Advice - Grade Five

Dear Homeschooling Parent,

Grade Five continues the pattern of living books and life experiences begun in the Foundation Year. The biggest shift for your child will be the amount of narration, both written and oral, and the higher level books.

Grade Five will also involve more written work (short essays, reports), independent reading, and longer periods of study— thirty to forty minutes instead of twenty recommended in earlier grades.

What I personally like about Grade Five subjects is the richness of the material. American History is packed with books our students tell us they love. American History focuses on the period of immigration, invention, and widening political influence following the Civil War.

World History focuses on the Renaissance and the Reformation periods (or epochs), truly monumental times in history that still shapes our lives and worldviews today. Science explores the four major strands of life science, earth science, physical science, health science, and a special section on inventions.

Why We Use Living Books to Teach History

LBC history studies use living books rather than textbooks to introduce historical concepts, persons, and events. For history we recommend three kinds of literature: biographies, non-fiction, and historical fiction. All three are included to keep interest high and history accurate.

As in previous years, LBC uses a “spine book” or overview text to accompany the literature. An overview text provides the framework for understanding the events described in each book.

For the Renaissance and Reformation we are using Volume 3, The Awakening of Europe: Read which takes the reader from the Age of Discovery (c. 1550) to the Age of Enlightenment (1750). Each of the living books chosen to accompany the readings in The Awakening of Europe illustrates and brings to life the events and people described.

For American History we use Heroes of Progress: Stories of successful Americans, which is a series of biographies. The story of the legacy of politicians, inventors, businessmen, philanthropists, and gritty characters is still with us today.

The other areas of study include Christian Faith, an extensive language arts program, science, nature study, picture study, and composer study. Because fluency in oral language is as important as fluency in written language, storytelling remains a key language experience in the Living Books Curriculum.

Planning for Learning™

LBC uses a 36-week schedule divided into four terms. Each term is eight weeks of instruction, with the ninth as a “flex” week. The flex week permits the student to complete unfinished work, the teaching parent to assess learning through end-of-term narration questions, and also allows time for field trips. You can begin and end each term as best fits your schedule.

Correlated Studies

Charlotte Mason taught that correlated studies enabled greater exploration of ideas but ought not to result in “busy work” (A Philosophy of Education, p. 114, ff). To correlate means to bring one thing into a complementary relation with another. To correlate studies means to bring one subject, such as history or science, into a complementary relationship with other subjects, such as art or nature study.

In the LBC curriculum, we designed the major subject areas, i.e. the histories, sciences, language arts, to correlate with work in other areas, such as copywork, poetry, Bible study, and so on. Your child will greatly benefit by integration of the lessons in this manner. It also means that, while there are a number of “subjects”, in fact the amount of work is very manageable and enables a homeschooling family to spend the afternoons outdoors.

Journals and Notebooks

The Grade Five student utilizes several notebooks and journals. Your student has the option of incorporating all of them in one large three-ring binder with subject-divider tabs or using individual notebooks.

The two notebooks that should be separate are the Nature Journal and the Language Handbook. The handbook is a simple, spiral notebook to which your child enters new grammar rules with examples taken from his work, thus making it a personal record. The notebooks for Grade Five are as follows:

Heroes of the Faith Literature Journal, Science Notebook, American History Notebook, Renaissance/ Reformation Notebook, Language Handbook (see Grammar), and Nature Journal.

Heroes of the Faith Literature Journal

A literature journal is your child’s personal record of reflections, observations, and reactions to the literature he is reading. It is kept on a regular basis, much as a diary. The literature journal is worth doing just for its own sake. It can also be used for review for end-of-term narrations or as a reference for written narrations, essays, and related writing activities.

End-of-Term Narration Questions

Each term in the LBC curriculum is an eight-week period with the ninth week as a flex week. The flex week is included to complete any unfinished work and to assess your child’s learning with end-of-term narrations or in other manners. The questions provided are meant to be suggestive; you may want to formulate questions that more closely reflect the work your child has done during the past term.

We include end-of-term narration questions for two reasons. First, our research of Charlotte Mason’s syllabus for the Parents National Education Union (PNEU), used for over eighty years, showed that each term ended with “narrations” as a means of assessing student progress. Second, teaching parents who are using Living Books Curriculum have asked for assessment tools for their own planning and to demonstrate learning where necessary to state and local school officials.

LBC Book of the Centuries

Charlotte Mason recommended using a “Book of the Centuries” throughout the elementary years. Read “A Book of the Centuries in the Living Books Curriculum” found on the Grade Five Resource CD. Plan a few minutes once a week for your child to work in his Book of the Centuries. Use this Book of the Centuries for History, Science, Composer Study, and any other subjects where it is seems right to add information to the timeline.


The use of narration is one of the most important aspects of Living Books Curriculum. It is the means by which students take up the ideas presented in living books and make them their own. A student of Charlotte Mason expressed it this way: “We read; we narrate; then we know.”

If your child is new to the use of narration, begin with very short narrations. The process of using narrations effectively is described in “Successful Narration: Five Tips for Teaching Your Child the ‘Art of Knowing'” found on the Grade Five Resource CD.

Christian Faith Studies

Charlotte Mason called this part of your child’s study “Religious Knowledge”. But such a term today is not specific enough, since one could ask, “Which religion?” In her time it was a foregone conclusion that such a term referred to the Christian faith.

Scripture Reading

This year your child reads through the New Testament book of Matthew and the Old Testament books of I and II Kings, I and II Samuel, Daniel, and Jonah. The rotation of readings comes from the PNEU syllabus of Charlotte Mason.

We suggest the teaching parent read Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on the reading of Scripture: “Charlotte Mason on Bible Study” Here is an important excerpt:

Children should get a considerable knowledge of the Bible text between the ages of six and nine. By nine they should have read the simple (and suitable) narrative portions of the Old Testament, and, say, two of the gospels. The Old Testament should, for various reasons, be read to the children.

The gospel stories they might read for themselves as soon as they can read them beautifully. It is a mistake to use paraphrases of the text; the fine roll of Bible English appeals to children with a compelling music, and they will probably retain through life their first conception of the Bible scenes, and, also, the very words in which these scenes are portrayed. This is a great possession. (Home Education, p. 248)

Practical Work

When the Carrolls visited Ambleside, England, to study the works of Charlotte Mason, we discovered that “practical work” in Bible Study was required of a student in the PNEU curriculum. Practical work meant putting one’s faith to work in practical ways, such as visits to a shut-in or writing letters to a missionary. We suggest you brainstorm with your child about opportunities for service open to him or her.

Language Arts


We are continuing Intermediate Language Lessons. Grade Four used Part 1 and Grade Five will use Part 2 of Emma Serl’s book.


Storytelling is one of the unique features of the Living Books Curriculum. It is included because fluency in storytelling directly relates to a child’s ability to excel in reading, writing, comprehension, narration, and creativity. Each week your child will have a storytelling opportunity assigned that will support confidence in public speaking, enhance expressive language, and improve writing (yes, writing!). Be sure to read the essays “Storytelling: the Invisible Gift” and “Teaching with Stories” found on the Grade Five Resource CD. These explain fully why oral language experiences, especially storytelling, enable your child to build his language skills to a high level of mastery.


In Grades One through Four, LBC students used Italics: Beautiful handwriting for children as a guide for instruction in penmanship. You must decide if your child is fluent in cursive italic or needs further work. If he needs further work, we recommend purchasing the penmanship guide which is based on Charlotte Mason’s recommendations.

Copywork is the transcription of a favorite passage by the student into a book reserved for this alone. The copybook can be a spiral notebook or lined pages put into a three-ring binder. The passage should be from high-quality literature so that your student is always learning from examples of good writing. Charlotte Mason wrote of copywork (which she called transcription):

Children should transcribe favorite passages. —A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favorite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favorite poem, an exercise, which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verses, should give them pleasure. (Home Education, p. 238)

Plan ten to fifteen minutes a day for copywork or practice in penmanship. Consistency and frequency, rather than length of session, is the key to your child’s success in handwriting. Also read the article, “Suggestions for Better Penmanship”.


Beginning in Grade Four, regular weekly dictation is added to student work. This work continues in Grade Five. Dictation is the transcription by your child of a passage read aloud to him. It can be either studied or unstudied.

A studied dictation is one in which the student is shown a paragraph or two selected from the assigned readings in science, either of the histories, or another subject. Ideally the selected paragraph(s) is shown to the student early in the week. The student is then asked to “study” the material in preparation for a dictation by the teaching parent later in the week.

An unstudied dictation is one in which the child has not seen the passage previous to the dictation. LBC recommends unstudied dictation as part of end-of-term assessment. The value of this approach is to assess learning in a specific area, not to “catch the child doing wrong”. If more work is needed, it will become apparent through the dictation. For more information about how to do a dictation and spelling lesson, see “The Royal Road to Spelling.”


The study of Shakespeare’s works began in Grade Three and continues through Grade Eight. Shakespeare is a master storyteller, and familiarity with his plays gives the student a rich experience in character study and expressive language. After Holy Scripture, Shakespeare’s works are considered the greatest in the English language. Homeschooling families sometimes wonder why it is important to study the works of this playwright. Terry Glaspeys addresses this issue in Great Books of the Christian Tradition:

Shakespeare presents us with the same dramatic tension we recognize in a study of Scripture: that of good vs. evil, the need for courage in the face of adversity, and the reality that God is moving in and behind the scenes of human action. Whatever the circumstances of his personal life, it is unquestionably true that Shakespeare wrote from a Christian worldview. His insights on human will, guilt, forgiveness, and the search for truth should be required reading for every believer. His grasp of the human condition is perhaps unmatched in literature.

Can elementary age children enjoy Shakespeare? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Of course, the plays need to be presented in ways that are understandable. If you and your child have not yet read Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit, we highly recommend it. The heart of Shakespeare’s plays is the story, and it is these that Nesbit tells so well.


Each year the Living Books Curriculum includes at least one book of poetry. Learning to enjoy and to understand poetry engages the heart and the mind. Best of all, it teaches us to hear the music of language. This year’s book of poetry is 100 Best Loved Poems. The poems your child will study are from both the Renaissance and 19th century America.


Charlotte Mason felt that children learned to spell well by reading quality literature. Those words which are misspelled, in a written narration for example, become part of the following week’s spelling list. For an explanation and instructions on doing spelling with a child, read “The Royal Road to Spelling.”


Charlotte Mason called recitation “the children’s art” and that all children, even a child whose parents have little background in literature, may be taught the fine art of beautiful and perfect speaking. Throughout the year your child will be asked to memorize certain pieces for recitation. If your child is new to memory work such as this, begin slowly. For more helps, read the article “Charlotte Mason on Recitation” in the Grade Five Resources.

Written Narration

Charlotte Mason did not recommend a program of writing instruction until the student was in his early teens. This was to allow the child to learn by imitation of great writing. It is a truly amazing process to watch as your child writes well and with a truer sense of meaning by using this method.


The Living Books elementary science curriculum is a structured adventure into basic science concepts using living books and is designed to prepare your child for high school level work and beyond. As with all our other subjects in this curriculum, there are many living books used which put abstract concepts into a proper time and place.

Why literature in a study of science?

Charlotte Mason wrote of the fatal and unnecessary divorce of the sciences and the humanities:
“It is through great literature that one gets at great thoughts, not through dry, ‘dumbed down’ textbooks” (A Philosophy of Education, p. 223).

Ms. Mason was not opposed to textbooks, only to their exclusive use with fact-laden pages and uninteresting presentations.

Microscope use in Grade Five: In Term Four your student will study the history and use of the microscope and of classification. He will have an opportunity to learn hands-on what the microscopic world looks like by using the Protozoa Hatchery Kit and a microscope, either purchased or borrowed.

Nature Study

The goal of nature study is careful looking. Albert Einstein said, “All great science begins with a close observation of nature”. Nature Study is one of the keys to a Living Books education because it develops keen powers of observation. Charlotte Mason taught that time spent in the outdoors is a “balm and a blessing” for children, not only when they are young, but also when they are grown and must deal with the stresses and strains of adult life. Each term has a focus for study. The choice of study is drawn from Handbook of Nature Study, which is used from kindergarten to Eighth Grade.

American History: Growth and Industrialization (1860-1920)

This period of American history is really more about the men and women whose enterprise and invention shaped the times than it is about events. You will notice a great number of biographies in Grade Five. This is such a rich time in American history and a relatively happy time of progress, devoid of wars, though World War I loomed on the horizon. Henry Ford, for example, produced an affordable car, invented the production line, paid higher wages than anyone had ever earned before, and helped create a large middle class through his invention of the Model T. He is just one individual yet his influence on the American landscape can be seen every time you get in a car and drive somewhere.

World History: Renaissance and Reformation (1500-1750)

Grade Five students will complete a study of two epochs of history: the Renaissance and the Reformation. We use the word epoch because it means a point of time marked by an event of great subsequent influence; such as, the epoch of the creation; the birth of Christ was the epoch which gave rise to the Christian era. (Webster’s 1913 Dictionary)

Enrichment Reading List

The Enrichment Reading List provides titles of other books that would enrich the study of our subjects. All of the books listed can be borrowed from your local library, through inter-library loan, or purchased directly from book distributors.


As in Grade Four, your child will have an opportunity to explore maps of Europe and the United States. In Grade Five, the emphasis for World History is on Renaissance Europe. For American History your child will discover places that relate to cultural, scientific, and technological advances in the latter half of the 18th century.

Picture Study

A regular and important aspect of a living books education, as recommended by Charlotte Mason, is the study of great works of art. In Grade Five your child will study primarily the work of Renaissance artists. Learn more about the use of Picture Study.

Composer Study

This year's study includes:

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) [two terms], Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809), and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

If you are unfamiliar with these composers or their music, be sure to tell your child that you will be learning alongside him. The goal of Composer Study is to teach your child to appreciate and enjoy fine music.


Since the afternoons should be mostly free of academic studies, this is the time to teach your child handicrafts. Which handicrafts you choose depends on your child’s interests, your interests, and your budget. Most boys and girls enjoy activities such as sewing, woodworking, gardening, and cooking. These are skills every child should know. You may have a skill or craft you want to teach your child, or you may want to invite someone to teach your child a skill.

Physical Education

In a Living Books Curriculum day, the morning is devoted to academics, and the afternoon revolves around outdoor play and handicrafts. Allow children unstructured time. You will often be tempted to stay indoors after lunch to finish work. Keep such times to a minimum, allowing your child to play outdoors.

Physical education is a crucial part of a child’s optimal growth. Plan regular times outdoors where your child can run, jump, tumble, climb, and swing. Play highly active games, such as tag or badminton. Play inventive games in which your child can let his or her imagination create the setting and the action. Keep the games as noncompetitive as possible so that everyone has the pleasure of play. Team sports and specialized instruction such as gymnastics, martial arts, or swimming can be part of a child’s experience, but they should not take the place of free play.

Is it too late to start a Charlotte Mason education?

Mothers ask me that from time to time. They see the value of a living books education and want it for their child. It is never too late to begin! Children are wonderfully resilient and they know the genuine article (living books) when it is given them. To give you an idea of what a day looks like, have a look at my article on “Planning a CM Day.”


What if I want to teach multiple children with this teaching guide?

What are the books and subjects covered in Grade Five?

Why do you use storytelling in your curriculum?

When should I begin narration?

What is a living book?

“…We owe it to every child to put him (or her) in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts…and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books.” A Philosophy of Education, p. 12.
Living Books Curriculum uses books considered “living” according to Charlotte Mason’s guidelines because they “warm the imagination, nurture thinking, and communicate knowledge mind-to-mind”. Children require books that are living in order to develop mind and hearts to fullest capacity. The high quality of thought expressed in great literature creates like thought in the child. When the books are many, varied, and living, the child is able to adopt the ideas just as a plant takes nutrients from the soil.

Here to help

We’re here to help. Living Books Curriculum fully supports our curriculum though email and a Facebook Community. We invite you to join the growing community of parents using this wonderful way to home educate. Questions? Email us at

All the best,

P.S. 100% of the proceeds of your purchase help us help children in Africa receive a living education. Jim and Sheila Carroll’s non-profit, Worldwide Educational Resources, has seven schools at this time, educating nearly 750 students. The Carroll’s non-profit was founded in 2000. Learn more.