Joyful Discovery at Clapham: Learning with Living Books

by Susan Carrion, Director of Instruction

One of the tenets of the education at Clapham School is that of “living books” in our classical/Charlotte Mason curriculum. Although the term is often verbalized in certain educational circles, and may indeed be familiar with many who have ascertained that a change in our systems of educating future generations is warranted, it has come to my attention that the concept of “living books” has, at times, been somewhat vague.

Below are some of the points which serve to clarify the matter:

  • Living books are books which give inspiring ideas, stir the imagination, are well-written, have beautiful language and rich vocabulary, lead a reader into thoughts and ideas, and are enjoyed.
  • Reading a living book ignites ideas in the reader. One might recognize an inspiring idea as something that “seizes” or “strikes” us, that creates passion about a certain subject or thought, or even causes our hearts to beat faster.
  • One of the prime uses of great literature is to instruct the conscience.  Good, living books teach moral lessons, present positive role models for a child or adult to imitate, and teach us about life and proper conduct.
  • Writing styles, rich word pictures, sentence structure, use of grammar, and flow of thought and plot are learned from good writing and classic authors.
  • Living books aid a child in forming opinions about life and his world, preparing him for application and debate regarding his beliefs in situations which demand a defense of the same.
  • Children who read a wide genre of good books, at their reading level, are stimulated to enlarge their view of the world and other cultures and societies.
  • Books which have been “dumbed down” and are absent of ideas, or books which Charlotte Mason terms as “twaddle,” should be avoided.

An adequate education cannot be achieved without considering that written works which have stood the test of time, which contain inspiring ideas for human growth and understanding, and which give parameters for moral conduct and life, should be the basis and foundation of learning for all students. In considering and choosing curriculum for school and home, living books alone set in motion the passion for learning which provides a feast of ideas for a lifetime.