I created the table which follows based on notes that I’ve actually been taking and keeping for a number of years now. My interest in when books are scheduled in different Charlotte Mason curricula and their specific scopes and sequences is based largely on a fundamental principle of mine. To me, it really does matter when a child is introduced to a book, especially with regard to curricula which purport to be built largely on the idea that a wide variety of living books is essential to said child’s education. These curricula are also built on the idea that these books have been specially chosen to offer the very best that a book can offer: a true example of literary art, one which captures a child’s interest or imagination, exposes him to new words and figurative language and which offers interesting characters, historical figures or events, compelling themes and thought-provoking ideas. If all of this is to be the foundation of a child’s education, then shouldn’t we consider not only what books are read but also when they are read?
One of the founding principles for this curriculum, A Mind in the Light, is this very idea. The books that were chosen and where they have been placed is structured carefully, with an eye towards not when they best fit the historical cycle being studied but with an eye towards when it would best fit the child developmentally. This curriculum was set up so that the child’s development rang true throughout it. While there is still attention to the rotation of historical time periods, the structure does not deter from staying true to scheduling a book when it is the right time for a child.
This is why the rotation of the historical time periods cycle differently from other curricula. Yes, it would be more convenient if this curriculum could be said to be a perfect 4-4-4 or 6-6 or even 6-3-3 (in term of years) rotation. This would make it easier for parents and teachers to connect this curriculum to other resources or make it easier to transition from one curriculum plan to another, or even just to make it more organizationally appealing.
But, I strongly believe that many of the curricula today, including Charlotte Mason curricula, sacrifice too much at the altar of staying true to an arbitrarily chosen historical time period structure. Choosing to present books based on the idea that it creates a “prettier” package when all of the books support one historical time period allows for books to be included and introduced at the wrong times and for the wrong reasons. If reading a book and gathering the essential body of that book, its words and its message, and then narrating it, meaning that child is claiming it as her own and connecting to it, is the core of a curriculum, then I think that I’d want to know that the books which are central to this purpose have been chosen carefully. I would want to know that the book list my child was relying on for an entire year of learning would be because they would offer my child the very best in terms of body of knowledge, message and literary beauty. I'd also want to know that the books presented would be developmentally appropriate, so that my child could take the very best of the book, deeply connecting with it.
I would not want to know that it was because the book had the medieval time period as its setting, matching the medieval time period that we were studying, or that it had little or even less to offer than another book which did not have the same setting. I would also not want to know that a book was included prematurely or developmentally too soon simply because it fit the time period for which it was cast. If I were given the choice between two books: one which had an interesting story and matched the historical time period we were studying or another book which had timeless characters, intriguing ideas, poignant events and storylines, but that did not match the historical time period we were studying, then I’d certainly choose the latter book. Especially given the main premise of how my child’s entire education was based on taking the body of a book and integrating it into their mind.
This is how I’ve approached this curriculum. I would never claim to have all of the answers and I’m aware that I what I deem valuable may not match what another holds valuable, but I am so attuned to this principle. It guides me throughout out all of my decisions, especially as I am currently writing guides to support this very book list.
I created the following table based on these thoughts and ideas. I mean no disrespect to other Charlotte Mason curricula available today. If you have used one or more of the ones I’ve included in this table and they have been a good fit for your family, then I am sincerely happy for you. More than anything else, I do believe that we must do what we think is best for our own families.
Table 1: Comparing Book Sequences-with notes to follow
Table 2: Forms, Levels, Years and Grades-arranges Charlotte Mason forms and years to grade equivalents.
Notes About Table 1: Comparing Book Sequences
In particular I wanted to draw your attention to a few points.
A Mind in the Light consistently aligns its books more often with the original PNEU programs as used during and after Charlotte Mason’s time.
AmblesideOnline often places its books too soon in front of the child. This will lead to a sense of frustration and confusion on both the child and parent’s part. It is also wholly more difficult to narrate a book improperly placed as well. This will undermine the entire premise of read and then narrate, which plays a significant role in any Charlotte Mason style education. I personally know of many families who left AO, because of this very reason.
Oliver Twist, in particular, is very inappropriately placed in Year Five. While this book by Charles Dickens includes a young boy as its main character, it still contains many adult themes and messages. It would be wiser to substitute another book by Dickens. A Mind in the Light uses A Christmas Carol in this year with the idea that the family can read it aloud together during the holiday season. You could also replace Dickens as an author for Year Five entirely and either add A Christmas Carol to Year 6 or 7 or wait until Year Eight and read David Copperfield instead. Charlotte Mason’s PNEU programs did not include Oliver Twist (at least not in any of the ones that I studied) and certainly did not use it in Year Five. This book is used in AO simply because Dickens is a classic author who fits the time period being studied. His books are examples of living books, but they should be presented when they are developmentally appropriate. Typically, books by Dickens are used in the PNEU programs in Form III (Years 7-8) and up.
In The Parents’ Review, the article “Children’s Books” by Mrs. Sophie Bryant suggests many different types of books that might be included for a child’s bookshelf at home. After the suggested book list, which included A Christmas Carol, the author of the article adds this interesting comment: “Add a complete edition of Dickens, to be read in due course as the taste for more adult ideas shows itself” (Bryant). Notice that she specifically addresses the books written by Dickens as ones to be read in due course or when developmentally appropriate.
You can find the complete and republished article and a blog post with my additional thoughts here: Thoughts on “Children’s Books”.