The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries. — Rene Descartes
The most unexpected advice I received as our family’s homeschool journey began, and the best was to read. Read to the children, read as a family, read for my own education and enjoyment. Just read.
I was the mother of two at the time, a six-year-old with cerebral palsy and hearing impairment, and a precocious toddler whose primary occupation was emptying every low shelf and cabinet in the house all the livelong day. While the idea of my darlings sitting at my feet in rapt attention as I read great literature to them was certainly appealing, it was not realistic. Now, in our twenty-fourth year and having added three more children to our tribe, I can heartily affirm the wisdom of the advice. Just read.
As our family grew, and, it seemed, spread out in every direction all day long, reading became the hub of our homeschool day. I would read to the children often as they ate breakfast and lunch. I had a captive audience, and I took advantage of it. Over the years, our mealtime reading has run the gamut from fairy tales to biographies to current events. While the reading sessions are short, just ten to fifteen minutes most days, they set a tone of civility and commonality for the day.
Up until just a year or so ago, I always had one or more emerging readers who needed to read to me and be read to. Again, these sessions were usually very brief. It is not the length of time we spent reading that made it fruitful, it was the daily habit. In listening to my children as they learned to decode their mother tongue, I could encourage diligence, correct pronunciation, and hear their thoughts on what they read. One child was endlessly fascinated with Frog and Toad and their adventures. We had some insightful conversations about the nature of friendship during the learning-to-read years. Books, and the ideas and characters in them, gave us priceless glimpses into each other’s hearts and minds.
Evenings are family read-aloud time. From the comfort of our living room, we have traversed the globe, defied the laws of time and space, laughing, crying, dreaming, and learning along the way. Edmund Wilson once said, “No two persons ever read the same book,” and we’ve seen this lived out time and again as each of us experiences a book in our own way. Thanks to a rich literary heritage, our family has a wide and varied common vocabulary. When one of our girls was struggling through a particularly difficult math problem recently, her helpful older sister reminded her, “The Answer to the ultimate question of Life, The Universe, and Everything is…42!” (Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) We all had a good laugh, the tension broke, and our young mathematician’s attitude was improved. When we are all heading to bed for the night, it is not uncommon for one of the kids to call out, “Good night, you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England.” (John Irving, The Cider House Rules) Reading together gives us so much more to say to each other, and so many creative ways to say it.
While my personal reading over the years has seemed to go in fits and starts, I have kept to one personal goal: to read one book each month on education, homeschooling, or parenting. When I set that goal back in 1997 it seemed insignificant but achievable, so I began sowing the seeds of self-education one book at a time. Looking back now, I see with tearful gratitude the field of nearly 300 books I’ve read and am so grateful for the harvest of vision, peace, and confidence that I’ve reaped, for it has nourished my family and blessed our home. Having cultivated the habit of regularly reading about not just the how but the what and, most importantly, the why of homeschooling, I have approached each new season and challenge with resolve rather than apprehension. I am convinced that my own self-education has prevented me from burning out and caving in as a homeschool teacher. With three children graduated and two still learning at home, I can say with conviction that things just keep getting better, richer, and more satisfying.
Have I convinced you yet? Will you commit to just read?
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
Reading with you,
Editors Note: The author’s choice of books for her family is her own. Families should carefully screen reading materials for content and values that would align with their own. This mention of certain titles in this article does not imply CHEA’s recommendation or endorsement of these titles.
Dana Wilson is blessed to be the wife of one, mom of six, foster mom of many, and a daughter of the King of Kings. She loves God’s Word, great books, and old hymns. Dana’s ministry to women encourages them to nourish their souls and speak the absolute Truth of Scripture to every circumstance.
This article has been republished with permission from Homeschooling Now USA.