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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Homeschooling with Free E-Books

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the moveable-type press on the Medieval world, and I think the same can be said of the internet and digital media in our day. Billions of pages of information can be accessed in mere seconds. It is truly amazing!

Electronic books are just a small part of the digital world, but their potential influence exceeds that of any social media outlet. Books contain ideas, and ideas change cultures.

I have only recently begun to see the homeschooling benefits of free electronic books. The copyright on a book expires after 75 years. Then that book becomes part of the public domain, and it may be digitized and made available to everyone for free. This means that old textbooks, written during an era when Christianity was the prevailing worldview in the West, are in the public domain. I already knew this, of course, as we have used reprints like Charles Coffin's The Story of Liberty (1875) in our homeschool. The advantage of digitized books, however, is that they are FREE!

As I have been putting together curriculum for next year, I have found some great old textbooks online. I access them on my Nexus 7 tablet through Google Play, but they are also available at Google Books. Some books are also available at The Gutenberg Project, The Baldwin Project, and Internet Archive.

So what have I found? For my soon-to-be-first-grader, A First Book in American History by Edward Eggleston. Eggleston helpfully includes both vocabulary and narration exercises at the end of each chapter. Because the book was last updated in 1917, I'll have to fill in the more recent events. We also plan to use New Language Exercises for Primary Schools by C. C. Long (1889). This delightful introductory grammar book is based on the premise that "the child learns by example and practice: not by rules or theory." It is divided into first grade and second grade sections. Home Geography for the Primary Grades, also by C. C. Long, introduces young students to the rudiments of geography (and science). The lessons are written in a conversational tone and include many questions for the student to answer. Poems That Every Child Should Know by Mary Elizabeth Burt (1904) is a multi-level book that begins with simple nursery rhymes and progressively becomes more difficult, ending with poems by Shakespeare, Keats, and Whitman.

The older kids will be using A Practical and Critical Grammar of the English Language by Noble Butler (1874). One of the things I love about these older textbooks is that they begin by introducing students to the first principles and vocabulary of the subject. Examples are taken from the Bible and other classical works of literature. We will also be using Composition-Rhetoric by Stratton Duluth Brooks and Marietta Hubbard (1905). My favorite textbook find thus far has been The Young American, or, Book of Government and Law by Samuel Griswald Goodrich (1844). I haven't finished reading it yet, but I can already see that Goodrich teaches the biblical principles of government as I have learned them from the Foundation for American Christian Education. I am also looking at a couple of geography texts by Matthew Fontaine Maury.

I won't attempt to cover literature in this post as the number of novels, historical fictions, and biographies available digitally is overwhelming.

I do want to offer a word of caution for anyone considering using old textbooks. Though these books generally present a Christian worldview (and often do it better than texts from modern-day "Christian" publishers), you may encounter some out-dated ideas concerning "races." I put that word in quotes, because there is really only one race - the human race. You should just be aware that writers of the past were products of their culture, and they were less enlightened on this subject than we are today.

Finally, you don't need an expensive tablet to use digitized books. I am looking for a couple of used Nook Simple Touch e-readers so that we will have enough reading devices for school. You can also download Calibre or another similar e-reading software (free, of course!) to use your laptop or computer as an e-reader. (Note: Kindles use a proprietary operating system that does not read some file formats. I think there is a work around, but I wouldn't recommend buying a Kindle if you plan on using a lot of old books.)

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