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Using Textbooks with a Literature-Based Education

Using Textbooks

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Learning with Textbooks & Spine books

~ Cay A. Gibson ~

"My child doesnt like to read." "Textbooks are so much easier to use than planning a literature unit study." "My child likes his history textbook." "My child likes to fill in the blanks of his workbook." "I prefer to use a textbook study...its easier to follow."

I have heard all these pleas for using a textbook curriculum and do not want to discount the appeal and learning that textbooks/workbooks provide some families. As a matter of fact, if you are keeping a notebook, along with your literature study, then you can rest assured that workbook pages can serve as necessary fillers inside of your notebook.

Even in a literature-based education, textbooks (henceforth referred to as "spine books") serve their purpose upon our shelves. As a book-a-holic, I have several textbooks sandwiched in between the living books upon my shelves. They serve as quick reference guides and as a general mapping index in our science research and history timelines.

Textbook appeal

Textbooks continue to be appealing for several reasons:

There is less preparation time compared to unit studies.

You do not have to pre-plan the reading list.

You can read the material with the child or have him read it independently.

Teri Maxwell, originator and creator of MOTH (Managers of Their Home) cites these reasons for using a textbook curriculum (*Teri and her family use a traditional Christian-based curriculum ):

1) Helps us in our goals

2) Thorough and our children the type education we want them to have

3) Helps to properly budget my time as well as my childrens time

4) Children can do more work on their own

5) Children can read the lessons on their own

6) Cuts down on having to weed out information (* )

7) Requires little teacher prep time for mom (the Maxwells operate a family business out of their home, creating additional learning opportunities for their children)

8) Learning does not dissolve into "nothingness" if I dont have school planning time

9) Children can check the work on their own

10) Offers structure

11) Follows a logical sequence

12) Helps children realize that learning requires discipline

13) I can teach things in which I have little or no background

For Teri Maxwells full article, you can go to The article is the May 2003 Moms Corner.

When to use Caution

We must be cautiously watchful over the textbooks that we use to serve the young minds in our homes. We use textbooks to guide us. We use living books to teach us. Diane Ravitch writes in The Language Police:

"Like others who are involved in education, be they parents or teachers or administrators or journalists or scholars, I had always assumed that textbooks were based on careful research and designed to help children learn something valuable. I thought that tests were designed to access whether they had learned it. What I did not realize was that educational materials are now governed by an intricate set of rules to screen out language and topics that might be considered controversial or offensive. Some of this censorship is trivial, some is ludicrous, and some is breathtaking in its power to dumb down what children learn in school." (The Language Police, pg. 3)

How to use Spine Books

I took a whole month to study the history of flight with my 10-year-old son. I started with the book Story of Flight by Mary Lee Settle (a Step-Up Book published by Random House). Not really a textbook, but not what I would consider a living book. It was definitely a "spine book". The chapters were matter of fact and the facts were presented with textbook precision.

We used this book as our spring board. I had him take notes on whatever he found interesting in the chapter as he read it. I knew that, even if he did not connect with anything from this book, he would learn something about:

(a) the Greek legend of Daedalus and his son

(b) Leonardo da Vinci-his ideas and theories on flyinghis detailed drawings of wing structure

(c) hot air balloons and the Hindenburg tragedy

(d) the Wright brothers

(e) planes used during wartime

(f) the Red Baron during World War I

(g) the Spirit of St. Louis and Charles Lindbergh

(h) the flying bomb during World War II

(i) rockets and our journey into space

In using this spine book, I had hopes of guiding my child to connect with something of interest to him. I knew my son would learn something about all these things. But I was hoping that he would connect with something...become passionate about it...have his interest salted and take flight from there. I find that children dont always know what theyre interested in. We serve as a guide in exposing them to new things...but we should also know when to step back and let their interest take over the guidance.

I really thought my son would connect with the Wright Brothers. Right? No pun intended. I thought he would be interested enough in them that we would take flight while finding living books about the two brothers. I knew there were tons of living books to be found on the Wright Brothers. But I was wrong.

He did connect with something in the spine book, but it was not the Wright Brothers. He connected with the Red Baron. He was fascinated with him. We spent a whole morning on the Internet looking up information on the Red Baron. We scanned and ran off pictures of him and maps charting his plane as he was finally shot down.

Then I went looking for a living book on the Red Baron. There were none...none for children anyway. That was a dilemma. How could I keep forming a relationship between my sons interest in the Red Baron without a living book? How could I nurture the connection and the intimacy if there were no living books for children on the Red Baron?

I did find a book online that the Red Baron wrote about his life. That gave me the option to continue our research of the Red Baron, obtain a copy of the Red Barons personal account of his life and gain the information needed. After this study, my son would have the tools and information he needed to write his own childrens book about the Red Baron. In this way, the spine book would have served its purpose.


(C) copyright 2003 Literature Alive!  Cay Gibson

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