Learning Through Living Books

Books on mathematics and natural science in Se...

Take a good story, fill it with fascinating characters, surround these in historical and geographic details, place it in detailed natural surroundings, add the hero’s moral crisis and growth, submerge this in rich vocabulary, and you have an unforgettable

living book!

Over the 14 years or so of homeschooling I have discovered the easiest, richest education is through living books.

With living books as our literature-based curriculum we read and enjoy the content and characters, and branch off on any and many interesting studies as we go along.

I am happily re-using my South African History curriculum “Footprints On Our Land” with my youngest.  Although she floated along on our first Footprints journey, she was only a young 5-year-old then, and missed much of the detail and content. 

This time round, we snuggle together and read, atlas and reference books at hand, and talk and narrate about the culture, lifestyle, history, geography and natural science that we discover through the story.

Now and then we branch off to study something in-depth (like we did recently with the moon cycle) or sit at the table to write narrations on notebook pages or in lapbooks.

My daughter loves the read alouds.  It is her favourite part of her school day. And, remarkably, she learns so much this way.  It may seem informal, but it is foundational.

You do not need a fancy curriculum, detailed schedules, flashcards, posters and all the bells and whistles!  You can select several age-appropriate literature books for your children and base your studies around these.

For moms with very young children, you could simply use a richly illustrated children’s treasury of classic stories and read … read … read aloud every day.

Living books will ignite the flame of interest and a love to learn in your children’s hearts and minds.

Please feel free to share your living books learning experiences in the comments.

Blessings, Nadene

20 thoughts on “Learning Through Living Books

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  8. Thanks for this lovely article. I love reading. I fell in love with the idea of homeschooling many years ago but only ‘weirdo’s do it’! lol! Little did I know that our paths would cross again and here I am almost 5 years later homeschooling my boys.
    However, we never ended up using living books. We never ventured onto the road I dreamed about. Our wheels came off about 2 years ago but I stuck with the completely academic, textbook, desk like curriculum. And finally, about 2 months ago, I said no. Enough is enough. I dread school. My 2nd grader hates school and the worst things is that he was learning little, had no confidence in discussion or trying to implement what he ‘learned’ according to me. After much discussion with hubby I am throwing out everything! It’s scary! No curriculum, no guidelines, nothing! And we are reading. 1/2 hour in the morning and 1/2 hour in the afternoon. It is gradually becoming more. I am ‘surfing the net’ for living books and have a whole list of ones suggested by CM homeschoolers, suggested ones through AO, SCM and others. My 2nd grader are finally reading! In about a month’s time! It is unreal! He even reads to daddy! He even narrates!
    We started doing nature study and although there are a huge amount of work to be done in restoring our relationships,
    I think we are finally on the right track. I am still a bit nervous about our schooling future but for now, we are learning to love literature and mending relationships. Your approach to your articles are extremely gentle and I feel better just reading them.
    Trusting that our dear Father give me the wisdom and the gentleness that I see flowing through you as well.
    Thank you so much for your lovely blog.


    • @homeschooladventurers, I’m totally delighted you followed your heart and found the life and joy of learning through living books! May you and your family continue to thrive and grow on this amazing journey! Thanks for sharing.


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  10. Thanks again Nadene for such a true article. I love your thorough answer to Holmancentral above as it also gave me some ideas of how to do things in future.
    My two boys, 3 and 5yrs old respectively, have asked me on two occassions to please read something else when I followed the “guidelines” given by a (teacher) friend. She said to first start reading books with only 3 and 4 letter words and then later go on to bigger and longer sentences. As I said, the boys weren’t impressed.
    They wanted their stories with descriptions, stories we could discuss afterwards, stories that make them think (even if they didn’t realise it at the time). They totally love the interaction that a living book creates, whereas other books are just… blah…
    And so I learned from these two little ones, keep it real, keep their imaginations alive! They totally live themselves in the story. My oldest has on occassion thought about a book, the character’s actions and what he said for up to three or four days after we read the story!


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  12. I want to do more with living books. However, I have the hardest time implementing them because my kids both hate writing….mainly my 3rd grade son. I read to them every night, and that is by far one of our most favored times of the day.

    My kids are in 3rd and 6th. Is it too late to get them happily into notebooking? Any ideas as to where to start?


    • @Holmancentral, may I suggest you cultivate their active listening with oral narrations/ illustrations/ making models etc after your read to them. Then perhaps go on to be their scribe and write or type their oral narrations. When they are ready, they will be able to write a variety of notebooking ideas – write the events on a time line, put the story in sequence, illustrate and describe the workings of a machine, draw and label a scientific concept, create your own ending for the story, compare 2 characters, list items used … It need not be essays, paragraphs or long sentences. Slowly, gently, they will discover and develop the skills they need for more advanced notebooking.


  13. I was just talking to my husband today about how I had never before read all of the Jungle Book. I am reading it to my 3rd grader now, and wondering why we wait to expose our kids to these great stories? 🙂


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  15. “Over the 14 years or so of homeschooling I have discovered the easiest, richest education is through living books.”
    I totally agree with you. I thoroughly believe the reason my daughter is studying a Liberal Arts degree today is due to her rich heritage of living books. I need to continue to be vigilant with my other children that they are reading QUALITY living books. I’m afraid some twaddle has crept in, which does have its place but not as a steady diet.


  16. I LOVE living books…I am so glad to have found Miss Mason and her excellent thoughts on this. I had the opposite sort of education than her philosophy encourages and am DELIGHTED to learn along with my children! 🙂


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