These first few days are all about adjustments, and reflections on adjustments.
My nerdy persona requires that our curriculum be heavily reading based, ingesting books of the living variety*. I spent a great deal of last year committed to carrying out a plan, all the while observing what adjustments might benefit these precious students as we enter year two.
In the realm of literature, year one consisted of two components: We read numerous books at the table. Most often, I would read aloud and the children would narrate back to me the content of each chapter. The goal was simply to expose them to wonderful stories, teach them to identify and highlight important details, and then get them in the habit of talking about what they read. We read a dozen or so wonderful books in this fashion.
The second component came in their reading aloud a chapter each week from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. We would then very briefly discuss – individually and then together – the story, once everyone had caught up. Occasionally, we would spend a week reading the Baudelaire traumas aloud at the table in place of our typical Literature time.
They loved Literature. It was often stated as the favorite course. They each read another dozen or more chapter books on their own throughout the year. We are a reading family, so perhaps this wouldn’t fit everyone.
Getting More Out of Reading
I wondered this summer if I should change these habits. Why mess with a beloved thing? I suppose if there is something to be gained in the mess, it’s worthwhile. We made a few simple changes:
For our daily literature time (we’ve begun, as I stated in my previous post, with The Magician’s Nephew), I’ve decided that Monday and Friday will look much like last year. I read. They narrate. For the middle portion of the week, though, each kiddo will take the reins on reading aloud at the table. Their siblings will then respond.
Why the subtle change? I want my children to find a voice in reading aloud. I want them to learn to enunciate, to inflect, to emote, and to carry an audience by their interest in the story. This only comes by passion and by practice.
We’re continuing the Snicket saga with a change as well. Last year, I heard each chapter three times. I loved the time with my kiddos, but I felt there might be a better approach. This year, I will read the chapter quietly on Monday, and each evening one of the kiddos is assigned the same silent reading. Having squatted on the passage for 12-18hrs, I then have them narrate the chapter to me, and we take a few minutes to talk about it.
I chose this approach because I want to check out their short-term retention with silent reading, and I hope to teach them by experience how to have a discussion about a story. I’m hoping to encourage their thoughts and develop their ability to connect the smaller bits to the larger arcs. Plus, since it’s Snicket, I can follow up on and celebrate all the snark and vocabulary which I hold so dear.
Thursday having passed, we’ve read four chapters of Lewis and one of Snicket (we’re currently in The Austere Academy). I’ve enjoyed their voices at the table. Yes, I can table read fiction better than my children. But I have a feeling and a hope that one day, they’ll outshine me. And isn’t that the point of this whole endeavor?
* This is no news to a seasoned homeschooler, but a living book is defined by what it is and what it is not. It is not a textbook. It is a book that you might read for leisure, because it is a book written by an interested author – often in narrative form – that teaches through engaging writing. Such books “live” because they inspire** study. They teach both by what they intend to say and by what leaks out through the language, personality, and passion of the author. Rather than convey listed information which happens to be organized in paragraphs, these books invite interaction on numerous levels and give life to the exploration of creation. Textbooks are necessary and good, but I do love those living books.
** Because I also enjoy the finer points of locution, I believe it is worth noting that – like many words in good ‘ol English – the definition of inspire has shifted over the years. Definitions 1 & 3 have swapped in recent generations. In 1828, the primary definition involved breathing. More specifically, breathing life into an object or subject. (the opposite being expire) As I said, books live because they inspire. They give life to their subject. (On a biblical note, Scripture lives because it has been inspired – breathed upon in life-giving power – by the divine Author.)
Noah Webster’s 3rd definition involved the notion of encouragement, but only as a corollary of the 1st definition. Encouragement comes through the breathing of life. More recent times have seen the idea of encouragement eclipse it’s origin. Such vocabulary madness happens all the time, and I find an odd pleasure in discovering such an instance.