Teaching from living books and things

What Is A Living Book?

“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

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 V:3 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.

Teaching From Things

Charlotte Mason wasn’t just about books she was also interested in students learning about things by: seeing them, touching them and exploring them for themselves.

She believed the science of relations encouraged children to make connections with what they were learning:

  • Children were encouraged outside for regular nature walks & nature study. These formed part of their science and geography lessons.
  • Museum and gallery visits were encouraged to find out about history and art.
  • Handicrafts like sewing and woodwork were an important part of her curriculum.
  • Picture study was taught studying famous artists’ works; music appreciation can be done in a similar way using famous composers’ music.
  • Art lessons included nature journaling and providing children with materials to do their own art work.
  • She also wanted children to have access to the scholars’ tools of the trade when possible which included: compasses, measuring instruments and other scientific apparatus that children could safely use.
  • Early math lessons included beans or button counting.
  • Early writing lessons included letters in the sand.

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?

“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.” Charlotte Mason

  • 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.
  • Check out our living booklists to find some living books to get you started.