Topical CM Series

Charlotte Mason's ideas are too important not to be understood and implemented in the 21st century, but her Victorian style of writing sometimes prevents parents from attempting to read her books. This is an imperfect attempt to make Charlotte's words accessible to modern parents. You may read these, print them out, share them freely--but they are copyrighted to me, so please don't post or publish them without asking.
~L. N. Laurio

The Charlotte Mason Series in Modern English Arranged Topically

Art, Drawing and Music

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 133-134

The Habit of Music

It's hard to know how many musically talented people were born that way, and how many grew into it by growing up hearing music and trying to reproduce it. In other words, music developed because it was made a habit as a result of living with a musical family. A Mr. Hullah insisted that the ability to sing was a trained skill that every child should be taught to have. Even that may have some inborn talent involved. It's too bad that most children's musical training is random. Few are trained with graduated ear and voice exercises to make notes and distinguish between musical tones.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 307-315

Study of Pictures

Training children in art should take two forms. A six-year old should begin to express himself creatively, and should begin learning to appreciate art. And he will be able to appreciate before he has the skill to accurately express what's in his mind or imagination. So it's sad when the only art children are exposed to is colorful illustrations in their picture books or Christmas music sheets. But some might say, 'Young children can't appreciate real art. The only thing that will appeal to them is something colorful and that shows something he likes. A bright picture of a birthday party or a little girl's broken doll is what they like looking at. So, nature has limited the sort of art that's suitable for children.' But, the truth is, the minds of children are just like the minds of adults. They get used to whatever they're around. If all children can appreciate is what's popular and stereotyped, it's because that's all they've been exposed to. Some nine year olds studied copies of six pictures by Millet during a school term. At the end of the term, they were asked to describe the picture they liked best. And they did, and they did a good job. One little boy said, 'I like The Sower the best. The sower is sowing seeds and the picture is all dark except high on the right side where there's a man plowing a field. While he's plowing, the sower is sowing. He has a bag in his left hand and he's sowing with his right hand. He's wearing wooden clogs. It's about six o'clock in the morning. You can see his head better than his legs and body because it's against the light.'

A seven year old girl prefers the Angelus and says, 'The picture is about people in the fields, a man and a woman. There's a basket next to the woman with something in it and there's a wheelbarrow behind her. The man has his hat off, it's in his hands, and they're praying. You can tell that it's evening because the wheelbarrow and the basket are loaded.'

Picture Study Should be Regular

At age six, when children begin formal school lessons, this sort of picture study shouldn't be left to chance. They should study one artist at a time, term by term, and they should quietly study six reproductions of his work in the term.

The children's quotes show that they learned about the pictures, but that's not the most important thing they gain. We don't know how much influence any artist might have on a child's sense of beauty, and his ability to see the common sights around him as if he's seeing a picture. He is enriched more than we'll ever know by looking at even one picture closely. Contrary to common thought, children don't need a lot of color in their picture studies. They can find color anywhere, and can be satisfied for a while studying form and feeling in a picture [that's less colorful.] And for hanging on the schoolroom wall, the best art I know of are the Fitzroy Pictures ['The Fitzroy Pictures engraved by James Akerman, such as 'Work' and 'St. George and the Dragon.'], especially The Four Seasons [try searching by name: summer, winter, etc.] which has beautiful lines and color, and poetic feeling. I also agree with John Ruskin that children should be familiar with Ludwig Richter's picture books for children, such as Unser Vater (Our Father) and Sontag (Sunday). [An illustration from Der Sontag in Brilden, or, Sunday in Pictures, can be seen here or here.]

I am including notes from a Picture Study lesson given to children aged eight and nine by a teaching student at the House of Education. This will show how this kind of lesson might be given.

Picture Talk

1. To continue the term's study of Landseer.
2. To get the children more interested in Landseer's works.

3. To show how his knowledge of animals was important.
4. To help them to truly be able to read a picture.
5. To help them to be more observant and better focused.

Step 1. - Ask the children if they remember what their last picture-talk was about, and which artist was famous for painting animals. Tell them that Landseer was familiar with animals when he was very young. He had dogs for pets, and because he loved them, he studied them and their habits, so he was able to paint them.

Step 2. - Show them the picture 'Alexander and Diogenes,' and ask them to find out all they can about it themselves, and to try to figure out what idea the artist had in his mind, and what idea or ideas he meant his picture to convey to us.

Step 3. - After three or four minutes, take the picture away and see what the children have noticed. Then ask them what the different dogs suggest to them; the strength of the large, strong mastiff representing Alexander; the dignity and stateliness of the bloodhounds behind him; the look of the wise counselor on the face of the setter; the rather contemptuous look of the rough-haired terrier in the tub. Ask the children if they noticed anything in the picture that shows the time of day: for example, the tools thrown down by the side of the workman's basket suggesting lunch; and the bright sunshine on the dogs casting a shadow on the tub shows that it must be about noon.

Step 4. - Let them read the title of the picture, and let them tell anything they know about Alexander and Diogenes. Then tell them that Alexander was a great conqueror who lived between 356-323 BC. He was famous for the battles he won against Persia, India, and along the coast of the Mediterranean He was very proud, strong, and boastful. Diogenes was a cynic philosopher. Explain what a cynic is by telling them the legend of Alexander and Diogenes. Let them figure out which dog represents Alexander and which represents Diogenes. [read the story of "Diogenes the Wise Man" in James Baldwin's "Fifty Famous Stories Retold" online at Gateway to the Classics.]

Step 5. - Have the children take five minutes to draw the main lines of the picture with a pencil and paper.

Original Illustrations

I have mentioned illustrations drawn by the children. It might be helpful to include notes from a lesson given by a student teacher from the House of Education to show the kind of help a teacher can give with this kind of work. But it is best to leave the children to themselves with their drawing.

1. To help children make clear mental pictures from descriptions and then to show that on paper.
2. To increase their imagination.
3. To help them learn about form and color.
4. To help them be more interested in the story of Beowulf by letting them draw a picture from the book.
5. To help them develop their concept of an unknown creature [by imagining and drawing Grendel].


Step 1. - To draw out what the children know of the poem Beowulf, and of Beowulf the hero.

Step 2. - To fill in points they may have missed in their reading so far (up to the death of Grendel).

Step 3. - To read the description of how people dressed at that time, and to read the account of Grendel's death (including three possible pictures).

Step 4. - To draw out the mental images that the children have formed from their reading, and then to re-read the passage.

Step 5. - To let them put their mental pictures on paper with brush and paint.

Step 6. - To show them George Harrow's picture of Beowulf from Heroes of Chivalry and Romance.

Drawing Lessons

But, someone might ask, 'What about actual drawing lessons? Do you use oval blobs of paint made with the flat of the brush?' I think blobs can help give a sense of freedom with color. But, other than that, blobs allow a child to produce something like a flower that looks good, but that he hasn't really learned to draw. And he can produce such a picture without ever feeling anything for the flower. And feeling for a subject is the very soul of art. Giving a child tricks to make a picture that looks impressive damages his delicate sensitivity to approaching art.

John Ruskin said, 'If, while chatting with a friend, your eye merely rests on a rough piece of a branch that looks curious, then, no matter how unconsciously the eye rests, even after the conversation has been long forgotten and the specific memory of the branch is forgotten, yet forever afterwards, your eye will always take a certain joy in that kind of branch that it hadn't before. It will be such a slight pleasure and such a delicate trace of feeling that you will be totally unaware of its power. Yet no amount of reasoning can destroy it, and it will become a permanent part of who you are.'

And that's just what we want to give children when we teach them to draw. We want to make their eye rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some beautiful object that will leave a delightful image in their minds for the rest of their lives. Even children as young as 6 or 7 can draw budding twigs of oak, ash, beech or larch trees with such accuracy of color, tone and line that their crude little drawings are beautiful to see.

Children Have Art in Them

Just like lots of other things in children, we must have faith that art is there, or else we'll never find it. It's like a delicate Ariel that we can set free from bondage. So we set a twig or flower in front of a child and let him deal with it in his own way. He'll figure out how to get the form and color he wants. Our help should be limited to technical matters, like showing him how to mix colors. We don't want to interfere with the child's freedom, or inhibit the expression of the art that's inside him, so we need to be careful not to offer crutches like guiding lines and points. Also, we should make sure children have the easiest medium to work with--paint brushes or charcoal, not black lead pencils. Avoid cheap boxes of paint. Children are worth the best we can offer. A half dozen tubes of really good watercolors will last a long time and will produce quality color that will satisfy the little artists' eyes.

Modeling With Clay

As long as we're discussing art, we might as well talk about clay modeling. Nice little birds nests and baskets of eggs don't help develop artistic skill and get boring. The main thing a teacher should do is to show the child how to prepare the clay to get rid of air bubbles, and give him the idea of making a platform for his work so that his creations will look more artistic from the beginning. Then, put in front of him an apple, or banana, or walnut. Instead of letting him take a lump of clay and squeezing it into shape, have him build up the shape he wants morsel by morsel. His own creativity will pick up on the pit in the apple, or the crease in a child's shoe--all the little individual differences that make art unique.

Piano and Singing

As I near the end of this section on subjects, I know that important subjects have had to be left out, and the subjects that are included haven't been covered as thoroughly as they could have been.

For instance, some subjects that have special educational value, like music, I haven't even mentioned, partly because of space limitations, and partly because, if a mother doesn't have some natural sense of art within her, nothing I can say as an outsider can produce in her what she needs in order to convey a feeling for art in her child. If possible, children should learn from real artists who love what they do. It's no good for a child's foundation for future art appreciation to be laid by mechanical teachers who aren't qualified and who can't kindle an enthusiasm for art. As far as singing, I'd like to mention the wonderful educational results from the Sol-fa method. With the Sol-fa method, children learn what seems like a magical way to make hand signs for sounds. They are then able to read music, and write notes for, or make hand signs for, passages that are sung to them. Thus, the ear and the voice are cultivated at the same time.

[John?] Curwen's book Child Pianist uses the same method, worked out with great detail. If a child learns music theory as he learns to make music, he won't be bored and tired of practicing.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 185

Discriminating Sounds

A quick, discriminating ear is something else that doesn't come by nature. Or, if it does, it's usually lost. How many different sounds can you distinguish when it suddenly gets quiet outside? Let the child name them in order from the quietest to the loudest. Let him try to notice different bird notes, both bird calls and songs. Let him try to listen for four or five distinct sounds that a brook makes as it flows. Develop accuracy in distinguishing footsteps and voices. Have them practice telling the direction that a sound is coming from with their eyes closed, or which way footsteps are moving. Try to tell the difference between different vehicles driving by only from their sound--such as a truck, van, or sports car. Music is unquestionably the best way to train this kind of ear culture. Mrs. Curwen's book 'Child Pianist' provides carefully graduated exercises of this kind for the parent. Even if a child never becomes a performer, acquiring a cultivated and correct ear is a big part of music education.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 238-239


In pictures, we avoid mechanical aids like grids and directional lines. We don't use black lead pencils because they tend to encourage the copying of lines instead of the free rendering of objects. Children tend to always work in the round, whether they're using charcoal or drybrush. They also illustrate stories and poems, which aren't usually impressive as far as drawing skill goes, and don't lend themselves to art instruction. Still, they're useful exercises.

Picture Talks

We believe that our picture talks have a lot of value. A reproduction of an appropriate picture, perhaps by Millet, is put into the children's hands, and they study it by themselves. Then, children from ages six to nine describe the picture, giving all the details and showing with a few lines on the blackboard where a certain tree or house is, seeing if they can guess what time of day the picture depicts, and discovering the story of the picture if there is one. Older children can also study some of the lines of the composition, light and shade, the particular style of the artist, and draw certain details from memory. The purpose of these lessons is to help students appreciate art, not to create it themselves.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 43

How should we prepare a child to use the sense of beauty that every child seems to be born with? His education should familiarize him with entire galleries of mental pictures by great artists from the past and present, such as Jozef Israels' Pancake Woman, his Children by the Sea; Millet's Feeding the Birds, First Steps, Angelus; Rembrandt's Night Watch, The Supper at Emmaus; Velasquez's Surrender of Breda. In fact, every child should leave school with at least a couple hundred paintings by great artists hanging permanently in his mental gallery, as well as great buildings, sculpture and beautiful forms and colors that he sees. It would also be good to supply him with a hundred lovely landscapes, too, such as sunsets, clouds and starry night skies. Anyway, he should have plenty of pictures because imagination grows like magic. The more you put in, the more it can hold.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 56

What about what Coleridge called the aesthetic appetite? Much of the appreciation for culture depends on it. But it is vulnerable. Without beauty to feed on, it becomes empty and dies. It needs to feed on beauty--beauty in words, art, music and nature. The purpose of our beauty sense is to open a paradise of beauty for our enjoyment. But what if we grow up admiring the wrong things? Or, even worse, what if we grow up believing in our arrogance that only we and those just like us know how to discern and appreciate beauty? An important part of education is being exposed to lots of beauty, and learning to recognize it and being humble in its presence.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 213-218

(f) Art

Art appreciation is regarded with a lot of respect, but teachers tend to be intimidated about how to teach it. We all agree that children should cultivate their ability to discern and appreciate beauty, especially those who already have that ability. The question is how to do that. The novel solution suggested by South Kensington in the 1860's--freehand drawing, perspective, drawing from the round (from life?) has been rejected, but nothing has arrived to fill its place. We still see schools with models of cones, cubes, etc. placed so that the student's eye can take them in freely and perhaps inspire the hand to reproduce it on paper. But now we understand that art can't be experienced through mechanical exercises. Art is a thing of the spirit, and we need to teach it in ways that affect the spirit. We realize that the ability to appreciate art and interpret it is as universal to all people as intelligence, or imagination, or the ability to form words to communicate. But that ability needs to be educated. Teaching the technical skill of producing pictures isn't the same as appreciating art. To appreciate, children need to have a reverent recognition of what's been created. Children need to learn about pictures: they need to learn about them a line at a time, and as groups, by studying pictures for themselves rather than by reading about them. In our schools, we have a friendly art dealer who provides six nice copies of the pictures of one artist each term. The children hear a short story about the artist's life, and a few words to draw their attention to the artist's best features, perhaps his trees or skies, or rivers or figures of people. The six reproductions are studied one at a time so that the students learn to not just see a picture, but to look carefully at it, absorbing every detail. After looking at the picture, it's turned over and the children narrate, telling what they saw, perhaps, 'a dog driving a flock of sheep along a road all by himself. No, wait, there's a boy, too. He's lying at the river, getting a drink. You can tell by the light that it's morning, so the sheep must be going out to graze in the pasture,' and so on. The children don't miss any details--the discarded plow, the crooked birch tree, the beautifully formed clouds that look like it might rain. There's enough to talk about to keep the children busy for half an hour, and afterwards, the picture will have formed such a memory that the children will recognize it wherever they see it, whether it's a signed proof, an oil reproduction, or the original itself in a museum. I heard of a small boy who went to the National Gallery with his parents. He had wandered off on his own, and came running back, saying, 'Mommy! They have one of our Constables on that wall!' With this plan, children get to know a hundred or more great artists during the years they're in school. And they learn with the kind of intimacy that will stay with them all their lives. A group of children were in London on an excursion. When asked what they'd like to see in the city, the answer was, 'Oh, Mommy, let's go to the National Gallery so we can see the Rembrandts!' Another group of young children went for tea to a place they'd never been before, and they were excited to see two or three De Hootch pictures on the walls During the course of their school years, children have many opportunities to visit galleries. In art, they have the opportunity to see glimpses of life illustrated. As Robert Browning said,

'Keep in mind, we're designed so that we only come to appreciate and love something we've passed by a hundred times, only after we see its beauty in a painting.'

Here's an example of how beautiful but familiar and common things can grab our attention when an artist brings them to our notice in a picture. A lady writes:

'I was invited to a small village to talk about the Parents Union School. Even though it was raining heavily, twelve very interested ladies came to listen. I suggested that I introduce them to some friends their children had made at school--some great artists they had been learning about. We had a nice 'picture talk' with the works of artist Jean B. Corot. I enjoyed it even more because of one of the women's narrations. She narrated as if she'd been liberated for the first time in months. We were looking at his 'Evening' picture. It has a canal on the right and a great group of trees in the middle. Most of the ladies talked about individual parts of the picture, but this woman talked about everything. It refreshed her like a green pasture.'

These women were all familiar with the kinds of details that are in Corot's paintings - he paints the kind of natural beauty that is common in the area where they live. But Browning is right, we tend to overlook what's common to us until we're clued in to its beauty by seeing it in a painting. Only then do we learn to truly see and appreciate it.

Remember that the talks that are recorded, (they can be seen at the PNEU office) are from the children themselves. They don't mention 'schools of painting,' or art style. These are things they'll consider later, when they're older. In the beginning, it's more important for them to simply know the paintings. In the same way we do with worthy books, we let the artist tell his own story without our interference telling the child what to think about it. We trust a picture to say what the artist wanted via the medium the artist chose. In art, just like in everything else, we eliminate the middleman and let the work speak for itself.

Students in Forms V and VI are asked to 'describe, by doing a study in sepia colors, Corot's Evening.' Students never do more than this kind of a rough sketch from memory. Their picture studies aren't for the purpose of providing them with drawing material. In fact, they are never asked to copy the picture, because attempting to copy might diminish the student's reverence for the picture as a great work of art. I am hesitant about sharing how we teach drawing now that Herr Cizek has shown us what great things children are capable of with very little discernible teaching and a little bit of suggestion. But that kind of training probably only works under the inspiration of an unusually gifted artist. The people I'm writing for are mostly teachers who will need to depend on their students rather than rely on their own inherent talent. We have students illustrate their favorite episodes from books they've read during the term, and the spirit their pictures show and the appropriate details they include make it apparent that they've picked up more from the passages than even the teacher! They aren't afraid to try to tackle techniques they've never learned about, which shows us something about children. They attempt to draw a crowd with wonderful ingenuity, such as including a crowd of people listening to Mark Antony's speech, or a crowd cheering for the Prince of Wales in India. Whenever they try to show a crowd, they seem to do it in the same way that most real artists do: by just showing the heads. Like the children in Vienna, they use all the space on their paper, whether they're drawing a landscape or the details in a room. They add horses leaping brooks, dogs chasing cats, sheep wandering on the road, always giving a sense of motion. Their drawings show that they've studied the things they see with some attention. When they draw people, they show them doing something appropriate: a gardener sharpening his clippers, their mother scrapbooking, a man steering a boat or driving or mowing. Their chairs always stand on four legs, their people always stand on two legs with surprising regularity. They're always quick to correct their mistakes when they see that their drawing doesn't match what they see in the real world. They're not afraid to use bold colors. Almost all children will try to convince you that they have what it takes to be an artist. Their nature notebooks give them a perfect opportunity to practice. The first buttercup in a child's nature notebook is crude enough to scandalize someone who teaches brush-drawing, but later, he'll paint another buttercup, and this one will be much improved, capturing the delicate poise and radiance of a real buttercup.

Drawing is pretty much well-taught enough these days. All we need to do is to emphasize a couple of points about the specific kind of drawing our students will be doing--studying the work of great artists and illustrating their nature notebooks.

We try to do what we can to introduce students to architecture. We also do a little modeling with clay, and other various handicrafts, but nothing extraordinary. You can see more details by taking a look at our Parents Union School Program schedules.

We do more with music appreciation. The best way to explain what we do is to share a quote from Mrs. Howard Glover from the talk she gave at the Ambleside Conference in 1922:

'Music appreciation is focused on so much these days. We began it in our PNEU schools about 25 years ago, when I was playing a lot of the best music that I was interested in for my own young child. Charlotte Mason heard about what I was doing. She realized that music just might provide much joy and interest to everyone's life. Since students in her PNEU schools were getting the best of everything--the greatest literature and art, she thought they should have the greatest music, too. She asked me to write an article in the Parents Review about the results of what I was doing, and to plan a schedule of music for each term that could be played for the students. Since then, music has been included in the Programme schedule each term. And that's how the movement began, and it's spread far and wide.

Of course, music appreciation has nothing to do with playing the piano. It's often been thought that 'learning music' can only mean that. So it was assumed that children who showed no special talent for playing the piano were simply not musically inclined and wouldn't like concerts. But music appreciation is different from playing an instrument in the same way that being a natural actor is different from enjoying a Shakespeare play, or being able to paint is different from enjoying a painted picture. I think that all children, not just the musically inclined ones, should learn to appreciate music. It's been proven that only three percent of children are actually tone-deaf. If children are started early, it's amazing how even those who seem to have no musical 'ear' can develop one, and can learn to listen to music with understanding and enjoyment.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 275-276

I've already explained how we help to make children acquainted with great music and great art. One leading art dealer paid us a nice compliment by saying, 'God help the children!' if our work ceased. He had good reason. He had just sold thousands of beautiful little reproductions by Velasquez to PUS students for their term's picture study. It's no surprise that a man who loves and believes in art should feel that our work is worthwhile. In learning to draw, our students work very freely from natural figures and objects using colors [watercolor?] to illustrate scenes they visualize from the term's reading. We don't teach drawing as a means of self-expression. Our students aren't expressing themselves, but what they can see and what they can think of.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 277

Mr. Masefield said,

'There can't be great art without great stories. Great art can only exist where great men reflect intensely about the kinds of things that common men think about a little. Without a popular body of legends, no country can have any unselfish art. Shakespeare's art, for example, was selfish until he turned to the great tales in the four most popular books in his time--Raphael Holinshed, Thomas North's Plutarch, Geraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi and Francois De Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques. Ever since newspapers became popular, topical events have replaced epics. Now inspiration comes to artists directly, without the life-giving cropping and enlightening of many previous minds.'

It's this life-giving vitality of many minds that we want. We beg educational workers and thinkers to join us in forming a collective body of thought that will be common to everyone. Then England will surely be great in both art and life.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 328-329

We also know that the human hand is a wonderful and precise tool that can be used in a hundred different ways that require intricacy, accuracy and strength. Using the hand in this way brings pleasure in the process itself that's separate from the end result. We understand this, so we make an effort to train young students to accurately handle tools and do handicrafts. Maybe someday we'll see a revival of apprenticeship in various trades, and we'll start to see quality work again as people take pride in the work of their hands. Our goal should be to make sure that each person 'lives his life' with pleasure, but not at the expense of someone else. The world is such that, when a person truly lives his life [rather than just survives day to day], it benefits those around him as much as it benefits himself. Everyone thrives on the well-being of others. We also understand that the human ear is attuned to harmony and melody. Each person has a voice that can express musical notes and hands that are capable of delicate motion to draw out musical tones on instruments. The ancient Greeks were the first ones to realize that music is a necessary part of education. Art is also necessary. We are finally realizing that anyone can draw, and everyone enjoys it. Therefore, everyone should learn how to do it. Everyone enjoys looking at pictures, so education should train people to appreciate pictures of quality.

People can sing, dance, enjoy music, appreciate the beauty of nature, sketch what they see, be satisfied in their skill at crafting things, produce honest work with their hands, understand that work is better than wages, and live out their individual lives in any of a number of ways.


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Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio; Please direct comments or questions to AmblesideOnline.