How to Teach Homeschool Science with Living Books

One of the benefits of homeschooling is our freedom to change curriculum and programs as needed.  If something isn’t working for our family, we can just try something else. Sometimes, certain curricula or even just styles of homeschooling can begin all right, but turn out to not work well in the long run.  For example, perhaps you started with a computer-only program, but midway through the semester, your child begins to dread her schoolwork and even starts to avoid it. It could be that she just doesn’t like doing every subject on the computer, and switching at least partially to books may be the solution.  Regardless of your situation, the important thing to remember is that homeschooling offers parents the opportunity to change things up as needed.

That said, sometimes homeschooling parents also like to add variety to their homeschool program for sparking extra interest.  A classic but fun option is to teach a subject of your choosing through living books. We love this idea specifically for teaching science — a subject that can easily feel dry, boring, or complicated.  A science course based on living books can breathe fresh life into the study, make it exciting, and enrich your child’s experience. Let’s talk about how to do this.

What are Living Books?

Living books are a Charlotte Mason concept.  The Charlotte Mason style of education began in the late 1800s by Charlotte Mason herself, a British author, teacher, and lecturer.  Charlotte’s style of education has endured through the years and is now considered a style of homeschooling. The Charlotte Mason philosophy focuses on a literature-heavy approach through the use of “living books.”  She referred to high-quality literature as living books because she chose books written in a passionate, engaging manner by an author with a credible background, who was dedicated to, and fascinated by, the written topic.  These books are intended as the opposite of dry, structured textbooks created by school boards for government-determined education standards.

If you have been unfamiliar with the Charlotte Mason philosophy until now, you’re not alone.  Charlotte Mason homeschooling belongs to a subset of homeschoolers, and what’s most important is to do what works for you and your children!  However, Charlotte Mason homeschooling is loved by many homeschoolers for its focus on literature, nature, and lifestyle. While it’s possible the philosophy of Charlotte Mason homeschooling may not be a good fit for your family, you can always borrow elements from different homeschool methods, and in this case, you may want to consider borrowing the “living books” approach.  

Living books fit perfectly within many models of homeschooling, and here’s why:

  • Living books don’t merely list facts.  Academic information is relayed through entertaining narrative.
  • Living books involve emotions, which is more engaging than reading a textbook.
  • Living books have been written for nearly all subjects, even STEM.
  • Living books are written in a conversational style, but don’t let the simplicity fool you.  The best learning happens when you don’t even realize it.
  • Living books are written by an author who is passionate about the subject, and that passion is transferred to the pages, and is evident through the story.

5 Ways to Utilize Living Books in a Science Study

All things considered, living books make a wonderful option for homeschoolers.  These books enliven the senses, engage the mind, stoke the imagination, and fill the heart; all while teaching valuable facts, lessons, and essential information for schoolwork.  Children often enjoy reading these books simply because they are captured in the story. Homeschooling is such a great medium for encouraging learning through curiosity, and that’s exactly what living books provide.

If your child is struggling with science topics, or if it’s become a weekly struggle to work through the assignments, perhaps consider putting the traditional textbook aside and try teaching with a living book instead.  Here are five great ways you can use living books to teach science! 

  • Choose science-themed titles. This is a great list of our favorites for science living books which covers more than just the younger years! When looking for living books, try to find titles that revolve around the main story set within your desired topic.  You want it to be narrative-driven with engaging prose to catch your reader’s attention. You can find a comprehensive list of living science books on the Charlotte Mason website as well.  
  • Accompany books with hands-on activities. These activities help apply the knowledge your children learned from the books!  Pinterest is a fantastic resource for finding related, easy hands-on science activities!
  • Document what they have learned. After your children have applied these new concepts or lessons, you’ll want to document it for their records.  After all, the living books method doesn’t use typical worksheets, quizzes, comprehension questions, or assignments.  To document your children’s progress, consider notebooking.
  • Customize your living books approach as needed for more advanced levels. Simply reading living books and doing a fun craft is sufficient for young, elementary students, but what about the upper levels?  While high school students need a structured program for state requirements and proper credits, you can still supplement the textbooks with living books to inspire excitement.  For middle school students, living books are a wonderful option.  Our suggestion would be to include as many experiments, labs, and written reports as possible.  Not only will these elements impress the lessons in practical ways, but they will also help prepare your child for the more rigorous high school years ahead.
  • Combine it with textbooks. If you don’t subscribe to the Charlotte Mason approach, or you just feel your kids’ science experiment will be better covered by using textbooks, that’s fine as well. You can combine living books as supplemental reading alongside your textbooks!  This could be especially helpful for the upper grades, but it could work well for any level if you want to use a formal curriculum. The addition of living books to your homeschool science program can keep their interest and excitement fueled!

Charlotte Mason focused on the use of living books because she viewed education as a lifestyle itself, not a means to an end.  She stated, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” As homeschooling families, we couldn’t resonate more with that idea.  Homeschooling is not just an education choice, but a lifestyle! It affects everything we do, what we learn, and how we learn it. It influences how we process information and even the dreams for which we reach.  Living books encourage students to see that any subject can be intriguing, given the right presentation!

Tips for Delight Directed Science Learning