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Monday, January 25, 2010

Young People's Book Club

Not long after a few friends and I started a book club, my son, then eight, wanted a book club of his own. Being a literature lover, I jumped at the idea.

A book club for little kids can be tricky. You can't just sit around a table draped in a lovely embroidered cloth and discuss words in some sort of highbrow way--when you are eight. I wanted it to be a fun experience where we proved that reading and then talking about books is delightful and even looked forward to. Mine are the only regular attendees who are home schooled (though we've had a few others come and go). All of the others go to public school. This provides a good mix of children, ideas and book exposure. We had been inviting the younger friends as they began reading better, but recently concluded that the age range was too broad. After a great deal of experimenting, we've discovered the following:

  • Eight is generally the youngest they are able to participate in a discussion with any kind of flow. Before that age, we get lots of stories about their lost tooth, a Sponge Bob episode, and what they ate for lunch.
  • By the time they are eleven, they are ready for the next level--less parental involvement, more serious discussion.

  • We always discuss the book for at least fifteen minutes, but have gone as long as forty. The idea is to get them wanting more from a book than just turning pages and filling time. Think a little deeper, wonder a little more.

  • Since we meet after school, a snack is required. I've always made our food mesh in some way with the book. It has made for a great variety and the kids like to speculate about what food I'll come up with.

  • A game is the third leg of our formula. Actually, it's often several games, but they too, like the refreshment, relate to the book. Considering their ages, it's usually a moving game.

  • One hour and fifteen minutes is the magic time allotted. It's almost always when we're wrapping up--and my sanity begins to unravel.

Here is our list:

  • Caddie Woodlawn

  • The Hobbit (We ate bacon, biscuits with honey butter and drank herbal tea.)

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tasted both cabbage soup and chocolates.)

  • Harry Potter (Had fun naming regular candies Potterish names. We also learned some magic.)

  • Island of the Blue Dolphin

  • Where the Red Fern Grows

  • My Side of the Mountain (We continued our meeting a few days after book club when we went to visit a man who raised hunting falcons.)

  • Holes

  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

  • Among the Hidden (Most of our kids come from large families, so we had some good discussion about what a limit of two children per family would personally change our lives.)

  • Johnny Tremain

  • The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler (Since they were hiding out in the museum and part of the plot included a statue, we carved our own out of soap.)

  • Fablehaven (Our best, and longest, discussion by far.)

  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

  • All of the Nate the Great Books (Pancakes, obviously.)

  • Whittington (Worst discussion, best games.)

  • Sarah, Plain and Tall

After three years, my son, now eleven, has started his own book club. He doesn't want me to be in charge or even in the room. He wants it to be their book club, their insights, their questions. I am delighted. Give it a try and have fun broadening the reading experience for those you educate.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Where To Start

My Dear Friends,

This post has been a long time in coming. Yet another friend has asked the question, "Where do I start?" This question will not go unanswered any longer.

First, you must know that home schooling is difficult. Mom has to be on the ball all of the time. Just that sentence is heavy because we are also responsible for their spiritual development, their grasp of table manners, and keeping them in clean clothes. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t see the benefits. I said, I wouldn't do it if I didn't see the benefits. You can do it if your husband isn't on board, but I would not recommend it. You will discover that you must defend your decision to your dad, your grandmother, your neighbor, the lady on the park bench, your pharmacist, the stranger at the gym, the librarian, the post man, and practically everyone to whom your child says, "I'm home schooled." Or to anyone who wonders why your children are at Walmart in the middle of a school day. Or to, well, everyone. Get ready for that. Be ready to have thick skin when someone says, "WHAT?? You're crazy!" or "Honestly, how could you do that to your daughter?" or "I'd kill my kids if they were around all the time." I promise, you will need your husband on your side. Additionally, I've yet to see an effective home school where Dad was absent--not that it can't be done, I've just never seen it. You'll also need him to be understanding of having maps and penmanship posters on your living room wall, Spanish language tapes playing in the car, and science experiments growing in the kitchen window.

So, where do you start? In my opinion, go straight to the classics. Do not waste your time on self-help books; this includes the plethora of "why public school sucks" books. There are some that come highly recommended, but wait on those until you have a sound background in the classics. You may be surprised how lame those books become when compared to A Tale of Two Cities, Little Women, and Swiss Family Robinson. Anyone who is reading a classic with the awareness of her responsibility of teacher/mom will find what they need within those time-honored pages. Plus, they are more fun. There is a captivating story to lead you through the "How do I teach responsibility to my seven year old?" instead of a generalized list that someone wrote about how all seven year olds operate. Please. Like any child–even those in the same family–learns the same way, at the same rate.

The two most important educational/parenting resources, in my experience, are the scriptures (including the Ensign) and the Holy Ghost. I have read a few self-help books. One of them was an assignment. The sassy way I took notes was to write a scriptural passage in the margin to illustrate how the prophets taught the same principle in a better and Christ-centered way.

Back to the classics for a minute. It isn’t enough to just read the books, we must also write about them, muse over them, discuss what you are learning with your spouse and your children. I have done the discussion part from the beginning (mostly because I can’t shut-up about anything) and it is paying off in a big way. Now, my children will be reading from a book and will race into the kitchen to tell me, "MOM!! Do you know what just happened??!!" and then will go on the explain the reason for their strong emotion. This is the Newborn Smile of home schooling. Thrilling.

I'm only going to refer you to one resource with which to begin. It is called A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille. It is a complete paradigm shift in what you think about educating children. Buy it, get it from the library, borrow it from me, whatever. You must read this book. There are hundreds of home schooling philosophies. This is the one that speaks to my husband and me. Wherever you decide to school your children, you need to read this book.

This is, like anything that is hard, a rewarding job. Think about how much you will learn, not just the kids. When I try to explain how I’ve changed since I started TJEd, I just say I feel bigger–fleshed out. I have so so so much to learn, but it is a great ride.

Good luck. Feel free to ask me questions. I'm always thrilled to talk about home school.

The MotherShip


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