About All That Reading

February 16, 2007 @ 2:26 pm | Filed under: Charlotte Mason

Yesterday when I was talking about reading aloud to the girls during our Charlotte Mason-style lessons, I forgot to mention that of course Jane (age 11) does most of her own reading. Every Monday, I print out her booklist, and we aim for a chapter or two in each, spread out over the course of the week. She reads from two or three of her books each day and narrates all of these readings either orally or in writing.

Her reading list has been tweaked a little since I posted it in December: we never did find our copy of Ivanhoe. She is reading Great Expectations instead. Unlike the dozens of books she wolfs down in her free time, I am making her take Dickens (and the rest of her CM list) slowly, for the reasons Linda Fay lays out in this excellent post:

ago, when my children were young, we devoured several books a week.  It
was a point of pride for all of us.  "Wow!  I thought, my children must
be learning a lot.  They have covered so many ideas this year." My
daughter could finish a book a day.


Then, I read this:


hear of ‘three books a week’ as a usual thing and rather a matter of
pride. But this, again, comes of our tendency to depreciate knowledge,
and to lose sight of its alimentary character. If we perceive that
knowledge, like bread, is necessary food, we see also that it must be
taken in set portions, fitly combined, duly served, and at due
intervals, in order to induce the digestive processes without which,
knowledge, like meat, gives us labour rather than strength." (vol. 5 of
CM’s educ. volumes)


I probably would have never listened to such advice, but living in
Turkey has its drawbacks.  I had no library and no bookstore with
books  available in the English language.  My children, out of
necessity, were going to have to spread out their books.  I could never
keep the supply up with the demand. I decided to try this with their
most important books, the books that I considered ‘ the cream of the
crop’, over a several week period.  So, instead of reading a book or
two a week and then going on to the next one, my children started
several books at the same time but read them slowly over a 10 week
period or longer.

Slow reading was a novel concept (ba dum bum) for my young book-glutton, but I am seeing results very similar to those Linda Fay describes in the rest of her post.

Charlotte Mason discusses the difference between pleasure-reading and reading-for-knowledge in her Volume 6, Towards a Philosophy of Education:

"In the first place we all know that desultory reading is delightful and
incidentally profitable but is not education whose concern is
knowledge. That is, the mind of the desultory reader only rarely makes
the act of appropriation which is necessary before the matter we read
becomes personal knowledge. We must read in order to know or we do not
know by reading."

Now, I have certainly seen my kids learn an awful lot from their desultory reading, and if you want to know whether any of that knowledge has stuck, just ask Miss Jane what she recalls from All About Weeds (and then settle in for a looong answer). But I think Miss Mason is correct in describing this kind of knowledge as "incidentally profitable." It’s like the distinction I make between "accidental" and "on-purpose" learning.

I trust that my kids, all kids, will "learn an awful lot" from devouring the books strewn in their path during our low-tide times. But Charlotte Mason convinced me that a slow-and-steady diet of carefully chosen literature, narrated back, leads to something more than an encyclopedic collection of facts. The CM method promises a relationship with knowledge, not just the memorization of it.

But, it will be said, reading or hearing various books read, chapter
by chapter, and then narrating or writing what has been read or some
part of it,—all this is mere memory work. The value of this criticism
may be readily tested; will the critic read before turning off his
light a leading article from a newspaper, say, or a chapter from
Boswell or Jane Austen, or one of Lamb’s Essays; then, will he put
himself to sleep by narrating silently what he has read. He will not be
satisfied with the result but he will find that in the act of narrating
every power of his mind comes into play, that points and bearings which
he had not observed are brought out; that the whole is visualized and
brought into relief in an extraordinary way; in fact, that scene or
argument has become a part of his personal experience; he knows, he has
assimilated what he has read.

—Vol. 6, p. 16.

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2 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. What would I do without you? I’m so glad your online writing coincides with our homeschool beginnings.

  2. These two posts on how you actually do CM are very helpful. I’m still not sure I want to go that way, but the quote you have in here makes me realize that this might be a good model when we are travelling in Europe for 3 months next year. I was starting to worry about the weight of books.

    I have plenty of time to mull on this but your thoughts have been very valuable.