Monday, August 18, 2014

Living Books for Learning - Part 1

Most people who've heard of a Charlotte Mason education have heard the term "living books".  I recently wrote this post using Charlotte's quotes to illustrate what a living book is.  Today, I will focus on the subjects Charlotte taught using living books.

"History, Geography, the thoughts of other people, roughly, the humanities, are proper for us all, and are the objects of the natural desire of knowledge." - Charlotte Mason


History Books - "It is not at all easy to choose the right history books for children.  Mere summaries of facts must, as we have seen, be eschewed; and we must be equally careful to avoid generalisations.  The natural function of the mind, in the early years of life, is to gather the material of knowledge with a view to that very labour of generalisation which is proper to the adult mind; a labour which we should all carry on to some extent for ourselves.  As it is, our minds are so poorly furnished that we accept the conclusions presented to us without demur; but we can, at any rate, avoid giving children cut-and-dried opinions upon the course of history while they are yet young.  What they want is graphic details concerning events and persons upon which imagination goes to work; and opinions tend to form themselves by slow degrees as knowledge grows."  - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, Home Education, p 287-288)

History readings afford admirable material for narration, and children enjoy narrating what they have read or heard.  They love, too, to make illustrations.  Children who had been reading Julius Caesar (and also, Plutarch's Life), were asked to make a picture of their favourite scene, and the results showed the extraordinary power of visualising which the little people possess.  Of course that which they visualise, or imagine clearly, they know; it is a life possession. - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, Home Education, p 292)

Charlotte used living books and narration for history.  Around age 10, children also started to keep their own Book of Centuries


"Geography is, to my mind, a subject of high educational value; though not because it affords the means to scientific training.  Geography does present its problems, and these of the most interesting, and does afford materials for classifications; but it is physical geography only which falls within the definition of a science and even that is rather a compendium of the results of several sciences than a science itself.  But the peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures.  Herein lies the educational value of geography."

"...the child's geography lesson should furnish just the sort of information which grown-up people care to possess.  Now, do think how unreasonable we are in this matter; nothing will persuade us to read a book of travel unless it be interesting, graphic, with a spice of personal adventure.  Even when we are going about Murray in hand, we skip the dry facts and figures, and read the suggestive pictorial scraps; these are the sorts of things we like to know, and remember with ease." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, Home Education, p 271-273)

"There are two rational ways of teaching Geography.  The first is the inferential method, a good deal in vogue at the present time; by it the pupil learns certain geographical principles which he is expected to apply universally.  This method seems to me defective for two reasons.  It is apt to be misleading as in every particular case the general principle is open to modifications; also, local colour and personal and historical interests are wanting and the scholar does not form an intellectual and imaginative conception of the region he is learning about.  The second which might be called the panoramic method unrolls the landscape of the world, region by region, before the eyes of the scholar with in every region its own conditions of climate, its productions, its people, their industries and their history.  This way of teaching the most delightful of all subjects has the effect of giving to a map of a country or region the brilliancy of colour and the wealth of detail which a panorama might afford, together with a sense of proportion and a knowledge of general principles.  I believe that pictures are not of very great use in this study.  We all know that the pictures which abide with us are those which the imagination constructs from written descriptions. 

....vivid descriptions, geographical principles, historical associations and industrial details, are afforded which should make, as we say, an impression, should secure that the region traversed becomes an imaginative possession as well as affording data for reasonable judgments.  The pupil begins with a survey of (insert particular country) followed by a separate treatment of the great countries and divisions and of the great physical features."  - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p 227-228)

Charlotte started geography with young children out of doors much like natural science. "A pool fed by a mere cutting in the fields will explain the nature of a lake, will carry the child to the lovely lakes of the Alps to Livingstone's great African lake, in which he delighted to see his children 'paidling'...."

"Give him next intimate knowledge, with the fullest details, of any country or region of the world, any country or district of this own country."  Charlotte preferred living books and travelogues giving personal experiences to texts that give "dry facts and figures".  These books were read aloud to younger children followed by narration.

In our homeschool, geography is tied to Bible, history, literature, etc.  As we read about people, we study the places they lived, worked, and traveled.  "Great attention is paid to map work; that is, before reading a lesson children have found the places mentioned in that lesson on a map and know where they are, relatively to other places, to given parallels, meridians."  It's important that students relate people to places, not just memorize facts about places.

"Then, again, geography should be chiefly learned from maps.  Pictorial readings and talks introduce him to the subject, but so soon as his geography lessons become definite they are to be learned, in the first place, from the map."  After introducing children to geography in their natural environment outdoors and reading books about people relating geography to those people, Charlotte used map work.  This Simply Charlotte Mason blog post on teaching geography describes map drill more in depth. 


"Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, - the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe, - the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and more happy-making."  - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p158)

"We are apt to believe that children cannot be interested in the Bible unless its pages be watered down - turned into the slipshod English we prefer to offer them.  

...But let the imagination of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which person and events take shape in their due place and in due proportion.  By degrees, they will see that the world is a stage whereon the goodness of God is continually striving with the wilfulness of man; that some heroic men take sides with God; and that others, foolish and headstrong, oppose themselves to Him.  The fire of enthusiasm will kindle in their breast, and the children, too, will take their side, without much exhortation, or any thought or talk of spiritual experience."  - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, Home Education, p 248-249)

Method of Bible Lessons - Read aloud to the children a few verses covering, if possible, an episode.  Read reverently, carefully, and with just expression.  Then require the children to narrate what they have listened to as nearly as possible in the words of the Bible....Then, talk the narrative over with them in the light of research and criticism.  Let the teaching, moral and spiritual, reach them without much personal application.  

....The learning by heart of Bible passages should begin while the children are quite young, six or seven.  It is a delightful thing to have the memory stored with beautiful, comforting, and inspiring passages, and we cannot tell when and how this manner of seed may spring up, grow, and bear fruit; but the learning of the parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, should not be laid on the children as a burden.  The whole parable should be read to them in a way to bring out its beauty and tenderness; and then, day by day, the teacher should recite a short passage, perhaps two or three verses, saying it over some three or four times until the children think they know it.  Then, but not before, let them recite the passage.  Next day the children will recite what they have already learned, and so on, until they are able to say the whole parable." - Charlotte Mason (Vol 1, Home Education, p 251-253)

The Bible is the ultimate living book!  Charlotte believed in reading directly from Scripture having the children follow with narration.  She then had discussion, often times based on a reliable commentary.  The children memorized and recited God's Word daily.  I just love the way Charlotte talks about studying Scripture!  I'm intrigued and looking forward to trying Simply Charlotte Mason's Scripture Memory System this year with Riley and Ruben.

Since this post, is getting much longer than anticipated, I will continue with Part 2 covering Science, Literature, and Poetry

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