If you’re new to the Charlotte Mason world, you’ll find that there are abbreviations and words that are difficult to understand unless you’re immersed in the culture. Today I’m going to define and explain some of the most common Charlotte Mason phrases and abbreviations so you can feel “in the know”. If you’ve never read anything by Charlotte Mason, and you’ve simply just heard about her and want to learn more this is a great place to start!

More about the Charlotte Mason Beginner Series:

I created this series to better explain the method and philosophies of Charlotte Mason. It is my goal to help familiarize you with her “why” and “how” and let you discover the rest on your own! I’ve shared our Charlotte Mason education since I first discovered her work four years ago, and I love sharing our experience, but I’ve slowly realized that there are still several families who have yet to discover her work. It is my hope that these videos can be that gateway for you.

Watch the “How to Speak Charlotte Mason” Video:

Your Charlotte Mason Dictionary:

The Volumes: Mason’s educational philosophy was “a liberal education for all”. She originally shared her philosophy through a series of lectures, but later published these lectures in a book titled Home Education. After publishing this book, it was widely received, and she wrote five other books as part of the Original Homeschooling Series titled, Parents and Children (Volume 2), School Education (Volume 3), Ourselves (Volume 4), Formation of Character (Volume 5), and A Philosophy of Education (Volume 6).

The Twenty Principles: Mason’s method is based on twenty principles of education. She writes about them in Volume 6, A Philosophy of Education, but these are essentially the “why” of her method.

Ambleside: Charlotte Mason lived in Ambleside, England and there she started the House of Education, a school for governesses and teachers. Ambleside is also used in Charlotte Mason circles for naming schools and curriculum inspired by Mason. (Ambleside Online, Ambleside School, etc.)

PNEU (Parents National Educational Union): Mason’s school for teachers grew and was formed into the Parents National Educational Union. Its’ purpose was to provide resources to homeschool families and teachers or governesses in the United Kingdom. They would send out programs each term for families and teachers to follow, and this was the curriculum that told them which books to read when.

PUS (Parent Union Schools): as the organization grew, they changed names and called themselves the Parent Union School in the later years.

PR (Parents Review): The magazine/periodical that was sent to the members of the PNEU to help them stay connected. These articles are often referenced in Charlotte Mason circles and referred to as “PR articles”.

The Forms: Form 1, Form 2, Form 3 Form 4, Form 5 Form 6. Mason breaks down these forms in Volume 3, School Education, but the forms are simply grades in Charlotte Mason speak. Instead of Grades 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Mason called them Form 1B (first grade). Forms were supposed to be elastic, and made to fit the child. They allowed Mason to combine subjects for certain grades, and finally they allow a child to advance when they’re ready and not because they’re a year older.

Early Years: This term refers to everything before age six, the age that “formal lessons” begin for a child.

Mother Culture: Mother culture refers to the development of mind, body and spirit within the mother as well as the culture the mother cultivates in the home. Mason said that education was “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life” and all of these are cultivated and tended to by the mother.

The Feast: The feast refers to everything the Charlotte Mason education entails. The books, the time out-of-doors, the time spent singing, drawing, and learning. It’s all a “feast” of living ideas for the child to delight in. I like to think of the “feast” as a well-balanced meal. The turkey, potatoes, veggies, pie, etc. Translate that to an education. The literature, nature lore, physical exercise, arithmetic, picture study. It’s our duty as the mother teacher to spread the feast and the child’s duty to gain what he can from it. Mason writes, “We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programs and each small guest assimilates what he can.”

Living Books: Living books are the hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education. What makes a book a living book? Think of it as the opposite of a textbook. A textbook offers dry, rote facts, but a living book incites interest in the reader. It evokes feeling. History is a wonderful example of this. A living book would tell a story about a historical event through the eyes of a character rather than present date and information. Mason writes about living books in Home Education, “A child’s intercourse must always be with good books, the best we can find. We must put into their hands the sources which we must needs use for ourselves, the best books of the best writers. For the mind can deal with only one kind of food; it lives, grows, and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body”. (Vol. 1).

Twaddle: Books that are dumbed down to “child’s” level. Books that don’t require much thought from the child. Mason recommended that parents read directly from the Bible versus a “children’s bible” and preferred us to read books that we as adults would also enjoy. She writes, “. . . the sort of diluted twaddle which is commonly thrust upon children.” (Vol. 1, p. 176).  The twaddle might also be that sawdust we talked about in the living books section.

Narration: Telling back of a story in the reader’s own words.

Habit-Training: Mason refers to “habit-training” in Home Education. She writes, “The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.” (Vol. 1 p. 136).    Habit training is simply teaching our children, patiently and intentionally, how to interact with and in the world around them. It all starts at home.

Timetable: A weekly schedule of morning lessons. Mason liked the timetable to have variety, appealing to different parts of the brain. She recommended that lessons don’t exceed twenty minutes in the younger years. A timetable is just another word for schedule!

Logbook: A Mother’s record-keeping book and lesson planner.

Exams: Reveals the thoughts and knowledge of a child at the end of a term. Exam questions don’t require cramming, multiple choice, but instead have the child tell about their experience.

  • “Tell the story of . . .”
  • “What have you noticed (yourself) about . . .?” (for example, a wild rose)
  • “Tell about . . .”
  • “Tell all you know about . . .”
  • “Describe a journey in . . .” (for example, Norway)
  • “Describe your favourite scene in . . .” (for example, Twelfth Night)

Object Lesson: an object lesson appeals to the child’s senses and natural curiosity about the world. “Object-lessons should be incidental; and this is where the family enjoys so great an advantage over the school. It is almost impossible that the school should give any but set lessons; but this sort of teaching in the family falls in with the occurrence of the object. The child who finds that wonderful and beautiful object, a ‘paper’ wasp’s nest, attached to a larch-twig, has his object-lesson on the spot from father or mother” (Parents and Children, pp. 182, 183).

Sunday Reading: Reading set aside for Sundays only. Usually stories about morals or heroes. We read Little Pilgrim’s Progress and Parables From Nature.

Recitation: Recitation isn’t about memorization, but rather practicing speaking with annunciation, volume, and inflection. A child picks a poem, verse, or hymn to read aloud to an audience…or “recite”. In Home Education, Charlotte Mason calls recitation the “fine art of beautiful and perfect speaking.” (page 223). She says “The child should speak beautiful thoughts so beautifully, with such delicate rendering of each nuance of meaning, that he becomes to the listener the interpreter of the author’s thought.”

Swedish Drill: Swedish drill was a series of movements the students performed in response to the teacher’s vocal instructions. The movements were performed slowly and gently, with an emphasis on balance and complete muscle control. As students grew more proficient, the instructions progressed to more complicated postures or movements. Mason would have her students practice routines as physical education during the morning time table in the drill/play block.

Picture Study: Studying a work of art by a famous artist. Picture study involves viewing the piece for a set amount of time. The child then closes their eyes and tries to picture the painting in their mind’s eye and describe it in their own words.

Solfége: Solfege, or commonly referred to as Solfa, helps you learn to transpose songs. It involves learning a series of hand signs, do-re-mi-fa-sol, and so forth. Solfa familiarizes the child with singing and music at an early age.

Paper Sloyd: Paper sloyd is one of the many handicrafts that Mason scheduled under the “afternoon occupations” slot or “work” in her schools. Sloyd gave students an opportunity to practice precision, follow directions, and gave them a sense of accomplishment upon completing a project. Sloyd is a handicraft but it’s essentially exercising so many other skills in the child. Students practice self-correction, and cutting nearly perfect lines to get the desired result. Mason had her students participate in paper modeling and cardboard modeling as well – these were for the earlier years.

Brushdrawing: Brushdrawing isn’t just painting with a paintbrush, but Japanese style painting without drawing an outline first. The student tries to form a mass with their brush and practice various strokes.

Handicrafts: “The points to be born in mind in children’s handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in the making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not be allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children’s work should be kept well within their compass.” (1989a).

Afternoon Occupations: Afternoon Occupations is simply work completed in the afternoon that didn’t fit in the morning timetable. Piano lessons, leisure reading, special study, nature notebooking, commonplace keeping, etc.


Mason, C. (1989a). Home education. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply.

Mason, C. (1989c). School education. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply.

Mason, C. (1989f). A Philosophy of Education. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply.

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