There is an aspect of Charlotte Mason's method which resonated with me several years ago when I was first looking into it a way to go about our home education. It was the idea that we nourish the minds of our children on a banquet of ideas. I could understand feeding their minds because I was already very accustomed to feeding their bodies and to translate that skill towards education made perfect sense.
"Our chief concern for the mind or for the body is to supply a well-ordered table abundant, appetizing, nourishing and very varied food, which children deal with in their own way and for themselves. This food must be served au natural, without the predigestion which deprives it of stimulating and nourishing properties and no sort of forcible feeding or spoon feeding may be practiced." (Vol. 6 ch. 4)
A well ordered table implies that we don't skip around feeding them a bit of Egyptian history one day and some Renaissance history another, but that we have a sense of order to our presentation of ideas. Ideally they should build on, or rather link one to another. Line upon line precept upon precept may not be necessary for each subject but it implies the right idea, the presentation of ideas should flow easily from one idea to the next so the mind can follow a path to new ideas.
This idea of having a well ordered table also implies that the lesson we plan have a sense of rhythm or routine to it. I heard it once said that routine in a day is like a string on which to hang the beads of the events of our daily life. I can just imagine a beautiful string of beads all jumbled up and wanting desperately to arrange them so that they look lovely hanging there next to each other. It may be the arrangement is done via the colors, but perhaps also the shapes can be put in to order in such a way as to convey balance. CM suggests putting subjects in order in such a way as to give the brain rest on one task while engaging in a totally new task but is different from the last. Such as listening to a portion of history and narrating after doing mathematics. Each task engages the mind but in different ways thus not taxing but nourishing the child's mind.
This year I have begun to take this to heart and let go of many of our hands on lesson for living lessons based upon "living books". I read more aloud to them from literary sources and I commentate very little. They narrate and tell me what they have learned, and I stay out of their way. I can see such a change in them. The eagerness to come to be fed is tangible. No need any more for twisting of arms or treats to motivate them. They come because they are hungry to know. I have made it a goal to feed them more and have them put out work less.
I can recall reading a picture book to my boys a few years back. It was a picture book of King of the Golden River. The pictures were beautifully drawn and complex. The literary value was beyond what I could read easily but the words painted a picture for the mind to dwell on. I read a few pages and began to get a little worried I had picked a book that was beyond them but they surprised me in asking the read the book and then again and again. When I grew tired of reading it to them they asked others to read it to them. The beautifully written words were appetizing to their minds and they longed for more.
A child's mind is fed upon ideas, says CM. Thus nourishing the mind would involve lessons which are full of ideas. Ideas that convey a picture to the mind seem to work best. Ideas not books full of facts or factoids but ideas found inside of a story/narrative. Ideas built line upon line. Even at my adult age I notice my mind still thrives best and learns most readily from a story. I recently read The Harbinger and was delighted to realize how the author had utilized this idea of a narrative to convey his idea to the reader. Luckily, there are many 'living books' in all topics which can be used for nourishing the mind.
Last summer I read Children of the Summer with my boys just before bed. We only read it for fun and did not narrate it. It is a lovely "living book" which excites any reader to love the dear little insects Fabre spent his life learning about. It was simply a small bedtime snack for the mind. I did not know if they were or were not getting anything from the book, but I decided to trust CM and simply feed them. Later that summer several weeks after we had finished reading the book I left my kids to play outside with some other kids for the afternoon while I did some errands. When I returned the mom told me how amazed she was at how much my children knew about insects. She proceeded to tell me all they had said and I recognized their knowledge had come from Fabre's delightful book. They had received something from those bedtime snacks....sometimes it takes more than a day to digest it or find another soul to retell it to.
I still do too much spoon feeding and other kinds of lesson other than those that feed the mind. But this year I understand more fully that my children's minds need to be fed and I am praying about how to change my old habits for new ones. It is still and small this sweet voice of comfort I hear speaking to me in the stiller moments of the day. It keeps saying.....simply feed them Sarah That is enough.
UPDATE July 2013: There is a wonderful post by Dr. Carroll Smith HERE that talks in more detail about laying a feast of living books that you may enjoy reading.