Charlotte Mason


Charlotte Mason was a British Educator and philosopher in the early 20th Century.  She founded a teacher training college, the House of Education, so young women could learn how to teach students according to her educational principles. According to her Volumes, she founded her principles upon three key things: The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Scientific Research and Observations of Children. Here at Miss Mason’s Music, I am trying to do the same as we consider what principles can be learned from the Bible, Science and Children to help us teach Drill, Singing, Music Appreciation and Instrumental Music in a way that actually aligns itself with Natural Law or Divine Design. I have written an article at Charlotte Mason Poetry that walks through a more in depth look at how she developed and how we can continue to develop a living philosophy of Music Education with these three guides.

One of the best ways to fully take in all of who Charlotte Mason was and what her Principles and Practices/Methods were is to read The Original Home Schooling Series, Volumes 1-6.  (They are also free on AmblesideOnline!) Mason gives us a short summary of her principles in Volume 6 of her series. Studying the principles can be a great first step to becoming more familiar with where Mason is taking us on this journey of a living education! I encourage you to read through Miss Mason’s Volumes with some interested friends, so you can help one another learn and grow together!




1. Children are born persons.

2. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.

3. The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but––

4. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.

5. Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. The P.N.E.U. Motto is: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”

6. When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child-environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s’ level.

7. By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits.

8. In saying that “education is a life,” the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.

9. We hold that the child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

10. Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher’s axiom is,’ what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.”

11. But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that,––

12. “Education is the Science of Relations”; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––

“Those first-born affinities
“That fit our new existence to existing things.”

13. In devising a syllabus for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:

(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.

(b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)

(c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.

14. As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.

15. A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising, and the like.

Acting upon these and some other points in the behaviour of mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed, and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment.

Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.

16. There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, which we may call ‘the way of the will’ and ‘the way of the reason.’

17. The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’ (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may ‘will’ again with added power. The use of suggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character, It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)

18. The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to ‘lean (too confidently) to their own understanding’; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.

19. Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.

20. We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.


Some of Charlotte Mason’s Thoughts on Music


“If culture flows in through the eye, how much more through the ear, the organ of that blessed sixth sense, which appears to be distributed amongst us with partial favour. A great deal of time and a good deal of money is commonly spent to secure to the young people the power of performing indifferently upon an instrument; nor is even an indifferent performance to be despised: but it is not always borne in mind that to listen with discriminating delight is as educative and as “happy-making” as to produce; and that this power might, probably, be developed in every body, if only as much pains were spent in the cultivation of the musical sense as upon that of musical facility. Let the young people hear good music as often as possible, and that under instruction. It is a pity we like our music, as our pictures and our poetry, mixed, so that there are few opportunities of going through, as a listener, a course of the works of a single composer. But this is to be aimed at for the young people; let them study occasionally the works of a single great master until they have received some of his teaching, and know his style. Charlotte Mason, Formation Of Character, Vol. 5, p 235


“The pursuits we have indicated are all, more or less, with a view to self-culture; but they will become both more profitable and more pleasant if they can be proposed to the girl as labours of love and service. Household duties and needlework will, of course, be helpful in the home; but all her occupations, and especially her music, even her walks and reading, can be laid under contribution for the family good, or for that of her neighbours, rich or poor. The girl who knows something of wild-flowers or birds, for example, is popular as a walking companion with persons of all sorts and conditions. Sunday-school teaching, cottage visiting, some sort of regular, painstaking, even laborious effort for the ignorant, the distressed, should be a part of every girl’s life, a duty not to be put aside lightly for other claims. For it is only in doing, that we learn to do; through service, that we learn to serve; and it is more and more felt that a life of service is the Christian, and even the womanly, ideal life.” Vol.5, p. 261

“The Habit of Music.––As for a musical training, it would be hard to say how much that passes for inherited musical taste and ability is the result of the constant hearing and producing of musical sounds, the habit of music, that the child of musical people grows up with. Mr. Hullah maintained that the art of singing is entirely a trained habit––that every child may be, and should be, trained to sing. Of course, transmitted habit must be taken into account. It is a pity that the musical training most children get is of a random character; that they are not trained, for instance, by carefully graduated ear and voice exercises, to produce and distinguish musical tones and intervals.” Vol. 1, p. 133-134


“I should like, in connection with singing, to mention the admirable educational effects of the Tonic Sol-fa method. [See Appendix A] Children learn by it in a magical way to produce sign for sound and sound for sign, that is, they can not only read music, but can write the notes for, or make the proper hand signs for, the notes of a passage sung to them. Ear and Voice are simultaneously and equally cultivated. Mrs. Curwen’s Child Pianist [See Appendix A] method is worked out, with minute care, upon the same lines; that is, the child’s knowledge of the theory of music and his ear training keep pace with his power of execution, and seem to do away with the deadly dreariness of ‘practising.'” Vol 1, p. 315

“Discrimination of Sounds––A quick and true ear is another possession that does not come by Nature, or anyway, if it does, it is too often lost. How many sounds can you distinguish in a sudden silence out of doors? Let these be named in order from the less to the more acute. Let the notes of the birds be distinguished, both call-notes and song-notes; the four or five distinct sounds to be heard in the flow of a brook. Cultivate accuracy in distinguishing footfalls and voices; in discerning, with their eyes shut, the direction from which a sound proceeds, in which footsteps are moving. Distinguish passing vehicles by the sounds; as lorry, brougham, dog-cart. Music is, no doubt, the means par excellence for this kind of ear culture. Mrs.Curwen’s ‘Child Pianist’ puts carefully graduated work of this kind into the hands of parents; and, if a child never become a performer, to have acquired a cultivated and correct ear is no small part of a musical education.” Vol. 2, p. 187