Thursday, August 20, 2015

On Living Books

When setting out to make our lesson plans for the year, I always find myself faced with two choices.  The choice to choose the often times cheaper text book model of education or to spend more and buy tons of living books.  I always choose the books.  
Living books can be thought of in this way- books that are narrative in form.  Books that are engaging to the emotions, making the reader want to know more.  A book that, long after being put down, continues to stay with the reader, making recollection and comprehension easier.  
Doing school this way can sometimes be cumbersome.  Reading for hours to the children is tiring for all of us.  On somedays, I'll be honest, it seems like a chore.  Especially early on in the year when we've gotten out of the habit of sitting still and listening, it can feel extra hard.  However, I never regret learning alongside my children in this way.  Because even though it feels hard sometimes, for the most part, it is very enjoyable.  
This year as I was wrestling with whether I was going to buy a history curriculum or just go with books again (why do I wrestle with it yearly?  I always know what I'm going to choose in the end!) I was struck with the notion that I needed to know why I was drawn to living books in the first place.  It is a time consuming way of learning, so it needed to be more than just because I like books!  Which I do, by the way.  I really like books!  Two things hit me.  First?  Moonpie will be 12 this year.  TWELVE!  Next year will begin her self guided studies.  This is my last year to sit beside her and read her history out loud to her.  Next year she will be doing much of it on her own.  I decided right at that moment that I was going to soak in this last year with her.  I will read to my heart's content and force her to love every minute of it!  My second reason was less selfish on my part.  It was remembering the heart of literature based education.
One of my goals in homeschooling our children is to equip them to be life long learners.  Much of my job is teaching them how to learn, not just what to learn.  When I sit and think about how I learn now as an adult, it boils down to two ways- reading about it or watching a video.  If I want to know about the constitution of an herb, I read a book about it.  If I want to know how to knit, I watch a video on YouTube.  With that thinking in mind, it makes more sense for me to teach out of living books rather than textbooks.  We opt for books because I want them to have this tool of learning engraved into them after they leave my home!  I feel like it would almost be like me teaching them to ride tricycles their whole lives, and then when they leave me I hand them a unicycle and a thumbs up.  Sure, they will eventually figure it out on their own.  They may even grow to love the unicycle and become expert unicyclists!  But if I know from the beginning that they will be needing to know how to ride a unicycle, why not start that training when they are at home where they can safely fall?
Much of what I believe about education I learned from Charlotte Mason.  I love what she says here about books:

"Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential.  Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving." 

And her thoughts here:

For the children? They must grow up upon the best . . . There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' represent their standard in poetry DeFoe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature--that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life. 

I agree with these ideas whole-heartedly.  I also believe that learning is a whole life venture.  That our children learn, whether they are at home learners, or are learning at school, by example, by time spent, by what is poured into them.  Here are Ms. Mason's thoughts on this:

Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin,and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. 


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