Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom
“I pledge allegiance to living books, to the pure classics of literature. And never will an abridgment land on our shelves, for it would ruin our education forever.”
If you’ve been homeschooling long, you’ve no doubt heard one of our creeds:
“Down with textbooks!”
And for good reason. Many of us have memories of being bored to tears reading overviews in short paragraphs with summary questions to answer at the end. Now that we’re educators ourselves, we think there must be a better way. There is.
A term coined by British educator Charlotte Mason, living books are those written by an author with a passion for the subject at hand. The writer’s expertise and enthusiasm breathe life into the book, as opposed to a textbook’s impersonal synopsis.
The classics, which I firmly believe we should study and learn from, are living books. I’ve done my best to introduce plenty of them into our homeschool. These works have stood the test of time for generations, inspiring and teaching throughout history.
Surely they have lessons to offer us too.
But certain homeschooling resources will tell you adamantly that there’s one way you should not introduce the classics in your home–through abridged books. An abridged book has been shortened and simplified, “dumbed down” so to speak.
Shhhhh, come closer. And don’t tell anyone. I have a confession:
We use abridged books in our home sometimes, and they’ve actually enhanced our learning.
I have three incredible kiddos, two of whom would listen to read-alouds all the live long day. Like the poster homeschooling children, they beg “one more chapter, please!” Tantrums have even been known to occasionally erupt if I stop reading. (another issue entirely, one which would knock them quickly off their poster homeschooling children pedestal!)
But my other child, for whatever reason, has not taken to read-alouds as enthusiastically. I’ve worked for years to help this listener fall in love with stories the way the other two have.
When we were in the Philippines this summer raising money for a homeschooling library, I bought a few abridgments for the girls in the Round Home. Since some of the girls who live there are not native English speakers, I reasoned that an abridgment might introduce them to a classic story. I also bought the original, so if a plot captured their interest they could read on.
One day during this time I flipped through the abridgment for Pinocchio, and it dawned on me that the short chapters and simplified story might connect with my reluctant listener.
I explained to the kids that this was the little kids’ version of Pinocchio, and that if they liked it maybe we could read the big kids’ version, which was famous and even better than this one. (A bit of hype never goes amiss.)
Imagine my surprise while reading the abridgment to hear my reluctant listener laughing and chiming in with requests for “one more chapter, please!” Sweet, sweet music to this mama’s heart. When we finished the shortened version, I asked the kids if they would like to read the original together, and all three gave a firm yes! Score!
We’ve been reading the original Pinocchio over the past month and have really enjoyed it. Because they have a familiarity with it, my kids join in with “I remember this part!” Or “that’s different than the little kids’ book.”
Because my reluctant listener already has a basic understanding of the story, it has allowed that child to tackle the more complex vocabulary that otherwise might lead to glossed-over eyes.
Pinocchio has gone on to join the ranks of our three most enjoyed read-alouds. (Curious about the other two? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Peter Pan–neither of which need abridgments, in my opinion.)
Do you think abridgments might be a help in your homeschool?
While it’s important to have our creeds about living books, it’s even more important to remember that they are guiding principles, not laws we must adhere to or ruin our children forever.
Let’s consider any resources that lead to our ultimate goal–a passion for learning and a love of reading.
“Let books be your dining table,
And you shall be full of delights
Let them be your mattress
And you shall sleep restful nights.”
~ Author Unknown