Where do you begin when you decide you will educate your children from home? A parent will spend countless hours searching for the perfect curriculum. What books do you need to teach each subject? These are the questions I receive almost daily.
What if I told you that you REALLY don’t need a curriculum to teach most subjects (in my opinion, one is needed for math)?
The answer is simple, my friends. The answer lies in living books.
WHAT IS A LIVING BOOK?
“Living books” was a term originated by Charlotte Mason. A living book is a piece of literature, written by one author who knew a lot or had a passion for a certain topic or subject. If an author took a special interest in a certain subject, chances are there is passion behind the words. Words create ideas. We want our children to be fed with living thoughts.
When you first pick up a book that you think may be a living book, look inside to see if the facts and information are presented in story form. For example, an author will aim at accuracy in depiction while also depicting action. This is the type of book or story that ministers to children and adults alike.
An author who writes a living book will give you a peek into a story full of accurate facts and descriptions, but if the young reader looks further with interest on the subject, then the living book has done its job.
Many living books are written against a factual and detailed background. The story is usually based on personal observation and the author will do a good job of acknowledging outside sources of information, scientists, Drs, etc. for their advice.
It is a shame that we no longer see books like this in today’s classroom. Perhaps, the school system believes that a child will learn nothing from a book that speaks with passion, interest, wonderful stories, facts, and accurate information. Charlotte Mason believed the opposite. She believed that children are reached by living books in ways that a typical school book or textbook could not.
I find it fascinating that more than a hundred years ago this woman believed that these types of books were necessary to feed a child’s mind with living ideas. She firmly believed that this was the type of instruction they should receive.
A textbook that contains pure scientific knowledge is not considered literature or “living”.
One more thing to look for when searching for literature and living books… Take the time to see if the book contains truth, nobility, and beauty. Literature needs to be all three. It must also contain some type of truth- facts if you will. It must be ethical as well as nourishing for the mind and soul, which goes back to the belief Charlotte had- all children are born persons and should be treated as such.
What I am going to share with you next is an array of books, categorized by subject, to get you started on your homeschool journey if you are just starting out. Pair these books with narration exercises and you have a wonderful lesson on your hands. This is not an exhaustive list of course. They are simply books, pulled off my bookshelves that have brought joy and truth to our lives. These are books that I have done my own research on. Each one was purchased by myself for our homeschool and that is why I am recommending them to all of you! Because we love them!
PHONICS AND LANGUAGE ARTS
Because I am a fan of Charlotte Mason and her method, I have become concerned about the content that my children read. I would rather they read content that supports or promotes moral growth and excellence of mind in habits and attitudes. For lack of better words, I hope that what my children read is aligned with the Christian religion. In my own opinion, no other foundation could produce true morality. This is how I base my selections.
*There have been times when I compare my own children to the “status quo” of where children should be, intellectually, based on a scale. This is not where my true heart lies. It can be easy to let go of what your heart says for the sake of keeping up with everyone else. I know, in my heart that education is a life and that formal lessons can often start too early in life.
I have four children and I know that I must adapt to the individuality of each of my own children. No two minds are alike and my treatment should be somewhat different for each, while still keeping the method the same. Moving at my children’s own pace helps to preserve the vigor and energy of their mental action. For example, my four-year-old son will become exhausted and overwhelmed, limiting his vigor and energy if I push him too hard. For what? For the sake of staying ahead or catching up? It is simply not necessary. The books I am about to recommend to you align with my views on this. Of course, find what works for you.
I have loved using The Original McGuffey Readers with all my children. They are perfect for teaching phonics.
The original version is strongly Christian based. Many of the reading in these original readers contain bible stories, verses, and the idea that the Lord is above all else. I personally want my children to read this but I have stumbled upon a revised eclectic version of these books that are full of truth, nobility, and virtue, perfect for a child’s mind.
This is what the original version of these readers looks like… There are 5 readers total.
The same McGuffey Reader, which has been revised to be more non-denominational, look like this… When you see my children reading out loud on Insta stories,… this is what they are reading.
For Language Arts, we use Primary Language Lessons by Emma Serl. It is perfect for a Charlotte Mason Homeschool. In it includes “living stories,” good literature, framed artwork, comprehensive lessons and drills in the things I want my children to master. The exercises cover proper use of English, composition, punctuation, memorization, speaking, letter writing, dictation, reading and etiquette in writing. It is the best! Another plus, it is in the form of a living book.
I would recommend starting using these books at the age of 6 and once they know their letters and sounds.
Another pillar of the Charlotte Mason education is nature study.
Parables from Nature by Margaret Gatty includes timeless stories and uses nature and scripture to reveal God in a beautiful way.
The Burgess Animal Book for Children is another great living book for natural history (science). It is a story about Peter Rabbit. In these lessons, Peter learns about animals of all kinds. It is a wonderful introduction to many animals in North America but also is a great study of how they relate to each other.
The first nature book I ever bought was the Handbook of Nature Study” by Anna Botsford Comstock. This book is wonderful for a mother like me who does not know much about the natural world. I have learned so much from reading this book. This book encompasses all living things except humans, sea life and plants. This book talks about land organisms, the ones most of us see every day.
We recently started reading the Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer. It is a classic living book that talks about the earliest civilizations up until the present time. It is a must-have in my opinion. The story is engaging and easy to understand. We love it.
Another classic living book is 50 Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. They are stories that everyone needs to know. It contains stories that shaped our culture and are frequently referenced in our songs and literature. I love this version because it contains all the original illustrations.
Geography may be divided into the geography of home, the geography you see and find when you take a step outside your front door and the geography of the entire world. Geography of your home is easy to obtain by direct observation. To know the geography of the rest of the world, you will need imagination, assisted by information from living books of course.
One of the first Geography books we ever read as a family was Elementary Geography written by Charlotte Mason herself. It is written in a conversational form and absolutely lovely. This is a book we will read over and over again.
Another great living book for geography is Home Geography by C.C. Long. The book itself is broken down very simply. It contains poetry and short chapters. Chapters include maps, rain, wind, snow, distance, direction and much more. Again, it will be used for many many years in our homeschool.
Material World/A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel was one of the first books I bought for geography. Basically, it is a geography lesson come to life! It is personal and whets a person’s appetite to see the world. It is my favorite geography book we own!
The last book I will share in this blog post is a recent addition to our library.
Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel and Faith D’aluisio is probably essential to anyone who really cares about what the world eats.
That’s it for today! If you are looking for living books to teach each subject, then I recommend these, personally. I hope you have found value in this post. Please let me know what you think or if you have any questions below.