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 Education, or 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)
“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.
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!