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  • 10 Feb 2018 1:33 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    Leo Tolstoy, opening lines of Anna Karenina

        Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina Principle” claims that only one narrow path, a specific set of foundational requirements, can lead to a happy family. If Tolstoy is right, does the principle extend to a happy dinner table? Do all families who enjoy healthy, harmonious family meals follow a certain set of rules?   

        “Broad is the road that leads to destruction,” as the Bible tells us. To reach a state of unhappiness in a family, the ways to go wrong are limitless, it’s fairly evident. Bad parenting can take a million different forms. Clearly, avoiding certain things, such as abuse, neglect and abandonment, is non-negotiable for happiness in a family.

        Broad is the way to unhealthy eating and picky eating. Ways to reach those major destinations are all over the place; they’re easy to fall upon or invent. Going wrong and hitting that enormous target comes with no effort. It’s natural to go wrong when the culture is driving us in that direction. It’s easy to shoot the arrow and hit anything but the target.

        Hitting the target, on the other hand, almost always demands more than luck. It’s that straight and narrow path. Doing just about anything well requires purposefulness and a knowledge of certain principles. As we set off to uncover the rules and requirements of a happy family meal, let’s look at the basic approach to feeding a child.

    Feeding your lambs

        Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of raising a child can be summarized in one broad directive: “‘feed’ (which should be rendered ‘pasture’) my ‘lambs,’ place them in the midst of abundant food.” This approach to working with children is radically different from a methodology based on using punishment or rewards to coerce children into doing what we want them to do, regardless of their desires. 

        One of the school teachers under Miss Mason’s direction in early 20th-century England found that pasturing her “lambs,” as she called her classroom of students, brought wonderful results. One seemingly insignificant incident showed her that things were working just as they were supposed to.

        This young teacher had gone out of the classroom, leaving the students reading their lesson. When she came back, they were still reading. As she reported: “I had left them in the pasture and came back and found them feeding.” What’s so amazing about that? They were still reading because they were so absorbed in what they were discovering.

        They were reading willingly, with pleasure. When they were told it was time to stop reading, they probably felt reluctant to quit. I don’t imagine they slammed their books closed and jumped up with their eyes alight. I don’t see them as feeling that now, at last, it was time for fun, like a child finally swallowing the mandatory ninth bite of pureed Brussels sprouts and about to finally get to the delightful part: chocolate pudding.

        Those students may have felt as I do when I read Jane Eyre. I always have a hard time putting it down, even on my fifth time through. I’ve found myself reading until four in the morning, even though I know exactly what happens next.

        Those youngsters were doing what they were supposed to do because they wanted to. What they wanted to do and what they should do were aligned like two miraculous stars. Coercion was rendered unnecessary. How did the teacher achieve it?

        They weren’t still reading because they were keen on getting an A. They weren’t afraid of flunking the test or scared their teacher would put them in time out or make them stay in at recess if she came back and caught them horsing around. I know that none of these reasons were in force because Miss Mason’s schools deliberately rejected relying on any such incentives.

    Free within Limits

        Children reading their lessons because they wanted to know and for no other motive is the ideal picture, the gold standard, of Charlotte Mason education. The children were placed in a good pasture and fed. Their needs were met. They were placed within limits, yet they were free within those limits, and they were freely, hungrily doing what was good for them.

        They were driven by curiosity and a desire to know, simply and purely.  They had been placed in a pasture of abundant, enticing food, and like well-pastured sheep, they were doing what came naturally to them as young human beings in that situation.    

        They knew their limits and their place. Care had been taken to put structures in place. The atmosphere was orderly, not chaotic. These students weren’t being coerced or manipulated or suppressed. They were content. So was their teacher.    

        The essentials were clearly in place in that classroom. The teacher knew her job was not to induce the students to read and to learn. Her job was to provide the ideal conditions for them to be able to satisfy their own natural hunger to know.

        She had provided the ideal nourishment for their minds: the best written, most interesting, most thought-provoking book she could find on the subject at hand. She knew the principle of her mentor: that self-education is the only genuine education. The mind doesn’t learn anything that it hasn’t been stirred to desire to know.

        The students had no doubt developed good habits, such as paying attention, so that a living book had a chance to capture their fancy. Their natural hunger for knowledge was allowed to function. No distractions to waste time were found in that classroom.

        In the same way, when you create the right conditions, as this teacher did, you will be able to leave your children alone, like contented sheep in a pasture, and they will eat all on their own. What’s good for them is good for you. These essential conditions that will lead to the desired results.


    Anna Migeon is the author of The Happy Dinner Table: The Path to Healthy, Harmonious Family Meals (2016), available on Amazon, of which this article is an excerpt. Anna’s children were born in France, where she was inspired by the sacred food traditions, delicious dishes and healthy attitudes toward eating. Her children also attended Charlotte Mason schools, where Anna learned more about raising kids who love what’s good for them. She has conducted workshops and coached parents about how to get picky kids to eat better according to Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. Anna is also an award-winning cook (her chocolate truffles won a red ribbon at the Gillespie County Fair in 2005, even though they melted into one blob in the Texas heat). She and her French husband, Gérard, share an empty nest in San Antonio.

    © 2018 Anna Migeon

  • 04 Feb 2018 3:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My children have each worked their way through several nature notebooks throughout their school education, but I am still working on my original one. My first entry was on June 11, 2009. It’s interesting to see the evolution that has taken place in my style over the years. I attribute the change to, 1) my growing need to express myself more thoroughly, and 2) my understanding of the way the nature notebook should be used.

    Early on, my entire focus was to paint an object I had found in nature. The children and I would go for a short walk with the purpose of finding an item to draw. Each of us would place our specimen on the table in front of us — the picnic table if it was a nice day, or the dining room table if it was not — and then prepare our supplies: notebook, paints, water, paper towel, etc. It is a lovely scene to imagine, and it is true that this sort of drawing forces the student to look very carefully at the object so they can paint it in a more lifelike way, but I would suggest that what I have described is more along the lines of a drawing lesson. Though not quite. At best, it is the merging of two separate lessons, with neither of them done well. 

    When explaining the use of the nature notebook, Charlotte Mason said, “As for drawing, instruction has no doubt its time and place; but his nature diary should be left to his own initiative” (1/55). I understood this directive to mean the child would learn to draw during drawing lessons, but it didn’t help me know how drawing was to be used in my notebook.

    As time went on, I wanted to include more description of what I was observing, but I didn’t want to wreck my book. I tried to be neat and tidy, keeping my notes short and clever. Then eventually, I just had to leave my perfectionism behind, so I could include some of the things that I desperately wanted to add. This last step was a relief because now I could enter things that I couldn’t set on my kitchen table, or sit next to in the field.

    It also caused the following few sentences from Home Education to take on new meaning. I had read this quote many times before, but this time, I viewed it through a different lens. Notice that most of the notebook entries she mentions are not things that would stay still for the child to draw.

    As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day's walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb. Innumerable matters to record occur to the intelligent child. (1/54)

    It is true that not all of the items she suggested entering would be flying through the sky or jumping from tree to tree. She did go on to say, “A child of six will produce a dandelion, poppy, daisy, iris, with its leaves, impelled by the desire to represent what he sees, with surprising vigour and correctness” (1/55). But we must consider the whole story, not just the part that fits our preconceived model. I was coming to understand that the bulk of my nature notebook entries were meant to be written narrations. Possibly this is why Miss. Mason sometimes referred to it as a ‘nature journal.’

    I was further assured that this idea was correct when I read the Parents’ Review article “Nature Work at the House of Education” by Mr. Geldart. He had the job of reviewing a nature notebook from each graduate of the House of Education. To give you an idea of how much material was included in one year's notebook, he writes, “when I began reading these books the average time occupied by each book was about five hours, but such a set of books as were sent last Christmas took seven hours each” (9/487). Imagine the quantity of material, both written observations and illustrations, that would have required five to seven hours to review!

    Illustrations do have an important place in the nature notebook, (Mr. Geldart lists them as the third in priority in his article,) and a child can begin adding them to his nature notebook even before formal lessons are begun. Charlotte Mason said, “While he is quite young (five or six), he should begin to illustrate his notes freely with brush drawings” (1/55). Still, we need to remember that they are not the central component. Their value is in further clarifying, further narrating, what a child has observed.

    My understanding of the use of a nature notebook has come so far, and I can see now that I was cutting off the end of my roast because my mother always did, as Emily explained in her CMI article “The Importance of Memory Drawing in Nature Note-Books.” She pointed out that if we “seek first to understand the principles, we see the reason for, and importance of, each practice given to us, and will be better able to apply them to our own time and situations”

    To consider the principles behind nature notebooks, I believe we would be wise to consider how other lessons are constructed. Recently one of my children took notes as she was reading a challenging book. I hadn’t noticed until my other daughter exclaimed hotly, “She cheated!!” In a Charlotte Mason education, we don’t encourage note taking but instead start with small enough sections that a child can narrate fully. As time passes, we assign more and then more, all the while expecting a full narration after the reading is complete. In this way, we train our child to pay attention, make mental pictures, and then use their words to tell what they know. It makes sense that we would use this same outline to train our children to study nature.

    Charlotte Mason instructs:  “Children should be encouraged to watch, patiently and quietly, until they learn something of the habits and history of bee, ant, wasps, spider, hairy caterpillar, dragonfly, and whatever of larger growth comes in their way.” (1/57) And then, once a child spends ample time watching, (she suggested an hour,) he can record everything he has noticed. 

    Let all he finds out about it be entered in his diary—by his mother, if writing be a labour to him,—where he finds it, what it is doing, or seems to him to be doing; it’s colour, shape, legs: someday he will come across the name of the creature and will recognize the description of an old friend. (1/58)

    Charlotte Mason suggests several activities to build up the child’s power to observe nature.

    Sight-seeing is described as an exploring expedition, which challenges the children to observe every little thing they can and then return to mother to tell all.

    Picture-painting is a bit like a picture study: “the children to look well at some patch of landscape, and then to shut their eyes and call up the picture before them . . . When they have a perfect image before their eyes, let them say what they see" (1/48).

    Object lessons, “assist a child, by careful examination of a given object, to find out all he can about it through the use of his several senses” (2/180). And with this new knowledge the child’s vocabulary grows, “for it is a law of the mind that what we know, we struggle to express” (1/68).

    Bird-stalking is the challenge of "tracking a song or note to its source” (1/89). 

    In Parents and Children, Chapter 17, Charlotte Mason details the importance of training the child to use all of his five senses to observe, to use his mind to judge, discriminate, and compare, and then to use language to describe what he has noticed. In conclusion to that chapter, she said,

    A boy who is observing a beetle does not consciously apply his several senses to the beetle, but lets the beetle take the initiative, which the boy reverently follows: but the boy who is in the habit of doing sensory daily gymnastics will learn a great deal more about the beetle than he who is not so trained. (2/189)

    Careful observation is fundamental to nature study. It is the meat of the lesson. The nature notebook then, is the narration, the record of what has been observed. In my first nature notebook entries, I was setting out to make a lovely drawing, and by doing so, I was mistakenly putting the practice before the principle. Once I understood the priority to be an intent observation of the natural world, through the use of all of my senses, I saw that my nature notebook is a tool for narration, mostly that of written narration, with some illustrations added.

    To learn more about the components that make up a nature notebook, listen to the A Delectable Education Podcast Episode 111: Notebooks and Paperwork, Part 1 or read the article Nature Notebooks on SabbathMoodHomeschool.com.

    © 2018 Nicole Williams

  • 27 Jan 2018 4:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As we seek to implement a Charlotte Mason education for our children, it is very helpful to look at her methods, at what she did and assigned in her curriculum. But, if we are trying to apply her methods faithfully while taking into account our different cultural needs, as well as being diligent citizens of a new millenium, as I believe Miss Mason would have us be, then it is equally important, if not more so, to understand the principles, or why behind those methods.

    It can be dangerous to look at the method alone and develop principles that appear to fit that particular practice. We can end up like that proverbial family of women who cut the end of their roasts off before putting them in the oven. When asked why they did such a thing, they replied, “Because my mother always did,” imagining some necessary principle being put into practice. The truth was that great-grandmother didn’t own a pan large enough to fit her piece of meat. The principle behind the practice was imagined; the younger generations looked exclusively at the practice without striving to determine the reason behind it. However, Miss Mason told us, “there is no part of a child's home life or school work which the law does not penetrate” and later, “there is no part of a child's work at school which some philosophic principle does not underlie” (Home Education, pp. 2, 240). If we start the other way round, seeking first to understand the principles, we see the reason for, and importance of, each practice given to us, and will be better able to apply them to our own time and situations.

    Several times over the years that I studied Miss Mason’s philosophy and methods, I’ve had to adjust my paradigm. Foundationally, I had to shift my focus to fit her first principle, and the incredible impact that deceptively simple phrase, “Children are born persons,” made in my understanding of education was earth-shattering. Many times in the past decade, I’ve had to alter my understanding of what I thought I knew about the Charlotte Mason method, because I had viewed one of her principles or methods through my own lens or because of misinformation. Most recently that has been the realization that Miss Mason placed no restriction on her students to do “dry brush” painting, as I had so often heard, and have been guilty of propagating myself.

    Given the centrality of nature study to this relational education coupled with the importance of keeping a Nature Notebook and my own background in art, I have always been keen to implement this part of the feast in my own life. However, I have often felt frustrated by the restriction to “use as little water as possible” in my nature paintings--watercolor is not my preferred medium anyhow. Determined to master this method, however, I have dutifully practiced over the years. As I’ve researched the topic of drawing, scouring Miss Mason’s writings and the available online resources such as The Parents’ Review, I came to a startling realization. Miss Mason, and the teachers who contributed their thoughts on drawing and nature painting, never mentioned the term “dry” when it came to brushdrawing. Mr. Collingwood, author of The Fésole Club Papers, in giving instructions for drawing fine details mentions using “a quite dry brush” to accomplish these portions, but there is no expectation that paints were to be applied that way as a universal rule. Indeed, many instructions given by sources recommended by Miss Mason would require quite wet paint.

    This discovery led me to reflect on the “whys” I had heard that explained the mandate to paint in dry brush. The only consistent “principle” given was that when painting outdoors in the field, it would be necessary for the paint to be quite dry so as to be transportable. I believe we have been guilty of cutting off the ends of our roasts. Through prolonged study into the expectations for nature study, I can find no evidence that children were required or encouraged to make their nature drawings in the field. (It sounds heretical, doesn’t it?)

    Rather, children were to spend their time out-of-doors making keen observations, intently watching their subjects. Given Miss Mason’s principle that children should dig for their own knowledge, taking in information with their own senses, building their own Science of Relations, “Children should be encouraged to watch, patiently and quietly, until they learn something of the habits and history of bee, ant, wasp, spider, hairy caterpillar, dragon-fly, and whatever of larger growth comes in their way” (Home Education, p. 57).

    They were given separate lessons in drawing from nature at other times, and were trained in the art of drawing from memory. Miss Williams described the method for these lessons, in an article entitled “The Teaching of Drawing and Its Place in Education,” from The Parents’ Review of 1923:

    I place a model before them and make them observe it carefully, and then it is hidden while they draw. A second or third scrutiny gives opportunity for more correct observation, and the exercise of their critical faculties in comparing their drawing with the model--they thus gradually store up knowledge that they can use to express themselves. (PR 34, 11)

    Consider how this practice of close observation, gradually storing up knowledge used to later record what they see, reinforces and strengthens students’ ability to accurately illustrate their nature notes, making it possible to draw the things that scurry away quickly, or were only able to be observed for a short time. I would encourage all my readers to read this informative and inspiring article and begin to implement memory drawings as an instrumental practice, rooted on true philosophical principles. I know there will be bountiful fruit, not just in the area of drawing, but because of the interwoven and interdisciplinary nature of a Charlotte Mason curriculum, in other subjects as well, most particularly their increased appreciation and understanding of God’s Creation.

    For further information on the practices of Drawing and Nature-Notebooks in the P.N.E.U. readers may enjoy listening to Episode 98: Drawing and Episode 111: Notebooks and Paperwork, Part I of A Delectable Education Podcast, which will be released on Friday, 2 February 2018.

    © 2018 by Emily Kiser

  • 20 Jan 2018 4:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In Shakespeare’s Hamlet Prince Hamlet has the idea of putting on a play that he hopes will cause a reaction in his uncle Claudius. The play will include the killing of a king by the king’s brother – and Claudius had murdered Hamlet’s father, the rightful king. So Hamlet was hoping that his uncle Claudius would react to the play in a way that would indicate his guilt – and he did; he ran out of the room at the appropriate point in the play.

    I am not advocating the performance of Shakespeare by young children, but I am certainly advocating the use of drama as a part of education for all children and young people. In fact Charlotte Mason says very little about drama in schools, and so I cannot support my views by quoting Charlotte here – though actually there are quite a lot of photographs from the college in the 1920s that show that students were frequently involved in dramatic productions. But I have found that drama can play a major role in education from quite an early age. And in fact the point of Hamlet’s often quoted phrase that ‘The play’s the thing’ is that drama can be a powerful means of getting a message across.

    Drama always played some part in my own education, and indeed has continued to play some part in my life. I clearly remember making and performing with puppets at my primary school. At secondary school we had regular drama competitions in which I took some (admittedly undistinguished) part, and the Gilbert and Sullivan operas were a major annual event in the school calendar, for which I became an accomplished make-up artist (I couldn’t sing well enough!). Later as a teacher I used to invent dramas in Latin for my students, and we had an enjoyable time while we learned a little Latin. When I became head at Trinity School in Carlisle I was very pleased that there was already a flourishing drama department, and most years the school put on at least six drama performances of some kind, from Greek tragedies and comedies to modern extravaganzas with casts of hundreds (it was a very big school!). We even persuaded the local education authority to equip one of our halls with full theatre lighting and all the paraphernalia of a modern theatre. So in some way all children during their 11-18 school life experienced drama, and for many of them it became an important part of their lives.

    We have a little local theatre in our next village, and both my wife and I over the years have taken part in some of its productions. I recently came across the script of a play (Hindle Wakes, a play about a family up here in the industrial north) in which some years ago both my wife and I played major roles, and the thing that struck me straight away was, how on earth did I learn all that? Actually for children that is rarely a problem; they learn roles remarkably quickly.

    Well, as a result of our membership of the local theatre group a friend of ours who has a lot more experience of performing in and producing drama than we have persuaded us to join a scheme called Open the Book, which is a nationally organised scheme that provides material for local groups to put on short plays (very short plays) in local primary schools to illustrate stories from the Bible. So most weeks, on a Monday morning, around six or eight of us visit a local primary school, bringing our props and costumes with us, and we perform a short play, always involving some of the children (different children are selected each week) as extras – shepherds, soldiers, Egyptians, workmen, members of the crowd. We have a short rehearsal with our props in place and with the children, all of us dressed up for our parts, before the school assembly, and then we perform to the whole school, usually starting and ending with an appropriate song and a few comments by the ‘Narrator’ (every story has a narrator) on the story.

    The school where we are performing at the moment is the local village primary school, with nearly 200 children aged 3-11. Those of us performing are for the most part not brilliant actors (well I certainly am not), and usually we read our parts from our scripts, because with so little time to rehearse we have found that learning our parts is not an effective way of operating. But children don’t seem to notice. What we notice is how attentive the children always are, and how well they remember the stories week on week. In fact the school itself puts on regular dramatic performances, and this is probably a help for us, since children are already used to the idea of drama and many have already performed in full-scale public performances by the school.

    The whole national scheme of Open the Book was devised with the intention of making Bible stories accessible to children in a way that would engage their minds in a novel way, quite briefly but with maximum impact. I have to say that I had my doubts initially about whether this was an effective way of presenting material from the Bible. But after three years of performing Open the Book I am convinced that this method does present Bible stories in a way that children can understand and appreciate. The teachers tell us that children enjoy the Open the Book plays, and of course they especially enjoy being involved in them. In fact in the course of a year most of the children will have the opportunity to perform in our plays.

    The plays do sometimes raise some tricky questions. Just before the Christmas holidays we did The Shepherds, quite a lively interpretation of the nativity story. After the performance was over one little girl around five years old came up to Judy, one of our team, and asked, ‘So was Santa Claus born on the same day as Jesus?’ I’m not sure exactly how Judy answered that one, but the biblical nativity accounts and the traditional Santa Claus myths that go with them in the western versions of Christianity can be very confusing for thoughtful children. Wouldn’t it be better if we followed the tradition of the Alpine regions of south Germany and Austria, where Christmas presents are arranged around the Christmas tree for Christmas morning, and the story for children is that the baby Jesus has left them there for everybody? Less confusing, I think. Good old Santa Claus or Father Christmas is now well established in western versions of Christmas, but he certainly confused me when I was five years old.

    John Thorley was the last principal (here in the US we would cal them president) of the Charlotte Mason College which is now a part of the University of Cumbria. Dr. Thorley is retired and has been instrumental in the Charlotte Mason movement here in North America.  He will be a speaker at the CMI English Lake District Retreat in late April.  Click here for more information.

    © 2018 John Thorley

  • 13 Jan 2018 8:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    One morning recently, in a desperate attempt for survival, I had a timeout. 

    The day started off as usual but, during a reading lesson, my seven year old and I came to a standoff. She refused to do what I asked. I pushed my agenda. Tensions escalated for both of us. 

    Then came total meltdown and tears. 

    Hiding out on the floor of the bathroom in self-imposed timeout, I made a decision. I would not despise her and her behaviour. I would embrace her. After several deep breaths, I returned to apologize and invited her to join me on the couch. 

    As I began reading Understood Betsy, she snuggled under my arm and wiped away her tears. Slowly we both began to breathe again. Later we were able to calmly return to that contentious reading lesson. But it is by being shaped by Mason’s principles that it was possible for me to dispel our negative moment and partner with God’s work in her life, and mine. 

    That reading lesson was intense for me. It had me on my knees that night, shaking my head at my failure and God’s grace. 

    There on my knees, I felt the Lord remind me that this is holy business. 

    Mason articulates this well: “never let her [the mother] contemplate any kind of instruction for her child, except under the sense of divine cooperation” (Mason, 1925, p. 274). Mason goes on to say that “our cooperation appears to be the indispensable condition of all the divine workings” (Mason, 1925, p. 274). 

    When I stumbled upon Charlotte Mason four years ago, God provided a friend who gently explained the practices to me. Yet she was very clear: if you’re going to use Mason’s methods, you’ve got to become a student of her philosophy. Our serious study, guided by God’s Spirit, is part of what Mason meant when she said that our cooperation is indispensable. 

    I took my friend’s wisdom to heart. 

    I’ve learned that it’s not about using certain methods so much as it’s holy work – not easy work. As Mason says, it requires the “diligence, regularity and punctuality which men bestow on their professional labours” (Mason, 1925, p. 3). 

    When the reading lesson went sideways, it was the Christ-inspired principles of Mason that I leaned on. Without a life-giving atmosphere, my child’s hunger for knowledge would fade. Without a view of her as a born person, there would be no flexibility. Without understanding the way of the will, there would be no larger vision. 

    Feasting at the table of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is hard mental work but in return I’ve entered into deep mysteries in a way that satisfies my soul. 

    How about for you? 

    As a student of Mason’s work, young or old, examining her practices is only the beginning. You, too, must enter into the riches of her philosophy for yourself. You just might save your reading lesson and forge deeper into this holy business. 


    Mason, C. M. (1925). Home education (Vol. 1). London, England: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd. 

    Mason, C. M. (1925). Parents and children (Vol. 2). London, England: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd. 

    Copyright © Colleen Klatt 2017 

    Colleen Klatt lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where she homeschools her three daughters using Charlotte Mason’s ideas. 

  • 06 Jan 2018 1:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    What, you egg?

    Young fry of treachery!

    (Act 4, Scene 2)

          This line was chosen by most of my students to copy. We busted into laughter right before yet another murder.  I wonder if these words will be echoes in their lives like Hollins Hoodhood in The Wednesdays Wars  ( by Gary Schmidt) when he read Shakespeare every Wednesday afternoon with his teacher, Mrs. Baker. I would like to think so as my students read Shakespeare on Thursdays after lunch and another class on Wednesday mornings.

         I began scaffolding Macbeth with a reading from the beginning of Mary MacLeod’s   “Shakespeare Story Book”  called The Weird Sisters (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/49146/49146-h/49146-h.htm) :

          Quoting from the link above, 

    Witchcraft is now a thing of the past unless there still lingers in some very remote corners a belief  for evil of some poor old body, whose only claim for such distinction is, perhaps, her loneliness and ugliness. But in ancient days, and even into the last century, such a belief was a very usual thing. ‘Wise women,’ as they were called, who pretended they had the power of foretelling the future, were by no means uncommon, and even learned people and those in high positions were not ashamed to consult them with regard to coming events. In Scotland, this belief lingered much longer than in England, and even to this day, in remote parts of the Highlands, there are some who claim they have the gift of ‘second sight’ – that is, that they can see in advance events that will happen several years apart. (p. 246)

    The time when the present story occurred was hundreds of years ago, in the year 1039, before William the Conqueror had come to Britain, and when England and Scotland were entirely separate kingdoms. (p.246)

          My Form III and Forms IV – VI classes  opened up the play to see Macbeth coming from war to hear the three weird sisters or three witches. Throughout the term the students acted, narrated, used maps, picked out favorite lines, accessed character and plot, and guessed who was going to die next. We counted murders and discussed motives. They wrote obituaries, newspaper headlines, and rewrote one letter from Macbeth to Lady Macbeth. One student ended her note with a tweet! Another student used the term: seared conscience (which had come from a recent sermon) to define Macbeth’s character.  Plays are to be read aloud and acted. We did and there were many begging to be Macbeth and his Lady Macbeth. I showed a few clips from Kenneth Branagh’s  live performances  in England, New York City, and National Live Theater. I showed images from One Man’s Macbeth by a Senior at The Kings College in New York City. That’s right:  23 characters done by a 21 year old! As many extras came our way I was standing on the words of Charlotte Mason that the Holy Spirit will teach our children.

        Charlotte Mason wrote in Vol. 6, p. 140 about Macbeth’s seared conscience: “Thus, Macbeth, a great general, returns after a brilliant victory, head and heart are inflated, what can he not achieve? Could he not govern a country as well as rule an army? Reason unfolds the steps by which he might do great things; great things, ay, but are they lawful, these possible exploits? And then in the nick of time he comes across the 'weird Sisters,' as we are all apt to take refuge in fatalism when conscience no longer supports us. He shall be Thane of Cawdor, and, behold, confirmation arrives on the spot. He shall also be king. Well, if this is decreed, what can he do? He is no longer a free agent. And a score of valid arguments unfold themselves showing how Scotland, the world, his wife, himself, would be enhanced, would flourish and be blessed if he had the opportunity to do what was in him. Opportunity? The thing was decreed! It rested with him to find the means, the tools. He was not without imagination, had a poetic mind and shrank before the horrors he vaguely foresaw. But reason came to his aid and step by step the whole bloody tragedy was wrought out before his prescient mind. When we first meet with Macbeth he is rich in honours, troops of friends, the generous confidence of his king. The change is sudden and complete, and, we may believe, reason justified him at every point. But reason did not begin it. The will played upon by ambition had already admitted the notion of towering greatness or ever the 'weird Sisters' gave shape to his desire. Had it not been for this countenance afforded by the will, the forecasts of fate would have influenced his conduct no more then they did that of Banquo.”

        See how we wound up the term from two students term exams provided below.

    Form V: Age 16

    1. Write the story of Macbeth from the viewpoint of one character: A) Macbeth, B) Lady Macbeth, C) the witches, D) Malcolm.

                Double, double, toil and trouble.

                We are the servants of Hecate.

                Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

                We are the speakers of prophecies.

                Double, double, toil and trouble.

                We are one in three-

                Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

                We are the shadows under the bed-

                Double, double, toil and trouble-

                We are the movement in the corner of your eye-

                Fire burn and cauldron bubble-

                We are the magic-casters-

                We are the potion-brewers-

                We are the curse-dealers-

                We are the servants of Hecate, we are the stuff of old wives tales,

                  and we are the reason behind Macbeth’s madness.

            He first came to us during a storm. We remember how the lightning flashed, how the thunder roared, and how the rain pounded on the ground like the feet of a rushing army battering the ground. The light from our fire illuminated his face and we remember how he carried himself with such pride, confident in his fine features and his noble wit. He was not a man to be trifled with.

          And yet—we saw in Lord Macbeth something he tried to hide. We saw an ambition that could seize his heart and stop his wit, a thirst for power that could be coaxed into a raging madness.

             A slow smile spread over our faces. It was time to stir the cauldron.

           Macbeth trusted us utterly. We looked into the future and saw his ascension to being the Thane of Cawdor, all the way to being king. With a little help from his cunning wife, he was able to be coaxed into murdering the king of Scotland. Of course, we left out the ensuing chaos that we saw in his future as a result of this act. We merely informed him that there was power in his future.

            Each time we saw him, the great Lord Macbeth’s eyes grew wilder. Each time he spoke to us, his voice lost its steady calm ring. Each time he walked into our cave, his gait became more and more hurried. We watched over him with our crystal ball. It was us who summoned the ghost of Banquo and sent him to torture Macbeth into shameful silence.

          One day in the dark winter, our Lady Hecate discovered the game we were playing. Her rage was colder and more furious than any snowstorm we have ever endured. In her rage, she stooped so low that she made an appearance in our filthy cave. If only such an honor had been under better circumstances. Still, even the threats of our Lady were not enough to stop Macbeth, who was heading straight for a massive collision.

    The last time we saw him, we knew that his time was almost up. We looked into his future and saw a mighty army led by the dead King’s sons. We saw the army cutting boughs off of trees and carrying them up the hill towards Macbeth’s castle. Cackling to ourselves, we told him to fear the forest coming to attack him.

            Macbeth, the fool, believed us, and in the short time after this meeting his life fell entirely to shreds.

    We are watching his wife as she succumbs to the tumor of guilt festering inside her heart. We are watching him as a mighty warrior and he engage in hand-to-hand combat, and we are watching as Lord Malcolm finally avenges his family and manages to kill Mac-


    We scream as the temperature suddenly drops drastically low.  We look around—what’s going on? Our crystal gazing ball begins to dim and flicker, and as we watch the glow of it’s all—knowing beauty fades away. The fire crackling under our cauldron winks out in the blink of an eye.

    Hecate knows what we have done.

    Form III:  Age 12

     Describe your favorite scene in Macbeth.

         My favorite scene is in the very beginning where Macbeth and Banquo had just finished visiting the three witches. Macbeth was told by the three witches that he would become king over the land. Now when he told his wife about it, he was still debating as to whether or not he should do something about it. But his wife had given into the temptation right when he told her about the visit with the three twitches. And she nagged and persuaded him to act it, thus fulfilling the prophecies. He didn’t know how to act until Lady Macbeth said, “Tonight there is a banquet where all is invited, after the king, Duncan has drunk his fill and fallen into a deep sleep. I will put wine into the guards’ food to make them also drowsy. Then you will sneak into Duncan’s room and kill him while he is sleeping. Afterwards make sure to spread Duncan’s blood over the hands of the sleeping guard.” Macbeth had given into his dark temptation and excited to become king, acted out what his wife had told him to do. But guilt washed over him so that he couldn’t finish the job. Lady Macbeth called him a coward before entering the dead king’s chamber. When she entered the room, she was horrified to see that the dead king looked quite like her dear father: still, she hardened her heart, took in a deep breath and completed the brutal job.
          The very next morning, when the castle learned of Duncan’s tragic fate, they were in hysterics and were all too quick to blame things on the confused guards. Everyone was crying, weeping, as well Lady Macbeth and Macbeth who played their parts quite well so that they weren’t suspected at all. Those who were also scared they might be suspected fled to England, Ireland, anywhere they would be safe from the rage driven Scottish men.

    © 2018 by Bonnie Buckingham

  • 31 Dec 2017 8:34 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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?”  (Mason, 1989B, pp. 170-171) 

    This question of Mason’s—“Not how much does the youth know, but how much does he care”—is echoed by James K. Smith: “What if education weren’t first and foremost about what we know but about what we love” (p. 138).  It is a question that forms and directs the education of my children and one that is the bedrock of what, how and why I teach.  As I worry over that question in my mind, I keep coming to the thought that love only happens when you have a deep connection or relationship with someone. Without a relationship, there isn’t love. 

    Ultimately, our goal in education, in life, is that we are in relationship with God.  That He is in our thoughts, our minds, our hearts and that we live and move in Him.  How do we do that?  How do we form our character so that we live for Him?  It depends on what we love.  We have been given a living example in Christ.  “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love . . .” (Eph.5:1, NET Bible).  Love for what, for whom? Is not that what we are trying to find out as we learn to be imitators? The connections—relationships—we make form who we are. And those we learn to love, whether they are people in our present or people in the past, they change us. The connections we form with them informs our own character.  And as James Smith says, “You are what you love.”

    So how do we connect with people in our present?  It seems simple, right?  We talk to them, discover who they are, what makes them tick. It’s not too difficult to do with those you are already attached to. It’s much more difficult and requires effort, with those you aren’t. Sometimes conversations never get past the small talk, something that is more and more true with our new world of social media where conversations are considered complete with an LOL or three-word text. It’s hard to get past the surface. But in order to form a relationship with anyone, we have to! 

    My son has a new girlfriend.  Alyssa is brilliantly gifted in a field—namely chemistry—that is a frightfully elusive subject to me and as I drove her home the first time we met, I was wracking my brain to find something to talk about. I brought up the fact that I had made a new glaze for my pottery—and then the spark ignited. She lit up as she examined the details of the chemical problem I was having.  Although I may only have understood one in ten words, the joy and excitement that came bubbling from her was joy to me. I had discovered her “bent leather!”  We had made a connection and I had a little glimpse into her soul. The spark of a relationship.

    Our family has continually talked about Mason’s “bent leather.” In her Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education, Mason (1989A) says, “Perhaps there is no better way of measuring a person of liberal education than by the number of substantives he is able to use with familiarity and discrimination. We remember how Scott tried a score of openings with the man on the coach and got no further until he hit upon ‘bent leather;’ then the talk went merrily for the man was a saddler. We have all had such experiences, and know to our shame that we ourselves have victimized interlocutors who have not been able to find our particular ‘bent leather’” (p. 261).  This story has become our mantra when meeting someone new; everyone has a story, a passion, and it is up to us to find it in them if we ever hope to make a connection. 

    This chance conversation with Alyssa has stuck in my mind for weeks now and I wonder if this idea may be the most important thing that Mason has taught me and that I in turn have sought to teach my children.  Could it be that of all the things we learn, the connections one makes with people—past or present—are what last?  Of all the things I’ve ever taught my children in the past eighteen years, I wonder if what sticks in the end, what forms them, will be simply that: if they have formed a relationship with or made a real connection with a person or idea, it will stay with them.  If not, it will not stay with them.

    I can think of four simple daily practices that are building blocks for forming relationships with people in the past.  Narrations, Commonplace book entries, the Way of the Will chart and our Grand Conversations have been vital in solidifying the connections formed in our readings. Each one of them in turn challenges the learner to look inward, because a real relationship goes both ways—you invest in a person, and you receive back.  Imagine spending a month, maybe a few months, sometimes a year, reading a great book about a certain person. All year that person will be with you, in the back of your mind. You may question their motives, become angry when they make a poor choice, rejoice when they act the way you hoped they would. Spending all that time thinking about them, they become close to you. Mason (1989A) puts it this way:  “ . . . that only becomes knowledge to a person which he has assimilated, which his mind has acted upon” (p.12). 

    “Mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated. For this reason we owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books.” (p. 12) 

    These books are the springboard to forming relationships. The follow-up is just as important. This is the point of narrations. We hope that in the telling back of a reading, in the writing, acting, drawing, speaking narrations that we continually ask for, the ideas will somehow stick. Sometimes it becomes rote. But something else happens in the telling back: the children put into words what has moved them. And that is when I think it not only sticks, but starts to influence and shape them, to become them. The same thing happens with our Commonplace entries. The lines from books, poems, Shakespeare that grab us, we write down, keep, read and re-read and link us to the speaker. Again, they become a part of us; it is this connection with an idea or person that has power to move and shape us.

    Knowing how important and life-shaping a meaningful relationship is, I sometimes try to force it.  It feels that way with our Way of the Will chart sometimes.  Each Friday my kids are to choose a person—real or fictional—that they have met that week and describe their character: whether this person is governed by will for good or ill, or whether they are willful.  This always sparks the rather frustrated discussion of what part of the person’s life they are referring to.  People are not always consistently governed by will or willful! They change and its not easy to slot them into a neat compartment.  But as my kids objectively try to understand the people they have met, admired or despised, they continue to form that relationship with them, clarifying the reasons they are drawn to or repelled from them.  And as that relationship is formed, it in turns forms my children. 

    Lastly, as the kids grow older I find that oral narrations quickly turn into discussions; that the sharing of Commonplace quotes turn into discussions; that the Way of the Will choice is frequently disputed, as they dig into the character of the people they have met. Our post-reading time sometimes takes longer than the readings and has become the most valuable time of our day. The discussions, or Grand Conversations, are a time of digesting and assimilating our knowledge and contribute to the forming of a lasting relationship with the character in question. Best of all, they open a door to discussing who we are, what we want to be, what we care about, what we believe. Through the Holy Spirit’s guiding, prompting and directing, our conversations go to the heart of learning: what do we love? 

    As we continue throughout our whole lives to learn and grow, it is my prayer that we will strive to build a real relationship with people we meet today and those we read about from the past so that we will not become static, but will be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind. Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV).


    Mason, C.M. (1989A). A philosophy of education. Wheaton, IL; Tyndale House. (Original work published in 1925). 

    Mason, C.M. (1989B). School education. Charlotte Mason Research & Supply.  (Original work published 1925).

    Smith, J.K. (2016). You are what you love:  the spiritual power of habit. Grand Rapids, MI:  BrazosPress.

    ©  2018 Sandra Zuidema

  • 19 Dec 2017 1:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Last year about this time I met a young woman at our monthly local CM book study. She shared her dream of starting a Charlotte Mason tutorial in our area. She asked me to pray about how I might be a part. As providence would have it, circumstances allowed me to say yes to being one of four tutors at this new endeavor.

    It was quite heady to be in on the ground floor for the planning, the praying, the hoping, and the sharing of ideas. I stood amazed as her dreams became reality and this past fall, Ingleside Tutorial opened its doors to 24 students in a charming house on a lake. The students are in grades 1 – 6 for a four-hours a day, four days a week homeschool tutorial. 

    Even though I had been using Mason’s ideas and philosophy to educate my own children for the past twenty plus years, the tutorial board insisted on sending me to two rounds of training at Ambleside Schools International. Honestly, I tried to tell them that the money would be better spent on books for the tutorial! Not that I knew everything, but I had been reading and studying the Charlotte Mason Method ever since I had toddlers and the training at ASI did not come cheap. But the board insisted on sending me and so I went for one long weekend to observe the Ambleside School in action in Fredericksburg, TX and for another week to an intensive teacher training in Minneapolis, MN.

    Of course it is always enjoyable and inspirational to read from Charlotte Mason’s writings and to discuss their ideas with other Charlotte Mason instructors. It was quite the challenge to have to narrate in front of others after we read Mason’s writings! I especially enjoyed sitting under the teaching of folk whose books and articles I have read (Bill and Maryellen St. Cyr). Seeing how Mason’s principles function in a small private school setting with real teachers and real students was encouraging as I thought about the coming year.  

    Here are some of my gleanings from that first weekend of training at Ambleside Fredericksburg.

    One of the principle ideas of the teacher training was that education is formation, not just information. In teaching our children we are forming them with ideas, with habits, with truth, goodness and beauty. We are not just ticking off boxes, and filling up brain space. Your child is a person and how you teach can affirm their personhood. He or she is a relational being, not just a rational being. God created us for relationship, for conversation, and for sharing.

    Charlotte Mason says, “What we call ‘science’ is too much with us. We must either reverence or despise children; and while we regard them as incomplete and underdeveloped beings, rather than weak and ignorant persons, whose weakness we must inform and whose weakness we must support, but whose potentialities are as great as our own, we cannot do otherwise than despise children, however kindly or even tenderly we commit the offence.”  (Mason, 1911, pp. 421-422).  What she is saying, it seems to me, is that we can regard our children as incomplete and underdeveloped beings or as weak and ignorant little persons. When we see them as the former, we will assume that they need to be remolded into our image of a good student or a good child. But if we respect them as persons, albeit weak and ignorant, then we see their potential, we recognize we need to come alongside them, we need to form their character and feed their mind with ideas. This is the job description of a teacher, of a homeschool mom.

    We must teach our children that work is not a negative thing. The word work must be redeemed in our culture. Too often we as parents chime along with the world in giving our children a negative view of work. We label our weekdays with Wednesday being hump day, the day to get over so we are on the weekend side of the week. We say TGIF and look eagerly toward the weekend. Work is something to get over, to quickly get done. The workweek must be endured until the weekend is here at last, and we can finally enjoy ourselves. To view work this way is a huge disservice to our children. Instead we should say there is a set time for set work. Work is what we are called to do; we are called to be productive, to use our talents and abilities as God has given them. Doing our work well blesses us and blesses others.

    If you ask an 8-year-old child what does it mean to be an adult, most likely you will get the answer, “it means I get to do what I want.” Our culture reinforces this idea. Commercials tell us that we should have it the way we want it, that the product is what we want, and that we do after all deserve it. We tell our children in any number of ways, subtle and not so subtle that the fullness of life is doing what we want.

    Here is what Charlotte Mason says: “In the very act of giving their freedom to children we impose fetters which will keep them enslaved all their lives. That is because we confound liberty with license and do not perceive that the two cannot co-exist . . . The child who has learned that, by persistent demands, he can get leave to do what he will, and have what he likes whether he do so by means of stormy outcries or by his bewitching, wheedling ways, becomes the most pitiable of all slaves, the slave to chance desires” (Mason, 1911, p. 423).

    What is the antidote? Miss Mason continues, “Let him learn that ‘do as you are bid’ is a child’s first duty; that the life of his home is organized on a few such injunctions as ‘be true,’ ‘be kind,’ ‘be courteous,’ ‘be punctual,’ and that to fail in any of these respects is unworthy and unbecoming” (Mason, 1911, p. 424).

    To this quote, I added in my notes: Children today do not learn the meaning of “must.” What is more, their parents do not teach them that they too live by the rule of must. Instead parents today present an image of unlimited choices, of feeding all their wants, of fulfilling all their desires. Parents should make a point of letting children know that the dishes must be washed, the laundry must be folded, and the meals must be cooked. Children, who see their parents fulfilling duties, will be more likely not to shirk their own. Again parents can come alongside children and help them to fulfill their duties. A conversation over bedtime is not “you are going to go to bed at 9:00 pm” but rather, “your body must have 10 hours of sleep to function at its best, I am here to help you accomplish this. What time you do need to go to bed in order to ensure that you get 10 hours of sleep?” Now it is not the father’s will over the child’s but it is the child realizing that if he needs 10 hours of sleep, his parents are his allies in getting this accomplished.

    And finally Mason says, “Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food” (Mason, 1925, p. 109).

    I hope you have enjoyed these readings and notes on my training time. It is exciting to see all the forms that a CM education is taking in our communities. Our journey does not end when our children are graduated. There are exciting possibilities ahead. What part will you play?


    Mason, C.M. (1911). Children are born persons. Parents’ Review, 22. Issue 6. 419-437. 

    Mason, C.M. (1925).  An essay towards a philosophy of education.  Retrieved from AmblesideOnline.org. 

    © 2017 Jeannette Tulis

  • 10 Dec 2017 5:29 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Most of us encounter Charlotte Mason when exploring educational options, but before long we learn that her perspective on education embraces far more than science, history, or the arts. We find that her educational philosophy grows from an understanding of persons. Viewing others as made in the image of God, each one reflecting his nature, expands our perspective on education beyond knowledge for intellectual development of persons. We discover that the living ideas and habits fit for us as persons nourish our character to grow into all we were ever meant to be as persons.

    In her book Ourselves, a narrative account full of living ideas of what it means to be born persons,  Mason masterfully unfolds the realms of personhood. Over and over, she asserts that attributes of God are within us, part of our person, and need only to be nourished and practiced to become habits of life. She writes for example, that our hearts have inborn desires for love and justice, shown by the existence of such character qualities as kindness, sympathy, humility, courage, and loyalty. Cultivation of these natural qualities of persons by knowledge and formation of habits strengthens us to fulfill the law of God to love our neighbor as ourself and to love the God in whose image we are made.

    Take, for example, her explanation of generosity. In this season of gift giving it is easy to see demonstrations of generosity all around us. Even the myth of Santa Claus reveals our longing for liberal distribution to all. Everywhere we turn there are opportunities to give charitably for the needs of others. Our minds are occupied and our eyes confronted with boundless options for ministering to the needs and pleasures of others.

    Mason asserts that generosity is not exclusively a characteristic of a few noble individuals, but exists within us all:

    The nature of Generosity is to bring forth, to give, always at the cost of personal suffering or deprivation, little or great. There is no generosity in giving what we shall never miss and do not want; this is mere good-nature, and is not even kindness, unless it springs out of a real thought about another person's needs. (Ourselves, p. 104)

    Mason describes her notion of generosity as “large trustfulness.” Generosity comes from the heart, and affects our thoughts, attitudes, and interactions with others. In each instance, it puts aside self and cost to self in order to give the best of our thoughts and attitudes toward others, whether individuals, groups, or countries. Guardedness, suspicion, and widely held prejudices have no part in generosity.   Taking the generous road in these areas usually does cost us something.

    I remember puzzling over the verse in the famous “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13: “Love trusts at all times.” Surely this could not mean in cases where I knew the person to be untrustworthy? Clearly, Mason’s idea of generosity gives room for second chances for others. In Christianity, we allow no place for bitterness or grudges. Surely such thoughts focus on self more than what is best for the other. A generous person, Mason remarks, may come to the end of life without a long list of the ways he has been cheated or defrauded.

    Mason says, “What magnanimity is to the things of the mind, generosity is to the things of the heart” (p. 104).  Generosity involves more than just the cost to the purse, which we most often associate with generous persons, but is “always costly, because it is always dispersing” (p. 105).  One way she describes that we can prevent ourselves from the narrow view of others, stinginess of thought and attitude, is by cultivating wide and varied interests. The feast we spread for our children lays a foundation for such boundless interests. She encouraged “liberal interpretations” of the ideas of others, the appreciation of which is fostered by those multitudinous interests to which this education introduces our children. Generosity with material things is only an outgrowth of hearts full of concern for the other person, and consideration of circumstances and conditions outside of our own experience.

    And yet, Mason does acknowledge Biblical remuneration when we are always dispersing any goods or goodness to others. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, running over, shall men give into your bosom” (Luke 6:38).  One of the practical rewards we gain, Mason says, is living a life free from anxiety, worries, endless fretting over slights, inequities, or perplexities. The mind set on giving to others has no time for petty grievances.

    She does list a few commonly held views towards others that prevent the “large and warm living” our nature is meant to express and enjoy:

    1.     “Mind your own business.” This principle often springs from a motivation of fear of obligation to others, unworthy protection of self. Naturally, she agrees that we should mind our own work and do our best in the hours we are given, otherwise we are not considering the load we expect others to bear by our negligence. Especially busy mothers, she notes, have an incessant care for others as their daily work. But, work well done in the time allotted leaves time to “throw our interests into outer and wider channels” (p. 106). This is the secret to being a generous person, minding our own work so well, we have more time to spend in work for others, because “the more there is of a person, the better the work will be done”(p. 106).

    2.     “Every man for himself.” Our lives are not our own, she reminds, and wisdom lies in entering into the wide current of life. Our purpose in the world is not for ourselves alone.

    3.     “Every person I have dealings with is worse than myself.” This statement gives us a bit of a jolt. She admits that we don’t speak this one aloud, but nevertheless, it is behind many of our thoughts, attitudes, and consequent actions. Why, she asks do we expect unworthy behavior from others when we would never consider willingly cheating, stealing, lying, or hurting another person ourselves? Just before Jesus command to “give,” noted above, He reminds us that we are children of the Most High, who “is kind to the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35).

    Surely at this Christmas season, we realize this afresh. “While we were yet sinners,” God gave his only Son, the most generous gift ever given: God himself wrapped in swaddling cloths, born in the humblest place, announced to the lowly, ministering to the poor and outcasts, giving regardless of rejection, giving at the cost of His own life—giving largely that we might continue to give largely. “You have received freely, freely give.”


    Mason, C.M. (2017). Ourselves:  our souls and bodies. book 1.  Pennsylvania: Riverbend Press. (Original work published 1905)

    © 2017 Liz Cottrill

  • 03 Dec 2017 9:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    There is a book that is near and dear to my family’s heart.  This book introduced us to a whole new world at the beginning of our Charlotte Mason journey, opening the door to understanding perhaps the greatest writer in the English language. The book is Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb and I would like to share with you some fascinating biographical information, a few details about the book itself, and its place in a Charlotte Mason education.

    December 3rd marks the 253rd anniversary of the birth of Mary Lamb. She was born the third of seven children in the year 1764 in London. Unfortunately, Mary had a mental illness and in 1796 during a particularly horrific episode, murdered her mother. Her devoted younger brother Charles (b. 1775) took over her care and they agreed to remain single the rest of their lives. They were voracious readers, reading and discussing works of great literature and enjoying their literary circles (which included Wordsworth and Coleridge) as much as Mary’s recurring illness would allow. Charles himself left school at 14 when he couldn’t advance, due to a speech impediment. He also suffered from a mild mental illness.  Yet together, these two burst upon the literary scene with a collaboration published in 1807 that is still published and cherished today, some 210 years later.

    The book was groundbreaking in a few ways.  First of all, it didn’t point the moral to the children which was typical of books written for children during that time. Second, it was real literature – well written, interesting, and beautiful. And thirdly, it was the first retelling of a classic for children.  A Critical History of Children’s Literature describes the creation of Tales:

    Mary paraphrased the comedies and Charles, the tragedies. The project itself was a difficult one and left little chance for much of their own character and style to be represented. But it is remarkable how well they have avoided pure summary of the immortal William’s intricate and sometimes incredible plots. They capture the spirit and essence of each play, and they give one so strong of a sense of the central character and his or her vital problem, that even a young mind can get an immediate unity of impression to carry away with him until the high moment when he reads and then sees the play in its own form (Meigs, Eaton, Nesbitt, Viguers,  1953).

    For over 100 years the book was under Charles’ name only, despite the fact that the book was Mary’s idea, that she wrote 16 of the 20 tales (the comedies and romances), and that she wrote most of the Preface.  It should be noted that in 1893, 87 years after the publication of Tales, Harrison S. Morris wrote retellings of 16 plays that the Lambs did not cover, also titled Tales From Shakespeare.

    Interestingly, the book was written mainly for girls.  The educational opportunities for girls were slim when it was written and this excerpt from the Preface makes it clear that sisters would not have access to the original plays as early as their brothers would.

    It was no easy matter to give the histories of men and women in terms familiar to the apprehension of a very young mind. For young ladies too, it has been the intention chiefly to write; because boys being generally permitted the use of their fathers’ libraries at a much earlier age than girls are, they frequently have the best scenes of Shakespeare by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book; and, therefore, instead of recommending these Tales to the perusal of young gentlemen who can read them so much better in the originals, their kind assistance is rather requested in explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest for them to understand: and when they have helped them to get over the difficulties, then perhaps they will read to them (carefully selecting what is proper for a young sister’s ear) some passage which has pleased them in one of these stories, in the very words of the scene from which it is taken; and it is hoped they will find that the beautiful extracts, the select passages, they may choose to give their sisters in this way will be much better relished and understood from their having some notion of the general story from one of these imperfect abridgments; which if they be fortunately so done as to prove delightful to any of the young readers, it is hoped that no worse effect will result than to make them wish themselves a little older, that they may be allowed to read the Plays at full length (Lamb, Lamb, 1918).

    Thankfully, this is not the state of things today. And those of us practicing Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and methods are placing the real, unabridged plays into the hands of our students around the ages of 9 or 10. While we admire the sensitive, caring brother mentioned here, we recognize today that sister’s mind is equally keen to enjoy and understand the plays.

    I assumed that Charlotte Mason used Tales from Shakespeare in her schools and I examined the archives and only found about two dozen references to Tales. Most often it was included in  listings of recommended books for sale through the PNEU bookstore with comments like “these tales have proved favourite children’s reading for one hundred and fifty years” (PNEU, 1957) or a Parents’ Review article which said of Tales as belonging to a list of books that “all children before they are, say, sixteen should have read”(PNEU, 1906). Only in a Parents’ Review article by Charlotte Mason’s close friend, Henrietta Franklin, do I see it used in school as a text for a reading lesson:

    Class IB.—Children averaging from seven and a half, to nine. Here the same time-table is used, but the reading lessons are less frequent, and are taken out of such books as Old Tales from British History, Tales from Westminster Abbey, Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, The Heroes of Asgard (PNEU, 1909).

    Since the reading books were taken from the set books under Tales, History, and Geography for the form, one assumes that Tales was part of the programme, yet we don’t see it actually listed. So while this children’s classic is spoken of warmly and was a recommended book for the home library, it appears to have been used only sparingly in the PNEU schools, if at all. Considering that students began reading the full plays with their own copies of Blackie’s Plain Text editions (which were simply the text of Shakespeare’s plays with no omissions or annotations) in Form II and that there likely was more of a cultural exposure to Shakespeare in England, perhaps the Tales were not deemed the necessary prerequisite as they may be today, given our different context.

    I know that when my children were very young (ages 4-8) we loved reading and narrating many of the Tales from Shakespeare, often with  props such as beanie babies and dolls. Sometimes we read them just for fun, too. These retellings became a happy time of cozy reading, a fabulous preparation before viewing a performance, and the best bridge to the real deal, which was soon begun in earnest. I think the Lambs sum things up nicely at the end of their Preface:

    What these Tales shall have been to the young readers, that and much more it is the writers’ wish that the true Plays of Shakespeare may prove to them in older years,—enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity: for of examples, teaching these virtues, his pages are full (Lamb, Lamb, 1918).

    You can find this book at http://amzn.to/2AtmX6L.  It is published by Yesterday's Classics.


    Lamb, C., Lamb, M. (1918). Tales from Shakespeare, preface, xiii-xv.

    Meigs, C., Eaton, A.T., Nesbitt, E. & Viguers, R.H. (1953). A critical history of children’s   literature, 90.

    PNEU. (1957). Books. Parents’ Review, 68. London: Parents’ National Educational Union, 279.

    PNEU. (1908). Our children’s play: their toys and books. Parents’ Review, 17, London: Parents’ National Educational Union, 375.

    PNEU. (1909). The home training of children. Parents’ Review20, London: Parents’ National Educational Union, 20-26.

    Nancy Kelly writes about her experiences living and teaching the Charlotte Mason philosophy and method at her blog, Sage Parnassus.

    © 2017 by Nancy Kelly

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