Charlotte Mason in Three Words

People use all kinds of words to describe a Charlotte Mason education. What three words would you use to describe it? Well, in a passage in The Story of Charlotte Mason, I came across a little excerpt from a letter that Charlotte wrote in which she described her philosophy, and she used three words to describe it. Today, we want to discuss those three words and here to join me is my friend and coworker, Laura Pitney.

Sonya: You ready to hear the three words?

Laura: I’m ready. It’s a mystery. Let’s hear it.

Sonya: All right, the three words she used are beautiful, expansive, and efficient.

Laura: Those are great words.

Sonya: It’s an interesting choice of words. She said that her philosophy was a beautiful, expansive, and efficient philosophy of education. Let’s go through each one and talk about it. First, beautiful. How do you see a Charlotte Mason education as a beautiful philosophy?

Laura: The first thing that comes to my mind is all the stories, pictures, scenes, and plays that happen in your mind. When you’re describing her educational philosophy as beautiful, that’s immediately where my mind goes. I think of all the places I get to travel and I get to experience, all the beautiful things in my mind that my mind’s eye can see any time it wants. That’s the first thing that came to my mind. I also think about the beauty of how it reaches each individual so differently. We’re not boxing in the children or ourselves. There is beauty in how it connects and helps each person to grow and develop and mature. It’s a beautiful thing that I see happening in my own family.

Sonya: Yes. Along with what you see in your imagination and the individuality of it, I love those two points, I also was thinking of all of the ideas that we get, that they are good and noble and beautiful. Even if we’re dealing with a hard topic in history, we come at it from a character standpoint and looking at it from “What can we learn from this?” So it is good, noble, beautiful ideas that we’re feeding our children. I like that.

All right, beautiful, expansive. When I first heard this, I immediately thought of the large room that Charlotte talks about. We put our children’s feet in a large room educationally. Along with that is the science of relations, because when you make a relation with one thing in the world, Charlotte said, you find out it’s connected to everything else in the world somehow. So it’s like it just keeps growing and growing and expanding all these relations and knowledge.

Laura: For sure. I think of how it’s comforting because I don’t have to teach my children everything they could possibly know in the 12 years I have them for their schooling.

Sonya: Which is impossible to do.

Laura: But for some reason we think we have to do that. It’s a comfort knowing that this philosophy allows them to expand over their lifetime. And that’s just comforting to me that it’s not all on my shoulders.

It’s a comfort knowing that this philosophy allows our children to expand over their lifetime.

Sonya: That’s a great way to look at it. I love that idea. All right, so it’s beautiful, it’s expansive. Charlotte said it was efficient. How do you see that one?

Laura: I can see the efficiency of it is in the fact that we’re not covering up and adding to things that don’t necessarily matter. So if we’re studying a specific topic in history, we’re going to relate to that topic through that living book or maybe a hands-on field trip. We’re living it out as closely as we can. There’s not a lot of fluff or distractions when you are studying topics. They’re there, but because this philosophy weeds out the things that are more of a checklist mentality versus the relationship mentality, that makes it more efficient. You’re connecting with the topics more genuinely. In addition, the habits behind all of it—the full attention, the best effort, neatness, all those mental, moral, physical habits that are so important to her philosophy—help you be more an efficient person.

Sonya: As you were saying, you weed out the busy work. Charlotte was not into busy work. But then those habits come into play in our schoolwork as well as in life in general. And because of those habits, Charlotte said, that’s why we can do short lessons. That’s why we can be done by lunch, because the children have been trained and practice full attention, best effort, and making those personal connections. So even though we’re done with formal lessons by lunch, then the expansive part kicks in and they keep wanting to learn more and more about other things in the afternoon. And that’s a beautiful thing. So the three all go together! I think those were wonderful choices of words.

Laura: And I think those are words people can relate to easily versus having maybe a technical definition of what the philosophy is. Because I know in my experience when somebody new finds out that we homeschool using the Charlotte Mason education, the person looks at you like you have two heads most of the time. I mean, it is becoming more well known, but to be able to put those such concise words that really define what we believe in is very helpful to not have two heads. Even her use of those words that are common vocabulary, it gives people a good visual for what it is, and then it’s like, “Oh, that makes sense” and “let me tell you some more,” or it allows opportunities for people to ask questions. “What does that mean that you think is beautiful? Like how could schooling be beautiful?”

Sonya: “How is it efficient? In what way is it efficient?”

Laura: “Because I need to be more efficient.” It could just open the door for planting seeds of a philosophy that might work for you or, “Oh, you’ve never heard of habits. Well, let me tell you about it and why they’re important.” Even her choice of words is a way that we can connect with other people, whether they’ve heard of the philosophy or not.

Sonya: That’s a great point. Thanks.

Laura: Thanks.