Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Charlotte Mason Education: Living Books

Okay, I promised earlier that I would talk a bit about the new educational method Lucy and I are trying out for our homeschool this year. It's called Charlotte Mason, and it's based on the ideas of a woman named Charlotte Mason (ironic, eh?) who was an educator in Great Britain during the late 19th/early 20th century. Her basic philosophy was that "education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." This quote is from Simply Charlotte, which is the best website I've found for a comprehensive description of Charlotte Mason's philosophies and methods.

There are a lot of components to the method, and I'm going to discuss each of them over the next few weeks here, as well as how we're putting them into practice and how they've been working for us so far. The overarching method is that children are educated using "living books" rather than textbooks. "Living books," as defined by Simply Charlotte, are books "usually written by one person who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or narrative style. The books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and facts. Living books make the subject 'come alive.' "

When I came upon the idea of "living books," I realized that Lucy and I had already been using a lot of living books in our curriculum, as do most homeschoolers. These would be the nonfiction books you get at the library to supplement the subjects you are studying at home. Or the great works of literary fiction you're reading to your child before bed at night -- even those you're reading to your baby or toddler, like Goodnight Moon, or the Peter Rabbit stories. The only thing different about using them in relation to Charlotte Mason's method is that they replace most textbooks and/or workbooks that you have been using. Now, I say most, because even among staunch Charlotte Masonites, some workbooks or textbooks are used -- especially for Math, which necessarily involves computation, though the method asks that you use a hands on math program, rather than a purely textbook approach (but more about math later).

The difference "living books" are making in our approach this year is that we're using workbooks more sporadically, only as a supplement to our reading. For example, Lucy studies some poetry every week, mainly by reading great poets (right now we are reading through A Child's Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson), and writing some of her own poetry. But every now and then I use a workbook called Read and Understand Poetry for further study on particular forms of poetry, or to supplement different subjects we are studying. But the difference here is that the workbook is used as extra support; it is not to replace the actual reading of living books of poetry. Some other workbooks we use are A Reason for Handwriting, to practice cursive; the workbook for the Math-U-See program (a program which also includes hands-on manipulatives); a couple science workbooks to supplement our nature study; a workbook called Bible Truths to help Lucy learn basic Bible stories and how to look up verses; and also a Charlotte Mason based grammar/writing/literature workbook called Language Lessons for the Elementary Child, which is a very gentle introduction to the components of the English language, and includes much "living" literature within it. The Language Lessons book is published by a wonderful Charlotte Mason book supply and publishing company, Queen Homeschool Supplies, Inc.

Some other "living books" we have been reading so far in our homeschool are Little House on the Prairie (for our study of pioneer life), Eyewitness Music, Hurlbut's Story of the Bible, Charlotte Mason's Elementary Geography, and some science books published by Yesterday's Classics which turn science facts into story form. Right now Lucy is reading Among the Meadow People, from that publisher. Plus a a big variety of science and history books from the library, and also whatever fiction Lucy picks out to read.

Tune in next time for a discussion of Charlotte Mason's "narration" method.

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