Bookshelf Godmothers

My friend Jenny has been homeschooling her five children from the beginning. From afar I’ve watched as her confidence and spirit have flourished in her approach. I know her as a deep thinker and researcher, so I knew she must have a heavy bookshelf of guidance and encouragement in this journey (in particular I liked imagining her on her porch, deep North Carolina summer, glass of iced tea, notepad, and books at her side).

I asked her to share the top titles with us, the bookshelf-godmothers of her approach, and she did! There is so much wisdom here. Thank you Jenny! Illustration by Joe. 

by Jenny DeGeyter Haller

Homeschooling sort of stumbled into my lap. I never planned to be here, and I don’t know much about what the future holds. We just do the next right thing. We’ve settled now into a classical, Charlotte-Mason, history-loving, nature-school hybrid that I’ve dreamt up with my husband of 11 years. We have 5 children, a handful of chickens, 1 dog, 2 cats on 4 acres in the woods near Charlotte, NC. My husband is a financial advisor by day, homesteading park-ranger by night. We love nature and books, food and bonfires.

We have a mixed bag of influencers. Being an analytical mind and extensive researcher, I feel the need to read all the books. I enjoy the overwhelming feeling of so much good. All these women, going before us; leading the way and training us with their wisdom.

  • Our first influencer, the Headmaster, Susan Wise Bauer of The Well-Trained Mind
    • This is the comprehensive guide to classical education outlining the history of the methodology as well as implementation. The three stages of classical education are then thoroughly discussed by grade and subject. The book-lists alone are worth copying down. The last section discusses how to implement classical education at home, managing the records, tests and schedules, etc. No coddling. She gets right to it. Her way is strict, demanding, specific, and extensive. I open this book every summer when I’m planning my year and re-read each section for my specific child’s needs. I order most of her recommendations and haven’t been disappointed once. The Bauers and the Well Trained Mind have a large presence in our home. We’ve used:
      • Story of the Worldall four volumes and workbooks. Elementary history chronologically and geographically written so well.
      • The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading– an open-and-go phonics program. Simple and straightforward. We’ve used it for years.
      • First Language Lessons– An open-and-go classical grammar and language arts program for the early elementary years.
  • Charlotte Mason, specifically, Home Education Vol 1 and A Philosophy of Education Vol 6
    • Here we have our wise, wordy grandmother. Using her philosophy, she led schools and trained teachers in England (in the early 1900’s).  Her basic premise is best summed up in the phrase, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Some of my favorite topics covered in these two volumes: living books, habits, whole living ideas, nature study, a child’s mind as an organism, a full and well-rounded curriculum full of the ‘riches,’ using short lessons to encourage interest and eliminate boredom, and how stories build character. Anyone who is interested in not doing ‘school at home’ but real and vibrant homeschool, opposite of brick-and-mortar school should consider reading both of these volumes (or all 6!). Our students are spirits to be kindled, after all.
  • Sally Clarkson The Mission of Motherhood and Educating the Wholehearted Child

    • If I had to choose a fairy godmother, I would choose Sally Clarkson. She has the tender loving, sweet-talking, supportive air about her. She has written a myriad of books and they range from topics of motherhood in general, homeschooling, homemaking and more. These two are my favorites. The first is an affirming, spiritually-rich encouragement for the calling of motherhood. It reminds us that our primary role as parents is the development and molding of our children’s hearts for God. Teaching them (even if we don’t school them) to tend their passions, habits, words and actions towards being faithful to God is our ultimate destiny for these short years we have them at home. The book is a yearly must-read for me, even if I just skim or read my underlining. After I close the book, I have a renewed sense as a mother. I’m more patient, calm and hopefully, more aware of being with my children instead of just managing them.
    • Educating the Wholehearted Child is a homeschooling-rich resource. It outlines how the Clarksons homeschooled and how they used living books and various curricula. They discuss discipleship and use that as a term that is a good reminder for creating life-long learners modeled after Jesus’ teachings. The book reads like a textbook and is an aid for beginners as it details various homeschooling methods, curriculum and resource lists.
    • Other books by Sally that I’ve read and recommend: Desperate (encouragement for the weary mom), The Lifegiving Home (yearly ways to make your home unique, inviting and traditions to uphold), and Seasons of a Mother’s Heart (a gentle reminder to take care of yourself and that certain season are more difficult than others).
  • Sarah Mackenzie Teaching from Rest
    • Sarah Mackenzie would also be a fairy godmother if we’re allowed two. Or a fairy aunt. She is young and still in the trenches with toddlers and students afoot. Her book is a short but concise view of the mental challenge of teaching from rest and from a space of low-anxiety. She gently reminds us who it is we are working for (God) and what is required of us (faithfulness). “The heart of this book is about remembering what our true task really is and then throwing ourselves in completely. Giving our all. The raising of children, the teaching of truth, the sharing of life, the nourishing of imagination, and the cultivating of wisdom: these are all his anyway, we are merely His servants.” This is a must-read for any new or harried homeschooler. (Her website/podcast is also full of book list nuggets and interviews with some popular authors www.readaloudrevival.com; She also has a new book out called The Read Aloud Family.)
  • Kathleen Norris Quotidian Mysteries
    • This one won’t show up on many homeschoolers’ radars but I consider it a yearly must-read. Kathleen Norris could be our spiritual mother and mentor. The subtitle of this very short but thoughtful read is Laundry, Liturgy and ‘Women’s Work’, and it enables us to recognize our quotidian (or daily tasks) as holy work. The repetition, the mundane and the potential acedia that takes years to overcome is all discussed in a poetic and personal tone. Dishes, laundry, mopping, brushing out tangles, all of these can be worthy as worship if done in the right spirit. This is not a homeschool book.  Most days, though, the actual schooling is easy and the living is what drains me. This book convicts me to my core making me evaluate my heart and motivation. Our homes can be our monasteries. Liturgy, reading, housekeeping and constant prayer- as the Benedictines do, so do the mothers.
  • Susan Schaeffer Macaulay For the Children’s Sake
    • Susan Schaeffer Macaulay- a gently reminding sister. When I first came into the homeschooling arena, this book was recommended over and over to me. It is a biblically framed reminder to remove ourselves from the culture of schools and create an atmosphere of education in our home. It is a great read for the beginner, especially one who has littles at home. The pressure to start sometimes itches at us but our children need to be relieved of this. She’d say “Remember this: nourish our children’s lives and cultivate their souls.”
  • Other notable recommendations: Leigh Bortins-The Core, Karen Glass- Consider This, Cindy Rollins- Mere Motherhood.

We can’t forget the men.  Here are some notable Godfathers:

  • C.S. Lewis- Abolition of Man
  • David Hicks- Norms and Nobility
  • Anthony Esolen- Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child
  • Oliver DeMille- A Thomas Jefferson Education
  • Richard Louv- Last Child in the Woods

I’ve been wanting to read/currently reading: Stratford Caldecott- Beauty in the Word (amazing!), and Julie Bogart, The Brave Learner.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Cheers to you on this long obedience; may your years reap a great harvest.

One thought on “Bookshelf Godmothers

  1. I loved reading this! I’m thankful for women like you who are further down the parenting/educating road that I am. What a joy to hear about what’s taught and inspired you, Jenny! Thank you for posting, Rachael.

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