Getting Your Kids to Read

Books Children LoveA couple of months ago I wrote a post about the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. I hope you have had a chance to take a look at this excellent resource.  Now that it’s August, I am looking at what we will use for school this year. I have consulted several other resources similar to the Read Aloud Handbook that I think are also well worth a look.

Since our homeschool method is pretty relaxed, I usually use mostly library books for history. No dry textbooks for us. We’d rather find a story, be it fiction or biography, that helps us imagine what it was really like to live in a particular time period. So I am always looking for interesting titles that I can read aloud to my younger boys or recommend as independent reading to the older ones. I try not to assign them specific books but rather allow them the freedom to choose titles that they find interesting.

There are many resources available that help you choose a variety of books to interest your children. Since I have all boys, I have found a book called Great Books for Boys by Kathleen Odean particularly helpful. The author has organized her recommendations first by reading level and then by genre. She gives short summaries of each book and the age group recommended.

Another general title is What to Read When by Pam Allyn. This resource begins with a section of ideas to get your child motivated to read and then she gives a list of books recommended by age group. Finally, she lists suggestions of books that relate to 50 different topics that she has chosen to address. Some of the topics she deals with include adoption, death, divorce, siblings and loneliness. All the topics are things many children are going to face in their lives and the author has given several books in each category to help kids grow through the challenges they face.

Several other titles that offer help with finding good books for children are Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature by Elizabeth Laraway Wilson and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and Books That Build Character:  A Guide to Teaching Your Children Moral Values through Stories by William Kilpatrick.

I have also found a couple of more specific resources helpful. As I said, I often rely on historical fiction when I am talking about history with my children. A couple of resources have been designed to make this easier. One is Let the Authors Speak by Carolyn Hatcher.  This book goes through the eras of history with recommendations for books that are sorted by setting. The author has noted the reading age and type of book as well as a comment to help you in your search. There are hundreds of titles that you might not ever run across on your own. This book has been a valuable resource for us for many years. It is out of print now and available used at a pretty high price. The best way to get your hands on this book might be through inter-library loan. Check with your local library.

Another similar title, Turning Back the Pages of Time by Kathy Keller is also out of print but still available used. This is just a small, 35-page booklet but it is packed with great reading suggestions sorted by era and then by reading ability. It is worth finding if you are using fiction to teach history.

That’s all I have for now. If you have come across other resources of a similar nature I would love to hear about them. Feel free to add a comment to this post with your recommendations.


What I’ve Been Reading

BooksMy husband and children often tease me about how many books I have out from the library (sometimes over 100!). They also find it strange that I am usually reading several books at the same time.  But that doesn’t really seem all that odd to me. After all, when I was in college, taking several courses at once, didn’t I read more than one book at a time then?  I just tell them that they should try it too, maybe they could actually keep up with me!

I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading lately. There is usually no real pattern to what I read at any given time. I just follow my interests moment by moment. Here is what I have going at the moment.

I just finished a book called How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World by Leslie Vernick. This book challenges the current cultural focus on self-centered living. It was a refreshing call to make some changes in my life that would help move me toward personal, relational and spiritual growth. I highly recommend it to anyone who is tired of the “looking out for number one” mentality.

I am also currently reading a book called Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker, M.D. This book looks at how we as parents can help our boys to truly enjoy just being boys. The author offers practical ways to teach our sons to become responsible, caring men of integrity in a world that often portrays men as weak and stupid. Just watch some prime time TV and you will see plenty of examples of men being made to look foolish. This book is a real encouragement to return to some of the old-fashioned forms of play for boys and turn away from the offerings of the current culture that seeks to make them less than they were created to be.  Great book!

Another book I am reading is called Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck. This is a sort of laid back textbook on creating fiction. If you are interested in learning the craft of writing stories or have a teen who is interested in writing, this is a great book to help you create memorable characters. This is the third time I’ve read this title which is out of print but still available used at

I just picked up a new book from the library last week called Simple Food for Busy Families: The Whole Life Nutrition Approach by Jeannette Bessinger and Tracee Yablon-Brenner. I have only read the first few chapters but these two authors have already given me some great ideas about making healthier choices when it comes to feeding my family. The book is loaded with nutritional information, tips, and recipes that will help you find the confidence to try a new healthier way of eating.

Finally, I always have a fiction title in the works as well as all the others. Right now I am reading Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I’ve read this book before, probably 8 or 9 years ago. It is definitely worth reading more than once. I love this story because if reminds me that no one is ever beyond God’s reach. A great story based on the Old Testament story of Gomer in the book of Hosea.

Well, that’s it for the moment. In another post I’ll tell you about the genealogy books and the quilting books and the cookbooks…maybe I’ll make this a regular monthly post. I know I’d never run out of material!

Happy reading!


You Can Do It!

Last week I had meetings all week.  In Iowa, one of the assessment options for homeschoolers is to work with a supervising teacher.  Since I was a licensed teacher in Ohio back in the 80’s I was able to obtain a substitute teacher’s license when we moved to Iowa. This allows me to act as a supervising teacher for other homeschoolers. I am required by the state to meet quarterly with homeschooling families so I meet in August, November, February, and April.  At these meetings, I talk to both the parents and the students.  The families I work with cover the spectrum of homeschooling methods. I have families who purchase their entire curriculum for the year as a packaged deal from their chosen publisher. I also have families who are total “unschoolers,” learning in rhythm with their child’s interests, using no conventional curriculum at all. The majority fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

I’ve noticed one similarity shared by all types of homeschoolers. They desperately want to do what is best for their children and, because of the skeptics they must constantly answer to, they doubt their ability to do what they desire most.

This is where I come in. One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is the opportunity I have to look these sometimes very discouraged moms and dads in the eye and say, “You can do this and I will help you succeed any way I can.”  Some visibly relax when they hear those words. Somewhere inside them, they know that they can do what is best for their child but the outside influences have slowly eroded their confidence.  My goal is to help rebuild their confidence and help restore some excitement about this homeschooling adventure they are on.

And, it is an adventure! Every day presents the opportunity to explore new ideas and make new discoveries. That’s what learning is supposed to be, not the drudgery of taking tests and completing assignments. While some find they need that sort of feedback, that isn’t where the joy of the journey is found.

The joy comes when you see your little boy read his first Bob Book all by himself or when you see the satisfaction on your daughter’s face the first time she gets all her multiplication facts right. But even better are those times when you watch a thunderstorm move in and learn together about the power of the weather. Or when you watch a bee on a tiny spring flower and you marvel at the incredible way creation comes to life after a long winter.

The best part of homeschooling is getting to experience these things with your children, not just hearing about them second hand when your children come home tired from a day in the classroom. That’s what makes it all worth it.

And, after a week of meetings, if I have been able to encourage my families to look at the bigger picture, I feel like I’ve made a difference. Yes, there are curriculum decisions to make and challenges to deal with but in the long run what matters most is the day to day interactions between parent and child. The homeschooling adventure happens a day at a time and sometimes a moment at a time.

Enjoy the journey!