Using Living Books For Home Schooling

What is a living book? How can I use these books for homeschooling?

“Children can be most fitly educated on Books and Things…The value of this education by Things is receiving wide recognition, but intellectual education to be derived from Books is still for the most part to seek. ”

Charlotte Mason

School Education

Teaching From Living Books

Living books have something special about them: they flow, they capture the imagination, and they tell us the facts while they give us the story. A living book is written by a passionate author (not a committee) who communicates this passion to the reader in a literary language.

To strictly classify a living book is difficult for what excites you may be very boring for me. I am sure you can remember a time someone handed you a ‘must read’ book and as you struggled through each page you wondered what was all the fuss about.

A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader. The expert is not the person to choose; the children themselves are the experts in this case. A single page will elicit a verdict; but the unhappy thing is, this verdict is not betrayed; it is acted upon in the opening or closing of the door of the mind.

Charlotte Mason

School Education, p. 228

I never really understood the value of living books until I started homeschooling. I had two bookoholic friends who kept giving me recommendations. My bookcases started growing. My taste for books changed. I began to exercise some discernment in the type of books I bought. Glossed up textbooks were less tempting. I saw through the eye-catching graphics and bite sized information compiled by a team of experts. I was looking for more quality in the content that I read to my children. I wanted them to learn to love their books and to thirst for good books. I wanted their books to be delicious, captivating, brain and soul food, pure pleasure! I began to understand what a living book is!

Working directly from real books is one of the advantages you have when homeschooling. You do not need to teach a whole class from a textbook.

Many of Charlotte Mason’s ideas revolve around using living books for lessons:

  • English lessons with literature, handwriting, spelling and composition are taught using copywork, dictation and narration from living books.
  • History, geography, science are taught from living books but also from things.

How Can You Teach From Living Books?

Once your children have become fluent readers they are in the information stage of their reading. They use books to learn.

When you use living books for your lessons there are often no worksheets or comprehension tests to go with the book. Now this can send a shiver down some of our spines. How can I know that they are learning? I can’t just get them to read a book…Can I?

  • Reading aloud to your children is a key ingredient of a Charlotte Mason homeschooling. Even when my children are in high school we still read aloud.
  • Incorporate reading into all your lessons.

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 schoolrooms and some other schools.

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

There is reason to believe that these principles are workable in all schools, Elementary and Secondary; that they tend in the working to simplification, economy and discipline”.

Charlotte Mason

School Education, p. 214

Overflowing Bookcases Of Living Books

You can buy the books easily enough but getting kids to read books with all the other temptations out their is a challenge.

Help! My literary purchasing power is exceeding my reading capacity.

I can’t help myself! The more I clean out those bookshelves the more they swell. It’s like my bathroom, it only looks OK for about one hour after it’s cleaned. I get rid of books I want to keep but I know that I have to show some restraint. We still have to have furniture that isn’t bookcases. I’m almost afraid to go to the library for I don’t know where to put the books anymore.

Last year I was so sad to sell one of my kindergarten books. It felt like I was selling a little friend, for we had been through four children together. I was torn, it held lovely memories but I needed space for the next influx.

The Challenge is Getting Kids to Read The Living Books.

We are getting through our books but since I only average 2-3 read aloud novels with my children per term that is only 12 novels a year and I have less than 10 years left of read alouds.

We have trips to the library and well stocked bookcases and all of my children are encouraged to read for pleasure and they do. However there are many electronic temptations about that drag them away from books and I want to foster a high standard of literacy and this requires me to be proactive in getting my kids to read and making reading a loved life-time habit.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this one but for my 14 year old son (who is now in school) I am paying him money to read the books I select. He is an excellent reader but his literary taste has become quite narrow (and school is making demands) so in an effort to expand his genre’s I have given him 4 books this term and have told him I will pay $10 for each book read. He was thrilled. One has already been handed back.

For the others I assign them as readers in their homeschool work boxes. This way I know that they are reading at least some of the books that I want read.

We use a literary approach to English and for my homeschooled high school daughter we are also using novel studies to look further into a book.

My 10 year old boy has three books in his homeschool workbox that he goes through.

My eight year old has a simple science reader everyday and we continue to read together through a chapter book.

Finding time for me to read seems to be the hardest thing of all. I read large amounts of information gathering books but books for pleasure are a luxury. I actually need to keep away from them as I get lost in them. For now I only allow the holidays to read. As I write I realise I should treat myself more.

There are so many electronic demands on our spare time, reading can be pushed aside and I don’t want that to be something that happens to us.

Homeschooling with Books

When I began homeschooling I used textbooks for homeschool resources most of the time. I though that would make it easier. It actually made it harder.

I discovered you can usually use living books instead of a textbook to teach English, History, Geography and Science

When you are homeschooling multiple children finding a family friendly homeschool curriculum is essential. For the first few years of homeschooling I had babies and toddlers. This involved spending lots of time on the couch feeding whilst lessons were on. At first I used to try to fit the feeds in between the lessons, often getting up mid feed to attend to something. However it didn’t take me long to work out that I needed to find some homeschooling ideas to combine these activities if possible.

I suppose that was when I began to do couch homeschooling (today a lot of people use the term Morning Time), and for the next ten years we spent at least an hour and a half a day doing our lessons on the couch. At first I often had a little baby wrapped up feeding (or sleeping) whilst the rest of my little students snuggled next to me, but over the years things progressed. We all got used to our couch curriculum and made new routines.

Homeschooling with books wasn’t a set time every day, although it was usually before lunch.  Chores and most of the individual homeschool lessons were done before we began our couch curriculum. We tried to finish most of our work so we were ready to sit for an extended period. All the kids would get something to do whilst on the couch. They might get out some drawing and a folder, some clips and brushes to do my hair (I loved that), knitting or crochet; sometimes my boys would sit on the floor just next to the couch and quietly play LEGO.

Homeschooling With Books Encourages Life Long Learning

Homeschooling with books isn’t lazy; it was one of my family friendly homeschool curriculum that worked well for the whole family. Families homeschooling children with dyslexia also report reading aloud from living books was very enriching.

I found that when I took the pressure off locking my homeschool students to the table to do their school work I felt one million times more relaxed. I’d lost the churned up inside feeling (of trying to be in two places at once).  I was able to enjoy teaching my gorgeous students and little ones together.

As the years moved on couch time decreased but even when homeschooling in high school we still kept it going for an hour a day. Our couch time was a family friendly homeschool curriculum that was peaceful and relaxing time. I will always treasure this period of homeschooling with books.

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