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    Books & Reading, Mother's Education

    Mothers’ Education Course: Summer 2024

    June 26, 2024 by Brandy Vencel

    As many of you know, I put out two summer reading lists per year. These are simply to serve as inspiration. (Surely I’m not the only one who is inspired by other people’s book lists!) This is 2024’s second post. You can see my first post by clicking here. Of the two lists, this one is meant for the more serious reader. I often caution moms who have newborns or are otherwise sleep-deprived. The other list — the Mother Culture list — is much more appropriate for that stage of life. But for those of you ready for a challenge, allow me to introduce (or re-introduce) you to a plan of reading inspired by Charlotte Mason’s approach to training mothers.

    Charlotte Mason’s Mothers’ Education Course assigned books in four subject areas:

    1. Divinity
    2. Physiology and health (with an emphasis on caring for children)
    3. Mental and moral science and education
    4. Nature lore and the elements of science

    Doing the full course (or some sort of equivalent) would be a lot. Most of us don’t have time for (or don’t want to make time for) such an endeavor. If, however, you want to read books from this list in a truly MEC way, you need to buckle up, buy a giant stack of books, and read about 25 pages in each subject area per week. Even then, the plan will take you longer than a summer. I highly recommend keeping a commonplace and/or reading notebook, as well as narrating to yourself.

    My personal opinion is that we can be inspired by her approach and use it as a way to structure our personal reading, which will in turn make us much better educated (and more equipped for the task of teaching) without using the intense schedule of the original course. I basically fuse the Mother Culture habits I have already built with Charlotte Mason’s MEC categories and call it Good Enough for Me.

    In this post, I’ll offer some book ideas for each of the above categories. This isn’t an assignment — it’s supposed to be fun and inspiring. If you have a book you’re reading right now in one of these categories, I’d love it if you shared the title in the comments. I’m always up for ideas for future reading!

    As usual, these titles are pulled from my personal reading lists. I have either already read these books, or plan to read them in the near future. (I never recommend books I wouldn’t spend money on myself.) Sometimes, I include an out-of-print book that is extremely overpriced. I am not recommending you spend hundreds of dollars on a single book. Rather, I want to recommend to you the best books so that you can watch for them and snap them up when you see them available inexpensively.

    So let’s get to the fun part: the list!

    Divinity

    Today, we use the word theology. Theology and divinity mean basically the same thing. Charlotte Mason’s divinity assignments attempted to answer basic questions about biblical history and theology, as well as questions about passing on the faith to our children. I try to choose books that do the same — understand, though, that the “basic” questions I’m thinking of aren’t the basic questions from Charlotte Mason’s day. Rather, the basic questions of our time are what I’m interested in exploring.

    On Classical Trinitarianism: Retrieving the Nicene Doctrine of the Triune God, edited by Matthew Barrett

    Please don’t find it frustrating that this book isn’t going to be released until October and boasts a hefty price tag. I am just so excited about Matthew Barrett bringing together scholars from all branches of Christianity in order to help restore the doctrine of the Trinity to its proper place. I said I wanted to focus on the issues of our day — misunderstanding the Trinity is one of those big issues!

    Five Lies of Our Anti-Christian Age by Rosaria Butterfield

    Even though I knew I likely wouldn’t have time to read this book until 2025, I bought it immediately. Rosaria Butterfield did quite the podcast tour earlier this year when she was promoting this book and every episode I listened to with her was so good. I knew I needed to read this. I’ve only flipped through it a bit. I can already tell you it is good!

    The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis

    Being concerned with the issues of our day includes reading old classic books. After all, one of the hallmarks of our age is how completely out of touch we are with the past! This is a book I require all my children to read before they graduate high school. It’s a slender volume this is worth reading slowly thoughtfully.

    Crisis of Confidence: Reclaiming the Historic Faith in a Culture Consumed with Individualism and Identity by Carl Trueman

    Have I read this yet? No. Do I make it a point to buy every book Carl Trueman writes?? Yes I do. I feel like the title speaks for itself. Culturally speaking, we are a long way from home. There is a work of recovery for all of us. Books like this will help.

    Physiology and Health

    If you want the basic books for this category — the ones I would actually recommend you to start with if you don’t read much in this subject area — make sure you check out my past MEC posts. The focus of this category is supposed to be the care of children, including nursing them when they are sick. These books are, yes, intended to help you take better care of the health of your family, but they build on prior knowledge covered in previous lists. You’ll have to go back a few years for books dealing with nursing children through illness.

    Good Fat is Good for Girls: Puberty and Adolescence by Dr. Elizabeth Bright

    If you are raising girls, you should read this book. If you do not have daughters you may still wish to read it because the history she gives concerning the influence of the Seventh Day Adventist cult upon the nutritional advice of our day (often given by both allopathic as well as alternative practitioners!) will likely be a bit shocking, but it’ll help you make sense out of the anti-animal products propaganda that is so prevalent. Dr. Bright is not a Christian, and her book could use a good editor, but it’s still very much worth reading.

    Good Fat is Good for Women: Menopause by Dr. Elizabeth Bright

    I usually avoid recommending two books by the same author in a single year, but I really feel these two books complement each other so nicely and it is in reading them both together that I got a good picture of what it would look like to balance hormones using food rather that supplements or medication. Highly recommended.

    Forever Strong: A New, Science-Based Strategy for Aging Well by Dr. Gabrielle Lyon

    Even though Dr. Lyon focuses a lot on the science of aging and prevention of age-related disease conditions, my teen daughters have really enjoyed her thoughts, especially on the importance of not skimping on protein. The principles in this book can be considered in regard to children and not just adults, plus the science behind what she says is super interesting.

    The Postnatal Depletion Cure: A Complete Guide to Rebuilding Your Health and Reclaiming Your Energy by Dr. Oscar Serralach

    I’ve gotten to where I give this gift to new moms because I really believe it’s easier to be a mom if you feel better, but it’s hard to think straight about things right after you give birth.

    Mental and Moral Science and Education

    Charlotte Mason’s goal for this category was to reveal the principles of education and encourage methods based on these principles. Charlotte Mason, of course, assigned parts of her own books here. But I know you already know about those. The question is what else she would assign. Often, her focus was on the best of educational thought throughout history. The number of pages she devoted to the history of classical education was astounding! Other books covered neurological development (my guess is they discussed the impact of habit on neural tissue). There was basic psychology. There were books on teaching and books on educational philosophy; books on ethics and books on character development. 

    Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up by Abigail Shrier

    I put this book on both of my summer lists this year. It’s so good so far! I would put this in the category of books on development and … how to ruin it. I have already spent quite a bit of time thinking about how many Christians use the language of psychology rather than the language of the Bible. This is not a Christian book, but it shows another side of why adopting that language might mean adopting a therapeutic view, and why that might be a bad thing.

    The Improvement of the Mind by Isaac Watts

    This one is also on both of my summer lists. I started this book in early June and it is teeming with advice on self-education. It definitely presents an educational philosophy that is doable but requires a lot of self-discipline. I love old books like this (it was written in the mid-1700s) because it gets us out of our time and place and helps us see what I suspect are universal laws of education.

    Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason

    We have been reading this volume inside Charlotte Mason Think Tank this year and it’s just so good. I had forgotten how many gems it included! Reading it in small bites gives us so much to think about. This book isn’t like her others. You aren’t going to find a lot of formal teaching of philosophy. Instead, she’s going to tell you through stories and narrations of books she loves. You really need to know her philosophy before reading this volume, true, but it’s unfortunately that many people never get to it. It has been especially valuable in thinking through the teen years, launching kids, and having grown children living at home.

    The Liberating Arts: Why We Need Liberal Arts Education, edited by Jeffrey Bilbra, Jessica Wilson, and David Henreckson

    This book is a good one for your purse. It’s a collection of short essays, which means if you put it down and don’t pick it up for three weeks, it won’t matter much — you can just read the next essay. I can’t vouch for every essay being worth your time, but these short bites will leave you with thoughts on education that you can chew on as you finish going about your day.

    Nature Lore and Elements of Science

    Charlotte Mason wanted moms to be able to talk intelligently with their children when they were on a nature walk. She didn’t have to be the font of all knowledge, but the MEC was designed to take a mother beyond the ask-Google approach to science questions (which has generally been my own approach). The children were, ideally, to get their first ideas about nature and science from Mother. You can read about flowers and rocks or (in my case) you can read about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It depends on what your children are like and what they harass you about, I suppose. I often include books I’m prereading for my children’s nature and science school books in this category.

    For the Love of Physics by Walter Lewin

    I’m pretty sure I first found this books when I was browsing the living science options offered by Sabbath Mood Homeschool. I’ve never actually assigned it to my children, but I find a lot of the books recommended for CM curricula are also good for me. I also have grown children who still like to search my shelves and pick up books on physics (among other things), so this one needed to be added to my library!

    The World of Biology: From Mushrooms to Complex Life Forms by John Hudson Tiner

    My oldest read a lot of Tiner’s books for fun when he was growing up, but I never had time to pick them up myself. I’m trying to change that now that I have a lot less pre-reading to do. If I am not careful, my reading starts to focus on my favorite subjects rather than keeping the breadth that is so much more ideal.

    A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf by John Muir

    This is a book that was added to AO after I’d already purchased all my books for high school. I didn’t really need this book, but I have trouble resisting books by Muir. I find him so interesting and so compelling and he does important work on my heart, encouraging me to be more observant and more appreciative of what’s around me.

    The Life of the Grasshopper by Jean-Henri Fabre

    Not to brag, but my copy of this book is a hardback over a century old. I didn’t buy it for me; I bought it for my insect-obsessed daughter. I started collecting old beautiful copies of Fabre’s insect books when I realized I had a fan in my house. It’s really the content of the book that makes them worth owning, which means this inexpensive paperback I linked will do the job. There is nothing like reading Fabre on insects to make you realize you hardly look at the world at all, and there is so much you are missing!

    Want more book ideas? Try my past MEC lists!

    Need some habit trackers to help you discipline your reading time? Try these!

    Books & Reading, Mother's Education

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