Charlotte Mason described her approach to education in three words; she said, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” We’ve already looked at the first two words. Today let’s talk about Education is a Life.

“My children are bored stiff with this curriculum. And the problem is that it’s not the first time. We’ve tried three different publishers’ materials,” confessed Colleen. “Nothing seems to work.”

Colleen would benefit by remembering Charlotte’s phrase, “Education is a life.” This facet is probably the most familiar of Charlotte’s ideas. She wanted education to be alive to the children, to give their minds the nourishment of living ideas instead of dry facts.

One way she made education “living” was by using living books. A living book is a book written by one author with a passion for the subject and written in narrative or story form. These books draw the reader into the storyline and make the events come alive.

But an education based on living ideas is more than just living books. Charlotte wanted to introduce the children to the great ideas of men and women in the past, and those ideas can also be communicated through art and music. So Charlotte used picture study and music study as part of her generous curriculum. In fact, all of her methods complement this idea of education’s being alive. Take a look at this quick list of her methods and see how they concentrate on communicating great ideas, not just dry facts.

  • Living Books: Reading a book written by one author with a passion for the subject and written in narrative or story form.
  • Narration: Asking the child to tell back in his own words what he just saw, read, or heard.
  • Book of Centuries: Each student adds information, sketches, and reminders into his timeline-in-a-book as he reads about historical events and people.
  • Hands-on Math: An emphasis on understanding the concepts, using manipulatives, before working with the symbols on paper.
  • Nature Study: Spending time outside looking at God’s creation, sketching and describing in a nature notebook any item of interest, then identifying and labeling it with the help of field guides.
  • Copywork: Practicing handwriting by carefully copying passages from living sources, like Scripture, poetry, or living books.
  • Dictation: Learning spelling (and reinforcing punctuation and grammar) by studying a selected sentence or passage from a living book rather than just a list of words.
  • Picture Study: Looking at an artist’s work until you can close your eyes and see it clearly in your mind, then hiding the original work and narrating what it looks like.
  • Music Study: Listening to a composer’s work until you become familiar with his music and style of composition.

With curriculum we too often settle for what looks easy rather than going on a treasure hunt for what is living. Education is a life teeming with ideas. Let’s spread the feast of living ideas before our children rather than handing them dry factual crumbs.

If you have missed any of the posts in this series, you can read them by using the links below. Next week we hope to have a little surprise for you as we finish our discussion of Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life!