Thursday, August 07, 2008

What are living books?

Another back-to-homeschool question. Reader Kim emailed and asked,

I read on your blog something about textbooks, and that we are basically boring our kids to death. What is a living book? I desperately want to break out of the "curriculum/textbook" mode but don't really know how to do that. I have been using Bob Jones for a couple years now. I really like BJU, they are very thorough. However, I recently realized just how much BJU is geared towards a classroom setting. It is a published curriculum for schools and teachers to use, it just happens to be used by a lot of home schoolers as well.

So, my question is....what kinds of curriculums are out there that are geared specifically for the home educator, not based on a class full of kids and having to teach lessons everyday in every subject.I guess I am looking for something that is easier for me to manage with my two kids, but just as comprehensive as a school program. I obviously don't want to slack in their education.

I first heard of the term "living books" while reading the Charlotte Mason series on education. (Available online here.) Mason encouraged parents to allow their children to read books of excellent literary value that inform and inspire a child's mind. She rejected as "twaddle" books that talk down to the reader or "dumb down" the subject discussed. Mason had little use for textbooks as a method of instruction.

Textbooks inform and are more comprehensive in scope, but not many people enjoy them and even fewer remember what they read after the test. In part, because the material is presented in short dry segments where most of the "thinking" has already been done for the reader. That's not to say that textbooks have no value. They do. But they are geared to a classroom where the children must all "be on the same page" both literally and figuratively with little room for thoughtful imagination or exploration. Mason's purpose for reading a book was was not simply to digest information but to foster noble ideas. Living books accomplish that goal.

The advantage of a living book is that it is usually written by someone who has a heart for the subject, often with first hand knowledge or experience. For example, reading the Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boon would be considered a "living book" about the Holocaust and World War II; a Bob Jones history text covering the 1900's would likely discuss concentration camps, Hitler, Germany, and perhaps contain a paragraph on Corrie Ten Boom, but it would not have the same impact on the reader as reading her biography.

Renee Meloche, author of over 20 children's books and a dear friend, summarized the inspiration "living books" provide this way,
Stories are some of the most powerful and influential things a child will ever encounter. Children should hear good stories, positive stories, and inspiring stories. Stories help children learn what it means to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. When the stories are true-about real people and real life-children should hear them more than once. They should hear them again and again, reinforcing the positive messages and incorporating them into their own character. I know from experience that the right story, at the right time, can literally change the course of a young child’s life. They’ve changed mine.
If you want to break out of the "textbook" mode and make your children's learning inspiring and memorable, there are a few curriculums that can help make that task easier. Depending on your budget, they can cost little, if you use the library as your primary source, or more if you buy every book.

Here are some places to get you started for general curriculum,

Ambleside Online (free online curriclum with a Charlotte Mason approach)
Tapestry of Grace (History and literature using literature in a classical style.)
Sonlight (History, literature, science using living books.)

Here are a few more recommendations for "living books" with a specific focus along with links to the author's blog.
A Child's Geography series by Ann Voskamp and Tonia Peckover
Exploring Creation science series by Jeanne Fulbright.
Christian Heros for Young Readers by Rene Meloche
The Christian Logic series by the Bluedorns

Here are a few websites that talk more indepth about living books.
Karen Andreola's sites Charlotte Mason and Homeschool Highlights.
Catherine Levinson's site, A Charlotte Mason Education is a very informative.
Melissa Wiley author of some of the Little House books is also a homeschool mom who endeavors to use living books with her family. Her blog, Here in the Bonny Glen, is a great resource (and just plain fun.)

The benefit of reading living books is multiplied when read aloud as a family. This week, I finished reading the French comedy Tartuffe by Moliere to my children. When the play began, both the children and I were uncertain if we would enjoy it. However, by the time we reached the last scene, we were all anxious to know how it would end for the hypocrite Tartuffe and his benefactor, Orgon. For our family of teenagers, who can be easily swayed by first impressions, this was definitely the right story at the right time. The story and the moral lesson will not be easily forgotten by any of us.

Finally, God's Word, is the best example of a "living book" available. Each word is carefully crafted by our Creator to instruct and inspire us to thought and to change our lives in accordance with His will.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (2 Timothy 3:16)

Our goal for the books we read to our children should be similar, even if the books themselves are not perfect.

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