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Living Books

No matter what homeschooling approach you settle on, your children (and you) will benefit from a good dose of twaddle-free literature. Living books can augment any area of study, even math! But rich literature can also become the core of our child’s learning experiences in history, geography, and the natural sciences. So enjoy exploring the many ways to incorporate a literature-rich environment — one more tool in your teaching toolbox!

What is a Living Book?

The term “living book” was coined by Charlotte Mason in her Original Home Schooling Series:

‘Education is the Science of Relations’; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of—

‘Those first-born affinities

‘That fit our new existence to existing things.’

A “living book” is usually written by an author who is very knowledgeable about his subject, many times in an experiential way. The author tends to write from a love of his subject, one that propels him to write with an enthusiasm that excites the imagination of the reader and carries him along as though experiencing the subject firsthand.

What is Twaddle?

“How living would Geometry become in the light of the discoveries of Euclid as he made them!”

Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education

Perhaps the best way to understand the concept of a “living book” is to understand what it is not: twaddle or dumbed-down, senseless literature devoid of rich meaning, thought, and relation. Dry textbook comes to mind here. Usually such a work is written by adults for children and has been stripped of life, broken into many digestible chunks, and tastes rather like cardboard. If we provide our children with a steady diet of rich literature, they’ll grow to understand and appreciate the difference between twaddle and living books.

Reasons to Use Living Books

Living Books are the Whetstone of our Tools of Learning

Living books are the means by which we accumulate knowledge, exercise logic, and, after absorbing and letting the mind chew, apply our newly formed ideas. They can be used as the basis for learning the proper use of the English language, improving our grammar and spelling through copying great passages from the masters. They provide the opportunity to reason through the “whys” of history, engaging in discussions that help our children see a bigger picture. They are the models that we copy to become excellent writers, learning from great writers throughout time.

Living Books Provide Grist for the Mind

Rich literature provides the foundation as our children work out the great ideas of life. They provide opportunities for discussion, whether as the basis for our read-alouds, discussing as we go, or whether we have read ahead, taking notes and becoming prepared for advanced topics and themes we would like to discuss. It is through these discussions that we train our children to take every thought captive.

Living Books Foster a Love of Learning

Through the process of digesting living books our children will learn to love to learn. Reading great books will become a lifelong project. When they need to know something, they won’t need to ask an expert. They can become an expert themselves in any area that interests them.

Living Books Bind Generations

In the days before television and video games, families read together for entertainment. The entire family was engaged in a story, a shared experience.

Read-alouds do not have to be a thing of the past! Many of us are already taking advantage of read-aloud time and share at least one book during the day. These family reading times become even more enriching when they include the entire family.

Living Books Can Set Our Life Course

There is no better way to provide living ideas for our children, foster a love of learning, or serve up a glimpse into the great ideas of life than by encouraging our children to study Scripture.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16–17

What Should We Then Read?

Each family is different and each individual will have different needs that will need to be met when it comes to selecting quality literature. No book list will fit every family. Let your own conscience be your guide:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.

Philippians 4:8

Further Reading

5 Reasons to Use Living Books
Still not convinced?

6 Ways to Get the Most From Your Literature-Based Studies
Wonderful literature can, and should, complement any style of home education. But for those who prefer a literature-based approach, it is particularly important to process what we read. There are several ways to interact with the books we read and enhance our studies.

The Library
Books covering literature, poetry, math, history, science, and other areas of interest!

Looking for a Good Book?
A few of our favorite reading lists.

Helps from others:
  • Book Selection
    “Homeschoolers have also noticed the value of “real” books, sometimes called whole books and living books. An entire book on one subject affords far more retention than a short paragraph in a textbook. Living books have facts in them just like any textbook would, but they also feature people living through ocean exploration, wars, scientific discoveries, etc. When children read about people’s lives in a book they tend to care and become connected, then they hang on to the facts far better than they do when they read boring, lifeless entries in other types of books.” Article by Catherine Levison detailing the value of “real” books.
  • Living Books for the Mind and Heart
    “A living book has more of the human touch. Usually only one author is writing, sharing his favorite subject with us. We pick up his enthusiasm for his subject as he writes affectionately about what he knows. These books are living in the sense that they are alive with ideas. Ideas give us something to ponder. It is better to ponder than to parrot.” A wonderful article by Karen Andreola explaining the whys and hows of using living literature. Includes a few favorite titles.

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