This article is part of a series on Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles. If you would like to read the previous blog posts, start here.

Principles 5, 6, 7, and 8 are interconnected.

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.”

Then Charlotte expands on the three parts of this motto:

 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.

Today we will consider “education is a discipline.”

“Habit is Inevitable.” – Charlotte Mason

I am personally still working on how this works out in real, modern life. But basically, Charlotte Mason explains in her Volume 6 that when we give children the right sorts of lessons, and let children do the work, they will be delighted and learn with ease. Some things, they may still need to work at. Making yourself work through a difficult book, for example, takes a bit of doing. So children need to learn habits that will see them through. And when it’s a habit, it’s inevitable.

In my own life, I do the following things and I *try* to pass these habits onto my children:

  1. Set a timer for 10 minutes to read the difficult book (or do the chore you hate, or get the dull assignment done) then take a 10 minute reward, such as a short walk outdoors, or reading a book you enjoy, or drawing for pleasure.
  2. Do the difficult thing, not because you want to, but because it’s time to do it. So, clean up for 15 minutes after morning time – not because we like to, but because that’s the habit. We do it at that time every day.

When the school plan is a consistent habit or on a schedule, it’s harder for kids to argue against it. So at the beginning of each semester, I review with my kids what I expect each day/week and we do our best to stick to it. At the end of the semester, I review how things worked/didn’t work and try to do better next time. 

The good news is: child rearing/homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint. So pick a strategy that works and trust it. Make small changes over time, but if your start with good habits in the beginning, there will be less to change as you go along.


This article is part of a series on Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles. If you would like to read the previous blog posts, start here.

Principles 5, 6, 7, and 8 are interconnected.

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.”

Then Charlotte expands on the three parts of this motto:

 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.

First: Education is an atmosphere.

Charlotte says this does not mean that we dumb-down our environment for our children. Rather, “take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere.” 

In real life, the way this plays out is this: we made small changes to our home over time to create an environment that lends itself to valuing Christ and the fact that he wants us to grow in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man.

I made a list of how I want my kids to remember our home when they are older. It included things like:

  1. Mom and Dad taught me to love God.
  2. Mom and Dad read to me. 
  3. Mom and Dad liked to read.
  4. We had alot of books.
  5. We played outside alot.
  6. We learned alot about the natural world.
  7. Our house was full of hospitality.

Changes we made to reach these goals: 

  1. We read the Bible every morning, even if it’s not a “school day.”
  2. We always have a family read-aloud going.
  3. In the evenings, my kids see me reading. My husband and I often discuss what books we are reading with each other.
  4. We have thousands of books on all kinds of subjects.
  5. We visit the library often.
  6. We bought hammocks, cool chairs, and a fire pit to encourage outdoor time.
  7. We planted a garden. Flowers, because we don’t have enough sun for veggies.
  8. We found a group of friends that play in a creek every week and make it a priority to play with them.
  9. In the car, we listen to hymns and folk songs that are special to our family.
  10. We pick one composer every 12 weeks or so to listen to in the car. In the evenings, we may play some of his/her music as well.
  11. We spend money on dance and music lessons that enrich our kids’ lives.
  12. We invite kids from our ministry to join us for dinners, zoo trips, park days.
  13. We intentionally have people over to our house to play board games and eat dinner.
  14. We try not to spend much on modern entertainment. We do not have Amazon Prime or Netflix (at the time of this blog post). We will sign up for a streaming service for a month or so at a time if there’s a certain series or movie we want to watch, but in general, we try to spend our money on things that positively enrich our family – and most modern entertainment just doesn’t cut it.

These changes were made slowly over 16 years of raising kids and making choices about our lives and educational plans. Not all even in the same year. 

To make an environment that will enrich your kids, first, make a list of your goals. Then think of changes you can make to align your household routines to those goals…just a few at a time. They don’t have to cost money. In fact, if you stop spending money on things that don’t align with your goals, you will be saving money.

Education is an atmosphere. Make the atmosphere align with the vision God has given you for your family.

 This post contains an Amazon affiliate link.


Continuing a summary of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles, we arrive at number 3:

If you need to go back and read about the first 2 principles, click here.

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

Notable: When Charlotte discusses this principle in Volume 6, it’s striking that she mentions The War.

Her first book on education was written in 1905. Volume 6 was 1922 – after she had seen the devastation of the first World War. It’s hard to overstate how surprisingly terrible this war was to people alive at the time. People suspected that Europe had reached a time of such peace, and humanity was on a trajectory that war was impossible. So 20 million deaths was unthinkable, but that’s exactly what happened.

The war informed Charlotte’s later ideas. 

And onto number 3:

She makes a point that authority is necessary to society. When we are under a proper authority, and obeying that authority, we are the most free. A Tim Keller sermon illustration that stuck with me is of a fish that wants to be free to walk on the land, but he is only actually free when he follows the rule to stay in the water. That’s what these ideas remind me of.

Charlotte says:

“Without this (authority), society would cease to cohere. Practically there is no such thing as anarchy; what is so-called is a mere transference of authority, even if in the last resort the anarchist find authority in himself alone. There is an idea abroad that authority makes for tyranny, and that obedience, voluntary or involuntary, is of the nature of slavishness; but authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist and, except it be abused, is entirely congenial to those on whom it is exercised: we are so made that we like to be ordered even if the ordering be only that of circumstances. Servants take pride in the orders they receive; that our badge of honour is an ‘Order’ is a significant use of words. It is still true that ‘Order is heaven’s first law’ and order is the outcome of authority.

That principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that also is universal. If a man in the pride of his heart decline other authority, he will submit himself slavishly to his ‘star’ or his ‘destiny.’ It would seem that the exercise of docility is as natural and necessary as that of reason or imagination; and the two principles of authority and docility act in every life precisely as do those two elemental principles which enable the earth to maintain its orbit, the one drawing it towards the sun, the other as constantly driving it into space; between the two, the earth maintains a more or less middle course and the days go on.”

I’ve heard some folks mistakenly say that the Charlotte Mason method is “child-led.” It’s certainly not that, and this principle should illustrate the point. The child is under the authority of the teacher. The child should understand that the teacher is under the authority of God and that they are both under the authority of God.

Principle 4:

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.

The delicate balance of teaching from authority and having children willfully obey and learn the first time, is something I have not mastered. But, going back to the first principle, “Children are born persons:” when you treat children with respect, they are far more likely to respect you back. Put knowledge in his hands, don’t force it down his throat and see what happens.

There’s no need to use fear or manipulation. 

This also reminds me very much of the book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk. I read it when my oldest was young and it influenced my parenting so much that I’m sure it’s one reason I’m draw to the CM method. I used to get it for every new mom. If you haven’t read it, stop and read it now.

So – authority and obedience should be natural but children are not puppies – Children are persons and should be treated with respect.


Here’s a principle that may ruffle some feathers, but stick with me here:

2. Children are not born bad but with possibilities for good and for evil.

At first glance, it might seem like Charlotte is talking about original sin, or, rather, a lack of original sin, but it’s actually more like a call not to be prejudiced against children for socio-economic status. Remember the part in Oliver Twist when Mr. Grimwig insists that Oliver will swindle Mr. Brownlow simply because Oliver was thin and poor? This is the exact culture that Charlotte Mason was raised in. When she went to teaching school, these prejudiced ideas were likely the norm.

Charlotte saw for herself that children from many backgrounds could be positively influenced by a proper education.

BUT – VERY IMPORTANT HERE: She did not mean attaching a “moral” to every story or lesson. In fact, she says in Volume 6:

“As for moral lessons, they are worse than useless; children want a great deal of fine and various moral feeding, from which they draw the ‘lessons’ they require. It is a wonderful thing that every child, even the rudest, is endowed with Love and is able for all its manifestations, kindness, benevolence, generosity, gratitude, pity, sympathy, loyalty, humility, gladness; we older persons are amazed at the lavish display of any one of these to which the most ignorant child may treat us. But these aptitudes are so much coin of the realm with which a child is provided that he may be able to pay his way through life; and, alas, we are aware of certain vulgar commonplace tendencies in ourselves which make us walk delicately and trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues.” 

Tying a story up with a nice moral “bow” completely takes away the magic of the story and doesn’t let the story do it’s work on the child. Imagine finishing Charlotte’s Web, children tearing up, and as you close the book saying, “Now remember kids, it’s important to be a kind friend.” Or, “If you wake up early, you might get to raise a pig.” Or “There can be redemption in grief.” Those are all things that one could pull from the text, but spelling it out for the child is *you* doing the work and taking the opportunity away from the child to draw their own conclusion.

Interestingly, even Aesop’s Fables, I have heard, did not originally include the “morals” at the end of each tale. So, when we read the stories, I always leave off the “moral,” and instead, we talk through what happened in the story. Often, the child will work out a perfectly fine conclusion on her own. And if she doesn’t, let the story marinate. The story will always be tucked away in the back of her mind to recall as needed. 

Let the child do the work. Trust that the Holy Spirit will do the work.


Charlotte Mason was an educator in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. After some time teaching, she became ill and this gave her plenty of time to think and write about education. In 1905, she wrote “Home Education” which included 18 principles of education and in 1922, she wrote “Towards a Philosophy of Education” which revised those principles and added 2 more. (There were 4 more books in the middle of these titles, which I’m sure I’ll discuss later.)

For the next several weeks, I will review those 20 principles and explain how they work out in real life. I’ve used these principles in our homeschool and also in my church/tutoring classes.

  1. Children are born persons.

This is simple, but some educational systems and adults completely overlook this fact. I will give some examples:

Often, I have been talking with a child and an adult will walk up and interrupt as if what the child is saying is not important.

I have seen adults hear the words children say, but not really listen and not care to understand.

I have seen adults discount children’s hopes/fears/interests.

If you believe a child is a real person, you will:

Talk to the child like a person. 

Treat even young children like they are important by what you say and do.

Trust the child to do the work of his or her education.

In Charlotte’s own words:

“This is, briefly, how it works:––

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.”


We don’t do children any favors by watering down learning material for them. They need good nourishment and all we have to do is put them in touch with age-appropriate readings/ideas for them to take in as they will. Ambleside Online does an excellent job sorting great books into age/grade-appropriate groups if you need some ideas. In general, children are capable of understanding much more than you think.

Examples: In my church classes, I have taught two different ways. At times, I have read the Bible passage myself, then used puppets, stick figures, or drawings to explain what happened to a group of children. This is fine. The children are often able to repeat back what I said and repeat back the inferences I made in my lesson. There’s a time/place for this type of teaching.

The other way I teach, more often, is: I read the passage ahead of time, but for the actual lesson, I do a few minutes of scaffolding (i.e. What is leprosy? How were taxes collected in Rome? What would it be like to be disabled in the first century?) Then I read the actual Bible to the children without my commentary. Every few verses, I ask, “What’s happening here?” The children jump in and are usually excited to tell back what they heard. 

Then, the most amazing thing happens: as they tell back what they heard, the children make their own connections and add their own commentary. The most striking example was with a 7-year-old girl telling about Genesis 3, The Fall. When she told back, “They ate the apple and started to die,” she added, “It’s like the apple was poison for their bodies. The sin is poison.” A 7-year-old girl. And it was one of her first times narrating in this way.

Whoever does the work learns. When we let children be the persons they are, and we let the children do the work, they will learn and reason more effectively than when we step in and do the work for them.

Children are, indeed, born persons. 

Summer Goals

Summer Reading | Book It

  • Lots of Splash Pads
  • Lots of Swimming Pools
  • Keep some structure
  • Catch up on a few school-ish items
  • Book-it Free Pizza


The lovely thing about the summer, for public school kids, is they are home! So you can do more to incorporate the family culture you desire because you have your kids with you more.


Some recommendations: 

Pick one composer and listen to their music for a little bit every time you’re in the car, in the evenings when you’re making dinner, or when everyone is getting ready for bed. Every once in a while, mention the name of the composer and what song is playing. Don’t overdo it! Just make this composer that you like part of your culture. 

Pick three great classic movies that you want your kids to watch. Plan one movie night per month to introduce them to your favorite films.

Pick a classic book to read in the mornings or evenings. 

Let your kids pick a country on the map. Learn about what the people there eat, how they dress, what music they like – let the kids prepare a meal from that country. 

Summer Plans

We do not do official school year-round. Some families do, and that’s fine. But we need an extended break and we do that in the summer time. 

However, we need structure and a schedule or else we feel crazy. So our summer days include a “morning time” that is a bit less intense than our normal “morning time.” It’s time for Summer Homeschool Plans….

In the summer, we will:

  1. Read Proverbs
  2. Read scheduled Bible passages from Ambleside Online.
  3. Read Animal Farm and Watership Down.
  4. Finish Robin Hood.
  5. Finish Lord of the Rings.

I pick these books because they are coming up quick on my kids’ curriculum and if we read them in the summer, it frees up time during the school year.

We will also work on little skills that need work…(I’m looking at you, copywork.)

Every homeschool family I know does summer a little differently. We need lots of time for my full work schedule and the kids need a break from some things (like math and Latin). 

“You have to do what works for your family.”

Summer Reading

Book It

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Science, Nature Study, and Charlotte Mason

Maybe the most common question I get after “What curriculum do you use?” is “What about science?” There’s a bit of a misconception out there about Charlotte Mason and her approach to science. People think she was light on science, maybe because she was so heavy on literature. 

The thing to keep in mind is: the Charlotte Mason method says that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. Just because we aren’t pulling our hair out trying to make random science experiments work or buying expensive science curriculum does not mean we are not learning biology, chemistry, physics and more.

There are several ways we incorporate science in our lives:

Nature Study

Charlotte recommended hours and hours of outdoor time in the afternoons after lessons are completed.

This is so special and also impossible for our family (and I suspect yours, too.) We do school in the mornings and our afternoons are full of dance lessons, church, and work commitments. 

But one morning a week, we meetup with a small group and visit a local park. We are fortunate to have a one nearby park that is entirely nature-focused. There’s a creek to play in, paths to hike, a few fishing ponds. It’s really great.

12-week Focus

If we just took nature in as we found it, we would find a great deal: trees, birds, bugs…But there are so many things out there so:

12 weeks at a time, we pick a nature topic from Anna Cromstock’s Book of Nature Study. Usually we follow along with the plan at

During that 12 weeks, we seek out opportunities to learn about our topic. For example, last term, we learned about Rocks and Minerals so we reached out to a local Gem and Mineral Club and discovered they offer a free kid’s class on Geology. Next term, we will learn about fish, so we will visit an aquarium and go fishing. 


One educational investment we make is memberships to our local museums and zoos – but a membership to all of them at the same time is not financially feasible – so if there happens to be a location that is specific to our 12-week focus, we will pick up a membership for that location.

For example, mammals and reptiles were both on our nature study list for last year, so we made sure to get a membership to our zoo. This year, since one focus is fish, we will get a membership to our state park so we can fish/camp easily.

When it’s time to learn about flowers, head to the arboretum or invest in some new flowers for your own garden. Let the kids pick them out and help plant them.

Science experiments

In my experience, when we’re doing a mom’s-idea science experiment, mom is the one doing all the work, the kids are not very interested, and half the time, the experiment doesn’t work anyway. However, the times my kids got an idea and wanted to try something out, the whole situation turned around. They were the ones searching for experiment ideas. They were the ones gathering supplies. They were the ones excited about seeing the results. And if it failed, they were the ones trying to figure out what went wrong and trying again.

Whoever does the work, learns. This is not child-led education. There are plenty of ways to get a kid wondering about a science topic to the extent that they ask a question that requires an experiment. And those are the science moments they will remember.


In Summary

It may sometimes look like science learning is not happening, but that’s just because there are no worksheets and vinegar volcanos (although, we did make a vinegar volcano once…). When nature and all the science that comes with it is a normal part of your life, the learning comes naturally.


Filling your children’s heads and hearts with poetry is one of the most important things you can do. No one is bored when they have a poem to recite. Internalizing those rhythms and rhymes will help with writing and style later in life. Here is what we do for poetry time each morning.

Who: We chose poets based on what year our children are studying at Ambleside Online. Over the years, we have read Mother Goose, A.A. Milne, John Dunbar, James Riley-Whitcomb, Longfellow, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter De La Mare, Emily Dickenson, and many more.


What: Most of the years, Ambleside has a free, printable list of poems on their website. Some years we have printed the list and read from it. Other years, we have bought a small collection of poems from Half Priced Books. 

We study the same poet for 12 weeks.

How: First, we read one poem per day by our poets. It can be that simple and still be effective. 

If there is a good, short biography on our poet, we may add that.

If we are feeling very creative, we might pick a poem and do an art project inspired by the piece.

We have also had seasons of life that we hosted a Poetry Hour at our home. We picked a poet, had friends over to read a few of his/her poems aloud, and did a small project based on the poems we liked (like painting a rock about our poem, for example.) It helped us to focus on a poet and allowed some kids to recite their poetry in front of peers. Fun all around.

Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason

This is the issue. My husband and I speak Spanish. Spanish was my minor in college. You would think it would be easy for me to teach Spanish to my kids just by talking to them and letting them “pick it up.” But you would be wrong.

Spanish is not my husband’s nor my native tongue and we didn’t want our kids growing up internalizing bad Spanish – so we’re using a simple curriculum, with several aids along the way, to help them learn to communicate with their neighbors.

Charlotte Mason and Foreign Language

CM encourages French

Alot of CM guides will recommend French as a second language. I’m fairly certain this is because Miss Mason lived in England and their closest neighbors were the French.

I did, in fact, let my daughter try to learn French one year. I bought a simple curriculum and tried to help her along – but…I don’t speak French and did not care to learn. My daughter did not have any French speakers to practice with – so now she’s back on Spanish like the rest of us.

We live in Texas

Applying the CM principles to our own lives, we can look and see who our nearest neighbors are and learn their language.

Our closest neighbor is Mexico and we attend a bilingual church, so Spanish made sense for our family. My kids get to practice with native speakers several times per week.

Many resources available

The truth is, whatever language you pick for your students to learn, there are so many resources available.

Charlotte Mason’s method is meant to mirror the way we learn our first language: hearing, speaking, and then writing.

The easiest book I have found is Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francois.

Speaking Spanish

How we use Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason

Theme Phrase

Me Levanto

For example, on page 9 of our book, the phrase at the top is “Me Levanto” followed by some other phrases about getting up and dressed in the morning.

The weeks we did page, we acted out getting up, brushing hair, etc. while saying the words.

Secondary Topic

Dias de la Semana

The secondary topic for this page is the days of the week, so we practiced saying these days in Spanish.

We spend time reviewing previous topics as well. When we review the days of the week, we will do an art project – making a calendar with pictures of what we do on each day.

You Tube

Senor Jordan and Amigos

My kids learn alot through music and I am not creative enough to make up songs for every subject. 

Enter Senor Jordan and other You Tube creators like him. There is great content out there that can help your kids learn.

We spend a week or two on each page and go back to review every so often. I also own several children’s books in Spanish, and we pick one to read once a week or so. Reading the children’s book together is not my kids’ favorite activity, but it is helping them learn Spanish so we are sticking with it. 

Proverbs, Verses, and Catechism

Every morning, our first order of business is learning God’s Word.


There are 31 Proverbs in the Bible and, often, 31 days in a month.

Monday-Friday, we read the proverb that corresponds with that day of the month. By the end of the year, we’ve read all the proverbs multiple times.

We do:

Pray that God will help us understand and apply his word.

Stay as consistent as possible.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to each child.

Point out, very rarely, if one verse applies to a situation our family currently experiencing.

We do not:

Preach during Morning Time.

Point at each child and say, “Did you hear that? God says you’re being foolish!”

Play “catch up” and read extra if we missed a day.

Ambleside Online recommends King James Version, but our family uses ESV and CSV because we prefer them.



Foundation Verses Flip Book and Fighter Verses Binder

Bible Verses

We use two tools for deciding which Bible Verses to memorize. Both are from Truth:78

Foundation Verses – Desiring God used to sell small flip books with short Bible verses for young people to memorize. Now they are available through Truth:78.

Fighter Verses – Longer sections of scripture for older children and adults, also available through Truth:78.

We just read a few verses daily until most of us have memorized the verse. The memorized verses switch to “weekly” and we move on to more verses.

In theory, the joy of learning God’s word is a reward in itself. In practice, especially with my kids, a tangible reward helps. We buy small gifts from FiveBelow and when the kids memorize as many verses as they are old. (So the 7 year old gets a prize when he learns 7 verses.)



New City Catechism


Learning the catechism has been a great tool for my children to internalize truths about God.

Our family chose New City Catechism. They have a plethora of resources to help your family incorporate this tool in your morning time routine.

We used New City Catechism in our Sunday School a few years ago. It was amazing to see the children and teens make connections learn about God in this orderly, logical way.

We use the pdf that someone created. It does have a few typos but it would be too much work for me to redo the whole thing to add in missing a word or two so we use it as is. Plus, it’s free.

There’s also an app for you phone so you can work on your catechism on the go.

We learn the questions in the same way that we do the Bible Verses. Starting with Q1-Q5, we read them daily. As they get memorized, they move to a weekly rotation. At the end, we should be about to answer about 10 questions per day and get through the whole thing in a week.

New City