Yesterday I listed out the texts that we are using for next year with the promise that I would return to our book lists in a future post. Today’s post is all about why we use “real” books, how we incorporate them into our educational plans and which books we use.
When I was a child in school I remember reading from text books that excerpt short passages from “real” books or contained banal stories written with particular language lessons as the single driving force behind them – I loved to read; I hated reading as a subject. As I started looking into homeschooling I found that this “twaddle” reading was objected to by more than my childhood self. In fact several schools of educational thought out and out reject that approach outright. So, since it fits with my general inclination and is support by others in the field of education: we go for real books. Stories and books that are valued for their literary quality, cultural value, beauty and meaning, and their place in space and time are selected instead of stories that are selected or created for their mechanical purpose and functionality.
Exposing children to good literature develops their mind and imagination. It creates a frame work for them to incorporate big ideas, important values, virtue, liberality of thought and curiosity. Learning classic children’s tales also imparts the cultural literacy that will enrich their understanding of literature throughout their lives.
The real problem for us isn’t finding enough good books it is limiting the number to a manageable amount. One of my favorite lists can be found here. For each child we select books that fit their interests and their reading level. For independent readers I assign a set amount of reading per day (one chapter usually) the child is supposed to note any words that they are unfamiliar with. When they have completed the reading assignment they look up 3-5 of the words in the dictionary and type the definition into their reading log. They also compose a short synopsis of the day’s reading.
For the first term Christopher will be reading Tom Sawyer and The Hobbit for his literature study. Hannah will have The Courage of Sarah Noble, The Boxcar Children and A Bear Called Paddington.
We also have reading time. The children are free to select any book off the following lists to read for 30 minutes a day.
Christopher’s Book list:
Call of the Wild
The Red Badge of Courage
Swiss Family Robinson
Last of the Mohicans
Story of King Arthur
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
or any classic he can talk me into.
Hannah is transitioning to independent reading so she can pretty much pull anything off the bookshelf that suits her fancy. I will develop a list for her for the second term. Josh and Sarah are still in the picture book stage.
We have read aloud time which is more directed to the younger children. This year we will start with Hedi, Peter Pan and the House at Pooh Corner. Once a week we will have a fairy tale story.
This is the first year for Christopher to be studying Shakespeare. I started thinking about this last summer when Ashley took a liking to Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’. It was one of those moments where my mind slipped around juggling uptight catholic mom, literature loving me and introduce the children to great books teacher roles. The younger kids liked it to, but it is violent and sensual, but nothing really explicit, but it was very trendy looking and all that suicide and people dieing and sex… but how do I really get “Stop watching Shakespeare” out of my mouth without laughing myself silly. So I let them watch it. Which turned out fine. They liked it, they got the basic story without being scandalised and and it stuck, they can reference it in a meaningful way. So, Shakespeare it is.
I am going to start with Much Ado About Nothing. First off it is one of my very favorites, it is included in Edith Nesbit’s highly recommended work and I really enjoy Kenneth Branagh’s version on DVD, which I happen to already have, which I think is sort of an elemental point. Shakespeare is meant to be seen. Plays studied only by sitting in front of a book lose their form and much of their vitality. Which is why I would much rather have the children read a good story rendition based on the play, watch it using the language as written (which both Branagh and Luhrmann keep reasonably close to) and memorise some of the key passages. My hope is that this will be rich and entertaining for the children this year.
This year we will also be doing several poetry until studies. The poems we select will come from several different anthologies including: A Children’s Garden, my old Oxford Anthology of English Literature and Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Child’s Anthology of Poetry.
Having looked in vain for a science text that I really liked I have decided to do something a little bit different. I purchased an older science text (from the 1980s oh-so-old) and I am using it’s table of context as more or less a “spine” for Physical Science. Along with this we will be studying biographies of important scientist. The first 12 weeks we will read about Aristotle, Galileo and Copernicus. I am still researching the specific biographies for this.
I wouldn’t take this direction if I wasn’t flat out obstinate about what I think is important in a science curriculum and arrogant enough to think that my college level course work in Chemistry and Physics is adequate to answer the questions of a 10 year old boy doing middle school science. But there it is.
Learning about nature requires something more than just reading a text. I love nature journals. this fall the children will be working on cataloging the trees that grow around us. Identifying native species and common foreign species and learning through observation, cataloging and study. We are going to use a good field guide to native plants for most of this work.
Art and Music History:
This term we will not be doing any biographies in either art or music, but starting second term we will study one artist and one composer.