Literature-Based Learning: What Does That Really Mean

Have you heard the phrase literature-based learning and wondered what that really meant?

Whether you’re new to homeschooling or have been homeschooling for years, you’re probably aware that homeschooling- like many things- has its own vocabulary. People throw out words like “unschooling”, “deschooling”, “child-directed”, “lapbooking” and it’s sometimes difficult to know what some of these words actually mean.

So when I say that I’m a literature-based homeschooler or that we use literature-based learning, sometimes people- even people in the homeschooling community- look at me askance. What does that really mean? I’m glad you asked.

This post is part of the Five Days of Literature-Based Homeschooling series. You can find links to all of the posts here. And if you have a desire to use great literature in your homeschool, you can access my free Living Books catalog here. It organizes books by subject, grade level, and history cycle, and I add to and update it often.

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Literature-based homeschooling uses real, living books instead of textbooks.

When I first began homeschooling, I used textbooks and workbooks. It was all I knew. I had taught at a Christian school before beginning to homeschool, and we used a structured, textbook-based curriculum. I realized, as homeschooling progressed, that it wasn’t really working for us. The real moment of truth hit me when I was reading a K-1st grade history textbook with my oldest daughter one day. It was so, so boring. Bless her heart. She loved school, and she was trying to like it. But both of us were truly bored. And I realized that I didn’t want years and years of homeschooling to stretch on like this.

I began looking at other methods, and a friend introduced me to Charlotte Mason. I don’t consider myself a Charlotte Mason purist. But one of the things I really, really liked about her methods was that learning came from real, living, interesting books- not textbooks. This was eye-opening for me. As an avid reader and book lover, I felt like we would be “cheating” somehow if we just read books to learn. After all, in my schooling days, reading books for pleasure was something I had to do after the tedious school work was done. Now other legitimate educators were telling me that I could read books to my kids and call that school. What?!!

But I know it works. Reading good books has encouraged me to love science and history more and has encouraged more of an interest in those subjects for my kids. Reading good books also helps kids retain much more than they often do out of a textbook where they memorize and regurgitate a few facts and then move on and forget it.

Often literature-based learning is based on the history cycle.

Our literature-based learning has typically been based on a Classic history cycle. The books that we read follow history through the ancients, the Renaissance and Reformation, the age of exploration, and modern history. We read about history as the base of our learning and then other academic subjects tie in with that. For example, when we were reading about Ancient Egypt in history, we covered the science of pyramids and for literature we read The Golden Goblet, historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt.

Our core literature choices include both fiction and nonfiction. I try to look for living books, books that draw us in and keep us interested in the topic, books with rich vocabulary and vivid descriptions. This post has a list of 100 living books that follow a Classical history cycle.

Some literature-based homeschoolers use a textbook as a “spine” for learning.

Although I don’t use textbooks as our primary reading material, we do occasionally use a textbook as a “spine.” We follow the topics covered in the textbook and read some of the material in the textbook as an overview. But we flesh out our learning with real books.

A few years ago I used an American history textbook as a spine. We read some of the lessons as an overview, but then we learned much more about the timeline and events in American history by reading the Our America series by Susan Kilbride. Reading those books really drew us in to American history and helped us to enjoy it and learn so much.

Literature-based homeschoolers may use unit studies, notebooking, or lapbooking in addition to reading real books.

I fully believe that it is okay to just read. Read good books. Enjoy them. Learn from them naturally. But it’s also occasionally a good thing to expand on your reading with unit studies, lapbooking, or notebooking. I could write whole posts on each of these (and actually I have), but I won’t give lengthy detail about each.

All of these are great ways to take your reading even deeper. Unit studies help tie in cross-curricular learning based on the book you’re reading. Lapbooking provides a hands-on component that helps kids remember what they’ve read and learn more. And notebooking can be involve writing written narrations, taking notes on reading, creating original works of writing based on the book you’re reading, and much more.

Literature-based homeschooling has been a great thing for our family. It’s given us the opportunity to share and learn from some awesome books. Make sure that you check out the other posts about literature-based homeschooling in this five day series here.

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