Thursday, November 17, 2016

Nature Readers from Christian Liberty Press: a Review

Complete Nature Reader kit shown with answer keys.

I requested a review copy of the Nature Reader set from Christian Liberty press because I had a feeling it would be right up our alley.  I'm happy to report that suspicion was true.  So far we have really enjoyed our time reading and discussing them.

The books are a series of leveled readers, starting at kindergarten level and going up through level five (six readers in all). They are meant to be read by the child rather than as read-alouds from the parent.  (The earlier levels even have larger print).  Primarily, they are intended to help children improve their reading vocabulary and comprehension, but a lovely side benefit is all of the wonderful knowledge of God's creation that the kids absorb as they go along.  

I would judge the reading difficulty for each level to be slightly higher than most modern readers, but the content itself is so interesting that it distracts from the extra effort required.  Much of the information, especially in the early levels is told in story form.

Our Family's Approach

Most mornings I put the nature readers on the list of school work for my nine and seven year old to complete that day.  They read about three sections (about two pages) and then find me in order to share with me what they've learned.  Usually, they are very excited to do this, and will eagerly ask me something like: "Do you want to learn about honey ants or parasol ants first?"  It's fun for them that they often have things to tell me that I did not know. 

The readers also contain review questions that could be used to quiz the children orally or in written form and answer booklets to check their work.  So far, though, I've found that the readers work really well with narration, and we haven't used the review questions.

What We Like

My favorite aspect of the books is the author's playful and interested attitude in discovering details about the world God's creation.  She writes in a conversational tone that engages a child and inspires wonder.  Sometimes I feel that Christian science textbooks tend to include references to the Lord in a heavy handed or compulsory kind of way.  Not so with these books. You get the feeling that she would speak the same way if she were with you in a field, showing you  plants and animals in person and that her references to the Lord flow out naturally from her thoughts.

Though there is a lot of discussion about God's wise purposes seen in the details of what He has made, the author doesn't use them to argue against evolution like many Christian textbooks.  For the elementary years, I actually prefer this approach.  There will be plenty of time later to discuss faulty theories..  Better first to simply praise the Lord for what He has done and to learn to see His hand in everything.  

We also appreciate that so many of the animals and phenomena described are things that we encounter in our own backyard or in the woods nearby.  I really think Charlotte Mason would approve of these books as the kind of "nature lore" that helps children be more observant of their own world.

The plentiful illustrations are single color, but lovely and realistic.

What We Would Change

The kindergarten reader, though visually attractive with lots of full color photographs, is not written in the same engaging tone as the other books.  We still read it and enjoyed it, but the writing is much more a collections of straightforward (but interesting) facts .  Also, the reading level is barely below that in level 1, if at all.  It would have been nice to have a more basic early reader for children who are just beginning to read.

The only other quibble I have is with the organization of levels 1,2, and 3.  My kids didn't care at all about this, but it slightly annoyed me that I could not find the driving organizational structure in the first three books.  For example, the topics seemed to jump from insects to medium sized meadow creatures back to insects again for no apparent reason.


Overall though, these books are a treasure.  As Charlotte Mason said,"We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.  I love that the Christian Liberty Nature Readers not only help children to know the details of what God has made, but also to delight in them.