I did my share of weeding in our homeschool last year. There were so many things that weren’t working and weeding was in order before I could begin to see an abundant harvest. With the best intentions, I had planted the seeds that I thought I was supposed to plant. I had planted what I knew, but those seeds had grown into unmanageable weeds. Using the traditional textbook and workbook approach that I had learned in school, I was reaping days with a distracted unfocused child. He desired to be obedient, but he just wasn’t inspired. I found myself daily plucking out the little weeds that kept popping up. Things like a distracting little brother and the interesting antics of the chickens outside. But I was ignoring the big weeds that had overtaken my garden. I was trapped in the traditional mindset of textbooks, workbooks, mindless regurgitation of facts, and endless practice problems. I had embraced curriculum that was based upon formulaic learning and required no creative thought.
I made a decision. Instead of working at weeding out all the distractions to keep my son focused on school every day, I turned my attention to weeding out things that didn’t keep his attention. Anything that didn’t inspire or help him learn was a big weed that was keeping him from bearing fruit. My decision was to begin using living books as the primary books in our homeschool.
“One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child’s intellectual life.” – Charlotte Mason
My son hasn’t always been a strong reader. It never came intuitively for him. It was a daily struggle, and one that we both worked hard at. I’ll never forget the day that reading finally clicked. While we were driving through our nearest town, he saw a restaurant sign out of the corner of his eye. He shouted out with excitement that he read the word without thinking. It was a moment of pure wonderment. My child glowed with pride. It was the kind of feeling that sees the whole world open up to possibilities because something was conquered that once seemed impossible. Little by little and week by week, his reading got better. He began to read aloud to me much more easily. He learned to make his voice reflect the appropriate punctuation. He learned to be the reader telling a story. Among the moments that made me smile the most were those when I would catch him reading for enjoyment. His laughs were contagious as he narrated his latest reading adventure simply because he wanted to share it with me.
Living in the middle of nature, reading “living books”, seeing the evidence of learning through narration, and developing the habits of hard work and thankfulness. These were all part of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. I had accidentally stumbled upon them just by living out my life. I should have held tight to these joys and embraced them for all of our homeschool days. Unfortunately, I didn’t see them as part of “school” back then. I won’t make that mistake again. I intentionally make sure that they are always part of our school now.
But how do I do that? How do I make sure living books are at the center of our school days without constantly trying to put my own resources together every day? After all, I’m an off grid homesteader! I have too many other responsibilities to plan school every day. I need to keep things simple. I’ve looked at a lot of curriculum and many that use Charlotte Mason’s education philosophy. There is only one that I have chosen to buy.
“The Good and the Beautiful” by Jenny Phillips stands out above the rest for so many reasons. The books are well laid out. They have appealing graphics and beautiful art work. The maps are just right with the perfect amount of material to be engaging and not distracting. The Language Arts course includes reading, literature, spelling, writing, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, geography, art appreciation, and art instruction! The instructions are clear and concise so that it is obvious what is required of the student. There is no need for a teacher’s manual because the course book contains everything needed for the lesson. All of these are exactly what I was looking for in a curriculum, but they don’t even come close to what I love most about it.
I love that it puts an emphasis on good character and teaching children to discern high moral values and standards. Jenny Phillips describes “The Good and the Beautiful” this way: Books that “teach, inspire, and help you become more like Christ. They are completely truthful, praiseworthy, and virtuous. These books also entertain, sometimes they are even exciting or humorous, but they usually require more effort to read and do not usually offer constant nor instant fun and thrill. Reading good and beautiful books exercises your spirit and intellect and makes them stronger.”
This is a breath of fresh air for me. It is a relief to find a living books curriculum that is built around quality literature, while making no concessions for books with questionable content for children. In the pages of “The Good and the Beautiful” curriculum, my children and I will not encounter the glorification of disrespect toward parents, unkindness, evolution, magic, mythology, questionable sexual relationships, taking God’s name in vain, laziness, and the list goes on. Jenny Phillips has based her lessons on high quality literature that is inspiring, engaging, and educational.
Exposing our children to less than exemplary morals in a living book invites them to experience and even uphold values that are wrong.
Contrasting this idea, there is a different living books curriculum that promotes the idea that we should expose our children to numerous things in reading about them while they are still under our care and while we have the ability to influence them. This argument seems like a reasonable one. Our kids should know what they will be up against, ready to defend their faith, and always give an answer for the hope that is within them (I Peter 3:15). The problem is that reading about inappropriate behavior should not be done with living books. When we read a compelling story, we are drawn into the plot and lives of the characters. We imagine what we would do in the same circumstances. We cheer for the main character. Our imaginations take us to times and places that we have never experienced. Exposing our children to less than exemplary morals in a living book invites them to experience and even uphold values that are wrong. This is not the appropriate vehicle for teaching our children how to navigate the evils of this world.
Let’s go back to the garden. The weather is turning cold and the harvest is finished. In the off season, my husband will be putting down layers of rabbit manure, hay, and even cardboard. It will all break down over the winter and we’ll have rich beautiful soil for planting in the spring. It is our job as parents to cultivate good soil in our children’s hearts. I am reminded of this daily as my son and I are memorizing the “Parable of the Sower” together. The description of the thorns gets to me every time. “And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:18-19) It’s a reminder that it is not an easy effortless thing to keep these things out of our lives. If we and our children are to bear fruit, we must always be on guard against the thorns. “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” (Mark 4:20) Let’s cultivate the good and the beautiful in our children’s hearts.
DON’T MISS THIS! From now through November 11, Jenny Phillips is offering a free download of her extensively researched book list. It is a 117 page document that summarizes exemplary living books and sorts them according to grade level. I highly recommend it! It is normally a $5 value.
“The Good & the Beautiful” Book List