Idyll Challenge IV

Idyll Challenge IV

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“Miss Mason’s philosophy and methods are very fully set forth in her books, but the books are written with such apparent simplicity that, as a friend once said to me, there is a danger of sliding along the top of the words without touching the profound thought below. It is good, therefore, to confer together, so that our diggings below the surface may be mutually helpful.”[1]

—Elsie Kitching

It has always been a temptation to reduce Charlotte Mason’s method to a curriculum. Once the homeschooling parent has made the momentous decision to implement a Charlotte Mason education, she faces another major decision. Which curriculum to use? Once that question is settled, it seems that all there is left is to put it into practice. Follow the instructions in the program. What else is there to do?

It turns out there is a lot else to do. The 1928 annual report of the Parents’ Union School expressed it well: “Our methods and our syllabus must go together; one without the other does not act.”[2] So one must not only have a curriculum (a syllabus); one must also learn the method. But isn’t that what teacher aids, podcasts, workshops, and conferences are for? To be sure, they can help a parent kickstart and refine a Charlotte Mason homeschool. But they are not a replacement for the one true way to learn the Charlotte Mason method: reading the volumes. The 1928 annual report went on to say:

It is found that even where teachers have read only Home Education and School Education this idea still persists, and therefore it has been urged that Parents and Children should be read as well, as offering a more detailed study of the principles behind the practice than the other two volumes, and so making the theory in these two more evident. The last volume, An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education, is a final summary of theory and practice. It is only in this preliminary knowledge of principles that balance will be secured in carrying out Miss Mason’s Method…[3]

In other words, reading one volume is not enough. You’ve got to read them all. Back in the day, this requirement was not some private secret known only to an inner circle. Rather, it was proclaimed on every single syllabus — every programme. In the same way, every modern Charlotte Mason curriculum should have a similar note:

For methods of teaching the various subjects see Home Education, 5/6, School Education, 5/-, An Essay towards a Philosophy of Education, 10/6 (P.N.E.U. Office)[4]

But someone might still object. Surely a good curriculum can summarize the method appropriately. Surely a set of videos can be enough. After all, no other method of education out there tells the parent to read a hefty set of six books. But that’s just the point. The Charlotte Mason approach isn’t just a method. It’s a philosophy. As Elsie Kitching stated in 1927:

We must never forget that we have a great inheritance to offer to the world, a philosophy, and, what is not an ordinary addition, a practical method of applying it.[5]

Kitching would get in trouble when she started talking about philosophy. “Surely,” people would say to her, “Philosophy has nothing to do with education!”[6] Kitching would then explain why Mason’s approach was so different:

It [is] an illuminating criticism because it indicates how psychology has dominated our educational thought almost to the exclusion of philosophy, and it is well to realise that we are up against two different points of view as regards education, that of the psychologist and that of the philosopher.[7]

What is meant by a difference between psychology and philosophy?

Psychology is, so far, in its infancy. It is still experimental. It has to make its way by mental tests, classifications, averages, and to act in the matters that come up in connection with a child’s education upon such information as is already in hand.[8]

By contrast, Mason’s starting point is completely different:

Miss Mason’s philosophy of education cannot be judged by the systems of enquiry set on foot by psychology. Her work is more akin to that of the great poets and artists who see man and see him whole, who see life and see it whole, and this is what I hope to indicate … that her Method of education is her Philosophy and vicê versâ.[9]

Sure, you can learn about an experimental method from a few videos. But to understand a philosophical method, you need to read the books. A decade later Kitching would lament what happens when people neglect this important step:

Now let us go on to consider some other ‘shades’ which dim the light of Miss Mason’s teaching and hinder the work not only of the P.U.S. but of all schools and classes where those in authority are trying to equip their children for life. Perhaps of all the shades that affect Miss Mason’s teaching, vagueness may come first. To quote a recent example: ‘I hear you have a sort of Mothers’ Union that works on Montessori lines, and the children do what lessons they like.’[10]

Can you confidently and comfortably list some of the major differences between the Montessori and the Mason method? If not, then it’s time to hit the books.

Kitching had a vision for the future in which the Charlotte Mason method would not simply devolve into some kind of Montessori-Mason-Classical soup. Rather, she had a vision based in the founder’s own glorious hope:

Miss Mason believed that in the future her philosophy would become the foundation of a university of living thought and practice for an increasing gathering of parents …, with a blessed company of children …, and a band of disciples … who should consecrate their lives ‘for the children’s sake’ and become fully trained teachers of her Method. She had a vision of continual progress in thinking, being and doing for every person towards fulness of life, a vision not only written down as a counsel for others but one which she had made first of all her personal experience.[11]

Do you want to be a part of making that vision a reality? Do you want your children to join the blessed company? There is only one way:

Questions there will always be, but if we continually keep in touch with Miss Mason’s thought by constant reading of all her books, we shall have a sheaf of principles at command…[12]

But what does “constant reading of all her books” really mean? Mason herself answered the question in 1912 when she urged all her practitioners to “read [the volumes] through every year or two, so that the truths they embody may become a usual and natural part of your thinking.”[13]

For six years now the Charlotte Mason Poetry team has been offering a unique opportunity for parents and teachers to do exactly what Mason said. We have provided a reading schedule that covers the volumes in two years, along with discussion groups that allow you to narrate and discuss what you’re learning. We call it the Idyll Challenge, and it has blessed dozens of women and men to date.

Homeschooling father Michael Walkup recently wrote:

Participating in the Idyll Challenge has been one of the best decisions I’ve made as a homeschool dad. My wife does most of the teaching and has often mentioned Charlotte Mason. I really didn’t know what that meant but I could tell it was important to her. Participating in the Idyll Challenge served as a means of encouraging my wife and since she was in one of the ladies’ Challenge groups, we were able to discuss the readings and plan things for school together. In addition, the men in the group had fantastic insights and wisdom and I always walked away from the meetings refreshed and encouraged.  I think the best endorsement I could give is that I benefited so greatly that I’ve decided to join the next upcoming challenge as well. I encourage any homeschool dad to join us!

Another father, Ben Mell, wrote:

I prioritize what’s on my calendar. At its most basic level, having our Idyll Challenge calls on my calendar has helped me prioritize understanding the homeschool method my kids are using to learn. I am no longer clueless! I can more actively participate in my kids’ education, provide a helpful atmosphere, and more meaningfully support my wife as she does the official teaching. Also, I know myself well enough to know I would not have read through these works or thought as critically about them without the high standard of showing up once a month for 2 years to discuss our reading as a group. Thanks, Art, and all the other dads who joined and helped make me a better parent.

Parents from around the world have participated in the Idyll Challenge. Lisa Joss of Perth, Australia described her experience as follows:

It has been such a blessing to be part of the Idyll Challenge over the past two years! I have grown so much in my understanding of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education, and have been inspired and equipped to apply her methods more fully in our family. Charlotte’s life-giving approach to education continues to enrich the lives of our children and our family as a whole. I feel so honoured to have had the opportunity to dive deeper into Mason’s volumes with such a wonderful, encouraging group of fellow home educators.

Each Idyll Challenge group meets once per month. The volumes are covered by reading about 90 pages per month. Each challenger is required to come to the meeting with his or her own answer to three questions:

  1. What is a question you have about this month’s reading?
  2. What is one thing you disagree with in this month’s reading?
  3. What is one thing you would like to put into practice from this month’s reading?

We always start on time. We finish in exactly 60 minutes, and spend approximately twenty minutes on each question, in the above order.

Idyll Challenge IV starts on August 1. Registration begins today. There is no cost to join — but there is a cost to finish: your perseverance and faithfulness. We will be offering five groups, and each limited to 20 members:

  1. [UPDATE: this group is now full] A men’s group that will meet on the first Saturday of the month from 9–10 AM Eastern Time, led by me.
  2. [UPDATE: this group is now full] A group for couples led by Steve and Danielle Kott that will meet on the fourth Saturday of the month from 9–10 AM Eastern Time.
  3. [UPDATE: this group is now full] A group for men and women that I will be co-leading with Antonella Greco. To be eligible to join this group, you must be personally and directly carrying out homeschool lessons with children using the Charlotte Mason method for at least ten hours per week. This group will meet on the fourth Saturday of the month from 9–10 AM Eastern Time.
  4. [UPDATE: this group is now full] A group for women led by Heather Johnson that will meet on the fourth Monday of the month from 7:30–8:30 AM Eastern Time.
  5. [UPDATE: this group is now full] A group for women led by Heidi Buschbach that will meet on the fourth Monday of the month from 9:30–10:30 PM Eastern Time.

Membership will be granted on a first-come first-served basis. To sign-up, fill out the form at [UPDATE: all groups are full].

In 1925 Helen Wix wrote:

It is such a temptation to us ordinary folks to emphasise some part at the expense of the rest and so turn a strength into a weakness. There is only one way to avoid this danger. That is constantly to read and re-read Miss Mason’s books, constantly to remind ourselves of her first principles—for from now onwards Miss Mason’s work is in our hands; we dare not leave un-made any effort to keep the truth.[14]

Mason’s work is in your hands. Sign up today and keep the truth.


[1] The Parents’ Review, vol. 36, p. 403.

[2] The Parents’ Review, vol. 39, p. 525.

[3] Ibid.

[4] PNEU Programme 101, Form IV, 1925. The numbers 5/6, 5/-, and 10/6 are the prices of the books. Form IV was appropriate for children approximately 14 years in age.

[5] The Parents’ Review, vol. 36, p. 419.

[6] The Parents’ Review, vol. 38, p. 528.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 530.

[10] The Parents’ Review, vol. 47, p. 729.

[11] Ibid., p. 717.

[12] The Parents’ Review, vol. 36, p. 419.

[13] The Parents’ Review, vol. 23, p. 808.

[14] The Parents’ Review, vol. 34, p. 418.

24 Replies to “Idyll Challenge IV”

  1. I have been looking forward to this since finding out that these reading groups existed! In my excitement, I think I accidentally submitted the form twice – sorry!

  2. I checked the time that my husband thought was the best fit for our family in this season. But, there was another option or two that might work in a pinch. Is there any way to add a second or third choice?

  3. I signed up for the couples group and put both my husband’s and my names, not sure if I was only supposed to put one, and sign up for both of us individually?

  4. Hi Art!! So excited to see this being offered again! What a blessing and thank you for facilitating this opportunity! I submitted two registrations when I thought my husband would not be able to participate this round but this morning he just told me he can and wants to complete the couples challenge with me. I’d love to move forward with us in the couples group if space allows that to be possible and remove myself from the Monday women’s group so another woman can have the opportunity to join in that place if possible. Please let me know and I appreciate your help!

    1. Valerie,

      Thank you for registering for the Idyll Challenge! I will make sure you and your husband are placed in the couples group. You should receive a confirmation email later today!


  5. Art,
    Will there be a time that the Idyll challenge is available to access in a self-paced format for those of us that cannot join at this time?

    1. Laura,

      Thank you for your interest in the Idyll Challenge! The schedule we are following is available here and you are free to follow along in your private reading. Also, if you have questions about or reflections on your reading, you may wish to post them in the Charlotte Mason Poetry Readers group on Facebook. Are there other ways we can support self-paced readers who are following along?


      1. Art,
        If it is ever a feasible idea, it might be beneficial to make audios of the discussions available for those who cannot keep up with the reading schedule or who need to do it at their own pace. (Many people are no longer using Facebook for various reasons.) Another format that might be helpful for a wider audience could be via podcast discussion for each of the sections as you have broken them down for the reading groups. This would allow moms, dads, and others to read the volumes and listen as quickly or slowly as desired.

  6. Hi Art,

    Would love to join the challenge? Our group is outside the U.S. How can join? Do we need to register?

    Thank you.


    1. Bea,

      If you already have a group and a leader, then by all means follow along with us on our reading schedule! There is no need to officially register here, but we would love to hear how your group is doing and what wonderful lessons you are gleaning from Miss Mason!


  7. Hi Art, thank you for offering this schedule. I filled out a registration for the men’s group (for my husband) and was wondering what the next steps are? If the form was completed will we get a confirmation email?

  8. The groups are full, could I be out on an alternate list in hopes of a spot coming available?

  9. Well, I’m late in the game, but if you have any drop outs, I’m interested in Antonella’s group!

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