A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning

We are honored to have Karen Andreola as a guest writer for today’s post. Her book, A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning, has been a source of inspiration and encouragement for so many of us through the years.

One of our readers, a fellow CM fan, suggested that we contact Mrs. Andreola and get her thoughts on why she considers the Charlotte Mason Method gentle enough to include that word in her book’s title. Below is her gracious and informative reply—a wonderful way to wrap up this discussion on Is Charlotte Mason a Gentle Approach?

Karen Andreola on The Gentle Art of Learning

Greetings Sonya,
The breadth of your work is impressive. Keep teaching.

Thank you for inviting me to share a few thoughts on the subject of “gentle.”

I like reading the comments of your readers. They seem to be dedicated teachers who are intelligent and ponderous.

Looking from a bird’s eye view may I touch upon three ‘ways’ of teaching? (There are more than three, I know.) These thoughts are from one of my blog posts.

Victorian Schoolmaster Model
In one chair we have the Victorian Schoolmaster Model. It relies on subtle threats, grades, place, the classroom lecture, memorization, continual testing, after-hours homework, and competition – shamelessly. Today’s schoolmaster is a character that may not be as recognizably villainous as those portrayed for us in the novels of Charles Dickens. The force, however, of this underlining Victorian method lingers with us today. It is all too common.

The Play Way
In another chair we have the “play way.” On page 38 of Philosophy of Education Miss Mason says, “We give them a ‘play way’ and play is altogether necessary and desirable but is not the avenue which leads to mind.” Well-meaning teachers use praise, prizes, puppets, jokes, flashy DVDs with second by second interludes of information brightly clothed in slapstick or song-and-dance. Fun-and-games can be dominant in lessons that are used to entertain a student into paying attention. But Miss Mason knew that these interrupt a child’s train of thought.

Yielding the Chair to Miss Charlotte Mason
Yielding the chair to Charlotte Mason I see what I consider to be “The Gentle Art of Learning.” She concluded that the Victorian method and the “play way” both presume that children have little (if any) curiosity. Yet, as a young woman curiosity was the first quality Miss Mason observed in children. Therefore, how do we secure attention to do his lessons? It’s simple. We put into his hands and heart books that are interesting.

Interest and curiosity are little pearls of great value in the homeschool.

Living Books
Miss Mason noted that Great Britain could boast a wealth of literary genius yet the schoolbooks were as dry as dust. This was true of my schoolbooks. All throughout my own schooldays I don’t remember being impressed (or awakened) by the information I was supposed to be learning in the standard textbooks. I got by. I passed. But what did I know? In our homeschool I sought to safeguard and satisfy my children’s natural, God-given curiosity. Boredom and tedium close the mind (at least the part that does more than memorize). Entertainment doesn’t use it.

Curiosity however, opens the mind like a flower in sunshine.
(My words – not Miss Mason’s. Can you tell I was a teen in the 1970s?)

Miss Mason’s insistence to use “living books” appealed to me. “How marvelous and courageous of her,” I thought. Living books are interesting because they have ideas woven in them. “Mind must come into contact with mind through the medium of ideas,” Miss Mason says on page 39 of Phil. of Ed.

I remember where I was sitting when I first read the quotation below because it pierced by soul. I was perched on the end of a bed in my parent’s house with an old copy of An Essay Toward a Philosophy of Education open on my lap while my little ones were napping. I should have been too. It was 1987. We had just returned from a mission term in England with Charlotte Mason’s writings in our suitcase. Our airplane had only landed hours ago.

“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.” Pg 32, Phil. of Ed.

This is the kind of teacher I prayed to be for my children – a person of strength who was calm, trusting in a method and therefore, “gentle.”

Living books enabled Miss Mason’s students to more readily narrate. Children did the work of narrating after a single reading (as you mentioned Sonya) rather than exclusively recite from memorization, cram for tests, or stay up late with homework. To tell a passage back in a one’s own words “demands a conscious mental effort from the scholar” Miss Mason said on page 159 in Phil. of Ed. While narrating from their lovely books a child’s mind follows a train of thought, develops powers of imagination, exercises verbal skills. It does the sorting, arranging, sequencing for itself – those things a teacher’s lecture or a workbook page typically take responsibility for.

In Conclusion
We desire our children to use their minds, gain knowledge, and like their school. Lessons may not always be easy or fun but they ought to be interesting. Preserving “the way of interest” within a “life of ideas” will draw both teacher and student pleasantly and gently forward. This “life of ideas” – is one of three tools that we use to educate children. The others (as all of the readers here are probably very familiar with) are atmosphere and discipline.

Today’s modern homeschool mother imparts something of herself into the Charlotte Mason Method when she applies her unique personality as “guide, philosopher and friend.”

Karen Andreola

Post Script: What Dean Made Up

My husband, Dean, would like to tell you how the subtitle to my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion came to be. In his words:

In 1997 Karen asked me to craft a subtitle to her book. To accomplish this, I pictured Karen with the children sitting down to lessons. The word “gentle” stirred in my thoughts. Not a wishy-washy gentle, but gentle like a shepherd leading. You could say that what “I made up” represents my impressions of the Charlotte Mason method lived out in the Andreola household—Charlotte M as seen through a Karen A. filter.

Thanks Sonya, for the opportunity to share this with your readers, Dean Andreola


  1. I think a lot of times people get the words “gentle” and “sentimental” mixed up. I like the image that Dean gives at the end of a shepherd with sheep. This is a much better picture than the flowers and roses image that a CM education sometimes brings to mind for many moms.

    With two teenage boys, we do not do sentimental very well but we do understand the “gentle” guiding and prodding if need be.

    • Great point, Barb. “Gentle” has so many different connotations, it can be hard to get a handle on exactly what we are talking about, but that has to be the first effort in any intelligent discussion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Thank you for including Karen Andreola’s comments. She has been immensely influential in my homeschooling, and I read her Charlotte Mason Companion book every year!

  3. This series has been wonderful! It has really helped clear up the idea of “gentle” in my mind. Thank you for sharing your CM wisdom, Sonya and Karen!

  4. Thanks Mrs. Andreola. Your Companion book is one I refresh myself with often, and also suggest to beginner homeschoolers. You and Sonya are special teachers. God bless.

  5. I enjoy Karen Andreola so much! Her Charlotte Mason Companion is on my nightstand right now. I really began to get an understanding of Charlotte Mason’s methods through that book years ago. In fact, I think I own every book she ever wrote. I wish I could sit down with her and have coffee (tea for her) and thank her for all of the help she has given me over the years.

  6. What a wonderful tribute to a mother-teacher–to be remembered as Gentle.

    James 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

    Thank you SimplyCM and Mrs. Andreola, for your advice and guidance.

    Joy in Nepal

  7. It is a pleasure to read your comments, ladies.

    May I leave you with this?

    We can be gentle with the courage and strength of Dean’s symbol of the shepherd because we recognize and trust that God is our our ever present Helper. And that all education is divine.

    *”We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and the spiritual life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits and is their continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” Isn’t this beautiful?

    *(#20 of synopsis of philosophy)

    I enjoyed our chat and hope to be invited again.
    Karen A.

  8. Mrs. Andreola- Ever since I first heard about Charlotte Mason 12 years ago through your book, I’ve wanted to thank you for introducing her to America. So thank you so much for all you’ve done for homeschooling moms. 🙂
    Her philosophies ring so true with what I believe and it was wonderful to find a kindred spirit in her thoughts and yours and other moms on this website.

    Many blessings to you,

  9. I like the description of the three ways of teaching. I was never comfortable with the first two, having experienced both. Always blessed when brought into the presence of Charlotte’s ideas. Gentleness – what a high calling.

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