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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Bible Lessons, Charlotte Mason Style {Part 1}

    October 21, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat do you do for Bible? is a common question I am asked. People are usually looking for a curriculum, something they can buy that will direct them. Does Charlotte Mason offer something like this?

    The answer is no.

    And also yes.

    Bible Lessons CM Style Part I

    For it seems there is no box curriculum for anything Charlotte did, and yet she does offer us direction and practical ideas.

    I own a number of children’s Bible story books that I use with my preschoolers. Our favorites are The Big Picture Story Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible. Charlotte would have preferred fine art illustrations, I know, but I appreciate the simple poetry and covenantal approach.

    But eventually a child turns six, and it’s time for the Real Thing. What does that look like?

    First of all, for Charlotte Mason, there was no substitute for reading the actual words of Scripture. She did utilize commentaries for background information, but her students weren’t reading “Bible storybooks” in her classrooms:

    [P]erhaps we canot do a greater indignity to children than to substitute our own or some other benevolent person’s rendering for the fine English, poetic diction and lucid statement of the Bible.

    Her objective was nothing less than giving the children a knowledge of God, and she knew that this knowledge was best obtained through the use of the inspired text itself.

    So, let’s try and break down exactly what she did.


    The Old Testament

    Charlotte really respected the power and importance of the Old Testament’s place in our faith. She understood that in order to really “get” the New Testament, we need to have the Old Testament playing on repeat in the background of our minds. Because of this, the New Testament and the Old Testament were approached differently.

    We’ll get into the details, but it seems important to note at the outset that the philosophy behind Bible lessons was like that underlying everything else: if it’s worth reading, it is worth narrating. So Scripture was read, passage by passage, and narrated each time. If we want them to remember and assimilate what we are giving them, we must have them narrate.


    Ages Six to Twelve

    At this age, children read the Old Testament narratives, chronologically, passage by passage, narrating after each passage. Beginning in Kings, from what I can tell, the Psalms and Prophets were fit in chronologically as well. Mason used a commentary at this age called The Bible for the Young, and I thought I found it on Google Books, though I must say the title was a bit different, and so I wasn’t positive.

    Personally, I have not used commentaries in our daily readings, though it would be helpful to me to find something that shows me the exact chronology, especially how the various Prophets fit in with Kings. That is a resource I will not need for another year or so, as we are currently in Judges. I wouldn’t mind using a commentary; it simply wasn’t something I thought about before researching this post.

    Does the teacher do anything? Good question.

    Before the close of the lesson, the teacher brings out such new thoughts of God or new points of behaviour as the reading has afforded, emphasising the moral or religious lesson to be learnt rather by a reverent and sympathetic manner than by any attempt at personal application.

    We draw their minds to the principle, but we let conviction settle upon them as it will.


    Ages Twelve to Fifteen

    In junior high and early high school {as we call these ages}, they read the whole of the Old Testament again, this time on their own, as arranged in another volume I cannot locate called Old Testament History by Reverend H. Costley-White. From what I can tell, part of the appeal was that Costley-White had made the “necessary ommissions” which made the readings all appropriate for mixed company. Again, I wonder if there is anything like this out there? Or is that really necessary for a home school?  Also, all of the readings were interspersed chronologically, so the Psalms and Prophets were already where they belonged, historically speaking. I believe there are chronologically arranged Bibles available, and perhaps it would be helpful for me to invest in one.


    Ages Fifteen to Eighteen

    In high school {what she called the “upper forms”}, students worked their way through the Old Testament a third time, this time utilizing Dummelow’s One Volume Commentary. More modern versions of this can be found used on Amazon, though I didn’t link because I couldn’t find the 1908 original, and I can’t vouch for the content of the printings from more modern decades. Again, I think that a suitable commentary could be found. {I might even be tempted to use Matthew Henry!}


    A Summary of Old Testament Lessons

    In Mason’s classrooms, then, the Old Testament was read:

    • Three times through {by the end of the student’s schooling}
    • In light of a simple, age-appropriate commentary that provided helpful background information
    • Passage-by-passage and narrated accordingly
    • Chronologically, with the Psalms and Prophets interspersed into the books of Kings
    • In the actual English translation, rather than using a “children’s version”

    Why Three Times?

    Mason believed that children should be immersed in the Old Testament, so really the better question is: Why not five times? Ten? {The answer lies, by the way, lies in the quote below, where she explains she believes that doing this gradually is key to their prospering in their studies.} The point we should take home is that Mason viewed the Old Testament as imperative for a proper understanding of the New, as well as for a proper understanding of God:

    Here … unfolds for us a principle of education which those who desire their children to possess the passive as well as the active principle of religion would do well to consider; for it is probably true that the teaching of the New Testament, not duly grounded upon or accompanied by that of the Old, fails to result in such thought of God, wide, all-embracing, all-permeating, as David, for example, gives constant expression to in the Psalms. Let us have faith and courage to give children such a full and gradual picture of Old Testament history that they unconsciously perceive for themselves a panoramic view of the history of mankind typified by that of the Jewish nation as it is unfolded in the Bible.

    Click here to read Part 2.


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  • Reply Maria June 16, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    Biblica (creator of the Bible App) has created a book, The Books of the Bible, which is in chronological order and written without chapter or verse numbers. When you flip through the pages, you see it looks just like any other book! As a church, we read through this (with coordinating small group lessons and such). My husband and I found it so easy to read and, for some reason, we were able to focus so much more while reading it. On the bottom of the pages, it does have the references of the chapters and verses found on the page you are reading. They first came out with only the New Testament, but they have done the entire Bible, too. I believe it is also an Ebook. It is written in NIV. While reading your post, I was thinking that in a year or two, our oldest will be old enough for us to read through the Bible again together as a family! We got copies of this book through our church, which signed up for a program through Biblica. I’m not sure if you can purchase the book outside of that. If not – it’s a shame! We have several copies that we grabbed for our kids to use in the future!

  • Reply Kathy May 2, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    I now own three of Paterson-Smyth’s commentaries, and I love them! I don’t always actually use them simply because of logistics in our home, but I usually appreciate his insights.;view=1up;seq=1

    I think that’s all the Old Testament commentaries.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 2, 2015 at 8:18 pm

      Thank you for these links, Kathy! 🙂

  • Reply Pearls from Planning: Bible Studies | Crossing the Brandywine January 21, 2015 at 6:20 am

    […] in schools, I recommend the After Thoughts blog, where Brandy has two excellent posts covering the Old Testament and the New […]

  • Reply Philippians 4:8 November 29, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Enjoyed visiting while CM Blog Carnival touring.

    I have personal copies of two of the commentaries Charlotte used for the lower forms (I and II), The Bible for School and Home series, by Paterson Smyth, which as far as I can tell was also published under the name The Bible for the Young.

    Paterson suggests that his text be used primarily to prepare the teacher who would then narrate it to the children during the session, not reading directly from the book. If Charlotte says this, too, I have yet to come across it—but it is very in keeping with other suggestions she had for teacher preparation (that it take place beforehand and be delivered to the children naturally, in the flow conversational language.)

    What I gathered from Vol. 6 (p. 163) is that Charlotte used these brief commentaries to introduce the reading, perhaps providing relevant cultural explanations, and to create an image in the mind of the story. Of the commentaries, Charlotte says “…the subject is pictorially treated…” and, “…the commentary serving merely as a background for their thoughts.”


  • Reply Mystie October 22, 2011 at 4:22 am

    You bring up a good point about knowing yr own children, Kathy. I don’t always remember that because my mom’s style was not sensitive and discouraged sensitivity and my kids so far have not been sensitive. But one des have to know one’sown children and use wisdom. It simply bothers me if we assume without thinking it through that the very word of God needs to be edited. But there can be a time and a place for it.

  • Reply Mystie October 22, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Yes, a classroom setting would be different than the home, certainly. I wouldn’t be comfortable trusting the sorts of questions other kids might ask, even if the teacher didn’t comment. Ah, homeschooling, how I love thee. 🙂

    In the home with a mix of ages, its more difficult — impossible? — to target abrdgements for a certain age.

    David and Goliath is good, but only if they don’t abridge that David cut off his head with Goliath’s own sword. 😉

  • Reply Kathy October 22, 2011 at 4:02 am

    Victorians weren’t as prudish as some comments here suggest. In fact, I like using Victorian texts on moral issues because they’re more up front about many serious issues than modern books. Read some of the PR articles to get more of a sense of this–it was expected that by ten or twelve children would be well informed about sex.

    All that to say, I believe CM was right about editing scripture with our children when they are very young. Pray over it and follow the Spirit’s leading, but don’t assume it’s all appropriate for every child at any age. My children have sensitive hearts that cannot tolerate gruesome details.

    Thanks for laying this out! This is an area where I have not gone through and outlined the recommendations, so this is really helpful in refining what we are already doing.

  • Reply Pam... October 21, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    We haven’t used commentaries, but not for any particular reason. I would like to incorporate Strong’s and have older ones looking up words and getting to know a bit of Greek and Hebrew for those passages they are learning, though.

    Have you used The Book of Marvels for geography? Maybe you aren’t in that year yet in AO. We read it on Fridays and it is really good stuff.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts October 21, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    It looks like Pam wrote Part II for me while I was at co-op! 😉

    I think that *maybe* I agree with CM abridging, but *only* because it was in a classroom. I suppose I have only had experience with classrooms where my family did not personally know the teachers, but I wouldn’t generally trust a teacher’s judgment in discussing those types of passages with my children. To take the prostitution example, Mystie I really liked your definition, but some teachers I know would think that was the perfect opportunity for some sex ed! 80

    Ahem. So if our children were with people we knew and trusted, it would be one thing, but if not, I’d prefer they stick to David and Goliath, et. al. 🙂

    There is a chance, though, that since this *was* the Victorian era, even some of the grownups were reading abridgments. 😉

    Amy, Sure I will submit it! I was actually looking into figuring out how to submit it since I’ve never done it before. I assume it is easy enough to do?

    I did wonder about the use of commentaries. I think what I would be interested in at this age would be something that described the settings for them–geography especially. I think my two oldest children would eat that up! And geography wasn’t something I was strong on in my youth, so I suffer for it now. 🙂

    Pam, do you use commentaries with your older students? Or any of the rest of you for that matter? I am thinking I’d like a list of titles to check out, if anyone has something they really adore.

  • Reply Pam... October 21, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Also, Mystie Charlotte does have something to say about the catechism. This was right under the part I quoted earlier. Sorry, should have included it.

    “The Catechism, Prayer-book, and Church History are treated with suitable text-books much in the same manner and give opportunities for such summing-up of Christian teaching as is included in the so-called dogmas of the Church.” Vol. 6 pg 169.

  • Reply amy in peru October 21, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    I do hope you plan to submit this series to the CM blog carnival on 11/8?! pretty please?!

    We also love the Story Book Bible, and we’ve used the Child’s Story Bible by Vos.

    My boys are just this year using a commentary with their study of John in y7 of AO. We didn’t use one previously because my husband and I have a rich history in Bible study from which to draw (obviously, I’m not claiming to know everything, we do use commentaries for our *own* Bible studies). I wonder if that had anything to do with the recommendation for her teachers coming from various backgrounds, maybe?

    The “abridging” CM suggested was only for the youngest years, and not in the normal sense of abridgment, I’m thinking 🙂 She would just skip parts that weren’t necessary for the child *just then*, waiting until they were a little bit older when apparently they would be reading it for themselves.

    Personally, I don’t see any problem with that, knowing that eventually they will get the whole thing. They should read the Bible as a whole multiple times during their education/lives. Obviously, I don’t plan on withholding any part of the Word from them. However, as young children, they don’t remember *all* the details anyway, so to exclude a few of the lucid ones isn’t going to hurt them.

    In spite of all that, my husband also read right through the Bible from the very start with our kids and simply answered questions as they came up. I think it’s worked out fine. 🙂

    amy in peru

  • Reply Mystie October 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    I love the Covenantal Catechism overview that we use, but it is certainly true that all you *need* is Scripture itself. Learning the OT well and the NT in light of the OT is something the modern church seems to have lost.

    We get our history/theology overview through the Cov. Cat., then for our family devotions Matt reads a chapter at a time through the narrative portions of the OT, then the Gospels and Acts, and the boys narrate after he reads them. I try to have time set aside for the readers to read the Bible themselves (however and whatever they decide to read — they each have their own Bibles), too, but it hasn’t been happening as regularly as I would like.

    I haven’t decided for sure what we’ll do when we get into later elementary or middle school, though my plan is to do Omnibus, and it includes the entire Bible and supplements like Institutes, so we’ll probably be covered just fine along with a personal through-the-Bible-in-a-year reading plan, which I hope to add in around 12yo or so.

    I do remember reading in CM that she abridged Scripture reading based on “appropriateness,” and that always made me nervous. First, because that’s an area where I wouldn’t trust Victorians anyway, and second, because it seems that if it’s God’s Word, it’s pretty arrogant for us to determine what is and isn’t “appropriate” for His children. It seems to me like what He has given us should set our standard. We decided to read it straight through and simply answer questions if asked. The parts about the Israelites eating their children during sieges (which was specified in Duet. as a curse that would happen if they did not obey God) bothered them more than “treating sisters/strangers like wives without marrying them” (our definition for prostitute). The Bible is matter of fact about such things without being gruesome or crass or vulgar (as long as one doesn’t have a Victorian sensibility), so it seems that that should be the tactic we take as well.

  • Reply Pam... October 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Isn’t it awesome? I love it too that we can use our Bibles vs. a curriculum. (Dramatized NKV audio in my case, as it sounds wonderful with different modern day voices).
    Vol 1. pg.249 talks about using KJV and reading it to younger ones aloud; then narration. You are right! We narrate everything after all! lol!

    I think the commentaries were for mid to later years…

    “The lower forms [grades 1-6?] read the first three Gospels one at a time, which provide a synopsis of Christ’s life. Form IV [8th and 9th grade] reads the Gospel of John and Acts, supplemented with Bishop Walsham How’s wonderful commentaries, … The Epistles and Revelation are saved until Forms V and VI [grades 10-12]”

    Then she mentions memorizing for recitation starting at age 6. Let’s not forget those hymns. I am so glad her method is not secular; but based on a firm foundation and deep love for Christ.

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