Pre-reading: How And Why I Do It

A literature-based curriculum sounds amazing to a bookworm like me, but a literature-based curriculum also means doing a lot of pre-reading. And does a mom of three really have that much free time? Surprisingly, yes.

Pre-reading: How & Why I Do It

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One of the things that drew me to Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online was the idea of using literature to teach everything. Ambleside Online has the appeal of a ready-to-follow curriculum, which I’ve tweaked to suit our family’s needs. (I’m using our own Bible and hymn study schedule, and have included South African history in place of some of the American history. We’ve started with Jock of the Bushveld – I have loved the story of Jock since I was a little girl, and I’m enjoying reading it again with Angie.)

Another drawcard was that I would get to learn right alongside my children – although we’re only six weeks in, halfway through our first term, I have a kind of “school envy” and wish that I had had this kind of education when I was growing up. Not that I didn’t like school – I did well academically and was involved in extramurals – it’s just that school didn’t really prepare me for real life. I got an A for English in matric, but entered university with no idea how to write an academic essay. Most of what I learned has been forgotten, because I only learned to pass tests, not out of any love for learning. And I’m such a bookworm (read: nerd) that I would have loved this kind of literature-based approach.

(The girls frequently ask why I went to public school and when I remind them that homeschooling was illegal here when I was a child, they sigh and tell me they’re so glad they get to homeschool and sleep late and learn interesting things like folk songs and nature study.)

At first glance, the Ambleside Online curriculum looks overwhelming. But I found this post at Snowfall Academy helpful in understanding the schedule and how to structure our school week. It’s actually really simple to implement. We only do a chapter of each book over the course of a week, so it means I didn’t have to read every single book in its entirety before we started the school year. Phew!

My aim is to stay a little bit ahead of what Angie is doing, so I started pre-reading in December. Right now I’m six weeks ahead – and it’s so tempting to read to the end of certain books, but I am determined not to. I used to pride myself on my ability to read books so quickly, but I am coming to appreciate and enjoy the benefits of slow reading.

Wait, you ask, why pre-read?

The simple answer is: I want to. Remember the school envy I wrote about earlier? I haven’t read many of these books before and I’m interested in them. That love of learning I mentioned is something that has developed – and it’s this love of learning that I want to cultivate in my children. If they see that I’m still learning, that I enjoy learning, then hopefully they will understand education isn’t a 12-year school career followed by a university degree, but that it’s a lifelong experience that is only as rich as you yourself make it.

Another reason for pre-reading is that it helps to have an idea of what’s going on before I have to read the chapter aloud. That way I’m not taken by surprise when I have to pronounce names like Taillefer or Edgar Ætheling, and if there are words that I don’t know then I have the chance to check the definition. Most – okay, all – the books so far have a richer vocabulary than we’re used to, and I have already seen the fruit of this in Angie’s everyday speech. (Her current favourite word is ‘obstinate’, which she’s picked up from Pilgrim’s Progress. “Is Rafey being obstinate again, Mommy?”)

I have begun working on my own Book of Centuries as I pre-read, so I can see how the different stories relate to each other. It’s come in handy already in explaining which William the Little Duke belongs to. I plan to share my Book of Centuries in another blog post, but in the meantime you can find out what it is over here.

How do I pre-read?

Once a week – usually on Saturday – I take a few hours to read through each scheduled chapter of the books for that particular week. I have one notebook for my pre-reading. I write down the title, the chapter or page numbers, and make notes about the reading. Nothing too detailed, but enough that I can glance at it in in six weeks time and remember what the reading was about. I make a note of important dates, spelling/pronunciation of certain words, and how many pages each reading is. That gives me an idea of how to break up the readings throughout the week. I plan to keep each year’s pre-reading in its own notebook, so that I don’t have to pre-read everything again for Emmy and Rafe when it’s their turn.

I also write down any quotes that stood out for me so that I can come back later and write them in my Commonplace Book. (And now you’re asking: what on earth is a Commonplace Book?)


And that’s that.

This will probably change as we had into the higher years, but for now it’s what works.

Here are some other resources to aid you in thinking through pre-reading:

~ The Scholé Sisters Podcast: To Pre-Read Or Not? (Why Is It Even A Question?)

~ Joyous Lessons: My Weekly Planning & Pre-Reading Schedule

Do you pre-read? Any tips or tricks for other mommas?

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