Throughout my seven years homeschooling, I have not often been inspired when reading a book about homeschooling. I’ve researched the plethora of approaches to educate my children at home: classical, unschooling, child-led, traditional, Waldorf, and Charlotte Mason. Overall, my family’s approach has been an eclectic blend of several of those. My kids would love to be complete unschoolers reveling in opportunities their minds concoct, while I would love to check all the boxes everyday from a beautifully organized schedule which would soothe my anxieties. Neither strategy seems to work well for us. However, a few months ago I read A Literary Education: Adapting Charlotte Mason for Modern Secular Homeschooling by Emily Cook. I was riveted and inspired at a time when I was feeling persistent burnout from homeschooling both of my Twice Exceptional sons.
Emily has written a lively and detailed book explaining that Charlotte Mason’s methods are relevant and appropriate for anyone, including secular homeschoolers. You do not have to be religious to utilize the strategies and embrace all types of literature, poetry, and rich language that Charlotte Mason advocated during the Victorian era. As Emily explains, “there have been literally thousands of books written since 1923 that beg to be explored and appreciated.” Indeed, many of the lists of books I have seen for Charlotte Mason pedagogy do not include modern literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird. Emily has updated this approach without religion so it is approachable by anyone. Using the core philosophy offers so many opportunities for a homeschool family to create a rich, diverse, and culturally relevant education.
Throughout the book there are numerous suggestions for books, resources, experiences, and activities for a modern home educator to use. I particularly enjoyed her use of engaging literature suggestions to ensnare wiggly children or even older children and teens. She understands that one must start with material that hooks the children, but also delivers beautiful language and stories to engage their minds. Heroes and myths are exciting as well as stories of other worlds and possibilities. There is room for The Hobbit and Harry Potter and classic literature. In fact, Emily believes that modern literature is as essential as the classics. She believes that children need worthy books, poetry, some Shakespeare, art, music, and exposure to the natural world just as Charlotte Mason advocated. However, no matter how daunting that seems, Emily makes it approachable without stress. She offers specific strategies even for the outdoor challenged or those intimidated by Shakespeare. She offers a starting point and a path for you to make progress. Her simple and straightforward writing made even poetry seem doable for my teenage, mathematically-minded son.
Not only does Emily provide booklists and ideas, she explains throughout the book her daily life with her kids and provides concrete examples of her rhythms and routines. She even provides examples for a variety of learners including beginning students and teenagers. This peek into her personal approach with Charlotte Mason was an eye opener for me. Yes, it really can be less complex than I thought. I enjoyed learning how to streamline my children’s language arts into a simple, coherent strategy that will make them effective communicators without overwhelming them or me!
Using living books will breathe life into your child’s studies. History, geography, and even science will be richer, more enjoyable with worthy books and resources. Emily explains how to use living books for each subject area and how she enriches her home environment with resources that range from smartphone Field Guide apps to art supplies and ideas for bringing math alive. She recognizes that children have their own pace and learning needs. Using Charlotte Mason, you can adapt as needed to address the specific needs of your child. It is not a rigid reading list that only uses archaic books with difficult language, it is about flexing and understanding the needs of your child with short, digestible sessions that have rich, meaningful content.
One thing I did have a small issue was her chapter regarding reading instruction. Emily believes that children will learn at their own pace and while I agree wholeheartedly with that, I also know that the earlier dyslexia is diagnosed the better the outcome will be for the child. Not all late readers are dyslexic. I do agree kids should be not be forced to read before they are ready; however, if you think your child is showing signs of dyslexia, do not hesitate to seek an evaluation. When my youngest was five, he had many signs of dyslexia including an older brother with dyslexia. Evidence supports structured, deliberate reading instruction for dyslexics and I made sure he had the support he needed to make progress. When I realized that something was more complicated than it should be, I had him evaluated at seven. He had phonological processing issues and required speech therapy. Having support and therapy improved his reading progress significantly. If I had waited too long it would have been much more challenging. He still isn’t reading fluently at age eight, but he talks about the day he will read under the covers in his bed at night when I think he is sleeping. There is a balance Emily discusses about keeping the love of reading alive while the child is learning to read that definitely resonated with me.
Emily even addresses that particular homeschool dilemma: the combination of parent and educator. It can be a challenge being the parent while teaching. She addresses the relationships within the family. Very rarely do I find this topic in a homeschool book that didn’t also offer solutions with a religious tone. Emily writes from a practical and compassionate view which is helpful to anyone no matter their background. It was refreshing to see the relationship aspect discussed in her book.
This book took time for me to digest. I’ve read it several times and each time I have gained a new perspective. Sometimes, I just want to reread that we need to keep it simple or that we don’t have to cover everything every year. Sometimes, I just want to read words from a homeschooling parent that understands that our lives are not perfect Pinterest moments. I want to know that we can snuggle on the couch and read a beautiful book and have suggestions for fostering that deep learning. Mostly, I enjoyed reading Emily Cook’s straightforward perspective with the full knowledge that we are not only educating our children, we are loving them and supporting them while expanding their view of the universe through living language.
Rachel Durand is a veteran homeschooler who is creating an eclectic learning experience tailored to the individual strengths and challenges of each of her 2e sons while taking full advantage of the unique educational opportunities her family has both at home in Alaska and when traveling.