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Monday, March 18, 2019

Reading Slowly

slow meditaion
It seems counter-intuitive to stop a book or a lesson while the child is still enjoying it, but there are reasons.  Here's one, gleaned from a story by Ina Hervey:
“The hour devoted to this exercise flew by so rapidly, that the children could scarcely realize that it was time to go home, and coaxed to stay longer ; but their teacher was too wise to exhaust their enthusiasm by granting their request. Even their recess was partially occupied by lively discussions on the relative beauty of their discoveries.”
We don’t want to ‘exhaust their enthusiasm.’  We want them coming again to the next lesson with their appetites and interest still seasoned by the sauce of curiosity.  Don’t glut their appetite for learning more.

It's hard to put a book down when a student is  loving it. It's hard for most of us, as parents, to even begin to think of that as a  sensible procedure.  But it really, really does make a difference when children have time  to reflect on small portions of what they have read in their schoolbooks.

In fact, I  would go so far as to say that they get even MORE out of it when they  _are_ loving the book and have to put it aside. They are so eager  to know what comes next that they can't _help_ but think about that  story all day and night until they get to read more. They are  wondering, wondering "what happens next?" What if... will this  happen, or will that? They are reviewing events in their minds up  to the point where you left off and trying all sorts of ways to  think about the story to figure out what happens next and why, and  wherefore, and what the possibilities are.  They will think of things they would have overlooked in reading  through it too quickly.

Even if they are giving great narrations,  there is more to the process we want to see than just retelling the story. It's also  important for learning that the children are sometimes reliving the  story, making sense of cause and effect, pondering the ramifications  of this or that event, thinking about what sort of people the  different characters are- and they really do this in greater depth  when they are enjoying the story and have to close the book.

That space between when you forced them to put the book down and when they are at last allowed to pick it up again- that space is an important space where deeper learning is taking place.

IN my own life I learned the benefits of this slower, more measured reading in a rather silly  way. I am a book glutton. I swallow books whole. Before I met CM  it was my policy not to pick up a book I couldn't finish in a single  sitting. I read fast,  neglect my house while I read,  and stay up too late reading, so this means I could read a book of  up to four hundred pages in an evening- but I couldn't do more than  that.

Another vice of mine is mysteries. I love mysteries, and I always  read them cover to cover. After reading Charlotte Mason I began  working on myself and  my bad habits (I have a long way to go) and I  learned to put a book down before I was finished.

I was amazed to discover that when I did this with mysteries, when I  came back to the book, I was figuring out 'who done it' with far  more regularity than when I read the book cover to cover. Without  even consciously thinking about it, I had given my brain the time it  needed to process what I had read, absorb details I overlooked, and reach accurate conclusions.

This is what we want for our children, and that is why (eventually) I did not let  mine read ahead in their schoolbooks- I did let them read pretty much  as much as they wanted and as fast as they wanted in other books, and  they had access to thousands of titles to choose from- but they really were not supposed to read ahead in their schoolbooks.  I discovered, once I implemented it, that this works, and it works really well.

I didn't begin this way.   Before we fully implemented Charlotte Mason principles, if I was reading a schoolbook to the children and it was time to stop, and they begged for more, I would keep reading. It was fine by me if we ripped through an entire book in a day instead of spreading it out over a few weeks.
Before I actually tried this, stopping while a child was still interested was anathema to me – I thought it a terrible, ridiculous thing to do, and it went against all my assumptions.
But like so many of Miss Mason’s ideas, when I actually tried putting it into practice, the results made me a believer. In fact, I even got extra ‘narrations’ as my children would come up to me sometimes during lunch or while we were at the park and suddenly say, “I just can’t believe that he’s dead!” and I, startled, would say, “who?” and then they proceed to tell me their concerns about where some story is going and what is going to happen and their indignation at the behaviour of some character.
They soaked in details while they were away from the book- they marinated their brains in the whys, hows, and what happens next.  One of them would come up to me for several days between readings to tell me, "Mama I've been thinking about why the King did what he did, and what's going to happen next, and I think... " and she would share some remarkable reasoning, pulling together tiny details to draw conclusions, often correctly, and always with more insight than she'd had when I let her gallop through her books. 
You’ve heard of the slow food movement, right? (Right?) Lindsay Waters wants to start another new movement of her own, a slow reading movement. Of course, Charlotte Mason got there earlier, and Charlotte herself was only explaining ground that had been covered by philosophers before her. She didn't just make it up brand new.   If you've read and enjoyed Charlotte Mason's writings, you will find much that strikes a resonant chord in the article linked above.
Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Waters’ essay, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, where he laments the trend toward valuing speed over careful, thoughtful reading: 
The Monty Python crew made fun of this imperative in its “All-England Summarize Proust Competition” for the best synopsis of Proust’s seven-volume Remembrance of Things Past in 15 seconds. The fun poked at attempts to speed-read the classics was as painful as Chaplin’s effort to survive industrialization. And it’s no joke: Imagine radiologists forced to read 13 mammograms per hour, without interrupting their reading to speak to the women whose scans they are analyzing. I know of at least one such case.
He says that what is done in the preschools and grade schools today will affect grad programs years from now (which should be obvious, but the obvious often isn’t). This has already happened in large degree, as we increasingly see college programs today dumbed down again to accommodate the products of the current high school programs, where reading and thinking is hardly valued at all. Much of this is, says Waters, “due to the willful embrace of methods for teaching reading that are inimical to reading in depth.”
It’s no wonder so many of us who are all grown up now and ought to know better are so quick to dismiss complex, rich, and meaty classics as ‘too hard:’
What happens when we have children speed up learning to read, skipping phonics and diagramming sentences? I believe it’s hard to read Milton if you have not learned to take pleasure in baroque sentence structures.
The problem with reading too quickly, says Waters, is that
“Unless one can digest the letters on the page fast enough, one cannot comprehend what one is reading. But once one learns how to read, there is a speed beyond which one stops reading in a truly effective way. I am convinced that most speed-reading is impaired reading, just like the sort you do when you have a fever or are tired or engaged in other tasks at the same time you are supposed to be reading. Unless you are very smart, speed-reading forces you to ignore all but one dimension of a literary work, the simplest information. What we lose is the enjoyment that made people turn to literature in the first place.”
But of course, what most of us want from reading is the single dimension, the simplest information- what happened, and who was involved. We read to find out ‘how it ends’ and we don’t much care how it happened along the way. We skip descriptive passages and quickly dash through or over any philosophizing.
When finding out ahead of time ‘how it ends’ spoils the book for you, then that’s a big clue that you would benefit from broadening your expectations from reading. We give lip service to the theory that learning is a life long process that doesn’t end when schooling ends, and indeed, we do continue to read (most of us, I assume). Unfortunately, we read more, but not deeper, not harder. Whatever our reading level was when we left school, that will be the same level most of us are reading at when we die. And when we largely stay at the same reading level for the rest of our lives as the one reached at 18, just how seriously do we believe that learning is a live long process? It doesn’t occur to us that we have an obligation to ourselves, our own minds, our children, and even our Creator, to continue to grow, and that a stagnant reading level (whatever it was, it doesn’t matter- stagnation is bad) is a sign that we haven’t attempted to continue to develop intellectually.
Behind the fads of the last 20 years, the shift in methods of teaching reading — at all levels — has rejected paying attention to everything literary in a piece of writing, from phonics to poetics, from sentence structures to all larger formal structures.
Charlotte Mason recommended slow reading over a period of time. She also recommended returning to the classics and rereading them:
Novels are our lesson books only so far as we give thoughtful, considerate reading to such novels as are also literature. The young person who reads three books a week from Mudie’s, or elsewhere, is not likely to find in any of them ‘example of life and instruction in manners.’ These things arrive to us after many readings of a book that is worth while; and the absurdity of saying, ‘I have read’ Jane Austen or the Waverley novels should be realised. We do not say ‘I have read’ Shakespeare, or even Browning or Tennyson; but to ‘have read’ any of the great novels is also a mark of ignorance.
Charlotte Mason’s Formation of Character, Vol 5 of her 6 volume series, pg 374. She read Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen over and over throughout her lifetime. This surprises a lot of people who understand that she recommended a single reading- and she did- for school purposes. She wanted students to develop their attention and focus so that they didn’t get lazy with reading their school books- so that they read carefully the first time, instead of speedily breezing through, sure that they could review whatever they missed.  So it isn't an either/or issue with Charlotte Mason's approach.  Slower readings for schoolbooks read the first time can be followed by faster, repeat reading.  
I am a bit saddened when I see parents pushing back on the slow reading, because I have learned how valuable it is.  As Lindsay Waters says:
…slowing down can produce a deeply profound quiet that can overwhelm your soul, and in that quiet you can lose yourself in thought for an immeasurable moment of time.
The issue is more than just savoring literary experience. I am suggesting that there is more than meets the eye in reading, literally. If we attend to the time of reading, we might notice that our relationship to a literary work changes over time. One consequence is that we begin to be charitable to “bad” readers, whether they are our students, our acquaintances, or our former selves. Most important, though, we learn to drop the idea that we can neatly distinguish good from bad reading because we realize that, at some time in the past, we were not up to reading a particular work. Or perhaps we see that while we missed a great deal, we did respond strongly to parts of the work. It begins to make sense, then, to track our career with a certain work, in order to open it up as literature.
 It's not just for the children.  This year, why not try to read something just a little harder than you’ve allowed yourself to read beofre? Take your time. Read slowly, carefully, and steadily. If the books you read are no harder or more complicated than when you are 18 (unless you are 18), then it’s about time.


$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.  
 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

Picture Study!  Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00

Common Kitchen:  What's for lunch?  Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families?  What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing?  How can I accomplish all those things at once?  We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income.  I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world.  These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids.  Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

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