To introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served. But they must learn to know literature by being familiar with it from the very first. A child’s intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find.
~ Charlotte Mason, An Essay Towards A Philosophy of Education, p. 51
The aspect of the Charlotte Mason philosophy that appealed to me the most as a new homeschooler was the immersion into literature, but not just literature, the best literature. I have always been an avid reader and lover of books. My library is full of books. They overflow the shelves. They are stacked in baskets, in corners, on ottomans and occasionally in chairs. It took me many years to accept that I could read books on an iPad, but once I did, I found a whole new level of hoarding books. At least these books aren’t taking up seating room in my house. So, the Charlotte Mason homeschooling philosophy spoke to me in a way that no other philosophy had. I was hooked.
Unfortunately, my children were not.
How My Children Lost the Love of Reading
It is sad fact that we are losing our joy in literary form. We are in such haste to be instructed by facts or titillated by theories, that we have no leisure to linger over the mere putting of a thought.
~ Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, p. 263
Let me back up a moment and explain. As babies, I read to my sweet children all the books I could find. Their libraries were full of classics and modern twists on the classics before they were even out of the womb. I was convinced that they would love literature as much as I always had. And, they did. They voraciously read all the books I could find. As soon as they could read on their own, they each begged for longer and more interesting books. And so, when my oldest (who could barely read) began to read The Chronicles of Narnia, I knew I had cultivated the proper love of reading in my home.
And then he started school.
Before the name Charlotte Mason had ever crossed my path, before homeschooling was ever a twinkle of an idea in my mind, my son set off for school with his brand-new Power Rangers backpack prepared to soak in all the knowledge his little brain could hold. His teacher assigned book readings every night and he quickly read those and moved onto books he wanted to read “for fun.” We were a happy, contented, literature-loving family — until those “fun books” became an assignment.
All of a sudden reading became just another assignment. One that was graded for comprehension based on what the teacher or the testing program deemed was the most essential part of the story – like the year, or the location, or what the author’s name was. Though sometimes those are important details, they are not always what might grab you and pull you into a story. You may not remember that a book is located in San Antonio, but you may remember the heat of the day, the sweat dripping down the main characters face, or the breeze from the river. By being tested over the details of his beloved stories, my son started to lose his love of reading for fun and began to read for specific details he thought he might be tested on the next day.
Perhaps, I could have believed that this was just a young boy who had discovered sports were more exciting than literature (and honestly, I did for a time). But, my next child developed the same “symptoms” in early elementary until she was crying over having to read and reciting to me the page numbers she had read that day. It took several years, but I finally realized that reading assignments had destroyed my children’s love of reading.It took several years, but I finally realized that reading assignments had destroyed my children’s love of reading. via @ atlsjkdm #CharlotteMason Click To Tweet
How I Tried to Make My Children Love Reading Again
We are determined that the children shall love books, therefore we do not interpose ourselves between the book and the child. ~ Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, p. 231
It wasn’t much later that I determined that I would start homeschooling and I was immediately drawn to the Charlotte Mason philosophy. We started with reading aloud books for every subject. We read living books in history, science, language arts. We jumped straight into narration, copywork, and dictation. I began habits, nature walks, and pretty much every other aspect of the Charlotte Mason philosophy. But, I didn’t see much of a change in the oldest children. They were still fighting me about reading. They still hated to sit down with a book. What was I doing wrong?
Well, a lot. I took Charlotte Mason’s theories and twisted them right back into the model of the traditional school system. I assigned reading. I assigned narration. I chose all the Copywork. I asked questions about how they felt about the story, what the author was trying to say and I threw in some vocabulary for good measure. I was “following” the Charlotte Mason principles, but I hadn’t adopted the heart of the philosophy. I was still trying to quantitatively evaluate my children’s love of literature without letting them experience the literature. And so, after a few months, I took a step back and took a long, hard look at what our homeschool was and what it lacked.
How Charlotte Mason Inspired a NEW Love of Reading
Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education. ~ Charlotte Mason, The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 231
I love reading, but I don’t necessarily want to write a thesis about why I enjoyed a book. I might not even be able to verbalize exactly what I enjoyed about a book for a time. Sometimes I need to let the thoughts roll around in my head for a while. Then, when I’m ready, I do enjoy sharing my thoughts on what I read or sharing about what a great book it was. It’s the same with our children. My kids didn’t always want to narrate what they learned while reading. Sometimes they didn’t even like the book, or they thought it was uninteresting. But, when they are excited about what they are reading they will spend several minutes telling me all about the characters, the setting, the dialogue and their opinions of all of it. Narration became organic. It became big conversations filled with them telling me their thoughts and ideas. Though I still encouraged them to express their thoughts, I was no longer leading them. Their opinions were their own, and they enjoyed sharing them with me.
Poetry, too, supplies us with tools for the modeling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at for ourselves. The line that strikes us as we read, that recurs, that we murmur over at odd moments – this is the line that influences our living. ~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 71
I became fascinated in this new love of reading and began thinking of ways I could inspire them to delve into different types of literature without making it into “another assignment.” I found the Brave Writer Lifestyle and poetry teatimes. We started adding snacks and poetry readings to our week. Then we began inviting our friends to meet us at the library for these poetry readings with snacks and tea. In a few short months, we had a group of over 20 kids of all ages meeting us to share poems they loved or had written. It was truly inspired. I was so excited to see my kids take an interest in a writing medium they had never before interested them.
I realized that the social interaction with other children, plus the added benefit of treats had opened us up to a whole new area of education. So, I went a step further. I started book clubs for my kids. We, again, invited our friends to meet us for snacks and literature, but this time I added activities I thought might encourage them to dig deeper into the novels. We would have huge parties at the end of each month that celebrated the book we had just finished reading. We would go on rabbit trails and experience the book through hands-on activities or adventures into the unknown. These book clubs not only inspired my own children to a new love of reading, but they also inspired our friends.
The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher, and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding. ~ Charlotte Mason, An Essay Towards A Philosophy of Education, p. 32
These book clubs have now become a staple of our homeschool (as have poetry teatimes). I plan for weeks for each book club. There is no such thing as too much fun or anything too elaborate for book club. I read the books along with the children and look for ways we can dig deeper. I listen to what they find exciting about their reading and find rabbit trails we can follow. It isn’t my job to lead them, but to nurture their thoughts and ideas. It’s my job to help them see more than what is in their own world – to look outside of themselves and experience new worlds and new ideas.
Book clubs have become more than just a passing fancy in our homeschool. They are an integral part of what we are about as a family. As a parent I want my children to be empathetic and open-minded, while still being true to who they are. As an educator, I want them to have broad views of philosophy and literature. In truth, I want them to become people who have “great thoughts” and a “well-nourished mind”.
How Charlotte Mason Inspired Me as an Educator
One of the secrets of the educator is to present nothing as stale knowledge, but to put himself in the position of the child, and wonder and admire with him. ~ Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 54
Over the years, I have been asked to help other moms who are busy with children, home, and schooling to create their own book clubs. Often, these families don’t have the privilege of meeting with other families to experience book clubs, but they still want their children to dig deeper and be inspired by literature. So, I created online book clubs.
These online book clubs encourage the student to dig deeper and think big thoughts. In every online book club, we go on rabbit trails of discovery. We hop off the traditional roads of literature and meander down paths about pop-culture, history, biographies, poetry, music and more. We take deep dives into some of the subjects touched on in the book and broaden our minds with new adventures. We also bring literature to life by sprinkling a bit of magic dust along the way. These hands-on projects take us into the book. We touch, see, feel and learn on our new adventures. All of this is in an online format that makes it easy for the kids and the parents to follow. My desire has always been to inspire a new generation of readers, and I’m hoping these online book clubs will do just that.
For 20 Days of Charlotte Mason Homeschooling readers, I am offering a special coupon. This coupon is good for 40% off any online book club. Just use the code MISSMASON and click the link below.
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