The Great Recognition – A Magnificent Scheme of Unity

There are times in a person’s life where they are simply struck by the force of beauty in a way that is transformational.  In 1894, Charlotte Mason had one of these moments as she traveled to Florence with John Ruskin’s book in hand and found herself in front of a painting then already 530 years old depicting the ideas around which she had based her educational philosophy.  This piece of art would go on to hang prominently in her school for teachers, and as Essex Cholmondeley wrote:

Charlotte built this ‘great recognition’ deep into the foundations of the students’ life and training there. It formed the special teaching of Whitsunday afternoon. A reproduction of the frescoes had its place in a central position for all to live with. The students called it the ‘creed picture,’


In 2013, I was introduced to this painting at the CMI National Conference where Dr. Deani Van Pelt spoke on it.  I think they allotted 2 hours for her talk, but no one in the room wanted to move as time ran out and we all could have chatted for many hours more.  I spoke to my dear friends and told them that other moms needed to hear this story!  At our 3-day summer intensive, I presented what I had learned and what I had found out since that day. Further study of the painting as well as further reading of Mason’s many references to it filled me with delight.  Since that day, I have visited the painting twice and presented on it myself at the CMI National Conference last year. In my four years of studying this painting, I have still not nearly exhausted its many insights, but I will share with you the one I treasure most: Unity.

Here we have the scheme of a magnificent unity. – Charlotte Mason

The things of God have long been understood as those that are Unum, Bonum, Verum, Pulchrum. Unity, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. While we may often hear of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness spoken of in homeschooling circles, the transcendental of Unity is lesser known, yet encompasses so much of what God is (a Unity of one God in three Persons) and what he commands of us:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  -St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:1-6

This is so much the case, that our word Devil comes from the Greek Diabolos, one meaning of which is “to scatter, disperse, separate”.  God unifies, sin divides.  God gathers, sin scatters.  Now, as a fallen people prone to sin, we step into this error all the time: we divide and subdivide ourselves over all sorts of things.  Though we see the warnings throughout Scripture and we are warned by St. Paul:

 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment…  Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.  Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?  -St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 1:10, 13

This painting, as Charlotte noticed, shows a great scheme of unity.  The artist shows it as a unification of faith and reason, the sacred and the natural, Divine revelation and natural law.  Charlotte sees this as well and discusses this throughout the volumes – the fact that there is no division between the sacred and the secular,  between science and religion, piety and intellect.  The unity comes in when we realize that “every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit”1.  Our God has a plan so large and His thoughts are so unlike ours that He can work though any soul, even those “whom we might be lightly inclined to consider as outside the pale of the divine inspiration.”2

That’s a lot to chew on.  I know it is for me.  “It is truly difficult to grasp the amazing boldness of this scheme of the education of the world which Florence accepted in simple faith.”3

Would you like to spend some time learning about who is depicted in this painting, the painter, the Florentines, and Charlotte’s writings on it?  I’d love to have you join me for a webinar on March 21 at 8pm.  It will be the presentation I gave last year, reworked to make some time for discussion and questions at the end.

Grab a glass of wine and enjoy some mother culture.

Click here to purchase a replay!

  1. CM Vol. 2, p. 271
  2. CM Vol. 2, p. 271
  3. CM Vol. 2, p. 271

Mother Culture: What we are Reading


This month, Amy has been fighting the flu and Camille has spent September moving to another state and then unpacking and packing up again for a wedding 11 hours away.  It has been a month where reading has been much more sparse than usual, however there has been some.


First and foremost, I picked up this adorable little poetry book by T. S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  It is charming and funny, quite British and quirky, and sums up the antics and attitudes of cats rather perfectly.  The kids were laughing at the first poem especially hard.


Image of MORNINGS Content Bundle

I’ve also been enjoying the monthly bundles of information and encouragement over at Wild + Free.  This month’s collection of goodness is entitles Mornings and has got me thinking about how to structure our time in our new place.


While this one I’ve been listening to rather than sitting down to read it, I’m still counting it here.  It is getting me through some of our unpacking and I’ve never read it before.  I’m not sure how I’ve managed to make it to my mid-thirties and being rather bookish without reading Pride and Prejudice, but I’m now remedying that.

I also got this in the mail and could have read it in a sitting.  I slowed myself down on purpose because her points are worth mulling over slowly, so now I am 75% finished and really enjoying this book immensely.

Mother Culture: Ten Minutes

“Mother must have time to herself. And we must not say ‘I cannot.’ Can any of us say till we have tried, not for one week, but for one whole year, day after day, that we ‘cannot’ get one half-hour out of the twenty-four for ‘Mother Culture?’–one half-hour in which we can read, think, or ‘remember.'” Parents’ Review, Vol. 2, No. 2

I’m going to make this quick today in order to give you a bit more time to think about spending ten minutes today reading, creating, or in prayer.  Right now, if you are a bullet journal or Happy Planner or whatever other type of planning system type of gal, write down a plan for when you can spend those ten minutes alone and what you will do.  That plan may not work out, but knowing it is there in the plan means that if you find ten minutes in the carpool line or the parking lot after grocery shopping or wherever else, you’ll have it front of mind to use those minutes for some Mother Culture time.

Once the time is allotted into your planning system, prepare the things you need.  Get your book uploaded into your Kindle or throw your book into your purse.  Get your knitting stuff together now, and make sure your pattern is printed.  Locate a rosary or a journal or your gardening gloves now, so when that ten minutes comes around, you’re ready to spend it well.

Lastly, do it.  When you’re tempted to check your email instead or facebook or Instagram… don’t.  Put your phone down instead.  If the planned time comes and the baby is crying, that’s ok.  Perhaps your ten minutes will come later than expected and you’ll be more tired than expected and all you’ll want to do is lay down on the couch and zone out.  Fight the urge and just take ten minutes to dedicate to prayer or your gratitude journal if reading a book is too much.  Or, just read that book anyway and maybe you’ll feel more revived afterward.

When you’ve taken your ten minutes, assess if that time worked well or if perhaps it could be at a different time of day.  Either way, plan to do it again tomorrow.  Look at your day and pencil it in.  Then, schedule it in for each day.  Make this your new habit for one month and then see how it is working for you.  Perhaps then you’ll be ready to add in another ten minutes? Or ten for prayer and ten for reading and ten for creativity?  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves… start with ten today!

Mother Culture: A Change of Pace

“‘Oh, mother, may we go blackberrying this afternoon, instead of lessons?’ The masterly and the abject ‘yes’ are quite different notes. The first makes the holiday doubly a delight; the second produces a restless desire to gain some other easy victory.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, p. 29

We’ve all been there – the kids are starting the day full of energy and you just don’t feel up to the challenge. Perhaps there is some pressing issue that is a stressor, or you are feeling woefully behind, or you just moved to a new town and have so many boxes surrounding you and no wifi or coffee maker… Maybe that last one is just me. When Mother Culture time alone isn’t an option, but white knuckling it through the day seems like a recipe for frustration, it’s good to know yourself well enough to know when to take a break. Sometimes a change of pace is just what you need and sometimes it is what your kids need. Don’t despairingly give in to your feelings as if the day is a failure – quite the opposite! Make the day enriching to your soul and enjoy it. Come back refreshed and ready to take on the challenges ahead. The key is to know what refreshes you that you can do with children in tow and what exhausts you, and to choose appropriately. 

Often, this is as simple as bringing our school work to the park. When you find just that right park for your family, it gives you to ability to let the little ones burn energy, gives the big kids some time to hang from monkey bars while they narrate, and a picnic bench for the laptop users who can get their math done with a warm breeze in their hair. It can be lovely. Often, we don’t get every single thing done. We don’t want to bring everything for the science experiment or all the art supplies for that painting assignment. Fine. That’s part of the change of pace and it is ok every once in a while. 

Other times, you may find that your go-to place is something else. A garden of some sort or a museum that your whole family loves. Today, for us, it was homeschool day at Carillon Historical Park. Our family loves history and a day filled with making corn brooms, seeing old trains, and hearing the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright was just what we needed to feel more at home in our new locale. It also fed my own sense of awe at how daily life has changed since Ohio was the wild west of our young nation. The kids loves seeing the blacksmith create iron hooks for the barn, and truthfully, so did I.  I came home a better mom than I was when we left the house.

When the weather is crummy, have an indoor location that suits your family.  During long, hot summers some theatres offer older family movies for cheap or free during the morning hours. In the doldrums of January and February, a science museum or local  history spot might be a great place to explore.  The key is still what refreshes YOU and is also enjoyable for most of your family (because no one is refreshed by listening to complaints).  In seasons with infants and toddlers, that will look different than seasons with school-aged and teenage kids, so assess what season you’re in and have some ideas lined up for when you need them. 

Lastly, it isn’t really Mother Culture if you feel like you’re just escaping your house to then feel frustrated and irritated elsewhere. Don’t just assume changing location will do the trick on frustrating days. Perhaps staying home and changing the pace is more effective for you – announce a baking day or a family bike ride or whatever it is that would reinvigorate your spirit and then truly aim to enjoy yourself and your family.  The kids will remember the days mom laughed and played! It will shape their ideas about what it means to be a mom and it will shape their relationship with you. Go out (or stay home!) and have a bit of fun!

Mother Culture: Spiritual Life

“Education is part and parcel of religion and every enthusiastic teacher knows that he is obeying the precept, ‘feed my lambs’––feed with all those things which are good and wholesome for the spirit of a man; and, before all and including all, with the knowledge of God.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, pg. 246

We’ve already started talking about how we must take care of not only the physical parts of ourselves that we can see, but also those parts of ourselves that, while invisible, are of greater importance than our physical selves – our minds and our souls.  We talked about the importance of wide reading to feed our minds on their proper diet of knowledge.  Now let’s talk about feeding our souls on the knowledge of God.

I’m going to write this article based on the assumption that most of the people reading this come from some variety of a Christian faith, as I do. Charlotte herself was a devout Christian and the crux of her method was that all knowledge comes from the Holy Spirit.

“But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, p. 95

So how do we apply this as mothers and teachers, grandmothers and aunts, sisters and cousins?  We realize that the Holy Spirit is consistently reaching out to us and trying to give us this gift of knowledge, but we must respond to Him in kind.  Through prayer and reading of the bible, we show our openness to receiving those gifts the Holy Spirit wants to generously bestow.

When you take this time to pray, to contemplate God’s Word, and to find time to quiet your thoughts and listen, you are setting an example to every soul in your household.  When I took the vows of marriage, I agreed to the idea that my vocation as wife was predominantly to help my husband get to heaven. His vow meant he accepted the job of helping me to get to heaven (he has the much harder job!) and together, each child we bring into the world is one we will raise with the goal of heaven for that soul.  Taking time to pray for each person in your home is fulfilling that role of wife and mother and letting your husband and children see you or simply knowing that mom has time in the day set aside for prayer creates an atmosphere where prayer is valued.  Herein lies a beautiful paradox – that time “for yourself” benefits every soul around you!

Further, to not only read, but to study and understand the Bible key to your spiritual life.  As Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  He should know, he translated the entire bible into Latin from the original Greek and Hebrew.  No matter what your denomination or non-denomination, there is certainly resources out there for you both online and in your local church. If you don’t have a group, start one.  If you don’t feel you need a group, perhaps a good study bible would be right up your alley or a copy of your catechism.  Find a way to connect to the Lord through a deep study of His Word and a whole new world will open up for you and all those around you.

I would also suggest that as a family, you look at what it means to keep Holy the Sabbath day.  We mothers too often can make excuse after excuse as to why we remain busy all week long and cannot find time to read, take a walk, or enjoy quiet time.  On Sundays, we are actually commanded to do so.  It’s one of the ten.  Consult with your spouse as to what you discern to be appropriate ways to spend your Sunday and stick to it.  Come into your Monday ready for the week ahead and refreshed, rather than harried and exhausted.


“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

2014-03-01 06.51.51
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!

Mother Culture: What We are Reading


Amy is reading…

Natural History:

My husband bought this one for me! He heard about it on NPR on his morning drive to work. Heard that it was about Nature and Words and knew I’d like it. It’s fascinating. Part dictionary, part biography, part social commentary, part nature writing. It opens: “This is a book about the power of language–strong style, single words–to shape our sense of place.” Of course, I’d be hooked! The author notes the words that have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary: acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, dandelion, fern, hazel, heatherto be replaced by broadband, celebrity, chatroom, cut-and-paste, voice-mail. Macfarlane has interesting things to say about what this says about our society and what it will say for its future. The Glossary he creates is lovely to read.


How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was a birthday gift from my brother and Sister-n-law. I’ve tried a few of the simple practices mentioned and it does seem to help.

 Charlotte Mason:

Volume 1 Part 2. For the Charlotte Mason Reading Group I lead. I hope to write a follow-up post of complementary books and links to this wonderful section.

Volume 2. Chapter 1 and 2. For a second Charlotte Mason Reading Group that both Camille and I will participate in virtually! I’ve never done this Volume in a discussion Group so can’t wait!

Mason’s Ourselves. With my daughter Grace! She is starting this book for the first time.

A Touch of the Infinite: Studies in music Appreciation with Charlotte Mason by Megan Elizabeth Hoyt. I appreciate the careful research the author did for this work, of Mason’s volumes, but also the Mason archives and the books Mason references in her volumes and her programmes. I learned a lot and the book covers a lot! Composer Study, Hymns and Folksongs, Solfege and so much more. It has a great list of resources in the Appendix.


Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter is one of my all-time favorites, so I decided to read another one of her trilogies. I’ve finished Volume 1 and now moving onto the second:

It has everything I love about Kristin: history, romance, the medieval church, beautifully crafted characters…

Fun Fiction:

If you are looking for an enjoyable, easy read that is refreshing and thought-provoking, this is it! If you’ve wondered what the “Benedict Option” could look like, this is the book for you. It has homeschooling, Latin, Chesterton, discussions on feminism, hospitality, Little Women, marriage, and beauty. I found myself reading quotes aloud to my husband again and again!

Family Read-Alouds During Lunch:

I alternate between Animal Farm and Winter in the Willows (a sequel of Wind in the Willows written by another author)

With the Little Girls at Bed-time:

Betsy-Tacy. They love this sweet little book and often now play “Betsy-Tacy” throughout their day!

In the Car:

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. We are listening to this Audible book from the Newberry-Award winner, Jacqueline Kelly. I like this second novel even more than the first! I really think these books could fit in the “Nature Lore” category of a Mason curriculum. We all love it.


Camille is reading…





I got an unexpected email that it was finally my turn for The Cleaner of Chartes at the library.  Given that my library only lets you keep books for two weeks and there are no extensions if there is a waiting list, I’ve made this one a priority.  It is delightful so far (I’m about halfway through) – an interesting story that jumps from the early life to the current life of Agnes, a woman who was abandoned as a baby and was then raised in a convent.  She is unable to read or write due to some cognitive disability, but has other gifts that allow her to live her life independently far from anywhere that she ever called home.








I had just finished Mere Motherhood. I did not expect it to be quite the page turner that it was and I was done in only two days.  It is probably the first time since my fourteen-month-old was born that I can claim I read a book in that short a time. It is a story of a homeschooling mother and one that any of us can easily relate to.  The initial enthusiasm, the doubts, the new babies, the trials, the excitement over milestones, and the worries over gaps.  Beautifully written and a lovely story.


For my book group at church, we are reading A Mother’s Rule of Life.  It’s a book I’ve read before, but needs to be reread every few years.  It helps me to frame my day in the way a religious order might – focusing on my core priorities first and making sure my schedule reflects what is most important to my vocation.






I am also trudging through Gilead.  I hate to even state it that way, but it is true.  The book is not long at all, and I really like it when I am reading it, but it is somewhat slow moving and I find myself picking up other books rather than this one when it is time to read.  I’ve read enough glowing recommendations to know I should persevere…




Lastly, I read this great little ebook, The Confident Homeschooler, to get me ready for the school year.  I found some really good and practical nuggets that have been serving me well so far.  Most of my educational reading is really more philosophical than practical, so this felt refreshing and enjoyable before our new year started.

Our Read Aloud:

Each night after the little ones are tucked in, the oldest two kids and I read one chapter per night before bed.  We’ve just started The Yearling.  This is one I missed in my youth and I’m excited to be reading it with them.

Mother Culture: Creativity

“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

The idea of Mother Culture extends beyond reading.  We are created to be not only minds hungry for knowledge, but bodies needing fresh air, movement, and proper nutrition and we are souls craving God.  Something that encompasses body, mind, and soul is the fact that we are made in the image of the Creator – as such, we are creators ourselves. While our God is able to create ex nihilo, or out of nothing, we must use the materials he has given us. The command written on our bodies, minds, and souls is inescapable, we are made to create.

All too often, those who are not naturally “crafty” start to recoil a bit here and the excuses begin… “But I can’t sew a straight line!” or “I only draw stick figures!”  Hear me out.  Creativity extends far beyond what many of us term handicrafts.  While those skills are often outlets for creativity, they are also skills for everyday life.  We should expose our children to them as well as ourselves, but we don’t have to adopt any handicraft as our personal hobby.

Our ability to create expands far beyond handicrafts –  It is what makes us come alive.  It makes us more fully human.  Our creative talents and drive are as individual as each soul on earth, so it is imperative that you find that thing that stirs your imagination and creative drive.  I invite you to think about something that a) you have done in the past or currently do that you really enjoy or b) something you have a strong desire to learn to do.

Searching for ideas? Let me attempt to jog your thoughts.

First, the usual suspects… the Handicrafts. Sewing, knitting, embroidery, needle felting, basketry, spinning, weaving, etc.

What about the fine arts… Painting, drawing, charcoals, pastels, sculpting…

Domestic arts might be right up your alley – perhaps something others consider a chore is instead an enjoyable outlet for creativity for you… Cooking, home decorating, mixed drink making, entertaining guests, baking, home organization, etc.

He’s my baker.

Are the outdoors your cup of tea?  Perhaps a vegetable garden or flower garden is for you. Pressing flowers, collecting nature specimens, growing interesting plants, tending to a pond, bird watching…


What about creativity with language – perhaps you are a writer, a poet, a blogger, or an avid journal keeper?

Are you the person friends go to when in need of fashion advice?  It could be that your ability to balance fashion trends and modesty is exactly the art that you not only love, but that could be a gift to those around you.  Accessorizing, hair styling, applying make-up beautifully, and other arts of beautifying a person’s outward appearance are so important and yet often overlooked.

The dramatic arts may be where you shine.  Not only acting on stage should come to mind – no stage is necessary for you to use your gift. If you take special delight in singing your babies to sleep to show tunes that stir your heart, that is beautiful.  Singing, playing an instrument, creating costumes, memorizing monologues and speeches of the great plays, or dancing may be the thing that brings you joy.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some category or so many ways to create.  It’s very possible and quite likely I’ve forgotten to mention yours.  That’s ok. What matters is that you’ve found that thing and next… that you DO IT.

Yes. DO IT.  Schedule time to create.  This is not selfish.  This is not what the popular culture would call “Me Time” wherein you retreat from responsibilities to do something fun and frivolous.  This is the time you need to be the person you are in the fullest way possible.  This is the time you will use to show your daughters and sons that parents aren’t just people who sign permission slips and cook meals and earn money and send them to their room.  Parents are human beings who have interests.  Mothers have interests beyond their children and beyond their spouses and those interests might have been around before either of the latter two came along.  Parenting can be grueling and difficult, but showing your children that it extends beyond cleaning up spills and scrubbing bathtubs is how you create an atmosphere in your home that will encourage your children to become parents someday rather than buying into the cultural idea that children should be put off until we have done all the fun stuff.  Show them that parents do fun stuff.

Lastly, do what you love simply because you love it.  If you are cooking because people need to eat, that isn’t necessarily using your creative gift.  If you make a meal simply because the recipe looked exciting and you remember that you can give it to the woman down the street who just had a baby because your dinner is already made… that’s using your gift.

Mother Culture: Reading

“The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, “I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!” That is the secret; always have something “going” to grow by. If we mothers were all “growing” there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.” Parents Review Volume 3, no. 2, 1892/93, pgs. 92-95

I love to read.  I always have.  Not everyone comes into adulthood with this attitude, but that is somewhat irrelevant to our discussion today.  Today we are going to chat about why we simply must read; why it is neither a luxury, nor a selfish act; why is neither dreadful, nor dry, nor dull.  Why reading is simple and delightful and entirely necessary to our flourishing as a human being. But first, we shall chat about food.

No one denies that we must eat each day.  Quite frankly, a cursory scroll down your facebook page or the health section of the paper or even a conversation with friends will likely lead you to the fact that many of us think a lot about what we eat.  Some people go paleo, others dairy-free, some have allergies, others have sensitivities, and still others abstain from groups of foods by choice and often with the claim of much scientific evidence in their corner.  Whether we eat enough, or too much, or the right things and how that affects our moods, weight, and energy levels is fodder for hours of discussion.  Like it or not, our bodies were made to survive by eating food and so we simply must make choices as to what foods we will take in and how to prepare them.  We cannot avoid food or our bodies would suffer and eventually die.

“Diet for the body is abundantly considered, but no one pauses to say, ‘I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?'”  Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 24

Now, our bodies present a physical reality that cannot be ignored and so we deal with our hunger, thirst, elimination, warmth, and tiredness day to day.  As Charlotte points out above and I am bringing up now, how often do we consider the realities of our non-physical selves?  Our minds and spirits each have needs in order to grow and thrive.  How often do we see those around us in life who suffer greatly because they have not fed their spirit or their mind sufficiently and when even a small difficulty befalls them, they are overwhelmed?  So what is the proper diet of the mind?

“A child is a Person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of a person.

Knowledge ‘nourishes’ the mind as food nourishes the body.

A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food.” Charlotte Mason, Vol.6, p 18

Do not take the word “children” above to mean only those under 18.  We are all children of God.  This is true for each one of us.  It is our responsibility as parents to provide our children with sources of knowledge, but as we become independent adults it is also our duty to provide ourselves with food for the mind.

Perhaps you are thinking I am about to tell you that you must have some very thick classic in the works at all times, or perhaps you do indeed read People magazine quite often and so you’ve got this covered.  I would love to lead you back to reread the first quote at the top of this post.  Scroll up, I’ll wait.  I’m encouraging you to read variety.  A peppy novel is easy to read when time is short in the carpool line.  A moderately easy book, maybe that you are reading with friends in a book club, is perfect for when the youngest of your crew is put to bed and you have fifteen minutes to spare.  Then keep a more challenging book around too.  When everyone is in bed may be your prime reading time – are you giving that time to Netflix instead?  On the contrary, maybe getting up 15 minutes earlier would give you the space you need to get to a good book?

I have also heard of many variations of the three book rule.  Perhaps one non-fiction, one fiction, and one book to grow a personal interest? One history, one science, and one thriller?  One for work, one that you should have enjoyed in high school, and one spiritual book?  This is your list, make it your own.  While you should seek books that will help you be a better human being in general, they should also help you to be the best version of whoever you uniquely are.  Your stack should not fill you with dread, it should feel like a tempting meal for a hungry traveler.  Maybe thinking of it as a meal would help – one appetizer, one meat and potatoes, and one dessert.

“Working men will have leisure in the future and how this leisure is to be employed is a question much discussed. Now, no one can employ leisure fitly whose mind is not brought into active play every day; the small affairs of a man’s own life supply no intellectual food and but small and monotonous intellectual exercise. Science, history, philosophy, literature, must no longer be the luxuries of the ‘educated’ classes; all classes must be educated and sit down to these things of the mind as they do to their daily bread. History must afford its pageants, science its wonders, literature its intimacies, philosophy its speculations, religion its assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, pg. 43 (Emphasis mine)

Let me also let you in on some of the ways that I sneak in a bit of reading throughout the day.  I used to be very much of the mind that reading should be leisurely, enjoyed in silence, and supplemented by things like tea and a couch.  As such, when I became a parent, I was convinced that I would never find time to read again.  It was impossible!  It was when I let go of the perfect, Pinteresty vision of what reading should look like that I realized I could sneak in reading instead of a lot of the other activities that were taking up my time, or at times that I could do more than one thing.

First and foremost, women with newborns – this is my favorite time for reading.  Newborns need lots of time to cuddle and nurse and moms need lots of rest in this phase of life.  Now is a great time to sneak in a few minutes here and there to read.  When I have a nursing baby, I get lots of reading done.  That is, if I put my phone down.  Ahem.

Secondly, consider an e-reader.  I don’t really love them, I prefer a beautifully bound book, but you know what… I’d rather read than not read and always having a Kindle full of books in my purse means that I can read when I am waiting in the parking lot to pick up a child, or in the waiting room at the dentist, or any other spot that I find myself with a few minutes to spare.  One caveat, I will say get the inexpensive black and white version of the e-readers.  The fancy, LED-screen, app-filled, mini-computers are both harder on the eyes and more likely to lead you into the world of email and social media than reading.  Simplicity is key.

Third, assess your time.  Where are your moments in the day that feel… sluggish? Easily wasted? A bit frantic or scattered?  Often, we have entire pockets of time in our day that go to waste because we aren’t even sure what we should do next or we allow ourselves to waste time on the same frustrating thing over and over rather than fix it and regain that time.  Identifying the problem and creating a system to deal with it could both free up a lot of mental energy and time.  For example, when I bought a home and had children who were 6, 4, and newly born I found that each time I walked into the house, if I wanted the coats put away, I had to hang them in our entryway closet.  In everyone’s rush to be home, I would often find myself with two coats on the floor at my feet and wet shoes tossed either on top or near those coats, while I also had a new baby and my own coat to put away.  It was frustrating for me and my children had a terrible habit.  One day, I put up a set of 6 hooks in that same closet at the height they could reach.  Within two weeks of practicing, everyone hung up their own coats and scarves, mittens stayed in pockets, and shoes had a home next to the hooks.  I was free to hang up only my own things and the baby’s.  It freed 5 minutes each time we arrived home, but it also left me with a happy feeling rather than a frustrated one and thus improved probably at least the next 15 minutes following each arrival home.  From a $20 set of hooks.

Lastly, do not feel like this list of books must be entirely your own.  Perhaps listening to an audio book with your husband in the evening might be something you do to wind down from the day, or even consider reading aloud to one another.  I like to read good fiction to my older children each night, one chapter each evening.  They are of the age now that if I read just slightly above their reading level, it could easily qualify as a “moderately easy” book for an adult.  Quite frankly, this is one of the most joyful parts of my day as I missed so many good stories in my youth and this gives me the ability to not only enjoy them, but to share them with my children.  Listening to audiobooks in the car is a great idea, as well as while you walk or exercise.  Put a speaker in your bathroom (I use this one attached to my phone and Audible app) and listen during the shower or listen as you clean your kitchen or do laundry.

Once you truly understand how your mind will come alive when given its proper nourishment, and you begin to see the fruits of a mind awakened to wonder and knowledge, you’ll come up with lots of ideas for finding a bit more reading time.

I’d love to hear other ideas – where do you find yourself sneaking in some reading time?

“Varied humane reading, as well as human thought expressed in the forms of art, is, not a luxury, a tit-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life, which they must have in abundant portions and at regular periods.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 111

Need some book recommendations?  Here are some of my favorite places to go:

Modern Mrs. Darcy

Well Read Mom

Living Books Library

Mother Culture, An Introduction


The term Mother Culture was coined in a Parents’ Review Article in 1893. The author of the article is not clearly listed, but Charlotte was still alive and editing the periodical, and so we can assume she would have seen it and known of its being published, though the term did not appear in any of her six volumes.

The term seems to refer to the idea that a mother must keep growing in mind and intellect alongside her children.  That she cannot hold still and do only the daily necessities of life – feeding, clothing, and supervising the children while maintaining the cleanliness of the home – but rather that she must prioritize the feeding of her own mind as well.  Why?  Because we must take the long view of life.  Our children will grow up and will need us to meet them where they are when the questions get difficult and life’s trials seem complicated.  They need to know that we have been learning and growing and are up to the challenge of giving sage advice and wise counsel when it is needed.  In the words of the Mother Culture article: “There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong…Is there not some need for “mother culture”? But how is the state of things to be altered? So many mothers say, “I simply have no time for myself!” “I never read a book!” Or else, “I don’t think it is right to think of myself!” They not only starve their minds, but they do it deliberately, and with a sense of self-sacrifice which seems to supply ample justification.”

In a more modern article titled, “Stop Cleaning the Kitchen – Read a Book”, Susan Wise Bauer, wrote “Recognize that you may be reluctant to read because, on some deep level, it doesn’t seem worthwhile. Activities that produce an immediate result are always more satisfying than activities that don’t. We need to acknowledge to ourselves that we enjoy seeing visible results for what we do. In many ways, it’s more rewarding to get up in the morning and clean the kitchen than to get up and read. After all, if your husband or your mother walks in, you can say, ‘I am a useful human being. I am a useful member of society. Look at my kitchen.’ But if your house is filthy, the baby is screaming, and you have a book in your hand, you won’t feel at all rewarded.”

I will say, my trouble with both quotations above however, is the focus on the negative -that someday you may not be smart enough to do you job well and right now you must sacrifice your time to large tomes and the state of your home will likely suffer.  For so many of us, adding another thing to the day can feel like a burden – this is then made more difficult when what you are asked to add the schedule seems somehow selfish or unnecessary. What I am here to state however, is the positive. Throughout the bible, we are told to “Be Not Afraid”. I think it is much more fruitful to focus on the fact that we are children of God in the same way our children are.  God gave us the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in order to lead us closer to him – passing this on to our children IS our job, but partaking in it is too.  God gave us these gifts, let us not turn them away.


“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Phillipians 4:8-9

What a lovely ending to that verse, “The God of peace will be with you.”  It made me think of one of those goals that Charlotte Mason calls us to. To be serene. To have the serenity of the Madonna.  That long and oft quoted part of the book wherein she gives us as parents the permission and direction to participate in leisure for the benefit of our whole selves as well as our families, “It is not for nothing that the old painters, however diverse their ideas in other matters, all fixed upon one quality as proper to the pattern Mother. The Madonna, no matter out of whose canvas she looks at you, is always serene. This is a great truth, and we should do well to hang our walls with the Madonnas of all the early Masters if the lesson, taught through the eye, would reach with calming influence to the heart. Is this a hard saying for mothers in these anxious and troubled days? It may be hard, but it is not unsympathetic. 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.” Volume 3, p. 33

All of this – a focus on truth, beauty, and goodness; a serene mother; dwelling in the good honorable, right, pure, lovely and excellent things; drawing closer in relationship to our Lord… what does this do?  It creates the atmosphere of our home.  When Charlotte chalked up a full 1/3 of the tools that we have at our disposal for education to atmosphere, it is no small thing to take some time to contemplate what type of atmosphere we want in our home and how to achieve this.  If we infuse our lives with rich books and experiences and we have our disciplines of habit in good order, we have only 2/3 of our formula in order.  It is our God-given duty to create the atmosphere in our homes.  The truth is, we do this whether or not we give it a single minute of thought.  We must contemplate the type of atmosphere we want and what mindset we must have in order to create an atmosphere of serenity.  Then we will be able to begin to create the proper atmosphere for education in wisdom and virtue.

In my view, this is the ultimate goal in Mother Culture – when the mother is reading, enjoying a trip to the museum or gardens or seashore, attempting a slightly challenging new recipe or learning as she grows something new in the garden, when she takes a class online or begins a blog to share her knowledge with the world, when she does anything that adds to the atmosphere of learning in the home in a way that is serene and joyful, that is when her children will learn the most from her.  From the example of her desire to learn throughout life, they will gain the same desire to learn.

The Series:



Spiritual Life

Ten Minutes