Ella Frances Lynch vs. Charlotte Mason

If I had discovered Ella Frances Lynch before Charlotte Mason, our home education probably would have been based on her methods. As the size of our family grows, and my responsibilities increase, I think Lynch’s methods will be easier than Mason’s to incorporate in our family. Mason’s approach (for educating a child older than 6) was to make her private school methods available to parents/governesses who needed to use them in a home setting, something like a correspondence school. Lynch’s writings are directly to the mother and make the education of young children (up to age 10) simply an extension of the parenting which has been ongoing since babyhood. Charlotte Mason has a much larger following in the homeschool world, and there are people discussing and explaining her philosophies, so her methods are easier to implement in some ways. There are books, blogs, websites, and curricula based on Mason’s philosophy of education. There are at least two books (Bookless Lessons for the Teacher-Mother and Educating the Child at Home) and several newspapers and magazine articles written by Ella Frances Lynch (there are some links on the Well Trained Mind forums). Within those two books, she gives very detailed directions starting at age 3, maybe earlier, as far as discipline and habits and education. Charlotte Mason assumed an audience who were already familiar with the current methods of teaching. In 1916, everyone seemed to know how to do an object lesson and why it should be done, and Mason doesn’t really explain how to do it. As an educator in 2016, I have no idea how to conduct a traditional object lesson, but Lynch goes into great detail as to the whys and hows. She assumes the mother is starting from scratch and builds her methods using articles already at hand, and methods which could be used anywhere and at any time.  And I love how she is very clear about the goals of education, and very practical in how to attain them.

Lynch and Mason share many similarities. A goal of educating the whole child, morally, mentally, physically, socially. An emphasis on nature study, short lessons, good habits, early math using concrete objects, learning useful skills, and reading good literature. A belief that a loving mother is capable of educating her own children. However, Lynch was an American, and seemed more aware of the day-t0-day responsibilities of mothers (especially mothers with large families, limited means, and no help in the form of cooks and nannies). She wrote for popular magazines and newspaper columns, so her writing is much more concise and practical than Mason’s six flowery volumes. Charlotte Mason seems to have a bit of a cultish following these days. There are people who are very concerned about studying her works and divining “what she really meant”. But you don’t have to dissect Ella Frances Lynch; she just tells you exactly what she means! She was Catholic, while Mason was Anglican, and she is more directive in how to oversee a child’s spiritual and moral development, and puts the responsibility in the parents’ hands. Both women were educators; neither of them had their own children. How ironic 🙂 Charlotte Mason’s ideal mother takes a 20 minute ride out into the country where she sits on a blanket while her children play and explore for 4-6 hours, and teaches them observation skills part of that time by describing the landscape around them. Ella Frances Lynch’s ideal mother supervises her toddler peeling potatoes in the kitchen with her, while the other children are counting forks or reciting lines from a poem (the mother has just refreshed her memory on the meaning of several archaic words in said poem). Guess which mother I resemble most days???

Lynch ideas that resonate with me:

  • The mother is the best teacher for a young child. She loves him, cares for him, knows more than him, and is just as or more competent than the best available teacher. A child is better being with his mother until age 7 or 8 (or later). Lynch emphasizes mother-education: brushing up on vocabulary and scientific knowledge so you can pass it on to your children, memorizing poetry so you can teach them to recite, forming your own faith so you can instruct your own children in religion and morality.
  • Poetry is the language of childhood. Poetry is the cornerstone of a child’s education. This idea seemed odd to me, but after reading her reasons, it is very attractive. I really like the idea of using a beautiful epic poem, and expanding to nature study, language study, history, geography, oration, and recitation. I probably wouldn’t pick Longfellow’s Hiawatha, though. 🙂
  • Memorization and observation are the main skills for a young child to develop. She has detailed instructions for object study, listening and answering, memorization.
  • The goal of education is to develop a child who is more or less able to self-educate around age 10-12, and who is ready for a lifetime working in his or her calling, whatever it may be. Lynch mentions different “tracks” depending on whether the child is headed for a trade or for higher education.
  • School reform. Educating the Child at Home contains a lot of great ideas for public school reform. Lynch worked hard at this; maybe the Department of Education should take a strong dose of her ideas again.

And some that don’t:

  • Left-handedness is a fault, and children must be corrected to use their right hands. Eek! I will not be taking that advice for Kid Cuatro.
  • What does one do after a child reaches age 10? Lynch seemed to assume sending him off to school. But if I plan to oversee our children’s education through age 14 or later, she doesn’t cover that age in detail at all. I suppose the same philosophy continues, using more difficult material, but some concrete examples would have been nice.

So this is a brief comparison of Ella Frances Lynch and Charlotte Mason, after reading Bookless Lessons for the Mother Teacher and Educating the Child at Home by Lynch, and Volumes 1, 3, and 6 by Mason. And if anyone is considering Charlotte Mason, but is overwhelmed by reading her volumes, I suggest starting with Ella Frances Lynch instead.


5 thoughts on “Ella Frances Lynch vs. Charlotte Mason

  1. Cherie

    Nice to know I’m not the only person thinking that some of the CM fans are getting a little fixated. IMHO homeschooling should be about teaching the children not trying to emulate perfectly the curriculum and teaching style of a woman dead a hundred years. Maybe it’s just the group-think that is building between some of the CM bloggers.
    I must say that hanging on to them while I was learning the ropes, has proved invaluable despite the things I now know I should have discarded.
    Thank you for finding these and sharing.

    1. marisolstice Post author

      Exactly! The blogs and podcasts are helpful, but at the end of the day I want to be able to say I educated my unique children, not that I re-created Charlotte Mason’s schools.

  2. jane goodrich

    How wise to take the best from both, and with the experience you already have, you can eliminate what doesn’t help your family/homeschool day. But now you may need to rename your blog – EF Mason ( not Hutton) or Lynch Mason ( a bit harsh) or Ella Charlotte retromodern (sweet 🙂


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