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Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles Cheat Sheet by

education     principles     charlotte     mason


Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the last century. Her methods and philos­ophies have recently experi­enced a resurg­ence, especially among American homesc­hooling families. Mason’s emphasis on children developing a lifetime love of learning was in stark contrast to the nearly anti-child climate of her time period.

The Big Picture

Principles 1-10

1. Children are born persons.
2. They are not both 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.”

Principles 11-20

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 make valid as many as may be of— “Those first-born affinities that fit our new existence to existing things.
13. In devising 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, summar­izing and the like. 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 behavior 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 vigor. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us ad 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 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 rest 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.

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