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Living Books Curriculum, Grade 1 Review by Jennifer HarrisionSheila Carroll
5497 S. Gilmore Road
Mt. Pleasant MI 48858
"The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum." These words, penned by Charlotte Mason over 100 years ago, capture the heart of Living Books Curriculum. Charlotte Mason held revolutionary ideas about the educating of children in early twentieth-century England. For many years, these ideas seemed to have been lost. However, they have been experiencing a revival of sorts over the last 20 years, and many homeschooling families are recognizing the brilliance behind her philosophies--namely, that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life! A Charlotte Mason education exposes children to noble ideas and interesting concepts. Living Books Curriculum provides this rich and varied education without being overwhelming to parent or child.
I incorporated Living Books Curriculum for Grade One with my two daughters, ages 6 and 4. This is the first year of formal schooling for both girls, and I was prepared for my 4-year-old to be left out of many things. I was delighted to discover how wrong I was. Both girls stay enthralled for the duration of our studies each day. The excellent books that are included in this curriculum are irresistible; how could they not be enthralled? Charlotte Mason insisted that children are people and that their minds feed on living ideas found in living books. I am continually impressed with the fantastic book choices which can't help but spark a love of learning. The book list, which can be viewed at www.livingbookscurriculum.com, has a nice balance of modern books and the more classic books of yesterday. The age-appropriate selections hold children's interest and kindle many interesting conversations.
For 36 weeks, students explore a plethora of subjects using beautiful material. The year is divided into four 8-week terms, each followed by a flex/exam week. The program provides all of the ingredients of a rigorous education yet manages to retain the gentleness for which a Charlotte Mason education is known.
Bible Study is done with a devotional that begins with Genesis and progresses through the entire Bible. Two to three stories are studied per week, using both the devotional stories and Scripture readings.
Language Arts is taught through poetry, read-alouds, lessons in storytelling, and Aesop's Fables. All of these are accompanied by narration exercises. Penmanship lessons use the Italics method in a book aptly entitled Italics: Beautiful Handwriting for Children. The lessons are so simple yet so effective. Italics is an inexpensive book and is intended to be used for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. The poetry selections come from Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. My only regret with this subject is that there are not enough poems in the book to cover the entire 36-week school year. By the time the book's poems have all been read, nearly half of the year is still left. The Teacher's Guide encourages readers to continue to read from the same book, and I daresay my girls and I will probably enjoy revisiting old favorites.
A guide to teaching reading is built into the weekly lessons in the Teacher's Guide. These lessons begin with pre-reading activities and alphabet recognition. Unfortunately, I find they are much more appropriate for my four-year-old than my six-year-old. I have my daughters do different lessons, incorporating the second half of The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading for my older daughter. I am not a big proponent of pushing children to read early, but some students desire it and can benefit from more challenging material.
Living Books Curriculum uses several different books to explore earth science, physical science, biology, and health. A complete health curriculum is available on the Resource CD accompanying the Teacher's Guide. Some sections of the Teacher's Guide might appear to be overly simple for a first grade child. For example, the assessment at the end of the first term has students classify what is "plant" and what is "animal" using flash cards. Certainly, most first graders can do this easily. However, this should not be considered an indicator of the depth of material studied throughout Living Books First Grade science. By the ninth week, when this assessment occurs, students have already read many interesting books, participated in experiments, and made many observations about plants and animals that far exceed being able to tell them apart.
Nature study is a key ingredient in a Charlotte Mason education. For those not accustomed to it, it can be a daunting endeavor. The Resource CD contains many helpful articles that guide parents and students into this new practice. Nature Journal forms are also provided on the CD.
Art, one of the most easily forgotten subjects in the average homeschool week, is scheduled weekly, using lessons from The Little Hands Art Book. This enchanting book does not require complicated resources and does not leave piles of useless clutter in its wake. Delightful art is created as little hands improve in hand-eye coordination and little hearts are inspired. Art appreciation is also developed using "Come Look with Me" books. These books, written by Gladys Blizzard, open students' eyes to the world of art and help them discover the world through the eyes of many different artists.
Music is studied through the lives of composers. Stories of the Great Composers covers the lives of 12 great composers. An accompanying CD allows students to listen to a composition by each composer. These are never quite enough to satisfy my girls, so we usually spend some extra time listening to more of their music through www.grooveshark.com while the girls alternate between coloring and dancing to the music.
World history in Grade 1 begins with the Ancients. On many days, this directly coincides with the matching Bible stories. In fact, the history readings for Grade 1 are more specifically a history of the Israelites. Some children will love hearing these exciting stories multiple times; some might prefer to skip some history readings. Grade 2 history begins again with ancient Egypt. Grade 3 covers Greeks and Romans up to the fall of Rome. This is not ideal for those wanting to study a chronological history in a four-year cycle. However, many families appreciate this multi-stream approach to history, which combines a slower examination of world history studied at the same time as American history from a different era. Grade 1 American history begins with the Colonial Period; Grade 2 covers the American Revolution, and so forth.
Geography is the section that has impressed me with its simplicity. Most of the lessons need only a map or globe and time for a discussion. Students examine a map to identify first what a continent is, then a country, then states, and so forth. Students trace the route of the Israelites during the Exodus. Oceans, continents, and countries are learned through map work and Geography songs.
Mathematics is not included, although there is a section in each week's guide for parents to write in lesson plans for the program best suited to the child.
What I especially appreciate about the Living Books Curriculum is that it helps keep me on task for all the lovely "extras" that I have a tendency to brush aside, such as Art, Music Appreciation, and Nature Studies. The truth is they are not "extras." They are in fact integral to an education that is alive and inspired, that relates to the world around us.
What I have a hard time adjusting to is the weekly layout rather than a daily line-up. All lessons are written out for the week, not broken down into days. I tend to need more direction on a day-to-day basis, so I spend some extra time each week compiling a daily list for myself using forms provided on the Resource CD. My list is flexible, but it helps keep me more accountable for implementing books as outlined in the weekly layout. For parents wanting something to tell them exactly what they need to do for each step, this could be a deterring factor. For others, this flexibility is a wonderful characteristic.
The price for the entire kit is $525.00. The company does offer a payment option of four equal payments. If you wish to pursue this option you need to notify them. The Teacher's Guide makes up $75.00 of that price. Several of the books in the kit will be used again in continuing grades. The prices for individual books in the kit match or beat the most inexpensive prices I can find elsewhere. The high price tag stems from the sheer quantity of books. If this price is too high, and you do not mind not owning your books, you could obtain many of them through the library system instead. For me, $525.00 is a lot of money to invest in curriculum, but I can honestly say that I think it is a fair price for the quality of the materials. Living Books Curriculum stands behind its materials so well that it offers a 12-month, 100% refund policy on all books and materials, less shipping costs. Living Books Curriculum also has a reputation for excellent customer service. Their staff is happy to advise on best-suited grade levels and choices for teaching multiple children. Their website also provides a forum which is very active and can be a great source of encouragement and wisdom for parents using this method.
If you are curious about the Charlotte Mason method and Living Books Curriculum, be sure to sign up for the free Get-Acquainted Sample Pack at www.livingbookscurriculum.com. Also, Charlotte Mason's original writings are available to read online at www.amblesideonline.com.