As we continue our series on Charlotte Mason, you’re probably asking yourself “What are living books in Charlotte Mason homeschooling?” If you are new to homeschooling, the idea of living books may be unfamiliar.
In a nutshell, living books are highly engaging books that both “teach” and “entertain.” They are books that your children want to read or listen to because they are so interesting and feel relevant to their lives.
My favorite example of living books are all the books in the Little House on the Prairie series. As you read along you may find your children asking to make taffy in the snow or wanting to know if they can build a house out of sod. They may ask to cook over a fire or plant a garden.
The information shared in the books is “alive” and teaches practical skills as well as lessons about character and life.
Charlotte Mason Homeschooling
One method of homeschooling is called “Charlotte Mason” homeschooling named after the woman who pioneered the key educational concepts in this form of learning.
She was a British educator who lived in the 19th century and developed an educational philosophy and method that is still popular among homeschoolers today. While she has several key elements to her method, living books are one of the cornerstones of her approach.
What are Living Books?
According to Charlotte, living books are high-quality works written by authors who are both passionate and knowledgeable about the topic they are writing about.
In the example above, Laura Ingalls Wilder was an “expert” on growing up out west because she lived it. Her books are engaging because of the personal details and warm retelling that she shares on their pages.
Typically, living books are imaginative, well-written, and capture the reader’s attention. The subjects they are sharing…whether it is science, history, life skills, or anything else, will feel alive and relatable to students.
What are the Characteristics of Living Books?
Charlotte’s philosophy of quality literature was actually quite specific and detailed. Here are the criteria she outlined to determine whether books were “living books.”
- Thought-Provoking: Living books should be imaginative and provoke curiosity and good discussion.
- Varied Topics: Living books can come from any academic or non-academic field and can lend themselves to a person being well rounded.
- Age-Appropriate: Living books can be used with children of different ages by adapting the activities and discussions to fit their interests and abilities.
- Avoiding Twaddle: One of the classic Charlotte Mason characteristics is the emphasis on avoiding “twaddle.” She defined twaddle as books that are dumbed down or overly simplistic, completely the opposite of literature that stretches the imagination and is intellectually stimulating.
- Rich and Narrative: Living books often tell stories or present information in an engaging way.
- High Quality: They are well written and possess intellectual merit.
- Authentic and Primary Sources: As much as possible, Charlotte advocated for using primary source books written by experts in their field.
Are Living Books Textbooks?
Traditional textbooks are heavy on information but are not interesting to read. They are factual but not engaging or life changing.
So traditional textbooks would not usually qualify as Charlotte Mason style living books.
However, many homeschool curriculum companies try to capture the best of both worlds by creating texts that are interesting to read and engaging.
Here are a few examples of Charlotte Mason style textbooks:
- Notgrass History Textbooks
- Story of the World History
- Berean Builders Science
- Apologia Science…especially for elementary school
- Progeny Press Literature Studies
- Life of Fred Math
How Can You Incorporate Living Books Into Your Homeschooling?
If you are new to Charlotte Mason homeschooling, there are a few ways to add this style of learning to your home.
- Choose curriculum that is more “hands on” than just plain textbooks.
- Buy extra supplemental resources and bundles that incorporate living books and hands on learning
- Read good literature aloud to your kids.
- Make recipes or do activities that you read about in stories.
- Listen to audiobooks in the car.
Can You Use Living Books in Other Homeschool Methods?
Yes! One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is the option to pick and choose resources that fit your preferences and your child’s learning style.
There are many different methods of homeschooling that vary from very relaxed homeschooling (Unschooling) all the way to very formal Classical Homeschooling. Most families find themselves somewhere in the middle.
Here are 7 Different Methods of Homeschooling
Ways To Include Living Books In Your Homeschool:
- Add quality literature to whatever curriculum you are using
- Listen to audiobooks
- Read before bed
- Choose curriculum that is more engaging and hands on that traditional textbooks
Living Books Make Education Come Alive
The fun fact about using living books is that children don’t really feel like they are “doing school” when you use them.
Living books can be woven into daily life by reading stories together or listening to audio books. Children can play with Legos as they read or draw pictures of what they are listening to. Using living books is to “do school” without it feeling like school!
If you want to add living books to your homeschool, I find that one of the best places to start is by looking at the Newbery and Caldecott winner books. Those books…and usually other books by those authors are great examples of living books that your children…and you…will enjoy!