Tag Archives: modern Charlotte Mason

Thinking Out Loud…Old Books

I go back and forth on using old books (specifically from the late 1800s, which seems to be the majority of AO selections).


  • Older books seem more literary. Maybe because they were more dependent on text vs. photos? Or assumed a high level of interest and ability in the reader?
  • Challenging material is good for learning, and it’s important to me that our kids grow in their ability to understand a wide range of subjects and styles.
  • Big vocabulary!


  • The language and writing style are hard to read and understand for children living 100-150 years after these books were written. This is less of an issue for something in the literature or poetry category; more of a concern in history and science. I would rather give them something easier to read if they will understand the content better. So…Arabella Buckley or Allan W. Eckert…or both?
  • There have been an awful lot of books published in the last century! Some are high quality. I’d like them to read the best books regardless of publication date…but what determines “best”?
  • There’s criticism of kids today not being able to understand old books…but it’s hard for me too! We don’t talk or write that way anymore. It would be the same if a 19th century child was plopped down in the middle of texts and youtube and freeway traffic.
  • Some of the flowery, moralistic Victorian/Edwardian/Georgian style is really hard for me to stomach. And the personification and romanticism of nature is very period-influenced (i.e., the Nature Fakers). It may not be good just because it’s old…it depends on what is the purpose of the reading.

I guess it depends on the goal of the reading….if a book is used for literature (Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice, Tom Sawyer) or poetry (Goblin Market), then I am enthusiastic about reading old books. They are part of our culture, and I’d like our kids to be able to appreciate them and enjoy reading them. If they are for history, I would like the kids to practice comprehension so they are able to read and understand original sources (the Declaration of Independence, Livingston’s Missionary Travels, Plutarch’s Lives). But if they are simply books about history, written in the 1800s, I’m inclined to look for more modern books. That way, the kids don’t have to decipher the language AND assimilate new content. Science seems similar. I hate Usborne and DK style books for science read-alouds (they aren’t literary or cohesive), although some have nice projects, illustrations, and photos. But I also dislike books like Madame How Lady Why or the Burgess Bird book–the personification is annoying and the science is outdated. They may have literary value, but I don’t really want to use them for learning science. There must be a sweet spot in the middle, something like Wild Season, or Jim Arnosky’s books, or Jean Craighead George…


Purpose of This Blog

Why add yet another blog to the billions out there? And why blog about a Charlotte Mason education when there are others far more expert than I? The short answer is that Charlotte Mason lived about a hundred years ago, and while her educational principles remain the same, the world has changed, and we have access to lots of more up-to-date material than what she used. The internet, for example!

We are loosely using the resources and schedules at Ambleside Online  to homeschool our children. The hard work put into that free curriculum is amazing, and has made it easy for me to get started without starting from scratch. It has its weaknesses (for our family and goals), but I love to tweak, so I’ve made lots changes to fit the curriculum to our family.  I’m hoping to use this blog to keep track of all my changes (and the reasons for them), and do a yearly wrap-up of what worked and what didn’t. And maybe it will be helpful for other homeschoolers.

One goal of AO was to make the curriculum cheap and accessible by using mostly public domain texts. Another goal was to re-create as nearly as possible the type of education Charlotte Mason provided her students. Neither of those are my goals, so a lot of my tweaking reflects my attempt to modernize some of the content (especially history and science), and to use books I prefer over some of the free, vintage books. I’m using  “modernize” loosely; lots of our books were published in the 1950s and 1990s 🙂 And lots are from the 1800s.

Many homeschool curricula these days revolve around history. For us, it’s not the center. My academic tiers are skill subjects first:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmetic

and then all other content subjects are second tier, have more or less equal value, and may depend somewhat on the interests of the child. For example:

  •  Geography
  • Music theory
  • Astronomy
  • Botany
  • Public speaking
  • Drawing
  • Art appreciation
  • Poetry
  • History
  • Economics
  • Statistics
  • Test-taking skills
  • Zoology
  • Ballet
  • and so on

So I want our children to develop strong abilities in the first three areas, and then to have at least a taste of all the other areas. This is for ages 6-12…I haven’t planned much past that…yet. 🙂

What Charlotte Mason Means to Me

Have you read Charlotte Mason’s original writings? I haven’t — I have read a fair amount of the paraphrases done by Ambleside Online, and most of the books published about a CM education. I’m not one of the WWCMD [What Would Charlotte Mason Do] type of people.

Some things just won’t work for us. Picture her ideal of a mother sitting outdoors on a blanket for 4 hours, while her children cheerfully bring back natural objects for her to see and talk about. That’s where I start laughing (or crying, depending on the day). Hahahaha….what happens when the very-pregnant mother is desperately searching for a restroom 30 minutes later? Or the 2 year old falls in the creek and is turning purple and we forgot to bring a change of clothes? Or the three older kids are fighting and someone needs some discipline and someone else needs a snack and someone else needs some alone time…and we are supposed to do this every day?!

But what I take away from that ideal is that outdoor time is beneficial, and so the way I accomplish that is by sending my kids outside to play…while I nurse the baby in a comfortable chair and get stuff done around the house. Or we spend a weekend camping. Or go for a hike on a Saturday when DH is here to wrangle kids with me. Or meet a friend at a park or the zoo. And we encourage cups and jars full of bugs and worms and spiders, and bouquets from the yard or the mountains, and getting dirty and playing in the treehouse with friends. All of that helps accomplish nature study, in a way that is practical for us. Anyway, here are the main ideas that add up to a CM education for our family:


  • Literature-based learning. This means we use very few (if any) textbooks, read lots of real books, and supplement with DVDs, excursions, classes, concerts etc.
  • Living books. The books we read differ from textbooks in that they are written by a single author with a passion for and knowledge of the topic, and are written in an engaging style. Living books are not necessarily old! There are old “dead” books, and new living books.
  • Slow readings. Reading lots of books spread out over a long time (a term, or 1-2 school years) allow time to chew and digest the material.
  • Short lessons and lots of subjects. We cover lots of topics, but spend a short time daily or weekly on each. We want to expose the kids to as much of the wide world as possible. Alternating subjects allows the brain to rest. Short “school” sessions equals more time for childhood.
  • Narration. At this stage (age 7 and under), I read aloud, and then the child tells me back in her own words everything she remembers. This trains the child to listen carefully the first time around, helps her assimilate the information, and lays a foundation for future written compositions and public speaking skills.
  • Emphasis on nature and outdoor time. This is great for children’s development and health. They also gain familiarity with and ownership of nature, and get first-hand experience with concepts they might otherwise just read or hear about.
  • Beauty, truth, and challenge. We aim to give our kids material that is beautiful and true, and that challenges their ability to understand, think, and express.
  • Good habits. Obedience, diligence, persistence, helpfulness, neatness…these are all things we work on while the kids are little. They are essential qualities for (relatively) smooth school days, and are characteristic of the kind of adults we hope they become.
  • Delayed academics. Our kids do nothing academic before age 5, and very little before age 6 or 6.5. More on that in another post.

It seems most useful to me to figure out the “whys” of what CM did what she did, and then decide how to incorporate those principles today, rather than to try to re-create what she did. Around here, practicality trumps mostly everything else! 🙂