Shouldn’t helping our kids love reading be the point of literature education?

So why is it that most kids enjoy reading less and less, the further they get into their school years? And why do we insist on using literature curriculum when we know it doesn’t help our kids fall more in love with books?

Today I want to share an easier, simpler, more delightful (and less expensive!) path to giving our kids a fantastic and enjoyable literary education.

This path has the advantage of making it more likely that our kids will love reading more after they encounter literature after their reading experience in school, not less.

That’s kind of a rogue idea, actually.

What’s the point?

Think back to your own school days.

Were your own favorite books the ones that you were assigned to write a book report on? When your teacher assigned you a classic and then told you to write a five-paragraph essay on it afterward, did you stay up late, gleefully reading that book under the covers with a flashlight?

Were those the books you thought: this book is turning me into a reader?

Interesting.

See… I think one of the primary goals of a good literary education should be to raise kids who become adults who read voraciously and well. Who know reading to be one of life’s sweetest delights. Who leave their literature class loving books even more than they did going in.

Is it possible?

It is. My family eschews formal literature curriculum to do something that we like better.

And it turns out that this kind of education works. My 20 year-old is currently pursuing a university degree in (wait for it…) English. All of my teens enjoy reading and do quite a lot of it for pleasure, in fact.

So if I told you that you could give your kids a solid literary education while also stoking the fires of their love for reading, would you be interested?

On today’s podcast, I dive into why it’s OK to ditch formal literature curriculum, and a better model for moving forward

Click the play button below to listen, or scroll down to keep reading…

In this episode:

  • our true goal for a solid literary education
  • what I do instead of using a literature curriculum
  • why reading for academic ‘success’ is kind of defeating the purpose

Click the play button below:

Listener Guide

Use the time stamps below to skip to any part of the podcast:

2:46Beyond learning to read
4:57What is our true goal?
8:41‘Introducing one to the other’
13:00Warmth + connection
14:33Reading for ‘success’ versus entertainment
17:23How adult voracious readers actually read
19:41A book club model
21:20A workshop is coming!
23:19A simple system and where to find it
24:57Let the Kids Speak

First things first…

Let’s be clear that what I’m talking about today is literature curriculum, not teaching kids how to read.

I do like to use curriculum to teach kids how to read. My favorites are All About Reading and The Logic of English. (You don’t need both. You just need one or the other.)

But we’re not talking about reading curriculum today – we’re talking about literature curriculum: engaging our kids with books after they know how to read.

A quick caveat

I’m an “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” kind of a girl. So let me issue this caveat, as well: if you love your literature curriculum, keep doing it! I’m not going to tell you otherwise.

I firmly believe in using curriculum resources that:

  1. Make your homeschooling life easier
  2. You enjoy using
  3. Strengthen the relationships in your family

If your literature curriculum does all three of those things and your kids read often for pleasure, then don’t change a thing.

Otherwise, let’s talk about a different path forward.

What’s the goal?

This is an important thing to consider. We know our kids need “English Literature” on their transcripts, but outside of that, what’s the point?

Perhaps some of these reasons resonate with you:

  • to encounter the best ideas of the past and the present
  • to appreciate words in their power
  • to travel to other times and places and see the world from a different point of view
  • to be familiarized with the riches of our culture so that we can communicate and empathize with people
  • to make sense of the world
  • to learn to communicate effectively in writing and in speech
  • to remember the past
  • to become familiar with the most important works of literature
  • to participate in the great conversation
  • to raise kids who become adults who read
  • to help our students develop robust reading lives

All of these might be reasons. But also…

We feel like we should.

Based on a lot of conversations I’ve had with homeschooling parents, a lot of us are using a literature curriculum because we feel like we should.

And even if our literature curriculum isn’t doing a lot of those things we named as goals, we just keep using it because it’s what we know.

We think, “Well, I have to put English Literature on the transcript,” or “I have to be able to report this to the state.” So we turn to curriculum.

You. Are. Free.

It’s the name of the game in homeschooling that when something isn’t working, you have the freedom to do things differently.

You are free to teach your kids the way you think is best for them.

And I think there’s a better way to do things than using literature curriculum if that has not worked for you.

Introducing One to the Other

“When she was hardly more than a girl, Miss Minnie had gone away to a teacher’s college and prepared herself to teach by learning many cunning methods that she never afterward used. For Miss Minnie loved children, and she loved books, and she taught merely by introducing the one to the other.”

Wendell Berry, Watch with Me

That’s the invitation here.

To teach literature by “merely” introducing one to the other— introducing our children to some of the best books we can find.

Teaching them to be adult readers

Think of the most voracious adult reader you know. What does he/she do?

Do they use a curriculum? Or an approved booklist? Do they take comprehension tests after they read each title, to make sure they got all the most importnat bits? Do they write five-paragraph essays, or book reports, or create dioramas?

Do they take quizzes or get points for the kind of book they’ve read?

Why on earth do we do this to our children, when this is not how adult readers really read? And what might it look like if we were to use these formative childhood years to teach children how to relish and delight in books the way they could continue to do so for the rest of their lives?

If we are trying to raise kids who become reading adults, it’s worth thinking about the practices we’re teaching them in regards to reading as they grow.

What do adult readers do?

They choose what they read, for the most part. They recommend books to their friends, and read books their friends recommend to them.

They talk about the books they’ve loved and the parts that really impacted them.

They are always reading something, and carry books with them wherever they go.

They squeeze reading into their busy days.

They read things they know they’ll love, and they also try books they aren’t sure about.

They ditch books that aren’t a good fit (because there are stacks upon stacks of other books that are.)

They underline passages, or keep a reading journal of their favorite bits.

They talk about what they’re reading. Did I already mention that? Because every voraciously reading adult I know loves to talk about what they’ve read recently, what they’re reading now, what they’re excited to read next.

Reading is, for them, a worthwhile and memorable experience. It’s probably one of their very favorite ways to spend a free half hour. Reading on the beach. In the car. In bed. Reading anywhere and everywhere they can.

This is how simple reading with our kids can be.

Reading. Discussing. Sharing memorable experiences.

We can read books together, read books alone, discuss them, and have simple, memorable experiences around them.

That is, in fact, the recipe for a robust literary education: reading + discussing + sharing memorable experiences. It’s the way I’ve been teaching my own kids’ literature for years now.

And you don’t need any curriculum to do it. All you need is a library card.

A workshop is coming …

I’m going to be teaching a workshop on how I do this. I’ll unpack each part of that recipe: reading + discussing + sharing memorable experiences.

I’ll give some pointers on how to help your kids widen their reading tastes, what to do about difficult classics, and where literary devices and essays fit into the equation.

This workshop is happening at all five of the Great Homeschool Conventions in 2022, and is called How to Teach Literature without a Curriculum.

If you’re intrigued by this idea and excited by the idea that your kids can love reading more than ever after they leave your homeschool, I hope you’ll join me!

Can’t make it to GHC?

If you’re unable to get to a GHC conference, you can also get this workshop in RAR Premium this summer. I’ll be teaching the full workshop this summer in Circle with Sarah, the monthly homeschool training workshops we offer inside RAR Premium.

You’ll get all the details on a simple system to teaching this way including a recommended booklist and tips toward keeping this simple, light, and joyful.

This is how we do it…

This recipe is, in fact, how we teach literature without a curriculum in RAR Premium.

And you already know all three of the components: reading + discussing + sharing memorable experiences.

The RAR Premium Family Book Club is built on this idea that we want to help our kids love reading more because of the reading they do for school, not less. And spoiler alert: the only thing better than reading, is reading with people you love.

That’s what we do month after month after month.

So if you think, “Yes, that is what I want for my kids,” and you’d like a little more direction and help along the way, then head over to RAR Premium, grab this month’s family book club guide, and you’ll have all the tools you need to teach your kids literature without a curriculum.

You can also enjoy this FREE guide to having great conversations with your kids (of any age) about any book (recipe ingredient #2 is ‘discussing’ – this guide will show you how):

Get your FREE 5 Questions Guide

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Books from this episode:

Charlotte’s Web
Sheep in a Jeep
Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
The Little Red Hen (Paul Galdone Classics)
Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook: 8th Edition
Once Upon a Wardrobe
Watch With Me: and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch
The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids
Strega Nona
The Penderwicks

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