How do we make ourselves better teachers? Better mothers? Better persons? Once upon a time, Charlotte Mason had a course that did just that! The Mothers’ Education Course (MEC) was a three-year (and later a two-year) program Charlotte Mason put together to educate moms who were educating their children. (If you want a more detailed history of the program, read this.)
The program assigned books in four subject areas:
- Physiology and health (with an emphasis on caring for children)
- Mental and moral science and education
- 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 that amount of 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 be offering some book idea 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 at a reasonable price.
So let’s get to the fun part: the list!
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.
The Logic of the Body: Retrieving Theological Psychology by Matthew LaPine
Sigh. My husband gave me this book over a year ago and I keep wanting to start it and other more pressing things keep getting in the way. This is a big goal for the year, though. I am so interested in this topic!
Christian Marriage: A Comprehensive Introduction by David Ayers
This book is great not just to read, but to have on hand as a reference. One of my sons was recently asking me a ton a questions on divorce and remarriage and what is and is not permissible (biblically speaking) and I grabbed this book and read him about a third of the chapter on remarriage. It was so helpful and sparked great conversations!
Principles of War: A Handbook on Strategic Evangelism by Jim Wilson
Mystie was kind enough to send me a copy of this book, and I plan to read it this summer. Books in this category can be quite one, but this one is tiny. I’ve been told it packs a mighty punch, though!
Just Thinking: About the State by Darrell Harrison and Virgil Walker
I’m a huge fan of the Just Thinking Podcast featuring Darrell Harrison and Virgil Walker, so I have high expectations for this book (which I haven’t read yet). These men are so thorough and deliberate in their examination of social issues; I look forward to reading their application of the Bible to issues of the state.
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. These books are, yes, intended to help you take better care of the health of your family, but they also build on prior knowledge that is covered in previous lists.
Putting It All Together: The New Orthomolecular Nutrition by Abram Hoffer, MD PhD and Morton Walker, PhD
What can I say? I love reading about the orthomolecular approach to health, even though I tend to disagree with their recommendations for diet. Abram Hoffer in particular is someone whose work I find it worth the time it takes to follow.
You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type by Daniel Amen, MD
Dr. Daniel Amen is another guy I follow, mainly because I couldn’t figure out why psychologists never looked at things like hormones and brain scans and I was thrilled to find that Dr. Amen actually does do this! There is overlap between this book and some of the others he’s put out there, but I found it the most useful because of how thorough are his descriptions of various supplements he recommends.
Balanced and Barefoot by Angela Hanscom
This book pairs well with Charlotte Mason’s lobbying for young children to spend many long hours outdoors and also her thoughts on what constitutes real play and what doesn’t (hint: if adults are directing it, it’s not real play). Highly highly recommended.
Niacin: The Real Story by Abram Hoffer, MD PhD; Andrew Saul, PhD; and Harold Foster, PhD
I know in the past I recommended the early version of this book but I can’t recommend this second edition enough! It is so good! I finished it a couple weeks ago and there is so much to think about. Niacin can be a huge part of healing, especially for people with mental problems.
Mental and Moral Science and Education
Charlotte Mason’s goal for this category was to show the principles of education, as well as 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!
Making School Beautiful: Restoring the Harmony of Place by John Skillen, PhD
I’m reading this book right now and it is excellent. I wanted to dip my toes in aesthetics this year, and this book does this in a wonderful way because it ties everything back to concepts that are more familiar, such as rhetoric. It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.
Redeeming the Six Arts: A Christian Approach to Chinese Classical Education by Brent Pinkall
I finished this book earlier this year and was amazed at the richness of the Chinese educational tradition. It also gave me much to think about regarding my own endeavors in giving an American classical education. I actually got a chance to talk with the author about his book. Click here to find our podcast episode with Brent Pinkall.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
I know this doesn’t seem like and education book, but please remember that Charlotte Mason spent a lot of time thinking about habits. This book has indirectly helped me a lot in the area of habit training with teenagers because it helped me understand a lot more about habit in general, and then gives a plan for how to commit to building habits. It gave me language to use with my children.
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
This is the summer book for my local book club. I can’t wait to read it! I’ve been told it dovetails nicely with some of Charlotte Mason’s principles.
Nature Lore and the Elements of Science
Mothers who know about nature and science can talk more naturally with their children as they walk along the way — no stopping for Google required. While I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying “I don’t know” and looking things up together, this part of the MEC curriculum was trying to offer moms an understanding of the world around them. In this category, you can read about flowers and rocks, or quantum physics. It depends on what your children are like and what they harass you about, I suppose.
Einstein’s Universe: Relativity Made Plain — the Amazing Achievement of Albert Einstein and What it Means Today by Nigel Calder
This one is on my To Be Read pile for the year. I’m really hoping I’m able to get to it; I’ve heard such good things. I find the theory of relativity fascinating and I’m always on the lookout for good books in this vein for regular people.
Magic Universe: A Grand Tour of Modern Science by Nigel Calder
Once I saw the great reviews on Calder’s Einstein book, I determined to see what else he had written and found this gem, which I plan to read, but haven’t yet. I look forward to what the description says is a “high-spirited tour through the halls of science.”
A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel
Um, I love Dava Sobel, but somehow I missed out on this book on Copernicus! I only discovered it recently, immediately adding it to my hopeful stack for 2023.
The Blood and Its Third Element by Antoine Bechamp
Last year, I recommended a book about Bechamp. This book is by him — it’s a collection of his actual lab notes! It gives great insight into the mind who was Louis Pasteur’s chief competitor, and also into the inner workings of the body.
Want more book ideas? Try my past MEC lists!
- Mothers’ Education Course 2022
- Mothers’ Education Course 2021
- Mothers’ Education Course 2020
- Mothers’ Education Course 2019
- Mothers’ Education Course 2018
- Mothers’ Education Course 2017
- Mothers’ Education Course 2016
- Mothers’ Education Course 2015
Need some habit trackers to help you discipline your reading time? Try these!
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Have you ever listened to Dr. Kevin Majeres’ podcast? It’s called The Golden Hour. His work in cognitive psychology/therapy is excellent and dovetails amazingly well with Mason’s thoughts on habit, thought-changing, and ideals/ideas. He is one of the first mental health professionals I’ve ever heard who includes the ideas of growing in virtue and challenging yourself, and showing how this helps you overcome mental health challenges like addiction, anxiety/panic, depression, etc. He references Aristotle and Aquinas regularly in the podcast, yet it could easily be given to a secular friend. Very inspiring and it feels like some of Mason’s advice amplified and with specific strategies to try. It seems like a good companion to the nutrition approach to mental health (which is also so important!!).
I have never even heard of Dr. Majeres, but he sounds fascinating! Thanks for the recommendation. I’m going to go download an episode now!
Thank you! I’m so excited to think through these categories to plan my reading! As far as currently reading, in Theology I’m just starting Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm and very excited to dig into these concepts. I’m also slowly continuing my way through Gentle and Lowly, and loving the heart of God for me on display. Physiology and Health, I’m starting back through a reread of Whole Body Barefoot, by Katy Bowman, partially for me, but also so I can organically pass these things down to my girls, and so I can give the science behind why we wear the shoes we wear. Have you read it, and would you recommend Balanced and Barefoot instead of rereading the practical guide to exercises that Katy Bowman has written, or in addition to?
For Mental and Moral Science and Education, I intend to jump into reading Volume one, and actually finish it this time. Also, I once upon a time started Atomic Habits, and I may need to pick that up again in this category.
For the category of Nature Lore and the Elements of Science, I’m not really sure. I need some easier ones, because a lot of my current reading list is too heavy. I think a book I just started about farming might count here, since we are starting a farm, and my girls tend to ask about the things they see. I am reading a book by Eliot Coleman, and another one called Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris, that is nice and light, historical and almost like a novel.
Thank you again for this list. I really appreciate the thought you put into sharing books with us.
I love your list, Taryn!
In the Nature/Science category — farming books are a wonderful idea! Also, I have occasionally snagged kids’ books from homeschool curriculum like AmblesideOnline and they’ve been wonderful. ♥
I’m reading You’re Only Human by Kapic right now; it’s mostly theology but focused on our human finitude. Very thought-provoking! Range is also on my list!
I think I need to put that Kapic book on my list!
You should totally read John Paul II ‘s Theology of the Body.
I read most of it a dozen years ago. You’re right. I really should revisit it. It was so good!