So, How Are You Supposed to Teach Math Using Living Books?

When you think of Charlotte Mason, you think of using living books as the foundation of your studies. So, how are you supposed to use living books that you read to help your child understand and learn mathematical concepts? This is a very common question amongst homeschoolers using Charlotte Mason methods. Usually, parents find a math program that suits their child's individual learning style, which is a major goal in homeschooling. But, what can you use to add variety and spice things up a bit, or to connect what you are learning in history, science, and literature with your mathematics? That's right, living books!

You can read fictional stories involving the use of math concepts, non-fictional books putting math concepts in real settings and examples, and biographies of mathematicians and scientists who developed or used certain math concepts. Depending upon what you are studying in math, history, or science will determine what concepts you will read and what people you will study. Tying these real books in with the study of math or history makes math come alive, making it personally significant and significant to what you are studying in other subjects.

Some examples of fictional books using a story to explain and utilize math concepts are:

Books by Mitsumasa Anno and David Adler


  • Math Start
  • Step into Reading + Math
  • Rookie Readers - Math

Some examples of non-fiction books setting math concepts in real life situations and examining real examples are found in the following series:

  • Math Works!
  • Math for the Real World
  • Math All Around Me

When studying mathematicians or scientists in history or science, it's fun to include a biography of the person. The children enjoy knowing what the person was like and what made them so interested in the concepts they discovered or helped to develop. My kids definitely enjoyed the stories of Archimedes and his adventures in the bathtub! These are the stories that stick and in turn help make the concepts associated with these entertaining personalities stick in our memories too!

Here are some suggested biographical resources for some famous mathematicians:

  • Math and Mathematicians: The History of Math Discoveries Around the World by Leonard C. Bruno
  • Archimedes: Mathematical Genius of the Ancient World by Mary Gow
  • The Life and Times of Pythagoras by Susan and William Harkins
  • The Thirteen Books of Euclid's Elements
  • The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky

Some examples of activities you might want to include when reading any of these books might include narration at the conclusion of a chapter of a short book or at the end of a longer one, then writing a narration on a notebooking page. Your notebook page might include an explanation of the concept, formula if there is one, an example of the concept (including a math problem if that is how you use the concept), and a story example using the concept in a real life situation that your child can pull from their own experience.

You can also write a narration from one of the biographies using a biography notebooking page or a specific mathematician notebooking page, such as the one at this website.

If you wish, you can incorporate the use of copywork from some of these biographies or quotes from mathematicians and then have your children do dictation from this copywork.

We have done a number of these types of books and notebooking pages. You can go further, if you come across a fun idea like our family did when we were studying Archimedes during our ancient history studies. We found out that he developed the concept of Pi that we use today. We also found out that National Pi Day was on March 14th, so we held Pi Day at our house! We read, wrote, played some problem-solving games and activities using Pi (while wearing Pi headbands). At the end of the day, we had to calculate the dimensions of our pizza pie using the formula for Pi before we could all eat our dinner.

To start your planning for Pi day, March 14th, try out this website. To add some more fun to Pi day with a book, try reading Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander.

Here are some other websites that focus on math concepts and mathematicians for the older students:

Have fun using real books in your math study!

For more fun ideas to use in your homeschool and learn more about using "living books", the Charlotte Mason method, and unit studies, please visit Katie’s Homeschool Cottage.

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