Living Stones Academy

Educating by atmosphere, discipline, and life

A living book . . .with some flaws

on June 22, 2010

I found a book on Amazon one day that was only available through a used book seller (that reminds me, I need to leave feedback . . .I’m so bad about that, one day I’ll be banned from buying unless I leave PRE feedback!). It sounded like a great book to use with the kids to teach them about this unique culture we live in right now. We’ve been Japan for nearly 4 years now–first in Yokosuka (near Yokohama, south of Tokyo), and now in Misawa–and the kids are now of an age where they can understand there is something different about us.  Part of our morning routine now (ok, I’ve been half doing it for a couple months, but now we’re in earnest) is Hallway Time which includes: Calendar Station (a great felt hanging piece with velcro words and symbols and numbers for teaching calendar skills, seasons, and recognizing weather), Map Station (I have a map of Japan up with our current location marked, next to a map of the world with the USA marked), and Language Station (a wall chart that came with a kid’s flashcard set for learning Japanese; we do 2 words a week).  We also just did a manners unit on greeting people, and I threw in how to greet in Japan (bowing included). So now that we’ve started homeschooling for real (oh yeah, should probably blog that hee hee), I want to do culture study. Nothing heavy, they are just small kids now. But arts and crafts, food sampling, looking at pictures (for picture study we’re looking at the works of Hokusai, a famous Japanese artist, who’s series on Mt. Fuji are well known), and getting out into the culture at large. There are books in our base library, but when I found this book on Amazon, it sounded like a great addition that can be used for later studies of other countries. It has some real pros . . . and real cons.

It’s called Children Are Children Are Children: An activity approach to exploring Brazil, France, Iran, Japan, Nigeria and the U.S.S.R., by Ann Cole, Carolyn Haas, Elizabeth Heller, and Betty Weinberger. Already I’m sure a flaw is evident: there IS no USSR anymore! Now I expect it to be outdated, because it was first published in 1978. So that just means I have to be really careful about what information I read out loud. Which means a lot of vetting before reading. Not a really big deal–because of our unusual views on science and history I’m going to have to do that a lot. But just how much vetting I have to do of this particular book, I’m not yet sure.

Let me share a huge pro: it definitely qualifies as a "living book", by the Charlotte Mason definition. Here are some quotes from the acknowledgements and intro:

  • In researching material . . . we quickly realized that it couldn’t all be found in the library! It was the personal interviews and answers to our inquiries sent to acquaintances in the six countries that unearthed much of the original and colorful material which makes this book both current and unique. (Ok, like I said, “current” is in question; but we’ll let that go for a moment)
  • In choosing the content for each of the six chapters of this book, the highest priority was placed on selecting subjects that would involve children, topics that would readily lend themselves to both individual and group activities and give children a sense of discovery as they explored a new and unfamiliar land.
  • This activity approach, used successfully in our first book . . .and our second one . . .is now called upon again to make a faraway country come alive.
  • The reader, or more properly, the user of this book, will not only get a picture of the unifying similarities among the six countries but, just as important, a sense of what is unique and unusual about each one.
  • Children Are . . . is not meant to be a textbook in the strictest sense, but rather a guide to making the best use of textbooks and other resource materials.

So, this is very much what would be determined a living book: not dry text, but active, breathing narration and activity. That said, though, I’m already finding points I don’t think are quite accurate, at least not anymore. Only in the Japanese section, I haven’t looked at the others (or really know anything about them first hand).

For instance, it says the typical Japanese home is built of bamboo and is heated by charcoal burning.  The thing is, having lived in a metropolitan area and now a more rural area, that isn’t the typical Japanese home these days. In Yokosuka they were usually 2 stories, extremely narrow, packed close together, with steep stairways inside and all hard floors. Here in Misawa, many are low, some are 2 stories, but broader. Inside there isn’t a lot of room, and some have those steep stairs. But some incorporate heated flooring, and kerosene is used, not charcoal. That’s mainly because of difference in climate: Yokosuka would get cold in the winter but not freezing, and rarely snowed. Here in Misawa, however, we have nearly freezing weather for about 6 months (not kidding!). So while overall the bamboo with sliding paper doors and tatami mats may be “typical”, it’s not something my kids have come into contact with, therefore not something they can readily believe or relate to.

So while the activities do represent some great cultural exposure, there isn’t a lot of information. I’ll be relying on our own personal experience, and maybe some books from the library. All in all I recommend it as a starting place, but for current demographics use the internet or other source, and for current cultural behaviors and living styles, search your library.

I give it 2 stars. NOT BAD! Just not current or relevant for today.

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