Home Education

At College with Charlotte Mason

May 13, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

In our search for ideas on educating ourselves, we already looked at Charlotte Mason’s daily routine. Today, we’re going to talk about what it looked like to go to college and receive the two-years’ teacher training at Ambleside. All of the information I’m sharing here is from Essex Cholmondeley’s chapter in The Story of Charlotte Mason called Taking the Training in 1918, in which she details her own experience at the college.


Listen to this post as a podcast episode:


It is easy to want to jump right in and ask the question, What did they do? But Cholmondeley structures her chapter with atmosphere, discipline, and life, and so we need to start with atmosphere.

The Atmosphere of the Training

Cholmondeley makes it clear that she had “feared an institution” — one wonders if she feared what is found at our modern colleges — and was delightfully surprised to find a house. Obviously, it was a rather large one, as it housed all the students for the college, and yet the English do seem to specialize in large houses, don’t they?

Copies of beautiful paintings hung on the walls, including a portrait Fred Yates had done of Miss Mason. A copy of the fresco The Descent of the Holy Spirit was hung in the classroom, an ever-present reminder of the sacredness of the task set before them.

One thing that particularly fascinated me was that Miss Mason took seriously the idea that she was preparing her students to live in other people’s houses. That had never occurred to me before, and we are generally not preparing ourselves or our children to do this. And yet I mention it because I’m certain there is a parallel here for us. Miss Mason took the future of her students into consideration when she designed the atmosphere of her college. She was never concerned with only the here-and-now.

The students participated in maintenance of the house: they helped to clean and dust and clear off tables after meals.

Each student gradually became an active and acceptable member of the household, one who demanded little but could cheerfully co-operate in daily living.

The Discipline of the Training

Cholmondeley refers repeatedly to the “strict economy of time.” This is interesting mainly because I see a lot of resistance to schedules among CM homeschoolers. And, yes, I know that schedules can be dictators and we are not in college but have real families and so on and so forth.

I get that.

But I also think that there is something valuable to be learned here. I plan to talk about it more in the future, and actually I mentioned it in my podcast with Sarah. It is an idea I’m chewing on right now. For now, I’m just saying that we shouldn’t immediately discard the idea that a “strict economy of time” might have value.

So here’s the average daily schedule:

8:00 ambreakfast
9:00 am
to 1:00 pm
work and lectures
sometime between
9 and 1
half-hour break for drill or dancing
2:30 to 4:00 pmwalks
4:00 pmtea
4:30 to 6:30 pmwork
7:45 to 8:45 pmwork
9:15 pmprayers
10:15 pmlights out

Says Cholmondeley:

Four half-hours in the day remained, precious for music, painting, sewing.

Here are some other aspects of the discipline involved:

  • Walks were not for going to town. They were to be spent out in nature, and Ambleside has an abundance of hikes from which to choose, very few of which could be classified as “easy.” Sometimes the walks were guided in the form of nature walks, bird walks, outdoor geography, and even French walks. Other times the students were exploring on their own.
  • Walks were not to be taken in solitude. This was because the students were supposed to
    discover how to notice and enjoy outdoor things in spite of the companions of the moment…
  • No note-taking was allowed at lectures. Instead, the students were to immediately write a narration, and time was allotted for this.
  • Study was undertaken in the “CM way.” This means the books were read aloud, only once, and then narrated orally or in written form.
  • Teaching practice was done at the school right there in Ambleside.
    The students taught a form in the Practising School for a week at a time taking every subject.
  • Each Thursday, Miss Mason and other of the teaching staff observed the students who were teaching that week. This was done in a special room, aptly called the “classroom.” The children and the student-teacher entered the room, greeted the observers, and then began “class.” An hour of lessons were given, followed by thirty minutes of constructive criticism.
  • The schedule was altered when there were visitors. On those evenings, there might be a reading of a Shakespeare.
  • Each Tuesday they had a “drawing room evening” for visitors. Second-year students prepared papers to present (including illustrations or photographs). Miss Mason was always there.
  • It is said that Miss Mason was present at “the mid-day meal.” This is not on the schedule, but it must have happened sometime between 1 and 2:30 pm. I assume there was also a meal during the 6:30 to 7:45 pm gap. We know Miss Mason always ate around 7:00 pm.
  • Time “passed at a different pace on Sundays.” There was no “making up for lost time” and no letter-writing. There was “complete rest from duties.” Students read poetry, essays, biographies, or works on travel or art — they did this for pleasure. They spent time in the college garden. Church-going was required, even of the students who were not Anglican, and for an hour in the afternoons Miss Mason’s meditations were given. (These were eventually compiled into her multi-volume poetic commentary upon the Gospels known as The Saviour of the World.)
  • Sometimes, a normal school day was cancelled in favor of a romp in good weather. This was announced by the ringing of an early bell, and the students were expected to be flexible.

The Life of the Training

The “work” at the college was not focused on crowd-management skills, which tends to be the way of modern teachers’ colleges. Those sorts of tips must have been given along the way, but the focus was on amassing knowledge. The teachers became students themselves, learning about God, man, and the universe.

Teaching is not a technique exercised by the skilled on behalf of the unskilled. It is a sharing of the effort to know, using all that is best in the world of books, of music, of pictures, all that can be observed and cherished out of doors, all that hand and eye can make; all that religion, history, art, mathematics and science can reveal to the active mind.


I’d love to hear your observations on all of this!

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10 Comments

  • Reply Magazines as Continuing Education | Afterthoughts January 18, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    […] Mason’s name is L’Umile Pianta. This was created by the students who graduated from the teacher’s college at Ambleside. It was essentially the alumni magazine. Within its pages, the graduates talked with each other, […]

  • Reply Kay Pelham December 29, 2018 at 8:47 am

    The link above which I assume should take me to the podcast with Sarah, instead takes me to information about Teaching from Rest. Is there a link to the podcast? I reeeallly want to hear what you’re chewing on about a “strict economy of time”.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 29, 2018 at 10:15 am

      It is now only available as part of the bundle recordings at CAP. 🙁 I didn’t realize that until we were checking broken links this week. I’m sorry!

  • Reply A Note on Lectures at the Ambleside Teachers' College | Afterthoughts November 29, 2018 at 11:52 am

    […] Education Course next — and truly that is what I meant to do. But one thing that came up in my post on Miss Mason’s teachers’ college was that “lecture” was listed on the schedule, and the question was raised about what […]

  • Reply A Brief History of Charlotte Mason's Mothers' Education Course | Afterthoughts July 24, 2018 at 7:33 am

    […] that we can find in Charlotte Mason’s world. We looked at her personal schedules and how she educated her teachers (among other things). I want to go through the content of the Mothers’ Education Course […]

  • Reply On Mother Culture | Afterthoughts July 24, 2018 at 7:30 am

    […] Culture. After all, we’ve talked about Miss Mason’s continuing self-education and how she educated her teachers, the Mothers’ Education Course, and more! If we’re going to be thorough, we simply […]

  • Reply Miriam Snyder January 14, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    I am wondering if you (or anyone else reading this comment!) knows where a person could buy a print of The Descent that could be framed for the home?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 14, 2017 at 5:01 pm

      This is exciting because this is the first time I’ve been able to say “yes” to this question! Someone bought this one for me and it is just wonderful.

  • Reply Leah (mylittlerobins) August 2, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I am going to have to read the book you referred to! I was trained in the Charlotte Mason method at an Ambleside School, but it’s so interesting to hear how the original training went!

  • Reply RiverBaggins April 3, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    I find this article fascinating and a wonderful help to mother’s “in the trenches” of daily home learning – we need to be cultivating this deep learning for ourselves in the midst of our children learning.
    Soon, I will be attending a weekend class and hope to apply some of these principles in regards to not note-taking, but listening and then writing a (in this situation) quick but well-thought narration.

    Thank you for sharing this, Brandy!

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