Charlotte Mason Before School Age

Notes from Volume One (Home Education) of CM’s six volume series

I compiled these notes for my own personal use. They are incomplete in two ways. They are incomplete in that nobody can really do justice to Miss Mason’s work as well as Miss Mason herself. They are incomplete because I never finished transcribing all my notes, nor am I likely to. If I were to revise this project today (nearly 15 years later), I’d just start reading and taking notes all over again. Think of it as something like a CLIF guide to volume 1, or a papmhlet containing a summary. It is, I think, a good place to begin, although not a good place to end. If you need a sort of a kick-start to CM’s methods for the youngest children, this is useful.

I do not intend this to be a comprehensive look at Charlotte Mason’s methods, nor is this designed to be the definitive summing up of Charlotte Mason for younger Children. I merely offer my own personal notes in the hopes that others may be encouraged to read Miss Mason’s works for themselves. You are free to use these for your own personal use, but you may not copy them to sell them, to present as part of a seminar, or republish them on other websites. Thanks for respecting copyright law.
Volume One, Home Education, is about educating the child from birth to nine. Later years will build on these early years, but they will be different. For instance, the youngest children have short lessons. The older children have longer lessons. The younger children do not do much writing and do not study formal grammar. Older children do more writing and study formal grammar. Many people seem to read volume one, and then think they have Charlotte’s methods. In order to implement her methods, it’s important to read beyond the book for nine and under.
In Volume One, we find:
…The chief function of the child- his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life- is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavor of his parents should be to put him in the way of making
acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects… page 96-7

The child who does not know the portly form and spotted breast of the thrush, the graceful flight of the swallow, the yellow bill of the blackbird, the gush of song which the skylark pours from above is nearly as much to be pitied as those London children who ‘had never seen a bee.’ A pleasant acquaintance, easy to pick up, is the hairy caterpillar. The moment to seize him is when he is seen shuffling along the ground in a great hurry; he is on the lookout for quiet quarters in which to lie up: put him in a box, then, and cover the box with net, through which you may watch his operations. Food does not matter- he has other things to attend to. By-and-by he spins a sort of white tent or hammock, into which he retires; you may see through it and watch him, perhaps at the very moment when his skin splits asunder, leaving him, for months to come, an egg-shaped mass without any sign of life. At last the living thing within breaks out of this bundle, and there it is, the handsome tiger-moth, fluttering feeble wings against the net. Most children of six have had this taste of a naturalist’s experience, and it is worth speaking of only because, instead of being merely a harmless amusement, it is a valuable piece of education, of more use to the child than the reading of a whole book of natural history, or much geography, and Latin. For the evil is, that children get their knowledge of natural history, like all their knowledge, at second hand. They are so sated with wonders, that nothing surprises them; and they are so little used to see for themselves, that nothing interests them. The cure for this blasé condition is, to let them alone for a bit, and then begin on new lines. Poor children, it is no fault of theirs if they are not as they are meant to be- curious eager little souls, all agog to explore so much of this wonderful world as they can get at, as quite their first business in life.

“He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small:
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.”

Nature knowledge is the most important for Young Children:

It would be well if all we persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”
Page 60-61

All quotes on this page from Home Education, training and educating children under nine, volume 1 in the Home Schooling Series by Charlotte Mason

From volume 1 of the CM series:
What to do for ‘year 0’ is excellently summed up on pages 177/8:
“(a) That the knowledge most valuable to the child is that which he gets with his own eyes and ears and fingers (under direction) in the open air.
(b) That the claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.
(c) That the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes- moor or meadow, park, common or shore- where he may find new things to examine, and so add to his store of real knowledge. That the child’s observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis of scientific knowledge.
(d) That play, vigorous healthful play, is, in its turn, fully as important as lessons, as regards both bodily health and brainpower.
(e) That the child, though under supervision, should be left much to himself- both that he may go to work in his own way on the ideas he receives, and also that he may be the more open to natural influences.
(f) That the happiness of the child is the condition of his progress; that his lessons should be joyous, and that occasions of friction in the schoolroom are greatly to be deprecated.”

A mother should be careful not ‘to have conditions too carefully adapted to his needs.’ Page 187- our children are not plants, whose uses are subordinate to our pleasures. They have a purpose in life beyond our ability to determine.
“The notion of supplementing nature from the cradle is a dangerous one.” Page 187
It is a mother’s duty to secure for her children:
Body and soul health
Heart and mind health
Individuality: preserve it, ‘give play to the personality,’(186)
Quiet growing time
A “passive receptive life” for the first six years- she calls the first six years a growing time
This includes a life ‘without friction or stimulus’
Which I understand would mean our modern noisy, flashing, beeping and whistling toys; our computers, our televisions, our radios and constant barrage of input are not in keeping with the ideals of a CM education.
Mother and baby left themselves have rare games, there’s no need to strive to add ‘educational’ activities to a baby’s daily rounds (190)
*The society of his peers is too stimulating- about kindergarten she says no other group is as stimulating as ‘that of a number of persons of our own age,’ and points out that this is what makes college life such fun- but, she says, ‘persons of twenty have…some command over their inhibitory centres’ and even they have trouble with self-management in exciting circumstances. But persons of 2-5 are less capable of self-management (and, of course, in classrooms they have little of the control necessary for self-management). Instead, they are better off in the mixed age level groups found in a family.
Freedom to do what they like with their bodies and minds as much of the day as possible- running, jumping, leaping, lying on their tummies watching worms in the dirt or on their backs watching bees in the trees overhead.
Be available to tell him what he wants to know, make it possible for him to do many things, and give direction regarding behavior (191-192)

Moral training:
Give the child control over his own nature, to enable him to hold himself in hand as much in regard to the traits we call good, as to those we call evil” (see pages 96-107)
Lay down lines of habit for him to follow, make good behavior habitual because we ‘think as we are accustomed to think: (It is impossible to do justice to what Miss Mason had to say about habit training in a few notes. In volume 1, pages 96-134 she gives full attention to habit training. In order to fully understand what she is saying one should read at least these pages, and the careful reader will find much more information about habit training sprinkled throughout the six volumes)
” For this reason we must be careful to develop in our children the habit of thinking good initial thoughts ”
THE importance of those initial thoughts:
‘The thought which defiles a man behaves in precisely the same way as that which purifies: the one, as the other, develops, matures, and increases after its kind.’ (Page 108)
Ideas follow upon each other without our being aware that if we altered our starting thought, we might reach far different conclusions. Therefore, it is vital to instill in your child the will and the knowledge and the habit of good starting assumptions- thinking the best of others, being charitable in his thought life, thinking positively rather than negatively, thinking of others rather than himself….
It’s important to realize that parents are _already_ forming your children’s habits, even if only by leaving it to themselves. We might as well work to make it simpler for the children by being attentive to how you are influencing your children’s habits and make sure it is for good. “The formation of habits _is_ education and _education is the formation of habits_.” Page 97
Are we not taking away the child’s free-will? No. Miss Mason points out that all of us, whether we take any trouble about habit or formation or not, are still governed by habits. ‘ For a hundred times we act or think, it is not necessary to choose, to will, say, more than once.’ Page 110 This is true for the child as well. Those emergencies where we must choose to do right as an act of will will come up in our children’s lives, and we cannot save them from these ‘nor is it desirable that we should.’ “What we can do for them is to secure that they have habits while shall lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places.” (Page 111)
We MUST give the ‘child control over his own nature, to enable him to hold himself in hand as much in regard to the traits we call good, as to those we call evil: many a man makes shipwreck on the rock of what he grew up to think his characteristic virtue- his open-handedness, for instance.’ Page 103, 104

The following three tools are useful, but not enough:
Religious training gives children ‘power and motives for continuous effort,’ as well as raising ‘their desires towards the best things.’ (Page 99)
But what of Divine Grace? ‘The parent…who takes the trouble to understand what he is about in educating his child, deserves, and assuredly gets, support from above; and.. Rebecca…had no right to bring up her son to be ‘thou worm, Jacob,’ in the trust that Divine grace would, speaking reverently, pull him through.’ (Page 104)
Too many Christian parents, she says “let a child grow free as the wild bramble, putting forth unchecked whatever is in him, thorn, coarse flower, insipid fruit, trusting, they will tell you, that the grace of God will prune and dig and prop the wayward branches… [Even when God does do this] the poor man endures anguish, is torn asunder in the process of recovery which his parents might have spared him had they trained the early shoots which should develop by and by into the character of their child.”(Page 104)
She is not talking about goodness on the outside only, and indeed warns against the mother ‘whose final question is, “what will people say? What will people think? How will it look?’ And the children grow up with habits of seeming, and not of being; they are content to appear well-dressed, well-mannered, well-intentioned to outsiders, with very little effort after beauty, order, and goodness at home, and in each other’s eyes.” Page 106
Rules ‘restrain from evil’
Love impels toward good (page 99)
Miss Mason realized, through her observations, that religious training, rules, and love are not enough, because the children still lacked the ability to apply ‘steady effort, because they had no strength of will, no power to make themselves do that which they knew they ought to do.” (Page 99)
Miss Mason states that ‘it is the business of education to find some way of supplementing that weakness of will which is the bane of most of us as well as of the children.” (PAGE 100)
The effort of decision is exhausting (see page 100) and teaching children good habits will relieve them from the stress of decision on many occasions- Miss Mason says it is unjust to ‘leave the children all the labour of an effort of will whenever they have to choose between the right and the wrong.’ (Also page 100).
(Example) A child who has been trained to be truthful without a second thought has the advantage over a child who must stop and decide whether to tell the truth or a lie every time he thinks, and an even larger advantage over the child who has been permitted to let lying become a habit.
It is a mistake, even a sin against the child, to permit the child to ‘develop unhindered according to the elements of character and disposition that are in him.’(Page 102)
Because, the habits of the child will become the character of the man (118) “Here is an end to the easy philosophy of, “It doesn’t matter,’ ‘Oh, he’ll grow out of it,’ ‘He’ll know better by-and-by,’ ‘He’s so young, what can we expect?’…Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.” Page 118
“The child who is not being constantly raised to a higher and a higher platform will sink to a lower and a lower.’ (Page 103)
“It is as much the parent’s duty to educate his child into moral strength and purpose and intellectual activity as it is to feed him and clothe him; and that _in spite of his nature_, if it must be so.” (Page 103, emphasis Charlotte’s)

Every “seed of thought or feeling you implant in a child- whether through inheritance or by early training- grows, completes itself, and begets after its kind…” (Page 108)
Parents have a duty to their children to give them training in the development of good habits and the suppression of bad habits.
Begin with yourself.
Do not say ‘no’ lightly. You as the parent are under authority and are not acting lawfully to forbid or permit lightly.
How to form habits, or ‘shut the door after you’ (page 119)
“Do the Next Thinge”
“Lose this day loitering, and twill be the same story
Tomorrow, and the next, more dilatory:
The indecision brings its own delays
And days are lost, lamenting o’er lost days.”
Christopher Marlowe, who, Miss Mason says, ‘like many of us, knew the misery of the intellectual indolence which cannot brace itself to ‘do ye next thinge’” (page 119)
Performing an action or thinking a certain thought repeatedly, in ‘unbroken succession’ (meaning without digression into the _old_ pattern of acting or thinking) will eventually, Miss Mason believes, make that action or thought pattern part of the child’s nature. This is a key to unlocking the development of good habits. She quotes Huxley, who says that ‘an action may require all our attention and all our volition for its first, second, or third performance, but by frequent repetition it…is performed without volition or even consciousness.’(Page 116-117)
The object of ‘moral education is to unite…fixedly, the ideas of evil deeds with [ideas] of pain an degradation, and of good actions with those of pleasure and nobleness.’ (Miss Mason quoting from Huxley, page 117)
Most habit training is accomplished through efforts on the parents’ parts, but at least one good habit may be developed by lack of interference by the parents- the habit of initiative. A ‘wise letting alone’ will lead a child to resourcefulness in inventing his own games and occupations more than constant attempts to entertain him. (192,3)
Overcome one bad habit by replacing it with another habit, a good one.
Do this one habit at a time, using focused attention and consistency
Secure the will, however feeble, of your child to the side of right-doing:
Point out _briefly_ (she says earnestly, but the briefer the better) the miseries arising from this fault, the_ duty_* of overcoming it
*Miss Mason, like most Victorians, was keenly conscious of the idea of duty, duty owed ourselves, our neighbors, our society, our God. Duty as Miss Mason understood it is neither popular nor accepted by our society today. A study of duty as understood by the Victorians might make it easier to understand what Miss Mason is getting at, as her definition of duty is vital to understanding the emphasis and importance she places on habit training and parenting under authority.
Explain that you will work together on this, and that you will try to remind him. The reminder needs to be gentle. She gives the example of teaching a child to shut the door behind him. When he forgets, you do not screech after him ‘Shut that door!’ Rather, you go the door and pleasantly call him back to the room, quickly returning to what you were doing. When he returns, smile cheerfully, give a quick glance to the door and say something like, “I said I would try to remind you.”
NO lectures.
Never let the matter be cause of friction (page 123), instead show yourself to be a friendly ally on your child’s side against his bad memory. (Also page 123)
Once you have briefly pointed out the miseries of this fault, spend weeks of attentive care ensuring that this bad habit never once reoccurs
Do this by a look or a touch, or some agreed upon gentle reminder. You must always be on the alert to nip in the bud the bad habit our children are in the act of picking up from others (page 118)
Supplant a bad habit with a good one, and you must devote yourself ‘for a few weeks to this cure…steadily and untiringly as [we would] to the nursing of [our child] through measles.’ Page 120
After the first talk refrain from one more word on the subject, rather rely on eye contact (Miss Mason says that your expression should be hopeful, or expectant, rather than reproachful) (120)
The lightest possible touch, in a case where, say, a daydreaming child is far gone in a daydream (page 120)
Eventually ask your child to act without your help- again, if you are working on helping a child overcome the habit of dawdling, you might ask if she can get ready in five minutes without you there, encourage her to be quite sure that she can do it before she agrees.
Never permit the child to regress to the bad habit for even a moment. (123)
You must _not_ relax your efforts or permit the slightest backsliding
_Never_ overlook the slightest regression in a habit you are working on ‘because she’s been trying so hard, after all.’ This is not doing your child any favor at all, it is making her life far harder and it is reinforcing the very bad habit you are _supposed_ to be helping her to overcome. (See pages 121-2) Mistimed easiness will lose every foot of the ground gained. (Page 124)
Do not ‘reward’ good effort by ceasing to require that effort, in fact: No external rewards as a good habit is its own reward and learning this is crucial to developing more good habits. (My note: perhaps a simple cheerful comment about how much easier life is when we put our toys away might be acceptable?) The only rewards that are acceptable are those that are natural to the act- the reward for promptness is totally free time in the extra minutes the child’s promptness has gained her.
Habits Miss Mason suggests developing (she says that she has only touched on those that don’t seem to her ‘to have their full weight with educated parents, rather than upon those of which every thoughtful person recognizes the force. Since we live in a different time and culture I expect that there are many other habits she would find remiss in our homes):
Cleanliness (she says that they certainly should be allowed to make mud-pies, and should not _always_ be clean and presentable because they need to mess about- but once the messy activity is over, they should be quick to remove every trace of soil) page 127
Early provide them with their own washing materials and let them take real pleasure in the bath and in attending to themselves. A child of five or six should be able to get himself thoroughly clean in the bath.
Decent children never
Sit down to dinner with unbrushed hair or dirty hands
Decent children do
Wash their hands
Have clean nails
Wash their faces
Clean their ears
Teach them to be careful with their things
Imperfect and unsightly makeshifts in the nursery are detrimental to a sense of order
‘The pleasure grown-up people take in waiting on children is really a fruitful source of mischief; for instance, in this matter of orderly habits.’ Page 129
A child of two should put away his playthings. Begin early. Let it be a pleasure to him, part of his play, to open his cupboard, and put back the doll or the horse each in its own place. Let him _always_ put away his things as a matter of course, and it is surprising how soon a habit of order is formed… order in the nursery becomes scrupulousness in after life (page 130)
“The Lawless Habit of scattering should not be allowed to grow.” Page 129
Near to order, but goes further than ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’ It entails everything in a _suitable_ place, so as to produce a good effect… (Page 130), it involves good taste, arranging things in a way both pleasing to the eye and suitable.
] Nothing vulgar in the way of print, picture-book, or toy should be admitted (she isn’t talking about vulgar in the sense we use it today, as obscene or trashy, she’s using it in the older sense of the word- common. Nothing trashy, cheaply made, flimsy, junk- twaddle- she says ‘nothing to vitiate a child’s taste or introduce a strain of commonness into his nature, page 131)
Do have one or two well-chosen works of art, in however cheap a reproduction your family finances require.
Regularity (she is talking about putting babies on a schedule, and I think she says a great deal of nonsense. However, she does have a point when she points out that the days when the usual routine is disrupted are the days when the children are apt to be naughty- page 132)
(She calls the above the branches of infant education and says they should be about the child as the air he breathes and he will take them in unconsciously- page 125)
Obedience – done properly a great blessing, as children trained to obedience under the right guidelines may ‘be trusted with a good deal of liberty:… And not pestered with a perpetual fire of ‘do this,’ and don’t do that!’(Page 164)
This is the most important of the moral habits (page 161 of volume one), for it is the ‘whole duty of the child’ because all other duties fall under the category of obedience to parents, furthermore, obedience is the whole duty of all of mankind, ‘obedience to conscience, to law, to Divine direction.’
Parents should realize that whether or not a child is obedient is not merely a private matter between child and parent, but that because the parents are ‘the appointed agent to train the child up to the intelligent obedience of the self-compelling, law-abiding human being’ and therefore, we have ‘no right to forego’ that obedience.
Motive is not ‘because I said so,’ but because, as the Bible says, ‘this is right.’ (Page 161). Ensuring that this is the motive we give them is important because it is only when ‘the will of the child is in the act of obedience, and he obeys because his sense of right makes him desire to obey in spite of temptations to disobedience- not of constraint, but willingly- that the habit has been formed which will, hereafter, enable the child to use the strength of his will against his inclinations when these prompt him to lawless courses.’ 161,2 harsh disciplinarians often do produce children who are lawless when not under their parent’s iron rule because there has been no gentle, gradual training in ‘the habit of obedience,’ no enlisting of the child’s will on the ‘side of sweet service and a free-will offering of submission to the highest law: the poor children are simply bullied into submission to the will’ or willfulness of another, not because it is right, but only because it is convenient. Page 162
Begin in infancy, say ‘do this,’ in a quiet, authoritative tone and expect it to be done. Begin by requiring that they always obey you (and be very careful not to exact obedience where it is neither possible nor for their sake rather than for your own, the mother ‘must not lay upon her children burdens, grievous to be borne, of command heaped upon command’ page 164.) Never permit ‘tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience’
When the child is older, take him ‘into confidence; let him know what a noble thing it is to be able to make himself do, in a minute, and brightly, the very thing he would rather not do.’ Page 164
“The sense of prohibition, of sin in disobedience, will be a wonderful safeguard against knowledge of evil to the child brought up in habits of obedience; and still more effective will be the sense of honour, of a charge to keep. (Page 128) Renew this charge with earnestness on some auspicious occasion (perhaps his birthday) each year, giving the child to feel that by obedience he can glorify God, maintain honour
Keep watch against every approach of honour
Pray daily
Provide plenty of healthy interests and activities
Habit of Honesty or truthfulness
There are, she says, three reasons for lying- ‘carelessness in ascertaining the truth, carelessness in stating the truth, and a deliberate intention to deceive’ page 164 All three are vicious, as is ‘evident from the fact that a man’s character may be ruined by what is no more than a careless misstatement on the part of another.’ Page 165
In general, she says, children only get in trouble for intending to deceive but are allowed to be sloppy in regarding the other two ways of passing on misinformation. This begins in harmless ways- a child exaggerates something he has seen and is overlooked because this doesn’t seem important- but we are establishing children in patterns of carelessness.
“The mother who trains her child to strict accuracy of statement about things small and great fortifies him against temptations to the grosser forms of lying… When the statement of the simple fact has become a binding habit… Page 165
Exaggeration and embellishment- need special attention- always insist on naked truth (two dogs rather than lots of dogs, cried for five minutes rather than for hours…)
Consideration for others
Respect for persons and properties
Sweet temper
We regard temper as inborn, but Miss Mason insists that while children inherit certain _tendencies_, but it’s up to us to use the power of habit to prevent our children from growing up set in habits of unpleasant dispositions, and thus making themselves and those who live with them miserable. It is our duty to send the children ‘into the world blest with an even, happy temper, inclined to make the best of things, to look on the bright side, to impute the best and kindest motives to others, and to make no extravagant claims on his own account- fertile source of ugly tempers.’ Page 167
“It is by force of habit that a tendency becomes a temper,’ and it’s up to mom to prevent the formation of ill tempers and force that of good (page 167)
Begin early when his face is an open book and you can see how he is feeling almost before he knows it. Change his thoughts before the bad temper has had time to develop into conscious feeling- “take him out of doors, send him to fetch or carry, tell him or show him something of interest… Give him something else to think about; but all in a natural way, and without letting the child perceive that he is being treated.’ (Page 168)
Respect for others
The above habits and others like them, or their opposing bad habits, are learned more by example than by training, she says, and are ‘inspired by the child as the very atmosphere of his home, the air he lives in and must grow by.’ Page 137
Habit of daily exercise
Habit of proper pronunciation and enunciation
Practice saying difficult words together
Habit of music
Constant hearing and producing of musical sounds
Carefully graduated ear and voice exercises
To produce and distinguish musical tones and intervals (I have no idea what this would look like in the home)
A sensitive nose
No odors about the infant or anything belonging to him
Rooms sweet smelling and thoroughly aired
‘Smells are matter, microscopic particles which the child takes into him with every breath.’(See page 125)
He should learn to find stuffiness unpleasant and clean, fresh air pleasant
He should recognize the faintest odor attached to clothing or furniture.
When you enter a room have the children notice whether the room smells quite fresh, especially compared to the outside air, to note the difference between the air in town with that of the country. (Page 126)
Good manners
Practiced as skits, rehearse little scenes in a play, such as how to ask for directions, how to give them, answering the phone, being introduced, what to do should you accidentally break or otherwise damage something in somebody else’s home, no matter how small, etc. During the little play-acts, remind the children to stand up straight, look people in the eye, speak clearly and politely, and offer any other little hints- as friendly advice (see pages 132-133)
Character Training- teach your child to be first without vanity and last without bitterness (page 144)
Keep watch over habits of
Enunciation (good pronunciation, clear speech)
Good posture
The habit of good thoughts
“It is as if every familiar train of thought made a rut in …the brain into which the thoughts run lightly of their own accord, and out of which they can only be got by an effort of will.” Page114
Thoughts run in the ruts worn for them by constant repetition, or habit (see page 114-5)
Habit of Attention
This habit affected by direct training rather than example. ‘May be trained into a habit at the will of the parent or teacher, who attracts and holds the child’s attention by means of a sufficient motive.’ Page 145
Highest intellectual gifts depend… upon the measure in which their owner has cultivated this habit (page 137)
Begin, if you can, in infancy- when a baby drops a toy after a second or two of playing with it, pick it up again and show him some new aspect of the toy, keeping his eyes fixed on it for an extra bit of time.
Should a slightly older child pick up a daisy, before he can toss it aside after a moment’s observation, extend his interest by pointing out interesting features, telling him that it closes up at night just like he does and goes to sleep, that it follows the sun- try to relate it to something that interests him, or will interest him.
‘Contrive ways to invest every object in the child’s world with interest and delight.’ (Page140)
Once the habit of attentiveness to objects has been achieved, the children are usually old enough for school and you must begin again to gain their attention to words. ‘He is taught to bring his own will to bear; to make himself attend in spite of the most inviting suggestions from without… page 145
F Gain his cooperation, explain that it is really hard, that the mind is always running, but thoughts left to themselves ‘will always run off from one thing to another’ and he must fix his thoughts upon their proper direction himself (page 145-6)
Whatever his natural gifts, it is only so far as the habit of attentiveness is cultivated in him that he will be able to use them to their full extent (page 145-6)
Ensure that the child never does a lesson into which he does not put his heart, watch from the beginning against the formation of the contrary habit of inattention. (Page 146)
Never let a child dawdle over a lesson, try to catch this waning of attention before he gets to the point where he is dawdling- then quickly change gears, put it away, do another lesson as unlike the first as possible (page141)
If your own lack of attention permits the child to dawdle along before you notice, you must use your wits to pull him through the lesson, rather than let him quit as a reward for dawdling. You will have to do your best to make it bright and interesting so he can finish, but it would be better to exert your own attention so that it needn’t get to this point.
Know some principles of education
Know which subjects are age appropriate
Know how to make those subjects attractive
Vary the lessons, so that different powers of the mind, or abilities, or types of attention, are called into play, then given a rest while some other type of study is required.
Know how to incite the child to effort through reliance on his desire for approval, for excellence, for advancement, for love of knowledge, his love of parents and his sense of duty are called upon without relying so much on one that it is detrimental to his character, weakens the others, or, above all, Substitutes any other natural desire for that of the love of knowledge because:
Love of knowledge is already an innate part of the child’s desires, and exists in equal proportion to other desires- if we do not stultify it by playing to other desires and ignoring this one. She says love of knowledge is equally natural, and is adequate for all purposes of education (page 141, 145).
Love of Emulation (desire for praise and good grades)- this is a tool to be used but seldom and with care. In schools the good marks should be for such things as any child can achieve, conduct rather than intellectual effort, for example, and parents should take care to teach their children that joy in a brother’s success takes the sting out of his own failure and regret for his brother’s failure leaves no room for self-glorification (page 144)
Emulation should never be used for intellectual achievement because ‘the desire for knowledge subsides in direct proportion as the desire to excel becomes active.’ (Page 144)
Affection as a Motive- ‘That he ought to work hard to please his parents who do so much for him is a proper motive to bring before the child from time to time, but not too often.’ Page 144
Other tools for developing attentiveness:
Timetable: definite work assigned in a given time (page 142) each child should know what he has to do and how long each lesson is to last.
“This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is _not_ as good as another’ that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time; and this knowledge alone does a great deal to secure the child’s attention to his work.’ Page 142
Short lessons, around 20 minutes or less for children under 8 (suggested short lessons are completing two correct sums in twenty minutes, six perfect m’s.
The sense of limited time keeps the child alert and helps fix attention
There is ‘time to learn just so much of any one subject as it is good for him to take in at once’ (page 142)
And the child can get through his morning lesson without any sign of weariness…(142) IF
The lessons are varied, alternated, varying throughout ‘thinking lesson first, and a painstaking lesson to follow’, sums, then writing or reading, some more or less mechanical exercise next, and so on (page 142) and again,
More mechanical efforts succeed the more strictly intellectual, and …the pleasing exercise of the imagination… succeed efforts of reason. (Page 151)
NO rewards other than those that are natural consequences of good conduct. The reward of work well and quickly done is leisure time. If a child is expected to do right sums in twenty minutes but does them in ten, the remaining ten minutes are his own, he should be free to any delight he chooses. (A ten-minute run in the garden, free drawing time, time to doodle, time to romp with the dog…) Page 143
Character or Moral training:
“There is a law by which all rewards and punishments should be regulated: they should be the natural, or, at any rate, the relative consequences of conduct; should imitate, as nearly as may be without injury to the child, the treatment which such and such conduct deserves and receives in after life.” (Page 148) (Doing without what is necessary when we have been willful about getting what isn’t needed is the right sort of lesson to teach a child, because it is one of the lessons of life we all have to learn- also page 148)
The mother must apply patient consideration and steady determination (p 148). She must discover what ‘fault of disposition the child’s misbehavior springs from; …aim her punishment at that fault… And brace herself to see her child suffer present lost for his lasting gain.” P148
“In placing her child under the discipline of consequences, the mother must use much tact and discretion. In many cases, the natural consequence …is… her business to avert… she looks about for some consequence related to the fault which shall have an educative bearing on the child…” Instead (page 149 (she gives the example of a child who avoids studying. The natural consequence would be ignorance, but to permit this would be neglectful of the parents).
Habit of application or rapid mental effort:
Training similar to that used to cultivate habit of attention
Teacher needs to be alert, expect quick answers
Recognize difference between tortoise and hare, but do expect improvement, daily, from them both.
Stimulate zeal
‘Must always be a pleasing vista before him; and steady, untiring application to work should be held up as honorable, while fitful, flagging attention and effort are scouted.’ Page 150
The Habit of “Thinking:
Real conscious effort of mind, not effortless fancies flitting through the brain (p.150)
In every lesson:
Trace effect from cause, cause from effect
Comparisons and contrasts (how are they alike, how different)
A conclusion as to causes or consequences from certain premises (151)
Lest the training in good habits appears to set the mother up for a lifetime of nagging, Charlotte says that actually, ‘the education of habit… enables the mother to _let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions, a running fire of do and don’t; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way, and grow to fruitful purpose.’ Page 134
“The child must…get at the reason why of things for himself, every day of his life…” Page 154, children often ask why, but the parents should turn the tables here and ask the child why “and let the child produce the answer, if he can.” Let him think it over and try to figure out the why, and _then_ the parent might tell him.
“Every walk should offer some knotty problem for the children to think out- ‘why does that leaf float on the water and this pebble sink?” Page 154

Habit of Remembering: (pages 154ff)
“Memory is the storehouse of whatever knowledge we possess” and there are three types:
‘Sunk capital,’ whereby she refers to the experiences and learning of youth, which, while we may not remember the details, does form a foundation for later knowledge.
That we can recollect upon demand
‘Spurious’ memory, those facts available for but a single effort, as when we cram for a test, or need information only for a moment.
Too many school lessons fall into the third category- they become ‘knowledge acquired that neither goes to the growth of brain and mind, nor is available on demand, but is lightly lodged in the brain for some short period, and is then evacuated at a single throw…’ Page 155
How do we change this?
“Any object or idea which is regarded with attention makes the sort of impression on the brain which is said to fix it in the memory.”
Secure the child’s entire attention, the ‘fixed gaze of his mind… Upon the fact to be remembered ‘
Link each new lesson (into the same subject, generally) with the last one so that ‘it is impossible for him to recall one [fact] without the other following in its train.’ (157)
Then there must be time absorbing the new knowledge
And continuous use of the information (“the path should have been kept open by frequent goings and comings.’) Page 158
She makes the analogy of a bucket drawing water from a well. The water is the knowledge, it takes a chain to draw the bucket of water from the well of the brain, that chain is the chain of association. Each subject will suggest a different method for forming those links of association in the chain which will draw the bucket. Sometimes the association will be similarity and sometimes of contrast- as in geography where you might study two countries that have nothing in common, ‘one has what the other has not.’ At any rate, ‘the link between any two things must be found in the nature of the things associated.’ Page 159
The Habit of Perfect Execution
‘Throw perfection into all you do’ in things, work, execution… Page 159
Do not give the child any work he cannot perform perfectly
Then expect that perfection of which he is capable
If he does produce faulty work, have the child discover the fault and work at the task until he does it perfectly (I think that this is still within the short lessons, however. So, it seems, if it doesn’t get done right during Monday’s lesson, that is what he works on during Tuesday’s lesson)
When the work is perfected (she says, for example, six perfect strokes for handwriting), ‘make it an occasion of triumph.’
Closely connected is completion
Rarely permit the child to begin something new when his last project is undone.
If you are distrustful of your own power of steady effort, Miss Mason also reminds us that the training in habits in itself becomes a habit for the mother, and thus is not so wearisome as it seems at the outset, she also says that the child’s most fixed and dominant habits are those we take no pains about, but the child picks up for himself through observation of all said, done, felt, and thought in his home (I do not find this as encouraging as she seems to have intended it to be!) Page 136-7
She also says to devote yourself to formation of only one habit at a time, doing no more than keep watch over those already formed (page 136)
You might even limit yourself to the number of good habits you will lay yourself out to form. The child who starts in life with… twenty good habits, begins with a certain capital which he will lay out to endless profit as the years go on.’ (Page 136)

Early learning and experiences foundation for all future learning:
The mother should be laying up for her child a ready supply of first hand experiences- this is the time to ‘lay up images of things familiar’ this is the foundation for all later learning, as the child will “conceive of things he has never seen…” And this is done by ‘comparison with things he has seen and known.’ When he must ‘reflect, understand and reason,’ his success will depend upon how enlarged a foundation of real, first hand experiences you have given him.
Even though a child may not remember in later life the things he ‘learned and experienced in childhood,’ these important lessons ‘formed the groundwork of after-knowledge; later notions and opinions have grown out of what we once learned and knew.’ (Page 154)
The child needs to see, examine, and handle unfamiliar things- this also helps with vocabulary, because ‘what we know, we struggle to express.’ See pages 66 and 67 for more about this vital principle in early education.
“The child’s business in the world for the first six to seven years of his life ‘is to find out all he can about whatever comes under his notice by means of his five senses.’ See page 96
Long hours in out of door play (no knowledge so appropriate to the early years … As that of the name and look and behavior in situ of every natural object he can get at: page 32)
A good four to six hours daily from April through October She says she knows this isn’t practical but that she isn’t addressing the practical but rather the ideal (!)
In the winter months she still suggests 90 minutes outdoors in the morning and again in the afternoons!
In the Winter:
Winter walks
Play ‘Kim’s game’
Ask who can remember what you passed on your walk and tell each other all you remember.
Observe the trees, note their changes
Learn to recognize bird calls
My Note: It’s important to remember that Miss Mason lived in England, which has a reputation for being cold and wet- but I am sure she knew nothing like the blizzards we get on the prairies in North America
Out of doors the rest of the year:
Take them yourself,
Leave them greatly to their own devices, however
There is much to do be done and even more to prevent
To do:
Keep them in a joyous temper
Allow an hour or two of vigorous play- running, climbing trees, free play, large muscle use Leave them alone to wonder over what they see and to grow
First send them to play freely, without directions
Second- send them to explore, give them something particular to observe. Give them a simple instruction such as:
Go find out all you can about that brook, that tree, that hedge…
This trains observational skills
Increased vocabulary by as they come up with words and ideas as they are asked for me detail and specifics.
Trains in truthfulness
Do not accept exaggerations
Correct omissions
The description should make it clear what is being described, so clear that you could identify the specimen by the description.
Make performances a matter of fact rather than self-conscious performances.
Give them things to think about (“Every walk should offer some knotty problem for the children to think out- ‘why does that leaf float on the water and this pebble sink?” Page 154, see more under The Habit of Thinking)
In order to reward careful observation and accurate description:
Mother will only go to see what the child has described when a fairly accurate description has been given-
If you must refuse to go see the wonderful tree or the beautiful flower, do so cheerfully- it is not a punishment. Simply laughingly explain that mother is tired, and she must know more before she can get up to go look- perhaps ask one or two questions for the child to return and discover before you can go to look yourself.
To prevent:
No lessons until after vigorous physical play and free wandering about
No reading books
No restricting games
No longwinded lectures
A Landscape study:
Mother demonstrates herself
Offer some help at first by taking baby steps at observation during the first few outings:
“Look at those trees, aren’t those green leaves a lovely shade? What does that plant remind you of? Look at the way the water splashes on those rocks! Look at the lovely shape of this rock
‘ The Landscape Study:
Explain that they can begin building a mental picture gallery:
Have them watch some good patch of landscape; shut their eyes until they see that view before them clearly even when their eyes are closed. Then ask them to close their eyes and describe it to you. Do this only now and then as it is fatiguing. This is to train to see fully and in detail.
See pages 46-50 of volume one for more
Outdoor play should give the children the opportunity to develop a love of nature and to learn and recognize:
Common plants, domestic and Wild- this is the beginning of classification, noting the shape, size number of petals, leaves, veins, trees with and without leaves, animals with and without backbones; plant or meat eaters. Direct observations so that the child will learn and recognize:
Field crops, in every seasonal aspect
Wildflowers and weeds, both leaves (shape, size, growth pattern) and flowers, type, whether head, single blossoms, spikes… And habitats (look at the ground to see that plant might grow)
Tree recognition:
Compare and contrast half a dozen varieties
Choose half a dozen specific, individual tress to follow throughout the year. Make a special effort to look at those trees carefully and note how they have changed.
Begin in winter to compare and note differences, watch for first signs of seasonal changes
In spring learn their names as you spot the leaves, note how the new leaves are folded.
Note the bud styles and variations between species
Keep pressed flower collections and collections of leaves and plants
Organize the collections by forms or shapes in order to assist classification skills later,
Make careful brush drawings
This is a good time to learn some simple principles of color mixing
Follow seasons, note changes in plants
View each with excitement and mystery, note when each species first is spotted blooming
Keep calendar of first sightings, where and when, use it every year and follow it, noting any changes, adding new species and information
Nature diary- descriptive entries in a nature journal
Living creatures
Keep pets and watch them, comment on their behavior and appearance
Have a bird feeder (and bird bath, if possible)
Learn to recognize bird calls, and, if possible, imitate them
Practice ‘bird stalking’ on winter walks (see page 85)
Outdoor play can also incorporate opportunities to give children experiences that will lay a good foundation for later studies in geography.
The Sun:
Observe its position at various times throughout the day
Note times of sunrise and sunset as well as their direction
The place of the sun at the hottest part of the day
Distance and direction
In addition to noting the location of the sun
Note the time it takes to walk
A foot, a yard, a block, a quarter mile, a half mile
To frequent destinations- a friend’s house, the store, the library, the barn, the corner, around the block (wherever it is you do walk- learn how far that is and how long it takes to walk that distance)
Direction, learn what a western wind means (it is blowing from the west, not toward the west, just as a Canadian is _from_ Canada)
Observe their shape, size, style, color and note the connection between clouds and weather
Again- all of this is supposed to be done through _personal observations_ and first hand experience.
Help your child develop a daily habit of appropriate moral and mental work (see page 21) through
Fresh air
Daily baths
Comfortable clothes made of fabrics that breathe
Daily practice in doing right, in one’s duty
Some morning lessons
Daily French lesson (this is what CM did, applying her principles would lead most of us to choose a different language)- of two to six words learned each day.
Healthy meals
Pleasant, regular mealtimes
Variety in meals (two weeks or more without repetition)
Meals out of doors often
Rest after those meals
Afternoons outside
Arts and crafts
Attention to physical development:
Large muscle use in outdoor play as mentioned above
Daily dance, drill, ‘Swedish drill’
Races, chases, tag, follow the leader
Ball, shuttlecock
Skipping rope
Singing games, traditional games, and games such as tag, ring around the rosie, and those mentioned above under physical development.
Importance of physical training at an early age:
Children should learn
“Every form of activity which requires a training of the muscles
Early because the muscles and joints have not merely to conform themselves to new uses, but to grow to a modified pattern; and this growth and adaptation take place with the greatest facility in early youth… the man whose muscles have kept the habit of adaptation picks up new games, new muscular exercises, without very great labor.” Page 113
Daily physical training or exercises are necessary in order to give the child pleasure in light and easy motion (page 132)
What sort of reading?
The kind that stimulates or cultivates the imagination- she compares Alice in Wonderland to Swiss Family Robinson and says SFR is better for cultivating the imagination because children are more likely to have ‘delightful imaginings, the realisation of the unknown’ with the second (page 152)- in other words, they are more likely to playact things from SFR than Alice in Wonderland. She also says that Alice is a delightful book- just don’t overdo the absurdities in their library.
“Books of ‘comicalities’ cultivate no power but the sense of the incongruous; and though life is the more amusing for the possession of such a sense, when cultivated to excess it is apt to show itself in a flippant habit.” 152
Funny books are important, but they should not have too much nonsense reading. Page 152
Books the children will live over and over and play at by the hour (152)
Avoid stories of children in their own condition of life, doing the same things they do, leave no room for imagination (152), and instead supply ‘tales of the imagination, scenes laid in other lands and other times, heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales in which they are never roughly pulled up by the impossible- even where all is impossible, and they know it, and yet believe.’ (Page 152)
Why? The importance of imagination:
A generous imagination is what makes possible to see beyond what is apparent to what is possible, to reach ‘great conceptions and heroic efforts.’ (152) An expansive imagination is an important part of character training, as it is ‘only as we have it in us to let a person or a cause fill the whole stage of the mind, to the exclusion of self-occupation, that we are capable of large-hearted action on behalf of that person or cause.’ (153)
Developing the imagination:
Imagination ‘grows by what it gets,’ and ‘childhood is the time for its nourishing.’ Storybooks is where they should find ‘the joy of living in far lands, in other persons, in other times- a delightful double existence.’
In Lessons:
History and geography should captivate their imaginations, nourish and improve their ability to imagine other times, other climes- but the ‘realms of fancy’ will best cultivate this power to imagine. (153)

It is popular in some circles today to say that it doesn’t matter what a child learns as long as he learns how to learn. Miss Mason in another volume says that this concept makes about as much sense as saying it doesn’t matter what a child eats as long he learns how to eat. She points out that the best way to learn -how- to learn is to have things worth learning. She also says that:
“Much of what we have learned and experienced in childhood, and later, we cannot reproduce, and yet it has formed the groundwork of after-knowledge; later notions and opinions have grown out of what we once learned and knew.” This ‘sunk capital’ of early learning earns interest throughout our lives. (Page 154-5)
Lessons should be short, should be linked to previous studies in the same subject, should require perfect attention
Parents should give some consideration to the questions as to what a child should learn and how he should learn it. Once she troubles to ‘find a definite and thoughtful answer’ to the questions ‘Why must the children learn at all, what should they learn, and how should they learn it,’ the mother may discover that ¾ of the time and labor ordinarily spent by the child at his lessons is lost time and wasted energy.’ Page 171
Why Must Children Learn?
That the mind may grow
In ‘order that ideas may be freely sown in the fruitful soil of his mind’,
And to gain knowledge
Or impressions- ‘any teaching which does not leave him possessed of a new mental image has, by so far, missed its mark.” Page 173 Lessons should flash upon them with a vividness that leaves a mental picture behind. A morning in which a child receives no new idea is a morning wasted. In order to receive these all important ideas, the mind must be ‘in an attitude of eager attention,’ (notes of suggestions on how to do this are elsewhere) The possession of these ideas is so precious that the parent cannot filly allow the child’s selection of ideas to be a matter of chance: his lessons should furnish him with such ideas as shall make for his further education.”
The child’s capacity for knowledge is very limited…therefore, it behoves parent or teacher to pour in only of the best.’ 175
Should not be diluted (it is too often presented as a single grain of pure knowledge in a whole gallon of talk- 175)
Knowledge offered in lessons should be ‘…valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of the kind that the child may recall as a man with profit and pleasure. (Page 177)

Two resources Mason recommends are a guide to wildflowers and a book of child psychology.

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