Thursday, July 9, 2015

Book Review: The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason by Laurie Bestvater

I have been educating my kids at home for almost fifteen years, and I have heard of Charlotte Mason since the very beginning; but I do not know why I never looked further into her education philosophy.  I suppose I felt comfortable with what I was already doing, and adding a new idea would feel overwhelming.

But something prompted me to look into this book, The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason, by Laurie Bestvater, and I have been really excited about it.  Much of what I had learned already required or encouraged journal keeping, so this idea was not new to me, but the kinds of journals were.  Also, the ideas of Charlotte Mason truly resonated with me.

There is a notebook for everything!

Nature notebook
Family notebook
Science/Lab notebook
Calendar of Firsts
Motto book/Student yearbook
Fortitude Journal
Commonplace book
Music notebook
Travel notebook
Bible notebook
My world book
Language notebook
Parent yearbook
Way of the Will chart
"Enquire Within" notebook
Table of History notebook
History/Century chart (which may include a child's self-history)
The Book of Centuries
Calendar of events

Of course, you wouldn't use all of these at the same time, but at different stages, as a child grows out of one and into another.  Some, however, are used throughout one's lifetime.

Mason's philosophy is this: that "children are persons," to be respected, and "notebooks are tools for supporting the learning process of persons rather than products in and of themselves."  In this way, they are "personalizing their learning."  

Bestvater explains, "Mason is not pursuing achievement per se. Her education is an acknowledgement of the heart - a heart that is 'made for and must have a God.'  A child must have a clear sightline to Glory, and the notebooks are a means to invite this seeing."  Notebooks are windows into the heart of a child, what he loves, cares about, and desires.  And through journaling, students realize that "all is connected, and all is relationship."

Keeping Imagination and Attention

Journaling allows us to keep an imagination fresh and alive and pay closer attention to everything around us.  Bestvater says that Mason would support imagination and metaphor in education "because of how we are made, that humans are image bearers of a creative and Word-speaking God."

Paying attention "makes us more human and alive to others; how can I possibly be compassionate if I have not paid attention to those who lie at the side of the road of my life?"  Being observant allows for better relationships and connections.  

Relationships are so important to Mason, and she believes that education is best for fostering the care of others: "The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is."

Here are some sad points to consider, too.  Our culture is losing its "celebration of beauty, as well as timefulness and placefulness, we are losing our ability to be open to the other."  It was also quoted that we are in "imminent danger of losing personhood in our idolatry of utility and efficiency."  But children naturally need to express themselves, to imagine, to discover, and to feel a sense of belonging, and notebooks provide a way for them to do just that, through nuance, time, place, and relationships.

In The Living Page Bestvater includes a section for details on when to start and how or why to use each of these notebooks, with simple instructions on how to implement each.  Mason encourages teachers to always expect the student to do her best work, including "neatness, order, beauty, and perfect execution."  Also, work should be personal, not clip art or print outs, or even instruction on how to mix paints to get a specific color.  Let the child discover that on his own.  Blank pages are best because they invite the student to imagine and create.   And while different ages have different expectations, the older the child is the more their work is self-directed and follows an expression of ideas and imagination.

Also, if you need ideas, Bestvater includes list of supplies, samples of work, sources, bibliography, and lots of notes. 

Finally,  I will leave off with a quote by Mason on expression:
In a sense each of us is a voice, we all seek expression; the more modes of expression we find, the fuller and richer is our life.  Expression is to life; suppression death.


Sharon Henning said...

I've never heard of this book either. Even though my son is college age I love to read books about ways to educate children. This idea of notebooks for everything sounds like a great idea.

Ruth said...

According to Mason, there are plenty of these notebooks that adults can do, such as the nature notebook, a commonplace book, a travel notebook, calendar of events, fortitude journal, "enquire within" notebook, etc. And the book itself is a short little read.

Amanda said...

I love your review and thoughts. Great posts. My library doesn't carry this book but I may look into getting a copy. Thanks for sharing.

Ruth said...

Amanda, Thanks! My library did not carry this book either. And neither did Barnes and Noble Online. I had to buy it from

Brittany said...

Thanks for sharing, Ruth! I try to tweak our journals each year to spark something new. Last year I really needed a boost and just didn't get it. For our art year I did large journals. This current year we're doing a lot of outdoor hiking and adventuring, so we're using tiny loose-leaf journals that are easy to throw in a backpack. It's really drawn out something different so far. But I do get a little overwhelmed with how many journals to keep. I have a regular journal that I can write personal things I might not want to share in my school journal that anyone might read. Then there's my family blog (which I sometimes keep up and sometimes don't!). But sometimes I post to Facebook and never quite get to my blog. I feel like I have too many journal outlets, and yet, it's nice to have them separate too. I would like my kids' journals to be all-encompassing, but it sounds like Charlotte Mason wants them separate. We also have school binders for regular-sized paper and academic writing that has different tabs. That seems to be working out for my kids. What do you suggest after reading this book? Or should I just read it myself? :)

Ruth said...

Hi, Brittany!
The author says that we won't need to use all of these notebooks at one time, obviously. Some are used very early in childhood, and as children grow out of them, those journals or notebooks are replaced by others. I suppose, as adults, we can decide what is most important right now in our lives, and use them accordingly.
For example, I have several journals or notebooks going at one time. One is my private journal that is just for me; another is my nature notebook that I do with the kids; a timeline notebook that I will only use for the school year with the kids; and I have a commonplace journal, which is for Scripture, book passages and quotes, drawings, and prayer requests. I can't keep anymore notebooks, so that last one is just a mix of whatever. Those are the ones that are most important to me.
So if I dare give any advice, it would be that you decide what is most important right now, and go from there. We can't do everything, and trying to would take the joy out of it.
Hope that helps!