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Caught Between a Textbook and a Living Book

Heart of Dakota Dear Carrie
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Dear Carrie

What should I do with a student who prefers short, nonfiction readings when using a Charlotte Mason literature-based curricula?

I believe my son is caught between a textbook and a living book! He enjoys nonfiction books, documentaries, factual YouTube videos, and research.  I read the first Storytime book for Revival to Revolution. He said he prefers much shorter books that get to the point. Likewise, he said he doesn’t enjoy overly descriptive language. He prefers to read textbooks or encyclopedias.  I thought Charlotte Mason’s readings were supposed to be short myself. I guess my question is, what should I do with a student who prefers short, nonfiction readings when using a Charlotte Mason literature-based curricula?


“Ms. Caught Between a Textbook and a Living Book”

Dear “Ms. Caught Between a Textbook and a Living Book,”

This is a good question! First, I think it would be wise to have your son read his own Storytime books for Revival to Revolution (Rev2Rev). While he likely does prefer nonfiction, as many boys do, it is also likely that he would prefer to move through his school day quickly with as little extra time added as possible. By the time my boys were 13, they preferred to read to themselves. Reading the book to oneself aids in comprehension, builds vocabulary, and goes much more quickly. So that would be my first piece of advice for you to try. Your son could also consider stretching the Storytime books out over 5 days each week instead of 4 days.

Charlotte Mason’s Thoughts on the Progression of Reading Length

You mentioned that Charlotte Mason (CM) advocated shorter readings, which she did at the younger levels. However, as students matured, she assigned much longer readings. She expected students to hold that information in their mind from a single reading. As we near the high school years, it is important that students move toward being able to read and process longer readings. So, Rev2Rev is a step in that direction. If your student is college-bound, much preparation will be needed. To handle the level and volume of reading required for college coursework, we stair-step our way up to doing that in Heart of Dakota (HOD). So, longer readings were definitely a part of a CM-education. Likewise, they are a part of the increasing volume in HOD.

An Adjustment Period at the Beginning of a New Guide

It sounds like you are just beginning RevtoRev. I think it is important to remember that there is always an adjustment period when beginning a new guide. Rev2Rev is definitely a step up in all ways from Resurrection to Reformation. So, there may just be some frustration in the upped level of expectations coming from your son right now. Perhaps it would be helpful to split one day of plans into two days for awhile. You could go half-speed for a few weeks as your son enters this new guide. That may make the workload a bit easier to handle for awhile until he hits his groove.

Add Extras on the Free Fifth Day

I can also see that your son would enjoy documentaries and YouTube videos. Those are something you could definitely add if desired. My own boys enjoy this type of learning as well. However, if you end up dropping all sorts of things within the HOD guide to add YouTube videos and documentaries, you will quickly find you are losing many of the skills. So, I would stay away from skipping too much, or you will quickly lose the flow of the guide. Adding videos on the free fifth day each week or in the evenings may be a way to fill this need for your son.

It is more challenging to complete a literature-based education.

I will say that it is often feels more challenging to the child to complete a literature-based education than it feels to complete a more traditional text-based approach. The reasons for this are because assignments in a literature-based education feel less predictable, have less of a pattern to follow to get the answer, and often are more open-ended allowing more than one “right” way to respond. The assignments also aren’t easy for students to skim and “find” the answer. Rather, students often have to share what he/she learned in a more open-ended fashion.

For some students this can be overwhelming at first. As they move into longer readings with more material, they may never feel sure if they have done it “right.” However, as students become more used to using this method of learning and more used to the upped level of readings, they do find there is a structure to their learning even if it is more open-ended. Over time, they do become more comfortable with this type of learning.

Boys often prefer to move quickly through their school day!

For some students, and especially boys, a literature-based education can sometimes seem like it draws out their school day. With boys, the desire to move through their day and get it done is huge! They prefer to have free time over school. This can be difficult for moms with sons to accept! I know, because it was for me! However, it is imperative that you do not expect your sons to “love” their school like daughters often will. The difference between boys and girls is accentuated in school. If you happen to have daughters, the contrast between your sons’ and daughters’ attitudes toward school will often be stark.

I always keep this in mind with my boys. They do not want me to add extra things to their school day or to go on bunny trails. Instead, they want to work as efficiently as possible to get done on time. This is why they want to read their own books. It’s quicker! This is also why (as they get older) they want a quiet space to work. They want as few interruptions as possible. Moreover, they want things to move very quickly.

They do not like to be called away from their school to do household chores or tasks or other things that I may randomly call them to do. Though they will do the tasks I assign without complaint! They also don’t want to hear my ramblings about various topics if it lengthens their day. Although they will listen politely, they are often watching the time slip away with consternation if I deviate far from the plans.

We can help boys move through their day more quickly.

I share this to show that with boys if you can keep in mind that task completion is often a huge goal, and you can help your boys toward that goal with few interruptions, more efficient conversations and correcting, few to no bunny trails, and a “How can I help you move through this more quickly?” attitude, your boys will enjoy their days much more! Also, my own boys sincerely appreciated me asking them if they would like to do an hour of school the night before to get ahead for the next day (and then have the option of sleeping in an hour later the next morning), or whether they would rather get up earlier to work in the morning and have their nights off. Buy-in to the schedule is huge!

Puberty impacts how a school day goes!

I will share that puberty definitely impacts how a school day goes. Sixth-eighth grade were the years that we noticed our boys desiring to have more say in how their day was structured. It was also a time when lengthening their school day with redoing too many assignments or with too many expectations of work done perfectly brought on negative bursts of energy. So, keeping that in mind is necessary as you look at how to best help your boys.

Grace is needed during those years of school as young men are definitely wanting to start moving toward more independence and less being tied to mama’s apron’s strings for their school needs. However, they also want to feel that you are there to partner with them to help rather than to constantly judge. So, it can be a difficult balance. During those years, I try to sense frustration and remain available to jump in and help my boys get things done when they begin to lag behind.

The benefits of a literature-based education are worth the extra effort!

As we have traveled all the way through graduation with our two oldest sons, I will share that while at times it might seem tempting to use a more strictly fact-based approach to learning, the benefits of a literature-based education in the long-run for us was worth the extra effort! As part of this type of education, our boys learned to process and hold in their minds a variety of readings for purposes other than completing a chapter review or studying for a test. If you think back to the things that you remember the most, it often will not be learning that was done for a test or to pass a class but instead was something you took away from a reading that resonated with you.

As students sift and sort through information in living books to discover what is important, they weigh and discard ideas, construct a framework of what they read, and discover what is personally important to them and file that away. This process of sifting and sorting for personal use is something that is often lost in a straight textbook type education but it is the process that is important as it makes things memorable!

A literature-based education stretches students in positive ways.

A literature-rich education stretches a student in many positive ways. It makes them readily able to read, appreciate, and take away something from almost any kind of reading material. This is because they have learned to appreciate a wide variety of authors with a wide variety of styles, and consequently they often find delight in a wide variety of reading materials. My older boys choose to read everything from classic literature to magazine articles to theology books to light reading just for fun. When my little guys move on to a new year of HOD, my older boys jump right in with a desire to reread their favorite books from long ago just one more time.

Would you ever lovingly choose to reread your middle school textbooks?

While my four sons are all very different from one another, the more years we travel down this literature-rich path the more convinced I become of its merit. If you ask yourself whether you would ever lovingly choose to reread your middle school textbooks, you will know why a literature-based education is different. A literature-based education also makes students readily able to respond in a wide variety of formats to what they’ve read. This is because they have been exposed to so many good writers over time. Good writing eventually pours out of their own pens. To begin with, the students mimic other writers, but eventually they develop their own style. While this process can take years, it is a process worth seeing come to fruition!

Seeds sown through years of HOD literature-based education come to fruition at graduation!

By the time a student graduates from high school, the seeds that have been sown through years of an HOD literature-based education come to fruition. For me, with each of my older two sons, the senior year of high school was a time of pure joy in this capacity. Meeting with the boys during their senior year, as they shared their thoughts, reflections, and narrations was just plain fun! During the senior year of each of our oldest boys, my husband and I got an opportunity to see how much each son had grown. As they animatedly shared with us, we got a chance to see the books that spoke to their hearts the most.

In the final year of high school of HOD, students can often move through their work more quickly and concisely.

By their final year of high school, our boys were able to move through their work much more quickly and concisely. They had become able to do almost anything the guide asked of them. This made their senior year an easy one compared to previous years! I will share that this has also been true of many of the families we’ve talked to who are graduating their students through HOD this year. Their students have grown and changed so much! It is simply a product of years of a literature-based education.

Encouragement to Carry on with a Literature-Based Education

So, in closing, I would encourage you to persevere with a literature-based education. While students will have special strengths of their own (and areas of weakness too), their experience will be richer for the books they have read and the ways they have been asked to respond. Their education will also be deeper for the variety of authors they have pondered. When in doubt, compare your education with the one that your students are receiving, and you will often see a marked difference. While not easy, a literature-based education is worth pursuing. I hope this encourages you as you journey. We only get this one chance to educate our kiddos!



This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Melanie Myers

    Thank you so much for this. Our daughter is 8th grade this year and we are doing Reformation through the Revolution. We pulled her out of public school near the end of 6th grade. She is dyslexic and so her reading level continues to be below grade level. The way you described your sons as preferring facts and being focused on finishing quickly perfectly describes our daughter. Your article gave me a renewed fervor to keep with the path we’ve chosen. She loves HOD…. the variety and nearly all it entails. Thank you for the time and effort you have put into creating it.

    1. Melanie Myers

      Correction… she is in Resurrection through the Reformation. Oh my brain!

  2. Carrie wants to thank you for your response here, Melanie! We’re glad you are renewed in your dedication to a Charlotte Mason living book approach to educating your daughter. We are excited about the gains your daughter is making with the variety in the RTR guide! (Oh, and it’s easy to mix up RevtoRev and RTR when posting – we love our “R’s” in our titles here at HOD!!!) Give your daughter a big HOD hug from our family and let her know we are so proud of her attitude and effort in RTR this year – God bless!

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