In my childhood home, we had a room called “The Library”. It was a beautiful room with dark wood built-in book cases and glass doors. It was always my favorite room in the house. My dad had a deep and lovely leather chair which was perfect for getting lost inside of a good book. My love for books was likely born in that room.
I remember being in elementary school and being tired of textbooks and lessons that were designed to elucidate my many weaknesses. I remember being baffled by the work that I had to do in order to prove that I wasn’t a fool. I remember feeling deeply insecure and always one misstep away from failure. I remember finding school incredibly stressful.
That library was a place of refuge for me. In it, I would let my insecurities and realities disappear as I got lost in stacks of old books. I would read and re-read Betsy and Tacy, wishing that I had been born in simpler times. I would read and re-read Little House on the Prairie, wishing that I could go on adventures that didn’t involve spelling lists and dreaded math worksheets. I also remember getting lost in Childcraft books, marveling at scientific and historical ideas that were not present in my traditional education.
Decades later, a local librarian knew that I was homeschooling. Her recently deceased mother had been a Childcraft representative, and in her attic were some treasures that needed a loving home. I asked no questions. I gratefully received the boxes of Childcraft books. There were a few duplicates that I shared with other friends and a couple of holes which I would enjoy filling. I was elated. My kids looked on with wonder and enthusiasm as I rejoiced over these precious books!
“In the early 1920’s, W. F. Quarrie & Company, publishers of a ten-volume encyclopedia called The World Book, was also selling a new educational plan known as the The Foundation Desk and Library. It consisted of a child’s desk – complete with secret drawer – and two books, a Guide and a Work and Play Book. The desk was the big item – the books went along for good measure.” Introduction to 1984 Childcraft Volume 1: Poems and Rhymes
In no time at all, it became obvious to the publishers that the desk was of far less value than the books themselves. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the publishers experimented with different volumes and different ideas about what to include. In 1934, the first edition of Childcraft was published. It included three volumes for children to read independently and three volumes for parents or teachers.
In 1940, the Quarrie Company was commissioned to do a massive overhaul of The World Book. In December of 1945, Marshall Field III purchased the Quarrie Company and both The World Book and Childcraft became part of Marshall Field Enterprises. For early re-branding, the series remained closely connected to it’s previous form. Field, however, wanted an entirely new series under the same name and with similar intention but broader scope.
In 1949, after WWII, the first Field Childcraft was published. This 14 volume set included 12 subject-based volumes and had 2 large format special volumes (Art & Music and Science & Industry). This edition, however, was just a build-out of the original series. It was bigger and richer but it was still more or less the same idea as that of the Quarrie Company.
In 1954, Field overhauled Childcraft and published the first new series with a total of fifteen volumes. J. Morris Jones, Editor in Chief, was not willing to stop there. He knew that the post-war culture was changing the world and he wanted a series which embraced the new world. In 1964, Childcraft was completely re-invented, again. The older series focused more on the preservation of culture. The newer series focused more on education, training, and the broadening of the minds of post-war children. Both series have great value and it is for this reason that I have chosen to have both series in my home. They bear the same name but they cover completely different territory – even when the volumes are closely related titles.
Over the course of an upcoming series of articles, I will try to give you a peek into the 1949 series as well as the post-1964 series. I will try to show how I use these in our homeschool in vital ways.
It is my contention that nearly all early elementary education can be supported by Childcraft and very little else. When young moms ask me what they can do to get started in homeschooling (or enhance the traditional school experience their children have), I always say: get the Childcraft books and enjoy reading them together.
Moms have asked how to read through Childcraft. Is it best to use it as an encyclopedia and read it like a reference resource, or is it best to read it like a storybook? Truly, it is set up for you to do either. In our experience, however, it has been best to pull whichever volume we wish to study, and read it from start to finish in a two-page spread, a couple of times per week. There is a progression of ideas inside each self-contained volume.
I add whichever Childcraft volume(s) we will use to our morning symposium basket and loop them throughout the week. At any given time, we will likely have 2 or 3 Childcraft volumes in our morning loop.
As an example, we read from Mathemagic (in our 1984 50th Anniversary edition, it is volume #13) once or twice a week. We cover approximately 2-4 pages per week. At this rate, it takes an entire school year to get through Mathemagic. But, reading this way, much math gets through us. This gentle and intentional approach helps us to love mathematical ideas and develop a body of knowledge that makes math practical for the rest of our lives.
In the next post in this series, I will unpack the Mathemagic volume and share some photos of the insides. It is one of my most favorite Childcraft books. If your budget allows the purchase of only one volume, this would be a brilliant one to start with.
To see which other Childcraft volumes we have reviewed, check out our series page here.