Read Books ~ When All Else Fails

Social Studies (Carla Bley album)

Living Books are the

golden threads” in our learning.

This past week I had an epiphany ~

good books have provided my children the most valuable education!

But, let me go back a little and explain …

Earlier this year my 12-year-old-now-nearly-13-teen floundered in my ‘wonderful’ Charlotte Mason education.  I wrote about our stresses and struggles and how I felt like such a failure.

Your kind comments overwhelmed me.

I simply relieved my daughter from some CM subjects and she focussed purely on her academics. (She no longer actively takes part in many of the Fine Arts lessons, but I’m sure that she absorbs her younger sister’s music and art appreciation lessons, the poetry and the Shakespeare plays.)

Most of her Footprints Into the 21st Century curriculum is literature-based. She spends many hours simply reading good books.

But, still, I worried.  I was still unhappy to see her listlessly “going through the motions” instead of connecting with her subject, let alone savoring it! (And I’m not alone. Jimmie also shared of her daughter’s changed approach.)

Would she be ready for the standards and approaches used in our Delta correspondence high school curriculum next year?


Last week, when she completed her Maths textbook I went to a local academic book store to find a new Grade 8 textbook.

To my dismay, they only supplied textbooks for the current OBE education in the South African government schools.  (This system – Outcomes Based Education – has been an absolute failure … but let me not digress.)
After 20 minutes I chose the one which seemed the best.

When I got home and took my time looking through the book, I was appalled.

It was complete drivel. Total twaddle. Not one single mathematical concept explained. Not a single theory, principle, or equation in the book. Not a single example followed by an exercise.  How does anyone learn maths from this?

I would not keep the book and the store would not refund me.  I had to exchange it for any other book from the same publishers.  Despite their thick catalogue, and much more careful examination of the sample books on the bookstore’s shelves, I could not find anything worth exchanging.

Their Social Studies book dismayed me.

Not a single photograph or accurate map …  instead they had fuzzy pencil sketch copies of photos.

Not a single quote …  just ridiculous, over-simplified explanations of the period in history summed up in 3 paragraphs, followed by 3 questions &/or activities to be done with a friend or in a group OBE-style.

This is when it stuck me!

My children know much more about the historical events, the culture, lifestyle, and important people from their living books!

Even if my junior-high daughter just ticks off her schedule and completes her tasks, simply because she reads excellent books, she will have absorbed 1000 times more than a child who has read a textbook.

And I should have given more credit to the power of reading!

I’ve written that read alouds are the Homeschool Glue.

I have seen the power of reading an excellent book to ignite thoughts, inspire the imagination, develop vocabulary, motivate action, and define character.

At its most basic, if our children read living books, they will grow and learn!

This is why I love a Charlotte Mason-inspired-literature-based education.

How have living books taught your children? Any thoughts about textbooks? Share with us in the comments.


This post is part of the upcoming Charlotte Mason Carnival ~  “What we love most about a Charlotte Mason education“.  To join the carnival, visit Amy at Fisher Academy International this Tuesday, September 4.

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 core, we read and enjoy the content and characters, and branch off on any and many interesting studies as we go along.

Jimmie summed up this in a nugget,

“Just give me the books. We can read them, narrate them, notebook them, and choose our own topics for in-depth tangents.”

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. 

We snuggle together and read, atlas 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 favorite 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.


Loving Living Books

Our home is typical of literature-loving people – we have stacks of books; shelves and racks of books, and thanks to our Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschooling, we love them all!  20151210_180943

There is nothing so life-enriching as reading good books!

My children love me reading aloud and they beg me to “keep on, Mom!”  Our most special times are when we snuggle together and enjoy a good book.  Even my eldest who has read the book many years before comes and lies with us as I read a chapter aloud each night before their bedtime.  And every night, I have to tell my middle schooler to switch off her lamp and stop reading long after her bedtime.

I have written several times about my youngest emerging reader who really works hard to learn to read, and who amazes me with her dedication to reading!

And I wish to devote this post to her:

“You have heard me read stories aloud before you were born and you have loved stories from the start.  You were just a toddler and pulled me down to the carpet or cushion with the book we’re reading and reminded me to read together with you – every – day.  Hardly a school day has gone by where we haven’t read together. We have read picture books, faerie tales, nursery rhymes, classic tales, 3D and pop-up books, legends and fables, non-fiction books and look-for-the hidden-thing-books  …

We all marvel at your devotion to reading.  You read slowly, guessing, looking at the pictures for clues, and with toe-curling frustration, you get stuck and need our help.  For months and months you have told us that you love to read and I can see that you are nearly there!

You just need a few more months practice or maybe an easy-to-read-on-your-own book, and you’ll be reading on your own!

And a whole new world will open up to you!  Magical kingdoms, mysteries and surprises, noblemen and heroes, ideas and images, places and people, countries and creatures, thoughts and concepts that will transport you out of your room and into another realm.  Oh, what wonder lies out there in the world of living books.

Just this week you dictated your first creative story to me.  You are busy reading “The Sword in the Tree” by Clyde Robert Bulla and you love the Medieval themes, the suspense and the mystery.  Even though it is a “boy’s story”, you’re hooked!  And it has filled your mind and imagination with Medieval ideas.  Now, you have your first story,  The Knight’s Tale.  I love the clip art pictures and that pretty font you chose, and how you floated away on a high with your story to show everyone.

Such joy!

May your reading grow and flow.

May books of wonder and delight enrich your life!

May your growing vocabulary continue to amaze adult listeners as you use words you read and heard.

May you grow in character, inspired by those who shared their lives in autobiographies and true-life stories.

May your own shelves one day be filled with Living Books.

Above all, may you know the Lord, revealed in His Word.

He is the best Word to read.

The Living Word.

All my Love,

From your literature-loving, book-sharing, reading-aloud-with-funny-accents-mom!

I am sharing this post on the Charlotte Mason Carnival hosted by Amy at Fisher Academy.



Great Books … Great Friends

I would love to share another gem from

Beautiful Girlhood


Image via Wikipedia

The author Ms. M. Hale says,

“Who would not count it an honour to have among her friends

the wisest, noblest, and best of earth,

and have their friendship so intimate that at any time she might go to them and converse with them

and have their opinions upon matters of importance?

Through books we may, very intimately, know the wisest and best.

What a privilege this is!

With all these wonderful book friends we can understand what Jonathan Swift meant when he said,

“A wise man is never less alone than when he is alone.” “

We can all name at least one book that shaped our thoughts and filled our imagination with wonder and delight.

When I was about 12 years old, I clearly remember my mom lending me her 2 tiny, leather-bound books with the thinnest pages I had ever handled, and she told me to look after them carefully.

Little Women” and “Jane Eyre” were the first ‘grown-up’ books I read and I was transformed!  I sat upright (afraid I might crease the pages) and felt like a Victorian lady.  And those words … they painted pictures, characters came alive, I felt every emotion, and I was transported from my ordinary world into a time gone by.

And on the influence and choice of good books the author of  Beautiful Girlhood wrote,

“If a girl will choose her books from those whose ideals are high and whose language is pure and clean, unconsciously she will mould her life, like those portrayed in the books she reads.”

She presents these questions when a young person chooses a good book:

“Would I read this book aloud to my mother?” And I add, “Knowing Jesus is present listening?”

“Would I feel honoured in intimately knowing the people of this book in real life?”

“Would pure society approve of the conduct of these story characters? ”

“Can I profitably make my life pattern after the ideals I find here?”

“Would reading of this book help me better serve my Lord?”

My daughters and I tested these questions on books in our collection.  Almost all our books received the affirmative, but we giggled and realized some of our ‘fun’ books by Roald Dahl did not pass this test!  (None of polite society would approve of  The Twits! )

What other questions could you add to this questionnaire?

Charlotte Mason inspired Living Books.  Karen Andreola, in her book Charlotte Mason Companion says,

“The test of literature is that it must bring us truth, nobility, and beauty.

Literature must be somewhat intellectual and give us truth.

It must be ethical so that we are well-nourished with noble ideas.

It must be artistic and make its appeal through the emotions.”

Essential Classic Book Lists abound.  Here are a few:

Wikipedia’s book list

Ambleside Online provides an excellent book list for each year.

Simply Charlotte Mason has an online Bookfinder

Five J’ gives online databases for book lists.

Books make a wonderful birthday gift.  I like my children to build up their own private libraries!

Audio books are another great way of bringing great literature into your home.

A Picture of a Creative Zen X-Fi 2 MP3 player

Image via Wikipedia

Check through these sites:

I confess that my children don’t really enjoy some audio recordings.  They find the voices too bland and not expressive enough.  (I’m sure it’s because I try read aloud with expression and different accents!)

We enjoy listening to dramatized audio books in the car or while doing hand-work, arts and crafts.  I love listening to audiobooks while I iron.

Amazon Kindle eBook Reader

These days, ebooks and Kindles (electronic readers) are a great way of saving space on the shelves, while still building up a collection!

Read Jimmie’s article on how they use their Kindles.  Check CurrClick for ebooks and downloads.

Make a practice of reading to your family every day.

Enjoy great books and inspire your children to love these books as friends.

Charlotte Mason on Living Books

Charlotte Mason urged us

“We owe it every child to put him in communication worth great minds that he may get at great thoughts;

with the minds, that is of those who have let us great works;

and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many book, many worthy books.” (Vol.6, p.12)

Our happiest homeschooling times are when I read aloud from delightful, living books!

Everyone, including my high school daughter and even my husband, put their work aside, draw closer and listen.

We are all caught up in the period and place, people and events of these stories.

We even cook meals like those described in the book!  (Has anyone else found that after reading any chapter from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder  everyone is starving?)

The children dress up and pretend they are in the make-believe world of that story.

Even the youngest child uses vocabulary heard in the reading.  What better way of introducing new words, and using these words to make them their own?

With living books a child gains knowledge which may yield facts and information, but it is alive, transfused with the author’s own enthusiasm on the subject.

Great books offer so much more ~

  • Noble ideas inspire us.
  • Virtues infuse young hearts.
  • Deeds of great heroes ignite hope.
  • Characters enduring terrible suffering give us reason to be brave.
  • And a happy ending reminds us to believe that the Lord can carry out the impossible.

What is literature?

The test of literature is that it must bring us truth, nobility and beauty.

  • Literature that is intellectual, must give us truth.
  • Literature must be ethical, filled with moral ideas.
  • And literature must appeal to our artistic nature and our emotions.

Every subject taught with these great books will liven the mind and warm the imagination, evoke passion, instill a curiosity and give the reader the desire to learn more.

Reading a great book, a living book, a whole book is like going on an adventure ~

  • The mind will travel to new a distant places,
  • Discover new and fabulous ideas,
  • Meet amazing and inspiring characters,
  • And wrestle with new and challenging concepts.
  • This type of book will grow its reader.
  • Living books add long, lasting values and inspire the student.
  • Children listening to and reading living books gain richly tapestried memories.
  • Great books are friends.
  • Great literature is a wealthy inheritance.

I am grateful that I can spend my homeschool days reading living books.  It is so enjoyable, snuggling together on a cosy couch or under a shady tree, reading together.  When all else fails and not a single workbook is opened nor one subject “taught”, if I read a living book, I know my children are growing and learning.  School may close for holidays, a sick mom or children may be forced to abandon formal school, but reading living books will still hold us all together on this wonderful journey of life and learning.

(Illustrations and references taken from A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola)