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Charlotte Mason’s Mothers’ Education Course: The Content

July 14, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

Last time, we discussed the history and purpose of the MEC. This time, we’re going to discuss the content. Now, I’m not going to go over every single assigned book in this post. Instead, we’re going to focus on the broad, general outline of the plan.


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As I mentioned before, the original course lasted three years, and it was later cut down to two. There were four subjects studied (which we’ll cover shortly), and the first thing that might interest you is that all four subjects were studied each consecutive year. So, whereas if you were taking a correspondence or online course today, you’d “finish” one class before moving on to another, this course maintained the four strands, and simply deepened the understanding with each passing year.

I loved this because it seems so classically Charlotte Mason to me. You don’t finish subjects in a real education. You simply deepen. The course was designed in this way.

So, what are the four areas of study?

I’m glad you asked.

They are:

  1. Divinity
  2. Physiology and health (with an emphasis on caring for children)
  3. Mental and moral science and education
  4. Nature lore and the elements of science

I did not invent these categories; this is how they appear in the syllabus.

Some Brief Descriptions of These Areas of Study

Divinity

The focus seems to have been on having a basic working theological and biblical knowledge, as well as some historical understanding. For example, there was a book assigned that answered the question of how the English got their Bible. There were commentaries on the Bible, and books that explained the historical background of Biblical time periods. There were also books on passing on the faith — on catechism, religious training of children, how to use the prayer book, and so on.

Physiology and health

There were a few books on hygiene. We don’t really use the term in this way anymore. I’ve looked up some books on this subject from the time period, and they cover things like natural lighting, ventilation and fresh air, heating, eye health, ear health, spinal defects to watch for, proper singing technique so that vocal chords are not damaged (in my opinion, very needed today since improper singing technique is so popular), and so on. Other books covered the importance of cleanliness, bathing, temperance, and basics of disease prevention.

Mental and moral science and education

This is where Miss Mason’s own volumes were assigned (not all of them, but some). Other books covered neurological development (my guess is they discussed the impact of habit on neural tissue). There was basic psychology. There were books on teaching and books on educational philosophy; books on ethics and books on character development. She was even sure to include some Plato for good measure.

Nature lore and the elements of science

In the first year, the mothers began with basic botany, wildflower identification, astronomy, geology, and books on nature study. The next year there was more wildflower identification and more astronomy and even more geology, plus they added field, garden, birds, fruits, and leaves. In the final year there was modern botany, seashore information, animal life, more astronomy, and field geology.

Applying the MEC to Today

When I’ve shared this list with others, it’s both answered and raised a lot of questions. On the one hand, this shows us her priorities. What does a mother need to know? She needs to understand how best to care for the bodies and souls of her children. She needs to understand some basic philosophy. And she needs to know about the world around her.

This list is both a tall order as well as a really simplified approach. It’s a lot, and yet we can think of so much more that we think we need to add.

The questions that are raised deserve to be asked. Miss Mason was, we suppose, trying to educate the deficits of the mothers she encountered, as well as put them in touch with the living, captain thoughts of their own day. So do we today have the same deficits? Or do we have different ones? If we were to design an MEC for ourselves, ought we to choose these same subject areas? Do we need more areas? Or different areas?

This is where it gets tricky, for we’re not talking about this as an academic exercise. We’re looking into our own continuing self-education and getting some inspiration and practical ideas.

Over at AmblesideOnline, I’ve been working with a team of women to help design a “modern equivalent” of the MEC. This is going to take some time, of course, but we’re all hoping for something great. It might not be perfect for every single mother — in fact, I know it won’t be — but it will offer a good starting place and a picture of what an MEC might look like in today’s world.

In other words, it’ll be an option. And because it’s from AmblesideOnline, it’ll be free of charge. Yet another gift to you and the rest of mankind.

Because we love you, and all that.

Next in this series, we’ll be talking about Mother Culture.

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26 Comments

  • Reply The Summer 2015 Mother Culture Reading List | Afterthoughts September 3, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    […] yes, there is also the idea of a Mother’s Education Course, and we’ll get to that soon, but MEC’s are not for moms with tiny babes in the house. […]

  • Reply A Reading Life | Simply Convivial February 21, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    […] on by Charlotte Mason through Brandy, I have decided to keep 5 types of books always in my current reading stack (or, in my case, […]

  • Reply Becca February 18, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    I’ve been reading this series and curious to know if the AO contemporary version is in the works, or if it’s still down the road. Looking forward to hearing about both options.

  • Reply Mothers' Education Course: Summer 2017 | Afterthoughts July 25, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    […] may know there were four subjects. (Click here to read more about the content.) I’ll explain each briefly below, and then recommend a short list of books appropriate for […]

  • Reply On Mother Culture | Afterthoughts July 25, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    […] of you look at the Mother’s Education Course and you can’t wait for something like that. But I know that others of you look at it and […]

  • Reply The Summer 2016 Mother Culture Reading List | Afterthoughts July 24, 2018 at 7:30 am

    […] Mason world, there are two basic approaches to a mother’s self-education. One is the Mother’s Education Course, which is what my suggested reading list last week was based upon. This program was an intense […]

  • Reply Mothers' Education Course: Summer 2018 | Afterthoughts July 24, 2018 at 7:29 am

    […] Last week, I posted the Mother Culture list. In many ways, Mother Culture is an easier approach. With that said, this does not mean the Mother Culture way is the slacker way. It’s just that the Mothers’ Education Course way is … I don’t know. More academic, perhaps? If you want a longer explanation of the Mothers’ Education Course, you can read the history of it here. I also detailed the content specifics here. […]

  • Reply Karen May 29, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    Are you able to publish a booklist for each subject? I would love to know what the actual content of each subject was at the time. Or the actual content of the syllabi was. Or is this downloadable somewhere on AO. Your general summaries of what was covered in each subject are lovely and informative, but I was curious to know more details if there are any, as you mentioned you had looked at copies of the actual syllabi.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 29, 2018 at 5:21 pm

      I am working on this for AmblesideOnline and it will eventually be available, along with a contemporary version of the MEP. 🙂

      • Reply Michaela July 3, 2018 at 12:53 pm

        Thank you Brandi for doing this! I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of this course on AmblesideOnline!

  • Reply Mama Rachael May 14, 2018 at 6:48 am

    I have to check in…. I’m excited about the idea of a Mother’s Education Course! But, until then, I will keep working on my own. 😀

  • Reply Sam Gee August 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    I was just listening to you on the Cultivating the Lovely podcast, and you were such an encouragement for me today, and I loved the suggestion of having 3 books of differing diffuclties. I’m really looking forward to the Mother’s Education Course at AO when it is complete <3

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 1, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      Aw, thanks for stopping by, Sam! ♥ Glad you’re here. 🙂

  • Reply Choosing & Organizing My TBR Piles » Simply Convivial June 15, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    […] Brandy started it all, of course. My reading for the last year or so has been spotty and haphazard and I’d been wanting to get more intentional and deliberate about it. So when I saw Brandy’s post, I realized it was time to revive my practice of “multiple streams of reading.” […]

  • Reply Karen March 17, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Hey Brandy! Just wondering if you can give any update on the MEC AO is working on. Any idea when it might be ready? 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 17, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      I don’t have a timeline but I can tell you that we tend to work in intervals and we have another one coming up in the month of April, where we’re going to work really hard for 30 days (well, except for Good Friday and Easter, of course). Pray for us! If we can do what I think we can do, we can move on to our next stage of planning.

      • Reply Karen March 17, 2017 at 5:33 pm

        I’m sure it takes a LOT of work to accomplish this. I think it’s awesome that you all are trying to put this together to share with everyone! Thanks for all your hard work!

  • Reply Nancy Buterbaugh December 28, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    Can’t WAIT to see it!

  • Reply Crystal January 15, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    When do you think AO’s version of MEC will be up and running? I would love to be a part of the training.

  • Reply January February 7, 2015 at 11:25 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Charlotte Mason’s recommended course! Especially since, as a homeschool graduate, I’ve been looking at different methods of continuing education. I’ve looked around on AO–is the “modern equivalent” of the MEC available yet? I can’t wait to see what all you have compiled!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2015 at 4:18 pm

      I hate to disappoint, but I think we are at least a year out from really having anything to make public… 🙁

      • Reply January February 8, 2015 at 12:18 pm

        No worries or rush. I’m enjoying compiling a personalized book list in the meantime. But I’m also curious about the original M.E.C. syllabus, or P.N.E.U. Reading Course. Do you know if that’s available somewhere?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 8, 2015 at 1:06 pm

          There is a library at Redeemer that is very difficult to comb through, but all the original sources we are working with are there.

          • January February 8, 2015 at 5:49 pm

            Thank you so much, Brandy! It’ll be like a treasure hunt. 😉

          • Brandy Vencel February 8, 2015 at 7:33 pm

            🙂

      • Reply Kelli April 10, 2016 at 8:25 am

        Any hopes of the modern MEC cominget to completion any time soon?

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