Paying Attention to Beauty and Truth

Paying Attention

After our book club read For the Children’s Sake, we visited RiverTree School, the only school in our area that’s based on Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy.  One of the most striking things about that visit was seeing students of all ages pay attention to what they read.

It sounds like a simple thing, but let me assure you that what we observed was anything but ordinary: the children were able to retell what they had read (or what their teacher had read to them) in remarkable detail.  One of Charlotte Mason’s highest priorities for students was that they would learn certain good habits – the habit of attention being one of them.  She thought, rightly, that in order to be educated one must learn the discipline of concentration.  She wanted all children to develop the ability to focus on the task or content at hand for an age-appropriate length of time.

What does this have to do with theological children’s literature?  Seeing the RiverTree students focus so intently on books make me realize that if you’re going to teach your children to pay close attention to what they read, you’d better be prepared to give them reading material that’s worthy of their concentration!

For instance, how would it affect your book-buying habits if you knew that your child would memorize and take to heart every single thing that she read?  Would you have more conversations with them about what they read?  If I knew my child would forget everything she read as soon as she put down a book, I might not be very concerned about her reading material.  Wanting her to learn how to pay attention to what she reads, though, makes me very mindful of the kinds of books (especially theological books) I put on our bookshelves.

Charlotte Mason’s vision of raising children who pay attention to books and take notice of truth and beauty certainly has implications for our book buying.  If we want to help cultivate the habit of attentiveness in our house, we would do well to limit the twaddle (to use a C.M. phrase) and seek out the books that display literary and artistic excellence.  I’m so grateful that there are many such books out there just waiting to be shared with our little ones!

10 thoughts on “Paying Attention to Beauty and Truth

  1. Amen and amen! I was struck by just that this week, when after checking out an audio version of Dr Seuss from the library, my daughter proceeded to “read” the *entire* text of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back out loud to me. She had memorized the entire thing.

    And in fact, she’s memorized most of our favorite books. They play an active role in our conversation, our imagining (this morning, she built a tower of pillows on my bed and announced that she was Yertle the Turtle), and even in our discipline and teaching.

    I’ve always been a bit hyper about the books that I allow to come home (sometimes to the dismay of our family), and now I am *so thankful*. Her imagination has been furnished by the very best. The world she lives in is as much populated by the characters in her favorite books as it is by other people. So if I care about who she spends her time with, of course that extends to what she reads!

    • I love this: “The world she lives in is as much populated by the characters in her favorite books as it is by other people.” Hooray for living books!

  2. Addendum: lest that last paragraph sound totally self-congratulatory. When I say her imagination has been furnished by the very best, I just mean that we’ve tried really hard to make the very best books we can find have a place of prominence in our family life. And happily, there are lots and lots of those books.

  3. After reading “For the Children’s Sake” when our kids weren’t even speaking yet we began weeding out hand-me-down twaddle texts and keeping them out of our house. We asked then and now very similiar questions as yours of the intention, quality of the books we own, loan, and listen to on CD. Also, my children have always asked questions as we read for definitions of words, objects, adjectives, they don’t know. I’ve intentionally tried not to stiffen at the interruption of the narrative and pause to explain, look for our dictionary, etc. until whatever question that has been asked is answered. This has built a wonderful pattern of seeking understanding, paying attention that until reading this post I hadn’t connected to a CM way of teaching. Maybe it is.

    • Shelley, thanks for your comment! I definitely think that children asking questions is a sign that they’re truly paying attention. You’re so right that it’s hard as parents to be flexible enough to stop reading and listen to their “interruptions,” but when we do it sends a strong message that we value their concentration!

  4. Really great post, clearly put. I’m so aware of what my son’s are reading and love the fact that, as homeschoolers, I have control of it. I’m so aware of the fact that my son internalises so much of what he reads, especially audio books which are a wonderful tool for expanding vocabulary.

    • So true! In so many ways our books shape our vocabulary, not just in terms of actual words and phrases, but also in how we use language and converse with others.

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