. Elementary (?).

Lobel, Arnold. On the Day Peter Stuyvesant Sailed into Town. From the author of the Frog and Toad books. Re New Amsterdam. Elementary.

Lomask, Milton. Cross among the Tomahawks. Re missionaries in the 1600s. A hidden gem of an older author if you can find his books. They tend to be middle school level but this one might be elementary.

Longfellow, Henry Wordsworth . “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” The poem itself is quite long but you should be able to find a picture book version.

Marshall, H.E. This Country of Ours. A good spine book for this era. Elementary +.

Monjo. House on Stink Alley. The Plimoth colonists before they came over. Elementary.

Moskin, Marietta. Lysbet and the Fire Kittens. New Amsterdam. Easy reader. Elementary.

North, Sterling. George Washington Frontier Colonel. Washington’s early career. From another wonderful author. Elementary (?).

O’Dell, Scott. Serpent Never Sleeps (re Jamestown) and Carlota. Middle years.

Otis, James. Ruth of Boston. Middle years.

Pratt, Mara. Stories of Massachusetts. Probably not necessary if you don’t live in MA. She also has American History Stories. Elementary-middle.

Pumphrey, Margaret. Pilgrim Stories. Elementary.

Quackenbush, Robert. Old Silver Leg Takes Over. Re New Amsterdam. Elementary.

Sewall, Marcia. James TowneThe Pilgrims of Plimoth and Thunder from the Clear Sky.(also re Plimoth).  Picture books. Elementary.

Spier, Peter. Legend of New Amsterdam. He has lovely books. Elementary.

Syme, Ronald. John Smith of Virginia and William Penn. Elementary.

Vinto, Iris. Boy on the Mayflower. Older book. Elementary.

Winter, Jeanette. Klara’s New World. A Little girl emigrates from Sweden. Not sure of the time frame. Elementary.

Yates, Elizabeth. Sarah Whitcher’s Story. Set in New Hampshire. I loved this one. Elementary.

Yolen, Jane. Roanoke: the Lost Colony. Elementary.

The Purpose of Man in the Purpose of Education

Dear Reader,

I have made the argument repeatedly here that our approach to education inherently says things about our view of man’s nature and purpose. Today I would like to nuance that a little.

I am inspired by a remark made on the Mortification of Spin podcast. In their episode on the Davenant Institute (December 30, 2020), the hosts were interviewing two of the men behind that school, Brad Littlejohn and Colin Redemer. I am not sure which of the two made the remark [1], but the gist of it is that when we make education utilitarian, we make people utilitarian. The speaker emphasized that, while most colleges and universities lure students in with promises that their degrees will lead to jobs and money, they proudly make no such claim but educate for education’s sake with no practical end in view.

There is a circular-ness here. On one hand, our views of man’s purpose will inform our approach to education. On the other, our approach to education will influence how we view ourselves and others. When we say “this school will enable you to get a good job that earns a good salary” we are sending the message that a graduate’s value is in his ability to earn. Even with a slightly different emphasis — if, for instance, a school stresses service or contributing to the greater good — there is still some implied utilitarian purpose. We are telling students that their value is in what they give back. And giving back is good. Serving others is good. But the flip side is that those who cannot contribute — the old, the young, the sick, the disabled — are devalued.

In younger years, the emphasis is not so much on money or productivity, but it still tends toward utilitarianism. More often than not, each age is just seen as preparation for the next. High schoolers are prepared for college, middle schoolers are prepared for high school, and so on down the line till even three and four-year-olds must be prepared for kindergarten. The message that we send to children is that their life and their value are somewhere in the future. It is a good instinct in them to rebel against this.

To avoid this, we must turn the thing on its head and ask first what message we wish to send. Is it that the one who earns most is the most valuable? Is it that your value hinges on what you can contribute? Or is it that each person is inherently valuable? That knowledge for its own sake is good?

In my own philosophy of education, I have argued that what we do in education is to put before children the things of God. Our goal, what we hope for, is the transformation of the mind which, theologically speaking, falls under what we call sanctification, the renewing of man’s fallen nature. I recognize as I say this that there is something utilitarian here. There is still an end goal we are working towards, albeit an intensely personal, internal one. Yet because it is ultimately God who works and not us, we cannot be results-oriented. Our motivation — as teachers and students — must be about love — love of knowledge, truth, goodness, and beauty; and love of God from whom all these flow. If in how we educate students we are communicating to them something about their worth let it be this: your worth is found in Christ in whom you live and move and have your being (Acts 17:28).


[1] I find it hard at times when listening to discern who is speaking.