Books as Friends

“The sources of our comfort are legion, and cannot be counted, but if we attempted the impossible and tried to make a list most of us would place books very high indeed, perhaps second only to faith, for reading is not only a pleasure in itself, with its concomitants of stillness, quietness and forgetfulness of self, but in what we read many of our other comforts are present with us like reflections seen in a mirror. If the light of our faith flickers we can make it steady again by reading of the faith of the saints, and hearing poetry sing to us the songs of the lovers of God. In the absence of children we can read about them, and in the cold and darkness of mid-winter look in the mirror of our book and see flowers and butterflies, and spring passing into the glow and warmth of summer.”

Elizabeth Goudge, from the Preface to ‘A Book of Comfort’.


The Zoo

We visited the Taronga Park Zoo last weekend and were most taken with the Komodo Dragon, from Indonesia. Doesn’t he look almost prehistoric?

Although the autumn day was cloudy with a few smidges of rain, the zoo was was a great family outing. There were less people there than normal – mostly tourists, judging by the English and American accents.

In our backpacks, we carried nature journals and pencils and our camera – of course. We each chose one memory to record in our journals. I may scan some of these later , to share.

And the views of Sydney, from the zoo, are superb.


Literature, Themes and Homeschooling.

Recently, I joined a group of fellow homeschooling mothers at an evening meeting. We had gathered together to discuss our plans for home education for the next term.

A number of us described our homeschooling as relaxed, natural learning, Charlotte mason inspired – with themes. A definite eclectic blend of homeschooling styles.

Our discussion of themes lead several mothers to ask – “How does one take a non textbook, interest driven, theme approach?”

Well, in our homeschool, our themes and current interests and passions often revolve and evolve on literature.

“In literature, perhaps than through any other art from, we are able to get into the other man’s shoes.” Susan Schaefer Macauley, in “For the Children’s Sake.”

I find that relationships form the basis of our home education. These relationships, relationships with ideas and with life and with knowledge and with each other, are formed as we share books together.

We use books and real life activities in our home school and couple these with a follow-up on interest areas and, thus, almost inadvertently, include curricula areas. These basic curricula areas are often studied in the light of a whole, interesting, living book. Children can see how all learning and all areas inter-relate and can grasp the wholeness of knowledge and skills. Those skills considered basic can be learned in the study of an interest or a passion – a theme related to a good book.

“Integrating classics and historical novels into your unit studies is an effective teaching method; however, reverse this technique, allowing the classics or novels to be the main emphasis of your study.” Valerie Bendt, in “How to Create Your Own Unit Study”

I can skim a booklist, or skim books on shelves at home or at the library or at a bookstore. Often, I find a book that relates to a current interest. Or one that relates to a topic or a time period or a place or a curricula area.

Last year, weread aloud from “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen and from “Tomorrow When the War Began” by John Marsden. These books easily lead into questions on science, nature, survival, personal issues.

Earlier this year, we read together from the picture book “Michelangelo” by Diane Stanley. This book gave us an historical focus.

I can simply choose a good book, a good read. A book my children and I will enjoy and thus benefit from. We can read this book and explore “rabbit trails” (curricula areas) as they flow from our reading and discussion and outings and movies.

If one takes a “post programming” approach to homeschool documentation, it is easy to check the outcomes for your children’s levels, with regard to your state’s curriculum documents. Check these after your theme reading and activities, at the natural closure of your theme. These guides are usually available from the relevant state education website. Alternatively, you can look at a scope and sequence guide online or in a book on home education and tick those areas/skills covered via your book and life explorations.

What if you want a pre-planned theme?

With book in hand, you may skim through the pages, noting down any key people, events, places, inventions, discoveries, trades – you name it. My high school age children enjoy this project and it often becomes a race to see which connections are made.

On your next library trip ( in real life or using the online catalogue), you and your children can peruse the resources for suitable biographies, non fiction books, picture books ( an excellent picture book is good for all ages), art or music or craft books., CDs, poetry, cooking books, DVDs, science experiment books….

Look for online resources with a Google search. Scan Australian educational and homeschool suppliers for book ideas.

You can do one or all of the things above.

Then, try to select one or two key books as your “basic texts”, to round out your shared literature. Perhaps you may find fiction or non-fiction in the same series or by the same author or on the theme topic.

On paper, list the eight curricula areas . Jot down any ideas for each area – you will have ideas, your children will have ideas, the books from the library or the websites you have collected will have ideas. .

Keep this brief as it is good to be open to what I call serendipity – the leading of our children and of our daily life and our reading and discussion, for follow-up activities.

Don’t exhaust yourself in trying to cover everything on a theme. There is always another term and another theme. Check the scope and sequence or outcome statements for your children’s “levels”, note the areas you are covering, and glean ideas for possible future literary themes.

It is hard not to cover the usual subject areas when reading good books together and sharing our day to day lives. As we read literature, enjoy excellent movies and picture books, visit parks and museums, cook and talk and play, we find many interesting and varied details. These provide both children and adults with an array of interesting material to explore and learn.

How does this work in our homeschool?

During the winter last year, we read “Hatchet”. We looked for books on rivers/ponds/oceans and on rocks and minerals (geology).

We found many interesting DVDs – some movies (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Core, Volcano!, Whale Rider). Some documentaries – The Deep, Discovery Channel Sharks, for example.

We found several good fiction and non fiction books on our themes – the Heinemann Australian Investigate series from the library, books by Isaac Asimov, Kon Tiki, The Black Pearl…..

An internet search revealed websites with complete themes for primary grades and activities and experiments for older children.

Already, a theme had developed. We could cover many usual curricula areas via our reading, writing, drawing, and doing.

We learned about Karst topography and made a sugar cube model. We made an earth bowl pie. We planned a dinner using foods from the seas and from rivers/ponds. We decorated menus for the dinner. We made paper fish models and labeled oceans in English, French and German. We visited the Sydney Aquarium and the museum.

In educational terms, the children practiced many of the Basic English and Mathematical skills and outcomes; additionally, we covered outcomes in Human Society and Environment, in Science, in Technology, in Languages, in Arts.

And we all had a great deal of fun. I, and my sons, learned a lot during this literature based theme.

What are the advantages of creating your own literature based themes?

For us, it has been not only economical to use themes rather than textbooks, but also educational. The children become interested and see learning as connected. We all learn together, as a family. The workload is minimal for me as learning and reading and doing together becomes a way of life – just as it was when the children were toddlers. Pre or post programming, with the aid of a scope and sequence or outcome statements or typical course of study, takes a relatively short space of time at the start or end of each theme (or term). Journaling our daily or weekly or monthly activities becomes a family memory time.

And, in the words of Valerie Bendt – “For several years now, my family has been using the unit study [theme] approach to learning. My children’s attitudes about schoolwork have changed. They are interested in our studies and eager to learn. We occasionally have problems but not nearly so often as when we used textbooks and workbooks…My attitude has changed because I, too, am eager to learn. I see my attitude reflected in their eyes. We must set a good example for our children to follow. They know that much of the material we are learning is new to me also. We’re learning together…They aren’t bound by graded textbooks or by learning labels. They are free to learn at a rate that is appropriate for them…” ( from “How to Create your own Unit Study”)