New suit

For those of you who are just starting out with narration—or for anyone who would welcome a good dose of courage and confidence—we are happy to present this guest blog post from Karen Andreola. Read and be encouraged!

When a student starts narrating for the first time it is like trying on a new suit of clothes. Miss Charlotte Mason would call this suit self-education. And a very fine suit of clothes it is—with room to grow. One that too few students have the opportunity to try on for size. Why? Out of insecurity perhaps, or out of a need to ensure a good showing of right answers on tests, or to create an impressive paper trail, teachers do too much for students.

“If we give him watered-down material, many explanations, much questioning, if we over-moralize, depend on the workbook to work the mind, what thinking is left for the child to do? How is his mind to grow?” (A Charlotte Mason Companion, p. 41). These are questions I pose in my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion, where I offer a refreshing perspective of learning.

A child’s mind feeds on ideas. These ideas are found in books of literary quality. A student digests this mind-food by narrating—that is, telling back the passage of the book in his own words. After a while he develops a taste for knowledge. With each new idea digested and each new bit of knowledge made personal, he grows.

“Miss Mason believed that there is no education but self-education. Our business, she said, was to give him mind-stuff. Both quantity and quality are essential. . . . Self-education by means of living books, narration, first-hand experience and observation is such a very satisfying and rewarding process that it naturally continues throughout life” (A Charlotte Mason Companion, pp. 43, 44).

A Horse Light in Hand

During our fist months living here in Pennsylvania Dutch Country I was waiting at a traffic light. I looked in my rear-view mirror in surprise. “Oh my, there’s the face of a horse . . . in the mirror!” Directly behind my car were a horse and buggy. During that time it was no easy task to teach our children how to drive with the added feature of passing buggies safely. Horses are less predictable than cars.

Since first reading the following paragraph in Miss Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy of Education in the 1980s I’ve returned to it for encouragement, again and again. Miss Mason assumes that her readers, who were born in the 19th century, are familiar with the behavior of horses on the road.

Miss Mason wrote:

“In urging a method of self-education for children in lieu of the vicarious education which prevails, I should like to dwell on the enormous relief to teachers, a self-sacrificing and greatly overburdened class; the difference is just that between driving a horse that is light and a horse that is heavy in hand; the former covers the ground of his own gay will and the driver goes merrily. The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding” (Vol. 6, p. 32).

Courage First, Confidence Later

With Charlotte Mason’s method a home teacher can hold the reigns of the buggy lightly. She is her student’s guide, philosopher and friend. Before long she is likely to witnesses a remarkable ability in her children to be self-educated, particularly while listening to her students narrate from a “city of books.” Confidence will come by and by. In the meantime, she holds the reigns with courage as she walks on new ground. A certain amount of trial and error within her lessons inevitably takes place.

Narrating from books takes adjustment. Passages for narrating can be as short as a paragraph at first. Over time they should lengthen. Even a high school student new to narration can start with something short and meaningful. Aesop’s fables were written for adults back in the ancient Greek days. I always recommend these. A subject that the student finds most interesting is also a good place to start.

Teaching Less, Learning More

The home teacher herself is learning. Perhaps she is reading aloud books she had never read in her childhood. Or, she is getting outside with her children, noticing things in nature she had never noticed before. Indoors she is looking closely at artwork with her children that she might never have seen in her youth. She might also be familiarizing herself with the classical music that is strange to her. It is a new style of educating and she is finding joy in it. A guide, philosopher and friend can drive lightly because she relies on daily discipline.

Charlotte Mason takes no credit for being the first to recognize the advantages of self-education. She refers to the Christian educator, John Amos Comenius (1592—1670) at the very start of her book Philosophy of Education: “. . . that golden rule of which Comenius was in search has discovered itself, the Rule,—‘Whereby teachers shall teach less and scholars shall learn more’ ” (Vol. 6, p. 8).

Keep up the good work young mother and your children will be life-long learners. With the Charlotte Mason method you with both put on a new suit of clothes, one of self-education, with room to grow.

Karen Andreola

In 1987, while living in Bromley, England, Karen Andreola began extensive research into Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy and methods in preparation for educating her children at home. After returning to the United States, in 1989 she and her husband Dean began the Charlotte Mason Research & Supply Company with the republishing of the classic six-volume Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series. The writings had been out of print in their entirety for nearly 80 years.

Karen has continued to spread the word about Charlotte’s “gentle art of learning” over the years through her books, The Charlotte Mason Companion, Pocketful of Pinecones, and Lessons at Blackberry Inn. Besides writing, Karen enjoys knitting, historical girlhood samplers, flowers, and cozy fires in the large colonial fireplace at her home in the heart of Amish country. You can read more of Karen’s ideas and gentle encouragement at her blog, Moments with Mother Culture.


  1. Thank you, Karen. And thank you SCM for allowing Karen to have a voice here. Her experience and encouragement add much to the lives of those of us who are traveling the road Charlotte Mason paved. So glad to read more of her wisdom here.

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