He didn’t have integrity in how he used his time,” my son added.
Like all Charlotte Mason mothers worth their salt, I’d been listening to an oral narration … while simultaneously making dinner and, ahem, only sort of paying attention. But I was struck by his phrasing and his mature assessment of the historical figure in question.
“What do you mean, he didn’t have integrity in how he used his time?”
“Well, like the book said, he was cribbing time from the things he should have been doing by doing other things instead. But I’m not sure what ‘cribbing’ means?”
“That’s an interesting phrase. Where did you read it?”
“It’s in the Ourselves reading this week, remember?”
“Oh, right!” Confession time: this mama had not read the weekly Ourselves reading yet! Oops.
My son and I had a lovely conversation about cribbing time (Ourselves Book One, p. 174) that also included history, literature, and computer coding while I finished getting dinner ready.
Should We Read Ourselves?
Those who know me know that I struggle to follow someone else’s plan. Reading plans, menu plans, cleaning plans…. I will nearly always tweak it, even when Charlotte Mason herself includes it in “the plan.” As my children neared Year 7, I knew Ourselves appeared on the list. But should we read it? Isn’t it a bit, um, dated? Will my kids understand the Victorian language? Perhaps a modern character study or devotional work would be better?
I hadn’t come up with anything better, so when my daughter landed at year 7, I dutifully assigned her a portion for the week and waited for glowing narrations. That lasted approximately 3 weeks. Ourselves just got lost in the shuffle. I gave up.
The following summer, I participated in an Ourselves (Book One) read-along via Instagram, of all places. I fell in love with the book and resolved to try again. The next school year, my sons (only a year behind their sister) hit year 7. I assigned all three the same pages in Ourselves, envisioning the rich conversations we would soon have. And, we promptly fizzled in October.
In a flash of desperation, I invented the “Snickers Block.” I filled a bowl with cheap Halloween candy and announced that we would gather for Snickers Block at 2 p.m. on Friday afternoons. Candy would be awarded to those ready for discussion (a commonplace quotation to share and the Ourselves reading done). More than a year later, we’re finishing book one of Ourselves, and we no longer need the candy reward.
Now, we discuss Ourselves on Friday mornings at breakfast. Everyone is required to note something in the reading: they each have their own copies of this book, and they can underline (!) or highlight (!) or engage in marginalia (!). My teens share nearly every school book, so having one of their own makes this book even more special.*
Our Discussion Process
Our discussion process is very simple: I start with the first page of the assigned weekly reading and ask, “Does anyone have anything noted on this page?” Rarely is a page blank for each of us. It’s far more likely that several of us have the same portion underlined or noted, in which case we take turns reading it. Then I ask the person who first noted the portion, “what did you like about this?” or “why did you underline that?” or something along those lines. Other people chip in with their thoughts as appropriate.
Our total discussion might only last 10 minutes, but the concepts in this book creep in all week into other conversations. It’s become one of the best parts of our school week.
We’ll finish book one in February. I hesitated only slightly before deciding to march right on to book two. It doesn’t matter that it’s not at the beginning of a term or a school year. We want to continue!
Reading Ourselves “book-club-style” like we do won’t work for every student or every family. However, Ourselves is definitely a book that benefits from discussion. You might consider trying a book-club-style approach with your two or three oldest, if you have multiple children all spread out (even if that means making your oldest wait a year or two before starting). Or, perhaps you and one child could try this approach together, meeting for breakfast one morning before everyone else is awake (or simply taking a walk together one night a week and discussing the book.) The book and its ideas provide the value, not someone else’s proposed schedule. For the curious: I assign anywhere from 2-4 pages a week, depending on the topic and how the pages are broken up. If you’ve seen Ourselves, you’ll know that there are frequent sub-headings through the chapters. Those make convenient stopping points. This is a dense book, and a couple of pages will yield plenty of material to discuss and ruminate on.
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