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 II

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


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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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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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Multi-Grade Teaching – An Example

I’ve mentioned a few times now that I’ll be combining my older three children into Grade 7 – Exploring Your World, and several people have asked me what I’m adding to it to make it high school level for my oldest. So I thought I’d go ahead and do a blog post to explain what I will be adding.

One caveat – I tend to over plan. I always have more on the schedule than we’ll ever get to, and that’s OK. As we actually live out the school year and see how things flow, we’ll drop the excess. So, with that being said, here’s what I’ve got planned for my rising 10th grader this year.

The first thing I added for her was the Glencoe World Geography textbook along with Oak Meadow’s syllabus. I already had the textbook (I found it at a used bookstore for $1 a few years ago and thought it might come in handy someday), so I just added in the syllabus to round it out a bit. There are a variety of different assignments and projects to choose from, and she’ll also be able to choose from the project list in the Exploring Your World instructor’s guide as well. Between the two she should have plenty to work with. I think this program would still work at the high school level without the textbook, but since we already had it, I decided to use it.

So that covers the Social Studies credit. But I also want to make sure we cover the Literature and Composition end of things. Sarah will still be listening in on all of the read alouds, since we do those over lunch. But many of those readers are going to be too easy for her. She’s welcome to read them anyway of course – she’s a voracious reader so having extra books is a good thing – but I’m also adding in some extras to beef things up a bit. So below, I’ll share the book list I’ve created for her. She doesn’t have to read everything on this list; I plan to let her choose which ones she’ll read. I tried to fit plenty of classics, but also several modern YA books. I’ll also note that I tend to choose books that I think she’ll be particularly interested in reading.

With all of that said, here is her suggested reading list:

North America:
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Pearl

South America:
The Disappeared
The Queen of Water

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe
Macbeth (Folger Shakespeare Library)
The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story
Jane Eyre
The Importance of Being Earnest

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia
Between Shades of Gray
Animal Farm

Middle East:
The Complete Persepolis
Under the Persimmon Tree
The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East

Keeping Corner
Q & A: A Novel
The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic

China/Japan/SE Asia:
The Good Earth
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel
The Street of a Thousand Blossoms
Children of the River

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Cry, the Beloved Country
Aya: Life in Yop City
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel

In a Sunburned Country
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Troubling a Star: The Austin Family Chronicles, Book 5

A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry – this is the poetry book Sarah will be reading from this year. She’s read Favorite Poems Old and New several times through, so this will give her something more mature.

The Years of Rice and Salt – this was recommended in the Oak Meadow syllabus and it sounds fascinating – we’ll likely read this together as a Mother-Daughter book discussion project. It’s revisionist history/fantasy – imagining the last 700 years – what if the Black Death wiped out 99% of Europe’s population? How would this change history? That’s the question this book seeks to answer.

The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey- My husband and I saw a documentary by Spencer Wells a few years ago called Human Family Tree, about how we all have a common ancestor. I plan on having the kids watch it at the beginning of the school year, and Sarah and I will read this book.

I plan on covering composition by having her write about one book per month – so she’ll have one literary essay assignment due, based on the book of her choice. We’ll rotate through the four types of essays:

  • Formal essays – explaining how a literary term is used in a book and why
  • Biographical essay – drawing a parallel between something that happened in the author’s life and in the book
  • Historical essay – drawing a parallel between something that happened in history and the book
  • Response essay – basically a book report; it can be something you didn’t like about the book, an argument that the way a character acted was in some way ethically right or wrong; drawing a parallel between something and the book, etc.

If you’ve never listened to the Susan Wise Bauer talks about literary analysis and teaching writing for high school then you should definitely give those a listen. She really takes the fear out of teaching writing and literature at the high school level.

And that’s it – I’m keeping it pretty simple and flexible. She’ll join us for the read alouds and she’ll complete many of the geography and art projects and mapwork that I’ve already assigned within Exploring Your World and the additional geography reading and assignments PLUS the additional literature and essay writing will make this worth 2 credits.

Sometimes it can be a little trickier to combine when you have older children – I originally hadn’t intended for Sarah to join in with her brothers this year. But she really wanted to take a year to focus on World Geography (something she hasn’t done for a long time) and so I had to find a way to make it work. And in the end, this makes my life that much easier. I only have to teach geography once – I don’t have to do separate lessons. Even my youngest will get in on the fun, as she’s going to be studying Kindergarten – Around the World. But this is the beauty of homeschooling. Everyone gets to join in with everyone’s lessons and we all get to learn together as a family.

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Literature-Based Learning: Creating a Rhythm to your Days

556497_4942375873072_1107866722_nI don’t know about the rest of you, but lately, my brain has been in planning mode. Ordering material for the new school year, rearranging books on our shelves, making lists of school supplies we need to buy. It’s one of my favorite times of the year!

But today, I wanted to talk a bit about creating rhythm within your day. Especially when you are new to a literature-based lifestyle of learning, it can be tricky to figure out how to plan your day out. And when you look at the list of what you want to accomplish in your day: math, spelling, grammar, copywork, poetry, memory work, read aloud, history, art…well, you get the idea, it can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be!

Let’s walk through a typical day in my literature-based homeschool. During the school year, I try to enforce an early bedtime so that we can begin our day at a reasonable time – so my children are all up and sitting at the kitchen table ready for breakfast at about 8am. As I serve them their breakfast, I make myself a cup of tea and grab our current reading – I usually do poetry, tales or mythology over breakfast. As they eat, I read and then we discuss the reading. Sometimes it’s a quick narration but other mornings we follow rabbit trails or have deeper discussions. Then I send everyone to get dressed and we dive into the rest of our daily activities.

My high schooler is fairly independent. She joins us for read alouds, but otherwise, she’s doing her own thing. This school year she’ll be joining in with Grade 7 – Exploring Your World, with some added assignments and readings to make it more high school level. I check in with right after breakfast to discuss the day’s assignments, and we’ll talk off and on throughout the day if she needs anything or to discuss a lesson or a book she’s reading, but otherwise, she just takes her work to her room and gets it done.

397560_10202951460843368_6015888735180898877_nMeanwhile the twins are either practicing their musical instruments or doing math, so I sit down with my youngest and we read from her basket of books. We’ll be doing Kindergarten – Around the World this fall. Thus far, I usually pull out a few titles that I think she’ll enjoy or if she has a current interest (for a while it was bugs, then China, and lately it’s anything animal related). Sometimes she’ll be inspired to draw a picture about what we’ve been reading, but I don’t expect any output from her just yet. Mostly, we just read and talk about the story. Sometimes I’ll plan a fun art project or a simple science experiment, but mostly, she just listens to stories and plays. I like to keep it very relaxed and unschooly in the preschool years.

By this time the twins are ready to move on to the next thing, so I’ve put the week’s dictation on the board and we go through it together – the first day we look it over and make note of any words they need to practice spelling, any interesting punctuation, we might do a quick grammar study, and then they carefully copy it down. If there were words they needed to practice, they’ll copy them down 5 times each. This year we’ll be taking a break from formal grammar to really focus on writing.

I also like to have some sort of writing prompt on the whiteboard at least once a week – usually on Fridays – just something to stimulate creative writing. I really like the book Unjournaling: Daily Writing Exercises That Are Not Personal, Not Introspective, Not Boring!. Even the high schooler joins in for this – they’re usually really interesting, thought provoking or silly – nothing overly personal (just try to get my boys to write about their feelings – it’s not going to work!).

When they’ve finished this, I send them to do their silent reading and if it’s a narration day (I assign these 3 days out of the week), they’ll choose a narration card and do the assignment. These are almost always done in writing at their age, and it serves as their composition.

By now, it’s around 11am and if the weather is nice, I send them out to get a bit of exercise or 1235004_10201479964536880_1408701176_ncomplete a nature study assignment. When they come in, its lunch time and we dive into our current read aloud. This is also when we go over memory work – we’ll take turns around the table and everyone gets a chance to practice. Over the summer, we’ve been reading through The The Hunger Games Trilogy.

After lunch, we’ll do the day’s history or geography assignment, and or science lesson. This is what I consider to be the fun part of our day. We’ll discuss the reading, complete any activity pages, look at our giant wall map and talk about where things were happening in our lessons, look up links from our reading, work on a research project, do an experiment, write a short report, or add to our timeline. We don’t do all of these things every day – some days we only read a chapter from our spine book and discuss the reading. Some days we might complete mapwork, timeline work and a science experiment. If it’s an art day, we’ll complete an art project here as well. This is really the meat of our days – it takes us anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.

1236578_10201439873934640_1191007018_nAfter this, we’ve finished our school day and the kids are free to scatter. Some days we’re done by 1pm, others it’s more like 3. But it doesn’t feel like we’ve been grueling away for hours and hours. It’s actually pretty relaxed. We still get a lot accomplished! And there is a lot of flexibility here – this is an example of an average day, so obviously some days will look quite different. Some days we just read and do math and call it good, some days we are out of the house for other activities so all that gets done is math and we might double up on reading the next day. Some days I might call a ‘fun’ day and we just do art projects, read, watch a movie or play board games or take a nature walk. It’s all about rhythm and finding the flow that fits your family best.

1236451_10201442821128318_947991309_nThe rest of our day is open to us – the children are free to work on their personal side projects (currently they’re working on writing/drawing their own Manga), or just play; I can finish up housework, work on lesson plans or other BYL related work, sneak in some extra personal reading time and whatnot before I have to cook dinner. Over dinner, their father will ask them to tell something they learned that day. Everyone is expected to tell something different and add to the discussion. It’s a fun way to sneak in a narration cause everyone wants to tell something interesting.

So that’s one example of a literature-based homeschooling day. Of course, yours may look completely different – we all want to see what other homeschool families are doing, assuming someone else has figured out the best way. But I think we’re all pretty similar in the end – just moms doing our best to educate our children at home.

So how does your day flow? Let me know in the comments – I love to hear how other people schedule their day!

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Summer Sale!

Summer is upon us, which means one thing to homechoolers – planning for the next school year! Isummer-sale-2014 don’t know about you, but I’ve been busy making lists of books and school supplies we’ll need for this fall.

I have also been hard at work the last several months, but finally our new Grade 7 curriculum is complete! A lot of blood, sweat and tears (and a fair amount of dark chocolate M&Ms) went into writing this instructor’s guide, and I’m so excited to send it out into the world.

With Grade 7 – Exploring Your World finished up and for sale, it seems like a good time for our  2014 Summer Sale! Starting today and through the end of July, you can take 15% off all our instructor guides and unit studies! Just use the code Summer14 at checkout. Easy peasy!

Have a fantastic summer everyone! And don’t forget to spread the word!



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Memorial Day Unit Study Givaway!

21482giveawayIn honor of Memorial Day, and to celebrate the completion of the World War II unit study, I’m giving away a free unit study to three lucky winners! If you win, you can choose any Build Your Library Unit Study you’d like!

My unit studies are all literature-based, and can take anywhere from 3 – 9 weeks to complete. Each unit is self-contained and includes a reading schedule, activity pages, vocabulary words, research and writing projects and more. My units are great for multi-level teaching as well as being perfect for summer learning. I love teaching with unit studies – some of our fondest homeschooling memories were when we delved wholeheartedly into one topic – whether it was a literary unit like the Hobbit unit study or a historic study like the World War II unit.

The giveaway will run from Thursday, May 22 – Monday May 26. I’ll announce the winners on Tuesday (May 27) morning. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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