Need a new series for winter readaloud season? We have a few ideas.
Some people begin homeschooling because they want to tailor their child’s education to his or her individual needs. Others want to give their child the opportunity to explore a particular interest or talent. I decided to homeschool because I wanted to read to my kids.
It started with a story on the “new homeschool movement” that aired on NPR many years ago, back when my 15-year-old was a toddler. I don’t remember anything they said about the hows or whys of homeschooling, but I do remember that they had a clip of the mother of a homeschooled family reading Harry Potter aloud to her children as (described by the reporter) they all snuggled together on a large comfy chair. I loved it. It started me thinking that maybe homeschooling wasn’t such a crazy idea after all. It sent me to the library to check out a stack of how-to books, and ultimately it led to 10-plus years of homeschooling for the toddler and his three (eventual) siblings.
I do realize that you don’t actually have to homeschool to read to your kids—all my friends who send their children to school like normal people read to their children on a regular basis—but I found it easy to commit to a lifestyle that involved wearing pajamas after noon, eating dinner surrounded by stacks of curriculum, and lots of snuggling on comfy chairs. And, just like I’d imagined it, we have plenty of time for the intersection of my two favorite things in the world: my kids and books. It’s not a surprise that our days revolve around reading aloud.
We begin each homeschool day with Mom’s readaloud, a tradition that grew out of our daily struggle to get everyone up and out of bed for lessons. The prospect of math wasn’t very motivating first thing in the morning, but now we ease into our day with about 20 minutes of reading aloud. I get to pick the book, so I can sneak in those personal favorites that the kids have not quite gotten around to reading. (This is how I made sure my teenage son didn’t miss out on Little Women.) When we read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, I found an edition just like the one I checked out from my local library 30 years ago, printed in green ink for the story of young Atreyu and his friend, Falkor the luckdragon, and their quest to save Fantastia, and in red ink for Bastian, who is reading Atreyu’s story and gradually discovering that he may be part of the adventure. I’m sure my library also had a copy of Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, the first book in the Melendy Quartet, but somehow I never discovered it, so my children and I were introduced together to the four Melendy siblings, growing up in pre-World War II New York and pooling their money to create the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club.
Another new acquaintance was Fern Drudger, modern day heroine of N.E. Bode’s The Anybodies, who discovers that despite being raised by tragically boring parents (they work for the firm of Beige & Beige and like to collect toasters), she actually belongs to a family with magical powers and a very special house made of books, where lunch is green eggs and ham and Borrowers live in the walls. We so enjoyed Fern (and her narrator, who likes to break into the action to complain about his old writing teacher) that we happily followed her through two sequels, The Nobodies and The Somebodies.
Once we’ve gotten around to math and our other morning lessons, we break for lunch and then gather together again on the couch for homeschool readalouds. We’ve done the same cycle of readalouds with each child, beginning with myths and legends from around the world, and moving on to adaptations of classic literature. It can be difficult to find adaptations that are clear to modern readers without sacrificing too much of the original story, but we always enjoy Geraldine McCaughrean, whose retellings of classic stories (from The Odyssey to One Thousand and One Arabian Nights to The Canterbury Tales and beyond) are witty and detailed. Another favorite retelling of an old story is T.H. White’s version of King Arthur’s childhood, The Sword in the Stone, which combines medieval culture and cheerful anachronism as it describes how Merlin turned the Wart (as Arthur was known) into various animals as part of his education. (T.H. White continues Arthur’s story in the rest of The Once and Future King, of which The Sword in the Stone is the first part, but the tone gets considerably darker and more adult, and I haven’t attempted that as a readaloud.) Towards the end of our readaloud cycle, we spend some time with Shakespeare and the best collection of adaptations I’ve found so far is Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories and its follow-up, Shakespeare Stories II. Garfield also developed Shakespeare: The Animated Tales, a series of BBC-produced 30-minute versions of the plays which are fun and entertaining, along with being good warm-ups for full-length productions.
We end our day with evening readaloud, where each child gets to pick his or her own book. We’ve read everything from the Betsy-Tacy series to The Lord of the Rings, and a while back we spent several months working our way through all of Harry Potter, which involved lots of snuggling in Mom’s large comfy bed (as we don’t quite fit on a chair anymore). It was a lovely full-circle moment, but I’m happy to report that there’s no end in sight to our readaloud journey. I look forward to sharing more of our favorites for reading aloud or reading anytime, and I can’t wait to hear about yours. Happy reading!
This column was originally published in our very first issue of HSL, back in spring of 2014.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first production of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, we’ve got 6 tips for bringing a little opera to your homeschool.
1. Match your opera to their interests. Kids who dig Shakespeare can get excited about Verdi’s Macbeth or Otello,while Greek mythology fans might dig Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice or Montiverdi’s Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria. Being at least vaguely familiar with the characters and plots of an opera can make the new experience more comfortable.
2. Watch one of the Looney Tunes operas. (No, really!) The Rabbit of Seville (1950), in which Bugs accidentally becomes the Barber of Seville and torments Elmer Fudd and set to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, or What Opera, Doc? (1957), set to parts of Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen and Tannhauser, are both good options.
3. Familiarize your kids with classics operas by reading a book like Sing Me a Story: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories by Jane Rosenberg or The Barefoot Book of Stories from the Opera by Shahrukh Husain.
4. Don’t make your first opera a marathon test of stamina. If your child is ready to go after an hour, leave at the end of the act while your child is still excited about the show instead of forcing him to stick it out till the end.
5. Encourage kids to pay attention to the sets, which are often as interesting as the stories. In The Saturdays, Rush makes his Saturday splurge a ticket to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, where he’s especially impressed by the machinery that controls the fire-breathing dragon Fafner onstage.
6. Play opera music at home, and act out stories together based on the way the music feels. Encourage kids to focus on the feeling of the music, not the specific words — especially when they are in another language.