Why and How to
Use "Living Books" for Learning
It is now January
and New Year's Day is officially behind us. This means that most of
you have started back with school by now, and the rest of you are not
too far behind. There is something exciting about getting back
to school, back into a solid routine. Eventually though, comfort
wears off and monotony settles in. How can you keep your children
excited about learning? The answer is to supply them with
So, what are
"living books" and why should you use them for teaching your children?
Here are some definitions of a living book:
||A living book
is written by a single person, a real and knowable person.
A living book is a literary expression of the author's own
ideas and love of the subject.
living book is personal in tone and feel. It touches the
heart and emotions, and the intellect.
The author of a living book addresses the reader as an
intelligent and capable thinker.
In a living book,
ideas are presented creatively in a way that stimulates the
This idea of a
living book stands in stark contrast to a textbook. So what then
is a textbook? Read on:
is a non-literary expression of collected facts and information.
A textbook is impersonal in tone and feel. It touches only the
In a textbook, facts are presented without creativity in a way
that deadens the imagination.
[Excerpted from Educating the
WholeHearted Child (copyright 1994, 1996 Clay Clarkson). Used by
permission. For more information, contact Whole Heart Ministries (P.O.
Box 3445, Monument, CO 80132, 719-488-4466) or visit their website at
Charlotte Mason, a British educator from
England in the previous century, whose ideas are currently
experiencing a rebirth among American home schools, wrote this in her
volume 1 of The Original Homeschooling Series, "The
fatal mistake is in the notion that he (the student) must learn
'outlines' of the whole history... just as he must cover the
geography of all the world. Let him, on the contrary, linger
pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he
thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that
period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single
man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a
whole nation for a whole age."
Have you ever experienced this in your
home schooling adventures? You set out to cover a certain amount
of history in a particular year, just to find out that your child
becomes fascinated by a single character or time in history.
This happened to us a couple of years ago. We were studying
modern history with the goal of getting through the years 1850 to the
present. I had allotted 4-5 weeks for studying the Civil War,
which I thought was plenty. What I didn't realize was how
fascinated my children were to become with not only this event in
history, but the general time period as well.
After 6 weeks of reading the books I had
planned to read and doing the activities I had planned to do, my
children were begging for more. I reluctantly gave in and let
them guide their own education for a while. They chose more
library books from the time period. My daughter sewed some
period clothing, complete with snood and gloves. My son
converted some cast-off clothing we found at Goodwill into a union
soldier's uniform. We went to a Civil War reenactment, made a
soldier's meal of hard tack and goober peas, and talked Dad into
crafting some wooden rifles in the shop.
We stayed on this topic for probably a
total of 9-10 weeks. Since that time, I have realized that
learning does not follow a set pattern. In fact, more learning
often takes place when allowed to progress naturally rather than on a
set schedule. Last year, we studied the medieval time period.
We were supposed to get to the year 1600, but only studied through a
portion of the 15th century. And we did not get to all of the
historical figures that I would have liked. But those events and
people that my children gravitated toward allowed them to soak in the
particular time period in history and gain more depth than if I had
pushed them through on my schedule.
I am not saying that a schedule is bad.
A schedule is a wonderful and necessary tool, but let it be your slave
and not your master. Take the time to slow down and read "living
books". Read the first part of this article once again to remind
yourself what a "living book" is and learn to identify them when
browsing your library's shelves.
I would like to conclude with a couple
more quotes. Karen Andreola, author of A Charlotte Mason
Companion, writes, "If
we want the mind of a child to come alive, we feed him living ideas.
Ideas reside in living books,..."
I am a rather eclectic homeschooling mom
and do not follow the Charlotte Mason method completely. Still,
I would like to end with a final word from Charlotte Mason herself:
"...the only vital
method of education appears to be that children should read worthy
many worthy books." ~Charlotte Mason
For a list of great books to read, I
would recommend that you check out these books from your library:
Honey for a Child's Heart, by
Love, by Elizabeth Wilson
and visit this website:
a ministry to homeschooling families, which provides an active online
discussion list as well as over 100 pages of free book lists, reviews,
and practical helps.
Valerie writes, "I have chosen Living Books as my primary curriculum
because I want to see my children loving learning rather than enduring
an education! In this, my interest has never been in books and
resources designed to entice reluctant kids with short attention
spans, but rather in materials carefully written with an evident
passion to challenge children, encouraging them to reason carefully
and respond wholeheartedly."
And finally, if you
are studying the Middle Ages this year, do check out our new book
entitled, "What Really Happened During the Middle Ages." The
authors who contributed to this book are passionate about their
subject and this delight gets transferred to the student. This
is a great way to introduce your children to amazing individuals from
this time period who changed the course of our world. For more
details, go to:
Enjoy your school