Grandma's garden signpost, crafted by my brother Isaac and his wife Rochelle :)
Literature is home to me. I am the third child of seven, and my parents began homeschooling officially when I was about three years old. Books were not just a part of life, they were the exciting part, the enchanting part ... the cozy part. My dad is a great storyteller and I remember all of us clambering for his lap and laughing at his voices.
Just as I used to beg for another episode of my dad's invented "Microscopic Mike and Macroscopic Max," my kids beg Paul for a "Spookville." (A series of stories he can make up on the spot, while accompanying it on the guitar ... now that's talent :) My mom read to us throughout the day, and as adults, we still love to hear her read to us. She is a wonderful curator; we were surrounded by beautiful books to read. When I began reading independently, I remember wandering around my family's library at bedtime, in search of my next adventure. My older siblings would earnestly recommend their favorites, a pastime I bestowed upon those that followed me. "Here," said my older brother handing me a golden copy of something Tolkien, even though I was only seven. "This one has magic spells in it." I think I actually believed that reading that book would conjure magical creatures in my bedroom closet.
I remember running out of ideas one day at the public library, and my mother handing me a list of medal winners. "Look for this sticker," she said. "These ones are usually pretty good." I was young enough that I still did everything she asked me to. (I did, didn't I?) I loved reading those books. It's even better to read them to my children. In fact, this is my favorite part of being a mother.
"A childhood without books--that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy."
We are on our 3rd copy of Jimmy Zangwow's Out-Of-This-World-Moon-Pie Adventure by Toni DiTerlizzi
We study literature in our homeschool by reading aloud (Storytime), going to the library, working on book report projects inspired by what we've read, and learning poetry by heart.
Storytime is an hour of cuddling up with blankets and me reading aloud. The older kids read to me one-on-one at other times. In a few years, when they are fluent, I'll let them read during family storytime. Our tradition is that when I call "storytime!" the first one to bring me their choice gets to have their pick read soonest. We read a lot of picture books and chapter books. We take turns choosing, and I get a turn too. They are exposed to a broad range of books-- books with enough depth to interest me, both more advanced and less advanced than their reading level. They are allowed to play quietly, as long as they are listening.
Field Trips to the Library
I reserve a crateful of library books several days before we go to the library, which counts as schoolwork. They browse for their own selections as well, so overall our plunder usually has something good in it. I'm grateful for my librarians ...
Our library is full of beautiful toys. [G.] and I go to Storytime for the songs and the sitting practice while the older children browse or play educational games on the computers.
After our last trip, [A.] couldn't wait to start reading one of his books, attempting to walk and sound out new vocabulary as we treacherously made our way to the car. [G.], my two-year-old, took on the challenge and stuck his nose in a picture book about elephants, muttering to himself while walking, trailing along behind his big brother. They both read themselves into and across the street without a sideways glance. We must have been quite a sight.
(Above: This field trip was really exceptional: we went to a Shakespeare play performed by homeschoolers [four of whom were my kids' babysitters]. The actors did an incredible job and my kids sat for the entire play, rolling with laughter.)
I've been compiling a book list, an anthology of classics, family favorites, non-fiction, medal winners, contemporary bestsellers, Mensa selections, recommendations from our history curriculum, and Goodreads top picks. These are just the good ones. We vote on how many stars to give a book, and don't add it to the list unless it has earned least three stars. It is carefully curated:) Five stars means the book changed us. So here's my book list, because every blog post needs a freebie, right? Not so fast though. I want my list to be really good, right? So I'm not going to release the list until it's been tested by all three of my kids. You'll have to wait for the older grades. These are my recommendations for nursery school:
For fun, I keep a record of our favorite books on goodreads.com, and every once in awhile, print out their shelves as thumbnails:
Storytime usually quiets us, and although my kids never have fallen asleep (darn it), sometimes I do! If I am having a stressful day, I drop the routine and just read stories. By the end, I've found courage. I remember why I love my kids so much, and what kind of a teacher I want to be. I get to think about what we're learning, and ponder the mysteries of childhood. The rest of the day never seems as daunting after retelling the story of St. George and the dragon.
Our hour-long storytimes are my favorite, but we also read for about 15 minutes at bedtime and listen to audiobooks in the car. (This book was excellent as an audiobook, read by Tim Curry and recommended to me by a wonderful homeschool mom.) It adds up to a lot, although life just isn't long enough to read everything I want read.
We have done some fun book reports this year with Grandma and all our homeschooling cousins over the webcam. It was awesome to see all my brilliant nieces and nephews show off their hard work. We practiced presentation skills, and asking questions, ... and listening. A good friend and inspirational homeschooler shared this list of "alternative" book report ideas with me. Here's an example of one of their book reports:
You guessed it: Little House on the Prairie
Often, a book simply moves us to take action ...
...like making soup from a stone for dinner. (Our soup stone is several batches old now, and tasting better all the time.)
... or playing with old-fashioned rag curlers.
Lunchtime is an easy way to sneak in some school subjects. While we're munching away, we do memory work. Meals with my kids involve a lot of fetching and mopping and begging and spilling and spreading and chopping and pouring and setting and clearing. My hands are constantly busy and I don't expect to get a chance to sit down while I eat. But ... my mind is available. I can't open a book, because that would get spilled on, and I couldn't get through a sentence without being interrupted. It is the perfect time to learn poetry by heart, however. I've chosen to focus on poetry, but I also include factual songs (like the kind packed with science vocab). Really, you could use this time to memorize anything. We keep an index card file by the table to give ourselves hints if we forget. Everyday we recite the new poem we're working on, and add an additional line. Then we review using this review system for memory work. (This link was passed along to me from an awesome homeschooling friend's blog, who writes about their memory work here, and also in this post, where she details their using recitation cards to make memory work fun. While you're chasing my links around in infinite loops, you may as well read her entire blog, because it's excellent and I have learned so much from this fantastic family.)
We've only been doing this for a year, but my hope is that with consistency, what we are learning will really stick. I finally found a great list of poems for children, which I think could keep us busy far longer than the few years in which they are children.
I haven't gone as far with memorization as the Classical Conversations method suggests, being satisfied with poetry. (I have certain imperious hesitations about their interpretation of the grammar stage ... I'll get over it eventually.) That said, children are going to be memorizing something, whether it's a jingle from a television commercial or the theme song to a cartoon, so why not give them something worth remembering? The poems I have memorized became very valuable to me at certain times of my life, maddening times, when my mind needed something to chew on to distract it from pain (yup, I recite poetry while in labor: "twas brillig, and the slithy toves"), or from boredom, (on a treadmill: "he rode between the barleysheaves, the sun came dazzling thro' the leaves, and flamed upon the brazen greaves,) or from insanity (rocking a baby in a dark nursery, desperate for sleep: "And smale fowles maken melodye that slepen al the night with open ye"). I've used the few lines I know to capture the attention of a child's wandering mind ("I caught this morning, morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon in his riding"), or sometimes just to put a feeling of exhilaration to words as I crest a mountain peak ("the leaping greenly spirits of trees"). Facts? My kids can look up facts. Knowledge is cheap. It is accessible. It will blare in their ears, so much that their spirits will beg to be left alone. Knowledge is noisy. But poetry is the music of words, and I want it to have a resting place in their hearts, not just in their minds.
Following is a rough recording of my kids reciting "The Tyger" by William Blake. (Don't let [C.] fool you--I've never seen her less animated than in this video. I asked her afterwards why she was so somber and she said she felt like it "fit the mysteriousness" of the poem.)
One day [C.] came home from Co-op announcing that she had learned the first three letters of the Greek Alphabet. We turned on this you tube song; I wish I'd had it my freshman year. We listened to it 3 times, and she had the whole thing down. [A.] memorized it too, and after belting it out at viola lessons, their teacher commented gently that you can tell we homeschool. [G.] requests this song more than any other, although he still thinks every 4th letter is epsilon. They memorize useful things all the time. Adding it to our card file will remind us to maintain those memories.
I'm lucky I have kids with whom to share my love of words. These are the real joys of life.
After being caught red-handed reading to himself, I asked my youngest:
I look at that face and I'm at a loss for words.