The Living Books Approach

The Living Books Approach is based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-century British educator. Miss Mason was appalled by several tendencies she noticed in modern education: (1) the tendency to treat children as containers to be filled with predigested information instead of as human beings; (2) the tendency to break down knowledge into thousands of isolated bits of information to be fed into “container” children; and (3) the tendency to engineer artificial learning experiences.

Mason believed in respecting children as persons, in involving them in real-life situations, and in allowing them to read really good books instead of what she called “twaddle”—worthless, inferior teaching material. She considered education a failure when it produced children able to “do harder sums and read harder books” who lacked “moral and intellectual power.” Children were to be taught good habits, to be involved in a broad spectrum of real-life situations, and given ample time to play, reflect, and create.

Mason’s approach to academics was to teach basic reading, writing, and math skills, then expose children to the best sources of knowledge for all other subjects. This meant giving children experiences like nature walks, observing and collecting wildlife; visiting art museums; and reading real books with “living ideas.” She called such books “living books” because they made the subject “come alive” unlike textbooks that tend to be dry and dull and assume the reader cannot think for him/herself.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before trying the Charlotte Mason method:

1. Does our family love to read, both alone and together through reading aloud?
2. Do we love to go to the library?
3. Am I comfortable with more of a “free-form” approach to learning?
4. Will I follow through with teaching my children good habits and character qualities?
5. Do I trust my children to learn on their own?
6. Will I follow through with exposing my children firsthand to nature and to great art?

Strengths of the Living Books Approach:
 Treats children as active participants in the learning process
 Exposes children to real objects and books instead of interactions with distilled information
 Encourages curiosity, creative thinking, and a love of learning
 Eliminates meaningless tasks, busywork
 Developmentally appropriate
 Stresses formation of good character and habits

Weaknesses of the Living Books Approach:
 Tends to be very child centered
 Very little prepared curriculum
 May neglect higher level studies because of its emphasis on art, literature, and nature study
 May become too eclectic

Resources for the Living Books Approach

The first three books below are called the “Childlight Trilogy.” They were developed by Childlight, an organization dedicated to making Charlotte Mason’s ideas more well known. They are “must reads” for home school parents.

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. If you only read one book about Charlotte Mason’s approach, let this be the one. In a wonderfully uplifting way, Mrs. Macaulay shares how education can be “the diet that opens doors for each child to build a relationship with God, other persons, & the universe.”

Books Children Love by Edith Wilson is an annotated compilation of “living books” arranged by subject.

Teaching Children by Diane Lopez. An invaluable guide to what children should know in grades K through 6 with teaching suggestions and reading lists of “living books” for each grade in every subject.

Educating the Whole Hearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson is a guide to using whole books and real life to teach and train children at home. Each chapter focuses on a facet of home centered education.

A Charlotte Mason Companion. If you only read two books about Charlotte Mason’s approach, let this be the second. Karen Andreola leads the Charlotte Mason Research Institute and has been responsible for many of Mason’s ideas being introduced to the home schooling community. In this huge, oversized book, she masterfully explains how to adapt Mason’s ideas to the home school.

A Charlotte Mason Education. Catherine Levison has collected the key points of Charlotte Mason’s methods and presents them in a simple, straightforward way that will allow families to quickly maximize the opportunities of homeschooling.

More Charlotte Mason Education. “Catherine Levison takes an in-depth journey offering even more ideas for implementing the popular methods of Charlotte Mason into home schooling. In this concise and practical guide, Levison presents the key points of Charlotte Mason’s methods as contained in her six-volume series.”

Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series. This six-volume set is the complete works of Charlotte Mason. It includes over 2400 pages of the finest material ever written on education, child training and parenting.

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