Beginning To Spread a Broad Feast

by Lisa Ripperton
​March 21, 2019

Those involved in Charlotte Mason education often refer to the idea of spreading a feast for their children, meaning that an educator's task is to offer a rich array of books, topics, ideas, etc. for their student(s) to devour. In spreading a broad feast, we ensure that we both pique a child's appetite and give them the opportunity to discover new interests.

Ms. Mason refers to education as a feast in two notable instances in Towards a Philosophy of Educationor Volume 6 of the Charlotte Mason Series:

As for literature––to introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served.” (Vol. 6, p. 52)

and

“We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can. The child of genius and imagination gets greatly more than his duller comrade but all sit down to the same feast and each one gets according to his needs and powers.” (Vol. 6, p. 183)

This concept of spreading a broad feast was one that greatly influenced our family's read aloud habits. It has also impacted our work at both Yesterday's Classics and Gateway to the Classics. So, today's post is all about how we first encountered the idea of spreading a feast through our literary choices, and how it might change your family's read-aloud practice.

​Our read aloud journey begins

Not having been raised in a “read aloud family,” I had no idea of the importance of reading aloud until soon after my oldest son was born. I was first introduced to the idea after receiving a copy of the 1982 edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease as a gift from my sister-in-law Betsy. 

Since that edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook contained 37 pages of picture book suggestions and 54 pages of novels, I figured that I had our course of read alouds all mapped out and that we were completely set.

​Awakening to living books

All of that was upended, however, when I attended my first homeschooling conference in May 1994.

There I gazed eagerly at table after table of new books offered by vendors such as Beautiful Feet, The Elijah Company, The Book Peddler, Greenleaf Press, and Lifetime Books and Gifts. Even more wondrous were the bookshelves full of used books at the One More Page and Books Bloom booths!

They included picture books and novels, of course, but so much more! Books that I had never seen or even heard of before in the genres of Nature, Science, Faith, Geography, Biography, and History all called out to me. Ostensibly I was there to acquire some books for the classroom library at my oldest son's school (which I did), but more importantly, I was awakened to the wonder of living books and of the many genres they encompass.

​Incorporating living books into family reading

How to incorporate living books of various genres into our read aloud time was a puzzle to me until I encountered Ambleside Online. Perusing their booklist for the early years, I found so many titles I didn't want my children to miss. AO, following the principles of Charlotte Mason, scheduled many books for reading each term, with a short reading from each book each week. I figured I could incorporate a short reading from one of the AO books each night during our family read aloud time.

Instead of easing into this transition, we started all at once with the following schedule:

      Monday: Aesop's Fables

      Tuesday: Paddle to the Sea

      Wednesday: A Child's Book of Myths and Enchantment Tales

      Thursday: Secrets of the Woods

      Friday: Our Island Story

      Saturday: The Burgess Bird Book

      Sunday: Our Island Saints

The first week was a little rocky, with protests lodged by both children, but by the third or fourth week, they were eagerly anticipating each night's offering. Once we finished a title, we started another book in the same genre in its place.

We did not eliminate our reading of picture books and novels. We simply read these after our special reading of the night.

​Range of living books

A Delectable Education divides living books into a number of categories:

      Knowledge of God:  Bible, Sunday reading

      Knowledge of Man:  history, geography, arts, music, literature, language arts

      Knowlege of the Universe:  nature study, natural history (science),  math, physical geography

and recommends that you choose a balanced diet of books both for reading aloud and for independent reading. Spreading a broad feast extends a child's horizons, providing lots of food for thought, enriching their imaginations, and contributing to the building of relationships.

​Our experience

As a family, we read widely in faith, literature, and history, but not so much in the other areas. In the future we are planning to write about how to broaden the table you set, in case you need inspiration for exploring different genres. Hopefully your feast will be even more abundant than ours was!

Share your experience

Have you broadened the scope of your reading in your family? If so, please let us know in a comment how you went about doing so, and what results you observed. We love hearing from you!

Growing Up in a Read-Aloud Family

by Rebecca Ripperton
March 18, 2019

Ever since we’ve started this blog, I’ve had a flood of memories come back to me about our experiences of reading aloud as a family. And although I have always appreciated the value my mom placed on literature, it’s taken me a long time to realize that it was our ritual of reading aloud in particular that both shaped our family dynamic and my own love for books. Accordingly, today’s post is a glimpse into what it was like growing up in a read-aloud family.

A nightly tradition and family unity

For as far back in my childhood as I can remember, we ended each evening by reading aloud as a family. Usually my mom read aloud to us, but sometimes my brother and I also took turns reading. We began by reading simple picture books, then chapter books like the Twins series and the Little Britches books. Along with these books, we also read some more modern titles. Eventually we worked our way up to authors such as Melville, Dickens, and Scott and later on, Wendell Berry.

Reading aloud was an activity that brought us together at the end of each day, and gave us a sense of unity as a family. Because we were all invested in the books we were reading, we all looked forward to this nightly tradition and the time we were able to spend together then. 

My older brother and I could not have been more dissimilar while we were growing up, but reading aloud gave us a shared interest and goal. It served as a way for us to do something together without bickering or becoming annoyed at one other. It also gave us things to talk about, and helped us develop more sympathy for each other.

Healing through the ritual of reading-aloud

In retrospect, I think reading aloud was especially important for our family dynamic after my dad died. This ritual gave my mom a way to spend quality time with both of us together every single day and to check in on us in an indirect and subtle manner. So many aspects of our family life had been thrown off kilter after his death that the constancy and comfort of that one ritual was really critical for all of us, playing a valuable role in our healing process.

Independent reading vs. reading aloud

Of course, there were always plenty of good books available to us for independent reading, as well, which we did more or less as we pleased. My mom mostly took a “laissez faire” approach to independent reading since she wanted us to actually enjoy it. She figured that it would be best to let us come to reading in our own time (which we both did). But reading aloud was non-negotiable.

So all throughout our childhoods,  she read books of the very highest quality aloud to us, one chapter at a time. Many of the books that we read aloud together I went back to a year or so later and re-read by myself. But reading these books aloud together was an entirely different experience and one that was valuable in itself.

Processing difficult topics as a family

One powerful outcome of reading aloud together was that we processed difficult topics together. I particularly remember reading books like The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom and Mildred Taylor’s Logan series (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, etc.). These books address hard subjects, but ones that are important for children to be aware of and to talk about. We often discussed what we read afterward and would refer back to it in later conversations.

Simply sharing the experience of reading these hard chapters also brought us closer together. I don’t think I will ​ever forget about the revelation about being grateful for fleas in The Hiding Place, or the terror their family felt. I was also very, very glad to have my family there when reading about those experiences.

Part of the joy of reading is being able to share what you read with others, and spending time reading aloud as a family enabled us to do just that. Over the years we shed many tears of sorrow as well as tears of laughter together. We also read scores of outstanding books that enriched our hearts and our minds alike. Best of all, though, we were able to share these experiences as a family.

Share your experience

Do you have a favorite memory of your family reading aloud when you were growing up? Is reading aloud something you do with your children now? Please let us know in a comment below — we love hearing from our readers!

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