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A Literary Education: Adapting Charlotte Mason for Modern Secular Homeschooling

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Have you researched Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education but discounted it as old-fashioned and overtly religious? Then this is the book you need to read. In A Literary Education, Emily Cook lays out how she has brought Miss Mason’s ideology into the modern age for secular homeschoolers. In conversational prose she discusses the key tenets used in Charlotte Mason homeschooling and explains how to make them work for your family. You’ll read about:

· Living books and how to use them
· Reading aloud: the why and the how
· Nature study in the 21st century
· How to inspire creativity in your children
· How to get the most out of the preschool years
· How to combine children of multiple ages
· And much more!

In A Literary Education, Emily shares her 14 year homeschool journey and how she has learned to take Charlotte Mason’s method of home education into the 21st century to give her children a beautiful living books education.

210 pages, Kindle Edition

Published May 27, 2017

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Emily Cook

1 book603 followers

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5 stars
236 (46%)
4 stars
211 (41%)
3 stars
54 (10%)
2 stars
7 (1%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 57 reviews
Profile Image for Holly (The GrimDragon).
1,053 reviews233 followers
August 6, 2020
"The most important thing we can do for our children is to instill in them the habit of reading. Reading is the foundation on which their entire education is built. From a young age, we need to not only teach them how to read, but how to LOVE to read. There is a world of words out there, just waiting to be discovered."

Since I'll be joining the homeschool journey this year, I wanted to check out a few books because HELLO! I'm a reader! And I love research. My problem is that many of these books are religious-based and.. I'm not that. This was the first book that stood out to me.

It was a good overview, for sure! I love that she touched on reading so much. How literature can be the focus of the curriculum. We already do a lot of reading together, so this was nice to see!

My one complaint would be that she suggests reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and what a classic it is. Which.. nah. Also? She mentions Harry Potter something like 538 times.

I have always been a big believer in doing what works best for my wee ones and that is ultimately the message Emily Cook provides here.
Profile Image for Amber.
3 reviews
May 28, 2017
Reads as if we sitting in a coffee shop having a discussion..

Great read! I really enjoyed getting to see more into her head and more about how her homeschool runs. Thank you Emily Cook.
Profile Image for Brandi Feather.
3 reviews1 follower
December 8, 2019
I came across the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling and it led me to this book and it is exactly what I needed to read! I can't wait to start a literary education with my girls after Christmas break. 🙂
Profile Image for Maria.
305 reviews5 followers
June 25, 2020
This was a very quick and easy read and it left me feeling that it really is okay to take the parts of homeschool philosophy that I like, and leave out the things that just won’t work. As Emily Cook points out, your family is going to be different from my family and her family and we each need to figure out what works for us. I love some of Emily’s ideas and I’be enjoyed her curriculum (Build Your Library) for Kindergarten and Pre-history.

Ultimately I’m left feeling positive and excited about our future.. the bridges can be crossed as we get to them.
Profile Image for Tamara York.
1,094 reviews16 followers
July 3, 2020
After using Emily Cook's Build Your Library curriculum in our homeschool for years, I finally got around to reading her book. It was a great synopsis of how a modern, secular Charlotte Mason style homeschool can be accomplished. I have read many books about Charlotte Mason homeschooling and they all feel so old-fashioned, a bit boring, and use books written a hundred (or more) years ago. They all give the impression of children gathered around mother's feet knitting while listening to weighty classics being read aloud and reciting bible verses. This book presents a different take on a great educational model. One that is modern, easy, and bursting with goodness. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Heather.
18 reviews
March 28, 2018
Great starter resource for someone considering a 21st century, Charlotte Mason homeschool lifestyle. She has a good, shelf-worthy list of books to have in your homeschool library. I appreciated the realistic and practical applications and support regarding 'schedule' and daily rhythm. Life happens and that is okay.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
9 reviews
November 23, 2021
I love Emily Cook’s approach to homeschooling and have been following her for a few years now. Her down to earth and simple approach to the Charlotte Mason philosophy has resonated with me. The impact of reading aloud to my children and following the advice she outlines in this book has been significant and a gift I am so thankful to have received. It’s nice to find a homeschool momma who does an exceptional job and is authentic. Thank you Emily for all the work you do!
Profile Image for Serena.
46 reviews3 followers
June 27, 2018
I thought this was a pretty decent introduction to homeschooling for the secular crowd. I was extremely excited when I saw that a book had been written specifically about implementing a secular Charlotte Mason approach, as most CM books (as well as homeschooling books in general) tend to have a heavily evangelical bent. However, before you head into this book, be aware that the author is not promoting a purely Charlotte Mason style and would be classified as more “eclectic.” This does not detract from the usefulness of the book, though. I found that this book was quite short and gave a very quick overview of what a homeschool could look like and some tips for teachers. I wish that there had been more content. If a reader finds themselves interested in in this style of schooling, they would need to seek out much more information on the subject or read Charlotte Mason’s own writings. I was also disappointed in the amount of editing errors in the Kindle version of this book. It seems as though a bit more review would have been in order, especially for a book promoting home education.
Profile Image for Spencer Forsyth.
335 reviews4 followers
June 10, 2017
Would likely be very helpful for a homeschooler that's just starting out and exploring the CM method but for someone that has followed Emily and BYL for what feels like ages now, it was a lot of stuff I already knew/followed/did.

That said, I am glad I got it and I am glad I got it in hard copy so I can pass along the knowledge to a lot of my friends that are going to HS their first kiddos in the coming years!
Profile Image for Reuben Morley.
Author 2 books3 followers
January 5, 2021
after Boris’ announcement of another lockdown for schools, I saw a friends post on Facebook regarding a homeschooling style that is very different to the education model children grow up with in schools today.

I was encouraged to read more about Charlotte Mason from the 1900’s and her curriculum. As I researched I was fascinated and eventually stumbled across this book.

I honestly couldn’t put it down. Written as though you’re chatting to a friend over the table, Emily Cook shares how she has put this style of homeschooling into practice.

The main thrust of the book is that everything stems from a literary focus. Reading with your child is paramount and opens them up to natural learning. How it is important to read from ‘living books’ - those that are written with passion and draw you in, whether fiction or non-fiction. Off the back of reading you can teach a wide variety of different skills naturally.

I took some of them books advice on board straight away and decided to read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to my two daughters, aged 3 and 5. Previously, though we read, I would have never thought to read them something like this - apart from Bible stories we would stick to picture books with a few lines. After chapter one, both girls were gripped. I was overjoyed to see their excitement as we read through a number of chapters throughout the day. I couldn’t believe the desperation and excitement when we finished chapter three at bedtime and they asked to read more. When I left the room, it was joy to my ears to hear them both chatting about whether the Queen was the White Witch and whether she was good or bad; as well as what they thought happened to Lucy!

If I’ve learned anything from this book it is that it is so important to read continually with the children, allowing them to learn and blossom naturally opposed to only forcing tasks, wooden questions and tests in their direction in the hope they’ll learn something.

Even if you don’t plan to homeschool, if you want to learn many valuable tips on how to see your children flourish in their educational development, this is a great book to read!
Profile Image for Emily M.
727 reviews10 followers
August 7, 2021
This book, more than any other I've read in a long time, really described my own philosophy of homeschooling. I've long described myself as a classical homeschooler, but in reality, our brand of classical is very much informed by Charlotte Mason. I appreciate that Cook embraces CM principles but doesn't just wallow in the old-fashioned books. At one point, she names several contemporary books/series that she believes Charlotte Mason would be using if she were alive today (along with the beloved classics), and I totally agree! What's interesting is that she just cuts out all the personal virtue training from Charlotte Mason. While it's clear that she does this to be secular, I don't know that she's not throwing the baby out with the bath water. I certainly know many secular homeschool families who still try to focus on habit formation and nurturing virtue. The good thing is that when you read the books that she recommends and follow these educational principles, you are going to be hitting a lot of that personal formation, whether you intended to or not!

Like so many books on homeschooling, I wish there had been more detail on how she approaches high school--three hours a day of read alouds were so easy when my kids were small, but there's no way I have time for that with my high schooler, sadly. Reading is a way of life for us, but I haven't been able to figure out how to do as much of it as we used to back in the good old days. Her teens don't seem as academically minded (they don't worry too much about higher math and science or AP classes with their oldest, who likes English, and the 14 year olds seem to mostly practice instruments and do math), so I'll keep looking for advice on how to continue to have a rich Charlotte Mason experience with my college-bound, academically gifted high schooler. But this is definitely a book I would recommend to newer moms who really want a thoughtful introduction to Charlotte Mason/classical homeschooling.

I do need to look closer at her book lists. There were titles on there that aren't on every other stinking homeschooling book list, so I'll probably make a new list for our next library trip.
Profile Image for Lauren Reed.
188 reviews8 followers
August 7, 2018
I love this book because I adore the author. She is homeschool mom like me, but she has written her own curriculum after finding the homeschool materials available, frustrating. She applies a Charlotte Mason homeschool philosophy (naturalistic, excellent literature, living books, reading aloud and narration/dictation), but she takes out the religious aspect and adds modern elements such as good documentaries, reliable websites and a more progressive world view.
I say I finished this book, but I’ll often be returning to pages I’ve tagged or passages I’ve highlighted to reassure and remind myself that what I’ve learned and what instinctively feels right in education at home are both correct. The book is exactly as the title states. Modifying the Charlotte Mason approach to fit a modern secular family. The book details how the author applied it to her own family. We are about to start our 5th year and I’ve watched my 3 children, elementary, middle and high school age, flourish with this curriculum. I honestly think had I not stumbled upon Emily’s curriculum, we may not have continued homeschooling.
2 reviews
July 13, 2020
A book that has helped me connect with my child

I am a chemistry teacher. I felt that I have struggled to homeschool my child during COVID, and felt that I was failing. I started looking for homeschool resources because the busy work posted online was horrendously boring and tedious.I have skimmed many educational textbooks, as required for my credential, but none have spoken to me like Mrs. Cook. I was given theory, but also a means to implement and practice while I was still reading this book. This book made it so easy to jump in and reinvigorate my excitement to just read living books to my child. I found it so easy to let others read to her or have her read on her own, how wrong I have been. We are currently reading the Hobbit and she asks daily for me to read it, I am ecstatic.The only reason I rated this a 4 was due to some repetitive aspects in some of the later chapters, otherwise an excellent functional book.
Profile Image for Jaraka Davis.
353 reviews2 followers
May 11, 2021
I read and finished an actual, paper book! Go me!

This was a quick and easy read. It’s written very conversationally. I read it because I was hoping for some insight into a more modern and secular Charlotte Mason education. Much of the CM purists focus on parts of her philosophy that I don’t think are the most important, so I wanted another view.

And this book is exactly that. But, it’s also very much an introduction, the basics, a I-don’t-know-much-about-CM book. Absolutely valuable... but not for me. I’ve read too much about CM and homeschooling for this book to offer much new info. Which helped make it a fast read. 🤷‍♀️ it’s a fine book. Basic and easy to read. I’m glad it’s available.
51 reviews7 followers
June 6, 2017
This is the book I wish I had 12 years ago when I was starting out. Emily does a fantastic job of taking the heart of Charlotte Mason and applying it to the modern family. Even as a seasoned veteran, I enjoyed the reminders of how much is gained through copywork and dictation as well as the assurance that I *am* doing enough. Emily has already simplified my homeschool through the publication of her curriculum (Build Your Library) she has now also simplified my mentoring by writing a book I can hand to newbies and say, "Read this." If you are overwhelmed by the thought of homeschooling, or tried homeschooling and found it overwhelming, read this.
Profile Image for Nikki.
1,030 reviews17 followers
October 24, 2017
This book was written by the woman who created the curriculum I'm using. I appreciated reading some of the thinking behind how she put the program together and the reasoning. Also, it was great to read about how she manages a family with different aged children (because although I have only one, she will be older one day!).

Reading the book also made me realize that I fall somewhere between a curriculum follower and some sort of unschooling. We have a more relaxed day than she describes and it works for us so for now I'm going to stick with it!
Profile Image for River.
176 reviews3 followers
February 27, 2019
I am thankful for this book! I’m already familiar with both Charlotte Mason and adapting curriculum, so I wasn’t sure what I would learn. Other books about this seemed to just repeat the same information. I was pleasantly surprised! Emily’s approach is unique and I loved taking a peek into how she adapted and created her curriculum. She uses modern and classic literature with a 21st century viewpoint. Yet she still holds true to Ms. Mason’s tenants and ideology. Her story of learning and educating her children is beautiful! Thank you for this!
Profile Image for Courtney.
297 reviews
August 21, 2019
We use Emily's Build Your Library curriculum for the main part of our homeschooling. I chose it because it was secular, and it was literature based, and it is inexpensive (she encourages library use). Having done one full school year and started another, as well as doing a unit study over the summer, I was familiar with the elements she talks about in this book, though it was nice to have the background explained.

Three stars because I would have liked it to be a bit more fleshed out. But a worthy read. Lots of great book recommendations, not surprised. :)
Profile Image for Erica.
269 reviews6 followers
December 12, 2020

I enjoyed this book. I have read a few on the subject so it’s not so much new information but it’s short and encouraging. Many times as a homeschooling mother we feel as though we are not doing enough and she gives that encouragement where if you are reading living books and giving space for further learning that is right along the right path. I am passionate about reading and honestly if it had been put so simply to me from the start I may have done this earlier.
Profile Image for Amy.
28 reviews
October 14, 2017
Many home educators seem to have one book that they read every year to encourage and ground them for the upcoming school year. This will be that book for me. When I am stuck in a rut and wondering if I am doing enough, or if I need to buy 'just 1 more' curriculum, I will come to this book and read about the beautiful literary education environment and lifestyle Emily describes within this book and it will remind me of the bigger picture and why we homeschool in the first place.
Profile Image for Jennifer Drean.
38 reviews
March 21, 2018
A realistic guide to literature based homeschooling

Loved that this book was realistic and relatable and implementable. Most that I have read on the topic leave me excited about the theory but lacking clarity on the how. I also appreciate that she writes about all ages, most books on homeschooling are geared towards the younger years prior to middle school, which is frustrating for moms like me that are beginning homeschool with middle school.
Profile Image for Katie.
224 reviews
April 30, 2018
I have been using Emily’s Build Your Library program for almost a year, and still gained so much from this book.

The biggest take away is the idea that there is no “right” way to homeschool. It is very encouraging when you feel like you are doing everything wrong, especially when other homeschooling families seem to have it all together on social media.

I think this a fantastic book for all homeschooling families. New homeschoolers can gain tips, structure, and encouragement. More seasoned homeschoolers can find little tweaks to make their homeschool experience the best it can be.

I gained a lot of new ideas for our upcoming school year. I think having a more relaxed outlook will help me to a better homeschooling mom, and help my kids enjoy the experiences we share even more.
Profile Image for Dawn (DeDe).
81 reviews
January 28, 2019
Recommended reading before purchasing Build Your Library curriculum

Insight into how the author adapted the Charlotte Mason way of education for secular homeschooling her children. I recommend reading before choosing to use the BYL curriculum in your own homeschool. It helps pave the way to understanding how Emily Cook created BYL out of her experience choosing a literary education for her own children.
Profile Image for Sol Smith.
Author 22 books37 followers
September 18, 2020

In homeschooling our kids, we are using the Build Your Library curriculum as a starting off point. Emily Cook, who has authored this curriculum, wrote this excellent book about how the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education has been adapted to modern, secular times. It’s an exceedingly helpful and quick read for those undergoing or considering homeschool.
Profile Image for Karen (Living Unabridged).
1,016 reviews51 followers
February 26, 2021
Basically a self-published series of blog posts. Nothing new here, if you've read any other books about homeschooling (or any homeschooling blogs, for that matter), but it would probably be encouraging for a newbie or someone frightened off by the Charlotte Mason True Believers (they are an intimidating lot).
June 9, 2023
If you’re already a secular homeschool parent with a bent towards Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education, this is going to be feel very “of course” to you.

But for a parent who is new to the concept of literature based education, this is a solid intro on the topic by someone who created the Build Your Library curriculum (which - I believe - is mostly free to access via the BYL website).
Profile Image for Ellen.
37 reviews1 follower
July 4, 2017
Good Introduction on literature-focused homeschooling

This book gave a good synopsis on how to have a literature-focused homeschooling experience. Emily did a good job explaining how to incorporate literature into your homeschool and gave practical tips and advice.
Profile Image for Maggie.
109 reviews9 followers
December 31, 2018
I found some helpful information about dictation in this book, but it's really a more ideal read for a homeschool newbie. I had hoped for more details about Charlotte Mason's historical practices, but that didn't really fall within the scope of this book.
6 reviews
February 17, 2019
Really interesting book. I love Emily's approach to guiding students through books. She took a classic approach and moved it into modern day. With all of our technology and busy, rushed lives, she makes it accessible and doable.
Profile Image for Hillary.
118 reviews1 follower
February 29, 2020
After reading Sarah MacKenzie and Pam Barnhill, I found this book rather disappointing. It felt full of general bland advice, some of which I agreed with, some of which I didn't, and I ended up skimming through a lot of it.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 57 reviews

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