A Charlotte Mason Education, Education as a Life, Living Books, Narration, Reading
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A Personal Reading Plan (I am not a professional. Try this at home!) by Dr. Cindy Swicegood

My life-long reading style could be described in one word: fast. (In recent years, I attempted to read James Sire’s How to Read Slowly—but I was reading too fast to learn how to read slowly!) The ability to read fast is very helpful when scanning the departure listing to find the gate for the flight one is about to miss or when looking for a reference to a particular person in that last chapter one read, etc. However, fast reading is not appropriate for the “one reading” insisted upon by Charlotte Mason—the reading that results in knowing (demonstrable by narrating).

I have long been the person who could read a book and tell you that I really liked it, but not be able to recall a single detail from it. (I’m the same with movies.) I often read to my husband at bedtime; sadly, it is not uncommon for me to turn to the bookmarked place and have no recognition of the passages I read aloud to him the previous night. I am also sometimes the frustrated and impatient mother of a child who is simply unable to begin to read (or be read to) without knowing the context. Daughter: “What happened just before this?” Mother: “I don’t know. Can’t we just read?!” (Hello. My name is Cindy and I have an “I-don’t-know-the-context-and-why-does-it-matter-anyway?” problem.)

It all started in first grade. Over on the window ledge sat a large box labeled “SRA.” Inside were dozens of cards, presumably designed to enhance reading comprehension. As a child who already read well— and fast—I was enticed by SRA. The cards were color-coded, beginning with red, blue, and green, progressing to the much more lovely (and exotic?) aqua, violet, and rose, and moving inevitably toward the boring but prestigious gold, silver, and bronze (hues perhaps exciting only to Olympic athletes). I was a quiet and shy child, but SRA brought out an innate, covert competitiveness. On my own time, in the privacy of my own desk, I whizzed through those cards as fast as I could. (I still remember the teacher’s written comment on my first-grade report card: “Cindy is an excellent student, but she is sometimes careless.” Perhaps SRA helped nourish that carelessness.) .

My learning curve in applying Charlotte Mason’s philosophy has been quite slow over the course of the past ten years; however, the Holy Spirit has given me treasured epiphanies along the way which have been truly life-changing. I would like to share one of them here. First, a bit of personal background:

Our older daughter (now 14 years old) became ill in November 2011 and has neither walked nor talked since then. Needless to say, our lives have changed! My days are filled with many childcare responsibilities which had been appropriately laid aside years ago.

Recently, I was talking with a friend during a weekly mother/daughter “playdate” we share. (Last week we sat and read to one another from our commonplace books—a lovely experience which I highly recommend!) I honestly don’t remember any particular words that were spoken, but I distinctly remember realizing that in my present life situation, I could actually READ some books (despite my life- long habit of blitz reading)! This probably sounds quite lame to those of you who have been immersed in a Charlotte Mason lifestyle for years. For me, however, it was an epiphany.

Because of our daughter’s illness I have bought (and devoured small bits of) many, many, MANY books—books on PTSD, books on alternative therapies, books on Christian healing—dozens and dozens of books during the past two years. Each time a book came in the mail I would immerse myself in it immediately, reading voraciously (and yes, very fast—in my first-grade-SRA style) in search of a way—

any way—to help our daughter; when the next book arrived, the first was abandoned to the ever- growing piles beside my bed.

Recently, I took those piles and sorted the 34 books (Yes. Seriously.) into categories. (This was revealing in that it not only showed me which genres I was reading, but also helped me identify what was lacking in the “feast” I had randomly spread for myself. Whether or not I’m able to fill in those blank spaces now, I am at least more aware of what I’m missing.) I then put each stack/category in prioritized-for-reading order. Finally, I made a reading plan for myself that looks something like this:

Monday/Wednesday/Friday 8:30-10:00

  •   Laurie Bestvater’s The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason
  •   A book (written by an M.D.) that explores the power of the unconscious mind toproduce physical symptoms (and the power of the conscious mind to obliterate same)
  •   A book on Christian healing1:00-2:00
  •   Biography of a pioneering woman naturalist (who found solace—and fame—in this workafter suffering a nervous breakdown; she was formerly a school teacher)
  •   Jayber Crow (by Wendell Berry)Tuesday/Thursday 8:30-10:00
  •   A book on recognizing the holy–and the opportunity for sacrifice–in all things
  •   Biography of 110-year-old pianist (oldest Holocaust survivor until her death in February)
  •   A book I’m reading with a friend (meeting bi-weekly)11:00-12:00
  •   A book on how the Bible came to be
  •   Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves (reading with local CM book club)Most evenings 7:00-7:30

 Juvenile Fiction 9:30-10:00

 Bedtime book with Philip (currently Maphead by Ken Jennings)

Oh, the changes that have been wrought by my adopting this reading plan! Lyrics from the old pop song, “Time in a Bottle,” come to mind: “There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them.” My experience flies in the face of this lament! I have found that, because I have the reading of living books to look forward to, I am all the more eager to accomplish all the “have- to’s” in my life. Before I implemented the plan, I dreaded starching and ironing my husband’s shirts and would often just make sure I had a shirt ready for him for the next day. Now, my ironing is all done— and stays that way. I CANNOT WAIT to get the dishes washed and the kitchen cleaned each morning so I can jump in to my reading!

Like most of you, I did not have the advantage of a Charlotte-Mason-informed education. Like you, I normally struggle to make changes in my personal habits. But, like you, I am called by our Creator to an ever-higher place. The calling in this particular epiphany has been accompanied by an abundance of grace, allowing me to form my new reading habit quickly. In addition, the passion I feel for and the energy I receive from this new addition to my life have been and continue to be restorative.

Does that mean I am doing this perfectly? By no means! Life happens. There are interruptions. I fail. In recent weeks there have been several days in which I have neglected my reading plan almost completely due to any or all of the following: a professional commitment which gave me the opportunity to do some work that I love, a Lenten practice called “40 Bags in 40 Days” (http://www.whitehouseblackshutters.com/40-bags-in-40-days-2014/ ), the NCAA basketball tournament, and the IRS’ irritating insistence that I file a tax return every year!

On top of all that, sometimes there are crises. Years ago I stumbled across a post on Ambleside Online’s site in which the author gave both encouragement to those in crisis and suggestions for ways to continue homeschooling in a scaled-down and manageable fashion during such times. (https://www.amblesideonline.org/HELP.shtml) For one who is a perfectionist, who succumbs to all-or- nothing thinking, and for whom task completion is of great urgency, these ideas were very helpful. More thoughts to encourage you: Something is better than nothing. When you fail (not if), just jump back in as soon as you are able. Breathe deeply. Go ahead. Try it now. Inhale. . . Exhale. . . Repeat.

In addition to crises and normal events that I perceive as interruptions to my plans (!), there is another major obstacle to overcome in the process of establishing a reading plan (or any new habit): myself! As cartoonist Walt Kelly said, “We have found the enemy and he is us!” I want you to know, though, that if God can give to me the idea of a reading plan and then use it to transform me, He can (and is surely ready and waiting to) do something similar in, for, and through you. Ask. Seek. Knock (Matthew 7:7).

Charlotte Mason said that education is a life. Jesus came that we may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10) Mason asserted that persons can only be built up from within. Paul insisted that we not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2) Mason claimed that self-education is the only possible education. Paul wrote that we are to live up to what we have already attained (Philippians 3:16).

What is the Holy Spirit nudging you to do? Start now! May our God count you worthy of His calling and by His power fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

My deepest gratitude goes to all whom God has used to inspire and instruct me in this endeavor (whether they knew/know it or not): Carroll Smith, Sandy Rusby Bell, Jennifer Spencer, Nancy Kelly, Laurie Bestvater, Deani Van Pelt, and Leslie Laurio.


© 2014 by Dr. Cindy Swicegood


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. Erin says

    Praying for you, Cindy, and your daughter’s complete restoration. Erin

  2. Are the descriptions without titles supposed to have an image next to them? I’d love to see some of what you’re reading, but I’m not sure if you intentionally left the titles out of some or if we’re supposed to be able to see book covers next to each blurb. Thanks!

    • Krista says

      I am curious about this as well. I, too, would like to know the titles if possible.

  3. This is so me. I will remember how a book or movie made me feel but not any of the specifics of what happened. That’s partly why I blog, so I will have a record of what I read to look back at.

  4. Krista says

    I have similar issues when reading books or watching movies. Since Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s run in my family, I’ve recently been wondering if this could perhaps be tied to neurological issues of some kind. I know it isn’t necessarily neurological for all folks but, it might be for some people who struggle in this manner. In any event, I was inspired by your post and appreciate your transparency.

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