About Build Your Library Curriculum

Build Your Library – Literature based homeschool curriculum – building young minds, one book at a time!

Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history? What about a secular science that is mostly literature based in the elementary years? Well, you have come to the right place! Welcome to Build Your Library Curriculum!

I am a homeschool mother, not unlike you. I spent years searching for a curriculum that fit my needs, and having to tweak each program to death to make it work for my family. Then one day, I realized it would be simpler to just write my own program. That is when Build Your Library was born. I thought I must not be the only one looking for a literature based program that was also secular. So I set to work to create a homeschool curriculum that would fit many needs.

I wanted a curriculum that was rich in great literature, not just old fashioned tomes, but modern children’s literature as well.  I wanted a curriculum that was history based but didn’t drown you in historical fiction. I wanted to make narration a priority, but in a way that was fun and easy. A curriculum that took passages from the books you and your child are reading and turned them into copywork in the elementary years and dictation at the middle school level.  I wanted to incorporate art study that was connected to history and included fun art projects. And I wanted to include science – literature based in the elementary years, and I use Elemental Science’s logic stage program in the middle school years.  It was a tall order – but our children are worth it.

I hope you will try out a program and join the Build Your Library family, – building young minds, one book at a time!

Current Full Grade Level Products Available for Purchase –
Kindergarten – Grade 1 – Grade 2Grade 3Grade 4 – Grade 5 – Grade 6 -
Grade 7

( Grade 8 coming 2015 )

Current Unit Studies – Supplemental Educational Products Available for Purchase
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHistory of ThanksgivingA Jan Brett ChristmasThe HobbitDarwin and EvolutionSharks! – World War IIPrehistory

Other Educational Products –
Narration Cards
  Book of Centuries and Timeline Figures


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Educational Gift Ideas – Science Edition

2014giftguideLast week I shared some holiday gift ideas with a Language Arts theme. This week, I’ll give you some great science-themed gift ideas.

Science can be so much fun, what kid doesn’t want to discover how the world works? Every child has a million and one questions about everything – give them the right tools and they can find the answers on their own.

For little ones – you absolutely must have a magnifying glass. We have gone through dozens and dozens of these over the years. Take them outside on nature walks, have them look at the skin on their hands, their pet, etc. These are great and really sturdy – Learning Resources Jumbo Magnifier Set Of 6

Another great tool for exploring your world is a microscope. These don’t have to be the fancy expensive variety. Nor do they have to be reserved for high school/college level science. This is a great first microscope:Educational Insights Geosafari Tuff Scope; as is this pocket microscope: Carson 60X-100X MicroMax LED Lighted Pocket Microscope

Another item I’ve always kept on hand are magnets. These 8″ Magnetic Wands (Set of 6) are fantastic – they are durable, and the magnets are really strong. My kids have spent hours playing with these, and exploring which things are magnetic and which aren’t.

Now, I’ll admit, I haven’t actually used this item yet. But I just purchased Goldie Blox and the Dunk Tank for my youngest for this coming Christmas… I have heard fantastic things, so I’m hoping she likes it. Goldiblox is a kit that comes with a storybook and the pieces to create design ideas to complement the story. Each kit focuses on one type of machine. For example, this kit’s focus is the hinge. You can collect the different kits and use the pieces interchangeably to create lots of different designs. It’s geared toward girls, but I don’t see why a boy wouldn’t want to play with these as well. And once your child is hooked on this beginner’s engineering toy, you can move up to the next level with the K’NEX 521 Piece Building Set.

If you want a fantastic science kit, then look no farther than Thames and Kosmos Science Kits. There is a huge variety of kits, in nearly every field of science. They even have a little labs series of kits for younger children. I’ve used a few of them over the years and they’ve always been great – and we’re picky. There is nothing worse than a science experiment that promises to be amazing and then completely flops. So far, we’ve never had a flop with these kits. They are a bit pricey, but worth it.

72716_1644858877208_4421557_nHave a budding geologist? We’ve used and enjoyed this 4M Crystal Mining Kit. There is a good variety of crystals for your child to chisel out, just like a real geologist. You might also enjoy this ROCK ON! Geology Game & Rock Collection. Likewise, for your budding paleontologist, this is a wonderful kit: Smithsonian Diggin’ Up Dinosaurs T-Rex – they can dig up the bones and then put them together to build a model of a T-Rex skeleton.

If you are looking for more fun ways to explore the natural world, you could try an Insect Lore Live Butterfly Garden or this Adventure Kids Bug Catcher Box Set or maybe this Fascinations AntWorks Illuminated Blue Ant Farm. All are great ways to learn more about insects, and even collect some new “pets.”

Do you have a space-nut? For years, my boys had an inflatable solar system that we found at our local planetarium hanging in their bedroom. This is a similar set to what we had: Learning Resources Inflatable Solar System. I saw this a few weeks ago when I was starting my shopping – perfect for a future astronaut: Uncle Milton Moon In My Room. With this, you can hang a replica of the moon in your child’s room and track the phases of the moon. It also works as an educational night light.

There are some great Science themed board games that make great gifts too.

Somebody Board Game
Primordial Soup (more for middle grades/teens)
Bone Wars: The Game of Ruthless Paleontology (also middle grades/teens)
Zooloretto Board Game
Periodic Quest: A Family, Educational Card and Board Game Set with More Than 6 Card Games and Board Games Based on the Periodic Table of Elements.

In the next article, I’ll share some History/Geography themed gift ideas!

Happy shopping!




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Educational Gift Ideas – Language Arts Edition


I was just informed that there are only 6 more Saturdays until Christmas. SIX! Some days I wish time would slow down just a little bit.

I’ve started my shopping, and as I was planning out what my children will be receiving, I thought it might be fun and helpful to share some ideas here with you. I like to try and find interesting, and sneakily educational gifts for my children. My goal is to have a house full of fascinating things to tempt them away from the video games and television when they are looking for things to do. I’ll be doing this as a series over the next few weeks, and I’ll divide the posts by subject matter.

Today I want to share some Language Arts inspired gift ideas:

If you’ve followed my posts, you’ll know that my twins do not enjoy writing. I’ve tried many things to change that, however, the latest of which being Magnetic Poetry Original Kit.

I bought the kids a magnetic poetry set, thinking it would be a sneaky way to get them to play with words without actually writing. I didn’t make a production of it, just opened the box and slapped all of the words onto the fridge. I put a couple random words together so they’d see the potential.

10245302_10204431648887144_5466326095169081433_nThis is what they have come up with. I figure, at least they are playing with words, right?

There are also several add-on kits that you can purchase to add a different element to your poetry. You can get the Magnetic Poetry Kit: Book Lover kit, the  Nature Poet Magnetic Poetry Kit, the Magnetic Poetry Kit: Shakespeare and even a Magnetic Poetry Zombie kit. The possibilities are endless (or at least as endless as the size of your refrigerator!).


294009_4729279785803_960614695_nIf you have a budding writer already, and you want to encourage them in their writing, you might consider something like Finish This Book or Wreck This Journal (Expanded) by Keri Smith. These books are a great way to help your child come up with new or different things to write about. They are full of prompts that encourage your creativity. I love that Smith encourages you to “mess up” the book, perfect for those perfectionists who are rattled by the idea of making a mistake, because it’s the mistakes that make this book special. I would suggest that if you buy one of these for your child, buy one for yourself as well. Sometimes our children need to see us being creative! Plus, it’s really fun. ;)


2014-11-14 11.15.08If you want a fun way to sneak in some spelling practice, why not try Scrabble Classic? Some days I skip spelling lessons entirely and just play a few rounds of Scrabble instead. This is especially great on those rough days when no one is in the mood for actual lessons.

You can even purchase additional Scrabble Tiles to add more letters to your game or even to just practice your spelling words (without the game board).




Does your child aspire to write their own books someday? You might want to give them Lulu Jr. Illustory – Newest Version Craft Kit. This is a really neat kit – your child can write and illustrate their story, then you send it off (or create it online) to have it professionally printed into their very own hard cover picture book, written by them!

If storytelling is a fun past-time for your child, they would likely enjoy Rory’s Story Cubes. These cubes are portable (great for long car trips) and so much fun. You can create an endless variety of stories – either on their own, or as a fun group activity. Is your child stuck on what to do next in their story? Use the story cubes to break through writer’s block! I think my favorite thing about this game is that there is no wrong way to use it and there are no wrong answers. Anything goes, because it’s all about being creative!

And of course, if we’re talking about Language Arts, I can’t skip reading! Some of our favorite books that would make great gifts:

Picture Books:

We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) – You really can’t go wrong with the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems. We all love them, from the 5 year old on up. These are great for budding readers, and just as much fun as read alouds. This is my personal favorite, but we have several and they are all fantastic.

All Are Family: Celebrating the Diversity of Our Global Family – this was actually written by a homeschooling mom who uses Build Your Library! How neat is that? This book is gorgeous. The illustrations are so lovely, the prose is gently and flowing, and it’s just a very sweet story to read aloud. It would be a perfect fit if you’re studying the Kindergarten – Around the World program. My youngest loves it and has asked to hear it numerous times.

The Day the Crayons Quit – I admit I haven’t read this yet. But I’m getting it for my youngest because I’ve heard so many people rave about it. A picture book about crayons that are unhappy with their lot in life – what’s not to like?

Chapter Books:

Nightmares! When I heard Jason Segel wrote a children’s book, I got excited and purchased it immediately. I decided it would make an excellent read aloud for October. I have twin boys who are extremely picky about books. I’ve spent years trying to find literature that will spark a love of reading. I’ve been reading to them since they were babies (they are 12 now) and out of all the books we’ve read, the only ones they loved and asked to hear “just one more chapter” were the Harry Potter books and Nightmares. So that should tell you something. It earned 5 stars for that reason alone, but of course, it wouldn’t have held their interest if it wasn’t a rollicking good story.

And the story was really, really good. Charlie Laird has just moved into his stepmother’s strange purple mansion, with his father and little brother. He’s been there for months, and he’s having terrible nightmares. The first half of the book keeps you guessing as to what’s really going on. The Netherworld was intriguing – I loved the idea of the ever changing monsters and the terror-tories. I even had my kids each draw a picture depicting their own personal terror-tories. I loved the overall theme of facing your fears in order to overcome them. We laughed, I cried a little, it was just scary enough without being over the top.

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7) We are die-hard Harry Potter fans at our house. These are the books that got my twins interested in reading. Magic, mystery, adventure – Harry Potter has it all.

Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare – Containing six of Shakespeare’s famous plays written in prose for children, this book is beautiful. Exposing children to Shakespeare as lovely tales will aid them later when they read his original works. Knowing the plot and characters will make the language that much easier to understand. The illustrations are lovely, the stories are written in easy to understand language, but they don’t lose any of their power as great stories. This book is definitely not to be missed.

The next article in the series will list gift ideas for your budding scientist, so stay tuned!

Happy shopping!

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New Unit Study: Prehistory

Books not pictured - Archaeology for Kids, Maroo of the Winter Caves, You Wouldn't Want to be a Mammoth Hunter and The Secret Cave

Books not pictured – Archaeology for Kids, Maroo of the Winter Caves, You Wouldn’t Want to be a Mammoth Hunter and The Secret Cave –  they were eaten by the dinosaurs. ;)

I don’t know about you, but at some point all four of my children have gone through a dinosaur phase. For one, it was a passion that lasted for many years. Over the course of these obsessions, we have collected an obscene number of books about dinosaurs and prehistory. There are so  many fantastic books out there on this topic… and yet, there are very few actual homeschool resources devoted to it. So I have sought to remedy that.

This six-week unit covers much more than just dinosaurs. You’ll learn about the origins of the Earth, the first life, the first mammals, the first men, the Ice Age, all the way through to the beginnings of modern man… and of course, dinosaurs.

You’ll read through the first section of the The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia Of World History supplemented with several carefully selected picture books, as well as a literature study of the excited chapter book, Maroo of the Winter Caves.

This unit includes a variety of projects and activities, from creating a Timeline of Prehistory and a Field Guide to the Prehistoric World, to creating a relief carving and cave painting in the style of Prehistoric artists, to building your own coracle and more.

The Prehistory Unit is perfect for your elementary age student, but there are many suggestions for books to add in for older children, and the activities are flexible enough to include both age brackets. The unit is 61 pages, scheduled over six  5 day weeks, and includes vocabulary, timeline pages, and several activity pages as well as a literature study including copywork.

Activity Pages

Activity Pages

Prehistory Timeline Pages

Prehistory Timeline Pages

Vocabulary and Field Guide activity pages

Vocabulary and Field Guide activity pages










$14.99 – Purchase the Prehistory Unit Study –  Special Introductory Price – $9.99

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Vocabulary Notebook Freebie

Vocabulary-Activity-Page-1One of the questions I get asked the most is what to do with the vocabulary words that are scheduled in the instructor’s guide. I’ve spoken about learning vocabulary in context, and I still believe that this is the best way to learn vocabulary.

But sometimes, you want something more.  Off and on during our homeschooling years, I have had my children keep a vocabulary notebook. It was never anything fancy… sometimes we used the words from our read aloud, and sometimes I task them to find their own words in their reading. I’ve often found that they’re more likely to recall and use words they discovered on their own. They would write down the word with the definition, part of speech and write it in a complete sentence. Sometimes, they’d illustrate the word. We never did it for a full year though – it was more like something we would do every now and then, when they were interested.

So, with that in mind, I created this notebooking activity page to use with the vocabulary words in the instructor’s guide. But feel free to let your child use it with words they come across in their own reading as well.

The activity page gives your child a way to study a word in depth. They will record the definition, part of speech, synonyms, antonyms, use the word in a sentence and illustrate it.

Download Vocabulary Activity Page Here

Just one caveat – I do not recommend having them complete a page for every word listed in the vocabulary and notes section of the instructor’s guide. It would become tedious and overwhelming. Maybe start with one or two words a week and build from there. At the end of the year, your child will have their own dictionary of words they have learned. Not only does it become a homeschooling keepsake for you, but it becomes a great tool for review. It comes in handy when they are writing reports, essays or original stories – they can flip through their vocabulary notebook and include the words that they have collected.


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New Unit Study: Winter Holidays Around the World

2014-10-07 15.47.50Why not take a break from your regular studies this holiday season and learn about Winter Holidays Around the World? This is a fun, multi-age unit study that is perfect for the whole family.

You’ll travel the world while learning about five major winter holidays – Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Chinese New Year.  Unlike my regular unit studies, there is no schedule included, but rather a more open ended list of activities and books. This way you can take your time and explore the winter holidays at your own pace during the craze of the holiday rush.

T2014-10-09 12.21.23his unit is 44 pages long and includes a list of books to read, several helpful links and 23 activity pages. Some examples of the activities included are: go on a winter scavenger hunt, complete an activity page about Christmas traditions in another country, learn specific holiday vocabulary words (28 words in all), try recipes for holiday foods, create a holidays around the world map, learn to write the Chinese characters for “fu” or “luck,” learn about the Chinese Zodiac, make your own dreidel to play with, and much more!

Here are some examples of the notebook pages and crafts that are included:





So purchase today and celebrate the holiday season with the Winter Holidays Around the World unit study!

$9.99 – Purchase the Winter Holidays Around the World Unit Study – Special Introductory Price – $5.99

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** Our PayPal e-Junkie powered shopping cart will process your order. All our digital programs are in PDF form. They cannot be returned or refunded. Once you place your order, you will receive a download link to your items. As a reminder, if you are going to purchase books we would greatly appreciate the use of our provided Amazon Links or our Amazon Store! Thanks!

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Favorite Fall Reads

229582_4357195363925_1854508216_nThe leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp and cool, and the school year is new and fresh. It’s the season of apples and pumpkins and football. Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year so I have quite the collection of fall themed picture books that I love to share with my children round about September. I thought I would share a few of my family’s favorite fall picture books with you on this first day of Autumn.
Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson

This is one of my all time favorite fall picture books. It reminds me of one of my children, who when he was small, wanted to put the leaves back onto the trees. Fletcher is a sweet, caring little fox who is distressed that his favorite tree is shedding it’s leaves. The story is sweet, but the illustrations are what really make it great. The pictures are just glorious.

Why Do Leaves Change Color? by Betsy Maestro.

Why Do Leaves Change Color is the perfect pairing with Fletcher. I’m a big fan of the whole Let’s Read and Find Out series, and this book has an excellent explanation for children as to why the leaves are changing. I love that it gives a real explanation, using scientific terms (like pigment and chlorophyll) but also making it understandable for the youngest listeners.

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert

Lois Ehlert’s picture books are just gorgeous. I love her style of watercolors and collage – you can linger over the illustrations for hours. Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf tells the life story of a sugar maple tree. I love that she tells the story in a beautiful way so that it feels like a story, but like Why Do Leaves Change Color, she doesn’t talk down to children. In the back of the book she explains scientific facts and even includes instructions for planting your own tree and making treats for birds.

Apples, Apples, Apples by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

Apples, Apples, Apples is a sweet story about a family of bunnies and their trip to the apple orchard. This has been a favorite in our family for many years. We always read it before we take our annual trip to the orchard for apple picking. I love the fact that the author includes a chart of different apple varieties and what they are best used for – cider, baking or just eating. The author also includes some great information like how apples grow, how many seeds are in an apple and even a recipe for homemade applesauce.

Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson

Pumpkin Circle is a lovely poetic story about the life cycle of a pumpkin – from seed to jack-o-lantern. My children appreciate that the pictures are real photographs rather than drawings. In the back of the book the author includes scientific information as well as tips for planting your own pumpkin patch.

 Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbell

Pumpkin Jack is another great life cycle story. Tim carves a jack-o-lantern and names him Jack. But rather than throw Jack in the garbage when he starts to rot, he puts him in the garden and watches how he changes throughout the seasons. Eventually fall comes around again and he has lots of pumpkins to share. Lovely illustrations really capture the story.

One of he best things about most of these books is that they are great lead-ins to Nature Study! You just can’t help but go outdoors after reading them, and investigate the season’s changes yourself. What are your families favorite fall reads?


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A Literature-Based Education: Teaching Academics

52011_10201632106980346_2006624025_oThis is part 3 of the Literature-Based Education series. Follow these links to read Part 1 and Part 2.

It may sound obvious enough – but any school subject can be taught with living books. Science, history, art, grammar, even math can be taught with literature! Most homeschoolers are familiar enough with how to liven up their history and science lessons with living books, living books can breathe life into any subject!

One of the things I instituted many years ago in our homeschool is Fun Math Fridays. Every Friday we skip our usual math lessons and we play a game or read a living book – I usually let the children choose. There are many quality math stories that can help you teach specific concepts. Too often, math is seen as a boring and difficult subject that can only be taught with dry textbooks. But math is a natural entity that we use all of the time. So why not make it more interesting with living books? This is called Living Math – which is appropriate, since math is everywhere – it’s a living, breathing subject!

397560_10202951460843368_6015888735180898877_nTwo of my favorite series of math books are the Mathstart Series and the Sir Cumference series. Both are colorful picture books that each cover a specific math topic, from fractions to addition to percentages. Greg Tang and Mitsumasa Anno have written many fantastic living math books as well. For older children, you can’t go wrong with Marilyn Burn’s books like Math for Smarty Pants
and The I Hate Mathematics! Book.



Some ideas for a Fun Math Friday to get you started:

  • Math manipulatives – pattern blocks, tangrams, counting bears, dominoes or dice
  • Games – monopoly, Smath, card games like War, Uno or Rummy, dice games like Yahtzee
  • Cooking – double or triple a batch of cookies and let your child figure out the recipe
  • Look for patterns in nature on a nature walk
  • Read a living book and then explore the topic more thoroughly with manipulatives
  • Play with numbers outdoors with sidewalk chalk
  • Explore with different kinds of calculators
  • Play with a hundred’s chart and discover all the different patterns
  • Have fun with rulers, yard sticks and measuring tape – measure everything!

There are so many ways to play with math – it never has to be a dull subject.

History and science are the easiest to implement a literature based curriculum. There are thousands of living books to choose from to round out your studies. Choose a solid spine book like The Story of the World, A History of US: Eleven-Volume Set: Paperback Set or the The Story of Science series and then fill in literature to round it out. I love historical fiction, but one can easily get carried away – there is just so much of it. While some stories are true to history, like Johnny Tremain, Fever 1793, Girl in a Cage and such, you need to be careful with inaccurate historical fiction. When well written, they could potentially lead to a research project to determine the truth. But these works can just cause confusion, especially with younger children. One of the benefits to using a curriculum like Build Your Library, is that the books have already been vetted.

There are also different points of view about how to study history – do you want to go chronologically or hop around by interest? Four year cycle? Six year cycle? There are so many different ways to go about it. I prefer to do a 4 year cycle in elementary school, take a break in the middle grades to cover American History and World Geography and then come back to the 4 year cycle in high school. But in the end, as long as you provide your child with the tools to learn on their own – teach them to read well, to express themselves, and to find the answers to their questions – they’ll be able to make up for any gaps in their learning later on. Missing out on learning about the Crusades or the Tudors won’t harm their ability to get into a good college or their ability to function as a successful adult. ;)

I’m a big believer in providing children with a banquet – instead of just reading nothing but history and historical fiction, I like to include literature – classic works like The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Charlotte’s Web , and more modern reads like Harry Potter and The Tale of Despereaux. Providing a variety of genres helps to expose children to all the different ways of telling a story. Maybe they’ll discover a genre they never even knew existed!

And don’t forget poetry, tales and mythology! Poetry can feel daunting, but it really isn’t. Choose a quality book (I really love the Poetry for Young People series, but there are so many really nice poetry anthologies out there today) and just read a few poems over breakfast once or twice a week. When you’re just starting out, don’t worry about getting too involved – just read the poems. Later, you can study one poet at a time – really getting an ear for their style. Maybe give them the opportunity to play around with poetry of their own. I like the magnetic poetry you can just stick on the refrigerator – take turns throughout the day arranging the words to create a thrilling or silly poem. Learn about the rules for Haiku and Sonnets and then write your own. Just enjoy playing with words.

2014-08-27 14.19.33And don’t discount fairy tales and mythology – they make up a huge amount of cultural literacy! I love the Albert Einstein quote that says:“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” I would argue that the same goes for mythology. By exposing your child to these ancient tales, you are guiding them into a common language. Suddenly all those Disney movies make sense – they are nearly all based on fairy tales and mythology! But more than that, they teach your child about story structure, lessons in morality, critical thinking skills and more.

I also love going off tangent with my kids in order to follow their interests. I like to be flexible enough to dive down a rabbit trail or even a whole unit study when the need arises. Just because we’re studying Ancient history doesn’t mean we can’t explore a different time period if my child is interested right now.

An example of following a rabbit trail: A few years ago, my children were fascinated by the Titanic. I don’t even remember exactly how it started – I think one of the twins, at random, chose a book about it at the library. This of course, led to quite a few questions. So we found a few more books to read, talked about icebergs and buoyancy, ship building, famous people that were on the Titanic, we watched parts of the movie as well as a few other documentaries, and my oldest even wrote a short historical fiction book that took place on the Titanic about a little girl who was sailing on the ship with her mother. All of this was organic – they asked questions and we dug in and researched and learned. When they were done, we went back to the lesson plans.

Studying science can look the same way. Choose a spine based on the topic you want to study – there are so many fantastic science encyclopedias on the market today that can serve nicely as a spine. Then just round out your study with biographies about scientists, picture books and even novels pertaining to the subject matter. Throw in some meaningful experiments (there are many fabulous kits out there) and you have a solid science program.

When it comes to language arts, living books are the most natural way to learn. Narration is the basis for composition and literary analysis. Copywork and dictation can be used to teach everything from punctuation and mechanics as well as parts of speech and spelling. You can study vocabulary in context right as you are reading beautiful literature aloud to your children. This is really all you need to give your children a thorough grounding in language arts skills.

Educating with literature can be as structured or unstructured as you wish. It can be completely interest led or completely planned out for the entire school year. It can work with a 4 year old just as beautifully as it can work for a high school senior. You’ll not only study a huge variety of material from writers who actually care about their subject matter, you’ll also expose your children to the great conversation, to ideas beyond their own small world, to fantasy worlds filled with magic to the fascinating world that can only be seen under a microscope. It’s all out there, just waiting to be discovered in a good book.

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A Literature-Based Education: Reading Aloud – Making it Happen

20140812_111211This is Part 2 in the Literature-based Education series. Last week we talked about Choosing Great Literature. Today I’m going to talk about the mechanics of reading aloud.

So now you’ve chosen a topic to study and you’ve gathered your books. What exactly does teaching with literature look like? How can you fit all of that reading aloud into your day? It might appear to be a lot of work for the parent, and it is. I’m not going to lie, there is no way around it, this is not hands off homeschooling. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. There is a method to the madness.

I spend the bulk of my day reading with my children. We are immersed in literature as a family and it has become our lifestyle. I break it up throughout the day, but I probably spend a good 3 hours each day reading with my kids. In this way I can introduce literature that they may not choose on their own – whether it’s classics like Tom Sawyer or dystopian literature like The Hunger Games. I read aloud their history and science lessons so that we can discuss them together as we read, and I try to read poetry aloud a few times a week. Some years we even manage to fit in a Shakespeare play. We have a beautiful rhythm of reading to shape our days.

It can be tricky to figure out how to fit in all of that reading in a typical day. Sometimes the day just gets away from you and suddenly its bedtime and you realized you didn’t read aloud at all. It took me a few years to figure out how to make it work. Years ago, I read on a Charlotte Mason message board this idea about pegs – pegging things that you want to make happen onto events that always happen. For example – you’re going to eat meals together at least twice a day, every day. So peg a reading session to a meal – poetry with breakfast, or history at lunch. You could peg your current read aloud novel to bedtime. It doesn’t have to be one huge chunk of reading – if you tried that you would likely go hoarse! Breaking it up over the course of the day not only makes it more doable, it keeps everyone’s mind fresh. It’s difficult, especially for boys – I’ve found, to sit still and stay focused for more than 20 – 30 minutes. They start to fidget, their minds wander and before you know it, they haven’t heard a single word you’ve said. Spreading out your readings ensures that they are able to focus on their lessons. It’s another one of Charlotte Mason’s wonderful ideas – short lessons help children to keep their focus. When you’re reading aloud it’s so important for them to be able to give their full attention. We don’t want to make it difficult by dragging on and on for hours. I try to keep a reading session to no more than 45 minutes, unless they are really into it and ask me to read longer. We once read about 4 long chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in a sitting – we read the whole book in about 2 weeks, because they just had to know how it was going to end!

Even so, sometimes it can be difficult, especially if this is something new to your family, to get your child to sit still and listen to a whole chapter, even a short one. Some tips I can give you is to start reading aloud after a session of outside time – let them run around the yard, jump on the trampoline, take a nature walk, do something that might tire them out a bit so that they aren’t quite as antsy during reading time. Another thing that I find helps with my twin boys is to let them draw while they listen. They can draw whatever they like, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with what we’re reading, but it keeps their hands busy and their minds focused. An alternative to that is playing with clay or silly putty, anything to keep those hands busy and their mind focused.

20140812_111230And what about the babies and toddlers? It’s certainly not easy, but still completely doable. When my youngest was a baby, I made sure she took at least one good nap each day and we squeezed a lot of reading time in during her nap. When she stopped napping, I gave her crayons and paper to draw, or we got out the play-doh or blocks and she played while we read. Having a special basket of “reading-time-only” toys can be a lifesaver. And she gleaned a lot from those readings! Sometimes I’ll hear her talk about Harry Potter or Bilbo while she’s playing with her toys. She may not remember much about the plot, but she’s definitely still listening.

I love the idea that she’s growing up within a culture of reading. And of course I read aloud to her books at her level as well. She gets her own special time where we can sit and read picture books, some that I have chosen and some that she picks off of the shelf. Start them young! A child who grows up with reading will grow up to be a reader. There are so many fantastic quality picture books to enjoy with your babies and toddlers. And sometimes I will choose a read aloud that I think the whole family will enjoy so that I can include everyone. Everyone got into the Harry Potter series and The Hobbit. From the youngest (who was just 4 at the time, but still runs around trying to stun her siblings with a wand while riding around on her child sized broom) to the oldest.

And what about mom? If you aren’t used to reading aloud, it can be really hard to go from a picture book or two at bedtime to reading for 2 – 3 hours of your day. Make friends with throat drops – and drink plenty of water. This will help keep you from losing your voice. This will sound odd, but be sure you are sitting with good posture. If you aren’t breathing properly, your voice will not hold out for a very long reading session.  Also, ease yourself into it. Don’t try to read a meaty history text, a difficult work of literature, a biography about scientist, and poetry all at once. You’ll burn yourself out before you start! Instead, start with an easy, short chapter book like The Courage of Sarah Noble or My Father’s Dragon – add in a fun poetry book (I love Shel Silverstein’s works (A Light in the Attic or Where the Sidewalk Ends) for beginning poetry) and then, once everyone is used to the idea of reading aloud, you can start adding more.

I once heard someone say that you can always make time for what is important to you. Though there are days when it seems impossible, if reading aloud to your child is your goal then you can find a way to make it happen. Reading aloud can and should be the best part of your day. It is a legacy that you will leave behind for your children. My oldest is already planning out which books she’s going to be taking with her when she starts her own family so that she can read them to her children. To me, that’s worth more to me than gold.

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Shark Week Sale!

It’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel this week, so you know what that means…

It’s the perfect time to dive into the Sharks Unit Study!

Dissecting a shark - cause sharks are way cooler than frogs. ;)

Dissecting a shark – cause sharks are way cooler than frogs. ;)

In between fascinating shows about Megalodon, Hammerheads and zombie sharks, you and your child can learn about shark anatomy, different shark species, how to be safe while swimming in the ocean and so much more.


This unit includes a complete schedule, book list, documentary list, helpful internet links, copywork/dictation assignments, vocabulary, writing assignments, and a variety of projects, including 11 notebooking pages. It is scheduled over 3 weeks, but can easily be stretched to last longer if you only do 2 – 3 lessons per week. You can even purchase a 2-foot dogfish shark to do a anatomy dissection activity to finish your study of sharks!

This week only, you can take 25% off the Shark Unit Study when you use the code SharkWeek. Hurry up, the sale ends on August 16!




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A Literature-Based Education: Choosing Great Literature

2014-08-04 12.36.48Over the next few weeks, I am going to be doing a blog series about what Literature-Based education is all about. Today, I’ll start by briefly going over what makes a book “living,” and then we’ll talk about how to choose the best books for your child.


What makes a book “living?”

I should start out by explaining what I mean by literature. I know you may be thinking, “Doesn’t everyone teach with books?” Well, yes and no. By literature, I’m referring to what Charlotte Mason would call “living books.” I am of the belief that what actually makes a book “living” can be subjective. But the basic idea is that a living book is one that is written by an author that cares about the subject matter which he or she writes about. The author will write about his or her subject matter with a love and enthusiasm which excites the imagination and compels you to care about what you are reading. These are the books that will have lasting meaning and memories in the mind. The kinds of books that would stand the test of time.

The opposite of a living book would be “twaddle.” Twaddle is a book that is dumbed-down and/or poorly written. A good example of this type of book would be anything commercialized, for example,  Dora the Explorer picture books or books written in a very long series such as the Magic Tree House books or the Babysitters Club. But, I would like to add a note here about twaddle. I have read articles and books about how we must avoid all twaddle as it will turn the mind to mush. But I look at twaddle like junk food, a little bit won’t hurt you. My twins went through a phase of devouring all of the Magic Tree House books they could get their hands on – and I let them. They were reading on their own and enjoying it! Now that they are more comfortable with reading, I can give them a better selection of books to choose from. My rule about twaddle is that I don’t read it aloud – if they want to read it to themselves, fine. But I have better books to choose from for read alouds. I liken it to enjoying a cookie after eating a healthy supper. It is a book that is devoid of rich meaning, giving you nothing to think about, and sometimes we all like to enjoy something mindless, but it certainly shouldn’t be a book we use to educate our children. Many textbooks could also fall under the twaddle category.

Let me present you with an example. This is from a popular homeschool world history textbook:

“In 1042, a Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, returned to the throne of England with the help of the English nobles. When Edward died in 1066 without and heir to inherit the throne, his kinsman William, duke of Normandy, a vassal of the king of France, stepped forward to claim the throne of England. Ignoring William’s claims, the English nobles made the most powerful among them, Harold Godwin, king.

“William decided to settle the issue in battle and sailed with an army of 10,000 or more men to England, where he met Harold’s forces at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066. After a savage, day-long clash, William’s Norman knights finally defeated Harold’s infantry, and Harold himself was killed. Victorious, William marched to London to be crowned king of England. William became known as William the Conqueror, and his victory at the Battle of Hastings as the Norman Conquest.”

There are several paragraphs devoted to the topic of William the Conqueror as king – just under a page total. So if you are studying this text, what would you take from this passage? There isn’t much there to narrate from, and all you really need to know is what they’ve so helpfully bolded for you – the names and dates. This is the perfect example of “pump-and-dump” learning. Pump their brain with meaningless facts, remember it for the test and then immediately dump the information when you no longer need it. That is not true learning.

52011_10201632106980346_2006624025_oNow compare this to a living books education. While studying this time period, you might read a the chapter in your spine book (The Story of the World: Volume 2 The Middle Ages which contains a full 4 pages to tell the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings), and then you could read a biography about William the Conqueror (there’s a nice one included here: Famous Men of the Middle Ages ), add in a novel like The Striped Ships written by Eloise Jarvis McGraw about a girl whose life is turned upside down by the Norman Conquests and helps to create the famous Bayeaux Tapestry, which might then lead to reading a book like The Bayeux Tapestry: The Story of the Norman Conquest 1066.

As you can see – by reading real books, written by someone invested in the subject matter, your child will gain a deeper, richer understanding of the history being studied, and hopefully, they will care because they’ll feel empathy for the characters they are reading about, whether factual or fictional. By using beautiful literature as opposed to “to-the-point” textbooks, your child will have big ideas to chew on, a richer vocabulary, and heroes to care about. You can teach any subject with living books – from science to history and even math. Good literature can breathe life into any of your child’s studies.

But a real books education is more than just reading a lot of books. It sounds deceptively simple, it provide piles of literature and my child will magically become educated. Having an excellent home library is part of it – studies have shown that children who grew up among books, grow up to be more successful than those who didn’t. But there’s even more to it than that. Some of the main points I want you to take away from this blog series is that we need to give our children big, meaty ideas to chew on; we need to teach them how to find information for themselves so that they can further their own education; and we need to teach them how to express themselves in order to share what they have learned. These three things are really the foundation of a literature-based education.

How to Choose Living Books

Now that I’ve touched on some of the virtues of using rich literature in your homeschool, you may be wondering how to choose books for your child to study? I have a few rules when it comes to choosing books. Again, this is fairly subjective, but for me, for a book to make it into my home library it has to be well written, it has to be interesting, and it has to be something I myself would want to read. Just because Charlotte Mason used it in her schools over a hundred years ago does not mean your modern child must read it. And just because someone else claims it is a must read or you were forced to slog through it in high school, doesn’t mean it’s worthy of your child’s time. There is a fine line between challenging our child and boring him to tears. We need to be fully aware when we’re crossing it.

Another thing to consider is that more is not always better. It’s easy to get excited about a subject and order 15 books, because they all look great. There is so much beautiful literature available today! We really are spoiled. However, to try and read everything would be overkill. We will never be able to read all of the books, and not every book is worth your particular child’s attention. So how do you choose?

The first step is to narrow your topic. Saying you want to read about the Middle Ages is far too broad. However, narrowing it down to a focus on just Knights or just Castles makes it much easier to find good literature to teach those topics. For example: you could read The Making of a Knight by Patrick O’Brian or How to Be a Medieval Knight by Fiona MacDonald and then maybe throw in a read aloud such as Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess or The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur by Margaret Hodges. That’s not to say you can’t cover other topics under the umbrella of “Middle Ages,” but by narrowing your search, it becomes much easier to find books that are specific to the topics you wish to study.

Once you’ve narrowed your topic, look through the available literature. Is it well written? Is it lively and engaging? With rare exception, you should avoid books that explicitly claim to be educational or teaching something. Most likely, these books were written by a committee rather than an author devoted to writing about their pet topic. You want to present your child with powerful literature: Charlotte Mason said, “Their lesson-books should offer matter for their reading, whether aloud or to themselves; therefore they should be written with literary power.” And: “Not with dry bones of fact, but with fact clothed upon with the living flesh, breathed into by the vital spirit of quickening ideas.” Literary power – I love that. We want to give our children powerful, meaningful books to read. Good literature has a solid, interesting plot; vivid characters that come to life and leap off the page… it makes use of various literary elements and has rich vocabulary. A good, well written children’s book should hold your interest just as much as your child’s. If you find it dull and simple, chance are good that your child will too.

2014-08-05 10.59.26Start with a reliable book list – you can use the Build Your Library amazon bookstore list to get started, or books like Book Crush: For Kids and Teens by Nancy Pearl, 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up or any other Charlotte Mason website. The one caveat I would give with Charlotte Mason sites is that many of them assume that for a book to be living, it must be a classic at least 100 years old. However, there are plenty of beautifully written modern books of all genres. I think there is a danger in only allowing old-fashioned literature into our homeschools – many are full of outdated ideas and are therefore hard for children to relate too, and because the language is often unfamiliar it can make comprehension more difficult. Especially with younger children, this could turn them off of reading. You never want reading to become a chore. You want it to be something that they look forward to – the best part of their day. That isn’t to say that you should avoid all classics. There are many that you absolutely should read. Some of my favorite children’s books are classics – Winnie the Pooh, A Little Princess and Anne of Green Gables are by no means current, but are beautiful works of literature that should not be missed. But to ignore books like The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo or The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, simply because they weren’t available in Charlotte Mason’s day would be a travesty.

1505217_608583169225235_3878848422959547709_nBut there are too many books! I can’t decide which ones to use! I go through this all of the time. Sometimes you have to let this process happen naturally. It’s especially hard when I’m excited about a subject. I’m a bit of a World War II buff – especially when it comes to the Holocaust. I know, I’m morbid. If there is a book about it, I’ve probably read it. So when it came time to cover that time period with my own children, my book list was a little ridiculous. I knew we wouldn’t really get to all of it, but I planned it all out anyhow. And in the end, we only read a third of the books. My kids aren’t missing out because we didn’t read everything on my original list. They gleaned quite a lot of information without them. And they’re still young! They may come across those unread books later. And sometimes, you’ll start a book that you thought would be a hit and your children are just not on the same page. The rule at my house is that you have to read at least 4 chapters of a book, and if you are still bored, it’s OK to stop reading it. There are just too many books to force yourself through something you aren’t enjoying. Now, I do adjust this rule a bit when we hit high school age, because sometimes you do have to make it through a book whether you like it or not. But when they are young, you want to keep reading an exciting, enjoyable experience. Sometimes just reading one good book is enough to cover a topic.

Living books can form the heart of your child’s education. I have spent years filling our little homeschool with books that would fit that purpose. My home is brimming with literature – from Tomie de Paola’s folk art style picture books to Shakespeare to Tolkien to A.A. Milne and Madeleine L’Engle. I have shelves of science books and history books, poetry, art and geography, I’ve tried my hardest to hit all “subjects.” But I always hold each book to the Living-Books-Test. Is it written by an author who knows their subject? Does it hold my attention? Does it bring the subject to life? Does the story live and breathe? If the answer is yes, that book earns itself a place on my shelves.

Choosing great literature for your child doesn’t have to be a challenge. When you choose a program from Build Your Library curriculum, you can be sure that your child will be reading and listen to some of the best books that are currently in print. They’ll be surrounded by some of the greatest children’s literature and you will fill your shelves with beautiful thoughts and ideas for them to dwell upon.

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