I am embracing the Charlotte Mason method for homeschooling this year. If you don’t know about her philosophies I would recommend checking out A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola. Miss Mason’s methods are simple yet deeply rooted.
One of her main ideas is learning through living books. A “living book” is a book written by a person who is passionate about the subject matter. They write is a very conversational style that pulls you into the subject and becomes emotional so that you can remember the facts. The books becomes “alive” in a sense.
Since my children are still very young (all 8 and under) we don’t really do a formal history or science curriculum (which Miss Mason would say is unnecessary anyway). We read a lot of living books. We do this by incorporating books that are closely related to the subject matter we are studying at the time.
For instance, if we are studying the Revolutionary War, I would gather books about George Washington, Benedict Arnold, the War, etc. These books would be written so that the facts are laid out and there is no “twaddle”. “Twaddle” is a term used for books that are full of worthlessness, junk, non-facts, and the such. Basically, if the book is “dumbed down” for the child, it is twaddle. Children can and will learn the most from books that are written without twaddle.
Many people have heard of living books but don’t actually know much about them. In my home, we have a shelf of books that are not living books. These are books we read purely for entertainment purposes. I am not a Charlotte Mason purist in this sense. I do know many people who are and they would never allow a Star Wars book to be read by their children. But, my oldest son took off with his reading after picking up a Star Wars book. He devoured it and several others after. This gave me a foot-in on the living books later on. He wanted to read more so I gave him worthwhile books to fill his mind with.
History is a great subject to learn by using living books. You can also learn about science, math, religion, and much more strictly by using living books. It opens doors to read biographies, autobiographies, and more. Teaching using living books gives your child a sense of excitement about each subject as well as gets them connected with different people, cultures, and times.
I use living books to read aloud to my children each day. Living books are literature rich books that don’t dumb down the language for certain ages. Children learn new words and expand their vocabulary simply by listening to me read to them each day. I have witnessed my children using big words in context because we just read about that word in a living book. I have also seen them want to dig deeper into certain historical subjects such as George Washington. We are taking a tour of the White House and Capital in October because of their peeked interest.
There are many websites available with lists of living books for each subject. You can use those as a guide and take it to the library or add to your home library by purchasing them on Rainbow Resource. They have a wonderful array of books to choose from and they are inexpensive.