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    Educational Philosophy, Mother's Education

    The Self-Education of Miss Charlotte Mason

    April 29, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    Today, we are looking at what is known about how Charlotte Mason continued her own education while she was working at Scale How. She was busy, just like us. She had correspondence to deal with, curriculum to plan, students to teach, schools to manage, magazines to edit, speaking engagements for which to prepare, and on and on. She had a lot on her plate and, in the midst of that, she managed to live a whole life and proceed with her personal study.


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    I am not so interested in how she was educated as a child or young woman, but in how she managed to continue her education as an extremely busy working woman.

    In The Story of Charlotte Mason, Essex Cholmondeley takes great pains to describe Miss Mason’s personal course of study. For example:

    • She had a “morning preparation” time, and Cholmondeley reports that the result was “a radiance that only ‘gospel books’ could bring.” From such a description, I think it is safe to conclude this prep time was devotional in nature.
    • If she was “too tired” after her morning endeavors, she relaxed — with either Punch or a Trollope novel — for 20 minutes. This happened around 11:00 AM.
    • “At twelve-fifteen she stopped work. Then would follow ten minutes of some classic author…”
    • After dinner (what we here in California call “lunch”), she read aloud a book of travel or biography.
    • 2:15 commenced a drive out in nature. When she was younger, she used this time for walking. Despite her poor health, she did not give it up, but resorted to driving instead. She returned at 4:00 PM for tea. It was said that she always found “some new thing” on these drives. She noticed the newest flowers to bloom, all the evidences of the changing of the seasons. She perfected her intimate knowledge of nature lore.
    • From 6:00 – 7:00 PM, she read “some old favourite novel, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Thackeray, Meredith, Jane Austen…”
    • After supper (ahem if you’re like me, you call this “dinner”) she spent time “reading aloud, The Times, and books of travel, literary essays, memoirs.” Since supper began at 7:00 PM, and this activity ended by 8:45 PM, we can guess this read aloud time lasted an hour, perhaps only forty-five minutes.
    • At 8:45 PM, she ended her day with her “evening reading and a Scott novel.” I always wondered if the rumors about her rereading Scott novels were true. Cholmondeley says that they are: “She always had ‘some Scott’ the last thing, and as one novel was finished another took its place and had done for thirty years.”

    Now, an important thing to note is that she did not use any of this personal study time for the books we see her reviewing in the Parent’s Review. The reading and reviewing of those books fell into her working hours, not her study hours. She had a luxury many homeschool moms do not have, which is getting paid to do things that were, by their nature, an enhancement to her own education.

    Cindy Rollins has always quoted that poem about “little drops of water” and “little grains of sand” making the ocean and the land. She uses it as a metaphor for our children’s education — that we do not conquer all in a day, but that the little bits throughout the day, and every day, really can add up to a magnificent education.

    In reading this summary of Miss Mason’s normal habits for her average days, I see the same encouragement. Ten minutes with a classic author? It doesn’t sound like much, does it? But if this ten minutes were given six days per week, that is an hour, and if it is done all year, that is 52 hours, and if that is done for 30 years, well…you get the picture. She was working in the little-drops-of-water mode, it seems.

    Many people watch a lot of TV streaming and movies. I wonder what our culture would be like if we replaced that with quality literature. Most of you probably do not watch that much television, but statistically more time is spent at a screen — Facebook and Instagram maybe? — than Miss Mason was spending in her reading, so it’s hard to think that we do not also have that sort of time, were we to manage our time well and make reading a priority.

    As I said before, we are going to spend the coming weeks looking at a variety of examples. Miss Mason is only our first. But these details are interesting, are they not?

    I think if we were to take away one thing from her example it’d be that habitual reading can take us quite far. Miss Mason was a well read person not because she read for three hours on a weekend but because snippets of reading time were peppered strategically throughout her day, every day. I don’t know about you, but I wonder how many great classics I could get through just by committing to ten minutes per day!

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  • Reply At College with Charlotte Mason | Afterthoughts December 28, 2018 at 11:28 am

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  • Reply Tracy April 23, 2018 at 9:05 am

    I find it remarkable that Miss Charlotte Mason did not hustle and bustle her education like so many do today. She savored it daily, unhurriedly giving herself permission to soak in the knowledge of the world around her.

  • Reply Rebecca E July 6, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    To be honest, what strikes me most in that list of things is how much time she’s taking for deliberate breaks. That’s definitely something to ponder, especially as I’m investigating how much productive time really is in a full day with very little deliberate time “off duty” or on “light duty”…
    I certainly take time out of the day to read what’s important to me (e.g. blogs like this one), but it feels like time snatched away. How much nicer would it be to deliberately plan that time into the day rather than feeling torn about what I should be doing in that time…

  • Reply a. borealis May 20, 2015 at 11:50 am

    I’m struck by how she seems to have lived the “adult version” of what she promoted for children. Living books, short “lessons”, nature study. A life-long endeavor.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 21, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      Yes! Exactly! She truly lived the life, which reminds me that it *wasn’t* for children — it was for humans. 🙂

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