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Books and Things: A Planning Post

Books and Things: A Planning Post

It always seems like there are so many things we could be doing in our homeschool but just don’t quite have the time for. One of our primary jobs as home educators is that of curator.

It’s up to us to choose the best and most appropriate experiences, books, and opportunities for our kids. But there are SO. MANY. CHOICES. And it’s only getting harder to choose, the more homeschool curricula gets published. Some of the options are getting better, with years of input from homeschoolers, that’s for sure. But still, curating can be a tough job.

As you’re planning the upcoming school year, it can be easier to wade through the stacks of curriculum catalogs if you break that task of curating into a couple of categories. In her “Educational Manifesto” in School Education, Charlotte Mason divides the tools of education into these two categories: Books and Things.


img_5961That seems fairly straightforward. Most of us homeschool mamas have a love of books that borders on unhealthy. Just this week I assembled another new bookshelf in our house to hold my finds from the library book sale. Which is technically only a problem when we move…which only happens every three years or so…which is why I have to tip the movers well. Ahem.

  • Does the book you’re thinking of using point toward truth, goodness, or beauty?
  • Is it a “medium for ideas and not merely a receptacle for facts?”
  • Does it compress someone else’s knowledge in a way that makes it dry?
  • Does it enliven in you a desire to learn more? (If it doesn’t do that for you, mom, it won’t for your student.)

Ms. Mason reminds us of the power of books, if they’re chosen well, and given to a child for his free use:

Every scholar of six years old and upwards should study with ‘delight’ his own living, books on every subject in a pretty wide curriculum. Children between six and eight must for the most part have their books read to them.

This plan has been tried with happy results for the last twelve years in many home schoolrooms, and some other schools.

By means of the free use of books the mechanical difficulties of education–reading, spelling, composition, etc.–disappear, and studies prove themselves s to be ‘for delight, for ornament, and for ability.’

Did you catch that? They disappear. Books are powerful, y’all.


And so are Things. But what the heck does Charlotte Mason mean by “Things?” Lucky us, she gives us a list:

i. Natural obstacles for physical contention, climbing, swimming, walking, etc.
ii. Material to work in–wood, leather, clay, etc.
iii. Natural objects in situ–birds, plants, streams, stones, etc.
iv. Objects of art.
v. Scientific apparatus, etc.

What does that all translate to? Our kids should be outside, doing stuff. I mean, really, it’s that simple. Engaging with things isn’t mom-intensive. Remember our job is as curator. A good curator gives them access to materials, enough instruction to get them started, and time to work with the materials. Once the kids have some elementary skills, they can be off and running. Then access and time become the biggies.

So as you plan the upcoming year, consider simplifying the way you think about the curriculum. Books are the primary way our children gain experience with ideas, things are the way our children gain experience with the world around them. When we can spread a broad feast of experiences in front of our children in the way of books and things, much of the work of educating flows easily from there.

Happy homeschool planning to you!

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Rhiannon Kutzer

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Nice to meet you!

I’m Rhiannon.

You can call me Rhi for short (as in “rejoice”). I’m a fiercely independent homeschooling mom of five, a Navy wife of 13 years, and a creator of various things: articles, a semi-regular newsletter, quilts, furniture, and the occasional knitted scarf. This is the site where I write about our homeschool journey and news and happenings in the homeschool world. more about me.


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Need a shot in the arm for your homeschool? Get Thrive Together, a monthly email that brings you:

--the best of the homeschool blogosphere,
--current homeschool news,
--and great quotes that will refresh your homeschool mama mind.

Latest Posts


  • Maybe you’ve never had a loved one on a ventilator, so you don’t know. I have. You don’t know the fear in your gut as you await the next minutes and hours until the doctors bring you updates and treatment plans.
You don’t know the darkness and silence next to the bed of your (beautiful, vulnerable) person, kept alive by a machine. The respiratory therapists making adjustments to help your loved one’s brain get enough oxygen so she can make it to tomorrow.
You don’t know the holiness of that bedside, where Christ meets you with His peace when everything is out of your hands. That bedside, where literally all you can do is read scripture and pray.
I am telling you, that is a bedside you do NOT want to be at.
I have been there and I never want to go back. God and an army of prayer warriors got us through that. Our person is still vulnerable. There are people in your life who are vulnerable.
We were at that bedside with decades of collective medical experience on our side to develop best practices and treatment plans, and learn from mistakes made on other patients.
Our loved ones who end up fighting COVID-19 with the help of a humming ventilator will not have that benefit. This disease is just too new.
If you’re a leader of people, your job right now is to take care of your people. Be honest. Take this seriously. (We can do that without letting fear take control.)
If you’re an employee, protect yourself, so you can protect your family. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, eat your vegetables, exercise, get good sleep, take some vitamin C.
Above all #STAYHOME to #flattenthecurve so that you don’t end up by that bedside with not enough resources. Stay home, so that when the vulnerable person in your life needs it, they’ll have access to the ventilators and care they need.
  • FYI, your #Navy #submarineforce is still operating...even in the Arctic. My guy is finally out from under the ice! And I finally get pictures of his #ICEX2020 adventures. Unbelievably good to talk to him, even if we don’t get be with him in person #thanksCOVID #staythefhome #beagoodcitizen #submarinerscantsocialdistance
  • Blue Wyoming skies and wind blowing in the curls. Magical.
  • PSA: Don’t let curriculum publishers and internet ads scare you into thinking you NEED to buy their products to get your kids a solid education. #askamom #momsmentoringmoms
  • #Homeschooling when you didn’t choose it:
I would feel totally overwhelmed and underprepared if I were in your shoes. Homeschooling is hard even when you did choose it. We’ve changed a little, too. Every meal is a reading meal these days if the kids want that. (They do🤓.)
So, please ask me all your questions. I and other HSing mamas in your community have YEARS of experience with this atypical version of education. How can we help you and your specific kids in your specific situation? We have learned a lot of things the hard way and we are happy to help make this time smoother for you.
What I desperately hope: those of you stuck in a situation you didn’t want AT ALL, might come to see education a little differently. It can be flexible. It can happen over the course of a whole day, with snacks, outside time, screen time, and play interspersed between lessons.
This type of education is more about LIFE and HOME than you might think. While your students may be doing the same work assigned by the school, the setting change from school to home will change almost everything else about their educational experience this semester.
Here are my two favorite tips to get you started:
1. Use short lessons. 
2. Alternate between types of work.
The younger the kids, the shorter the lessons. Ballpark: elementary should be 15-30min/subject max. Middle school 30-45min/subject max.
How does this look? Have your student read for 15 min, then do something physical for 15, then do handwriting for 15. That kind of a thing. “A change is as good as a rest."
Don’t expect elementary kids to complete the whole assignment in such a short lesson. Just expect focused attention for that time, no matter how far he gets in the work. That builds the habit of, “when we sit to do school, we focus on school.” If you have to do 5 or 10 minute lessons because that’s all he had the attention for, that’s totally normal. Build up to longer periods, but it’s not really reasonable developmentally to expect hour-long math sessions for very young students. Those lead to tears. Ask me how I know.
  • Some days are just “pull your big girl panties on and handle your business like a grownup” days. Cheers to all of you who handled your business today. #navywifelife #adulting

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