“Living books” provide our students with a daily immersion in the world of stimulating ideas and beautiful language.
WHAT ARE LIVING BOOKS?
Children at Plumfield are educated on living books (i.e., books that are alive with ideas and vivid imagery), including: classical children’s literature, “Great Books,” and inspiring works written by experts in their field.
Our younger students have enjoyed such books as:
- Charlotte’s Web
- A Christmas Carol
- The Secret Garden
- Amazing Things Birds Do
- Archimedes and the Door of Science
- Bible stories
Our older students have been inspired by such authors as:
- J.R.R. Tolkien
- Mildred Taylor
- William Shakespeare
- Anna B. Comstock (naturalist)
- Plutarch (ancient historian)
- The Evangelist Luke
In her wonderful book “For the Children’s Sake,” Susan Schaeffer Macaulay explains the value of “living books” in this way:
“One powerful factor in our approach is that the child has a daily diet of books written by persons of well above average abilities of communication. The students are deeply influenced by the ideas, standards, and breadth of expression in such nurturing.” (122)
RESPONDING TO LIVING BOOKS
Students assimilate the ideas found in “living books” by immediately responding to the text via speaking, writing, or illustrating. This process of self-expression, called “narration,” serves as Plumfield’s basic methodology in all subject areas.
By this natural process of “telling” what has been read, students experience learning as a deeply satisfying endeavor whereby gaining knowledge is both the incentive and the reward.
A SAMPLE NARRATION
Since narration occupies such a preeminent place in Plumfield’s pedagogy, a brief description of the method, followed by a sample narration done by a Plumfield student, is included below.
After reading a chapter from a selected text:
- students will set the book aside and retell the story either through speaking, writing, or illustrating.
- students are responsible for selecting, organizing, and giving self-expression to what they are learning at that moment. Charlotte Mason called this process “self education.”
The following narration, written by a boy named Peter, age 12, shows the power of vivid storytelling.
“Washington knew that the British would return, so he asked himself where he would send soldiers if he were in charge of their army. Then he realized that there was one place that would give the British access to all the colonies: New York City. So Washington took his men to New York in the beginning of June 1776. The local Tories, who were loyal to King George, did not welcome Washington or his army. Washington then took his men up to the hills and they began to dig trenches and build fortifications on Brooklyn Heights.
Then on June 29th, a lookout spotted hundreds of ships on the horizon, and by evening there were 130 ships moving up the Narrows. Sir William Howe had arrived from Halifax. Convoys kept coming until there were 500 ships in the Narrows and the Lower Bay. The ships held about 30,000 troops that were cheered by the Tories as they set up camp on Staten Island.”
The above narration was based on a chapter by historian Albert Marrin which contained such vivid images that it fired this boy’s imagination. The facts were easily retained by this student because they were set within the context of a meaningful story.
LIVING BOOKS and DISCUSSION
Narration paves the way to group discussion in which students are encouraged to respond to new learnings in their own way.
Here is how one fifth grade girl, Elizabeth, age 11, responded to a chapter from the classic work “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass:”
“Today, I learned that slavery is something that changes lives, not only for slaves, but for masters who have taken irresponsible power into their own hands. We know that even a mistress (like Miss Sophia) with heavenly actions can turn into a raging tiger with a hard heart.”
A WORD FROM PLUMFIELD PARENTS
“We immediately saw the difference that Plumfield’s unique atmosphere had on our boy. Like many children, Mark used to drag home at the end of a day at school with little to report. From day one at Plumfield, Mark has been eager for school each day and comes home energetic and full of information about the day’s events. Though he came into fourth grade struggling with writing, he found himself with plenty to say after interacting with such rich texts and information.”
— Chris and Dee Dee Scaffidi