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Using 'Living Books' in Your Homeschool

© Rebecca Williams, July 2006

You can use living books in conjunction with ordinary books really easily. For example, say you were studying The French Revolution. You could get an encyclopaedia or a high school text book and read about the basic facts: when it happened, why it happened, what parties were involved, how many died and who ruled France after it was over. Then you could read 'Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens and 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' by Baroness Orczy and travel back through time and follow the story as the aristocrats fled for their lives, hid in wagons and beer barrels just to get to England to escape the guillotine; meet the brave heroes who saved them and the women who loved them... You could contrast this with the plight of the desperately poor as they suffered for so many years under the terrible cruelty of the French monarchy, bringing their children up in filth and watching unbelievable wealth flaunt itself on a daily basis with no grace or charity. In no time you would start to understand why this bloodthirsty revolution had to happen and the reason for the hatred behind the introduction of the dreaded guillotine.

Living books help the topic of study come 'alive' for the student. Can you tell I really love living books? You could read these books to get the feeling of 'living the topic', whether its science or maths or history, etc., and use the reference books to help you understand the facts surrounding the events. Most' classics' would be living books.

There are lots of online booklists of living books, even ones for children under four years of age: www.fiveinarow.com has some wonderful titles for the under fives.  Often once you have read a few living books you'll get the 'feel' for them yourself and start to decipher what Charlotte Mason termed 'twaddle' and what isn't.  See below for an extensive list of booklists you can look up on the Internet.

There are heaps of books, especially those produced by Dorling Kingsley, that are great resources for the homeschool. Don't let the internet take over the need for your reference/ encyclopaedia books. We have sat and searched for some things online for ages, then given up and gone to our books to find the answers. Children can't take the internet to bed with them like they can a wonderful book, and if your children are anything like mine then they will devour these reference books as they get older.
Over the years I've accumulated a few that I cannot live without. Our all time favourites are:

  • Most used series: the 'DK Millennium Family Encyclopaedia'. It has stacks of colour pictures. My boys have used this from age three up, looking at the pictures and reading the information as they got older. It cost a bit at the time but it's been worth the money. The poor books are starting to fall apart now though, especially the edition containing planes and snakes!
  • DK Nature Encyclopaedia. This is great for all the ages, my boys take it to bed with them every night at the moment. I've had to put it on a roster its so popular.
  • Kingfisher Science Encyclopaedia. We have used this a lot, its in alphabetical order and lists scientific explanations of all sorts of things, from acid rain, adolescence and aerodynamics to wind power, x-ray diffraction and zoology. It also includes short biographies on the world's scientists.
  • DK online encyclopaedia science. This is a newer one but we have already referred to it a few times.
  • Animal. Heaps of in-depth info on all the different animals in the world - a huge book.
  • The Dorling Kindersley Geography of the World. I don't know how many times
    we have used this, I couldn't count the times. It's great.
  • Usborne Book of World History is especially good for the earlier years.
  • Kingfisher Encyclopaedia of the World & Usborne History of the World. These two are great, my boys like them equally but my preference is the Usborne one.

I have ones for younger years but I've found they don't get used nearly as much as these ones: the younger children don't seem to mind that they can't read all the words, they love the pictures anyway. The ones I've listed I plan to use as reference books throughout their high school years.
Its taken me ages to collect all of these by the way! I started with the encyclopaedia set and went from there.
Here are some book lists with recommended books for homeschooling with living books:

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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