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Reading — The Easiest and Best Homeschool Curriculum
By Diane Flynn Keith, Editor of Homefires, Author of Carschooling
I am often asked "What is the best piece of advice you have for new homeschoolers?" My answer is, "Read to your children."
When I began home schooling I essentially tried to create an alternative school in my home. After a few weeks of pretending school — my kids rebelled. They didn't like the way I taught, they didn't like the subjects I had chosen to teach to them, and they flat out refused to engage in the game any longer. What to do?
I had spent about $750.00 preparing our little classroom, purchasing curricula and supplies. I had toiled away the wee hours of the night organizing the semester's lessons. I was pouring myself into this new job of teaching my kids. I had agreed to play the role of teacher — which, by the way, felt fake and uncomfortable the way I played it — but persevered for my children's sake. Their impudent response to my efforts was disheartening. They clearly didn't appreciate the sacrifices I had made to educate them!
I had a choice. I could force the curriculum down their throats and make us all more miserable than we had been at school, or I could reevaluate what I was doing — and try something else. In spite of the fact that I had read Teach Your Own by John Holt and believed a great deal of what he had to say, it was hard to shake the pattern of school in my life — and trust that there were any number of ways my kids could learn — aside from utilizing traditional methods.
I was thoroughly frustrated by the time I asked a homeschooling friend for advice. A two-year homeschool veteran, it turned out that she had experienced a similar problem in her first few months of homeschooling. She said she finally gave up trying to enforce a curriculum and just read to her daughter for the entire year. They found that they particularly enjoyed historical fiction. Her daughter learned to read cuddled in her mother's lap. She received the benefit of her mother's undivided attention, increased her vocabulary, and learned all about the American Revolution. Her mom thought that was a pretty decent school year.
This homeschooling mother didn't appear to be odd or crazy. In fact, she seemed to be pretty mainstream. What she said made sense to me. I put away my "teacher's manual" deciding that I had learned an expensive lesson (The amount of money I had spent on curricula couldn't justify the rift in my relationship with my children — and their desire to learn — if I insisted on using it.) I took the kids to the library. They chose some books and I chose a few. We spent the rest of our first year of homeschooling reading.
I read to my kids about 4-6 hours a day. We would just hunker down on the couch and read. Sometimes the boys would build with blocks or Legos while we read. Sometimes a game described in a story would take shape in our living room.
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When a character in a book talked about going to the art museum — my kids wanted to go too. So I took them. A character in a book was interested in rock collecting and as a result we discovered precious gems and minerals. Characters in another book used metal detectors to discover clues to a mystery, so we bought a metal detector and spent hours sifting sand along the Pacific Coast in search of our own clues to unsolved mysteries... A book about the solar system led to an exploration of astronomy coupled with frequent visits to planetariums. A book about dinosaurs led to the discovery of archaeology and spawned field trips to see robotic dinosaurs.
We visited many foreign countries in our readings. I kept a world globe handy and made a habit of pointing out (and later having my kids locate) countries on the globe as we read about them. We made a prolonged visit to Egypt amid the book stacks at the library. That "trip" evolved into our own experiments in creating fossils, pyramids, and hieroglyphics. A book about time-travel was the catalyst for our development of a timeline (which is still scotch-taped to the hallway wall) and we added historical events and characters from history to it as we learned about them. We also extended our reading experiences by seeing plays and occasionally movies based on books we had read. My kids have always concluded that the books were better than the director's interpretation of them.
My sons were just 5 and 7 when we began home-schooling but I didn't let their ages limit us to the children's section of the library. The fact is that their interests surpassed much of the material in the children's section. Even though they had both learned to read at my side, much of the material in the adult sections exceeded their reading abilities. Because they were hungry for more sophisticated information, I let them browse the "adult" book stacks, choose what they were interested in, and I would read it to them.
One experience I fondly remember. Like lots of kids mine loved rabbits. One of the boys came across a copy of Watership Down. Believe it or not, I was assigned that book in a college political history course. It didn't occur to me that it might not be at their reading comprehension level. The story is open to interpretation and can be enjoyed in a number of ways. At any rate, my sons had an interest in rabbits — so I read it to them. Shortly after reading that tome we went on a hike. At the top of the hill, the trail opened onto a beautiful meadow where a jack rabbit was leaping among the wildflowers. My youngest exclaimed, "Look! It's like utopia. It's Hazel's warren from Watership Down!" He had just turned six and clearly demonstrated by his comment that he had understood a good deal of what had been read to him.
Like my friend before me, I also felt that our first year of homeschooling had been well spent. Part of the secret of the success of that first year was my willing-ness to let go of my preconceived notions of what my children should learn and how they should learn it. Another aspect of the success of that year was that I learned to give my time and attention to my children for prolonged periods — when they needed it. I gave up the idea that I would teach them a lesson, assign them work to do, and then go about my own business while they worked independently.
I realized that home-schooling is all about parents interacting with their children — frequently! I learned that reading to my kids along with their requests for my undivided time and consideration took priority over doing the laundry, paying the bills, or answering the telephone. (Those activities were relegated to times when they were sleeping, playing or working independently on things that were of interest to them.) I had to learn to adjust to a new rhythm and routine that included my kids in all facets of my daily life. While this may not seem so unusual to a family that has never had children in school, it is a whole new concept and experience for those of us that have.
I cherish the intimacy with my children that reading to them has fostered. Whenever I get those little anxiety pangs that many homeschoolers get about not teaching my kids in the traditional mode — it helps to sit down with them and read a good book.
I am not the only home educator who has discovered that reading to your children will help you gain insight to their specific interests. It then becomes your job to be a resource consultant to your kids. Help them find information or activities that further their under-standing of the subjects they find fascinating. To help facilitate the resource parent's job, the products and services I most often recommend — based on personal experience — are listed in the Resource Guide. Homefires provides resources and activities that will provide incentive for parents who are homeschooling their children. I hope you find it useful.
About Diane Flynn Keith ...
Diane Flynn Keith is a veteran homeschool parent and an internationally recognized voice in education outside the traditional classroom walls.
Diane coaches and encourages thousands of homeschool families through her website, Homefires.com and through her popular speaking engagements. She has contributed to 5 books on homeschooling and is the author of the best-selling book, "Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities To Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time."