The following blog appeared originally on the Great River Facebook page as part of a discussion about the use of digital tools in the family. It was suggested to CMI as a read that would be of interest to the Mason community.  This blog was prompted by a question to Maura Timko from Janet Pressley-Barr regarding screen time and battles related to screen time in Maura Timko’s home.  Here is her response.

Janet – I cannot answer your question briefly. I will not go into detail about what our screen time looks like now, because my boys are so much older. That is another conversation! But I can talk about how screens were handled in my home when my boys were much smaller. I think it will be more relevant to the group.

Recalling the days when my boys were in elementary school, I imposed very strict limits on their screen time. (I love how Jenn Stec places the responsibility to turn off the screens directly with the child – well done!) In our home, we had a routine to our homeschool days. This was a good thing. Everyone knew what was expected of them, what we were doing, when we were doing it, where we were going, etc. The screen time was worked into the mix, and at the end, everyone knew it was coming. After everything was done for the day, we all had free time – screens were usually a part of it. All of this was fine.

I used to set a kitchen timer, and when it went off, that child’s screen time was finished. If the device was not turned off promptly after the timer beeped, I turned it off myself. At that point, tomorrow’s screen time was taken away, as a consequence. Shoddy school work had to be redone, or no screen time. Attitudes had to be good, or no screen time. You had to be kind to your brothers, or no screen time. Chores had to be finished, and done well, or no screen time, etc.

In hindsight, I was much too harsh. Talk about a scarcity mentality! I set up the screens as the ultimate reward, and made “much ado about nothing.” I gave screens way too much power.  All I can tell you is this: please learn from my mistakes.

I was right to limit the screen time with my elementary-aged children. It can be harmful in excess. However, I should have been much more flexible and gracious. If they wanted to “bank” some screen time for a bigger project (e.g., building in Minecraft), I should have allowed them to do that. I should have talked with them, discussing how much time was reasonable, and why. I should have followed Jenn Stec’s example, placing the responsibility with the child – not with me. I should have treated them as persons, doing something they enjoy and easily forgetting the time. (How often do I do that?) If they were on a device for too long, I should have spoken to them calmly, reminding them of God’s desire for obedience – not ranting about the hazards of too much screen time. (Just so you know: no 10-year-old will ever care about that!) I should never have used screen time as a reward, and I should not have taken it away as a punishment (unless it was a natural consequence). By handling the screen situation the way that I did, I made a mountain out of a molehill, I gave it way more power than it deserved, and I lost a great opportunity for the Holy Spirit to train their hearts. SIGH.

But our God is so gracious. He showed me that the problem was mostly with me, and not them. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when the problem is with me! (God is always so right!)

So, how was I as a model? Because – sure enough! – they were always watching me. Did I watch too much TV? Did I stay up too late at night watching shows (and get grumpy the next day)? Did I sit for way too long at my computer? Am I on my smartphone too much? Updating Facebook? Reading my email? Texting my friends? Again – BIG SIGH.

After realizing that I was a terrible model, I began to think about screen time alternatives. I was just learning about Charlotte Mason, and I acquired tons of great books, which was great. BUT. . .”Education is a Life.” I needed to get a life!

I had to begin taking delight in other interests myself first, before I could ever expect it from my children.  My boys needed to see me enjoying poetry, learning to crochet a scarf, or learning about the Hudson River School artists. They had to see me reading God’s Word, journaling, and copying a scripture or a quote into my Book of Mottoes. I needed them to see me spending time with people – not screens. I needed to be ‘caught’ sitting outside, just listening to the birds. They needed to flip through my nature notebook or book of centuries. I needed to be excited about the new books that I read, and talk about them. I needed to make the time to go outside with my children – and not just ‘send’ them out. (“Will you boys turn that thing off and just go play outside!?”)

I realized that my children needed me to spread the feast. The first step? It is spreading the feast for myself. I found that as I began to practice “Education is a Life,” my boys became interested in broadening their own interests as well. They were not always interested in the same things as me, but they began to see that there was much more out there. My boys’ desire for the screens became less – although it is still a source of great enjoyment and time.

Everything changed in our house when: 1) I became more present myself; 2) I practiced “Education is a Life” in front of my children, and with my children; and 3) They discovered ‘other affinities,’ with my help. Wow.

love what Mason says about the topic of ‘interests’ in School Education (Vol 3). The context of the quote is a quotation regarding business (things we “have” to do, out of duty) versus desire (things we want to do, out of joy):

“Quoth Hamlet, ‘Every man hath business and desire.’ Doubtless that was true in the spacious days of great Elizabeth; for us, we have business, but have we desire? Are there many keen interests soliciting us outside of our necessary work? Perhaps not, or we should be less enslaved by the vapid joys of Ping-Pong, Patience, Bridge, and their like. The fact is that ‘interests’ are not to be taken up on the spur of the moment; they spring out of the affinities we have found and have laid hold of.” (pp. 188-189)

For Mason, the antidote to becoming ‘enslaved’ by ‘vapid joys’ was BROAD INTEREST. Note that Mason never condemns these activities. Morally, they are fine. They can be fun, and they certainly have their place as recreation. However, her language gives me pause: ENSLAVED. Yikes! Yet, I think that parental over-reaction, and playing out a scarcity scenario, can push kids further toward enslavement, and not toward freedom.

So what would I do now with elementary-aged children, regarding screens? I would have some boundaries, but I would also lighten up. I would make screens much less of a ‘thing.’ I would give screens much less power. I would help my children, instead, to learn moderation and obedience. I would be gracious with their failures to turn off the screens, and treat them as persons while I hold them accountable. I would make that “sliver time” the time spent relating to the MOST SPECIAL people and things in my home. I would keep a keen eye out for my children’s ‘affinities,’ which may be turned into ‘interests’ and ‘laid hold of,’ given time and encouragement. I would keep a very careful, prayerful watch over it all, so that no one would become ‘enslaved.’ And I would play Minecraft WITH THEM (or at least I would try – I would be really awful!) I would redeem the time.

Disclaimer from Maura Timko:   I make no claim to being an ‘expert’ on this topic.  There are many, wiser minds who would disagree with my perspective; they may be right.  I am always open to the Lord changing my mind about it.  But we, as a family, have made our peace with the screens.  They are a part of our lives, inevitably, but no longer a source of strife.  We can interact with screens AND persons.  Hooray!

©  2014 by Maura Timko

In an effort to make this applicable to the greater audience, I won’t insert much of my own personal journey with math, but you should know this nugget about our family and math: We dont love it. At least we didnt. It was a subject on a list to be checked-off, especially for my youngest daughter, age 10.

Our daily math instruction went like this:

1. Complete corrections on previous day’s math lesson

2. Teach current lesson

3. Complete 30 problems

4. Cry at regular intervals

In hopes to discover the missing link, I attended the Bazaks’ Math is More Than Passing a Test session at the recent CMI Conference. The Bazaks discussed the importance of bringing math into the students’ context. The missing link was that my daughter did not have a math problem that she wanted and needed to solve. She had no context for which to apply the concepts and formulas she was practicing in her textbook. If we are to know the child and the needs of the child, we need to do so in the subject of math as well. So we started with a problem she wanted/needed to solve: saving for an item she wanted.

We began our math lesson exploring ways to solve her “problem” by adding up her allowance, her birthday money, and other savings she had put aside throughout the year. We estimated the shipping cost and tax on the item. She then determined how many more weeks it would take of daily chores (@ 3cents/chore) to reach her end goal.

All this was done with great enthusiasm and excitement as she now had a purpose for concepts such as estimation, adding, multiplication, percentages and so on.

The Bazaks’ practical approach to math included focusing on concepts such as estimation vs. long division. “How many times have you used long division in the past several months?” they inquired. This statement alone freed me from bondage to the textbook drill method and granted me permission to ask myself, “What are some useful mathematical concepts I want my children to be confident in?”

I started realizing all the ways we had missed out on LIVING MATH. My eldest daughter had what I thought was a grasp on certain math concepts until she attended a theatrical school in which they were given stage direction in degrees. It had never occurred to her that you could rotate your head 30 degrees or your body 180 degrees. Though she had worked out problems with angles and degrees in her math text and mastered the concept easily, she had been looking at these problems one dimensionally. I naively never thought she would have difficulty transferring the idea outside of pencil and paper. Standing on stage and being forced to look at a problem (degrees and angles) from many dimensions made the math come alive.

Math plays a role in each of our children’s lives, whether in sports, traveling, saving/giving, building, or cooking. It is a privilege to give them access to the tools to learn what is needed of them to reach their goals. Textbooks can be a guide. Even now I glance at our textbook lesson to determine the concept and teach it to our children in this three dimensional manner. If they understand the concept, I certainly do not hinder their time with 30 additional problems for drilling!

The Bazaks stressed the importance of working toward a solution and not necessarily toward a “correct” answer.  Allow kids to create, figure and sort, and solutions will arise. Solutions for problems they need answers to.

My daughter is a testimony to Living Math. I recently overheard her discussing the topic of favorite and least favorite school subjects. Her friend declared, “Math is my favorite.” My daughter replied, “I used to not enjoy math, but now it’s fun, and I really like it.” Her statement marked a shift in my commitment to teach Living Math.

Below is a minimal list of resources to encourage you on your journey toward Living Math:


Anno’s Magic Seeds

The King’s Chessboard

Sir Cumference and the 1st Round Table (A Math Adventure Series exploring Math Concepts thru Story)

What If Your ABC’s Were Your 123’s? Building Connections Between Literacy and Numeracy

The Van de Walle Mathematics Series: Teaching Student Centered Mathematics

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth: Kathryn Lasky

Archimedes and the Door of Science: Jeanne Bendick





The Moscow Puzzles

 YouTube Channels (Mathematical Concepts):


-Vi Hart

© 2014 by Christina Pittman


Nature Center in Miss Lengle’s Classroom

Interview, interview, update my resumé, interview, complete my clearances and send out copies and answer these questions: Why do I want this job? What sets this job apart from others? What is my teaching philosophy? Why do I want to teach here?

After Graduating from East Stroudsburg University in 2012, these words and questions boggled my mind. I was constantly researching school districts and kept coming up with the same answers to these questions. “I want this job because I love to teach and enjoy being around children. I want this job because I am dedicated and willing to go the extra mile. I think that children are ongoing learners, and we need to teach them self-discovery.” “I want to teach here because . . . .” That was a tough one. All the schools are so different.

Then I received the call to be the 1st and 2nd grade teacher at Gillingham Charter School. A CHARTER SCHOOL as my first full time job?! But I’ve only ever taught in a regular public school district, and I was a public school student myself. I wondered how this school would be different from the traditional public school of which I was accustomed!

At the interview with Gillingham Charter School, I already felt a little more at ease when I first walked into the building.  A beautiful painting by Henri Matisse was hanging on the wall. The desks were beautiful and wooden and were all throughout the building. One of the directors greeted me at the door with a smile on her face and welcomed me into the room. (Is she allowed to smile?) I was used to someone who gave an intimidating look at interviews; does she actually care about how nervous I am?   There were chairs in a circle around a wooden table that were different sizes, colors, and had different, but beautifully designed cushions. It made me feel relaxed and comfortable. They began the interview asking me to introduce myself! (What are my hobbies and interests?!) I was amazed that they wanted to know about more than just my professional life. They wanted to hear about what I love to do! My mind was in a whirl….”The interview questions are so different! Why are they different?  But, for some reason I feel comfortable, and the answers to my questions are coming out so easily and just seem to be what I want to say, not exactly what I have to say to get a job. They seem to actually be listening. They are not writing down what I am saying, but instead looking with caring faces showing they were listening to all I had to say!”  I remember walking out that door and knowing I wanted this job!


Making use of all available space

When I received that call, I knew that Gillingham was the place for me. During the two weeks of training, I met my colleagues who were people who wanted to help, wanted to work together for the common goal of the children, and who cared about each other and the school! We learned a lot about the philosophy of the school and the way of teaching, and I was intrigued. I knew why the interview went the way it did, why the school environment looked so inviting, and why I was cared about in my interview. My ideas, concerns, and questions were important to these people because that is how the school looks at any person or child – as person who matter. Since then the philosophy of Charlotte Mason has done nothing but strengthen my way of teaching, my way of interacting with others, and my way of living life.


This past year I made amazing friends/colleagues, met inspiring and talented children, and gained a love and passion for the philosophy of Charlotte Mason and Gillingham Charter School. I watched children narrate entire stories with great detail and sequence at only a first grade level. I sat back and watched my class debate and converse on the significance of the stories we read. The students learned self-discovery, something which has always been part of my own philosophy of education. A child needs to want to learn, and with the living books that are chosen for the curriculum at Gillingham Charter School, it is easy for them to get lost in a book and want to know more about the story and its ideas.

The philosophy of Charlotte Mason sets students up for success without forcing facts and textbooks upon them. Instead they are given ideas which spark and ignite a flame. They want to keep learning, turning the flame into a full-fledged fire of knowledge. These ideas give the students the desire and need to learn more because we are not feeding them all the answers but leaving them to wonder and to make their own conclusions.

In a regular, systematic public school, this is not the case. I can vouch for this having grown up in a public school district. I was “fed” textbooks beginning in kindergarten all the way to my senior year of high school. I hated reading and would never read at home because I read too much in school. Was it really that I was reading too much? No, it was that I was fed facts and forced to read text books which had deteriorated my understanding of what reading for enjoyment truly meant. I had this same experience in college. I had to wait until I graduated from college to find my love for reading.

Gillingham Charter School and the Charlotte Mason Philosophy ignite a love of reading in children by presenting rich, living text of which they truly become a part. They feel as if they know the characters and are in the books with them. I have watched stories unfold this year and see how much my students love to listen to the stories. And they love to try to read because they want to read these stories on their own. The living books are setting these children up for a love of reading and a passion for lifelong learning.

I have found the place that I call my “second home” at Gillingham Charter School. Our beliefs, philosophy, and passion for our children and their future have helped to change my outlook on my own philosophy of education. After reading Charlotte Mason’s works, I have come to love that she viewed children as people. I, too, feel that they deserve the same respect as any other adult or human you would encounter. When a teacher treats children as persons, they feel important and a part of the classroom community. They feel that their opinions matter and that they should have a voice in the classroom.

I have treated my students as persons this year, and because of that, I feel I get a level of respect from them that you would not see in a normal classroom. I want them to know that their opinions are important, I want to feed them ideas that spark their fire, I want to read the living books that spark their love of independent reading, and I want to help them become successful well-rounded persons. I feel that Charlotte Mason has changed my philosophy for the better, and I am excited to see what Year Two will bring to my table of education because I am also an ongoing learner. Charlotte Mason has brought ideas to me that will spark my own philosophy and help me to better educate in the future.


© 2014 by Megan Lengle

As he came away .  .  .  .continued

So far the P.U.S. methods were considered suitable for girls, but people wondered about boys.  A friend of mine, Mr. Underhill, who was about to start a school in Kent and who had always been rather suspicious with regard to Charlotte Mason’s teaching as presented to him through me, was persuaded to come to hear her speak at a meeting organised at my parents’ house in Kensington Palace Gardens.  As he came away, entirely won over by Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, humility and inspiration, he said, ‘I take off my hat to Miss Mason.  I should be proud to be allowed to work under her.’  He then engaged a ‘House of Education’ student and put his lower forms into the P.U.S.

A great joy came to Charlotte Mason when the P.N.E.U. decided to print and publish her pamphlet on A Liberal Education for All, which they circulated to all the educational committees of the country.  Most of the authorities ignored it, but Mr. Household, Secretary for Education for Gloucestershire, read this pamphlet with thoughtful interest, went to see Charlotte Mason and decided to try her methods in five schools.  After these five he never had to ask a principal to adopt them, he was bombarded with requests when other principals of schools saw what refreshing and real education the P.U.S. gave their children.

I remember sitting on a village seat in Gloucestershire during a school holiday and being surrounded by little children.  I asked them what subjects they like best and one started sharing with me her love for and knowledge of The Voyages of Ulysses.  We all like to share what we value (I am trying to share with you now my experience of early days).  Another little maiden said, ‘I love Fra Angelico’s pictures.’  One cannot help feeling that her daily chores in later life would have become far less burdensome when she had the pictures of Fra Angelico’s clouds and colours in her mind.

Following her principle of embodying in her programmes of work the best that she could find, Miss Mason rejoiced when a member of the Executive Committee, Mrs. Whitaker Thompson, introduced to her notice the Perry pictures, inexpensive reproductions of Old Masters which she suggested should be used for picture-study.  This was followed by beautiful reproductions prepared by Mr. Mansell and since his death we have had those prepared by the Medici Society.  Picture-study in the way Charlotte Mason introduced it is still a unique feature of our school and many children will echo the young man’s exclamation when seeing Carpaccio’s ‘St. Ursula’ in Venice:  ‘I learnt to know and love that in the P.U.S.—God bless it!’

Similarly, when staying with Mrs. Robert Bridges, a P.U.S. mother, Charlotte Mason saw her beautiful script writing adapted from Italian MSS.  She persuaded her to publish A New Handwriting and adopted it for the P.U.S., a great revolution from copybook writing and the fore-runner of reform in handwriting.

I need not tell you what must be familiar to you all, of the feeling of loss which seemed to penetrate the whole educational world when Charlotte Mason died in 1923.  There was, thank God, no real interruption in the continued growth and development of the P.U.S.  Miss Mason had nominated Miss Elsie Kitching as Director of the School.  She was indeed a true follower and disciple and with her long training as Charlotte Mason’s secretary and friend, and her own mental grasp of the principles underlying the whole work, parents and children alike still receive help, inspiration and guidance.  Two years ago she resigned in order to write the life of our Founder.  In the hands of Elizabeth Molyneux we know that the future is safe and that our work will grow from strength to strength.

Charlotte Mason’s best memorial was, and is, in the lives of her pupils, but still we felt that a tangible memorial should be organised.  There was a general feeling in the outside world that Charlotte Mason methods were good ‘for little children.’   The Misses Goode had created a wonderful school at Burgess Hill, where the girls remained to take their university and professional examinations, but there seemed a demand for a girls’ public school with the amenities of large grounds, laboratories, playing fields, such as were now general in the country.  It was therefore decided that the memorial to Charlotte Mason should take the form of a company, the Charlotte Mason Schools Company, which should found a school combining the amenities of an ordinary girls’ public school with P.N.E.U. methods.  The response in the way of applications for shares was most encouraging, and Overstone was purchased.  Mrs. Esslemont (Principal) and Miss Wix (Head Mistress) both resigned important and lucrative posts to create this great school, which has just celebrated its twenty-first birthday.

One outcome of Overstone was the fact that I was invited by the mother of a former pupil to start a P.N.E.U. school at Estoril, in Portugal, which flourished and was subsequently taken over by the government.  Henrietta Bucknall, an early pupil, is now a student at Charlotte Mason College.

To complete the story of our School, after the war, in memory of the boys of members who had fallen and in gratitude for those who survived, a company was formed to established a boys’ preparatory school, Desmoor, Ewhurst.  The greatest credit is due to Mr. and Mrs. Perkin for having overcome the early difficulties of such an undertaking.  They have sent on boys to their public schools who show that a P.N.E.U. prep. school can well prepare them for the future.  Perhaps our successors will see fit to complete the chain by founding a Senior Co-education P.N.E.U. School.

And now to pass to some of the other activities in connection with the Parents’ Union School—our Natural History Clubs.  An exhibition was held at 50 Porchester Terrace in 1895, when the house was still empty of furniture, another, reading under the guidance of Mrs. Hart Davis, Charlotte Mason’s great friend and supporter.  How interesting it is in this connection to think of Charlotte Mason’s joy in noting the return of the first migrant and spotting the first wild flower on her afternoon drives!  Her emphasis on an understanding of nature was very new then.  It has had an influence on homes through the country, and now we are all thrilled when we hear on the B.B.C., for example, that the avocet is again breeding in this country after a hundred years’ absence.  Bird-watching and bird-lore have become the natural delight of hundreds.  How well, too, I remember the scorn with which my ‘sticks’ were looked on when I brought them home from Ambleside to flower in my vases here, and now we are offered them on every barrow.  How much joy, great and small, we owe to her!  In travelling over the country and visiting home-schoolrooms and small classes or schools I could tell as I entered the hall that this was a P.N.E.U. atmosphere—twigs in vases, bowls of moss, etc., old master reproductions on the walls—Charlotte Mason was there in spirit.

We are celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the Parents’ Union School with a gathering here in London.  We have had other gatherings at Canterbury, Whitby, Reading, Bournemouth, London—and musical festivals as well in these last towns—and last, in 1936, at Ambleside, the memory of which may be fresh in the minds of some of you.

A word on these musical festivals.  Mrs. Howard Glover was, one may say, the originator of the idea of musical appreciation.  She wrote to the Parents’ Review urging that children’s musical education should not be limited to their own efforts at learning an instrument, but that they should be trained to hear and enjoy music, to become good listeners.  Charlotte Mason induced her to prepare a programme of composers’ work each term, and her son Cedric continued this helpful activity.  He also arranged that P.N.E.U. schools should meet and sing together, their orchestras play before an adjudicator—one is proud to remember that Sir John Barbarolli was one of these.  How delightful we all were when one of the L.C.C. schools, using a P.U.S. programme, was judged to have the best orchestra, in spite of cheap violins, and received the delightful reproduction of an Italian picture presented by Mrs. Howard Glover.

Home-schoolroom children in London also had fun in reading together the Shakespeare play of the term and sharing musical appreciation classes.  Nature rambles in the parks were arranged for nannies (for there were nannies then) so that they too could recognise the trees in winter and spring and greet the first flower on the elm tree—with joy.  Yes, ‘Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,’ and our dear Founder helped us to realise this in our homes and schools.

This article is dedicated to Eve Anderson who gave me the magazine from which it came.

Franklin, H. (1951). The Parents’ Union School.  In PUS Diamond Jubilee 1891-1951.  Ambleside:  PUS.

Mrs. Henriette Franklin was the Hon. Secretary of the P.N.E.U. and Chairman of Charlotte Mason Foundation.

Appreciation also goes to the Armitt Trust, Ambleside, England.

After Charlotte Mason had published her Home Education she was approached by earnest-minded parents and asked to form the Parents’ National Educational Union.  Sixty years ago there were no magazine articles, lectures or radio talks to help those in whose hands was the training and teaching of the child.  ‘How shall we order the child?’ was echoed along the ages in many a mother’s heart since Manoah first uttered the cry.  Many mistakes were made, battles of will, nagging, spoiling (which can be brought about by over-severity as well as over-indulgence) were all too usual in spite of love and earnest endeavour.  Charlotte Mason put the psychological teaching of the day, often to be found only in heavy and difficult tomes, into language which all could understand, and added her own interpretation of the laws of habit formation, inspiration of ideas, and the ways of reason and of will.

Three years after the Union was formed Charlotte Mason founded the ‘Parents’ Review School’, as it was then called.  She felt, and parents felt, that they needed additional help in the training and teaching of their children according to the methods and principles of education that she was spreading far and wide through the P.N.E.U.  Many British children were being taught in their homes but their schoolroom life was not always happy.  Most mothers seldom attempted to do more than teach the three ‘R’s and governesses, being untrained and often with little understanding or love for children, became bad-tempered, objected to being asked questions and, even when taking children for walks, were known to make the children keep in step with them, so little did they realise the needs of childhood.

Charlotte Mason had a deeply-rooted love for children.  In her personal relations with her friends’ children and those she met in the village there was a reverence and courtesy which one recalls as one of the most beautiful experiences in life.  Her sense of humour, too, helped her to understand children and she knew that if they were to grow and develop all their innate powers they must be given ideas to nourish their minds as food nourished their bodies.  They must, as she said, establish relations with God and man, the past and present, with science, art, music and nature:  they must run and skip and swim and play and all these ‘musts’ she taught the parents through her writings and lectures.  She gave parents the beautiful motto: ‘Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,’ and to the children their inspiring challenge:  ‘I am, I can, I ought, I will,’ which my readers know so well.

Hers was a unique school, Miss Mason herself was the principal, and the teachers were parent, aunt, friend or governess.The pupils very soon numbered thousands, working in schoolrooms differing much from each other, in rectories, in farmhouses, in country houses scattered all over Great Britain and Ireland, in the Dominions and in the Embassies all over the world.  These children learnt to feel that they were part of a big school united by the best foundation for friendship—a mutual approach to what is most worthwhile in life, a kindred appreciation of the beautiful and true in literature, science, nature, art and music.  What a delightful programme!  No more dull text-books, no more lists of capes and bays and rivers, no more rows of dates and words to spell.  When Miss Mason was herself a child she learned geography out of a book called Cornwall’s Geography; I had that book, too—full of lists and facts, but at the bottom of each page in tiny print were notes on the character of the country, flora, fauna, etc.  Miss Mason determined to give her pupils books written by men and women who knew these countries, who in fact put the notes at the top and made one live in one’s imagination in the countries described; then the names of the rivers and bays would fall naturally into place.  Similarly a delightful approach was suggested to other subjects through books of literary value which were arresting and stimulating.  Thus she opened the door and windows to realms of knowledge through which the children could wander, then and now and forever.  Of her methods of using such books and the consequent training in concentration and attention this is not the place to speak.

She showed the parents how they could give the children the joy of creation, of making things, of painting, of listening to good music, of wandering out and learning the secrets of nature.  This was unusual sixty years ago.  Her influence has permeated thought, and bird-watching and flower-hunting are now a universal joy.  The happiness of achievement came to parents and teachers and children alike when at the end of the term the examination papers arrived with questions set to find out what the children knew, not what they did not know, and the task of answering was a pleasant, not a dreaded one.

Charlotte Mason eliminated from the first the spirit of competition:  the marks and remarks on the answers sent up showed a relation to the standard set not as between one child and another.  Later on when schools of various kinds became members of the P.U.S. her influence inspired teachers with the confidence that children would form habits of work without the stimulus of marks, places and prizes. She taught us that one natural desire replaced another and that the desire of excelling could not be co-existent with the desire for knowledge.

There was great satisfaction, too, for the anxious pioneer parents when boys entering their prep. and public schools did as well as their fellows, showing powers of attention and concentration that helped them all through life.  We were told by one public schoolmaster that he could pick out a P.N.E.U. boy right through his school life.  Such encouragement was very helpful at the beginning of our movement.

The home-schoolroom naturally lacked much that the well-equipped school possessed, but Miss Mason helped parents to fill many such deficiencies.  She introduced ball-drill and skipping on the programmes and later, when Sir Robert Baden-Powell brought out his book on Scouting for Soldiers, she, ever on the look-out for the best for her pupils, put this book on the programme.

Before I leave the home-schoolroom I must not forget to emphasise what so many parents felt, and still feel, namely, that through its medium their children’s inner thoughts were often revealed to them and real friendship established.  Who, indeed, are our friends?  Not necessarily the people who agree with us but those who care for the same things, who have similar tastes.  As the parents travelled with their children in the realms of history and literature, art and science, they grew to understand one another.  Family reading, so much encouraged in the P.U.S., leads to talks on many subjects which should be discussed between parents and children, but shyness or difficulty in beginning has often prevented it.  I hope it is not forgotten that our Union is a parents’, not a mothers,’ union and that many fathers have helped in the teaching of their children and often shared the joy of entering a new field of knowledge.  I can recall being told by one father that he had continued the study of geology and become a real enthusiast after having been introduced to the subject by reading with his little boy the P.U.S. book on fossils and shells.

En passant, were you, my younger readers, not thrilled and proud when His Majesty the King in his Christmas broadcast referred to The Pilgrim’s Progress and deplored how few read that great classic now.  We are not among those to whom it is unknown—it is one of the school books in Form I.

The P.U.S. was not to remain only in home-schoolrooms.  In 1892 I started the first class for children.  I wrote a letter to The Parents’ Review emphasising the fact that, though we all valued the programme, examination papers and guidance of the P.U.S., still children needed companionship, and asking for names of those who would like to join a P.U.S. school if we founded one.  We had a gymnasium built in Linden Gardens, and Miss E. C. Allen, the first teacher, needs no introduction to any of you.  Then came Miss Faunce’s first class at my sister’s house, leading to the great school which she, and now Miss Lambert, have run for over forty years.

Before this, two Quaker ladies, the MIsses Gardner of Yorkshire, having admitted to their school girls who had been taught in home-schoolrooms of the P.U.S. and, being impressed by their habits of work, powers of concentration and love of knowledge, asked to be allowed to enrol their school in the P.U.S.  They later moved on to Buckhurst Hill, Essex, where Miss Wakefield’s successful school is their descendant.

So far the P.U.S. methods were considered suitable for girls, but people wondered about boys.  A friend of mine, Mr. Underhill, who was about to start a school in Kent and who had always been rather suspicious with regard to Charlotte Mason’s teaching as presented to him through me, was persuaded to come to hear her speak at a meeting organised at my parents’ house in Kensington Palace Gardens.  As he came away,  . . . . to be continued next week.


This article is dedicated to Eve Anderson who gave me the magazine from which it came.

Franklin, H. (1951). The Parents’ Union School.  In PUS Diamond Jubilee 1891-1951.  Ambleside:  PUS.

Mrs. Henriette Franklin was the Hon. Secretary of the P.N.E.U. and Chairman of Charlotte Mason Foundation.

Appreciation also goes to the Armitt Trust.

Recently a colleague sent me this article from a 1926 Parents’ Review written by Elsie Kitching.  It contains such straightforward language from Kitching about Mason’s work that I thought the Mason Community might enjoy reading it.  All italicised words are in the original text.  Elsie Kitching is answering questions that we hear asked today.


[Continued from page 130.]



I have read your letter with much interest.  May I say that we quite understand that you do not see your way to adopt a new system in a school which is already doing successful work on the lines for which it was started?  Miss Mason was herself entirely averse to offering a “system”—a set of good plans (or even of bright ideas!) which used in and for themselves should produce certain results, and for this reason she did not care to send the programmes for payment only, but only on condition that they should be carried out in the light of the Philosophy of Education which has been her contribution to the cause of education.  That she should use certain methods to carry out her work is a sine quȃ non, but the methods do not belong to a system which can be bought and administered like a “cure” (which may or may not work) but are the outcome of principles which have resulted from certain “findings” as to the laws of mind.  To discuss the method as if it were a system leads nowhere, for a system is cut and dried and the material upon which it is used must be made to fit; whereas a method is the result of principles, living organisms, which have powers of growth, expansion and adaptability.

In answer to the objections of your colleague:

(1) “I subscribed for the material for one year so that I could see what value it had to offer us.  I may be wrong in my action, but I was unable to get any particular value from it.”

A subscription for a year’s programmes is of no value, as I have already indicated.  There is no intrinsic merit in Miss Mason’s method apart from the principles on which it is based.

(2) “I do feel that the emphasis on ‘living books’ is important.  I should be very sorry indeed if our classes were not also stimulated to a wide use of such books.  I do not feel, however, that this feature is a ‘Mason feature,’ despite the fact that it is made the centre of their system.”

Any schools can get living books and most of them do, but the supply of books is regulated not by the children’s needs but by the prevalent idea that a child’s need is intensive rather than extensive, and also by the fact that though most school authorities are willing to be generous in matters of hygiene and apparatus, books do not as yet take the important place they should occupy.  Also, the idea is still uppermost that a teacher, trained to be a specialist in one branch, has extracted the elixir of the subject of which he is master and is able to feed his pupils with it, pigeon-like, without effort on the part of the children.  It is the principle that counts as regards “living books.”  Any good teachers know what they are and can get them without difficulty, but they do not supply books to the child as the food upon which he is to feed and grow.  They rather incline to books of the tabloid order from which to supply the information by which the pupil may know what is necessary for examination purposes or for this future career.

(3) “You probably remember my questioning of any single system as a supposed educational ‘cure all.’”

We do not advocate any system as an educational “cure all.”  Miss Mason’s method, springing from vital principles and some knowledge of the laws of mind, seems to meet the needs of children at all points.  A “school which is open-minded to the best of everything” is apt to become a patch-work of good plans without any unifying principle.

(4) “May I add that even in England there are very strong opponents of the Mason method and many who think it very restrictive.”

That there is opposition goes without saying.  No educational method that implies such a volte face from time-honored practices could be suffered to make way uncriticised, but the opposition comes from those who do not distinguish between a method based on philosophic principles and a system which merely advocates devices that have been found useful.

I add a few notes on the questions put by one of your teachers, but what I have already said applies in general to each of the questions, Nos. 2 to 9.

(1) “Under this system how are children taught to read?”

Miss Mason sketched in her first volume, Home Education, a method she had herself found successful, but she often recommended others, e.g., that contained in The Happy Readers, and we also use The New Beacon Reader (English edition, Ginn).  Miss Mason avoided the use of coloured letters and all apparatus other than a box of letters or words.  She used to tell her students here, “Teachers must in this, as in all other matters, mix their work with brains,” for children differ, and a method which helps one child may seem a stumbling block to another.  A good teacher usually has a method she prefers, and Miss Mason was quite willing to leave it to the teacher as long as the child learnt to read!  The age at which a child should read is also a matter of difference of opinion.  Children should read well at 81/2, but many read much earlier, some at 6 1/2.  Reading, however, is a mechanical art, and before a child is eight he should have become acquainted with many books.  A child needs more mental food up to six or seven than he can get for himself, so should have books read to him and should learn to narrate what he has heard.

(2) “When and how are the forty-five combinations and the multiphication tables learned?  When does formal arithmetic begin?”

I enclose a paper, The Teaching of Mathematics to Young Children (by Miss I. Stephens), which was written at the request of the Board of Education and under Miss Mason’s supervision, but most children get some sense of number before six years of age.

(3) “How can the Mason system be used successfully in a group made up of three or more classes, all the children of which are below the fourth grade?  There seems to little time for narration in proportion to the amount of reading it is possible to do, and the children are not yet able to write easily.”

Narration must be considered from two points of view.  It is the teacher’s test of a child’s knowledge either orally, or in writing, but is also the process by which child or adult gains knowledge and makes it his own.  It is expressed silently, orally, or in writing.  “We narrate and then we know,” said a little girl to a Government Inspector.  She had been brought up in a large school working out the P.U.S. programmes and was accustomed to narration in the three kinds above mentioned.  Every child cannot narrate aloud every lesson, nor is it necessary.  The teacher’s part is to see that the children are trained to work by one reading with narration to follow. The teacher may test it in various ways, some of which are indicated in a paper (see answer 7) by the headmaster of a large boys’ school; but a slavish adherence to the letter rather than the spirit even in this matter of narration will only court disaster.  Clever children will sometimes memorise an astonishing amount and will not understand what they have read or narrated.  Here again the teacher must test the narration by a wise question which will lead to a discussion and will see to it that next time the passage is too long to allow of verbal memory.

(4) “The Mason system insists that there shall be ‘no second readings.’ Is there not literature that a child delights to read, not twice but many times?  Is a second reading always fatal to interest?”

There are two kinds of reading.  In desultory reading (both for pleasure and profit) a second, third or twentieth reading is necessary if we are to enjoy, or profit, by all that a great author has to say, but when a young scholar is at work “reading” (in the University sense) in order to know, he must perform the act of knowing.  One often hears it said of quite a young child—one knows it from sad experience!—“Oh, he never forgets anything he has heard!”  Why?  Because a child wants to know.  The inclination that comes to us, his elders, to procrastinate because we may get another chance, does not occur to him, so he uses his natural power of attention once for all and he knows.  The effort of the ordinary teacher is directed towards getting and keeping the attention of the pupil, whose power of attention is dissipated in many ways as soon as he gets to school.  The boy knows that he will be prodded by the teacher, that notes and summaries and revision in “prep.” will offer another chance and so he lets the first chance slip and the chances are then ten to one that he will ever know!  Miss Mason found that this principle was the same for child or adult.  We can all pay attention when we want to know and we make the knowledge our own by letting the mind work with its “What next? What next?” until the whole is narrated either silently, orally, or in writing.

(6)  “If a child is never to be interrupted or corrected, how are wrong impressions removed?”

The answer to question six follows here.  Question, or correction, while the child’s mind is working stops the flow of thought.  As a child narrates (unless he is glibly memorising) you can almost watch his mind working.  A sudden question produces a blank look and the mind is “off!”  The narration of a lesson may quite well be taken up by one child after another in quick succession, continuous narration of the pages read once.  The teacher’s opportunity comes when the narration is done.  The children, if invited, will correct each other, and the teacher, by a judicious question, will be able to clear up or discuss any point of difficulty, not quite understood, which has appeared in the narration.

(5)  “Is a child ever permitted to memorise a poem that cannot be committed after a single reading?  Is our idea of a treasury of memorised verse also a fable?”

The above answers refer to what may be called mind-work for want of a better phrase.  Memory work is a different matter; such work must be word-perfect and the habit is acquired by fixing the attention on details rather than on the whole.  Tables, declensions, etc., must be learned “by rote,” as we say.  In the learning of poetry both mind and memory work must be made use of.  Our children have anthologies and are allowed to choose what they would like to learn, or, the teacher may select two or three poems for reading and offer them for choice.  The child listens to the whole poem.  If for narration, he will hear it once and then narrate.  (This is the answer to question 8).  If for memory work he will learn it line by line, or phrase by phrase until he knows it.

(7) “In a large group are children never bored by the narration of others, especially of those slower at narration?”

Yes, of course the children will be bored if the teacher is not prepared for this difficulty.  Mr. Husband’s paper (see Parents’ Review, September, 1924) indicates ways in which this difficulty may be met.  As soon as the children can write they will have full scope for working at their own pace, but it is also well that they should learn to help each other and realise that intellectual life, either in school or in the world, has its duties to others.

(8) (Answered above) “What is meant by “telling” Lycidas?”

(9) “If there is to be a total absence of praise, blame or marks how is a child to judge his efforts, or set up a standard for himself?  Are the judgments of adults minds of no value to the child?”

Again the underlying principle must be borne in mind.  The teacher’s aim should be that the child must know that he may grow; if he learns to walk by means of crutches or artificial stimulants he will become dependent on them, and his growth will be retarded.  If he finds that school work is chiefly accomplished by listening to the teacher, or by making a special effort to “go one better than his neighbour,” he will miss the life-giving stimulus of knowledge itself which only feeds him as he takes and assimilates it for himself.  Children of outstanding ability make their own way in spite of the stumbling blocks that we teachers suffer to lie about, but the ordinary child is lulled by the teacher’s voice into inertia one minute, or stung the next into a spasmodic effort which only ends in satisfaction  at having attained as a goal, not knowledge but marks, or place or prize.  Of course the boy has to take his place in school as he does in life; but our mistake has been in letting him think that a place either in school or in life is the thing to aim at.  The judgment of his teacher is exercised rather in the teacher’s own attitude towards knowledge.  The child, who sees that his teacher shares his delight in knowledge of all kinds, looks at his work in a different light.  School work is not then a continual struggle to scramble within the limits of a teacher’s forbearance and to do what has to be done, but a happiness which brings him interests of all kinds in common with his teacher whom he also looks upon in a new light; and where most subjects bring some kind of pleasure others are accepted (if with some distaste) as the discipline of life is accepted by those who know its joys, while the teacher sees in his pupil a companion with whom his own interests may be shared.

(10) “Is the curriculum of the Mason system usable, without change, in American Schools? What place has the literature, art, history and government of America in such a programme?”

It would of course be necessary to make some slight modifications in the programmes as they stand for use in American schools, but the answer in the main is that there is a common foundation of world-knowledge which is the birthright of everyone and the P.U.S. programmes are based upon this.  There is still an ample margin left for special knowledge belonging to local conditions.  Most schools work for longer hours than those of our time-tables and Secondary Schools both here and in America will, we hope, see that boys and girls can get a liberal education in common knowledge as well as the special knowledge for local conditions; and with this foundation the specialised knowledge required for any one Public School Certificate Examination or Public Entrance examination can be acquired in say a year at most, at the end of a pupil’s school career, thus leaving him free from the trammels of public examinations until he has receive “a liberal education.”  E.K.


Kitching, E. (1926).  Notes and Queries. Parents’ Review37, 200-205.

Used by permission of the Armitt Trust and the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection at Redeemer University College.


 What was the Liberal Education for All Movement of 1914? It was the introduction of the Mason Method of educating children mainly by books of literary merit into state-funded schools in Britain just before the First World War. This upper-class model of liberal education had already been tried and tested for 23 years in home schoolrooms and private schools by Charlotte Mason’s Parents’ Review correspondence School (1891) (PRS) renamed the Parents’ Union School (P.U.S) in 1907.

Charlotte Mason was a professional teacher. She had been a pupil-teacher in Birkenhead during the 1850s and Mistress of the Davison Infantine School in Worthing from 1861-1873. From 1863 the standards attained by her pupils were crudely measured according to the restrictive ‘payment by results system’ under the Revised Code (1962). Teachers had little flexibility and few books. The liberal education that she discovered in the upper-class Brandreth household in 1868 and from her gentlewomen students at the Bishop Otter Memorial College in Chichester led her on a new and exciting path.

After settling in Ambleside in 1891, Miss Mason met Mrs Julia Firth of Seathwaite Rayne, a friend of John Ruskin (1819-1900) and assuredly heard about the grand old man’s passion for liberal education, art, nature-study and his desire to see free libraries, schools and further education available to the working-classes. Grippedby his ideas in Sesame and Lilies (1865) Miss Mason certainly absorbed Ruskin’s emphasis on the critical importance of attentive reading of good literary books which had stood the test of time. She devised narration as the primary method of achieving this goal without the need for didactic eloquence.

. . . you might read all the books in the British Museum (if you live long enough), and remain an utterly “illiterate”, uneducated person; but if you read ten pages of a good book, letter by letter, – that is to say with real accuracy, – you are for evermore in some measure an educated person. (Ruskin J (1906), pp.25-26).

Learning via the PRS, the educated-class children’s answers to the examination questions on all subjects had convinced Miss Mason that her version of liberal education not only worked well in home schoolrooms but also in the classes and schools run by her former students and in the growing number of private preparatory schools which joined the P.U.S after 1907. But, how could her method be taken into the state elementary sector to raise publicly funded education to a higher level?

In 1912 Miss Mason sounded a clarion call for literary liberal education in six letters to The Times newspaper, published as a pamphlet entitled The Basis of National Strength. The problems of passive mass entertainment, industrial unrest and damage to private property could be remedied by bringing the gifts of ‘knowledge’ acquired by ‘letters’, that is the careful reading of great works of literary merit to the lower classes. She protested ‘it is for the average, the dull and the backward boy I would lay urgent claim to a literary education; the minds of such as these respond…to no other appeal, and they turn out perfectly intelligent persons open to knowledge by many avenues’ (Mason CM 1913 p.32). Her views accorded with longstanding concerns about the teaching of English.

In April 1914 Mrs Emeline Steinthal (1855-1921) the co-founder of the PNEU responded to the call. Having taught her own children in the early days of the PRS, she introduced the P.U.S. method into the Drighlington elementary school in an impoverished Yorkshire mining village. She donated £20 for the necessary books for 160 children for one year. She gave the head teacher, Miss Ambler and the other teachers considerable support. Miss Mason was overjoyed.

This successful initiative was also welcomed by the Yorkshire Director of Education. By 1916 Mrs Steinthal reported that the Drighlington children were far more ‘alert and keen’ than before. They narrated ‘clearly and intelligently; delight was shown in all their studies. There is no need to shout in this school for order and quietness, the children are too much interested’ (Steinthal E 1916). After visiting the school that year, Mrs F. Clement Parsons, a leading PNEU member, also observed ‘the self-activity of the children, the absence of wandering glances, listless faces, sleepy minds (Parsons F C 1918).

With considerable support from Miss Mason’s P.U.S. team, which included advisory leaflets, conferences and local meetings to guide the teachers, the scheme spread across several counties including London. In Gloucestershire, they struck gold. Horace Household, (1870-1954), the Director of Education, had been lamenting the lack of books in his schools. He read the leaflets and decided to try out the scheme in successful schools, commenting that children will always learn where there is good teaching. Thus, the application of the pneumatic method came to be the hallmark of a good school. Mr Household listened attentively to the teachers’ anxieties about talking less, the shortage of books, the group method and their loss of control over the curriculum. Each class, in every setting, followed the same programmes of work for all the subjects and sat the same non-competitive examinations, set and sent out from the P.U.S team in Ambleside   and returned there for marking.

The state school children’s papers were enthusiastically read by Miss Mason. Their answers convinced her of the value of what came to be popularly known as the Pneumatic Method.  Mr Household visited Ambleside in 1919 and was bowled over by Miss Mason’s wide vision and gracious charm. By 1921 160 elementary schools and 90 secondary schools from several counties had joined in. The Liberal Education for All movement also benefited the development of PNEU private schools orchestrated by the Hon Mrs. Henrietta Franklin; 70 had joined the P.U.S. register by 1921. Mr. Household’s devotion to the method ensured its survival in Gloucestershire until his retirement in 1936, despite financial cutbacks which reduced the supply of books.

In 1923 Miss Mason died when the Liberal Education for All movement was at its height. It had restored her to the state-funded sector she had deserted for the PNEU. Great delight and ease of mind filled her heart.

The centenary of the movement should be commemorated. The issue of engaging children’s delight in listening to stories, in reading good books, in acting out Shakespeare’s plays, in reciting poetry and studying the arts and nature must remain firmly on the agenda of twenty-first century educationists.



Ruskin, J. (1865, 1906). Sesame and lilies. London: George Allen

Mason, C. M. (1913). The basis of national strength. London: P.N.E.U.

Steinthal, E. P. (1916). Two visits to a P.N.E.U. Council School. Parents’ Review, 27, (3), p.161.

Parsons, F. (1918). Courage in education, Parents’ Review, 29, (2), p.131.

© 2014 Margaret Coombs  




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