Which Comes First: Education Philosophy or Education Practice?

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

I’m starting to get a reputation. I’m one of those people who are totally infatuated with Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy, and it’s true, so no complaints.

Why Do I Love Charlotte Mason? Let Me Count the Ways.

As a mother and a former child, I can’t help but appreciate how Mason viewed the child as a whole person and how she valued childhood activities like free play, being outdoors, and having the space & opportunity to think and make connections in the mind.

Oh, and the reading! This probably comes from more of a deficiency on my part since I wasn’t much of a reader as a child (for various reasons, including the fact that while I was learning to read I was so near-sided that I was legally blind), and I feel like I’ve been playing catchup ever since. Compare that to DH’s childhood. He was (and is) a big reader, and as a professional writer (yes, we have two in the family so far) he draws on his rich reading past to create his own worlds on page.

I love Charlotte’s focus on language arts (some would call this “The Trivium”) through reading living books, copy work, dictation, oral and written narration, and common place journaling. It’s a writer’s dream come true to see her own children loving language arts! I know we could have some hereditary characteristics in play here, but I also credit the affinity my kids have for language to Mason’s methods.

After all, we also have many mathematicians and scientists in the family, and just by watching L6 with his Snap Circuits and K’Nex I have a pretty good indication of where he’s headed. But, does that mean we chuck aside language arts in favor of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (some would call this “The Quadrivium”)? By no means! Where language arts abounds, mathematical arts doth much more abound. (I couldn’t resist.) Actually, in a CM education there is room (and encouragement) for both. Equally.

So, yes. I love the CM “method” or “philosophy.” I love reading her original writings, often side-by-side with Ambleside Online’s modern paraphrasing, and the history buff side of me loves learning about her life and the world events in her lifetime that affected what she wrote about. But, did I start my homeschooling journey knowing all of this? No. No I did not. (A little Zootopia reference there)

Education in Practice

I think when most of us answer the question, “How long have you been homeschooling?” we count the years since our oldest “did kindergarten” at home or perhaps since our oldest child achieved the age of compulsion (in Missouri, that’s age seven). Others of us might count the years since our oldest child was born or when we first pulled a child from pre-school or elementary/middle/high school. No matter how you count it, it’s a tough question to answer because in a way a homeschool parent has always been education minded. No matter when a parent makes the decision to homeschool, once that decision is made the child’s education is retroactively begun when then parent’s education began. As a homeschool parent, we are so much more than a teacher. We are pretty much in complete control of our child’s education, and (like it or not) we make some decisions based on our own experience as the student.

When we pulled A9 from private kindergarten, all I had to go on was my own childhood experience in public school (which had high and low points), input from DH’s public school experience (also with highs and lows), and a couple pointers from a good friend (Jill) who had just exited the homeschool scene by putting her kids into private school (K/2nd/5th grades). She gave me a box of random curriculum leftover from different programs she had tried, including a couple part-time private classical schools. That, plus the Math U See Alpha book A9 had been working through in his kindergarten class, was my introduction to homeschool.

Of course, I also had the questioning looks from both my mother, who is a retired public school teacher, as well as my mother-in-law who no doubt wondered why I planned to reinvent the wheel. Their input also shaped our homeschool, too. My mom worried about “keeping up with grade level” in the event that our kids would need to be placed in public school. DH’s mom, I think, worried about me not having a career outside the home.

To be honest, they were concerns I shared. I mean, it would be ridiculous to not have those apprehensions, but I felt a strong enough calling to homeschool that between the three of us (and DH and all the other supportive people in our lives), we found peace about it all. As it turns out, A9 and L6 are consistently above grade level (btw, I have great respect for those homeschooling children with educational setbacks having to answer those questions), and I’ve settled into a part-time job allowing me to work from home. My part-time job brings in at least what I would be making at a full-time job after childcare and other convenience expenses are taken into account.

So, we began our family’s homeschool journey by doing the next right thing. I knew to do math every day. I knew to read aloud to my 5 year old student who was decoding at a high level but not comprehending all that he could decode, and thanks to Jill I owned a few quality books to read to him. I knew to do handwriting and to give him plenty of time to play and to end every day with a bedtime story, a prayer, and a snuggle. I didn’t know how I knew these things. I just knew they were right.

Education in Philosophy

As we finished A9’s first kindergarten year – we pulled him mid-year and ended up doing another full year of kindergarten – I began to wonder why these practices were right and what other practices might also be good for us. I began to read Brandy Vencel’s Afterthoughts blog and the CiRCE Institute’s articles. A friend introduced me to Ambleside Online, and I first fell in love with AO’s grade-by-grade reading lists and then even more in love with Charlotte Mason’s writings.

I distinctly remember having to read her volumes in very small quantities because her words were so over my head. Beginning a CM education was sort of like becoming a parent for the first time. No one could adequately prepare me for it. Outside sources gave me support and encouragement, but I just had to jump in and do it. It’s only recently, three-plus years into our CM journey, that I feel I understand enough to be a source of encouragement for others. In addition to this blog – which, admittedly, is more for me than for you – I’m holding a monthly CM study group to help launch others in my area into Mason’s philosophy. It’s so full that I’m about to begin another study group. I’m so fulfilled seeing others begin their own CM journey by adding her philosophy to their everyday homeschool practices.

No matter if you are just starting out as a homeschool parent or if you’re a long time home educator but new to Charlotte Mason, please take heart that no one begins this journey with a full understanding of Mason’s philosophy. Keep doing the next right thing, which I hope includes language arts, mathematical arts, and a study of Mason’s original volumes. Toss in some encouragement from blogs, books, and podcasts and you are well on your way to a CM style of education.

Until next Friday (or so).

I’m reading:


Moderately challenging books:

Stiff books:



4 thoughts on “Which Comes First: Education Philosophy or Education Practice?

  1. Although I began home educating about 13 years ago, I started with CM….and without fully knowing what all of her philosophy and methodology was all about. I am thankful for Catherine Levison’s books “A Charlotte Mason Education” & “More Charlotte Mason Education. They got me started with the “how” and a bit of the “why”. The rest of “why” came over time.

    Parents, you can do this without knowing all of the fine details (though, if your children are not old enough yet, start reading Mason’s works now!).

    Liked by 1 person

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