Many homeschool methods advocate the use of “living books.” Charlotte Mason, in particular, is one that comes to mind first! However understanding what living books are, and how to use them to teach your children at home takes a little learning on your part!
Homeschoolers today are blessed with a great variety of educational methods to choose from. Several of these methods are literature-based, and many recommend the use of “living books.”
Whether you are using one of these curricula or writing your own, you will need to know what living books are, and how to choose them for your kids!
What is a Living Book?
The term “living book” may have first been used by turn-of-the-century educator Charlotte Mason. Side note- I’m a huge fan of Charlotte! She had such wonderful ideas from the wonder of the outdoors to living books. You can check out more about Charlotte’s philosophies with her books here
Charlotte Mason gives us the first clues about living books in her book School Education. In “Chapter 16,” under “Marks of a Fit Book,” Miss Mason contrasts different types of books, and then states: “…either may be right provided we have it in us to discern a living book, quick, and informed with the ideas proper to the subject of which it treats.”
She goes on to explain that the child must enjoy the book and that it must give them ideas, or make them think. She does not limit schoolbooks to first-hand accounts but requires that the author care about his or her subject and write accordingly.
In other words, if you have an author who truly enjoys a subject and has devoted the time to write well about it, passionately and engagingly you have a living book.
Does that make schoolbooks living books? No, not necessarily. There are many dry and unengaging textbooks. They may be full of information but without engagement how can you expect to engage let alone have your child remember what is being read?
How do you Choose a Living Book?
Whether or not you choose a particular book is a personal decision. This is where the homeschooling parent has an advantage over the curriculum developer.
No one knows your child better than you do. You have likely been reading with your child for years, and have a good idea of the kinds of books he or she will enjoy.
Christine Miller gives a good description of a living, or real, book. In the introduction to her text All Through the Ages: History through Literature Guide, she writes “Textbooks tell you what the main points of a subject are; in essence, they tell you what to think about that subject. Real books require you to do your own thinking, which is why they provide a superior education.”
How do you Use a Living Book?
Textbooks help us to find information quickly, by condensing it into the bare facts. When learning from a living book, however, reading at a more leisurely pace is more effective.
In her Introduction to Easy Homeschooling Curriculum, author Lorraine Curry explains: “Spending more time on one book results in greater interest and, consequently, greater permanent learning.” Later, she says “Reading entire books also gives us a meal from the authors, not just a fleeting taste.”
Living books will open up new worlds for your children. Rather than just knowing about a subject, they will understand it. It will become part of them in a way that no list of dates or names ever will.