A Charlotte Mason Commonplace Book and questions to ponder.


For the right use of the programmes two things are necessary—solitude and independence. Children must have these….Miss Mason devises time-tables which cover such reasonable hours as to leave time over for this solitude, but parents are often very culpable in thinking that Tango or some other new thing must be learned as well, and the much needed time for solitude is used for plans which necessitate hurried journeys, always in the company of a responsible person, who feels it her duty to talk in an instructive way, and the thinking time, the growing time, the time in which the mind is to find food is diminished, and the child becomes restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient—everything that a child who is reputed to be difficult can be. The parents marvel and say, “But we are giving him the best education that can be procured, we are neglecting no opportunities.” Kind, generous parents! You are giving your child every opportunity but one, and that is self-development; by your generous care, you are safeguarding him from ever using his own mind, ever relying upon himself in any way. The child who at first found interference irksome, later depends on it so much that he is unable to work without constant prodding from his mentor.

“Imagination as a Powerful Factor in a Well-Balanced Mind” by E. A. Parish Parent’s Review Vol. 25 no.5 1914.

Look over your weekly schedule and your child’s schedule.

Where does your child have time for solitude and independence?

Where do you have “thinking time and growing time”?

This quote has come to mind so many times these last few weeks. You see, we have recently moved to a new area and have had to build our schedule from scratch. We were part of a lovely Charlotte Mason inspired program with classes based on her programmes, teachers who used her methods and families who loved her philosophy. This has been so painful to leave! Not only in leaving a beloved community, but also because we had a good mix of home life and activities. Our schedule, through much trial and effort over many years, was balanced and fitting for each of the children. We had found good leagues and good coaches for sports. Wonderful music teachers who seemed to walk right out of Mason’s Philosophy of Education. We had made mistakes from time to time and found out the hard way what was just too much for our family, even if it wasn’t too much for our friends. We learned what was life-giving and what was a drain. And now to begin again with an empty calendar and the responsibility to fill it responsibly! Our new home is in an area with many co-ops, special classes, nature classes, museums, history, and field trips galore, so how to decide?

Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is built on the idea that we are made for relationships with people, that we meet in life and in books from the present and the past; things, living, material and artifact; and ideas. And all we learn becomes a science of these relationships.  Guiding our children in the development of these relations is our main task. This applies to extracurricular activities and curricular classes.

…we consider that the setting up of relations, moral and intellectual, is our chief concern in life, and that the function of education is to put the child in the way of relations proper to him, and to offer the inspiring idea which commonly initiates a relation… Volume 3 p. 78

I’ve had to ask the following questions with each new opportunity that comes our way:

  1. Is this opportunity truly an integral part of my child’s development and education?


  1. What will this opportunity give my child for what it will cost? Financially, but also in time and driving and commitment for the child and the entire family. With 5 children, including a new baby, we can’t do what everyone might be able to do; sometimes we all have to make sacrifices so a child can play the sport they love and other times the child has to sacrifice for the good of the family. For us, that means no travel soccer this year.


  1. Am I being persuaded to join something because it sounds good or looks flashy? Do you feel the pressure to “waste no opportunity”?

STEM, Art Council, aligned to state standards, rigorous, classical, elite, college prep. (Can you think of other flashy phrases?!) Do the buzz words really translate to real learning? We must ask ourselves if the activity’s goals really meet our principles and methods, not just offer empty promises and resume-builders.


  1. Will this activity through its methods and its content allow my child to have a relationship with what they are learning? Shuffled from one activity to the next, can they really have the time to know, to love, to care about this activity? Is the class set-up at the time of day, with a rhythm and time-length that will allow a relationship truly to form?


  1. Do I know much about the teacher or coach? Yes, their training and experience is important but we also want our children to have wonderful role models—people they can admire and aspire to be like. People who perhaps have different gifts and personality from mom and dad yet affirm the same values. Look at the number of hours the child will spend with this person and consider will they treat your child as a person? This doesn’t mean special attention or coddling, but respect and dignity. Will this person be a positive influence in your child’s life? Would you want your child to grow up to be like this person? If not, choose a different studio, class, or coach!


  1. Is this activity/class something my child needs help building a relationship with and signing up for the class be just the thing to help them?

Meaning do they struggle with math or just don’t enjoy art and would just the right teacher make it come alive for them?


  1. If they already, have an affinity for this activity, do we really need to go to a special class to make it happen?

I remember taking my son just before the dinner hour to a “lego club” where the kids…wait for it…played lego! After a few weeks of packing everyone up to take him there, it hit me, he does this everyday and every time a friend comes over. Why am I going to all of this trouble?! Yes, he had fun, but everyone was grumpy when we got home and it made getting dinner on unnecessarily stressful. A simpler method was just to be more intentional about inviting friends over to play!


  1. If this is a class of a core subject area, will the teacher undermine the work of “self-education,” a priority of a Mason education? What does this mean or look like? It takes time and discipline to help our children establish the habits of being responsible for their education, facilitating their sense of wonder and questioning on their own. We painstakingly narrate passage after passage so that they know they must learn what the book has to teach, we are not going to spoon-feed it to them. But then we sign them up with a teacher who motivates them through rewards, grades, and approval. A teacher who asks the questions, rather than teaching the students to ask the questions and sadly also gives the answers, rather than teaching the students how to really work to find the answers for themselves. We want the great minds in a living book to be their teacher and must work to find teachers who will guide them in their journey to understand, not seeing themselves as the expert or master but “guide, philosopher and friend.” We then wonder when our children take these types of classes and then they don’t want to narrate at home! Honestly, answering questions at the end of the chapter is easier, getting the A often feels more rewarding in the short term, and a teacher’s or peer’s approval more important than our family’s values, but Mason teaches us that these motivators undermine our quest for real knowledge.


  1. Am I just signing my children up for this, so I can get a break? I hear so many moms say they join a co-op for themselves, more than their children. They don’t mean because the co-op shoulders some of their teaching responsibilities or guides their children in a way that they can’t. They mean they get time to socialize! Co-ops and classes are a gift of space and friendship, but if they come with more burdens and expenses than they give back and contribute, are they worth it? Can’t we find other ways as moms to socialize with each other? Hosting a Charlotte Mason reading group, a mom’s night out, meeting a friend for coffee early on a Saturday morning. Even hiring a babysitter one afternoon a week might be cheaper!


10. How do you know if your child has the right balance?

This really depends on the child and your family! Some children need more social time than others. Some children have special needs and gifts that require more outside expertise than we might have at home.

But here are two things to consider:

First, the quote above tells that if our child is often “restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient” than we should consider the stress in their life. Could these be signs of over-stimulation and being over-activity?

Secondly, if you find that your child doesn’t know what to do if given some free-time, if they don’t glory in time for solitude and independence, I’d suggest that it is actually that they don’t have enough of it! Every summer we cut out all television in our children’s life. At first, they are bored, they squabble a lot, they lay around…and then something clicks. They work through it and they become more creative and more interesting people. They invent games, elaborate dress-up worlds, they set up tents in the backyard, they read and read.  Sometimes it is our “generous care,” aka interference, that safeguard[s] him from ever using his own mind, ever relying upon himself in any way. The he is unable to work [or play!] without constant prodding.

Well, this has been a longer than normal “Spaces to Think” entry. You can see I’m still working on figuring it all out!

I’d love to know if you have any other helpful considerations when building your family schedule? Please comment below!

This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.



Habit a Delight in itself.

…the forming of habits in the children is no laborious task, for the reward goes hand in hand with the labour; so much so, that it is like the laying out of a penny with the certainty of the immediate return of a pound. For a habit is a delight in itself; poor human nature is conscious of the ease that it is to repeat the doing of anything without effort; and, therefore, the formation of a habit, the gradually lessening sense of effort in a given act, is pleasurable. This is one of the rocks that mothers sometimes split upon: they lose sight of the fact that a habit, even a good habit, becomes a real pleasure; and when the child has really formed the habit of doing a certain thing, his mother imagines that the effort is as great to him as at first, that it is virtue in him to go on making this effort, and that he deserves, by way of reward, a little relaxation––she will let him break through the new habit a few times, and then go on again. But it is not going on; it is beginning again, and beginning in the face of obstacles. The ‘little relaxation’ she allowed her child meant the forming of another contrary habit, which must be overcome before the child gets back to where he was before.” Volume 1 page 121.

Fruit from our Farm Pick-up, Amazon Fresh and Wegmans in a big mess.
Tidied into bowls
Keeping clean, empty counters has been a new habit for me for the last year or so. It brings me peace and happiness (and fortitude to prepare yet another meal!)
Putting away small appliances and dishes washed-by-hand takes only an extra moment or so.

What are some of the good habits you have in your life? How do they bring you delight and pleasure, even in the very doing of them, not just in their result?

Now that the new school year has started, with fresh eyes think through one habit you most need to develop? What bumps in your day could be helped by a good habit put in its place?

What is the contrary habit to your good habit that you need to overcome? What reward do you get from your contrary habit that you need to let go of to really establish your new habit?

What reward will you get from your new good habit? Think through the delights that your habit holds, in doing them and in the result.

What “penny” will you need to give to create your new habit and what will be the “pound” (dollar) you will receive in return?

This summer I read The Power of Habit and found much that confirmed Mason’s theories on the power of habit in our lives. It was inspiring and worth checking out of the library. I hope to blog more about it when my Charlotte Mason reading group gets to the habit section in Volume 1.




This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.







“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, pg. 34

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Playing in Rome. Not a every-day kind of “Mother-Culture”!

Camille wrote on this quote in her post on Mother Culture and Creativity. If you missed it, go back and read it now!

Play is so important in all of our lives that I thought it was worth posting this quote again for our “Spaces to Think” series.

Here are some things to ponder:

What is the difference between real play and escapism?

Have you been seeking to escape your work and life or finding life-giving ways to enrich it through play and leisure?

Why is play not self-indulgent?

What do you do if you have a few extra minutes in your schedule? Is this life-giving to you?

How can you have more courage to set aside time for your “Mother-Culture”? It is often heroic, isn’t it– The lining up of babysitters or planning quiet activities for your children, so you can have the chance to “play”?

What activities does Mason mention for the mother to do when things have become too tense? How are they different from the normal recommendations for women to go shopping or to the spa? Or might even these be a good option?

Look back at your past week. Did you get enough rest? Enough Mother-Culture? Then, look ahead, and plan a pocket or two of time! We can’t hop on plane to Rome, but what can we do?


This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.


We’d love to hear your thoughts or questions about the quote below!

Atmosphere in the Home: We all Require Beauty

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…for we all require beauty…

-Charlotte Mason. Volume 6 page 14.

Camille asked me to share my thoughts on “The Atmosphere of the Home.”  With our busy lives, we can so often live day to day and don’t take time to consider the art of creating bright and cheerful homes. And the idea of Beauty?! When we have piles of laundry, hungry children and a deadline, beauty seems a frivolity.

We are all very different families and in different seasons of life, but we all were made for beauty and as beings created in the image of God, we have a capacity and role to foster and bestow beauty… or as the poet-priest GM Hopkins says, (Listen to a fabulous recitation of this poem here. It is a favorite!)


“Give Beauty Back, Beauty, Beauty, Beauty, Back to God, Beauty’s self and Beauty’s giver…”


Isn’t that lovely…God as beauty’s self and beauty’s giver…Give Beauty Back.

The Ancients asked the question and attempted to work out Who or What is God? What are the Transcendentals of God, or the Properties of his Being. This question was taken up by Aquinas and other Church Fathers time and again and ultimately they answered with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Yes, Truth. Yes, Goodness. But in our modern age…beauty? Let us not fail to recognize that beauty. Pope Benedict 16th in an address to artists said God is “the first and last source of beauty.” There is Beauty in His holiness, perfection, infinitude, and in His gift of redemption.

When we contemplate and experience the beauty of God we know Him more.

When we create beauty we are participating in His very nature.

Beauty thought of on this higher plane, is what lifts the mundane or ordinary into a gift, into what is lovely. Beauty reveals and highlights the true and the good. Beauty makes Truth and Goodness desirable.

I remember when I was very sick last year and a friend made our family a meal. What a gift, a sacrifice and time. I was so humbled that she would do it. And it was delicious, but what I remember is how simply, yet beautifully, it was presented. A nice basket, pretty linen, a bottle of wine, a lovely note…It touched something more than the just the physical.

We can feed our children the fuel they need for their bodies to run or we can create the beautiful experience of togetherness around the family table with a nourishing meal.

At night, we can put our children to bed or we can tuck our children into clean sheets of a nicely made bed filling them with a sense of home and safety and coziness.

Bestowing beauty is a way to do these small ordinary acts with love. And I have found that trying to do the work of the home in a beautiful way, rather than in an efficient, or orderly, has helped me to enjoy it more. The work is elevated.

Sadly, in our modern world, beauty is pushed aside for what is efficient or merely useful. We allow ourselves to be satisfied by the cheap and easy. Even worse in a world of air-brushing, we’ve become jaded to think that beauty is superficial and lacks meaning. And oftentimes many of us sorely lack an interior life able to take in beauty.

And so, just as I spend time considering curriculum and extracurricular activities, planning grocery lists and menus, do I work on building a bright and cheerful home? One of beauty and peace and love.

How do I teach my children to recognize, love, and will what is True, Good, and Beautiful? Are there ways I can incorporate more beauty in my children’s lives?

Mason has many answers to these questions in her six volumes on education, but I believe the place to begin as parents and educators is with one of the three educational tools that we can validly use in raising children: atmosphere.

When we are surrounded by the beautiful, our perspective changes. Roger Scruton, says in his documentary (a must watch!), Why Beauty Matters? that the great artists were “aware that human life is full of chaos and suffering and they had a remedy for this and the name of that remedy is beauty.”

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This is what the beauty does; it draws us out of ourselves…to what is real…and that reality is infinite. As parents and educators one of our main goals is to help our children to grow into maturity and adulthood. Sadly, an option many young people are not choosing! In the book, Family Virtues, edited by Jose Martin, “Initially a child is focused on his or her own private world; children mature when they begin to understand that they are not the center of the universe, when they begin to become open to the world and others around them” (page 5). When we expose children to beauty, we call them out of themselves…to what is real…and they mature, they open themselves to the world and to others.

“As for that aesthetic ‘appetency’ (to use Coleridge’s word) upon which so many of the gentle pleasures of life depend, it is open to many disasters: it dies of inanition when beauty is not duly presented to it, beauty in words, in pictures and music, in tree and flower and sky. The function of the sense of beauty is to open a paradise of pleasure for us; but what if we grow up admiring the wrong things, or, what is morally worse, arrogant in the belief that it is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty? It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence.” Charlotte Mason. Volume 6 page 56

Would you like follow-up posts on how we attempt to work this out in our homes? Subscribe in the side bar to receive our posts via email so you don’t miss a single one!

Spaces to Think No. 4

fresh water clam
Freshwater Mollu found in nearby creek yesterday!

For our Spaces to Think post, I am sharing a quote from Volume 1 that I have been pondering time and again this week.

For my children, yes, but even more for myself. I hope you find it helpful too!

Do not let the children [or mother!] pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional; let them brace themselves to understand; let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do right at the sacrifice of ease and pleasure…

(Volume 1 page 22)

This quote has come to mind for various reasons since I read it with my Charlotte Mason Reading Group a few weeks ago.

When I fall into bed exhausted wondering how long I have until my baby wakes for her next feeding, I am challenged to read for even a few minutes before I sleep…

happy baby
Don’t Let Her Cuteness Fool You! (Sorry for the fuzzy picture, she wouldn’t stay still and giggle at the same time!!)

And when I close the book and spend time in prayer examining my day, I wonder what  moral efforts I have taken on….

And throughout my day, I often see how closely related my moral effort and my volitional effort are. This great duty we have because “Ye are not your own” as Mason reminds us so often, is to Will to do the next right thing.

Whether that next right thing is to do

The dishes, yet again.

Or laundry, yet again.

Or referee a squabble, yet again.

Or a dictation lesson, yet again.

And when “the next right thing” is unclear or seems too difficult. I ask how has our life gone off the rails of good habits? As Mason writes, “the man who can make himself do what he wills has the world before him” and it is also true that “the effort of decision is the greatest effort of life.”(Volume 3 page 20).

And so, I must “brace to understand” myself, my children, our habits, our strengths and weaknesses.

I am called this day “to do and to bear” and there is much to do and to bear!

To read the rest of the Spaces to Think series, go here.






Spaces to Think: No. 3

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This week our “Space to Think” Quote comes from the beginning of Volume 1:

 “Mothers owe a ‘thinking love’ to their Children.––‘The mother is qualified,” says Pestalozzi, “and qualified by the Creator Himself, to become the principal agent in the development of her child; … and what is demanded of her is––a thinking love … God has given to the child all the faculties of our nature, but the grand point remains undecided––how shall this heart, this head, these hands be employed? to whose service shall they be dedicated? A question the answer to which involves a futurity of happiness or misery to a life so dear to thee. Maternal love is the first agent in education.’

We are waking up to our duties and in proportion as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will doubtless feel the more strongly that the education of their children during the first six years of life is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own. And they will take it up as their profession––that is, with the diligence, regularity, and punctuality which [we] bestow on [our] professional labours.

That the mother may know what she is about, may come thoroughly furnished to her work, she should have something more than a hearsay acquaintance with the theory of education, and with those conditions of the child’s nature upon which such theory rests” (p. 2-3).

In your “space to think” consider the following:

  • What area of your family life is most in need of “a thinking love” right now?
  • Is there a time of day that is troublesome for your children?
  • A routine that’s not working? Morning habits, bedtime habits, cleaning up after a meal, returning home from an outing, emptying sports bags, book bags, etc
  • A physical space that creates issues: an overstuffed closet, a pile of toys in a playroom, the lack of a place for mother or children to be alone to think, pray, read?
  • A conflict between siblings? Between parent and child?
  • Are hearts, heads, and hands duly employed each day?
  • How could you deal with this issue with diligence, regularity and punctuality that you would use to tackle a “professional” problem?
  • Are you furnished with the training you would need to handle the issue?
  • What would make your action or resolve “a thinking love” for your child, rather than just a thinking action or just a loving one?

When I had my first baby, I would often call my husband at work, upset about some issue I was having with my little one. I was overwhelmed and tired and lonely and wanted to do it ALL the RIGHT way! I would call and go on and on and on..! And finally one day, he kindly stopped me and said,

“Amy, you are a creative and intelligent woman, I think you can solve this problem.”

I was stunned!

But he was right, I had just left a teaching position where I dealt with over 100 students a day and faced many difficult issues. When a problem would arise, I would tackle it with creativity and intelligence. Why hadn’t I thought to do that with my little one?

Our families don’t need our fretting and complaining–they need our “thinking love”!

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To read more about “Space to Think,” check out the first post in the series:

Spaces to Think No. 2

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Today’s quote comes to us from Charlotte Mason’s Volume 6. I have been pondering it since Kerry Forney shared the quote to a group of us in Philadelphia at our workshop, Learning How to Live!.

But our fault, our exceeding great fault, is that we keep our own minds and the minds of our children shamefully underfed.

The mind is a spiritual octopus, reaching out limbs in every direction to draw in enormous rations of that which under the action of the mind itself becomes knowledge.

Nothing can stale its infinite variety; the heavens and the earth, the past, the present, and future, things great and things minute, nations and men, the universe, all are within the scope of the human intelligence…

Volume 6 p. 310

Questions to consider:

  • Are you keeping your mind underfed?
  • What are you feeding your mind?
  • How is the mind a “spiritual octopus”?
  • Take a moment to ponder the infinite variety of the universe, “things great and things minute”?
  • Is there a new scope of human intelligence that you’d like pursue?
  • Have you had enough “Spaces to Think” this week? This weekend as you plan out your week ahead, can you plan for space to feed your mind?

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