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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Reading Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves with Many Teens

    February 15, 2021 by Betsy Farquhar

    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. 

    Snickers Block

    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.*

    *I let them pick their preferred covers; my boys chose the castle cover and my daughter chose the leaves. I have the old pink version, but thankfully, the page numbers are the same!

    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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  • Reply Ashley September 14, 2022 at 1:36 pm

    I know this is an older post, but do you know what Instagram you followed that did the study of Ourselves? I’m wondering if the videos are still available there…

  • Reply Jennifer Henderson February 18, 2021 at 11:00 am

    This was helpful. I regret skipping this book with my oldest two children, now adults, but have younger kiddos who might benefit from this approach. How old were yours when you began to have success with this?

    • Reply Betsy February 18, 2021 at 11:35 am

      My boys had just turned 13 (my daughter was older). That seemed like a good age!

  • Reply Min February 17, 2021 at 4:47 am

    Thank you for the idea, Betsy! My older two are reading Ourselves right now, as well as some of the moms in my local CM group, many of whom are ESL. I’ve been reading aloud to my CM Mamas for a few years now, but with their encouragement, I’ve finally begun to record them on a new podcast so they’ll be convenient, free, and easily accessible to all. And I’ve begun with Ourselves Book 1. 🙂 With hopes it will be helpful to our teens, or to busy moms who’d like to listen while going about the day, the podcast is simply entitled “Charlotte Mason’s Volumes.” (I’ll record volume 5 next, then 6, before circling back to volumes 1, 2, and 3. So eventually, the hope is that all of the volumes will be easily accessible on this podcast.) I do hope this blesses families!

  • Reply Jennifer February 16, 2021 at 9:25 am

    Love this idea, thanks!

  • Reply Nermarí February 16, 2021 at 7:25 am

    I was just thinking this morning how to create more conversation with Ourselves and my oldest and I love this idea. I also thought of assigning my husband the reading so he could join the conversation as well. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    • Reply Betsy February 18, 2021 at 11:35 am

      You’re welcome 😁

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