How to Teach Math the Charlotte Mason Way

Today I want to talk about how to teach math the Charlotte Mason way. Miss Mason had a beautiful way of viewing number that instilled a passion for arithmetic in young children. Her philosophy on math was to teach foundational skills in a graduated way through mental daily effort and habit. As someone who grew up with an aversion towards math, I found her view refreshing and exciting. Since I didn’t love math as a child, it is extremely important to me to teach my children to appreciate and enjoy it. Keep reading to read about how to teach math the Charlotte Mason way!

Form 1A Lower Math Lesson
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Mason’s Philosophy on Number

01. Daily Mental Effort

Mason believed that arithmetic was more than just sums. She states in “Lessons on Instruments of Education” section of her book Home Education, “The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, intellectual truthfulness it engenders” (Mason 254).”

Miss Mason wanted children to build upon foundational habits and skills that lead into a lifelong appreciation of mathematics. She also believed that doing a little bit of math each day would help the child form habits of concentration.

“Carefully graduated teaching and daily mental effort on the child’s part at this early stage may be the means of developing real mathematical power, and will certainly promote the habits of concentration and effort of mind” (Mason 275).

“Let his arithmetic lesson be to the child a daily exercise in clear thinking and rapid, careful execution, and his mental growth will be as obvious as the sprouting of seedlings in the spring” (Mason 261).

02. Relation to Number

Mason wanted her students to feel a deep connection to the power of mathematics. Rather than viewing math as rote sums, she desired children to find enjoyment and delight in working with numbers. In an article published in the Parents’ Review in 1929, a young woman named Mrs. Stephens describes Mason’s approach to mathematics.

“Miss Mason called arithmetic “Number” as being a much more comprehensive word for that subject which, under the name of arithmetic, was so apt to be thought of as only sums. She wanted the children to get a real sense of number; some vision of its innate power and beauty far beyond the sum of the moment. Arithmetic is learning about numbers; not learning to work sums. Miss Mason taught us that “Education is the science of relations” and that a child should feel from the very beginning that his relations with number are opening up to him yet another realm of beautiful and wonderful things for his enjoyment and delight” (Stephens 2).

03. An Exercise in Discipline

Discipline is the exercise of working at something to become more proficient. This usually entails working a little at it each day. Ms. Stephens uses the analogy of a musician. While not all children will be the next Beethoven or Mozart, all children have the ability to learn and appreciate music. The writer of the article below is suggesting that math can be the same way. With discipline, and daily practice, all children can develop a taste and understanding for mathematics.

“It may be argued that this attitude towards mathematics, or the appreciation of some of its fascination and beauty, is a gift only given to the very few: but we venture to think that such an argument is more a habit of thought than a proven truth. In days not long past we were accustomed to think that music was a heaven-sent gift to a chosen few and a hard exercise in discipline and the sterner virtues to those not of this blessed minority” (Stephens 2).

04. A Passionate Teacher

As much as we want our child to develop an appreciation and deep understanding of Number, we, as the mother teachers, must view it through rose-colored glasses… for their benefit! As with all learning, our attitude, when we sit down to do a math lesson with our children at our side, will make such an impact. Good or bad. Ms. Stephens mentions the importance of the delight of a teacher in the same Parents’ Review article mentioned above.

“It seems that the same is true of the teaching of Number, it all depends on the teacher’s attitude and the right beginning, that we ourselves have been led the wrong way and found only an arid desert is no reason for imposing that way upon our pupils. We may not nurture an Isaac Newton in our classes, but we can if we get the right outlook and take the right way with the children, send forth a set of people whose relation with the Science of Number is a happy and inspiring one, whose exercise of the art of Number is a source of satisfaction, whose whole attitude towards the subject is a desire to know more for the joy of knowing it.” (Stephens 2).

As she states, you may not be teaching the next Albert Einstein! But you definitely have the opportunity to instill a love for learning math in your children, purely by how you present the material and how you present yourself during the lesson.

Math Lessons Through the Forms

Mason divided math into arithmetic, algebra, and geometry and they were repeatedly studied through the forms to build on each other. She believed that having a good foundational understanding of the fundamentals led into a deeper understanding of how to use math in every day life. She was also an advocate for real world application. She used objects for very young children when working with numbers, and those led into oral lessons in the early years, based on real world word problems. The lessons were short short (no longer than 20 minutes), and built upon themselves as the grades progressed. Lastly, Mason encouraged older students to learn how to balance checkbooks, keep books, and learn other useful life skills.

Curriculum and Resources for Teaching Math the Charlotte Mason Way

Our Curriculum of Choice: Simply Charlotte Mason Elementary Arithmetic Series

Beauty and Truth Math is another one I’ve heard good things about.

Your Business Math is a great resource I plan to use later on, when my children are a bit older. I love the real-world application of this program. They have a pet store, sports version, and more.

An Instrument for Living Teaching and Charlotte Mason’s Living Math: A Guided Journey are wonderful resources for parents who want to further explore Mason’s way of teaching math to young children.

Closing Thoughts

Charlotte Mason’s approach to math changed how I teach math in our own home. Her appreciation for the deeper beauty of Number, and belief that anyone can be great at math through habit and daily mental effort gives me so much hope. I now teach math to my daughters with joy because I understand that how I act when I teach it will affect how well they learn it.

I hope that this post on Charlotte Mason’s approach to math and number was helpful and inspiring for you! You can read about how to teach reading the Charlotte Mason way at this post here.

  1. Mason, Charlotte. Home Education. Simply Charlotte Mason, LLC, 2017.
  2. Stephens, W.A.. “Number: A Figure and A Step Onward.” Parents’ Review, 1929, p. 35-41.

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