The Power of the Story
An introduction to the Literature-based approach to education.
By Suzanne Reid
The last Israelite stepped onto the Promised Land, having just crossed over the Jordan River on dry land, when the LORD spoke to Joshua. "Select twelve men, one from each tribe. These men are to walk back into the Jordan to the ark of the Lord, where the priests are standing. At the feet of the priests, each man is to pick up a large stone and carry it on his shoulder back out of the river and set it down in the lodging place." These stones were to be a sign. "When your children later ask, 'What do these stones mean?', you are to tell them how the LORD cut off the waters of the Jordan before the ark of the covenant of the Lord when it crossed the Jordan."
According to Daniel Taylor in his speech, "The Life-Shaping Power of Story: God's and Ours," "Joshua's pile of rocks is a story prompt, by which a new generation could understand the power of God."1 Taylor says that God created stories and made man to be storytellers and listeners. Being social creatures, we are made to be in relationship with God and others, and one of the most powerful ways to connect with each other is through stories. "How was your day?" is a story prompt.2 Stories engage us, correct us, and motivate us. They have the power to change us and call us to action.
The beauty, wonder and inspiration of the story can be a magnificent aspect of our homeschools. Most, if not all of us, have recited bedtime stories. Many of us daily read to our children, yet, a wonderful way to employ the power of storytelling in our homes at a deeper level is by following a Literature-based educational approach.
What is Literature-Based Education?
It is an approach to education centered around excellent literature. Rather than textbooks, which children and adults often find dull, well-written stories become the source of history, science, and other subjects. Literature-based curriculums use "living books," a concept first advocated by Charlotte Mason, a nineteenth century Christian educator. Mason described "living books" as those written by a single author who shares his passion with the reader and infuses the reader with his enthusiasm.
Miss Mason emphasized that children should read whole books and first-hand sources, not graded readers or textbook comprehension paragraphs. Educators often cut out pages of the best children's books and serve it up to children in "snippet form," as Miss Mason referred to it. Compiled by a committee of well-meaning educators, textbooks often are crammed with facts and information at the expense of human emotion. This dryness is deadening to the imagination of the child, according to Karen Andreola, a foremost authority on the Charlotte Mason education.3
Selecting strong literature as the core of our homeschooling introduces students to some of the greatest minds in history and injects life into our daily routines. In the Literature-based curriculum, students read notable authors of historical fiction, first-person accounts and original documents, and well-written biographies of the great minds, adventurers and heroes of the past. The beauty of the Literature-based method is that it fits well within the broad range of other home schooling methods, such as the Charlotte Mason, Unit Study, Classical and Great Books, Robinson, etc.
Depending on your family's situation, you can introduce the Literature-based home schooling method broadly into your current homeschool plan, or narrowly, whichever best suits your family's needs. The key is to pray about each of your children's needs and level of development. For younger students, in whom you may want to instill a love of reading, you might want to shelve all of the textbooks and seek out a great reading list from some of the resources at the end of this article. For your older students who are farther down the road, preparing for college, you might want to beef up their reading list to reinforce their studies. Many Christian publishers offer study guides for great literature. These guides allow the parent to actively participate in many of the difficult discussions we need to have with our children before we send them out into the world. The Literature-based method offers so much variety to our homeschools.
Over the years I have enjoyed employing the Literature-based curriculum-some years completely, and others as an adjunct to other methods. My students have been greatly enriched by wonderful stories written by great writers, both Christian and non-Christian. The one caveat I offer is this: continually pray about your curriculum and the books that you introduce to your child. Although a book is highly recommended by a well-respected source, be sensitive to God and to your child. Many books I chose to avoid. Others I selected for the year recommended and found that the child wasn't ready for it. When I shelved the book a year or two and presented it a second time to the same child, the child couldn't put it down.
Well-written stories have become an integral part of my children's lives. Many times my son would tell me that he was sad to end a book because he had related to the characters so deeply that finishing the book was like saying goodbye to a good friend. Just as Daniel Taylor says, stories have the power to shape our lives.
As I said above, Literature-based curriculum crosses over into the various types of educational methods, depending on whether it is used as a core curriculum or as enrichment; and the resources below reflect that. You might look at the resource list and identify a listing as a certain educational method, and you would be correct; however, the resources below all use literature as the basis for all or a portion of their educational method. In addition to curriculum, I have included a counseling resource, and some books that I have used to select my children's annual reading lists over the years. Lastly, this is not a complete list of all the Literature-based programs that exist. Please send me an email with any resources that you recommend that we may pass onto others. Happy Reading!!
COUNSELING AND SEMINARS
Carole Joy Seid
Seminar speaker & consultant, Carole Joy Seid is a veteran home school mother, who has taught in both public and private schools, and has been speaking nationally for the last 20 years. She travels around the country teaching homeschool moms the Literature-based approach to education. She is available for personal consultation, as well.
Beautiful Feet Books
Since 1984, Beautiful Feet Books has been supplying quality literature to the home education and private school markets. Beautiful Feet Books publishes noted authors and provides study guides that incorporate the best works of children's literature into a comprehensive curriculum.
Greenleaf Press was formed in 1989 to bring back to life wonderful biographies, which had been used to teach history successfully in the past. Greenleaf Press is committed to "twaddle-free," living books. The curriculum focuses on two important principles in teaching history: biography and chronology. Although Greenleaf started with history guides, they now provide curriculum for most subjects, from science and literature to even politically incorrect guides. They offer online discussion forums and multiple resources; Greenleaf has been a trusted resource for homeschoolers through the years.
A complete K-12 Literature-based curriculum packaged in 22 CD for the parent to print out from home. Developed by scientist Art Robinson, this curriculum is designed to teach children to teach themselves. The Robinson Home School Curriculum Version 2.2 includes over 250 whole books, the complete 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the complete 1913 Webster's Dictionary, the original King James Version of the Bible, and more. Check their website to see the amazing book list included in this CD format.
Since 1990, Sonlight has provided Literature-based K-12 homeschool curriculum. Their instructor guides include lessons, schedules, activities, notes, and much more. Sonlight offers curriculum guidance, advice, and encouragement by phone, email, or on the web.
Tapestry of Grace
Tapestry of Grace is a four-year, Literature-based history program, which follows the classical Christian approach. See my article in the Winter 2008 issue of Chois Connection where I provide a thorough review.
TruthQuest is a literature-based history program for grades 1-12, emphasizing God's unchanging existence, power, love, truth, and plan for civilization throughout history, and not the rise and fall of human civilizations. In the words of the developer of TruthQuest, "mankind is not the prime force in the universe ...God is. He initiates; we respond. History, therefore, is not first about what people do. It is first about what God does and says, and secondly about what people believe and do in response." This is a very affordable curriculum with a strong Biblical worldview.
Veritas Press specializes in providing Literature-based educational materials used in the study of all the courses in a classical Christian method. From the selection of their materials, to the design of their catalog, Veritas Press is thorough and deliberate. In addition to curriculum, VP offers tutorial services, counseling, online articles from homeschool leaders and friendly, inspiring quarterly emails.
So many great literature guides exist on the market, and one of the largest suppliers of the many different literature guides is Rainbow Resource, available at http://www.rainbowresource.com. Literature guides take the student through literature while teaching grammar, spelling, writing genres, critical analysis, etc. It varies depending on the publisher. At Rainbow Resource you can read about the emphasis of each publisher to find the one for the job. I have used different guides at different times. Some are better for the grammar years, and some are better at higher levels. Some of my favorites have been the following:
Progeny Press Study Guides & Books
Veritas Literature Guides
Portals to Literature
Total Language Plus
SUZANNE'S FAVORITE READING GUIDES
Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt.
How to Grow a Young Reader by Kathryn Lindskoog & Ranelda Mack Hunsicker
How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren
Invitation to the Classics by Louise Cowan and Os Guinness
The Book Tree by Elizabeth McCallum and Jane Scott
Suzanne and her husband Brian are board members of Idaho Coalition of Home Educators. They have been blessed to homeschool their children for the past 13 years. To contact Suzanne, email her at email@example.com.
3 "What Drew Me to Charlotte Mason Education," By Karen Andreola; Printed in Practical Homeschooling, July/August 1996