There are a lot of things that I love about Charlotte Mason, actually.
I could tell you how I love how the Charlotte Mason philosophy addresses the whole person, and not just the intellect. I could tell you about the way that I have learned to appreciate poetry, art, and nature in ways I never did growing up in the public school system. I could tell you about all the wonderful, wise folks I’ve met (at least virtually, through forums and blogs) in the Charlotte Mason community. I could tell you how enriched our family life has been and the better parent I’ve become because of the influence of her ideas. I’ve written before about Simplicity and Life.
But I think maybe the thing that I love the most is the way she used books. I had a big a-ha moment about this last week when I was chatting with a friend who is curious about learning more about Charlotte Mason. Let me see if I can explain to you what we chatted about.
One of the first and most obvious hallmarks of a Charlotte Mason education is of course her use of “living books” as opposed to textbooks. On a surface level, one can say that the use of living books makes learning more interesting, and therefore more likely to “stick”. Who wouldn’t rather read an engaging historical novel or biography rather than read-and-outline yet another textbook chapter? Stories captivate our minds and feed our curiosity in ways that a textbook just can’t.
However, Charlotte didn’t advocate the use of just “any” books that weren’t textbooks – she insisted on the best literature available. To truly pass the “living book” test, a book had to be high quality, written in strong, literary language. Many of these books are challenging – the mind has to work to be able to digest them. So even while a student is learning the necessary ‘content’ of history or science or geography, they are also learning how to exercise their minds and explore ideas – skills that are useful no matter where your path in life takes you.
And it goes even further – beyond these academic and intellectual benefits. Reading living books together with our children provides the opportunity to pass on our values and instill good character in a very natural, non-preachy way. Biographies, folk and fairy tales, literature, history, and of course the ultimate living book – the Bible - all provide us with opportunities to be inspired be the good and warned by the bad. Through the process of narration and discussion we can explore ideas further – choices and consequences, cause and effect, what would we have done in a similar situation, what does the Bible say about this or that? The possibilities are endless. No separate “character building” curriculum required.
A final side benefit I’ve discovered of using engaging, high-quality books in our homeschool, even if perhaps it wasn’t one that Charlotte herself wrote about: I am learning SO MUCH from reading along with my kids. Yes, even as young as mine still are…there’s something for mama even preschool and first grade! I never knew anything about British history or the particular habits of African wildlife, but I do now. I have found myself pondering ideas and finding connections between things we have read in our Year 1 schoolbooks and situations I have been in, conversations I have had, or things I have come across in my own reading. I love curling up on the couch with my kids for tea-and-reading time (something that has recently become part of our morning school routine) and am just as curious as they are to find out what might happen next…this is one of those things that keeps me plugging along when the task of homeschooling seems too daunting and I’m ready to throw in the towel.
Yes, there are many things I love about Charlotte Mason. But I think the books are the part I love best of all.