Reading is a hugely significant part of our home education world. All of us have an obsession with books. I overheard Bean9 telling a friend yesterday that she hated shopping with a passion, unless it was in a Waterstones store where she would happily spend hours browsing through all its literary pleasures 🙂 She’s a girl after my own heart!
As I reflected on what we completed in homeschool last Wednesday, I realised the variety of literary genres covered in just one day was fairly substantial. So, I thought I’d share a day in the life of our homeschool through the books we read (broadly in chronological order).
1. Poetry: The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Our homeschool always kicks off with Morning Basket (see this post for more information), part of which involves a poetry section. We select a poem and spend a few weeks studying the meaning and form of the poem along with any literary devices which are particularly powerful. Then, depending on its length, we’ll memorise it, committing to our hearts the beguiling language.
Sometimes, we’ll read about the historical period to give us a greater context: for example, we recently reviewed The Charge of the Light Brigade, which found us researching the Crimean War and in particular The Battle of Balaclava during which the fated charge took place.
The last couple of weeks have seen us studying The Lady of Shalott, another of Tennyson’s celebrated poems. Given its length, we haven’t memorised this one, but have instead discussed together its form; the interpretation of each stanza within the four parts; and the meaning of any new vocabulary for them. Once they understood the meaning, the Beans enjoyed reading out loud alternate stanzas enjoying the flow of the bewitching language and practising their spoken expression!
On Wednesday, we studied Part III of this poem together.
2. Historical Fiction: The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty
For our history studies, we use The Story of the World curriculum by Susan Wise Bauer as our spine, studying world history chronologically. We do however, where needed, dip out of this curriculum to study in greater depth significant parts of British history. For example, we’re currently at the early 1600s and so spent some time learning about King James I and the Gunpowder Plot before moving back to The Story of the World to examine the explorations and settlements of the New World.
Each week, we listen to the passages from The Story of the World, discuss, answer questions and then the Beans write a summary. To bring each part of history to life though, we usually read at least one of the recommended historical fiction books from that period. In the last few weeks, we’ve read the story of the Plymouth settlers as they fled from England to Holland and then on to America in 1620 searching a new life and religious freedom in the famous Mayflower.
The Landing of the Pilgrims describes the difficult times these tenacious individuals faced, battling starvation, disease and hostility from some of the native Indian tribes. However, by drawing on Pilgrims’ own journals, it also highlights the positive interactions and peace they maintained with Massasoit and his neighbouring Indian tribe, along with how key Indians, such as Squanto and Hobomok, helped them survive in this unfamiliar environment, teaching them how to grow and find food and acting as a translator with the Indian tribes.
It’s a fascinating story which the Beans have thoroughly enjoyed as part of our Morning Basket each day for the last three weeks. It’s a fairly hard book in parts and definitely one for a read aloud unless you have older children, say 12+.
On Wednesday, we finished the last few pages of this fascinating book.
3. Fiction Chapter Book: Wonder by R J Palacio
Oh my goodness, this book! If you want to teach your children about empathy, read this book. I can’t speak highly enough about it. We’re only part of the way through and we’re already completely captivated. For any parents out there listening to this story though, expect the tears to flow.
It’s about August, a boy with a terrible facial abnormality. Due to the sheer number of operations he needs as a young child, he’s homeschooled until middle school (11-13), at which point, for the first time, he starts a new school. Written from a variety of different perspectives: August, his sister, his friend, his sister’s boyfriend and friend, it tells of the troubles he has in settling in and of being accepted by his classmates as being just like them underneath it all.
Engaging, poignant, at times brutal but utterly brilliant, this is definitely my top children’s fiction pick for the year.
I actually bought the audiobook and we’re listening to it in the car. We ended up having to take MrJ to the station on Wednesday morning and then we were out again for our multisports lesson at the local sports stadium later in the day, which meant we got in about 1.5 hours’ worth of listening to this audiobook on Wednesday. I have to confess to usually putting the audiobook on in the back of the car to give me a little peace with my driving, but this one I just had to listen to.
4. A Selection of Fiction and Non-Fiction Picture Books
In a basket next to the dining table, I keep a collection of picture books, which I rotate in and out, for them to read over breakfast and lunch. Both Beans love to take their time over meals whilst perusing one or more of these selections. When I rotate the books (let’s be honest it doesn’t happen as often as I should!), I do it with the children, so they choose which new poetry, fiction, non-fiction and comic books to add into the basket. We’ve just done this recently, which has inspired a significant upturn in their prandial reading!
Between them on Wednesday, they read:
- The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry,
- part of Harry Potter A Journey Through the History of Magic,
- The Great Fire of London by Emma Adams and James Weston Lewis
- The Magic School Bus, Inside the Human Body by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen.
5. Science Non-Fiction: Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming by Jan Reynolds
The Beans are currently completing an Indonesian lapbook (see this post for more information) in preparation for our trip there next year. On Wednesday, they were looking at traditional food eaten in this country and as part of this, I read them the excellent non-fiction book: Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life.
This book looks at how, by living in harmony with the natural rhythms and cycles of water and the soil, the rice farmers in Bali have been a leading producer of one of the world’s most important crops for thousands of years. Set up across the country is a complicated system of water sharing and crop rotation, closely interconnected with their spiritual beliefs. For example, there are temples at each major point of the irrigation system and daily offerings are made here to Dewi Danu, the goddess of water. As farmers place their offerings at points along each waterway, they can, at the same time, check and maintain the entire water system.
Sadly, in the 1960s, the Indonesian government, seeing the high rice yield on this island, tried to intervene and further increase its rice production. They introduced a faster growing variety and eliminated the ancient ceremonial organisation and practices that had been so successful for thousands of years. Unsurprisingly, it was an unmitigated disaster and rice production actually declined! Fortunately, an American man, named Lansing, persuaded the Indonesian government to reinstate the water temple system for the majority of farms and the Balinese returned to their old rituals of water sharing and crop rotation and in turn, their rice yield recovered.
With its beautiful photographs and interesting text, this book gave us a wonderful insight into how the Balinese grow and harvest rice, working together to yield this most important of staple foods.
6. Geography Non-Fiction: All About Indonesia by Linda Hibbs
Also, as part of their Indonesia project on Wednesday, they each read a couple of sections from the All About Indonesia book – regarding traditional Indonesian meals along with the fruits, sweets and drinks enjoyed by the locals – before writing about these topics for their lapbooks.
All About Indonesia is a comprehensive guide to the country written in an accessible way and covering a whole gamut of topics from everyday life in Indonesia to key festivals to traditional puppet shows. It’s actually part of a series – we used the All About Thailand equivalent book in preparation for our holiday there earlier in the year and loved it. Within this series, there are also guides to Korea, the Philippines, China and Japan.
7. Christmas Fiction Read Alouds: A Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder and How Winston Delivered Christmas by Alex T. Smith
Both of these books are in the form of an advent calendar, with the stories broken down into 25 chapters. The Beans are loving getting a chapter a day throughout December and are desperate to find out what happens next!
A Christmas Mystery (Mr J reads them a chapter of this book before he goes to work) is the story of a boy finding an old magic advent calendar. Each day when he opens another door, a slip of paper falls out revealing part of a secret story about a girl travelling from Norway to Bethlehem and backwards in time from the present day to the birth of Jesus. She meets angels, shepherds, wise men and other biblical characters on her way who join her on the pilgrimage.
How Winston Delivered Christmas is a light-hearted read about a mouse who, on Christmas Eve, accidentally discovers a letter which must be delivered to Father Christmas before it’s too late. Bravely, he sets out on the mission tackling a variety of adventures along the way. Each chapter includes a fun festive activity to do together from making stained glass window biscuits to Christmas crackers to snowflake decorations.
One of our favourites though was a summary of interesting international Christmas traditions around the world. Who knew, for example, that in Caracas, Venezuela, the streets are closed on Christmas Day as the locals take to the streets and roller-skate their way to church. Sometimes on Christmas Eve, children leave a piece of rope dangling out the window with one end tied to their toe. In the morning, the skaters tug on the ropes as they go past to wake up the children! How much fun is that!! The Beans thought this was an awesome tradition!
In addition to all of the above, Bean9 also finished her current easy chapter book (The Snow Cat by Holly Webb) and Bean7 read more of his The SAS Survival Handbook up in his room pre 7am (the point at which he’s allowed to come into our room and wake us up!).
So there you have it, our day in books! Having written it all down, I’m actually quite shocked by the breadth of reading we covered in just one day. And we didn’t spend all of the day locked away at home either. We were out for about two hours in the middle of the day at our home ed multisports session with friends, and then again in the evening for their karate lesson. It’s simply that books in all their glorious forms have become thoroughly engrained in our homeschool life. And I wouldn’t want it any other way 🙂