Which CM Volume Should You Read First?

CM volume: Miss Mason wrote six books in her series on education. That series is often mistitled the ‘Home Education’ or “Homeschooling Series.” This is not an ideal or accurate description because the books are not really about homeschooling, they are about educating children- at home, in school, in private or public schools, or in night schools for teens who have to work during the day. They are about education and children, period.

Here are the six volumes and their titles (with links to where you can read them online if you like):

Volume 1 – Home Education– written about the education of children from birth to 9
Volume 2 – Parents and Children– stands alone, a collection of articles and essays previously published in various other sources.
Volume 3 – School Education– about the education of children from 9-12
Volume 4 – Ourselves, published in 1904. In it, Miss Mason addressed herself directly to the children, or for parents to read aloud with their children, to help them learn to examine themselves and develop high moral standards and self-control. The first part is for children under age 16. Book two of Ourselves is written for students over 16
Volume 5 – Formation of Character, published in  in 1905, developed from a revision of earlier volumes. Miss Mason explained in the preface to volume 5 (Formation of Character) that “In editing Home Education and Parents and Children for the ‘Home Education’ Series, the introduction of much new matter made it necessary to transfer a considerable part of the contents of those two members of the series to this volume, Some Studies In the Formation of Character.” Her purpose with this volume, she said, was to demonstrate how her methods should assist children to naturally develop and strengthen good character traits, although this may be balanced by her reminder that we must not ‘make character our conscious objective.’
Volume 6 – Towards A Philosophy of Education Miss Mason’s last book, Towards A Philosophy of Education was published in 1923, nearly forty years after her first book.  It is primarily concerned with the education of children and young adults of around 12 and up.  However she also revised her principles in this book, and explained more about her methods and philosophy, revisiting topics covered in previous books.  (some of above information taken from here)

So, which of these should you start with?

I have some suggestions, but keep in mind, I’m not here to tell you a right or a wrong way to do this, because it is my opinion that there really is not a wrong answer, although some choices will make more sense to a new reader than others (i.e. You probably don’t want to begin with 4 or 5 if you’re wanting to find out how the method works).

Most people probably want to begin with volume 1, 3, or 6, as they are about the practical and philosophical application of the principles with specific ages of children. Other than that it doesn’t matter a whole lot where you start.

Yes, I do know there is an article about purporting to be ‘The Truth’ about the alleged folly of starting with volume 6 and why this is WRONG. I read the article, and it was very difficult to take it seriously (word to the wise, a plethora of citations at the end does not prove anything about the quality of the primary document). I will be blunt here.  I am not at all sure that author had actually read all six volumes herself before she wrote that.  My opinion is largely based on a few things within the article.  I am wondering which, if any, she has read from cover to cover, and when she read them.  My curiosity is idle, however, because I see no basis at all for anybody to authoritatively be advising people with such rigidity as to which of the six volumes they should read and in what order.

I do agree with her that the books are interdependent, and you _want_ to read more than one (IF POSSIBLE). It’s ideal to read all of them if at all possible, but I have a lot of sympathy for the overwhelmed mother of 7 who isn’t a speedy reader and who didn’t hear about CM until her kids were already teens because while that is not my story, it’s got quite a few of the same elements.

In the fall of 1987 I was a  mom of 7 (well, 6, one on the way) who considered herself a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, but still had not read all of her books. Er, any of her books. This was because I kept getting tangled in the wool, drains, and open windows of volume 1.  I read For the Children’s Sake in 1988, when my oldest was 5, but I never got beyond the Victoriana cleanliness and health issues of volume 1,  and now my first two kids were teens. I’d read the others, those books *about* Charlotte Mason, in the meantime, and I had been trying to implement Mason’s methods, but there was a lot I didn’t understand, and even more I didn’t even know I didn’t understand.  If somebody had insisted I could not proceed until I finished all six volumes in their numerical order, well, I’m not I would have finished one of them even yet, here in 2017!  So I’ve been there. I know moms don’t need more burdens, especially made up ones.

Homeschooling, mothering, learning about the CM method from scratch (especially if you don’t have a background rich in the classics, poetry, and so on already) is really, really, truly worthwhile. It’s also something that takes time, and it’s not always easy.  Those hard things are so worth doing, I cannot stress this enough. But let’s not make up other burdens that are no part of Mason’s methods and impose them on people who are already treading water. Throw them a lifeline, not an anchor you’ve chosen to drop somewhere Mason herself never did.  If that’s not clear enough,  while I admire the enthusiasm and goal of accuracy, I think it’s nonsense, hurtful nonsense at that, for anybody to propose that somebody else is doing it wrong if they read these books in a different order than the approved 1-6. It bothers me that somebody is putting that kind of a burden on homeschooling moms who are already constantly second guessing themselves about doing everything just right, and it bothers me most because that burden over something that is entirely arbitrary. It’s such a petty place to draw a line between the Charlotte Mason Church of the Perfect People Doing Everything Perfectly Right and everybody else. What matters most is that you read them, and if possible, you read more than one.

IF you can only read one, I still suggest starting with volume 6. Miss Mason herself expected that volume 6 might be the first exposure people had to her methods. She did not assume she was writing volume 6 for only members of the PNEU who had read her other five books. In the preface of that very volume she she says:

“I should like to add that we have no axe to grind. The public good is our aim; and the methods proposed are applicable in any school. My object in offering this volume to the public is to urge upon all who are concerned with education a few salient principles which are generally either unknown or disregarded; and a few methods which, like that bathing in Jordan, are too simple to commend themselves to the ‘general.'”

I do not think she could have spoken more plainly to convey that her expected audience was not only PNEU members- her *goal* in offering *this* volume (which volume? SIX) to whom? To the *general public.* I know I sound like my hair is on fire. It kind of is, because I really grieve for the harried, burdened mothers being given a sack of useless weight and told to carry it, too, when it really is not a hill worth climbing, let alone a hill to die on.

When I first started reading these books to the point where I got past drains and things, it was 17 years ago.  Back then, almost everybody stopped with volume 1.   This was so very true that I once drove a hundred miles to go to much vaunted CM discussion group led by a woman who was writing a book on the CM method- and when I got there, I discovered that most of the people in this study group had never read any of Masons writings, and the lady who was writing the book had stopped at volume one.  I was the only person there who had ever read volume 6.  The group was fairly well known in CM circles at the time, and outside CM circles as well.  I was shocked.

And so a lot of very silly notions crept into the ‘CM’ movement. People thought it did not work in high school, because of course, 15 minutes is not enough for high school math lessons, and teens need some formal grammar and more for science than nature study, for example. I read through volume 6 and learned that Charlotte already knew that. Volume 6 had lots of information that wasn’t in volume 1 because teens and children under 9 do have different needs.

Because I already *had* teens (my first homeschool grad is now 34), I finally *started* with volume 6, and for the first time, I was able to read and keep reading, and then read some more.   I loved how it unfolded the method for me.  It was beautiful, refreshing, enlightening, eye-opening.  I read it again.  And I might have read it again.   I then read the rest backward, sort of- volume 3, volume 1, then 2, 5, and 4. I had tried starting with volume 1 many times and always got bogged down, so if I had continued trying to read them in order, I never would have finished. So I think it was perfect for me to start with volume 6.

A dear friend of mine, who is the smartest (and most gracious) woman I know, read them in order, 1-6 because that’s what you do and she has an orderly, organized brain (and her oldest child is about the same age as my fifth child).  I think she read volume 1 twice before going on to read the rest in steady, chronological order.   That worked brilliantly for her. And both of us benefited and learned from our very different approach, and neither of us is ‘wrong’ to have started where we were.

So where should *you* begin?   My answer would be that first of all, you want to read the six volumes, or one of them, anyway, throw yourself a party and hooray for you!!  Nobody gets anywhere much without goals, so give yourself some credit.  Then consider the following to help you start:
Volume 1 is about educating children 9 and under, (birth-9)- if you have little kids or no kids yet, you probably should start here.

Volume 3 is for those educating kids of 9-12, and if that’s your kids, start there.

Volume 6 is for those educating kids of 12 and up, and if that’s where you are, start there.

After that first one, choose one of the other two education books that fits your circumstances.

Meanwhile, I like to tell people to leave volume 2 in the bathroom or by the nightstand or wherever you sit to the nurse the baby- it’s a collection of stand alone articles that were previously published in newspapers and parents review articles, so it’s good for dipping.

Volume 4 is one she intended students to read themselves, and it’s a beautiful book on self-knowledge. I benefited greatly *myself* from this book. I would read this for myself the same way that I would read Pilgrim’s Progress or Stepping Heavenward. There is much to think about and meditate on.

Volume 5 is about character building, habit training. I really think the ideal way to work through this book is to read the study posts related to it in the AmblesideOnline forum.

That’s my opinion.  You decide.  Nobody is wrong for starting in a different order than anybody else.

I will give you one more tip that really helped me read through these books and a lot of other harder ones- set yourself a goal- it does not matter so much what it is, just choose a number- five pages, three, ten (I chose 25, because I read fast)- and determine that you will read through that many pages every day before you read anything else (besides your Bible, of course). If you have to miss a day, or even five, that is okay, but you can’t read anything else until you’ve made it up and read through your assigned pages for the week. It’s okay to decide on two a day and then read ten over the weekend instead.  The main point is to pick a number and stick to it. You will find it gets easier and easier to meet your goal, and you will find yourself closer to finishing the books you start than you ever have before.

To read these books on your Kindle for free, go to fivefilters.org, click on ‘push to kindle.’  Make sure you know your kindle email address (the one used to send documents to your kindle).  Get the link to one of the six volumes (scroll up) and plug it into the box and push send.  Voila!!  You have a free, annotated version of one of the six volumes!


Enjoy.  Feast your soul.  Read steadily, think carefully.  Ponder while powdering your nose or the baby’s bottom.  review a few ideas as you drift off to sleep or while cutting vegetables.  Be blessed- not stressed.

This entry was posted in Charlotte Mason. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. Virginia Lee Rogers
    Posted July 4, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Thank you!!! <3

  2. Mama Squirrel
    Posted July 5, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    I have no idea which order I read them in, although I probably did start with Volume One. Our homeschool lending library had the series, and I just kept borrowing one or two a month and working on them. It was at least a couple of years of regular borrowing, until we managed to come by a used set at a secondhand bookstore. And it took about three years from that first reading until I really put the CM pedal to the metal. (As you said, there were a lot of “just-like-CM” and “CM-inspired” materials out there, and there were some misleading ideas floating around.

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