Guest Blogger and Home Educator Paula Baker shares some insight on the Charlotte Mason term “living book”.  Visit her website for more!

 What the blazes is a living book, anyway?  Does it have a heartbeat and eat bon-bons?  Does it ask for pocket money?  What makes a book ‘living’?  And why do I want to read one?

Those are precisely the questions that I had in late May, while attending the Florida Parents as Educators Association annual homeschool convention.  Lo and behold, I found the answers during a lecture entitled, Learning With Living Books, by Sonya Shafer, creator of the website.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fans of the Charlotte Mason Method of homeschooling utilize the teaching methods of Charlotte Mason, a British teacher who lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  She enthusiastically endorsed using ‘living books’ when instructing children in many subjects, as well as nature and art studies, and shorter lessons.

So just what IS a ‘living book’?  Here are Sonya’s defining characteristics of a living book, according to Charlotte Mason:

1.     It makes the subject come alive, so that you ‘see’ the action on the movie screen of your mind.
2.    It usually is written by one author who has a passion for the subject, containing a conversational tone and narrative, and can be fiction or non-fiction.
3.    It contains ideas, not just facts.  These ideas also teach life lessons.
4.    It will be well written.  And in the words of Charlotte Mason, “It will NOT be twaddle.”

So how, exactly, do you FIND a living book?  By reading it, of course!  However, we want to read it to discern if it has the 4 characteristics of a living book.  Let’s say that we find a book that looks promising to use in our homeschool curriculum or in addition to public or private school.  Now you’re going to give it the One Page Test.

Open the book to a page in the body of the book.  Now read it and think:

1.    Do I ‘see’ the story, like a movie playing in my mind?
2.    Does it have a conversational tone and narrative, drawing me in so that I want to read more?
3.    Is it just a dry recitation of the facts, or are there ideas that teach life lessons?
4.    Is it well written, and do I want to keep reading more than just 1 page?  Or is it ‘twaddle’?

For some examples of living books, please visit  Make sure you check out their extensive Book Finder, where you can search for living books by the subject, age of the child, or grade level.  While you’re there, browse around for other great Charlotte Mason tips for teaching your child.  Enjoy books that come ALIVE!!!

Moving Beyond the Page – Product Review

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Moving Beyond the Page, but it wasn’t until recently that I had an opportunity to review some of their products.  I was excited to see what they had to offer in the area of Chemical Change

Our box arrived, complete with lesson guide, the book  Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects You Can Build Yourself, and lots of supplies for doing those fun experiments.  The lesson guide is very complete, with step-by-step instructions for each day’s activities.  Work pages reinforce the concepts, and vocabulary highlighted helps increase understanding.  There is a section for Reading & Questions, and the whole lesson is tied up with a “Life Application” suggestion.

The guide itself is a great help for someone like me, whose strong suit is NOT science!  I’m not sure it would be the kind of thing I’d set my kids loose with – especially considering some of the experiments that they need parental supervision on – but it is an excellent map for completing the units.  Just this one unit for ages 10-12  covers:

  • Protons, Neutrons, and Electrons
  • Elements, Compounds, and Mixtures
  • Physical Changes
  • States of Matter
  • Chemical Changes
  • Acids & Bases

The accompanying book – Amazing Kitchen Chemistry – is like a mini-encyclopedia of science, with even more experiments inside.  At $59.41 for the kit, it is possible to buy the supplies (or use household items) more economically.  However, the superior organization and explanation of the guide is well worth the cost.

We also had the opportunity to look at a Language Arts unit for The Giver by Lois Lowry.  Time did not allow us to finish the unit, but the quality of the book was every bit as good as the Science kit.  I appreciated the attention to grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and writing skills, while really digging into the story chapter by chapter.  The Study Guides for literature are comparable to others on the market, but without quite so much repetition.

One great thing about the company is their online or print options.  For Study Guides like The Giver, parents can buy the print version for $23.98 or get it online for $19.92.  The online version is ideal for printing just what you need for the day, or making an extra copy so you can work together!

From their website:

Moving Beyond the Page is a complete homeschool curriculum. Your children will grow in their love of learning through our literature-based curriculum that

I firmly believe that children who need to be engaged and are overflowing with creativity are ideal for this program.  I can imagine that going through the units consecutively would provide a solid educational foundation.  Cost is a factor, as each unit only covers a few weeks, but when compared with umbrella schools and other school-in-a-box curriculums, Moving Beyond the Page does a wonderful job of making learning fun and exciting.

You can read more experiences right HERE,at, and in the words of Reading Rainbow’s Levar Burton, “Don’t just take my word for it!”  Read these other great reviews by parent educators like me!


Having Fun with Cartooning


I love art.  That doesn’t make me particularly good at it, but I have huge appreciation for all forms of artistic endeavors.  I’ve always felt it was a vital part of education (lots of research supports the fine motor skills and spatial awareness that comes with art instruction), so in our home education we try to incorporate as much art as possible.  I recently had the opportunity to review a sample of See The Light‘s Art Projects series.  My goofy kids were sure to love CARTOONING, and I wasn’t wrong!

See The Light has an impressive array of instructors.  From their description:

ARTISTS with specialties that include teaching a large variety of techniques, art history, chalk artistry, performance art, gospel chalk art (with black light), crafts, creative lettering, and more;
MUSICIANS whose talents include songwriting, musical performance, arranging, and producing. The SEE THE LIGHT team is dedicated to bringing scripture and biblical principles to viewers in a fresh, engaging way. . . and promising to teach some exciting art skills along the way!

Pat Knepley, art instructor for the Art Class series, and Cartooning, is a wonderful teacher – enthusiastic about her field, full of knowledge about the history and special techniques of the topic, and offers clear step-by-step instructions to complete a project.

As part of a stand-alone series of Art Projects, Cartooning follows the format of teaching art history, elements, and concepts.  In this case, Classical Cartooning, Line, , Space and Shape, and Exaggeration and Movement.  With a few quick strokes, Pat creates characters out of basic shapes – even numbers! – and turns them into sassy personalities.  My kids followed right along, and drew fun, whimsical folks (and even vegetables!) that were every bit as good as the teacher’s samples.

At just over 1 hours, the DVD is a bit too much to take in at one time.  Though it is divided into the three segments organizationally, it really needs separate chapters in a menu format so viewers can select only the portion they want to watch.  It would be helpful just to have a brief pause or some kind of cue between sections so the CD could be stopped without unknowingly running into the next lesson.

The only negative portion of the lessons was the rather unexpected reading of a bible verse and misapplication of it.  Throughout the DVD, a viewer would never guess that it was Christian-based, so to have a bible suddenly appear on the table and be referred to was jarring and not at all integrated into the lesson.  Wondering about the naming of all the animals is fine, but the instructor didn’t seem to realize that Adam would not have spoken English, so the current English names we have for animals would not apply to her thoughts about Genesis.  My children picked up on this right away, and wished the entire segment had been left out of the lesson.

The instructional quality of the lesson is really wonderful.  The recording is easy to see and hear, and we appreciated the split screen aspects and different camera angles so we could see each step of the drawing process.  It was a fun, informative art lesson, and left us wanting to see the others in the series.

Just a few of the highlights of See The Light’s CARTOONING:

  • Easy to follow, ideal for individual or group instruction
  • Affordable – $14.99  for DVD
  • Flexible – stop, review, or come back to it at any time
  • Multi-Age – rated for ages 5 and up
  • Engaging– invites participation and provides instant drawing success
  • Fun – helps kids use their imaginations to go beyond the lesson

You can read more experiences right HERE,at, and in the words of Reading Rainbow’s Levar Burton, “Don’t just take my word for it!”  Read these other great reviews by parent educators like me!