Sunday, March 9, 2014

Living Books & Vital Interests

A few months ago I posted a few of my favorite children’s books in response to some young moms requesting ideas for quality literature for their little guys.  I had just given a talk about moms (and children) being whole persons that need vital ideas to think about.  You can find the list of resources and books here: Living Books for Little Ones.  (Below are a few living books for different age levels that cover geography). The topic of quality literature and living books seems to come up often.

I will be giving a couple of workshop sessions next month at the Central Illinois Home Educators Convention.  One is on Great Literature and Living Books: Breathing New Life and Interest Into Any Curriculum.  Though this will not be specifically Charlotte Mason Philosophy, I will be discussing the qualities that distinguish a living book and why and how we can incorporate this approach ‘across the curriculum’. (You CMers will see a lot of familiar methodologies!)

What are living books anyway?  Let’s consider it… 
I recently came across a follow-up post from several years ago to our local study group.  I will share it with you as an introduction to a series of posts over the next few months on the topic of Living Books. 

Through our discussion and readings we learned that a living book must be… well written WITH literary language AND present ideas - not teacher determined facts or pre-digested opinions - AND they must be able to be narrated with the understanding that what a student doesn’t work for in mental thought, he doesn’t appropriate as knowledge for himself.

So, one of the end questions for this chapter (“Living Books” from Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion) asks: (#8) How can living books be used for science, geography, history, or literature?

[I challenged our group to consider how they were using living books and asked for others to share their favorites]: In light of our study, would anyone like to describe some particulars for a given subject above?

For my response, I would suggest that living books are an essential requirement of all disciplines of curriculum (and life :) ).  They are not just a nice to have story, but a necessity for acquiring real knowledge and finding “captain ideas” in all areas of education.  Education is a life and our minds must be fed with the proper nourishment! 
For our question above, I have a couple of favorite living books on geography.  The first is elementary through high school level and is actually a living textbook; it is The Book of Marvels by Richard Halliburton.  His travel books are wonderful – especially the ones written to children. (CAUTION: Be aware that the life style of this individual may not be something you want to have your student look up on a biography sketch.)  There are other books he wrote that might be objectionable in a couple of areas or need a little real time editing-just so you know.  The next is a lovely book about an American family with a British family background and the true story of how they decided to visit England and search out the places from familiar British children’s literature: How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger (also not an author you necessarily want to read her other works).  Last, late Victorian British author, Jerome K. Jerome, wrote a book, Three Men in a Boat: to say nothing of the dog, about a trip down the Thames River that is anecdotal and each chapter is a very funny and engaging episode of this adventure.  His other works are very good.

Living books are a distinctive part of what gives a Charlotte Mason Education vitality.  I would challenge us in the coming preparation days for the upcoming school year to work very hard to keep replacing that dry twaddle with living books and try to incorporate them in all areas of study.

In Volume 3 page 231, Miss Mason states “the aim in education is to give children vital interests in as many directions as possible – to set their feet in a large room [Ps 31:8] – because the crying evil of the day is, as it seems to me, intellectual inanition” (or perhaps as we might label it today, the “dumbing down” of education and stunted, low intellectual and moral expectations).

Happy reading & Grace for the day