A relational

Charlotte Mason called education the "Science of Relations." What does this look like in our homes and classrooms?

Charlotte Mason's Principles

Relational ideas

What is a relational education? What does an education practically look like when it is shaped by Charlotte Mason's key idea of education as the "science of relations" (Philosophy of Education, p.xxx)?

"Children, as persons, are born into and meant for relationship."

A relational education begins, Mason would claim, by recognizing that children, as persons, are born into and meant for relationship.

Mason summarizes or categorizes her claim into four key relationships: children relate with themselves, with others, with the world around them, and with God. Expanding each of these areas, a relational approach to education...

  • Nurtures self-knowledge and respects the personhood and uniqueness of every child and as such values the inherent dignity of each student, parent, and educator as they work alongside one another. 
  • Aims to create connections and relationships with other people across time and place, those who lived in the past, who live today, and who will live in the future.
  • Builds a child's relationships with the universe, with creation, with nature, beginning with tracking, locating, identifying all that lives and grows within a mile of where a child lives–the child builds relationships with the plants, insects, animals, fish, birds, trees, and landforms close to themselves, and continues to investigate more broadly and deeply as they grow–keeping a nature notebook, recording labs, and so on. 
  • Opens the way for relationship with God–acquaintance with the biblical narrative is prioritized, transcendence and mystery are respected, and the entire approach makes space for the divine Spirit to engage with the child as learner and recognizes that He is ultimately the author of all truth.


What is a Relational Education? - Video Version

What is a Relational Education? - Video Version

Charlotte Mason's Methods

Relational Methods

The ideas of personhood and relationship are some of the guiding hallmarks of Charlotte Mason’s vision. What kinds of methods flow from these principles? What kind of curriculum and lessons respect children as persons and cultivate many-layered relationships? 

A relational curriculum is full of both “books and things."

Encounters with the written word and the physical world together create a balanced and living curriculum that is expansive enough to stretch and delight students who might naturally gravitate toward one or the other but deserve both.  Mason believed that children should be given the very best books, but also given the opportunity to explore the world around them and to engage with real, tangible objects and experiences. In a world where children are increasingly spending their time in front of screens, this emphasis on direct experience is perhaps more important than ever. 

A relational curriculum seeks to introduce students to a wide variety of subjects and ideas

This approach honors the inseparable coherence of the intellectual and spiritual life, and so seeks to introduce students to vitalizing ideas and beauty in art, music, poetry, history, geography, physical education, handicrafts, literature, math, science, languages, and other areas.

“We owe it to [children] to initiate an immense number of interests.” (School Education, 170)
A relational curriculum also seeks to expose students to a breadth of perspectives.

Mason recognized that one of the most important responsibilities that rests upon them as a person is “the acceptance or rejection of ideas” (Towards a Philosophy of Education, Principle 19). Students are not viewed as receptacles to fill up but as persons who must grow in wisdom and knowledge.  

"The study of English history alone is apt to lead to a certain insular and arrogant habit of mind."
(Philosophy of Education, p.175)

A relational curriculum offers the best of many different ideas and perspectives so that children can grow in liberty (not license), grow in freedom to make healthy decisions, and offer impactful contributions through their lives. As they consider many points of view, children learn to understand their place in the universe and to value others as image bearers like themselves. They learn the "art of living" from many authors as they develop "an intimacy with literature as extensive and profound as we can secure" (Ourselves p.71). They develop a love of learning, attitude of wonder, and spirit of humility.

each subject is taught in a way that seeks to work with the grain of a child’s nature

Because relationship is at the center of personhood and education, each subject within the curriculum is taught in a way that seeks to work with the grain of a child’s physical and spiritual nature. 

  • Lessons are short (often from 20 minutes for younger students to a maximum of 45 for high school as students mature). Lessons vary from one to the next to allow children to give their best attention and interest to each lesson.
  • The books used are what Mason calls “living books,” books written by experts passionate about their subjects with well-chosen language, inspiring ideas, and many times in a narrative form. Mason claimed that a child’s “attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form,” and both theologians and scientists are increasingly agreeing with her claim (Philosophy of Education, Principle 13).
  • The curriculum is tailored to the child’s geographical and cultural context. Children living in the southwestern desert, for example, begin by exploring and learning about their own biome before studying rainforests. They learn about their own local history before learning the history of other countries and cultures.
  • Throughout the curriculum and across the grades, a relational lesson includes some form of narration–first oral and then increasingly more varieties as students mature. This practice of narration is based on the foundational understanding of children as persons who have active minds that must interact with the feast in front of them and digest ideas presented in order to really know and begin to integrate what they have heard or read.  
“A narration should be original as it comes from the child––that is, his own mind should have acted upon the matter it has received.” (Home Education, p.289)

So a relational education is balanced between “book knowledge” and hands-on encounters and experience with the world. It is broad and varied, introducing children to the many different interesting areas of knowledge and diverse perspectives–Mason often uses the language of “feasting.” It relies on methods that honor each child as an image bearer of God. And it aims, in all these things, to guide children into a deep understanding of themselves, a care for others and the world around them, and, most importantly, a love for Creator and the transcendent, for the One in whom all things hold together. 

These ideas just begin to describe the foundations and practical implications of a relational education. They can powerfully transform the way we understand the role of teachers, the nature of students, assessment, curriculum, and so much more in teaching and learning. But this idea of relationship is central to the whole approach.

"Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books."
(Philosophy of Education, Principle 12; School Education, p.65-66)

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Next steps

The ideas and methods of a relational education impact and energize everything we do.

Practical support

  • ALVEARY: rich and relational curriculum for 21st Century students in homes and classrooms.
  • RESOURCES & COURSES for Educators. Natural History Clubs, training and support for those guiding neuroatypical students, online study groups, publications, accreditation, courses and certifications.
  • Annual GATHERINGS: Learn in community.
  • BLOG: articles to provide insight and encouragement.
The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
~Charlotte Mason