Weeding Our Homeschool (and the Living Books Curriculum that Cultivates Good Soil)

One evening early last summer, I walked outside to check on my boys.  They were in the garden helping their dad weed, as well as plant the last of our tomato seedlings.  Knowing what I know about my husband’s method of gardening, I knew that weeding would only be a short season until the garden plants grew strong enough to overcome being choked by the weeds.  In the meantime, the boys were enjoying their time with Daddy while doing a necessary seasonal task.

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.

Holding Frog Spawn

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.

“The Good & the Beautiful” Level K Reader
“The Good & the Beautiful” Level 4 Language Arts & Literature Course Book
“The Good & the Beautiful” Level 4 Creative Companion

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.

“Parable of the Sower” 1557
Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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

About JaimieB

Jaimie lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead known online as An American Homestead. They live with their two sons and her parents Tim and Joann on 50 acres located deep in the American Ozark Mountains.

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  1. Great stuff. We will be checking it out. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing. We have been using The Good & the Beautiful for over two years now and it has completely transformed our homeschool! There is so much peace and joy in our learning now! I love how you related it to weeding/gardening/nourishing. So true!

    • That’s so good to hear! I’m glad you still love it. I’m excited to actually get to the place where we have used a curriculum for more than 2 years. I’ve never loved anything that much, but I can see The Good and the Beautiful being IT for us.

  3. Thank you! 🙂

  4. We used the Charlotte Mason method in our homeschool until they finished their high school studies. I read the books. Then they read the books. Then we talked about it all. One daughter worried that she wasn’t being properly prepared for college. She graduated from university with honors. The method works. The girls just absorbed good grammar,spelling, punctuation and sentence structure a from being constantly exposed to it.
    Schooling was a daily joy.

  5. I love the Charlotte Mason method as well and incorporated the principles into our Homeschool!

  6. Jaime, I as well have just found The Good and the Beautiful this year! I am thinking of trying the history part!!

  7. Kristin Lomenick

    Thank you Jaime! I have been stressing over the next curriculum I should buy. Im needing something simple and really want my children to enjoy it. It seems I’ve tried just about everything, but nothing has felt right. I think I will give this a try!

  8. I have older children and I used the LA curriculum this 2017/2018 school. We loved it, so I have decided to use the History they offer, year one. I have a few concerns that it might not be as complete as a curriculum required for a high school student, specifically a 9th greader. Does anyone have any experience with using the good and the beautiful with their high school children? Thank you for your kind words and encouragement I have found here.

  9. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post! What a great illustration and important reminder. I am curious – are you still using The Good and The Beautiful? Did you purchase any of the other subjects, or are you just using the LA?

  10. Thank you so much for this. I have been contemplating this curricula. I already have things lined up for this year, but was so impressed by what I read on the basis for the curricula on the good and the beautiful website I have considered a last minute switch. While I have decided against this, I will not hesitate to make a change mid year if things aren’t working. Our standards in this house are stricter than most, if not all, of the homeschoolers we know in the area. I get the argument of exposing kids to things while we can influence them all the time or just teach them the difference between fact and fiction. I don’t see these stances as wisdom, but instead see them as gambling with the future of your children. We have a very real example of why that doesn’t work in our 16 year old daughter who is special needs. We still don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with in her, but while at one point she was able to distinguish fact from fiction, she is no longer clear on some of those lines. We are reaping the rewards now for our lack of understanding and diligence in the past. Having those boundaries in place are incredibly important. Finding a curricula that meets our standards has been incredibly difficult.

  11. I agree with you. I actually bought and tried to use the “other living books curriculum” I think you are alluding to. And I just couldn’t keep using it with my children. They were confused when the main characters were behaving wrongly, or if there was behavior that isn’t condoned in our family but not discouraged in the books. In spite of how expensive it was, I chose to move away from it, and I have started TGATB. I am very hopeful!

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