My Experience with Charlotte Mason in Sunday School

My Experience with Charlotte Mason in Sunday School

During most of the past six years I have volunteered helping with the pre-school and elementary aged children at our church. Although our church family includes many loving and well-intentioned educators, I am not aware of anyone else inclined towards Mason’s philosophy. In fact, much of what I observed over the years runs contrary to her methods. Thankfully, my responsibilities didn’t extend to teaching any lessons.

Several years ago I listened to a podcast (May 2019) in which Min Hwang was interviewed about implementing Charlotte Mason’s ideas in the children’s ministry at her church. I remember being so impressed with how she carried this out and the success she experienced in influencing her teachers to adopt these ideas.

Fast forward to last school year when I began teaching Sunday School lessons part-time to a class of second and third grade children. Unlike Min I am not in charge of our children’s ministry. Nor am I given the authority to choose the curriculum I teach. Unfortunately, the curriculum we use epitomizes much of what seems to be wrong with current education trends. The Bible passages themselves are not read to the children. Instead, the lesson is a brief summary of the content, which is also presented later in video form with childish cartoon characters. Reading instructions given to the teacher include suggestions for gestures and voices to engage the listeners more effectively. The story is reviewed with leading questions. Multiple games and activities or possible rewards can entice their participation and interest. It reminds me of Mason’s observation:

But so besotted is our educational thought that we believe children regard knowledge rather as repulsive medicine than as inviting food. Hence our dependence on marks and prizes, athletics, alluring presentation, any jam we can devise to disguise the powder. (Mason, 1989, pp. 88-89)

I really struggled with feeling like a hypocrite in this situation. How could I in good conscience lead these children in studying the Bible in a way I believe is ineffective, or even possibly harmful to their relationship with God? Thankfully I had some latitude in how I carried out these lessons. Maps were hung on the wall for our use when I requested it. I was encouraged to share relevant paintings if desired.

My current class ranges from eight to fifteen children each Sunday. We spend one hour together in class. There are various levels of reading ability represented, from not reading at all to fluently reading without assistance. None, to my knowledge, except for my own daughter, are exposed to Mason’s methods at home, especially narration.

Each week I adjusted the lessons within the framework I was provided to better fit my understanding of how children learn. I would ask the children to remember and share what they learned the week before, rather than tell them. Using map questions, we found locations mentioned to give context to the lessons. Instead of the summary provided, we read the Bible text itself. Afterward, I offered opportunity for the children to ask questions. Then I would ask them to narrate or draw a picture about the story. However, participation was sometimes dismal. I chalked it up to the lack of consistency in narration and decided I was probably doing the best with what I had.

Then I listened to Min Hwang interviewing one of the Sunday School teachers in her children’s ministry about the transition at their church. The teacher shared her experience with the children in her class. It was inspiring to hear how the children adapted to what was asked of them. I determined to try it out the next Sunday. Instead of asking for volunteers to narrate I would require every child to recount something from each reading.

Because the curriculum we use relies on videos and summaries, sometimes the actual Bible passages can be quite lengthy. That week the lesson was covering Genesis 25–33. I copied a page from one of my favorite Bible atlases at home to pass out and we familiarized ourselves with Canaan, Haran, and Shechem. Before reading the passage, I told the children they needed to pay close attention because I would be asking each one of them to tell me something about the reading when I was done. The first time around a couple children seemed surprised I meant what I said. I reiterated the importance of paying attention to the reading so they would be able to tell me something the next time. I continued reading passages between ten to thirty verses long (with some omissions) and varied where in the circle of children I started the narrations. They were asked to tell me at least one thing from the reading, expand on something another child said, or make a correction. We spent forty-five minutes reading and narrating, much longer than is ideal for that age group, but they were engaged.

Frankly, I was amazed at the level of engagement in comparison to other weeks. One little boy is not reading for himself at all. I always encourage him to listen to me reading out loud, but he can be easily distracted. This week he was able to tell me something after every reading. Some of the girls like to talk instead of reading along in their Bibles. Once they realized I was going to call on them every time, they started paying attention. Another very smart boy, with lots of energy, usually has trouble sitting still. He was completely caught up in the story and more appropriately challenged by narrating than he ever was by answering questions or watching the videos. All of them were actively listening to each other and correcting or asking questions when they heard something different than they understood. At the end of class some of the children even asked me if they could keep their maps to bring home.

Seeing the connection they formed with God’s Word that morning was very heartening. Best of all, I was able to promote their own direct relationship with the knowledge of God, which is accessible to all of us, no matter our age.

This article, previously published on Charlotte Mason Poetry, might be helpful in persuading your church to incorporate Mason’s philosophy. However, regardless of where your church stands on curriculum or teaching methods, I have found it is possible to incorporate some of her ideas into lessons. Hopefully, by sharing this experience, I have encouraged those of you who might find yourselves in a similar situation.


Mason, C. (1989). A philosophy of education. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply.

Dawn Tull has been homeschooling her children using Charlotte Mason’s methods since 2009. Although earning an MS in Business Management has left her underqualified to manage her own household, she has slowly been accepting the fact her four children were born unique persons. After relocating their family numerous times, she and her husband Donnie, currently live near Knoxville, TN in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Researching and pursuing the truth is important to her and has given her a heart for supporting and encouraging other homeschool families. She enjoys studying and discussing Miss Mason’s philosophy with a local study group and taking advantage of the outdoors with a natural history club.

©2022 Dawn Tull

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