Our Homeschool Redoux with Living Books

This year I did something quite drastic as I planned our homeschool year. I sold/donated/or threw away (nearly) all of our textbooks! What caused me to do something so drastic and unconventional? Have I flipped? Before you decide, read on.

This year I have had the lovely opportunity to meet Charlotte Mason in her own writings, and this has led me on a quest to find worthy books for our home school. I find it difficult to give Miss Mason an adequate introduction, because the volumes she wrote to describe her educational philosophy are so broad. She was a British educator who lived at the turn of the twentieth century, and founded the Charlotte Mason College of Education. She was devoted to the training of mothers and governesses, and gave lectures on children and how they learn. The first of these lectures became Volume One, Home Education. (The reader is referred to volumes 1-6 of The Original Homeschooling Series, by Charlotte M. Mason, available at SimplyCharlotteMason.com) Her writings have changed how I view education, and most importantly to the subject at hand, school books.

So back to getting rid of our textbooks. I have come to appreciate that information is not education. (Yes, Charlotte said that!) To illustrate this point, what was the name of the last textbook you read? (Do I hear crickets chirping?) Now can you name a book that has inspired you, that gave you great ideas and food for thought? I’ll wager you can.

Miss Mason spoke of books with living ideas, by authors that knew and were intimate with their subjects, books that inspired ideas and questions. Books that were memorable. She spoke of spreading a wide feast of knowledge for our children, and was passionate about her topic.

imageHere is a quote from School Education (Volume 3, page 171) “I know you may bring a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink. What I complain of is that we do NOT bring our horse to the water. We give him miserable little text-books, mere compendiums of facts, which he is to learn off and say and produce at an examination; or we give him various knowledge in the form of warm diluents, prepared by his teacher with perhaps some grains of living thought to the gallon. And all the time we have books, books teeming with ideas fresh from the minds of thinkers upon every subject to which we can wish to introduce children.”

I love those words, and they echoed in my ears as I chose what to add to our bookshelves this year, and what to delete! Is this a book teeming with ideas, or is this a book of dry, dusty facts? Reading one page aloud is usually all ot takes to figure this out! If I see my daughter’s eyes getting glazed over, chances are I am not holding a living book in my hands.  image

So many books I felt I should hold onto, because “I might need to look up this fact”, but all the while they were merely cluttering my shelves, and not looking any more enticing than when I first bought them. The term “dusty textbook” was quite literal over here! Miss Mason also said that “it is accepted that the nature of a school book that it be drained dry of living thought. It may bear the name of a thinker, but then it is the abridgment of an abridgment, and all that is left for the unhappy scholar is the dry bones of his subject denuded of soft flesh and living colour, of the stir of life and power of moving.” (Page 169 School Education) (Don’t you love how she writes?) An abridgment of an abridgment, usually written by a committee! Hmmm, doesn’t sound very appealing to me.

To close, I thought I would give you an example of the section in a biology textbook about frogs (I think I will omit the name) and then compare that to a section from A Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Botsford Comstock.

The Adult Frog

“After the tail shrinks and the lungs develop, the young frog moves onto the land. An adult frog looks very different from a tadpole. The tail is gone and front and hind legs have appeared. The gills are gone and the frog uses lungs to breathe. The eyes have changed shape and now have eyelids. The frog now has an “ear” called the tympanic (tim-pä-nik) membrane which is a small flat disk that vibrates when there is sound…. The skin is smooth and has many glands that secrete mucus. This helps keep the frog’s skin moist.”

(Are you snoring yet?)

Here is the section on frogs from A Handbook of Nature Study:

The Frog

“The stroller along brookside is likely to be surprised someday at seeing a bit of moss and earth suddenly make a long, high leap, without apparent provocation.  An investigation resolves the clump of moss into a brilliantly green spotted frog with two light yellow raised stripes down his back; and then the stroller wonders how he could have overlooked such an obvious creature. But the leopard frog is only obvious when it is out of its environment. The common green frog is quite is well protected, since its color is exactly that of green pools. Most frogs spend their lives in or about water, and it caught on land they make great leaps to reach their native element; the leopard frog and a few other species, however, sometimes wonder far afield.

In form, the frog is more slim then the toad, and is not covered with great worts; it is cold and slippery to the touch. The frog’s only chance of escaping its enemies is through the slipperiness of its body, and by making long rapid leaps.”

image.jpgWhich would you rather read, or have read to you? Some food for thought as we begin our school year…there are so many beautiful books “teeming with ideas” that we can share with our children, and read for ourselves. Biographies, historical fiction, books of nature lore, poetry and Shakespeare too, the list is long! I hope this has helped elucidate what a living book is, and may inspire you to find books that will inspire and engage your children. I have become so enamored with searching for living books, that I am considering beginning a Living Books Library for homeschoolers in our area. I’ll keep you posted on that topic! But for now, I am excited, as we are perched on the edge of my daughter’s sixth grade year, with our shelves lined with gorgeous living books.

imageAuthor’s note: Selecting our specific books has been made so much easier this year, by having a consultation with Liz Cotrill, from A Delectable Education podcast. She helped me to choose books that would complement our studies this year, and also gave me a framework of what a Charlotte Mason education would include for my daughter’s age and ability level, and also presented me with scheduling help. If you are not familiar with A Delectable Education, but are interested in how to implement Charlotte Mason’s methods in your homeschool, I cannot recommend it enough! My cup overfloweth! *Listening to episode 6 of this podcast will help you to further recognize a living book! Liz, Emily, and Nicole are wonderful.      ~~~Tracy Born


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