What would the world be like without our animal friends? We spend hours a day with our farm animals. Milking cows, gathering eggs from our chickens, herding our sheep, laughing at our ducks, petting the cat and dogs are teaching our boys responsibility and compassion. My middle son is known in our farming community as the animal whisperer. He can get any of our animals to do just about anything we need them to.
I think this fasciniation is universal. Down through time, probably more books have been written about animals or through the viewpoint of animals than any other theme. They entertain us, charm us, teach us. Whether the animals are portrayed as themselves or personified with human characteristics, they are favorites among children and adults alike. Here are some of our favorites.
Thornton Burgess wrote so many absolutely wonderful stories of animals. We have read many and they are still treasures even though my boys are getting older. I have begun a collection of the old hardcovers for each of them but they are available in inexpensive paperbacks.
Books by Robert McClung, such as Ruby Throat: The Story of a Hummingbird, are my favorites for teaching younger children about the animal world. Simple but well-written text and lovely illustrations engage the young reader and help to build lasting relationships with each animal. These are out of print but worth seeking out.
Animals have played an important role in history and we have many titles from various time periods.
Only a Dog: A Story of the Great War is a touching true story of love and sacrifice. Bertha Smith wrote this book in 1917 based on an account a British soldier described to her. Private Rice and Army are buried side by side near Armentières in Flanders. This has been republished by Simply Charlotte Mason.
Dhan Gopal Mukerji won the Newberry Award with Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. This is a true living book, relating the author's boyhood in India, raising his beloved pigeon, and the important role helping the Allied war effort in World War II.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling - Begin this classic story with your children and they will beg you to keep reading. At the end you will know facts about India, the mongoose, cobras and much more. Suspenseful to the end.
You can't have a list of books about animals and leave out Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting! The doctor's ability to talk to the animals has been thrilling children for generations.
And another just for fun...the Freddy the Pig series by Walter Brooks. Freddy is the ultimate Renaissance pig. He has many adventures such as traveling to the moon, playing football, camping, being a detective, etc. Don't miss these for simple animal fun.
So many wonderful books have been written about animals that no list could cover them all. Seek one out and make a new animal friend.
I think my 11 year old son believes everyone surely must have 17,000 books in their home. He has no memories of life without books in every nook and cranny of his surroundings. As much as he enjoys them, I think he takes them for granted. Our conversation yesterday insinuated that anyway.
As I was reshelving hundreds of books from library day and a huge book shopping trip, my son asked, "Momma, why do we need so many books? Don't you think you have enough? Why is this so important?"
I stood up, looked him in the eye and replied, "Because God gave us a Book."
Our culture, as I have lamented here many times, has come to disregard the written word, trading it for images on a screen, not only for their shallow knowledge, but their relationships as well. Reading of any kind is fast becoming obsolete, inefficient, boring, irrelevant...the list goes on.
But God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to communicate to us through a Book. The Bible is all we need for life and godliness. The Word of God is living. We are not to worship Him through images. Yet when we refuse to engage in the most important activity that brings us closer to Him, reading His Word, prefering instead images on a screen, we are really saying we do not want to know Him.
There is not a single volume in my library that begins to compare with God's own Words. None of them offer words of eternal life. However, God is working in and through man and He derives glory from what we do. Great words penned by great minds can speak to us, encourage us, challenge us and equip us. We can learn about God's work throughout history by reading biographies, historical fiction, original source documents. We marvel at His hand in the universe by studying living science books. Fiction is a profound way to experience life situations played out in the made-up lives of others. And most importantly, we practice the skill of meditating and ruminating as we linger over the pages of beloved treasures. We are deceiving ourselves when we believe we can rewire our brains by immersing ourselves for hours a day in front of a screen, then magically be able to think deeply on the Word of God. Science is discovering the implications of this habit. We must consider the consequences of our actions.
Reading is hard work. Getting to know others is hard work. Yet we are commanded to come to Him through His Word and KNOW Him. Will we obey?
In the inner nature, in the soul and self of it, each child is different from any other child, and the education that treats children as a class and not individual human beings is the education whose failure is bringing our civilization about our ears even as we speak.
Each child is an explorer in a new country - an explorer with it's own special needs and curiosities. We put up iron railings to keep the explorers to our own sordidly asphalted paths. The little free wild creatures would seek their meat from God: we round them into needs, pen them in folds, and feed them with artificial foods - drab flat oil cakes all alike, not considering that for some brown nuts and red berries, and for some the new clean green grass, may be the bread of life.
What do you think of when you consider a Charlotte Mason education? Snuggling on the sofa with a cup of tea (or chocolate milk) and a lovely book? Romping through meadows of buttercups and daisies? Beautiful music playing in the background while contented children quietly do their handicrafts in the afternoon? A gentle learning time for young children before their growth demands the rigors of a "real" education?
While there is some truth to this, I believe Charlotte Mason's wise philosophy has been tarnished by a false view of what her methods entail.
As you know I have all boys. In the 24 years I have been a mom, my mantra has been, "Do the Hard Thing." (Or "thang" since I'm a southern gal.) I am raising boys to be men who will be required to work hard with integrity, support a family, confront a dying culture, live an abundant life. There is no room for laziness of mind or body. Because of this, I believe a Charlotte Mason education will uniquely equip them for the life they have before them.
I think one of the barriers of communication when this discussion comes up is a difference in definition of terms. While we've all heard that a CM education is "gentle", and I agree, I am here to assert that it is also exceedingly rigorous. But how can the two co-exist?
Gentle does not equal easy.
Rigorous does not equal drudgery.
The first principle of a Charlotte Mason education is, "Children are born persons." From Ambleside Online's paraphrase we have this explanation. "Children are born persons - they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons." Charlotte recognized that children are made in the image of God and each child has a uniqe purpose in the world. When we educate our children with this in mind, rather than viewing them as a bucket to be filled, we are meeting them where they are and working alongside the Holy Spirit to teach them what He wants them to know. This naturally is a gentle education for the child because we are working with what God is making him to be.
However the methods are rigorous! Charlotte insisted that children do the work of their education. The teacher is not the fountainhead of all knowledge. The primary way children were asked to secure their knowledge was through narration. If you don't know already, narration is hard! Narration is the main tool Charlotte used to ensure the child knows. In fact, she called it the act of knowing. Children were required to narrate (tell back) after one attentive reading. One. No repeats. And they were able to do it with surprising ease. Narrations could take many forms ranging from simple telling back, drawing, acting out, or even written in poetry form.
Children in Charlotte Mason schools learned many languages including Latin. They studies music, art, poetry, Plutarch, Shakespeare, nature study and many many other subjects in addition to the 3 R's. Charlotte believed in spreading the feast of ideas to children and they could take freely from the banquet. But she did not spoonfeed them pre-digested bits of information. They took what they were ready for, what the Holy Spirit stirred in their hearts at the time.
Much of learning in Charlotte's schools was through books...living books...filled with living ideas to feed the heart and mind of the child. Children formed relations with the people, places and events they read about. Learning was a joyful time of living ideas from great minds...not the drudgery found in reams of worksheets. As children did the difficult work of wrestling with and pondering these ideas, they found their imaginations sparked and great satisfaction in coming to grips with the issues of the universe. Their education was living.
Gentle? Yes. Rigorous? Yes. But with the result of a strong mind and body equipped to do the task they were created to do.
Last week I was reshelving books when a certain title caught my eye. My memories were immediately flooded with my 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Grabeel, reading to us after lunch each day. Honestly I remember nothing about this particular book, but what I do remember is sitting enthralled each and every school day as this teacher took time after lunch to read to us. Just read. We were never quizzed. There was not a list of facts we were required to regurgitate on a comprehension test. She just read.
My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Elkins, loved to reward her students with books. If a student accomplished a certain goal or won an award or simply made great progress, she gifted that student with a book. My Trixie Belden collection started with this one. I still have the very copy from 1972 that she gave me.
I was pondering the legacy they left me...and wondering how many children are being blessed with this legacy now. Times have certainly changed since I was a public-schooled girl in the 60's and 70's. Common Core, standardized tests and the race to the top, not to mention revisionism, Darwinism and worse have stripped most classrooms of any living ideas. What would happen if teachers were free to spend just 10 minutes after lunch reading to their students. Just reading. Wonderful fiction, inspiring biographies, thrilling adventures. How would this change the face of our culture?
I wish my teachers could see what became of their investment of reading. Mrs. Grabeel moved away a few years after I left her classroom. Mrs. Elkins passed away a few years ago after a brave battle with cancer. Their love of books and of the ideas contained within, however, are still alive and well in me and in those who enter my library doors. And the legacy is being passed on to future generations.