How or Why – the balancing act of philosophy and methodology

It has only been a year since I dove head first and whole heart into a Charlotte Mason inspired education for our family so the excitement, wonder, overwhelmedness, and sheer confusion are all fairly fresh in my mind.  This evening I was looking back over a few early entries in my commonplace book and these two jumped out at me:

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“…the sluggishness of human nature [finds] any definite scheme…more agreeable than the constant watchfulness…called for when the whole of a child’s existence is to be used as a means of his education.”

“…but the fact is, that a few broad essential principles cover the whole field, and these once fully laid hold of, it is as easy and natural to act upon them as it is to act upon our knowledge of such facts as that fire burns and water flows.”

~from Home Education by Charlotte Mason~

Last September my husband and I began attending a bimonthly Charlotte Mason support group for couples.  What a wonderful experience!  I really must do another post just about that, but to stick to the topic at hand, I was so new to all of this that I was eager to learn all I could.  The problem was that I was too focussed on learning the methods.  Afterall, school had just started, I was in the thick of it, feeling my way along, trying to figure out how to choose copy work passages and what in the world was involved with having my children narrate.  I was excited but very much felt out of my depth.  I remember the couple who was hosting and leading the session was very adamant about bringing the discussion back to the philosophy of a Charlotte Mason education whenever it veered into, “How do you do that?” and “What do you do for this?”  It was frustrating to someone like me who was looking for that “definite scheme” (as CM called it).

Fast forward a year, and I finally grasp the wisdom of their singlemindedness.  In fact, I find myself giving the same advice to other mothers considering homeschooling, knowing that it is probably frustrating to them at the time.  But I have come to realize that our methods must flow out of our philosophy.  Without a firm foundation in the whys, our hows just become a tangled mess of disjointed to-do’s with no real purpose known to us.  The philosophy is what fuels our methods.  It also fuels our enthusiasm!

There is a time for equipping ourselves with concrete tools, and we certainly cannot attain proficiency in the breadth of CM’s philosophy of education before we dive in and start teaching our children.  I can’t imagine I will ever lay hold of those “broad, essential principles” in such a way as to be able to act on them with the ease Charlotte has assured us is possible; but I think it is important, as educators, to keep feeding ourselves on the whys behind our hows as we go along.  A CM support group can be so helpful in this area…especially when led by such discerning facilitators as I have been blessed with!

4 thoughts on “How or Why – the balancing act of philosophy and methodology

  1. It is so interesting that you mention this! We are having a similar thing happen with the CM study group that we just started. We’re doing the 20 Principles study from Afterthoughts, and the group is mostly ladies new to the CM method with a couple of us that have been studying it for years. They’re all really enjoying the selections, but they have SO many questions about method–so many that if I let it, those would easily dominate the discussion and push the principles-related talk to the back burner. I finally decided on a split format, so we spend 75% of the time doing our principles discussion and then the last half hour we have an assigned method-related topic that we chat about (for example, timelines or dictation). It’s keeping all of us satisfied for now. 🙂 Having “found” CM before my kids were even born, I’ve never been in that spot where I’m in the thick of it yet totally clueless about how the principles look in practice. The way you described that experience is really good for me to keep in mind as I think about how to encourage the ladies in the group that *are* in that spot.


    1. Sounds like you’re handling it well. I know I wasn’t even aware of the dichotomy in the beginning. Feel free to share my “story” with your group if it helps to explain what you’re aiming for without hurting anyone’s feelings. 🙂 Our group has been working its way through the video series on the Ambleside Schools International website ( They are short (5-10 minutes) and are a great springboard for discussion. There are study/listening guides to go along with them too. I’ll have to check out that 20 Principles study from Afterthoughts. Sounds great!


  2. I “found” CM before I started homeschooling, so I didn’t have this experience either. I am finding that I have to go back to the philosophy now that I’ve been using the methods for a while. For example, somehow over the course of Year 1 I have begun to focus too much on “Education is a Life” at the expense of Atmosphere and Discipline, and I need to find my balance again.


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