Tuesday, January 1, 2013

At Home in a World of Books

At Home in a World of Books

Home teachers are most free to provide an education that makes children at home in a world of books. The books are the teachers.

Parents need not be especially talented or skilled in any one subject because we who take the step of faith are gifted the moment we put one foot in front of the other.

God gifts willing hearts. Those who seek, shall find. We can learn along side our children what we might have missed in our own childhood. This is how Dean and I did it. 

Reading the 19th century writings of Charlotte Mason who can miss her ardent plea for better schoolbooks? She repeats her theme that children ought to have “living books.”

How do we recognize a living book? 

“A single page will elicit a verdict,” she claims. Thus, my suggestion in A Charlotte Mason Companion for at least a “one page test.” Watch whether or not the writing opens or closes the door of a child’s mind.

Varied Relationships with Books and Things
My search for living books was a quiet but constant quest and experiment. I couldn’t help but be wary of the typical textbook after reading Miss Mason’s plea. More than one hundred years later, classroom textbooks haven’t changed much. We are still faced with their devitalizing effect.

But “a book serves the end of education only as it is vital,” Miss Mason observed.

I placed this book in my parent's garden and those above.
Classrooms haven’t changed much, either. A flood of talk from a teacher’s paraphrasing – put together from hasty notes - cannot possibly do what the carefully chosen words of an author can do.

“Ideas must reach us directly from the thinker,” Miss Mason says, “and it is chiefly by means of the books that they have written that we get in touch with the best minds.” A teacher must talk to give a lesson but this talk “must be subordinate to the book,” she insists.  When education is predominately lecture, commentary, note taking, test taking, after-hours homework, cramming to memorize, preoccupation with making-the-grade, the result is that students leave twelve years of school blasé.  

Dean took this at the New Jersey shore,
Where are These Living books?
Miss Mason uses the phrase “large room” figuratively when she says that we are to set children in a large room of varied relationships. In her country of England, really large rooms are only found in the manor houses. I’ve taken a tour of one or two and I can assure you that such rooms are well and finely furnished. But where are the books that draw a child to establish relationships in many directions – take an interest - be impressed – inspired – delighted – become absorbed – books that satisfy the efforts of attention that he must give to the reading - whether it is listening to a chapter read aloud or something he reads silently – in solitude? (In solitude one can be meditative.)

     Please Miss Mason, will you choose the books for us?

Nigel painted a creek rock to be an owl after reading a naturalist's diary.
Alas, she tells us she will not. “I should not like to play [the part of] Sir Oracle. The One Hundred Best Books for the Schoolroom may be put down on a list, but not by me.”

Instead, she lays out the principles for selecting books while she leaves “the far more difficult part, the application of those principles” to us.

Grandsons wearing Granma's knit vests
1. Something to Think About
Firstly, “The children must enjoy the book,” she simply states. Look for signs in your child that the book is making a delightful impact. Or in some small way it is giving some intellectual stir to the mind. Living books are alive with ideas that spark interest. If the book is interesting it is probably because it gives us something to think about.  

Endowed with Detail
The book needn’t always be a first-hand source. And we needn’t get hung up on whether it’s a short book or a long book, whether it is published in the 19th, 20th, or 21st century. The book is suitable providing it isn’t facts-only, that it is endowed with detail, that it is of literary language, is touched with emotion. It should carry away in the reader a feeling that “I’ve learned something new.” 

In the case of books let’s do get carried away. Maybe not today, but down the road, the student may impulsively pass on what he’s learning with a “Mom, Dad, guess what?” 

Library discards, "How and Why" series from the 1960s

2. A Prized Possession
Secondly, Miss Mason thinks “we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge . . . for themselves . . . for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like an idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated.” A teacher needs only  “give impulse and to order knowledge;” not to convey it. 

Teachers can “rouse their students with a appreciative look or word” but beware of a flood of talk. “Intellectual sympathy,” Miss Mason says, can be stimulating “but we have all been in the case of the little girl who said, ‘Mother, I think I would understand if you did not explain quite so much.’ ”

Knowledge is Personal
Here is where the value of narration enters the room – where a child puts the reading in his own words – orally or in writing.

With narration the child does the digging. The freedom to dig and delve makes knowledge a personal thing. (Chapters are dedicated to the art of narration in, A Charlotte Mason Companion.)

As a blogger I am always glad to hop on a blog where children are being set in large rooms and are feeling at home in a world of books.

Over the last twenty years home teachers have expressed a desire for better schoolbooks. Better texts are being published here and there and old texts republished. Look for those with truth, beauty, and goodness. 

An enthusiastic photographer mentioned on the pages of Pocketful of Pinecones

Miss Mason says a child is “in the world to lay hold of all that he can of those relationships proper to him so that he may live a full, happy, resourceful life with initiative and serviceableness.” Isn’t this what our educating efforts are about?

Happy New Year
Karen Andreola

End Notes
During the holidays I spent time in School Education by Charlotte Mason (Now published by Simply Charlotte Mason) highlighting passages on pages 177, 228, 229, 231 in preparation for writing you this article. Those who are keen may visit these pages to read what surrounds my quotations. If I post less-often it is because it takes me awhile to carefully say what I think you will be encouraged by. When it comes to Charlotte Mason I write by inches.   

In order of appearance:

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey and his One Morning in Maine

Columbus by D'Aulaire

An Owl in the House by Bernd Heinrich 

The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and CD by Anna Harwell Cekenza

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by E. Nesbitt

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin 



  1. That owl is lovely. We have several of the books you show, and some we have not read yet (the MacCloskey and Lamb's book), but the ones we have are our favorites too. Snowflake Bentley and Rhapsody in Blue are the ones we treasure, even though we never see snow in Texas.

    When I read that part when Miss Mason declares she will not give us a list but principles to choose the books ourselves, my initial reaction was to be upset, but then I thought she left us with a much more powerful tool. I enjoy uncovering and discovering living books in sales, and sharing my findings with friends that also have the same passion.

    Your grandson's matching vests are darling.

    Happy New Year and thanks for your constant inspiration and encouragement to you and your family.

  2. Hello! My husband gave me a how to draw birds book for Christmas. I've been heeding the author's advice to, "draw one bird a day." This is something I've wanted to do for years, but have never allocated time for.

    Thanks to an oversight, we ordered an extra copy of Tash Tudor's Cookbook this Christmas. On a whim, I gave it to our son who was completely delighted. I'm looking forward to hearing about his adventures in cooking.

    My 83 year old father (I don't think he'd mind my telling..) received a book about "forgotten" tales of Tennessee. He was at our house for dinner last evening and was telling us about an interesting story he had read in the book. How delightful! Narration at the age of 83!


  3. Karen ~ I trust you had a blessed Christmas and a lovely New Year today! This is a post after my own heart...BOOKS!! :) We've enjoyed some of these VERY titles recently and I just put Snowflake Bentley on hold at the library. I'm so enjoying A Charlotte Mason Companion, btw. I've read bits and pieces of it in the past, but this is the first time I've read STRAIGHT through and it has been so encouraging. Two or three friends and I are still meeting once a month (we have a lot of children between us - it takes a lot to get away!) to discuss it, and it has been very growing.
    I just ADORE Nigel's owl and can't wait to look up that naturalist's diary! THANK YOU! :)

  4. When will I ever learn to proof read? How ungracious of me to have left Tasha Tudor's name spelled incorrectly.


  5. Karen, Your post was just what I needed this a.m. to point me in the right direction. Thank you!

  6. Karen, Thanks for taking time to think through your posts and word them well! I find them inspiring and a great encouragement when, after 14 years of homeschooling, I can get easily discouraged and tired of homeschooling. They spur me on to continue with great books, and to create a "large room" filled with things that inform, inspire, and spur my daughter on to higher aspirations for the Lord's sake. Thanks for giving us yourself!

  7. What a lovely post! A Charlotte Mason Companion was the spring board that brought joy and true learning to my homeschool. Reading this post carried me back 9 years and is such a sweet reminder. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Melanie Rudd

  8. I see many familiar titles!

    I couldn't remember if I shared a conversation I overheard between Christopher and his new bride.

    They were in his former room going through his bookshelf when she told him he would have to get rid of some of his books.

    He looked appalled and told her that his mother said one does not get rid of books, they buy more bookshelves!

    Hehehe... she was homeschooled so she has to understand!

    I would add that I have passed on most of my books I used in homeschooling to my daughter except those Christopher wanted to keep.

  9. I knew many of you would be returning to school schedules and delving back into learning come January so I thought I'd uphold the place of good books. Thank you for sharing, Ladies.

    So good to hear that A Charlotte Mason Companion is also on your bookshelves and giving you ideas.

    I often miss bits and bobs while proof reading a post and have to go back the next day, fresh, to read it yet again. After posting I nearly always find mistakes the next day. Sorry to do one up on you but leaving off one letter is minor compared to my "behind a curtained corner" in the December post which I changed to "in a curtained corner" because "curtain" is the adjective. Who can be behind a corner? Clicking the "update" is a regular thing.

    We, also, have been passing along books to our daughter who is home teaching. I've always thought it would be luxurious to have enough spare rooms in one's house to turn one of them into an actual library with built-in bookshelves and so I put one in Blackberry Inn.

    So good to hear from you,
    Karen A.

  10. Is it just my computer or is the lettering printed half on flowered background. I am having a difficult time reading when the words on the printed background. (And I love to read your blog!) :(

    Could someone give me some direction if it' just me?

  11. You are such a blessing to me! I hope we can meet in person some day so that I can give you a warm hug. :o) I was thrilled to see that we own four of the books you pictured. Thank you for your sweet blog.

  12. If you are having difficulty viewing my blog it could be the operating system. What browser are you using? My son suggests you download the latest version of Google Chrome to see if this fixes the viewing problem. He tested my blog on all the popular modern internet browsers and it works correctly. My daughter can see it on her tablet.

    I am delighted to hear that you like reading Moments with Mother Culture. Perhaps, someday our paths will cross in person. A neat thing about going the way of living books is that there are so many different books, experiences, and directions "relationships" can take a family. But it is fun when you meet someone who has read the same you book you have.

    Thanks for visiting,
    Karen A.

  13. Oh, I love your book posts, Karen! And I would rather read a thoughtful, periodic post, than an obligatory daily post. I also love all your photos of books, your adorable grandsons, and your home. Thank your husband for those! The little touches you share around your home are inspiring and say, "I care." This particular post did just what you hoped it would in my own life. While I was concerned about leaving some of our books unfinished before we traded our regular routine for Christmas activities, I was, instead, surprised and rewarded. My boys were so excited to get back to our books, like they were much-missed friends. Books - real books - are the mainstay of our learning, and you always encourage me with your posts to press on at just the right time. Thank you, Karen!

  14. So many wonderful good books, so little time... Well, Karen, you've seen what we're reading since you visited my latest post. I do have a question for you about Charlotte Mason education and the older student (mine are 14 and 12). Would love if you could sometime in the future write a bit on what this might look like. :) To answer your post's question, yes, please share with us about the newer texts you've discovered!

    Your grandsons are sure handsome in those patriotic vests; makes me look forward to what I might knit or crochet for my future grandchildren.

    Blessings to you, ~Lisa :)

  15. The right books...are a wonderful thing. Your grands are precious...as are their little vest you knit them...so cute....blessings friend.

  16. Well said. I shared this on Google + tonight.