What Is A Living Book?


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For the children? They must grow up upon the best .  There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told.

Charlotte Mason

Whether you’re home educating using the Charlotte Mason method, classically schooling, unschooling or any of the other fabulous ways to educate your child you read books right? And you want ‘good’ books!

Charlotte Mason advocated using living books in every possible subject instead of dry, factual textbooks.

Living books will enliven your child’s imagination, wake up your love for reading aloud, help your whole family fall in love with literature and enrich your children’s education.

The use of living books around our dining rooms tables,  whilst snuggled up on the sofa and read under quilts with torch-light will fill our children’s minds with great thoughts and rich ideas which will benefit their heads and hearts for ever.

So how do we tell our truth from our twaddle?

Charlotte also used the word ‘twaddle’ to describe dry, factual, snooze worthy textbooks (which often have fabulous, colourful pictures on the front which means they’re the first ones our children pick up at the library ha!); so much of our leading them towards truth has to come from us; the educator and the mother. How are your storytelling tactics mama?

Do the two page test

A living book isn’t always obvious until we read the first one or two pages; I’ve even started using ‘living books’ that have been recommended by others or taken from a trusted list and we’ve fallen asleep over the first page – so we put it down! And that’s ok – what excites my children may not enthrall yours…just pop it on your shelf and try again another year!

Here are a few questions to ask during your two page test:

  1. Does it draw you in?
  2. Does it engage the emotions?
  3. Do you want to read on?
  4. Could you narrate from the section you’ve read?
  5. Is the writer passionate about what they are writing about?

You’ll pretty much know whether you’re holding a living beauty in your hand at this point!

If I’m committing to reading aloud a particular book to my children for the next few weeks then I need to be excited about its content too – I know I’ve found a winner if I’m excited to get into another chapter; it’s important (and permitted, wink) to find joy in your reading and educating.

A living book is full of beauty and truth, emotion and moral instruction; it engages the mind and the heart and begs us to read on, to read more and to go deeper than the words on the page.

A living book will guide, not force a child’s ability to learn to retain and to form a relationship with the ideas taken from its pages.

Living books are for life, lingering longingly on the shelves of your home and your heart.

The question is not, how much does the youth know when he has finished his education but how much does he care? –  Charlotte M. Mason

Coming Up Next Week!


“The most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading.”
― Charlotte M. Mason

Happy Friday friends!

Just wanted to pop on tell you what’s coming up next week on the blog – I’m proudly naming it ‘Living Books Week’; there will be a blog post explaining what a living book is and how to ask them the right questions, a guest blog post from Emily Kiser of A Delectable Education, plus a fab give-away of the Charlotte Mason’s first volume of poetry ‘The Saviour of the world’.

Stay tuned!


The ‘Charlotte Mason Show‘ has been broadcasting for a couple of weeks now and it has been fun getting to know some of you wonderful Mason mama’s from around the globe. If you’re not following me on Periscope go across and find me – the show goes live every Tuesday and Thursday at 1.30pm GMT (UK) and the whole focus is to encourage others and share my story of how I’ve implemented the Charlotte Mason methods and philosophy in my home educating over the past 8 years.

Don’t expect perfection, purism or expertise; I’m a champion of the method and an enthusiastic practitioner but I don’t claim to know it all –  so come over, relax and let’s do this journey together mama’s!

If you ever miss the broadcasts or are just not into Periscope you can keep up to date with all my videos here on Katch.

And finally

Don’t forget to subscribe to my monthly newsletter on the right hand sidebar (or scroll to the bottom if you’re on your phone) if you want to keep up to date with what’s coming up and ‘off the record’ news (smile). No spam, I promise, just a little encouraging note from me in your inbox once a month. First one goes out on February 1st so sign up today!

Have a blessed weekend…

Can You Tell Your Truth From Your Twaddle? Shedding The Light On Living Books


“The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea,”

Charlotte Mason, School Education, p.178.


Be it a blog post or ‘show notes’ here’s an overview from my Periscope broadcast earlier today attempting to shed light on the determining factors of a ‘living book’!

Watch the videos…the 8 questions are listed below.

Part 1 (then it froze!)

Part 2

We’re instructed to give children a wide and varied education from whole, living books that spark the interest and emotions of the child. Charlotte Mason unfortunately did not give us a list of the best books or compose a checklist of what to look for in a living book. She did drop clues and treasures for us to find throughout her reading to help us find our way!

“Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin,
and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another,whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food.”

Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education

There are lots of fun, entertaining, well illustrated ‘information’ books out there for children, which may help with facts and figures but we want books that engage the child (and parent), awaken the emotions and cause further thought and dialogue to go on well after the story has finished

“For the children? They must grow up upon the best . . . There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ represent their standard in poetry DeFoe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature—that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life.”

Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children


Eight questions I ask to determine whether I’m reading a ‘living book’

1. Is it written by one author?
2. Is the author passionate about the subject?
3. Is it well written?
4. Does it engage YOU within the first two pages?
5. Does it trigger other thoughts or make you think about others things you are learning?
6. Is it inspiring?
7. Is it in a conversational or narrative style?
8. Could you narrate from it?

As I have said, knowledge, that is, roughly, ideas clothed upon with facts, is the proper pabulum (bland or insipid intellectual matter, entertainment) for mind. This food a child requires in large quantities and in great variety. The wide syllabus I have in view is intended in every point to meet some particular demand of the mind.”

Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of education

Winter Poetry

Winter Poetry Header

Out of the bosom of the Air
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poetry can be,  without a doubt, daily delectable soul food but so many of us archive it in the school classroom ‘box’ in our brain alongside uncomfortable uniforms (in the UK anyway) and long days in a cold classroom.

Shaping our home education around Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education has not only brought to my attention the importance of poetry in my children’s lives but also in mine. I read at least one poem a day for pure enjoyment; my older children write a long one out over a week for their copy work and we use lots of beautiful poetry alongside our nature study.

I  love seasonal poetry; it can inspire us in any season, but I think we particularly need it during these long, dark days! So here are 10 of my favourites for the winter season, feel free to add your own in the comments or on the Facebook page.

Ten Of My Favourite Winter Poems:

Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind – Poem by William Shakespeare

Snow-Flakes. (Birds Of Passage. Flight The Second) – Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Winter-Time – Poem by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Sky Is Low, The Clouds Are Mean – Poem by Emily Dickinson

January – Poem by John Updike

Woods in Winter – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

First Snow – Mary Oliver

Snow and Ice Poems – Roger McGough

Winter Stores – Charlotte Bronte

The Snowman – Wallace Stevens


Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity – William Wordsworth


Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Series – Volume 1 (Audio 3)



Now, that work which is of most importance to society is the bringing up and instruction of the children––in the school, certainly, but far more in the home, because it is more than anything else the home influences brought to bear upon the child that determine the character and career of the future man or woman. It is a great thing to be a parent: there is no promotion, no dignity, to compare with it – Charlotte Mason


5 Ways Charlotte Mason Has Impacted My Life #themasoneffect

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We should always have something worthwhile to think about, that we may not let our minds dwell upon unworthy matters – Charlotte Mason

My interest in the life and works of Charlotte Mason stems from early on in my research before embarking on actually teaching our children at home.

I often still feel in the early stages of discovery but have now been implementing her methods in our homeschooling days for 8 years. My interest isn’t purely to aid my ‘teaching’, I am fascinated by a woman who influenced the face of education in a time where children were ‘seen and not heard’, were physically punished for poor spelling and did not have the freedom to express their informed opinions or feelings about a particular text or subject. Charlotte’s work and life was ‘for the children’s sake’; she believed and fought for the plain fact that ‘children are born persons’ and wanted to give them all an opportunity to create a life long love for learning,  enjoy good ‘living’ books and an appreciation of God’s creation.

In 2012 I took a bit of a pilgrimage up to the Lake District (Ambleside) to visit her old stomping ground (she was actually nearly fifty when she moved to Ambleside, in 1891 and formed the House of Education, a training school for governesses and others working with young children) and her gravestone; I was saddened to see the buildings unloved and more or less abandoned over the years but glad they remained standing to tell some of the tale of her life and work. Her incredible legacy has and continues to impact so many of us across the globe.

‘Scale How’ – Charlotte Mason’s ‘House of Education’ from 1894

My learning about her life and implementing her educational methods in my home have made a huge impact on many area’s of my life; here are 5 for starters!

Reignited my love of books

Let their books be living books, the best that can be found in liberal supply and variety – Charlotte Mason

I’ve always been a reader, albeit a bit of a lazy one, but I’ve always loved and thrived on self-education (I wasn’t home educated). Over the past few years my love of reading, learning and getting lost in real, ‘living’ books has been rekindled and has enriched my life incredibly. I’m a true believer in modeling for our children what we’re labouring to implement in their lives; if you want readers, be a reader!

The plaque on the front of Scale How

Habits are worth the work

“Let children alone… the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions – a running fire of Do and Don’t ; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose.”
― Charlotte M. Mason

Don’t skip this bit! I know habit-forming can be laborious, tedious and time-consuming but it is SO worth it. It’s incredible how doing the same thing every day, learning a simple skill (i.e. attention) can massively impact your family life and your personal life.

A building known as ‘the beehive’ used for Miss Mason’s students to practice teaching in!

Every day nature study – brought it to life

Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life – Charlotte Mason

My childhood was full of nature walks and adventures in the Yorkshire countryside; my foraging mother would collect treasures, smell trees, point out flowers and admire God’s beauty like no one I’ve ever seen before. I’m so thankful for that heritage but it didn’t come to life in me until I started home educating my children and brought nature study into our regular rhythm. I have now become my mother (smile), only ten times ‘worse’ – and I love it!

I’ve learnt to trust the learning ability of a child

“Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”
― Charlotte M. Mason

This is a whole blog post in itself (I will do it), I never fully realised the full learning potential of a child if you just give them room to grow, discover, observe and breathe in this big beautiful world that we live in. With each child I have been ‘braver’ to not have every moment scheduled and schooled, to allow plenty of room and trust the ways of a child and Charlotte’s method. I’ve had incredible ‘results’ from my brave ways (wink) and thriving children who I thank God for everyday!

The front door of Scale How – the beginnings of a great adventure for many young wannabe educators

Mother culture – exploring my own learning and creativity

“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play!”
― Charlotte M. Mason

With the combination of Charlotte Mason, Brene Brown and now Elizabeth Gilbert, I’m finally loving my creative self, believing in her and leaning into her. So much of motherhood is time given over to those in our households; loving, nurturing, feeding, nursing and guiding but I’ve learnt to realise that I am at my best from a place of rest! I need to renergise, read, write, walk, gaze at beauty and fill my soul in order for me to pour into the people in my life.

So mama’s – let’s go out to play!

How has the life and works of Charlotte Mason impacted your life?

5 Reasons (or reminders) Why We Should Read Aloud To Our Children


“Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.”
― Marilyn Jager Adams

In a time where there are SO many distractions and forms of digital entertainment for our children it’s so easy to drop the beautiful habit of reading aloud. Whether you have babes in arms, preschoolers, homeschoolers or children in full-time school; reading aloud is a gift we give our children, a chance to snuggle up with them and a perfect opportunity to slow down and immerse ourselves in a child’s literary world.

Some of the happiest memories of my childhood were when my beautiful mother would gather myself and my siblings on her bed and she would either read a book or make up an adventure story! The bed would become a flying carpet or a ship at sea; we’d be lost on a desert island or taking flight over sights and scenery that she would describe and that I can still ‘picture’ today.


“To receive many blessings, read to your children from the womb to the tomb.”
― Joyce Herzog

So here are 5 reasons (or reminders) why we should read aloud to our children:

  1.  Improves Their Long Term Reading Success

Decades of research shows that reading aloud to a child daily is one of the most important activities for their reading success. That goes for older children, too. Studies show that children who are read-to are more likely to have good vocabularies, write well, and do well overall in school . They’re also more likely to keep reading on their own

2.  Helps Expand Their Vocabulary

Your child’s auditory understanding is higher than their reading comprehension. When you pick a difficult book that your kids can’t read on their own, you are exposing them to a treasure chest of new vocabulary words. This stretches a child’s language development, particularly if you stop to talk about the meaning of these harder words.

I encourage my children to write down ‘hard words’ on a piece of paper whilst they are reading, and look them up later; a little habit I picked up from my Dad. Obviously if they can’t understand the story due to said hard word I help them out!

3. Increases Their Imagination And Creativity

When our children have travelled to the country fayre with Wilbur and Charlotte and ‘tasted’ Templeton’s treats, when they’ve ‘smelt’ the Shire and lost themselves in Middle-earth; when you’ve gasped together and cried (that would be me) whilst reading about the life of Bruno and Shmuel the books do their own work in our listeners hearts and imaginations. I finished reading ‘Charlotte’s Web’ to my youngest children over a week ago and they are still playing and crafting games around the characters they’ve fallen in love with!


4.   It’s Time Spent Together.

Reading time is time when you’re focusing on no one else and nothing else but them. It’s impossible to read to your son or daughter and look at your smart phone or watch TV at the same time! It’s a prime opportunity to slow down, sit down, snuggle up and breath in a book with your children – now, who doesn’t want to do that?!

5.  It Builds Life Skills

It builds listening skills, increases a child’s attention span, and develops the ability to concentrate at length of which all are learned skills.

So where should I Start?

  1. Pick a perfect 15 minute slot every day and create a habit
  2. Pull yourself a book list together; there are some helpful ideas here
  3. Ask your children what they would like to read
  4. Just DO IT! It doesn’t matter if you’re not the best reader or eloquent speaker; you’re creating a bond, amazing memories and instilling life skills into your children!

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves – Neil Gaiman

Want to hear more? Tomorrow morning on my radio show ‘Live With Leah’ I’m interviewing primary school teacher and English subject leader Jenny Jenkins. We’re going to be chatting about the joy of books, reading aloud to our children and how we can encourage this in family life amidst the digital distractions we’re bombarded with!

Check out the show live at 8am (GMT), listen locally on 101.5fm or stream from Radioplus.org.uk.

Connect with us during the show via our Facebook page – tell us where you’re listening from and ask questions to add to our live conversation!

And finally, check out this book for more inspiration:

caught up in a story

Caught up in story by Sarah Clarkson

Picture Books for Learners


Last night, as I was driving to collect my daughter from youth my mind wandered onto the well-thumbed book sat on my coffee table that I’d almost finished. I recalled the events that I’d been immersed in over the past week and how when I googled the author and discovered she had died a few years ago that I genuinely felt sad; we were kind of friends! There’s something so amazingly connected about reading; and a good writer can draw you in from a significant sentence or a profound paragraph; we not only learn but we are moved.

Using Charlotte Mason’s wisdom as we home educate our children requires us to bring before them offerings of vibrant, beautiful living books that take our children on a journey, a ‘science of relations’ that triggers a life long relationship with the past, present and future. These books bring to life ideas and creativity that cause collaboration with their own imaginations. What a gift!

And it starts early; I have a great love for quality picture books and have a growing collection on my shelves for my future grandchildren (smile) when my own little learners have moved from Doyle to Dickens (as some already have).

So I thought I’d share four of my favourite living picture books with you; I read these to Micah and Sienna who are 6 and 4 years old.

‘The Eagle and the Wren’ by Jane Goodall, illustrated by Alexander Reichstein

IMG_20150227_092836This brilliantly written and illustrated book is a retelling of an old fable and childhood favourite of Jane Goodall’s; not only does it have a beautiful moral for life entwined in the tale but the story gives us a little living glimpse into the life of the Skylark, the Dove, the Vulture, the Eagle and the Ostrich – a wonderful accompaniment to any bird study.

20150227_093315We’ve used Tennyson’s ‘The Eagle’ poem alongside this fable and as I type Micah is crafting his very own Eagle out of an old bottle and various bits of paper and material. A beautiful book that I’m sure we’ll come back to time and time again.


‘The Cow’ and ‘The Horse’ by Malachy Doyle, illustrated by Angelo Rinaldi

These two picture books are a feast for the eyes and the ears. Angelo Rinaldi’s incredible illustrations pull you into the picture and take you on a journey with these two gracious animals. They are a perfect example of a living picture book which no Charlotte Mason home school room should be without!


‘The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook’ by Shirley Hughes

I’m a big Shirley Hughes fan and this compilation is no exception; she’s brought together a beautiful blend of shorts stories, poems and delightful illustrations which bring the outside to life in your living room. I love this early introduction to great writing and poetry (but not necessarily rhyming poetry) with some fun and familiar family humour. But be warned, Hughes is a bit of shocker (smile), in the story ‘Bonting’ there’s a naked bottom (which my youngest two like to flick to with giggling enthusiasm); don’t say I didn’t warn you!

I particularly like the poem ‘Moon’; a great accompaniment to this is Christina Rossetti’s ‘Is The Moon Tired?’ – and of course standing outside wrapped in blankets looking up at the magnificent mystery in the sky fits well after a happy reading!

So there’s a small collection of our favourites at the moment – what stories are bringing your learning to life this week?