When I was taught science, I remember getting handed a non-fiction, incredibly dry, fact-filled book and asked to pull information from that book so that I could then create a diorama or a project explaining what I “knew.” Unfortunately, that knowledge would leave my brain as soon as that unit was over. There was nothing to attach it to, no cue or link that would keep it there long-term.
Consider which sentence stays with you more:
“The robin lays green-blue eggs”
“During the days when the four beautiful green-blue eggs lay in the nest, Mrs. Robin stayed quite closely at home.”
That beautiful sentence is the first from the story The Young Robin Who Was Afraid to Fly found in the natural science book The Meadow People, which you can access online for free. It is just the beginning of a living story that expands and includes more facts about the robin, those same facts found in a nonfiction book. However, they are surrounded by a story, which our brains naturally retain.
What is a Living Book
Living books are books that tell a story, that wrap facts around beautiful language and paint a picture that we hold on to and remember for years to come. Living books address our natural and early tendency to desire stories.
As I’m sure you’ve witnessed with your own children, a story about a spider, such as Charlotte’s Web, is likely to stay with them much longer and be narrated back to you in a way that shares their obtained knowledge compared to a dry, nonfiction list of spider facts.
What is Narration
Narration is the skill of telling what we know. In traditional schools we tend to write what we know, since the teacher has so many children to look after and track. Further, in schools we tend to be asked specific comprehension questions that can limit the teacher’s understanding of what the child actually knows. Answering specific comprehension questions can also limit long-term acquisition of knowledge, as most students use their books to find the answers, writing them down and then forgetting them. With narration, we ask (at least in the beginning) for children to simply tell us what they know.
If you think of a toddler or preschooler, children have naturally been narrating to us since they started talking. It’s a natural extension to then read a story and ask the child, “Tell me what happened.” In this quest to find out what is inside our child’s mind, there are no “wrong” answers. Further, what comes out in their answer gives you greater knowledge regarding your child’s ideas of what is important and helps you to deepen your understanding of that child in a way that comprehension questions could never reveal.
To explore narration in more depth, check out A Delectable Education Podcast #8.
Finding Living Books
When I first stumbled upon this idea of teaching science and history and those non-literature subjects with living books, I was completely stuck as to HOW to find these gems. How was I supposed to tell what was a genuine living book and what was “twaddle”?! Then I heard about the Simply Charlotte Mason Bookfinder. This tool lets you enter a subject, a grade level, etc and churns out a list of books considered “living” and worthy of a look.
Once I have a list, ideally I’ll put a few of these on hold at my library and look them over before choosing one or two to read to the kids. However, ,any CM book recommendations are out-of-print. However, thanks to the internet, these same books have often been made available for free digitally so that solves that problem, such as The Meadow People I found today!
With all that said, I challenge you to pick a subject, find a living story to teach that subject, and witness how much more your children absorb based on the language your child is exposed to and the imagination that is lit up by story itself.
I’m curious: do you teach science and history through living books?
Until next time,