In the beginning of my Charlotte Mason journey, I was not a pre-reader. I did not pre-read for my AmblesideOnline Year 1 student last year. But a dear friend really encouraged me to change that and pre-read this year. She enthusiastically tried to convince me that pre-reading would be enriching for me — not just a benefit to my student.
I knew what she was saying was valid, but didn’t she know that …
… I was already stretched for time?
… no matter how many times I made myself a cup of tea during the day, I was too busy to drink it — and I often tipped it out cold because I only ever took one sip, if that?
… whenever I did read a book, no matter how interesting, I always fell asleep, or at least felt like I was going cross-eyed?
… if I did actually finish a page without falling asleep, I had no idea what I’d read because I’m just. that. tired?
… it was just plain easier for her! (After all she only had two children and I had five?)
… there are some things that are unreasonable to ask of someone feeling like they’re juggling so much already?
Last year went well without any pre-reading … except for the time I got caught reading out loud to my very tender-hearted and timid six-year-old about a guy who was chopped into four and pinned to a wall in Forty Thieves (The Blue Fairy Book) — and let’s not even get into how that story ended! Oh, and that other time when I read aloud about Queen Boadicea and her two daughters committing suicide by poison (An Island Story).
There are more times that I was caught off-guard than I’d like to admit, but let’s just pretend those never happened!
A new year always comes with new goals and the desire to do things better. Better sometimes means different or may simply mean with a minor tweaking.
This year for Year 2, I decided I was going to take my dear friend’s advice and pre-read. I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work out, or even how I was going to manage it. After all, I work four evenings a week (albeit from the luxury of my own home) and on my other three evenings, well, I wouldn’t necessarily call those free time. Plus this year, I was adding in a new Year 1 student.
But surprise, guess what? I still only had to pre-read for Year 2 because Year 1 had already been “pre-read” when I read out loud to my Year 1 student last year. I could certainly take a glance at a chapter to refresh my memory, but wouldn’t need to pre-read it, and I knew now to consider skipping Forty Thieves altogether.
My first time teaching Year 1, I sat down at my computer on Sunday evenings to complete my student’s school schedule for the week. It’s essentially the same as what Brandy uses here in excel. After a few weeks, it doesn’t take too long at all. I print it out, and put it on my student’s clipboard ready for the week. Now that I planned to pre-read, I wanted to choose a time that would be effortless to keep. I decided Sunday evenings would work best. To get myself started, I use this format from AmblesideOnline on my notice board near the bookcase, which is in the family area. On Sunday evenings I look at the table, I pull the books that I am pre-reading for that week, and sit down at my desk with said books plus my schedule open in excel.
I used to think I had to pre-read everything — it was an “all or nothing” task. But now I think that it really depends on what a person can cope with. I began by committing to pre-reading two books. After a few weeks, I chose to, out of pure desire, pre-read everything, especially when I realized it hardly took any time at all. At the most, I would say it takes me 2 hours to pre-read and work on school schedules for the week. But, does it even have to be pre-read all at the same time? It seems possible to pre-read one book each evening, or one book before we get on Facebook, or one book before we go to bed each night?
With one of the Year 2 assigned books, The Little Duke, I chose to listen to a Librivox recording because of the French pronunciation. At first, I pre-read it, and then listened alongside my daughter to the recording. But as the weeks have progressed, it has been easier to have my Year 2 student listen independently for 5-7 minutes each time, while I am with my Year 1 student. So now for this book, I pre-listen. After all, I don’t want to miss out on hearing the story, now that I’ve been lured in. So I ask myself: could we busy mamas find more books on Librivox and listen while we prepare dinner, or exercise, or some other time? [Edited to add: After four more students I have not again had a student read The Little Duke on their own. It seems at the time of publication I didn’t realize that my first student was a very strong and independent reader, more so than the next four students. It is not a book I would choose to hand off but this is one of the very few books I would keep as a read aloud for me with my student.]
Charlotte Mason tells us that when we are reading to our children, we mustn’t interrupt a reading with definitions or explanations. This is something I hoped would not impact my daughter last year. In some ways, I feel it robbed her that I didn’t have definitions set aside before we read, but she is a very advanced independent reader and she did just fine. She rarely interrupted.
This year, however, I have noticed it is imperative for my new Year 1 student to be given definitions of new words before we begin a reading, otherwise she does stop to ask. By taking a couple of moments to glance over a chapter of a Year 1 book, I can cover many unfamiliar words, and that is all I really need to do in pre-reading for her. I write in pencil at the beginning of the chapter a word and its meaning. Almost effortless!
Method of Lesson. — In every case the reading should be consecutive from a well-chosen book. Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children may be animated by expectation; but she should beware of explanation and, especially, of forestalling the narrative. Then, she may read two or three pages, enough to include an episode; after that, let her call upon the children to narrate, — in turns, if there be several of them. They not only narrate with spirit and accuracy, but succeed in catching the style of their author. It is not wise to tease them with corrections; they may begin with an endless chain of ‘ands,’ but they soon leave this off, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to be put in a ‘print book’!
This sort of narration lesson should not occupy more than a quarter of an hour.
The book should always be deeply interesting, and when the narration is over, there should be a little talk in which moral points are brought out, pictures shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard. As soon as children are able to read with ease and fluency, they read their own lesson, either aloud or silently, with a view to narration; but where it is necessary to make omissions, as in the Old Testament narratives and Plutarch’s Lives, for example, it is better that the teacher should always read the lesson which is to be narrated.
How can we engage with our children and talk about what was read last time and facilitate “a little talk in which moral points are brought out” if we do not pre-read and do not know what our children are reading?
Might I nudge you to do some pre-reading, as my friend Christa did for me? Perhaps take at least one book and pre-read it for your oldest student? If you’ve never pre-read, and you have multiple students, you could consider taking one book each week for each of your students. The interaction and dialogue I have with my daughters because I know what they’re reading is so enriching — not to mention I am able to ascertain how well they’re narrating (after all, these are formative years). The dialogue I am able to have is a gift that nurtures our teacher/student relationship as well as mother/daughter. It’s delightful to playfully tease my students when we start our week and say something like, “Oh, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts after you’ve read The Little Duke this week!”
To quote Susan Schaeffer Macauley (on another topic, but it applies to this as well, I think) in For the Children’s Sake:
Where to start? How? Parents need to evaluate their priorities. They need to consider why they respond, “we wouldn’t have time to read a book together every day. We don’t have time to hike/camp/paint/talk with our children.” What is really important? [snip] There has never been a generation where children have so desperately needed their parents’ time, thoughtful creativity, and friendship.
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.