However, a truly Charlotte Mason education begins well before the books. See all of volume 1 for instance, or ch. 8 of volume 4;
“…most of ‘our’ mothers would feel disgraced if her child of six were not able to recognise any ordinary British tree from a twig with leaf buds only. It’s Nature’s lore, and the children take to it like ducks to the water. The first seven or eight years of their lives are spent out of doors in all possible weather learning this sort of thing, instead of pottering over picture books and ABC. “
“Away with books, and ‘reading to’–for the first five or six years of life. The endless succession of story-books, scenes, shifting like a panorama before the child’s vision, is a mental and moral dissipation; he gets nothing to grow upon, or is allowed no leisure to digest what he gets.” (CM’s OHS, V5, p.216)
Miss Mason suggested learning good stories by heart- folk and fairy tales, and tales of when mama was a girl- and retelling them to the children. I believe this is important because it helps the children develop and strengthen their ‘mind’s eye,’ their ability to picture things from what they hear.
She disdained twaddle at all ages, and once the children reached school age she advocated wide and generous curriculum based on living books. But what did she mean by twaddle and what did she mean by well-written, or living books? Do our standards measure up How can we know?
One way would be by going through her books or her school programmes and looking at the books she actually used and recommended, and then compare them to the books we consider ‘good’ today. Though I had dabbled in Miss Mason’s ideas from the time we started homeschooling in 1988, it wasn’t until I began looking that books she recommended and comparing them to the books often used today that I started to get serious about using Charlotte Mason’s methods- that was around 1998. I am sharing some of those early research results in this post.
CM followed the typical school years, or forms, for her country and time- those are roughly:
IB (age 6), 1 year, roughly grade 1
IA (age 7-9), 2 years, roughly grade 2 and 3
Form II (roughly grades 4-6)
IIB (age 9), 1 year, roughly grade 4
IIA (age 10-12), 2 years, roughly grade 5 and 6
Form III and IV (roughly grades 7-9)
Form V and VI (roughly grades 10-12)
This post is a very incomplete list compiled from volume 6 only, limited only to the titles she recommended for the little guys, form I, around 6-9. There are just enough titles here to give a general idea of the quality of the literature used in Miss Mason’s schools.
These books are the school foundation. These books, used in forms I and II, are the reason the children in forms V and VI are capable of reading Homer, Pascal, Sophocles, Huxley, et. al.
In the books used in the early years there was a heavy emphasis on pagan myths and fairy tales. I’m just reporting, not advocating one way or another. If you have convictions against these, by all means, do not think I am telling you to read them anyway. On the other hand, checking out one or two of the specific resources may help you choose books that are acceptable to you while still being comparably meaty and rich in vocabulary and sentence complexity.
Here’s another quote from Charlotte:
“We do not say that children should never read well-intentioned second-rate books, but certainly they should not read these in school hours by way of lessons ( page 191 volume 6). NO abridged editions, if the abridgment is simply to make it more exciting, to eliminate “dry” parts. However, “so far as we can get them we use expurgated editions; in other cases the book is read aloud by the teacher with necessary omissions.”
So what did the children read in forms 1 and II?
Age seven were listening to their teachers read aloud from Pilgrim’ Progress chapter by chapter, and about half a dozen other books. She didn’t use an abridged version, and she didn’t use a cartoon. You can download this free version:
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Or get it here.
Miss Mason wrote that children of 8 or 9 were reading a dozen books at a time for school, including history adventures, travels, and poems.
You can look at Tales from Canterbury Cathedral by this author at the Baldwin P r o j e c t
Here’s a sample paragraph:
CANTERBURY Cathedral is full of memorials of soldiers—soldiers of the Church and soldiers of the King. So, close to the monuments of these brave men who fought during the Sikh War for their Queen and country, we come to the two monuments of two soldiers of the Church—Dr. Parry, the first Bishop of Dover, and Dr. Sumner, who was Archbishop of Canterbury more than thirty years ago.
Both of these men gave all their time and all their strength to fight in and for the Church; to make the lives of countless men, women, and children better and happier; to do away with all that is bad; to uphold all that is good, and to help those around them “to fear God and  honour the King,” as the Prayer-book teaches us that all men should do. A clergyman who does all this is, in the best sense of the word, a soldier; and so it seems fitting that these soldiers of the Church should be remembered in Canterbury Cathedral side by side with those other soldiers who were killed while fighting our battles in far-away lands.
But among the many bishops and archbishops buried here, there were some, as you will see when we come to the story of Archbishop Walter, who were soldiers in both senses of the word.
There was once a man who was a Jack-of-all-trades; he had served in the war, and had been brave and bold, but at the end of it he was sent about his business, with three farthings and his discharge.
“I am not going to stand this,” said he; “wait till I find the right man to help me, and the king shall give me all the treasures of his kingdom before he has done with me.”
Then, full of wrath, he went into the forest, and he saw one standing there by six trees which he had rooted up as if they had been stalks of corn. And he said to him,
“Will you be my man, and come along with me?”
“All right,” answered he; “I must just take this bit of wood home to my father and mother.” And taking one of the trees, he bound it round the other five, and putting the faggot on his shoulder, he carried it off; then soon coming back, he went along with his leader, who said,
“Two such as we can stand against the whole world.”
And when they had gone on a little while, they came to a huntsman who was kneeling on one knee and taking careful aim with his rifle.
“Huntsman,” said the leader, “what are you aiming at?”
“Two miles from here,” answered he, “there sits a fly on the bough of an oak-tree, I mean to put a bullet into its left eye.”
“Oh, come along with me,” said the leader; “three of us together can stand against the world.”
The huntsman was quite willing to go with him, and so they went on till they came to seven windmills, whose sails were going round briskly, and yet there was no wind blowing from any quarter, and not a leaf stirred.
Aesop’s Fables. I love the version illustrated by Milo Winter. It’s available here from Gutenberg. These are short and simple little tales, but take a look at the complex vocabulary and sentence structure in this brief example:
The Wolf liked the idea of a little music before eating, so he struck up a merry tune and the Kid leaped and frisked gaily.
Meanwhile, the flock was moving slowly homeward. In the still evening air the Wolf’s piping carried far. The Shepherd Dogs pricked up their ears. They recognized the song the Wolf sings before a feast, and in a moment they were racing back to the pasture. The Wolf’s song ended suddenly, and as he ran, with the Dogs at his heels, he called himself a fool for turning piper to please a Kid, when he should have stuck to his butcher’s trade.
Look at the verbs (struck, leaped, frisked), the adjectives and nouns (merry, homeward, feast).
Mrs. Gatty’s Parables from Nature,available at the Celebration of Women Writers as well as Baldwin.
“I WONDER what becomes of the Frog, when he climbs up out of this world, and disappears, so that we do not see even his shadow; till, plop! he is among us again, when we least expect him. Does anybody know where he goes to? Tell me, somebody, pray!”
Thus chattered the Grub of a Dragon-fly, as he darted about with his numerous companions, in and out among the plants at the bottom of the water, in search of prey.
The water formed a beautiful pond in the centre of a wood. Stately trees grew around it and reflected themselves on its surface, as on a polished mirror; and the bulrushes and forget-me-nots which fringed its sides seemed to have a twofold life, so perfect was their image below.
“Who cares what the Frog does?” answered one of those who overheard the Grub’s inquiry; “what is it to us?”
“Look out for food for yourself,” cried another, “and let other people’s business alone.”
“But I have a curiosity on the subject,” expostulated the first speaker. “I can see all of you when you pass by me among the plants in the water here; and when I don’t see you any longer, I know you have gone further on. But I followed a Frog just now as he went upwards, and all at once he went to the side of the water, and then began to disappear, and presently he was gone. Did he leave this world, do you think? And what can there be beyond?”
At one time some of her stories were reprinted in little hardbacks available in Christian bookstores. I have one called The Story of Benjamin Bee, retold by Pat Wynnejones from Mrs. Gatty’s book, published by Lion Books in 1984 as part of “Hedgerow Tales.” (Don’t confuse these with the set by the same title by Enid Blyton).
I don’t believe they are still in print. I believe Lion books was sold to a larger company.
Andrew Lang’s Tales of Troy and Greece, (“the sonorous beauty of these classical names appeals to them”), cultivate a delight in beautiful names.
LONG ago, in a little island called Ithaca, on the west coast of Greece, there lived a king named Laertes. His kingdom was small and mountainous. People used to say that Ithaca lay like a shield upon the sea, which sounds as if it were a flat country. But in those times shields were very large, and rose at the middle into two peaks with a hollow between them, so that Ithaca, seen far off in the sea, with her two chief mountain peaks, and a cloven valley between them, looked exactly like a shield. The country was so rough that men kept no horses, for, at that time, people drove, standing up in little light chariots with two horses; they never rode, and there was no cavalry in battle: men fought from chariots. When Ulysses, the son of Laertes, King of Ithaca grew up, he never fought from a chariot, for he had none, but always on foot. If there were no horses in Ithaca, there was plenty of cattle. The father of Ulysses had flocks of sheep, and herds of swine, and wild goats, deer, and hares lived in the hills and in the plains. The sea was full of fish of many sorts, which men caught with nets, and with rod and line and hook.
Kingsley’s Water Babies, available at Gutenberg
The Water-Babies version for Kindle at Amazon.
Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom. That is a short name, and you have heard it before, so you will not have much trouble in remembering it. He lived in a great town in the North country, where there were plenty of chimneys to sweep, and plenty of money for Tom to earn and his master to spend. He could not read nor write, and did not care to do either; and he never washed himself, for there was no water up the court where he lived. He had never been taught to say his prayers. He never had heard of God, or of Christ, except in words which you never have heard, and which it would have been well if he had never heard. He cried half his time, and laughed the other half. He cried when he had to climb the dark flues, rubbing his poor knees and elbows raw; and when the soot got into his eyes, which it did every day in the week; and when his master beat him, which he did every day in the week; and when he had not enough to eat, which happened every day in the week likewise. And he laughed the other half of the day, when he was tossing halfpennies with the other boys, or playing leap-frog over the posts, or bowling stones at the horses’ legs as they trotted by, which last was excellent fun, when there was a wall at hand behind which to hide. As for chimney-sweeping, and being hungry, and being beaten, he took all that for the way of the world, like the rain and snow and thunder, and stood manfully with his back to it till it was over, as his old donkey did to a hail-storm; and then shook his ears and was as jolly as ever; and thought of the fine times coming, when he would be a man, and a master sweep, and sit in the public-house with a quart of beer and a long pipe, and play cards for silver money, and wear velveteens and ankle-jacks, and keep a white bull-dog with one gray ear, and carry her puppies in his pocket, just like a man. And he would have apprentices, one, two, three, if he could. How he would bully them, and knock them about, just as his master did to him; and make them carry home the soot sacks, while he rode before them on his donkey, with a pipe in his mouth and a flower in his button-hole, like a king at the head of his army. Yes, there were good times coming; and, when his master let him have a pull at the leavings of his beer, Tom was the jolliest boy in the whole town.
One day a smart little groom rode into the court where Tom lived. Tom was just hiding behind a wall, to heave half a brick at his horse’s legs, as is the custom of that country when they welcome strangers; but the groom saw him, and halloed to him to know where Mr. Grimes, the chimney-sweep, lived. Now, Mr. Grimes was Tom’s own master, and Tom was a good man of business, and always civil to customers, so he put the half-brick down quietly behind the wall, and proceeded to take orders.
I never liked Water Babies much myself, but we did read it with our younger children. It was Pip’s favorite. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a standard for somebody else, since she read it in a single day and she was only about 8 at the time.
Alice in Wonderland, which I assume all of us have seen and read.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on the Kindle for free.
Kipling’s Just So Stories
And several of Kipling’s books in one free version for Kindle: The Works of Rudyard Kipling One Volume Edition
IN the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk. He had only a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot, that he could wriggle about from side to side; but he couldn’t pick up things with it. But there was one Elephant—a new Elephant—an Elephant’s Child—who was full of ‘satiable curtiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions. And he lived in Africa, and he filled all Africa with his ‘satiable curtiosities. He asked his tall aunt, the Ostrich, why her tail-feathers grew just so, and his tall aunt the Ostrich spanked him with her hard, hard claw. He asked his tall uncle, the Giraffe, what made his skin spotty, and his tall uncle, the Giraffe, spanked him with his hard, hard hoof. And still he was full of ‘satiable curtiosity! He asked his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, why her eyes were red, and his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, spanked him with her broad, broad hoof; and he asked his hairy uncle, the Baboon, why melons tasted just so, and his hairy uncle, the Baboon, spanked him with his hairy, hairy paw. And still he was full of ‘satiable curtiosity! He asked questions about everything that he saw, or heard, or felt, or smelt, or touched, and all his uncles and his aunts spanked him. And still he was full of ‘satiable curtiosity!
One fine morning in the middle of the Precession of the Equinoxes this ‘satiable Elephant’s Child asked a new fine question that he had never asked before. He asked, ‘What does the Crocodile have for dinner?’ Then everybody said, ‘Hush!’ in a loud and dretful tone, and they spanked him immediately and directly, without stopping, for a long time.
By and by, when that was finished, he came upon Kolokolo Bird sitting in the middle of a wait-a-bit thorn-bush, and he said, ‘My father has spanked me, and my mother has spanked me; all my aunts and uncles have spanked me for my ‘satiable curtiosity; and still I want to know what the Crocodile has for dinner!’
You can use all these books and still have a Charlotte Mason education. Most homeschoolers know that Miss Mason advocated the use of real, living books. But what’s really important is how she used those books. So a program or study guide may use the same books, yet still not be compatible with a CM education.
Habit training is another key- after all, in her very first volume she devoted 72 pages to this topic alone (Home Education, pp 96-168) Habit shows up in the basic principles she considers so foundational to her method that she lists them in the preface of each of her six volumes, and she says this about her method in the preface of the third edition of volume two:
two main principles are––the recognition of the physical basis of habit, i.e., of the material side of education; and of the inspiring and formative power of ideas, i.e., of the immaterial, or spiritual, side of education. These two guiding principles, covering as they do the whole field of human nature,should enable us to deal rationally with all the complex problems of education…
Two main principles- habit, and inspiration, and the inspiration comes through ideas. More about that here.