Charlotte Mason’s Sixth Volume – Chapter One

If you missed my notes on the preface, you can find them here.

Here is a link to chapter one if you’d like to read it yourself (which I suggest).

Miss Mason begins this chapter comparing the mind to the physical body:

“So let’s use the body analogy and compare it to the mind. The body lives on air, grows with food, needs exercise and rest, and thrives on a carefully selected diet that has plenty of variety. The same is true of the mind (it) breathes in air, needs activity and rest, and thrives on a diet that has plenty of variety.

…but we don’t see that what the mind really needs is food. And what little food we do give is so meager, it’s like trying to live on one bean a day! Everyone is so anxious about nutrition for the physical body, but no one thinks to ask, ‘I wonder if the mind needs food, too, and regularly scheduled servings? And what is a proper diet for the mind, anyway?’

The living mind needs the nourishment of ideas to survive. …we understand that bodies need three square meals a day. In the same way, a mind fed on a casual diet of ideas will be poorly nourished and weak. Our schools graduate students who are clever enough, but who lack ambition, the power to reflect on thoughts, and the kind of moral imagination that helps them understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. All of those qualities thrive on a good diet of ideas. 

The mind, just like the body, has everything it needs to digest its food. But, if it doesn’t work at digestion, it atrophies and stops working.

But children ‘ask for bread’ and we ‘give them a stone.’ We give them dry facts about things, and their minds don’t even try to digest them.”

This section really made an impression on me. When I began homeschooling I was absorbed in the idea of teaching my children the things they needed to know. It’s been a gradual transition to understanding that rather than fill them with facts, I need to feed their minds and let them make connections. Or, in the words of Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”

More of Miss Mason’s own words:

“Here is a list of some of the advantages of this theory:

It’s appropriate for all ages–even Shakespeare’s seven ages of man
It effectively educates brilliant children, and develops the intelligence of even the slower children.
Children concentrate with focused attention and interest without any effort from them or their teachers.
All children taught this way express themselves in confident, well-spoken English, and use a large vocabulary.
Children are calm and stable.
Keeping the mind busy with things to think about seems to make children’s minds and lives pure.
Parents share their children’s interest in their schoolwork and enjoy the company of their children.
Children enjoy their books, even when they aren’t picture books, and they seem to really love learning.
Teachers don’t have to work so hard making corrections.
Children taught this way do very well no matter what school they attend.
Students don’t need grades, prizes, etc., to motivate them.

This isn’t just quack medicine, although it might seem like I’m trying to sell some miracle formula at $29.95 a bottle.

Over thirty years ago I wrote Home Education (Volume 1) about teaching and training children at home. People wrote and asked how all my suggestions could be carried out perfectly without the help of Mary Poppins.”

Looking over that list of advantages I have to admit they’re exactly what I want for my children. But like she says, it certainly seems too good to be true. I love the this line in particular, “People wrote and asked how all my suggestions could be carried out perfectly without the help of Mary Poppins.”

I’m interested to see how she explains how to do the things she suggests, but I was encouraged by this suggestion of what not to do:

“But teachers tend to drown children’s minds in a flood of over-explanations, or they dissipate children’s intellect with busy work that wastes their time but doesn’t teach them anything.”

This is me! I love to teach, so I find myself over-explaining so often! Today’s takeaway for me; feed the children and get out of their way.



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