Bible Lessons FAQ (Part 2)

Bible Lessons FAQ (Part 2)

Charlotte Mason developed a program and method for Bible lessons for children from ages 6 to 18 that is breathtaking in its simplicity, elegance, and efficacy. I have spent many years researching, writing, and speaking about this wonderful program, and now I am taking the time to respond to some questions that I have been asked over the years. If you haven’t seen Part 1 of this series, please be sure to check it out, since Part 2 picks up right where we left off.

Step 5: Comparison

Q8: How do you compare the individual Gospel accounts when you use The Gospel History in Forms V and VI?

In part 1 of the FAQ, I explained why The Gospel History is the best Bible text to use with The Saviour of the World. It combines the actual words of the four canonical Gospels into a single harmonized story, which makes it ideal for reading and narrating. However, we are told that after the narration in Forms V and VI, the students compare “the different Biblical accounts”[1] of the episode. If The Gospel History merges these different Biblical accounts into one synthesized narrative, how are the students supposed to reverse this process and tease out what came from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John? In other words, the question is how can they do what is described by Eleanor Frost:

For instance, suppose the lesson to be on the healing of Peter’s Wife’s Mother; the pupils would read the story in The Gospel History, then compare the accounts of this miracle in St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke…[2]

Of course, the obvious approach would be to find the corresponding passage in each Gospel, look at them side-by-side, and try to identify the differences. Now, The Gospel History does indicate on each page which Gospel passages correlate with the current reading, so finding the passages is easy. But it would require three open Bibles to compare Matthew, Mark, and Luke side-by-side, and it would take a sharp eye to identify how they differ. And all this is to happen along with all the other steps in the mere 30 minutes allocated to the lesson. How can this be done?

The answer is the much less obvious approach suggested by Frost, continuing the above quote:

… compare the accounts of this miracle in St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, using the Notes in The One Volume Commentary[3]

Frost is referring to The One Volume Bible Commentary by John R. Dummelow, a resource assigned in the programmes for Forms V and VI. Frost’s advice may seem mysterious if you haven’t yet read Dummelow’s comments on the Gospels. In his commentary, he actually spends a fair amount of time comparing the different Biblical accounts of each episode. Surprisingly, then, it is possible to learn quite a bit about the unique perspective of each Gospel writer by simply consulting The Gospel History in conjunction with Dummelow’s commentary.

I have done this many times in lessons with my children and have found it to significantly expand my own understanding of the Gospels. The process I follow is to first see which Gospel passages correlate with the current reading in The Gospel History. I can find this by looking on the Charlotte Mason Poetry website where the passages are listed at the end of each poem and in our tables of readings. (The passages may also be found in the index of The Saviour of the World and at the bottom of each page in The Gospel History). Then I note the chapter and verse of the first canonical Gospel indicated. I then turn to Dummelow for this passage (usually it’s from Matthew’s Gospel or John’s Gospel). Then I read the comments with my children. Again and again, the notes on the first Gospel point out which details are unique to this and the other Gospels. And we invariably have read all those details, since The Gospel History contains a harmonized account.

Approached in this way, the comparison step takes only a few minutes and easily fits within the 30 minutes we allocate for New Testament Bible lessons in Forms V and VI.

Q9: What do you do in this step if the episode appears in only one Gospel?

Armed with my answer to the previous question, you may be excited to give it a try. If you are just starting with The Saviour of the World volume 1, however, you may be disappointed to discover that each reading in the first book (one third of volume 1) is drawn from a single Gospel. So you won’t be able to try this approach until about halfway through the first volume! Even so, I think there is great value in reading the Dummelow commentary with your student even for readings that appear in only one Gospel. The reason is that Dummelow frequently comments on the unique perspective of each Gospel writer. So even if there is no actual “comparison” work, your student may gain some insight as to why a particular episode appears in only one Gospel as he or she reads Dummelow.

Step 6: Discussion

Q10: What should happen during the discussion step of the lesson?

We first learn about the discussion phase of a Bible lesson in Charlotte Mason’s Home Education:

Then, talk the narrative over with them in the light of research and criticism. Let the teaching, moral and spiritual, reach them without much personal application. I know of no better help in the teaching of young children than we get in Canon Paterson Smyth’s Bible for the Young. Mr Smyth brings both modern criticism and research to bear, so that children taught from his little manuals will not be startled to be told later that the world was not made in six days; and, at the same time, they will be very sure that the world was made by God. The moral and spiritual teaching in these manuals is on broad and convincing lines. It is rather a good plan occasionally to read aloud Mr Smyth’s lesson on the subject after the Bible passage has been narrated. Children are more ready to appropriate lessons that are not directly levelled at themselves; while the teacher makes the teaching her own by the interest with which she reads, the pictures and other illustrations she shows, and her conversational remarks.[4]

Mason’s instructions are directly reflected in the PNEU Programmes for Bible Lessons. For example, Programme 90 for Form I (1921) includes this instruction:

Teacher to prepare beforehand: in teaching, read the Bible passages once and get the children to narrate; add such comments (see Paterson Smyth) as will bring the passages home to the children.

The instructions for Bible Lessons for Form II also include the directive for the teacher to “add such comments.” This part of the lesson is called “discussion” by multiple House of Education students because it is the time when the teacher “talks over” the Bible narrative with the student and “adds comments.” Unfortunately, if this phase is not properly understood, it can lead to a grievous misapplication of Mason’s methods which sadly harms more than just Bible lessons.

The root error is in supposing that narration is associated with a lower form of learning and discussion is associating a higher form of teacher-directed learning. Shannon Whiteside has documented the prevalence of this view in her 2019 research paper entitled “Narrative Events and Literacy Learning: Retelling as a Meaning-Making Practice.” Her paper explores the use of narration in all kinds of lessons, not just Bible lessons. She documents her interviews with practicing educators who have said the following:

You don’t ever want to leave it with just reading and narrating. There needs to be some kind of discussion, some kind of response for that learning to take seed in their brains and their hearts. And so there’s a discussion afterwards…

… in the last part of the lesson, the teacher was to bring out specific ideas for the students to discuss and form opinions… part of a teacher’s role is to help the students “get at the living ideas in the text” … [The teacher] asked the students questions that focused on the specific ideas that she wanted them to discuss.

… since the facts were dealt with in the narration, the students do not need to be quizzed on the facts. The discussion after the narration was the time to explore the ideas…  The educators viewed the discussion time as somewhat open to students’ thoughts, but mostly guided by the teacher toward the discussion of specific ideas.[5]

These viewpoints reflect a problematic view of narration where:

  • Narration is primarily about “the facts.”
  • Discussion after narration is necessary so ideas will “take seed.”
  • The teacher needs to take the lead in the discussion phase so the “right” ideas are assimilated.

Whiteside carefully and convincingly shows that this is not Mason’s view of narration at all. According to Whiteside, Mason saw narration as primarily about ideas and not facts, and that narration — not teacher-led discussion — is the primary means for children to assimilate ideas. Whiteside explains this high view of narration as follows:

Narration is the means of taking in ideas. Mason (1925f) believed that during the act of narration students are processing the text by taking the words and ideas of the authors and making it their own. This is how knowledge occurs. Mason stated (1925f), “One thing at any rate we know with certainty, that no teaching, no information becomes knowledge to any of us until the individual mind has acted upon it, translated it, transformed, absorbed it, to reappear, like our bodily food, in forms of vitality” (p. 240).[6] Bestvater (2013) suggested that narration was a form of vitality that “invites children to notice and discuss the Perennial Questions, to be delvers into the existential matters for themselves” (p. 13).[7]Household (1925) suggested that narration was the food of the mind.

For narration is not, as so many people think, a test of the knowledge gained, but an integral part of the acquisition of knowledge, and the means whereby the ‘food of the mind’ (i.e., knowledge) is digested. At this stage questions are useless—a help to the lazy and a hindrance to the thoughtful—what the child needs is time to digest it quietly for himself. (p. 780)[8]

As students recreate the text in their own minds whether aloud or silently, they are absorbing the ideas that are meaningful to them.[9]

But if narration is indeed where ideas are processed and assimilated, why the need for a special discussion phase? First, it is important to note that the guidance in the programmes for the teacher to “add such comments” is only given for Bible Lessons and not for any other lesson type. So for example, when the programmes assign books for literature, history, Shakespeare, or Plutarch, there is no directive to the teacher to “talk over” or “add comments” after the narration. I believe this is because Whiteside is correct in understanding that Mason saw narration as the primary means by which ideas are assimilated.

The absence of an explicit discussion phase after narration is observed for most lesson types not only in the programmes but also in the Notes of Lessons. For example, in all three of the narration lessons in The Parents’ Review (Class II, Class III, and Class IV), narration is the final step and no discussion follows. Similarly, the lesson steps for Plutarch’s Lives and Our Island Story end with narration, leaving no suggestion of teacher comments to supplement or clarify the narration.

This apparent call for reticence on the part of the teacher is supported by Mason’s own description of how children should learn from books:

As the object of every writer is to explain himself in his own book, the child and the author must be trusted together, without the intervention of the middle-man. What his author does not tell him he must go without knowing for the present. No explanation will really help him, and explanations of words and phrases spoil the text and should not be attempted unless children ask, What does so and so mean? when other children in the class will probably tell.[10]

If children can learn from books “without the intervention of the middle-man,” why can’t they also learn from the Book of books without the intervention of the teacher? Why is a substantial discussion phase consistently urged upon in the programmes and the teaching guidelines only for Bible lessons?[11] I believe the answer to this puzzle is to be found by looking at what is being discussed: in the case of Bible lessons, it is not the Bible text itself, but the new content introduced after the narration.

Let me explain: a standard narration lesson involves reading (or hearing) a text and then retelling it. In the case of Bible lessons, that text is the Scripture itself. But in the case of Bible lessons in particular, Mason always includes an additional text that is to be read, heard, or paraphrased. That additional text is the commentary, and it is not narrated. The parent and child discuss the commentary, but the words of the commentary are never narrated. In a Bible lesson, the narration is reserved for the Bible text itself. Let us consider again Mason’s first direction from Home Education:

I know of no better help in the teaching of young children than we get in Canon Paterson Smyth’s Bible for the Young… It is rather a good plan occasionally to read aloud Mr Smyth’s lesson on the subject after the Bible passage has been narrated.[12]

Notice that the purpose of the discussion phase is to incorporate additional insight from Paterson Smyth. This matches the guidance in the programmes:

Teacher to prepare beforehand: in teaching, read the Bible passages once and get the children to narrate; add such comments (see Paterson Smyth) as will bring the passages home to the children.[13]

Clearly the intention is not for the discussion phase to be an opportunity for the parent to dispense her superior insight into the Bible text itself. Rather, it is the opportunity for the parent to either read from or paraphrase the comments of Paterson Smyth.

The interesting thing is that in the programmes for Forms III–VI, there is no mention of teacher comments or discussion. However, there is a mention of commentaries! For example, for Form III we see:

In all cases the Bible text must be read and narrated first.

The Acts,* by E. M. Knox, pp. 65–127

Each pupil should have a copy of all books, etc., marked * [14]

The Acts by Ellen Mary Knox is a devotional commentary on the book of Acts. It does not contain the Scripture text. The sequence of the lesson is clear: open the Bible and read a passage from Acts, narrate that Bible text, then open the Knox book and read the commentary. Given that each student is expected to have her own copy of The Acts by Knox, we can assume that the student read the commentary on her own. That would also explain why there is no directive in the programmes for Forms III and above for the teacher to “add comments.”

So we see that the discussion phase is the portion of the lesson during which insights from a commentary are read, heard, or paraphrased by a teacher. But even though the student reads the commentary herself in the upper forms, there still needs to be some kind of response. The reason is that “knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced”[15] — even knowledge retrieved from a commentary. The student response to the commentary is not a narration, however. It is a discussion! That is why I would go as far as to call this phase of the lesson the “Commentary” step instead of the “Discussion” step. Once we understand the discussion phase in this light, the description of this phase in the various Parents’ Review articles is more easily understood, and we see how to implement this step of the lesson.

Before going into these details, however, we should ask why Mason always insists on using a commentary in conjunction with Bible lessons. This is an astonishing situation, given that it is the exact opposite of her guidance with books by authors such as Plutarch and Shakespeare. For those books, Mason insists on plain text editions and eschews the use of commentaries. A 1927 article from Mason’s “ardent disciple” H. W. Household explains why:

Each gets from the book what he can; no two will get quite the same, and none will be compelled to get or see what an adult will get or see: it only makes books odious to treat them so. That is the spirit that wraps up Shakespeare’s plays in great volumes of scholar’s notes, and makes all children hate them, for they associate them with a futile antiquarianism imposed upon them for examination purposes. In our Gloucestershire schools, like other branches of the Parents’ Union School, they read a play each term in a plain text and love them all; and an Elementary School child, beginning to read Shakespeare at the age of nine, will have read some fourteen or fifteen plays before he leaves, seeing more in each he reads, though never what the adult—the teacher—sees. That, and perhaps more, he will see by and by when he too is an adult.[16]

Here is a remarkable situation indeed. Why would children read difficult texts by Plutarch and Shakespeare with no notes, but then be given a commentary when reading the sacred text? I think this statement from Mason points to one part of the answer:

Then, talk the narrative over with them in the light of research and criticism.[17]

Mason’s mention of “criticism” refers to the aggressive claims of textual criticism that seem to haunt much of the PNEU writing on Bible lessons. Furthermore, Mason and her House of Education students seem very concerned that the children will eventually find out the world “was not made in six days,”[18] and they look to Paterson Smyth to help with this delicate situation. For example, Evelyn Bruce-Low writes:

Neither will a child who loves God and is able to give a reason for the faith that is in him be turned aside or made to doubt because we tell him the world was not created in six days or that the sun and moon did not actually stand still at Joshua’s bidding.[19]

The PNEU solution is to “give children such a hold on essential truth that later they may be able to distinguish between this and accidental truth—essential being God’s teaching through the Bible to men of all times; accidental being the mere accidents of time and place.”[20] I certainly understand why it would be challenging for a teacher to explain that although the Bible is true, the sun did not stand still in Joshua’s day. Perhaps Paterson Smyth makes such a difficult task easier. But it is no concern of mine, since I believe in the six days of creation and the long day of Joshua. Therefore I don’t need a commentary to help me distinguish essential from accidental truth.

So, what if you are like me and believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture? Is there still a place for a commentary in Bible lessons? I think yes because the Bible differs from Plutarch and Shakespeare in an important way. The Bible is the one source we have for the knowledge of God.[21] It is the one authoritative guide we have on how to live our lives. It possesses a much higher degree of authority than Shakespeare or any other human author. And it is a book that the people of God have always studied and learned in community.

When Ezra stood on his platform and read the Word of God aloud, he was accompanied by Levites who “helped the people to understand the Law” (Nehemiah 8:7, ESV). To this day, when the Scriptures are read out loud in our churches, the reading is almost always accompanied by a sermon delivered by a person whose office is to help the people understand. In your homeschool, that office is held by you. As Mason explains, parents are “revealers of God to their children.”[22] I have found that a commentary, when it is a living book, can be a great aid to the parent who is fulfilling that office. Thus even though Bible lessons in my family do not dwell on textual criticism, we do read excellent commentaries that bring out spiritual truths which draw our minds and hearts closer to God.

Older students read the commentary themselves. Younger students may have the commentary read or paraphrased to them. Either way, the comments are followed by a discussion of what was heard or read. I think the three keys to an effective discussion phase are variety, flexibility, and openness to the Holy Spirit. I believe that is why we don’t see a single formula in the PNEU literature for how to conduct the discussion. Instead, we see elements such as:

(1) Encouraging the children to ask questions. Helen Wix writes, “So we encourage them to ask questions, and with a little help they often can answer them themselves.”[23] In Charlotte Mason’s classic article “Meditation,” she writes, “The [Bible] story read, the children should be allowed to ask questions.”[24] My habit is to ask my son if he has any questions about what we just read. Usually the best Bible lessons are when he does.

(2) Asking questions yourself. Ellen A. Parish writes:

The children then set to work to understand the passage more fully by comparing the different accounts and by bringing all they know to bear upon it; sometimes the teacher asks questions or points out some new aspect but more often she learns a great deal from the children.[25]

At times this can be very effective. Just remember to not overdo it, since children “weary of talk, and questions bore them.”[26]

(3) Expressing your own ideas. Wix also writes:

Some simple idea to inspire their daily life may end the lesson, the children often discovering it for themselves.[27]

Sometimes it is appropriate to just come out and share the idea you want your children to hear. But this too must be done sparingly. In fact, in the sentence immediately preceding the one just quoted, Wix writes, “they will understand very well if only she doesn’t talk and explain all the time.”[28]

Taken together, these three elements collectively become “discussion.” It is a give-and-take between the student and the teacher, based on what was read in the Scriptures and in the commentary. I believe the most important element is to be sensitive to how God is working in the lesson. In my view, Mason’s words on Sunday readings also apply to Bible lessons:

The point in the Sunday readings and occupations, is, to keep the heart at peace and the mind alive and receptive, open to any holy impression which may come from above, it may be in the fields or by the fireside.[29]

Many parents make the decision to homeschool precisely because they want to be involved in the faith formation of their children. I am shocked when I hear of parents who send off their Form V or VI student to do the entire Bible lesson on her own. I understand delegating piano lessons and Latin to outside teachers. I understand having an older student doing math problems alone in her room. But I don’t understand letting go of Bible lessons. It is the most precious activity in all of homeschooling. Make room for every one of your children in your timetable for Bible lessons. You will cherish the memories of the discussion phase of these lessons for the rest of your life.

Q11: Do you have to use the same commentaries that Charlotte Mason assigned in the programmes in order to be doing authentic CM Bible lessons?

I believe that an authentic CM Bible lesson requires the use of a commentary that is living and Christ-honoring. However, I don’t think it has to be by Paterson Smyth, Costley-White, or Knox. There are two reasons I see it this way:

(1) Every commentary that Mason assigned in the PNEU programmes is written by an Anglican. Is that just because Anglicans wrote the best commentaries? Or is it possible that Mason intentionally limited herself to commentaries produced by her own denomination? As an Anglican myself, I might be tempted to say the former. But deep down inside I believe the latter. Mason favored her denomination. Feel free to favor your own. Don’t let anyone tell you that you that you must use Costley-White, for example, to reap the benefits of a Charlotte Mason education.

(2) Mason’s own selection of commentaries was dynamic. For example, The Acts of the Apostles by Ellen Mary Knox was published in 1908, reviewed in The Parents’ Review in 1910, and in use in the Parents’ Union School by 1913. It was assigned as a commentary in the PNEU programmes that we have which start in 1921. When Mason selected a commentary that had been in print for only 5 years, was she expecting that it would still be used by Americans a century later? Perhaps.

But if not, Mason’s 1910 review of the Knox commentary gives us an idea of what we should be looking for in a commentary today:

Miss Knox, the Principal of Havergal College, Toronto, has done both the family and the school an admirable service in the production of a book on the Acts of the Apostles written with some literary distinction, a considerable knowledge of history and much spiritual insight. The following extract from the Preface will show the spirit of the work:—“The following lessons are drawn up with a view of leading teachers and pupils, whilst availing themselves of every modern research and accessory, to study the Acts as a whole, instead of dwelling upon its exterior and incidental parts. If the student would find the secret of the greatest of all movements, he must pass beyond the glamour of the knighthood of St. Peter and St. Paul, the civic problem of a Corinth and an Ephesus, the adventure of a stoning at Lystra and a shipwreck, to the spiritual power which awakened that knighthood, inspired the character of its leaders, and taught the world what Christian love, joy and endurance might be.”[30]

Mason assigned the Knox commentary because it has all the attributes of a living book: literary form and spiritual power. But hers was neither the first nor the last commentary to be written which possesses these attributes.

Q12: How is the assigned commentary supposed to be used during lessons?

The way the commentary is used depends on the form. For the early forms (I and II), the commentary is intended for the teacher to help her formulate her own comment or paraphrase. In the months after Charlotte Mason’s death, a book review in The Parents’ Review of Paterson Smyth’s The Bible for School and Home included this statement:

The commentary is not meant to be read to the children… but all thoughtful parents and teachers will be grateful for Dr. Paterson Smyth’s able help in leading the children to the knowledge of God.[31]

Although we recall that Mason herself said that reading to the children directly from Paterson Smyth is OK at times:

It is rather a good plan occasionally to read aloud Mr Smyth’s lesson on the subject after the Bible passage has been narrated.[32]

For the middle forms (III and IV), I believe the student is supposed to read the commentary himself. One reason I believe this is because the programmes indicate that each student must have his own copy of the commentary. Why would this be necessary if it was read out loud? Another reason is Mason’s own statement:

Forms III and IV (twelve to fifteen) read for themselves the whole of the Old Testament as produced by the Rev. H. Costley-White in his Old Testament History.[33]

The Costley-White volumes include both the Bible text and the commentary. I suspect that the students were to read both for themselves.

As I shared earlier, Wix wondered if the students were to read the commentary out loud. And then she answers her own question:

Does Miss Mason mean that they ought to read this silently? I do not know. But, for a large number of the term’s lessons, it has always been, in my experience, the only way of getting through the work—although the harder parts of the book need very careful supervision.[34]

For forms V and VI, the students dig into the commentaries on their own. Frost says it best:

Lastly, in [forms V and VI], the teacher’s work is not so much to teach as to direct; the pupils must search and strive for themselves; her office is to stimulate their thought, quicken their conscience and show them the way of personal study, that when the actual supervision of school days is over they may know how to continue Bible Study for themselves. Generally, they should read by themselves, but sometimes she will read with them.[35]

Frost says “generally, they should read by themselves,” but this father confesses that he always read the commentary side-by-side with his daughter during her last year of homeschooling, and those are among the most precious memories he has.

Q13: Should you ever use pictures during the Bible lesson? If so, which pictures? When and how?

If you were basing your Bible lessons solely on the PNEU programmes, you might wonder why this question is even in the FAQ. After all, there is nothing in any programme in the archive for any form (as far as I know) that says to use a picture during a Bible lesson. Furthermore, Mason issues a general caution about pictures in Towards a Philosophy of Education:

We trust much to pictures, lantern slides, cinematograph displays; but without labour there is no profit, and probably the pictures which remain with us are those which we have first conceived through the medium of words[36]

Given that the programmes do not prescribe pictures, and that the best pictures may be those the child conceives for himself, it seems safe to say that pictures should not be required for CM-style Bible lessons. However, there are scattered references to using pictures in conjunction with Bible lessons which suggest that the occasional use of pictures to enhance a lesson may be advisable. The first point to settle, however, is the purpose of using pictures. Mason’s quote from Towards a Philosophy of Education indicates that the purpose of pictures is not to explain. In other words, the picture is not to be provided as a cognitive aid. Or to put it another way, the picture is not a scaffold. This qualification is neither subtle nor trivial. Mason herself spells it out, again in Towards a Philosophy of Education:

How many teachers know that children require no pictures excepting the pictures of great artists, which have quite another function than that of illustration? They see for themselves in their own minds a far more glorious, and indeed more accurate, presentation than we can afford in our miserable daubs.[37]

Here Mason indicates that “the pictures of the great artists” are valuable, but not as an aid to comprehension. That does, however, answer the question of what kind of pictures to use. Bruce-Low elaborates:

Illustrations will be a help in the Bible lesson but these, too, must only be of the best. They must truly depict the scene and must be thoughtfully and reverently done. Most of the modern pictures are poor, but the Illustrated New Testament is good and the Gospels in Art, but this latter is, of course, an expensive book.[38]

Why the insistence on showing only the works of the masters? It’s because the purpose of pictures in Bible lessons is not to facilitate understanding but rather to nurture reverence. Mason explains:

This sort of impression is not to be had from any up-to-date treatment, or up-to-date illustrations; and the child who gets it in early days, will have a substratum of reverent feeling upon which should rest his faith.[39]

If the goal is to nurture reverence, then it is necessary to show restraint and let the pictures do the work. Or in Mason’s words, “let the pictures tell their own tale.”[40] Also, Mason indicates that pictures are introduced in lessons after the narration; in other words, during the discussion phase.[41]

How often should pictures be used this way in a lesson? Mason says that pictures should only be used in history lessons “occasionally,”[42] and I can only assume her advice would be the same for Bible lessons. How do you know when to use them? My friend Michele Jahncke offers this advice from her personal experience: “I use them sparingly and with guidance of the Holy Spirit. When I have used them it has been received like a breath of fresh air.”[43] That sounds about right to me.

Step 7: Poem

Q14: Who reads the poem?

When the Bible lesson includes a reading from The Saviour of the World, Parish explains how it should be done: “the verses referring to it in the ‘Saviour of the World’ are read by the teacher.”[44] The fact of the matter is that The Saviour of the World is better heard than read. I have seen people untouched by a poem they read silently, only to be deeply moved when they heard it read out loud. The key is that the reading needs to be a recitation with feeling and care.

For most of us, reading poems with feeling does not come naturally. Therefore, it is a good idea to practice the reading once or twice as part of your lesson preparation. Alternatively, you can play the recordings that we are sharing by Antonella Greco. We only have a few recorded so far, but some day, Lord willing, we will have them all for you.

Q15: Should every child start with volume 1 of The Saviour of the World?

It is not necessary to start with volume 1. In the PNEU, there was a single grand rotation through the six volumes shared by all students worldwide in Forms III–VI. If a student entered form III when the rotation was on volume 4 of The Saviour of the World, then she started with volume 4. It was not a problem then and it is not a problem now. If you have multiple children in your family who are in Forms III-VI, by all means have them read the same volume together. The benefits of having the whole family reading the same Scriptures and poems together far outweighs any benefit a child might receive by starting with volume 1.

Q16: How can I obtain The Saviour of the World for use in my Bible lessons?

You can get online access to the poems for free here. If you prefer physical books, the best editions available are the facsimile versions published by Riverbend Press available here. These reprints are beautiful in every way.

Lesson Planning

Q17: I have children in a wide range of forms. How should I handle that?

There are three possible ways:

(1) The first option is to combine all the forms together into a single Bible lesson. I do not recommend this approach. While I think it is fine to combine Form I with Form II, Form III with Form IV, and Form V with Form VI, I do not think broader combinations are advisable. Mason’s program for Bible lessons is carefully designed to provide children with a progressively unfolding view of Sacred Scripture. Mason writes:

How delightful it would be that each birthday should bring with it a gift of a new book of the Bible, progressing in difficulty from year to year, beautifully bound and illustrated, and printed in clear, inviting type and on good paper. One can imagine the Christian child collecting his library of sacred books with great joy and interest, and making a diligent and delighted study of the volume for the year in its appointed time.[45]

For the New Testament, this progression begins with the Synoptic Gospels in Form I and ends with Revelation in Form VI. When a wide range of forms is combined into one lesson, however, this sequence is compromised for either the younger or the older children. The result is that the beauty and elegance of Mason’s program is significantly undermined.

(2) The second option is to have older children do their Bible lessons on their own while you spend time with your younger children. I do not recommend this approach. Every article I read assumes that the teacher is with the student. For example, Wix writes, “During the lesson time in [Forms V and VI] teacher and pupil read, as it were, together.”[46] It’s hard to read together when you’re not together. Bruce-Low says it even more poignantly:

It is often a help, I think, with older children to learn with them, because then they will realize that we too care to know, that we love our Bibles not less but more as we grow older.[47]

(3) The third option is to arrange your schedule so that you can sit with your children and do Bible lessons with them at their appropriate level. Is it easy? No. Does it take more time? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. Bruce-Low says that when we do Bible lessons with our children, “they will realize that we too care to know.” How much more will they realize this when it requires extra commitment and sacrifice on your part to make it happen?

As a parent who has homeschooled for two decades, I have many regrets. But I don’t regret a single minute that I spent reading and discussing the Bible with each one of my children. More than any other activity, it’s helped me fulfill the vision I had when I started to homeschool in the first place.

Q18: What is the most important aspect of lesson preparation?

With all this discussion of maps, commentaries, and pictures, it may seem that lesson planning requires a tour de force effort of assembling the best resources for the perfect lesson outline. This focus on mechanics, however, can obscure the most important ingredient of lesson effectiveness, which is the teacher’s own relationship with Scripture. Bruce-Low says that we want our children to “realize that we too care to know, that we love our Bibles not less but more as we grow older.”[48] Mason encourages every parent and teacher to form a lifelong habit of meditating on the Scriptures:

Christianity is not merely the following of Christ, but is chiefly, the knowledge of Christ, to be attained by a constant, devout contemplation of the Divine Life. Hence, the primary importance of meditation to the Christian soul. We cannot grow into the likeness of that which is unknown to us, and we cannot know except by that process of reflective contemplation which we name meditation.[49]

This topic is so important that we plan to share Mason’s article on meditation as our next episode on the podcast. See you then!

Special thanks to Michele Jahncke for reviewing and critiquing part 1 and part 2 of this FAQ as it was being developed.


[1]Bible Teaching in the Parents’ Union School,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 24, p. 521.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Home Education, pp. 251–252.

[5] “Narrative Events and Literacy Learning: Retelling as a Meaning-Making Practice,” by Shannon Whiteside (2019), p. 99.

[6] Referring to Towards a Philosophy of Education.

[7] Referring to Bestvater, L. (2013). The living page: Keeping notebooks with Charlotte Mason.

[8] Household’s full article may be found here.

[9] “Narrative Events and Literacy Learning: Retelling as a Meaning-Making Practice,” by Shannon Whiteside (2019), pp. 88–89.

[10] Towards a Philosophy of Education, pp. 191–192.

[11] I grant that Mason refers to a “little talk” following narration in Home Education p. 233: “… when the narration is over, there should be a little talk in which moral points are brought out, pictures shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard.” However, it must also be granted that the only explicit instance in the programmes of anything like this guideline is found in the context of Bible lessons. Furthermore, the reference on p. 233 to “moral points” suggests that Mason may even have had Bible lessons in view in these remarks.

[12] Home Education, pp. 251–252.

[13] Programme 90 for Form I (1921).

[14] Programme 90 for Form III (1921).

[15] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. xxx.

[16]Charlotte Mason and Gloucestershire,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 38, pp. 450–451.

[17] Home Education, pp. 251.

[18] Home Education, pp. 252.

[19]Bible Teaching in the P.N.E.U.,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 30, p. 127.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Mason acknowledged this. See, for example, Ourselves, Book II, p. 81: “Where shall we find our material?—for we can only think as we are supplied with the material for thought. First and last, in the Bible; for the knowledge of God comes by revelation.”

[22] Parents and Children, p. 41.

[23]Scripture Teaching,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 26, p. 593.

[24]Meditation,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 17, p. 708.

[25] In Memoriam, p. 61.

[26] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 19.

[27]Scripture Teaching,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 26, p. 592.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Formation of Character, p. 211.

[30] The Parents’ Review, vol. 21 p. 554.

[31] The Parents’ Review, vol. 34, p. 651.

[32] Home Education, p. 252.

[33] Towards a Philosophy of Education p. 163.

[34]The Teaching of Scripture,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 40, p. 369.

[35]Bible Teaching in the Parents’ Union School,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 24, p. 520.

[36] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 340.

[37] Ibid., p. 41.

[38]Bible Teaching in the P.N.E.U.,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 30, p. 128.

[39] Home Education, pp. 252–253.

[40] Ibid., p. 253.

[41] Ibid., p. 233.

[42] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 172.

[43] Personal correspondence.

[44] In Memoriam, p. 61.

[45] Parents and Children, pp. 111–112.

[46]Scripture Teaching,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 26, p. 594.

[47]Bible Teaching in the P.N.E.U.,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 30, p. 128.

[48] Ibid.

[49]Meditation,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 17, p. 707.

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