Apocalypse Schooling

April 6, 2020

Recently, we wrote a blog post about Homeschool Tips for Traditionally Non-Homeschooling Families. In that article, I discussed how to school your children at home during the COVID-19 quarantine while normal technological advances still exist. You can still order books from Amazon or your favorite independent bookstore. You can still research topics on Google and YouTube. The television, tablets, and your smartphone all still work.

One of the comments on this post lamented “I miss places, no museums, zoos, hikes. This isn’t homeschooling. It’s like apocalypse schooling,” (attributed to Megan M. on Facebook). I’m a big fan of apocalypse stories. I’ve read all of The Walking Dead comics. We watched Falling Skies a few years back (which is an alien invasion-style apocalypse). Stephen King’s The Stand is one of my favorite novels.

So Megan’s comment got me thinking. What if there actually was a full-blown apocalypse, zombie outbreak style? What would homeschooling look like? Because that would be the only option left. On zombie apocalypse shows, every now and then they give a couple of scenes about some basic form of schooling. But it’s nothing too in-depth, and there is always a disruption like a dramatic zombie horde forcing the survivors to drop everything and flee to another location.

Apocalypse Schooling

For simplicity’s sake, let’s fast forward past the initial chaos and start when things “calm down” a bit. Obviously, the power grid is out, and businesses are gone. No Amazon deliveries, no internet. You have access to partially ransacked public and household libraries, and whatever additional supplies are still left. We will give you a semi-safe location to dwell, but you are still subject to an occasional zombie horde.

Of course, you need survival supplies such as food, water, and weapons. But let’s be real here – if you know me, I’m gonna have some books. “Essential” books, but books nonetheless. Since you are carrying all of the things, you have to pack light. So I am posing the following question to myself, given the constraint of one “homeschooling bug out backpack.

What 10 books are you willing to risk lugging around while running away from zombies?

What homeschooling materials would you hoard in a post-apocalyptic world? We will assume you have had adequate time to search for and collect these titles. But you have to also assume that there is the chance that they may not ever be replaced if you lose your single copy. The future of humanity depends on you! The pressure!

What books and subjects matter? Do you salvage a boy scout handbook or Army field manual for survival skills? Does a collection of poetry have enough utility to make the cut? How much mathematics do we really need in this new post-apocalyptic world? I mean, textbooks are heavy…

There will be no Build Your Library lesson plans for these selections. You are on your own scheduling this out. But after much debate and internal turmoil, here are my top 10 must-have “Apocalypse Schooling” picks and why.

Apocalypse Homeschooling Book List

1) Usborne Encyclopedia of World History – This trusty volume has been with us for the entirety of our homeschooling. It’s looking a little worse for wear these days, but I can’t imagine not having it for reference. Will history be that important in the apocalypse? Who knows, but I want to at least have this basic colorful framework for reference. (This is the history spine in BYL Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4).

2) Bushcraft:  Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival by Mors Kochanski – I feel like this would be handy, since I’m decidedly an indoor girl and would have no idea how to survive in the wild. I’ll need all the help I can get, and I will need to teach these skills to my children. (This book is scheduled in the Survival Skills elective in BYL Level 9)

3) A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson – I’m probably being a bit unrealistic as I load my bag with these heavy tomes. But Bill Bryson has a way of making you fascinated with the world around you, and this is probably my favorite of the Bryson books that I’ve read thus far. In a bleak situation like a zombie apocalypse, I want to show my kids how complex and amazing the world is and build a sense of wonder and curiosity. (This book is the science spine in BYL Level 9)

4) Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – Because I can’t take anything seriously. Of course, an apocalypse is a perfect time to read about an angel and a demon thwarting one. In dark times, we need to be able to find some humor. (Good Omens is scheduled in BYL Level 11)

5) Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien – Yeah, okay, I’m cheating. But despite being divided into 3 physical books (4 if your set includes The Hobbit), it is one story. If my choices are this limited, I must keep only the best, and this is one of my all-time favorite stories. It is also a story about hope and vanquishing evil – seems an appropriate story to read in an apocalypse. Perhaps I’ll stumble across a compendium. (This book is scheduled in BYL Level 9)

I won’t lie – I’m struggling here to come up with what else makes the cut. How do you choose which books are important enough to risk your life to keep? This is a challenging question for a bibliophile. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY BOOKS I HAVE ON MY SHELVES? What parts of our past are the most important to salvage when the world has collapsed?

6) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – I need Anne’s optimism and hopefulness in these dark times. She never fails to bring a smile to my face, no matter how many times I read the Anne books. (Why is this not scheduled in BYL yet?)

7) The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – This is a recommendation from my children. I told them I was stuck and this is what they suggested. I can’t say that I blame them, Pooh and the gang are very comforting. And in this bind-up, we not only get to enjoy the two Pooh Corner books but Milne’s whimsical poetry as well. (The House at Pooh Corner is scheduled in BYL Level 1)

8) The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley – Along the same lines as Bushcraft – I don’t know squat about the outdoors or how to survive in them. Without Google to tell me the weather, or guide me via GPS to the nearest store/water source, I’ll need some way to learn those skills quickly.

9) A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki – Maybe the world has fallen apart, but I still want to have a way to show my children what our country was before and how we got to where we are now (okay, maybe not now as in the zombie apocalypse, but you get what I’m saying). This is by far my favorite American history text, as it shows the history of America through the lens of the people who came from all over the world searching for freedom. (This book is scheduled in BYL Level 12)

10) The Annotated Mona Lisa by Carol Strickland – We need art. We need to remember that people can create beauty out of nothing, and this is one of the smallest art books we own. (This book is scheduled in BYL Level 10)

Apocalypse Book List

I am now weighed down with about 17 pounds (actual weight) of books. For comparison, 2-gallon jugs of water weigh approximately 16.6 pounds. I am probably easier pickings for a zombie hoard, but I feel like I’ve salvaged some important pieces of the world before for my children. Hopefully.

There are some obvious holes. I would hope someone in my group would have a medical book. (Do I have a group?) But let’s face it if you require surgery in the zombie apocalypse you probably aren’t looking for me with a scalpel.

Along with my art book, someone should probably have a music book. But which? A collection of great composers’ sheet music? A Beatles anthology? Green Day guitar tabs? But then they would also need to salvage and carry a musical instrument.

Bonus tip: In your travels, if you are able to scavenge a good roll of tape, you may want to throw it in your homeschooling pack. You are going to have to repair and reinforce these books as necessary.

If only I could just load up my Kindle Oasis with a library full of e-books! But then, yeah the limited to no power thing… Oh well. That’s my list, and I’m sticking to it!

2021 Update:

Did this article inspire you to pick up some apocalyptic reading? Here are a few recommendations:

I Want to Eat Your Books – This adorable picture book introduces us to a zombie who isn’t after brains, but rather books! The kids have to work together to keep the zombie from eating their school library! (ages 3+)

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth – more of an anti-apocalypse story, this follows Prez, a boy sent to a foster home where he meets Sputnik – an alien with a mission. He needs Prez to help compile a list of reasons why Earth is worth saving. (middle grade – ages 10+)

Dry –  Set in California in the near future, a drought called the “Tap-Out” becomes so bad that entire cities run out of water. How do people react? Who is better prepared for this situation? This story is a very realistic look at what happens when the water runs out. (Young Adult – 14+) 2022 Update: Now as a Lit Bite!

Life as we Knew It – When an asteroid strikes the moon and pushes it closer to Earth, the world as we know it begins to crumble. Tsunamis, high tides, volcanic eruptions, and other disasters all strike at once. In the first book in the series, you follow one girl and her family as they fight to survive this dangerous new world. (Young Adult – 14+)

The Girl with all the Gifts – This is an interesting take on the typical zombie apocalypse story. Melanie and the other children who live at her school are kept in isolation. They are brilliant, gifted children, but they are never allowed to touch anyone, or to see the outside world, which has been ravaged by the “hungries.” (Adult, but could be read by a teen – 16+)

Do you have any suggestions or replacements? I’d love to hear your picks in the comments!

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Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full-year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 21 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.

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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.


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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?

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