Living Books and Life Experiences

The Living Books and Life Experiences Approach is based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-century British educator. Miss Mason was appalled by several tendencies she noticed in modern education: (1) the tendency to treat children as containers to be filled with predigested information, instead of as human beings; (2) the tendency to break down knowledge into thousands of isolated bits of information to be fed into "container" children; and (3) the tendency to engineer artificial learning experiences. She believed in respecting children as persons, in involving them in real life situations, and in allowing them to read really good books instead of what she called "twaddle": worthless, inferior teaching material. She considered education a failure when it produced children able to "do harder sums and read harder books," but who lacked "moral and intellectual power." Children were to be involved in a broad spectrum of real life situations and given ample time to play and create. They were also to be taught good habits, for "a habit is ten natures." This means that whatever the natural tendencies, a habit will be ten times more powerful.

Mason's approach to academics was to teach basic reading, writing, and math skills, then expose children to the best sources of knowledge for all other subjects. This meant giving children experiences like nature walks, observing and collecting wildlife, visiting art museums, and reading real books with "living ideas" for subjects such a geography, history, and literature. She called such books "living books" because they made the subject "come alive," unlike textbooks that tend to be dry and dull and assume the reader cannot think for him/herself.

Mason also stressed narration and dictation of passages from books as well as discussion of good books with the teacher. Mason's teaching philosophy was "masterly inactivity." By this she meant giving children ample opportunity to interface with art, literature, and nature and allowing them to draw their own conclusions without someone constantly telling them what meaning they should make of things.


  • Treats children as capable of taking an active part in the learning process and as capable of being interested in learning
  • Exposes children to the best sources of knowledge
  • Focuses on learning encounters with real objects and books, instead of on "second hand" interactions with distilled information
  • Encourages curiosity, creative thinking, and a love of learning
  • Eliminates meaningless tasks, busywork
  • Developmentally appropriate
  • Stresses character development and formation of good habits


  • Tends to be very child centered
  • Very little prepared curricula
  • May neglect higher level studies because of its emphasis on art, literature, and nature study
  • May focus more on books than on applied knowledge
  • May become too eclectic

Used by permission Elijah Company

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