Several years ago, I read a post from one of the most inspirational bloggers I know, Linda Fay, who writes so practically about how to “do” a homeschool with a Charlotte Mason approach. In this particular pearl of wisdom, she used a food metaphor to illustrate the difference between a Charlotte Mason homeschool full of living books versus an environment with workbooks aplenty. The living books approach, in her analogy, was like serving a bowl of rich stew with fresh baked bread; the workbooks, then, were the equivalent of starvation-like rations and water. I remember confessing that, at the time, I was somewhere in the middle—fish and a salad was my position on this culinary continuum.
I’m curious: how much time do you spend reading to your children? I’ve seen so many guidelines as to how much time is ideal, but I also know that many homeschooling parents have to operate within what is practical. Earlier in our homeschooling years, I can remember hearing an “expert” state, with a confidence that was intimidating for us mere mortals, what she felt was appropriate in terms of reading to children. “I want you reading to your children for at least one hour,” she says. I thought this was totally unrealistic for a mom with my responsibilities. In fact, as an aside, I’ll confess that when our oldest was entering school (pre-homeschooling), I was so fascinated by her mastery of the computer until I all but forgot the value of a good book! Fast-forwarding a few years, this same question surfaced in a homeschool group to which I belong that focuses in on high school-aged children who are college-bound. The responses were similarly intimidating. One mom stated that she gives her child a list of 100 books going into freshman year with the expectation that they will be finished by the time of graduation.
Experience has taught me that there are sometimes very valid reasons for workbooks, so I certainly don’t knock anyone’s choice to use them. In truth, the oldest would probably love the opportunity to fill in blanks and insert whatever is appropriate to create a page that is flawless in appearance; she’s my “perfect Paula,” in Cathy Duffy terms. And yes, I’m still in fish and salad position, or maybe a fish (soup) stew, but largely by choice, not by ignorance. I’ve found that, as the years go on, there is no better opportunity to learn than with the seeds planted by rich, living books. So each day, I make a point to sit down with each of the kids one-on-one and read a few pages together. TwaddleMeNot, with her beautiful little girls (and brand-new son) speaks of having snuggle time with her preschoolers. I’ve found that bigger ones need time, too, even if it looks a bit different. (It’s hard to snuggle with people that are even bigger than you). We also have one or two books that we read as a group; this becomes the fodder for narration Over the last couple of months, in the midst of all the peaks and valleys that make homeschool what it is, we’ve had some experiences worth capturing, and I thought I’d post them here.
I talked a while ago about my perspective on The Wheel on the School, a book that the youngest and I shared. Without totally spoiling the ending, I’ll just say that it took approximately 250 pages of a slightly-over-300-page book to actually get the wheel on the school. I won’t even talk about the task of getting the storks on the wheel. BUT, in the end, it truly was a delightful tale of the power of a community coming together to reach a common goal. The moral? Everyone adds value, and a body of wisdom—even the smallest children—and the task cannot be completed without each person’s willingness to connect or to hold back, and to be sensitive as to when to do either.
Now we’re on to The Secret Garden, a classic that moves quite a bit faster. I couldn’t get my oldest to get interested in this one, although she and her brother enjoyed the movie. The youngest, however, wants to punch the main character for her impertinence, and almost waits to see how contrary Mary will be on a given day. I, on the other hand, recognize as a parent that noooooobody took the time to raise Mary, much less love and nurture her ; she is the product of what those around her have failed to do. I have to wonder, though, are mistreatment and neglect of children the theme of every English classic deemed worthy of a place on a child’s reading list? Classic or not, I would no more expose my child to a wealth of these books than I would expose them to a wealth of what’s currently considered appropriate children’s television—broken homes, immature dads, exhausted moms, obnoxious kids. And that’s only the sitcoms that promote “traditional family values.” From The Water Babies, to The Secret Garden, The Tale of Despereaux, Oliver Twist, Understood Betsy—geesh!
Speaking of movies, I was thrilled that the older two watched LOTR: The Fellowship of the Rings for the first time, and actually confessed that they liked the book much better. They refuse to watch The Two Towers (and won’t let me watch it, either!) until we finish the book we’re reading now. We’re getting there, but I’m in no hurry; I suspect the movie might be a little bit scary for me with the increased presence of Gollum. My own “Gollum voice” is creepy enough—I cannot imagine staring at that face for more than two hours. Of course, just when I was so pleased and proud of my ability to make my voice slither like a creature sliding down the wall, Gollum becomes Smeagol, more mousy and high-pitched. With my deeper tones (I’ve been told often that I sound like a female DJ), I’m struggling with making my voice squeaky.
Our son is loving Treasure Island, and my treasure is that I get to watch him enjoy a true “boy’s book,” (at least in my mind). At the Heart of the Matter Online’s recent conference, Susan Wise Bauer suggested to never give a child an assignment based upon a book that the child truly enjoyed, and her thoughts are making more sense to me as I listen to him; a project at this point would squelch his enthusiasm. Incidentally, she also spoke of book reports having little value for a child’s long-term educational process. So, was my whole elementary school experience a wash? I’m just saying.
My oldest is quirky. As much as she gets on my nerves, I’m sure I’ll miss her terribly when she moves on. Today she was away from us taking the PSAT—for practice this time. She spent the morning at a public school for the first time ever. I prayed much of the morning in order to combat my anxiety; what will I do when she leaves? The time with her grows more precious to me as the days go by. Just tonight—at 9 p.m., mind you, while we’re finishing the day’s reading, she was telling me what books her other high school/ homeschool friends are reading. We talked about different classics, or the lack thereof, after we finished the Aeneid. Thank God that Virgil writes in a much more straightforward manner than Homer, with far fewer extended metaphors that detract from the main story. What I’m most pleased about, however, after a dubious beginning of the higher grade studies, is that she is finally buying into her education, and getting excited about what she is learning. You know something else? She might not read 100 books in four years, but when I actually backed up like David and took a census, her four-year count will be between 70-80. Quality counts for so much more than quality, but you could do a lot worse on a high school reading list than 80 classics.
Is every day a walk through literature heaven? Certainly not. In fact, this post is a composite of the year this far—it’s been too long since I’ve participated in the weekly homeschool meme. We may not have rich stew and warm, fresh-baked bread, but there’s thick fish soup here. Great things are happening over good books, and I’m so thankful. May God continue to bless you with good times, too.