Learning Styles and Charlotte Mason

Learning Styles and Charlotte Mason

Way-back-when, I remember being confronted with the topic of Learning Styles. It was a popular conference talk. It popped up in home school magazines. The speaker or magazine article challenged me to figure out which Style triggered the most learning in my student. The teacher might have several students who each learn best by means of a particular Style, was the suggestion.

I listened to a description of the Styles.

A “visual learner” is attracted to pictures and animation.

An “auditory learner” is attentive to sound and is a good listener.

The “kinesthetic learner” is enthused about making things in 3-D and likes moving around.

The “social learner” finds group-participation stimulating.

Next, I was advised to observe each child, closely. That way I could “up” the opportunities that accommodated his inclinations. But I honestly never figured out which Style each of my children fell into.

Visual? They all liked pictures by artists and were riveted to anything entertaining on video. They were in the habit of drawing for lessons as well as in their leisure.

Auditory? They were attentive listeners—and  trained to be—from all our reading aloud and also the audio they heard in the car, or in place of television. (I believe this empowered them to hear a Sunday sermon.) All my children took an interest in the wide assortment of music their music-loving father played on CD.

Kinesthetic? Making things—and messes—was always a pleasure. And I encouraged my young son to jump on our small trampoline for five minutes in between lessons, to appease his boyish restlessness. It worked well.

Social? Playing in the backyard was part of the rhythm of our lives. On the days when I imported a friend’s children into our backyard, I noticed how this social group was happily inventive and spontaneous.

I was puzzled. How does a teacher go about measuring the amount of learning, or the ease-of-learning, that is accomplished through a Learning Style? Is it necessary? Is it even wise? Hmmm.

The answer came. It shook me by the shoulders. I woke up. Charlotte Mason had us covered. What a relief! She had us covered and-then-some. I had no reason to stress over Styles. By following Miss Mason’s method I was automatically giving each student opportunities to learn through a variety of avenues. I could rest in this comforting thought. The challenge to measure and adjust lessons according to Styles faded away. With the Charlotte Mason Method, Styles take care of themselves. And according to Miss Mason’s wisdom and experience, they are appropriately proportioned for gaining knowledge. Hooray. Thank you, Miss Mason.

She starts with this presupposition:

All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught.[1]

And, if we regard children as being intelligent—not inferior to an adult intelligence, just lacking experience—we resist spoon-feeding in all its forms.

All too often, teachers believe it is their job to make children attentive.

Thus, students are “coddled, wooed by persuasion, by dramatic presentation, by pictures and illustrative objects: in fact, the teacher, the success of whose work depends upon his ‘personality,’ is [a powerful] actor… whose performance would adorn any stage,” says Miss Mason.[2]

Our job, she tells us, is much simpler. We feed a child’s lively curiosity. “But mind does not live and grow upon entertainment; it requires its solid meals,” she says.[3] Therefore, we safeguard a child’s curiosity with the best we have to offer in books and things. Children are born learners. We can see how babies devote themselves to it—with eyes, ears, nose, hands, and mouth.[4] We can’t do the learning for them. They do that part on their own. When we attempt to “learn them” boredom sets in.[5]

What of Styles? How does Charlotte Mason have us covered? I will touch on a few things.

Most importantly, children must have food for thought.[6] When they have it they show a “surprising power of knowing, [revealed] by the one sure test,” says Miss Mason, “they are able to ‘tell’ each work they have read not only with accuracy but with spirit and originality.”[7] With narration, through artwork, sooner or later by essay, and perhaps drama, children learn without many explanations, much questioning, over-moralizing, or depending on the workbook to work the mind. Miss Mason tells us:

They must have food in great abundance and variety. They know what to do with it well enough and we need not disturb ourselves to provide for the separate exercise of each so-called ‘faculty’; for the mind is one and works all together[8]

A child is a “visual learner.”

Picture Study invites him to take in every detail of a painting or other great work of art. Yet art isn’t just form and color; it expresses ideas, too.

Nature Study is observation. We may use our binoculars, yes, but we also notice the sounds of the natural world, breathe in its smells and touch its textures. A child records his “finds” with sketches. He learns to see and perceive beauty.

A child is an “auditory learner.”

Music Appreciation makes him familiar with melody, phrasing, harmony, dynamics, rhythm, and emotion.

Poetry may be learned-by-heart and recited, but it also creates pictures in the mind’s eye. It evokes admiration, sentiment, and sympathy.

A child will listen closely to a parent reading aloud in suspense of what happens next. Knowing it is his turn to give an oral narration he catches detail. He hears his own voice, too. As he narrates he assembles select words in sequence, yes, but he is also dealing with ideas that impress him most.

The child learns to sing folk songs, hymns, etc. He lifts his voice in worship.

How measurable are these things?

Education is a spiritual matter.

Miss Mason says, “…all children must read widely, and know what they have read, for the nourishment of their complex nature.”[9]

When a child becomes a reader his true education begins. Because all true education is self-education.[10] By reading he envisions, hears, and feels with his developing imagination. Feeding upon ideas invites him to reason and discern. This knowledge is nourishing.

You see. We educate not by focusing on visual, auditory, tactile, or social inclinations. These occur incidentally. We shouldn’t let these distract us. Why? Educating is not an application (or should I say an “app?”) We do not apply education like we apply sun tan lotion to the skin. Education goes deeper. It’s what takes place within a person. Education is a spiritual matter.[11] And Miss Mason says it is chiefly through the Bible and the humanities that we are enlightened.[12] Trust in this becomes our guiding light.

Our school subjects go more than skin-deep.  

The Bible is a living book. It is hard and strange in places, but also marvelous, miraculous, tragic, triumphant… the true story of a personable, patient, loving, and all-mighty God. Since a Christian is in kinship with God’s remnant through the ages, the Bible is actually a source of his identity and spiritual heritage.[13]

With a living history a child is swept into a time period, the adventure, the conflict, the struggle and problem-solving of its people. The child sees, demonstrated through history, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are also those who take risks to do what’s right and make things right.

Science provides facts that explain the world we live in. But it does more. It takes us on-tour of determined men and women and how they came upon their discoveries through experimenting with the rise and progress of an idea. We catch the scientific spirit.[14]

Some fiction is just for fun and making book friends. But good fiction also shows children what virtue looks like. It helps build character. Miss Mason understood that by virtue and knowledge we mature and become “more of a person.”[15]

A child is a “hands-on learner.”

His first math lessons make use of tangible, movable objects, which pave the way to manipulating numbers in his head and learning the language of mathematics.

One of the most basic of hands-on activities, not to be overlooked, is drawing. It is one way for a child to narrate a lesson. A student who is developmentally delayed, who has difficulty talking, can show what he has learned through drawing.

Handicrafts, in wool, wood, leather, clay, needle-and-thread, train hands to a skill, to be resourceful and of service. As an alternative to screen time, a child may learn to swim, ride a bicycle, dance, skate, play a musical instrument, catch a ball, build a safe campfire, flip pancakes, sew on a button, and wash dishes.

Miss Mason makes a good point about this wide and generous curriculum, why measuring through Styles is unnecessary.  

She says, “always, it is the book, the knowledge, the clay, the bird or blossom, he thinks of, not his own place or his own progress.”[16]

A child is social.

Most home-taught children learn within a close-knit family. I want to recognize the value of this blessing firstly. Secondly, they look forward to worshipping with their church family. Yet, ask the average man on the street what he thinks of home learning and you will probably hear the opinion of the status quo—that the home-taught live in utter isolation, and are socially deprived. The truth is we are in community. A little networking is going on. Here is a peek at our high school years. Our son was on a fencing team. Our children sang and played their musical instruments in the local nursing homes, regularly. They all helped out for VBS. For a circle of friends, Dean and I held six-week studies in our living room. They were meaningful get-togethers. A mixed group of ages appreciated a handful of Shakespeare plays with us. Dean taught speech and Christian worldview courses, too. Young ladies came to my Beautiful Girlhood gatherings. I highlighted a character quality, demonstrated a craft for them to try, and served herb tea and little sandwiches. If there is anything that warms my heart it is hearing an age-integrated group of people fellowshipping, comfortable enough to talk and chuckle. With some planning and hospitality, we don’t have to be lonely.

May I leave you one more piece of encouragement? Keep plodding, my fellow home teacher. I am a gray-haired grandmother, old enough to have seen the benefits of a Charlotte Mason Education. The benefits spiral outward into society. What Miss Mason noticed of children who are given a generous curriculum I’ve seen come true. She writes:

Children so taught are delightful companions because they have large interests and worthy thoughts; they have much to talk about and such casual talk benefits society. The fine sense, like an atmosphere, of things worth knowing and worth living for, this it is which produces magnanimous citizens… Milton was right in claiming magnanimity as the proper outcome of education.[17]

No need to stress over Learning Styles. Charlotte Mason has you covered. And-then-some. Isn’t this grand?

[1] Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, p. 74
[2] Ibid, p. 75
[3] Ibid, p. 90
[4] Ibid, p. 36
[5] Ibid, p. 76
[6] Ibid, p. 25
[7] Ibid, p. 182
[8] Ibid, p. 41 (Italics mine.)
[9] Ibid, p. 59
[10] Ibid, Chap. 1 on self-education.
[11] Ibid, p. 26
[12] Ibid, p. 111
[13] Psalm 33:12, Romans 9:7,8, 27
[14] Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, p. 128
[15] A Philosophy of Education, p. 325
[16] Ibid, p. 31
[17] Ibid, pp. 267-268 (Italics mine.)

Karen Andreola is the author of A Charlotte Mason Companion, one of the most trusted and referenced books in the home school world. She also authored A Pocketful of Pinecones and Lessons at Blackberry Inn. She and her husband Dean were instrumental in bringing Charlotte Mason’s six volumes back into print in the 1980’s. Karen’s encouraging ideas are featured in the personal calendar journal Hope for Tomorrow. Hear more from Karen at her blog, Moments With Mother Culture®.

©2018 Karen Andreola

19 Replies to “Learning Styles and Charlotte Mason”

    1. Happy to hear of your interest. Charlotte Mason’s “Philosophy of Education” was the greatest help in steering my thoughts. I know my footnotes are a rabbit trail but if any footnoted sentence or paragraph is of particular interest you might go the page and read the surrounding context to get a bigger picture.

  1. This is such an excellent article on the topic of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy covering all learning styles! I never thought of this idea before, but I can certainly see the truth of what you state in your article, Karen. Very good thoughts and so encouraging!

  2. Great article Karen! Also, there’s no evidence on “learning styles.”
    In fact new evidence shows that catering to a child learning style shows no improvement in school performance, but it does cause schools to waste an extraordinary amount of time and money in persiut of it.
    Nice too see miss Mason saw this long ago

  3. This is interesting, Lucy. We can be accommodating to students in other ways. I think it is sensible, for instance, to give a student the opportunity to explore and expand interests, especially high school age students. On another point, a bright red pie-chart got my attention recently. The article writer sought to prove why people get so little out of a Sunday sermon. The reason being: people learn best by discussion or putting the sermon “in their own words.” That was the biggest piece of the pie. I nodded.

  4. Karen, I really appreciate your main points that a teacher’s job is to feed a child’s curiosity, not make them attentive, and that Charlotte Mason methodology is wisely diverse in how it helps children acquire and make use of information via their natural “learning styles.” I agree wholeheartedly with these main points, though I think it is helpful to realize that while learning style descriptions are popular, the concepts of how children acquire and use information are better labeled as “multiple intelligences,” which are more in number, and are used as helpful descriptors for how children best process information. These multiple intelligences, in the hands of a good teacher, are a really great tool for helping students more readily process information, using one of their (usually 2-3) dominant intelligences. Laura Ingalls Wilder said “Ambition is a good servant, but a bad master.” This is true of many things, and the descriptions of “multiple intelligences” are among them. But recognizing that describing how children acquire, process, and use information is a great tool in any teacher’s toolbox, and allows them to more readily “bend” an open-ended, Charlotte-Mason style assignment to that student’s particular intelligence make up. Howard Gardiner described eight of these intelligences as linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. A good teacher, armed with Charlotte Mason methodology and a good understanding of how their student best acquires information is a powerhouse indeed, and not one that takes hours to implement. As I write curriculum, use it in homeschooling (and also in the nontraditional school we started), I find that it is super-easy to ignite the imagination of my very-different students by putting a “multiple intelligences” spin on what I require from their outcomes, by tweaking the assignment just a bit for each one, to fit with how I know they process information. (After all, these multiple intelligences are simply descriptors that provide insight into my students.) It is simple and easy, and quite intuitive with Charlotte Mason methodology at my side. Therefore I say we should not discourage this kind of small adjustment, but rather see using multiple intelligences categories as a way to even better leverage the strength of Charlotte Mason’s wise methodologies.

    1. Dear Kaeryn,

      Thank you for your comment. I got to spend time with my friend John (Jack) Muir Laws at the In A Large Room Retreat in February. Jack introduced me to the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset. What we now know about brain plasticity points to the idea that the person is able to learn and grow and develop in ways that most of us do not commonly think possible. Charlotte Mason grasped this as she studied the work of William B. Carpenter prior to writing Home Education. In-born “nature” may be powerful, but Mason observed that “habit is ten natures.” I was so delighted when I read Karen Andreola’s article because I believe it shows what is possible when we lay the broad feast before every child. By doing so, we encourage a “growth mindset” for our learners, rather than subtly indicating to them that “nature” has determined a particular path for them. I believe that the rich variety of elements in a Charlotte Mason education are as effective today as they were a century ago in helping children make valid as many of the “first-born affinities That fit [their] new existence to existing things.”


  5. Very good article! I remember thinking the same things back in the day when my children were young, “They are learning through all of the Styles.” I never really put it together that the CM education is what covered all those styles and methods of learning for my children. You make excellent points. I’m going to share this with my daughter and DIL who both are homeschooling my grandchildren.

    1. It took me a while to “put it together” too, Jody. Thank you for your compliment and sharing this article. Speaking as one grandmother to another, it must be a comfort and a joy to know that all your grandchildren are being home educated. This is also my comfort, joy, and gratitude.

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