When you decide to take Charlotte Mason's advice and present a feast of many, many ideas to your children through the reading of numerous living books, your children won't be able to recall a lot of the people and places that they read about while young. At least, that is what it will seem like to you. But rest assured, many of the stories and characters, even if only snatches, are filed away in the brain helping them make connections in life that you don't always notice because you are not in your child's head. I know this is true because I witness it all the time.
The Benefits of Hard Books
I read aloud This Country of Ours to my children when they were six, seven and eight years old. A few years ago, during a family dinner conversation about American politics, my 13 year old mentioned that she didn’t remember hardly anything from that book. This bothered me a little, but not enough to mistrust the process. Charlotte Mason ideas had proven correct too many times in my home to turn back now. Four years later, that same daughter said that the history book she was reading brought back many memories of the people and events that she thought she had forgotten from This Country of Ours. “Really Mom, it’s amazing how much I can recall now.”
But even more importantly, your children are slowly over time, becoming used to complex sentence structure, rich vocabulary and noble ideas through heroic deeds. In short, they are learning how to think deeply about the things that really matter in life. This is why I have chosen to educate my children in this way. I have observed my own children develop a taste for only the best in literature and history. Now they can't tolerate twaddle and even easy books. They want the challenge of great books and thirst for deep ideas.
Reading these older, hard books also helped them to understand and enjoy poetry which for many people today, is a mysterious genre because they are not used to the complex language patterns that the poet utilizes. But our great heroes, authors and leaders of the past all know that poetry is the highest form of communication. We NEED good poets today who know how to communicate truth through this venue because it can stir the human heart like no other written form. And we all know that knowledge alone can't change a person. The knowledge must connect with the emotions.
The Consequences of Giving Up Too Soon
The problem that can arise when we are experimenting with this type of education is that the teacher gives up too soon. When the children are not as interested in these hard books as they are in the twaddle on their shelves or the movies in the cupboard and Mom isn't able to enjoy the book either because of her own unfamiliarity with the rich, wordy language and vocabulary, easier books are chosen because she wants to keep the children's interest. Some parents decide to slow down on the amount of ideas they give their children. They read fewer books, explore fewer areas but delve deeply into the life of a particular person. Or perhaps, they spend several weeks studying ships or knights because their child has an interest in them. It is possible that their children will enjoy this study very much and will even be able to recall several years later a lot of what they did. But the price you pay for this type of learning is that fewer ideas are being presented to your child's thirsty, curious mind. The fewer ideas, the narrower their lives, and the narrower their lives, the less capacity they have to relate and enjoy many other areas and therefore, people in this world. Broad interests and knowledge open greater vistas to a mind, creating more opportunities to share truth with people from all walks of life - another reason I educate my children this way.
The Importance of Delight and of Struggle
"...there is no selection of subjects, passages or episodes on the ground of interest. The best available book is chosen and read through in the course, it may be, of two or three years." C. Mason vol 6
Charlotte Mason believed the easier approach was a fatal mistake. She didn't alter her book choices because some children weren't able to enjoy the book. Book choices were NOT based upon the children's interests. They were picked because they met the standards of a living book. Don't misunderstand me here. A living book is engaging and enjoyable to most children. We are not advocating an education with dull, hard books because they are good for you. But just as an athlete or musician has dull moments while mastering a skill, they are necessary until the body adjusts and learns. The benefits far outweigh the difficult moments so it is worth it to them. Charlotte Mason was confident that given time, those who struggled with a book would become accustomed to the language and begin to engage more fully with the story. The pleasure increases like a snowball rolling down a mountain.
I know of mothers who struggled through Marshall's This Country of Ours with their children for an entire year, even two. But they eventually began to realize the amazing benefits. The positive changes that occurred in mother as well as child were beautiful to behold. They are so happy they didn't give up. Their capacity to enjoy digging for knowledge today made it worth the struggle, which was actually quite brief compared to the many years of delightful learning the children are now experiencing.
Next time, we will discuss some ways to help jump start a child's interest in a difficult book.
Further Reading: Distinctives of a Charlotte Mason Education-Living Books by MaryEllen St. Cyr