“When you hear the word “textbook,” what image comes to mind?”
A question similar to this flashed across my screen in an online homeschool group just a few weeks ago.
My first response? “Boring and heavy.”
To my surprise several responses from Sonlight parents were positive and caused me to rethink what constitutes a textbook.
- Could a textbook be more than a boring collection of facts between two covers?
- What was the definition of a textbook anyway?
Certainly, most of the books I receive as part of our homeschool curriculum don’t remind me of the books I hefted back and forth to school as a child.
Textbooks at my public school were largely encyclopedias of information. They were often worded in a rather dull format and often accompanied by a plethora of questions at the end of each section. The “discussion” questions were rarely used to aid an actual conversation, but were frequently doled out as homework assignments.
Even our literature books were primarily composed of short stories or poems. A novel was occasionally assigned as a book report, but rarely used as a learning tool aside from grammar and reading comprehension. Grammar textbooks were filled with rules and shortened examples with little context.
Science books and history books were similar; loaded with facts, but with little background information. Biographical information about inventors and discoverers was often absent. Information reported as “recent” events or “new developments” were severely out of date before the books even arrived in our hands. Little effort was made by mass textbook publishers to make any of the information relevant or applicable, or dare I say even interesting.
Using “real books” as textbooks never occurred to me until our Ohio History teacher surprised our class with “Blue Jacket,” by Allan W. Eckert. Individual copies were provided to each student in the class. He announced that this would be our “textbook” for the next several weeks. We spent class time reading the novel aloud and actually discussed the book. Today I can still tell you more about this remarkable chief of the Shawnees than I can most other figures in history.
Sadly this experience in my Ohio History class was to be my last non-traditional textbook in compulsory school. This lone experience of using a real book to learn was enjoyable and worked well! It’s one of the primary reasons that when I started researching what curriculum to use for my own children, I was most drawn to Sonlight. Their tagline of “The way you wish you’d been taught” spoke volumes to me.
Our Homeschool Textbooks
Now, two years into our homeschool experience I have a whole new appreciation for how much learning can happen without a heavy, boring textbook. Although, I had never before considered the novels and picture books we use as “textbooks” they do fit the official definition. Merriam Webster defines a textbook as “a book used in the study of a subject.” We use “real books” offered by Sonlight, both fiction and non-fiction to study religion, history, science, and more. Although, we still occasionally employ “traditional textbooks,” they are used only as quick references.
Our non-traditional, homeschool “textbooks” provide our family an opportunity for bonding over a shared experience of discovery. Questions in the books and Sonlight’s read-aloud guides truly are for discussion. While growing up my textbooks were for memorizing and regurgitating facts for tests. I never loved any of them. Conversely, my children’s textbooks are some of their favorite books of all time.
- “Out of Darkness,” by Russell Freedman took us on a tour of Louis Braille’s life and spurred my daughter to explore the Braille alphabet.
- “Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories,” by Rosemary Wells gave us an appreciation for the many medical advances in the past hundred years.
- “Eggs and Chicks from Usborne” spurred us to explore all kinds of unusual nests. We were especially taken with cave swiftlets whose nests made from spit are used to make an expensive soup.
That doesn’t even include much of the amazing fiction that has inspired additional research and exploration.
- “The Boxcar Children,” by Gertrude Chandler Warner led us to learn how to press flowers, set tables, and build fires.
- “My Father’s Dragon,” by Ruth Stiles Gannett took us down the rabbit hole of the origins of dragons and their appearance in historical artwork.
- “In Grandma’s Attic,” by Arleta Richardson gave us some great laughs as we rummaged through a collection of century old clothing even trying on hoop skirts, which did indeed go over our heads when we sat down.
We use all these amazing books to study a variety of subjects. They are filled with stories that are far from boring and with the exception of some truly fabulous anthologies (like James Herriot’s Treasury for Children) are rarely heavy. Yet, these books are the backbone of our homeschool and the source from which we gain content knowledge and inspiration as we learn. So, while they may not be the traditional textbooks I remember from my childhood they are truly textbooks and we love them!
The image below is perfect for pinning or later!