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52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 25: Start a Family Book Club

52-Week Challengeamy sharonyComment
52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 25: Start a Family Book Club

For homeschoolers, reading is a way of life. So the idea of a family book club—a regular reading discussion group around your family’s kitchen table—can either sound like the most brilliant idea ever or like literary overkill. In fact, it’s just logical.

A family book club helps you navigate that magical middle ground between the books you read to learn something and the books you read for fun—the place where real literary criticism and analysis happens. Book clubs don’t just encourage us to read—they encourage us to form opinions about what we read and to express and support those opinions. Kids who’ve spent evenings arguing about whether it matters why the Pigeon wants to drive the bus or how the Sisters Grimm series changes traditional fairy tale characters and what those changes might mean, won’t be fazed when someone asks them to talk about symbolism in Hemingway’s short stories or to discuss narrative reliability in The Catcher in the Rye.

We tend to save that kind of literary analysis for high school, but starting early can have big benefits. For one thing, it makes reading a much more interactive and exciting experience. For another, this kind of critical thinking naturally lends itself to conversations about big ideas—those things you really want to talk about with your kids but that can feel kind of awkward when you bring them up without context. Reading a book like Catherine, Called Birdy—about a fourteen-year-old girl trying to resist an arranged marriage in medieval Europe—lets you talk about the challenges of growing up and the importance of balancing what your parents want with what you think you need. When you talk about a book like Holes, you have the opportunity to really think about bullies and adults who abuse their responsibilities. Because you’re talking about fictional characters and situations, sensitive topics aren’t as emotionally charged.

“Parents who participate in a book club with their kids send the message that they think their children’s opinions and ideas are worth the time it takes them to read, listen, and respond,” says Eric Meadows, a reading specialist for the New York City public school system. “Book clubs build trust and communication skills between children and their parents.”

Starting a family book club is as easy as choosing your first book—which, for some of us, isn’t all that easy. Balancing a range of ages, interests, and time commitments can be a challenge. If you have non-readers, someone has to make time for readalouds in order for everyone to participate. Finding books that appeal to a teenager and a preschooler may be a challenge. Like any homeschool project, you’ll want to tweak and adjust your book club to make it work for your particular family.

If you’re new to literary analysis, downloading a reading guide for the book you’re reading can help you steer your conversation—though after a book club or two, you’ll probably be pretty good at coming up with your own questions. Set a different family member up as moderator for each meeting—everybody should get a turn. Kids may like to have a list of questions to work from or they may want to come up with their own list, so chat with your moderator in advance and come up with a plan together. The moderator may have ideas about what kind of food or drink to serve or about an activity to go with the book, or you may want to ask someone else to come up with the food and activity ideas. (An activity can be a great way to keep the conversation going because sometimes people just find it easier to talk when their hands are busy.) There’s really no wrong way to do it.

The key to a successful book club is to keep pushing each other. “Did you like the book?” is an interesting question, but “What did you like about this book?” is a much more interesting one. Read passages you like aloud to each other. Say “This part just didn’t make sense to me. What did you think about it?” Talk about the plot: What happens in the book? Is it logical? Where it’s not logical, are you willing to cut the author some slack? Talk about the characters. Do any of them change over the course of the story? Does your perception of them change? Which characters are the most interesting? Which characters are likable? Which aren’t? Does their likability correspond with whether the characters are good or bad? Talk about the language the author uses. Why does she use one word to describe something and not another word? What does she include that you think is unnecessary? What does she leave out that you really want to know? Read the first paragraph together out loud. Did the book end up where you thought it would after reading that first paragraph? 

Books with historical settings can make great book club reads, but don’t turn them into extensions of history class. Focus on the merits of the book itself, and consider the role that history plays in the book. Treat books about different cultures or different countries the same way—if you have information to share, that’s great, but the goal is to talk about the book itself, not to research the history/culture in the book. You don’t want to turn every book into a major research undertaking, or your book club can burn out fast.

It’s also important to acknowledge that there will be times when kids just plain don’t like a book or can’t get into it, and it’s important to be respectful of that. (Come on, do you really always finish the book for your own grown-up book club? If you’ve never skimmed the last hundred pages, you’re a better person than I am.) Kids can stop halfway through a book, but they should be prepared to talk about what made them stop. If the book was boring, what made it boring? Were the characters’ actions too predictable? Did they get turned off by pages of descriptions when they wanted to know what was happening with the story? Talking about why a book isn’t appealing can be just as meaningful as analyzing what you did like about a book.

And be wary of making a book club an extension of your child’s school. You don’t want it to feel like homework. Ideally, family book club should be a fun activity that you all actively participate in, so fight the urge to say “Shouldn’t you be reading your book club book?” Instead, show your kids that you’re engaged in book club—read a chapter of your book in the evening and invite your kids to snuggle up with you for their own reading. Make it clear by your actions that family book club is something worth making time for, and your fellow readers will quickly follow suit.  

Your challenge this week: Hold a family meeting to choose your first family book club read. Give yourself a generous amount of time to prepare for your first official book club meeting—a month is a good bet.

Homeschool Madness: The Final Vote!

home | school | life Newsamy sharonyComment
It's the FINAL TWO! What's the most homeschoolery thing ever? Cast your vote in HSL's HOMESCHOOL MADNESS tournament.

It's all come down to this!

All March we've been voting for THE MOST HOMESCHOOLERY THING ever, starting with sixteen contenders. Week by week, being on a first name basis with your librarian, carschooling, not being able to eat at your dining room table because it's covered in book, and more fell off the list as you cast your votes. In the final four, "spending all day in your pajamas" barely edged out "going on a field trip and complaining about all the school groups there" by a scant few votes, while "having your kid's big wish be to someday ride a school bus" beat out "deciding that you're done for the day around noon" by a single vote. Now, it's in your hands—what's THE MOST HOMESCHOOLERY THING EVER?

What's the Most Homeschoolery Thing Ever?

Cast your vote through FRIDAY, MARCH 31.

Stuff We Like :: 3.23.17

Stuff We Likeamy sharony2 Comments
home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

It’s spring—which probably means it’s going to snow now? I’m so confused about the weather.

around the web

I’m in love with this: Muggle artifacts on display

In praise of literature’s bossy big sisters

Great read: When picture books get political

I will never hire children living in a boxcar to solve a mystery again


at home/school/life

on the blog: I love this community education project Carrie’s community has created

in homeschool madness: Tune in this weekend for THE FINAL TWO. 

one year ago: Three bookish biographies for Women’s History Month

two years ago: Flashback to Shelli’s 2nd grade and preschool


reading list

My daughter and I are reading Letters of a Woman Homesteader out loud together and enjoying every minute. My son and I tried to read Wildwood together, but he hated it so much we switched to Witch Week.

One of the things I love the fact that Jason is starting a school is that I have an excuse to test-drive books for classes. I am not sure if his students are going to end up with copies of Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour in the fall, but I am sure that’s what my daughter and I are going to use as the spine for astronomy next year.

I picked up a copy of Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue when it was cheap for the Kindle (I try to mention these things on our Kindle Deals page), so of course I had to interrupt all my reading lists so that I could immediately read it again.


at home

I did almost no cooking this week, so the kitchen doesn’t deserve its own section, but don’t worry, I kept my priorities straight. We’ve got a cookie of the week: John Legend's Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I’m working hard on wrapping up the spring issue, so it’s all chaos and copyediting this week. It’s coming together, though!

Mindful Homeschool: 10 Things to Let Go Of in Your Homeschool Life

Mindful Homeschoolamy sharonyComment
Mindful Homeschool: Let It Go

To borrow a phrase from Rumi, sometimes the challenge of life isn’t figuring out what would make you happy but learning to recognize the barriers to contentment that you’ve built up within yourself. So often, the secret to happiness—in homeschooling and the rest of our lives—is to let go.

  1. Let go of the idea that you have to a map to get where you want to go. You’re writing the map every day of your homeschool life. It’s OK that you don’t always know where the next turn will take you. You don’t have to be in control all the time for your homeschool to be successful.
  2. Let go of the nagging thought that everyone else is doing this better than you are. Trust me, people are thinking the same thing about you. When we compare the highlights reel of other people’s homeschool lives to our own bloopers reel, we’re always going to fall short. 
  3. Let go of the idea that there’s a right way and that if you keep researching Facebook groups and buying curricula and going to seminars, you will eventually find it. Focus instead on what works well enough, and concentrate your energies there.
  4. Let go of feeling like you need to be perfect. Something has to give. If it’s the laundry, or dinner, or a math lesson, accepting that you can’t do everything is an important part of feeling peaceful about your life.
  5. Let go of guilt. Don’t hold onto mistakes, which you will inevitably make. Learn from them, forgive yourself, and move on. 
  6. Let go of the notion that life has to be busy to feel successful. Slow down. Do nothing. Let your kids play outside all day, or build a pillow fort and draw comic books all day. Don’t check your email at lunchtime. Resist the urge to multitask. Focus all your senses on drinking a cup of tea.
  7. Let go of your fear of failure. Your kids will fail. You will fail. With the right attitude, failure can be the most empowering experience in the world. It’s how you learn, and it’s how you practice getting back up and trying again.
  8. Let go of your expectations. It’s easy to imagine what a “perfect homeschool day” might look like, but if you get too caught up in trying to replicate your vision, you miss the opportunity for your homeschool to unfold naturally. There’s nothing wrong with planning, but be open to following the path where it leads you instead of trying to force it in a specific direction.
  9. Let go of worrying about the future. It’s OK that you don’t have it all figured out. You don’t always have to know what’s going to happen next. Focus on the step you need to take right now.
  10. Let go of micromanaging. It’s easy to get distracted by things like “how much multiplication should a third grader be able to do?,” but getting too focused on small details can get in the way of seeing the big picture. What’s your goal for your homeschool? When you start to get bogged down by too many micro-details, shift your focus to the bigger picture and let that guide you instead.

What have you learned to let go in your homeschool journey?

A Fun Living Math Curriculum for Elementary to Middle School: Your Business Math

Curriculum Reviewsamy sharonyComment
A Fun Living Math Curriculum for Elementary to Middle School: Your Business Math

Here’s something I should have written about sooner: A math curriculum that my math-hating daughter actually loved.

Simply Charlotte Mason’s Your Business Math is designed for elementary school-age students, but I think it would be ideal for any kid who’s at that stage where she’s got the hang of basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) but needs some reinforcement before you can feel confident that she’s really mastered them. (For my daughter, 5th grade was perfect timing.) The premise is simple but brilliant: You’ve opened a pet store, and now you’ve got to manage all the inventory and accounting for your business.

My daughter was hooked from the first assignment, which was—instead of a review of her multiplication tables—a project requiring her to create her pet store’s name and logo. After getting set up and ordering the initial inventory, assignments are broken down into monthly duties: filling orders, updating inventory, paying bills and taxes, figuring out profits and losses, and dealing with chance cards, which are sometimes happy (Yay! A celebrity visits your pet shop, and sales skyrocket) and sometimes not-so-happy (a busted pipe means a pricey visit from a plumber). Kids have their own checks, ledger, and inventory records, and they have to do math—mostly addition, subtraction, multiplication, decimals, and percents—to keep up with their income and inventory. After the first month, most kids will be comfortable working through their monthly duties on their own, and by the end, most will be working completely independently. 

For most kids, this wouldn’t work as a spine for a math curriculum. Its nature is necessarily limited to the math you need to keep a business going, but it’s a terrific resource for reinforcing basic operations skills and helping kids make real sense of decimals and percents. (Don’t be surprised if your child starts calculating sales tax in line at the grocery store.) It’s a light math curriculum—the monthly assignments break down into just ten tasks—which is great if you want to opt for a period of relaxed math or if you want something fun to supplement your regular math curriculum without eating up too much extra teaching time.

There were a couple of things that we tweaked as we went. The “imaginary pet shop” was more fun when my daughter could imagine the real pets, so she made little cards for each pet. (She’d look up pictures of different kinds of ferrets or dogs or hamsters, draw pictures of them, and give them names, then laminate them with packing tape. When a pet got adopted, it would move to a special adoptions folder.) As she got more comfortable with the math skills needed to complete her monthly tasks, some of them started to feel a little routine, so we added special orders. (We also added owls to the inventory so that Hogwarts students could order their school pets from the store.) I also made sure that we started in January, when the pet store calendar starts, so that we were working in the right month. Obviously you could do the curriculum any time, but it would have driven me crazy to always be in the wrong month. (This could be a me problem.)

What we loved about it was how engaging it made the basic math that my daughter usually hated. She was excited when it was time to update her pet store inventory or figure out how a big order affected her profit for the month. After years of fighting against practice math problems, she practiced her math cheerfully because she understood the point of doing it. I can’t overstate what a revelation that was for our homeschool life. Math didn’t magically become her favorite subject, but it did become something that she was at least willing to try.

The spiral-bound Your Business Math: Pet Store, which contains everything you need, is $24.95. (You can also get the ebook edition for $18.95, but I think you’d just end up having to print a lot.) If pets aren’t your kid’s thing, there’s also a sports store and a books store option. Not all the Simply Charlotte Mason resources are secular, but this is.