HS Special Edition #2 Homeschool Connections Podcast by Sonlight: Literature-Based Learning Conversations
Links and Resources:
The teaching part is the easiest part of homeschooling, the training and mentoring is the most important part of our job ... and we do that as parents, not teachers. To teach our children how to live life - that's the challenge. - Sarita Holzmann
If we can raise up kids who love to read, who love to learn, there are no barriers to them at all. -Sarita Holzmann
A great book can grip your heart, teach you great vocabulary, exemplify empathy - things you would never glean from a test book. It's an approachable and painless way of learning. - Sarita Holzmann
Homeschool Connections Podcast by Sonlight: https://www.sonlight.com/about/get-involved/connections/podcast
Hello and welcome back to another installment of the Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Wendy Speake and I am one of the many hosts we have here on the podcast. Each week, you'll hear from one of us, inviting one of our friends to join for a conversation about this busy, blessed season as we educate children at home.
Now the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions. While we don't have the answer to every question, we know that all the solutions to every stress and every struggle can be found in the Person and presence of Jesus Christ and His living and active and applicable Word. We are so glad that you're here to join us for today's conversation. But before we start the show, I'd like to thank our sponsors.
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And now, on to today's show.
Hello and welcome to Homeschool connections podcast by Sonlight. Today I have two sessions for you. The first is Judy and Sarita. Judy is one of our marketing folks here at Sonlight. She is often seen on the convention floor sharing her story and talking to new homeschoolers and veteran homeschoolers, about Sonlight curriculum. And Sarita, of course, is our founder and president of Sonlight curriculum.
Today, they will be sharing their homeschool stories. We'll be talking a lot about literature-based learning, and the Sonlight instructors guide. They will also share their homeschool advice for both the new and veteran homeschoolers. What a way to kick off the year.
The second session is Sarita and I talking about turning children into book lovers one chapter at a time. Sarita will talk through how to pick the best books and what makes literature-based learning so great for teaching. She will also talk about her seven-part test for books. So I will jump right in. Join me on this adventure.
Let's talk about some advice. I think it's great, Sarita, that I am so happy that you have joined us. I know that you have a unique homeschool story, and it might align with some of the parents who, you know, are joining us today. Could you share your story with us and how you started homeschooling?
I'd be glad to. And, Stephanie's right, back in the day, when I was...lot of people were homeschooling and some of the moms had decided they were gonna do it, and they were planning when their kids be... that is not my story.
I said to my...my husband came to me, said, oh I wonder if we should homeschool our children? We were living in southern California at the time, and schooling was very expensive. The school system where we went was very poor. Kids were bussed to a very substandard school. So we would...the only option we felt like we had was to put our kids in a local Christian school that was very expensive. But it was...and he said, oh, maybe we should homeschool our kids.
He had been to a family that was homeschooling. The kids were sharp and they were articulate and they asked good questions and, he was very impressed. And I said to him, you're not putting me in that box. They figured out how to do that. Why in the world would we reinvent the wheel? I don't wanna do that. That's not why I love to read.
But our finances had pushed us in a particular way and I thought, well, I could probably do it for one year. Cause you probably won't ruin your children forever. If you don't do it exactly perfectly for that one year. And so I took my, words in my hand, and decided I would try it. And I found out that I really loved it. It was one of those where I felt like I had a really great chance to meet my kids and get to know them in a really unique and a precious way, and this many years later, I am so grateful God allowed us to do that with our family. It was something that I came in kicking and screaming, but that I'm going out saying, even if you don't want to, it could be that this is something that's a great opportunity for you and your family as well. It's been very very good for our family.
Yes. I love that story. I think so many people can probably relate to that. Then you find out that you absolutely love it.
I love it.
So, why did you start Sonlight? Can we talk a little bit about that, and maybe like, how literature-based works together?
Let's start with Sonlight. I started the company, it was back in the day. ??? thirty years ago. Thirty years ago, you could get...there were just a couple of companies that said, we supply curriculum for schools and we'll also let homeschoolers use it. You know, it was one of those where I thought, I had used a textbook education and I thought, I don't necessarily want that for my children. You know, while they're solid and while they can be full of good information. It can be dry and dull.
So, what I decided to do instead was to pick what I thought was the best of the best and use it with my own kids. And after a year, I thought, wow, we're just having so much fun. A neighbor who lived in my backyard, who was a missionary, he was home from the field, came and she said to me, Sarita, you know, what we really need to do is pick the best of the best and put it in a box and send it to friends of mine who live overseas. Because if you think it's hard to pick materials here, it's ten times as hard overseas. You can read about something in a catalog, and you're like, oh that looks like the greatest thing since sliced bread. And then you order it, it takes six months to get there, and then it doesn't work at all.
So, if we could figure out what part of the best materials, put them in a box, and send them to friends, that would be a great thing. And I thought, well, I'm a pretty organized person, I could probably do that in the afternoons while my children nap. It was one of those where we were in the missions community at the time and one of the things we had been told is the first main reason people came home from the field, they couldn't get along with one another. I thought I can't do anything about that. But the second reason they came home was something about what to do with their kid's education. I thought I could solve that. I could keep the missionary out in the field for one more year. Boy that would be a great thing to do.
So, I thought, well, let me try that, and that's really how Sonlight started. It was one of those where I got together with my backyard neighbor, we talked things through and worked things out, and she wrote the original schedules and she told her friends. And that's where we somewhat started.
So, basically, what is a literature-based curriculum. It...basically, it uses books. Sonlight happens to have a history theme, so we choose a topic of history that we wanna study, and we pick a couple of great books that will help us with that. Then we plug in readers and readalongs that tie to that history. So there's all kinds of connections that happen in the brain. It's reading...we find it to be a very effective way to learn. Partially because its story, of course, pulls you in. It's compelling and it grips your heart and it's something that kids can't wait to get to the end of and they're engaged the whole time while you're listening, while you're reading a story to them.
And it makes the history that you're studying come alive because you have protagonists and your antagonists that are warring with one another and things are happening in the story. But it's one of those where we found, this is the most effective way. Kids remember the things that they hear in the stories that grip their hearts.
Judy, do you wanna add anything to that?
I think the other thing that's always impressed me about learning with books is that it gives context to what you're reading. When you work from a textbook, you're memorizing dates from here, and names from here, and events from over here. And kids hang on to them just long enough to spit them back out on a test and then, all that information disappears, at least it did for me. So when you put that information in a story, and you give context, and motion, it connects the student to the information. And they hang on to it for a very long time.
We found that students will get on a standardized test somewhere and they'll have multiple-choice questions there, and the kids, because of the way they've been taught, will be able to reason out the answers to things, even if they've never memorized the dates. And of course, we don't recommend that you would memorize things anyway, cause you can look up anything on your phone already. So, if you get a plan and a big picture overview and you have stories that have made it all come alive, are very, very effective ways to learn.
Absolutely. How many people remember their favorite childhood book, right? ??? read it and re-read it. Well, think about if those books taught you great things about history. So. So true.
Let's talk a little bit about the Sonlight instructor's guide. Judy, I wanted to talk a little bit about this because I think it's important that people understand putting together all of the literature in a schedule really does help it work out.
All those books, I mean, if you're a book lover like I am, all those books, that's amazing. The problem comes when Monday morning of the first day of school rolls around, and you think, well now what do I do? You know, I've got all these books and I...which one am I supposed to read and how much am I supposed to read, and that's where Sonlight's instructor's guides come in.
So, we've taken all of that literature and we have categorized it by subject, and then we scheduled it by day, so each day of the week, each title that you're reading, you know exactly how much you're supposed to read and what you're supposed to accomplish in that day. And in addition to that, those instructor’s guides have discussion and comprehension questions, and math assignments, and timeline assignments. Just all of the resources that you need to be able to be sure that your children have not only heard what you read but understood and are taking away. And so, we're hooking information in a lot of different ways, because we know that if we take one piece of information and teach it in multiple different ways, the kids hang on to it.
And so that's what that instructor's guide does. It also gives you a very easy way to keep track of how much school you've done. If you live in a state where you have to report regularly, how much school your children have done, that schedule portion of the instructor's guide, each time you complete an assignment, you check it off, or you pencil a date in there, and you have a concrete, solid demonstration of all the work that your children have accomplished during that school year.
And some people use...this is super flexible. It's made to be flexible. Like Judy said, some people go through the day, each day. Some people will block schedule so they'll do science or maybe the language arts, or something on a certain day, so the whole thing is out, and they'll work, sort of across this way, if you're getting into a really good book and your children keep saying, Mom, don't stop reading, just keep reading. And mark that off as you go and come back to something else the next day. So it is super flexible.
Yes. That's what holds Sonlight together.
For sure. Let's talk about the literature-based education approach and how it really does make learning more enjoyable. We touched on this a little bit, but Sarita, maybe you could talk a little bit more about that?
Well, I think, as you mentioned earlier, when you have a great book, it both grips your heart, it can teach you great vocabulary, it can teach you empathy, things that you would never ever ever read from a textbook. It's a way of...we call it painless learning, right? It's just a way of learning things in a way that are approachable and... I can remember going to convention, way back in the day, and one of the speakers said, oh, my husband worked in the next room and he worked as the principle. And he would come in and take care of discipline problems as they arose. And I thought, I actually can't even relate to that. Because it's one of those where, as you sit and read stories with your children, you have a chance to both interact with them and to get to talk with them about deeper levels, cause stories bring up things in very natural ways. You can talk through issues, we can talk through things that are important. Important topics can come up in a book, and you can handle things in a way that kinda takes it out of you, but still impacts more heart and more hearts of your children.
Judy, you have more to add?
That last part was especially meaningful to me when I was homeschooling my children with Sonlight. Those relationships, those bonds that we developed over time that we really didn't even realize were happening to us because we were reading together and we were having conversations about fun things, but also about very difficult topics that come up when you read a well-written book. So, yeah, I think...now, normally, our students getting superior academic education with literature-based learning. But even more than that, we're developing relationships within your family that last a lifetime.
How many of us can say I liked my kids beforehand, but wow, I loved my kids now. You know, I just, I know how smart they are and I had this chance to really invest in them, and I'm not suggesting us all kinds of great things for our family.
I wanted to say the instructor's guide does have some discussion topics. So, Judy mentioned this, and...but you go off of these topics and to start reading these books. These are just conversation starters. But things come up throughout the entire book that really are meaningful. Yeah.
So, let's get down to the goods. We have, probably, new homeschoolers joining us today. We also have veteran homeschoolers. Let's talk a little bit about the advice that you might have for both of those groups of people, and anything that you ??? them that might help them on their journey. Judy, do you wanna start?
I think there's three things that I try always to remember that, to share with new homeschoolers and with homeschooling moms who we often meet on the convention floor that come back and say, boy, has this been a year. And I'm not sure I can do this again for another year. And I say to them, you know, I think, number one, it's very helpful to decide what your goals are before you start.
My husband and I used to, each summer, find a way to block out some time, maybe we'd go for a walk together or maybe get dinner together or whatever. And we would talk about the challenges that each of our kids had in their previous school year and the victories that we celebrated with them. And then we would turn around and look ahead and say, okay, we're gonna choose three spiritual goals for each one of our kids, and three academic goals. And I would write those down on an index card. Nothing fancy. And stick them on my refrigerator. And it was there for those days when I couldn't remember why it was I was homeschooling my children. Especially in January, right after the holidays, when everybody's coming down off that sugar holiday high and in upstate New York, where I homeschooled, there's six feet of snow on the ground and you really don't enjoy going outside. Why is it I'm doing this homeschooling thing? And those goals were easy to see, and easy to find, and it was a good reminder, and it also helped as my kids got older to set expectations for them, so they knew what our goals were. What our focus was going to be for the coming year, and so there were no surprises.
I think the other thing that was very, very helpful for us was that we constantly fostered what we called the team mentality. This was not a teacher-student or a mom and dad-kid mentality most of the time. Homeschooling became part of our life. We didn't just educate our children from nine to noon, or eight to four, or whatever. It became what someone once said to me was a lifestyle of learning. And so, the only way that that was going to work was if we all worked on it together. And so, my kids learned how to do laundry, and they learned how to cook meals, and they learned how to make beds and all of those things, which we all did, because if we all shared that part of our daily life, then we also would have all that to enjoy the fun things. The field trips and the vacations and the, hey it's seven o'clock at night and it's still 80 degrees, let's go get an ice cream cone kind of things.
So, that team mentality also did away with the, well, I made my bed and did the dishes, what did he do today, kind of attitude. And so, even if it did come up, we would just pull the kids back and say, hey, we're a team here. It doesn't matter what he did, what part have you done to help the team today? And then I think the last piece of advice would be keep in mind that no mom, no dad, no homeschool is an island unto itself. You need community. You need encouragement. So if you're just starting and you're brand new to this, find a veteran homeschooler who's that much further down the path on that homeschooling journey than you are, and pick their brains. Because I'm here to tell you, 99% of homeschoolers love to share their experience and what works for them and that's just who we are. And so, take advantage of that. And if you've been homeschooling a very long time and you're getting tired and you're discouraged, then that community is helpful in helping to restore and refresh and remind you of why you're homeschooling. And, you know, you might be able to find a homeschool co-op, hook up with your state homeschool organization. Hopefully next year, you can attend a convention again, where you can get encouraged. Or, as you've already mentioned, Stephanie, join Sonlight Connections. There's a lot of great conversation, questions being answered, and encouraging things being shared on that Facebook group. You wanna be there.
Yeah. I totally agree with what Judy's saying. I think the idea of the lifestyle learning. That was a huge shift for me when I started homeschooling my kids. It was...before that, I was kinda like, well the schools are handling it, they're doing it all. But then it became, well, what can we learn from this? You know. So, you do the ranger talks or, I can remember we took a vacation one year to the hot springs. Well, we got books out on geothermal energy. I mean, I could never have done that before homeschooling. So, it's a super great opportunity to take things and move in new directions and learn things all of your life. And obviously that's a super great thing to learn for your family and to model and to say those kinds of things.
So, one of the things we would wanna do is teach our children how to learn. And that's kind of tied to this. You know, where they have something that interests them, then you say, let's look up more things on that. There's... you know, let's look it up on a map. Let's look it up. Let's go to the library and get additional books on this. And this is what interests you? Why wouldn't we teach our children and help them to understand that they can learn all of their lives? It's super, super important to say, we have an opportunity always to be learning and growing and that's just one of those great things that we have a great opportunity.
And I think we can also pool our resources, I think, for our moms right now that are trying to homeschool their kids wholly in their own. That's harder. Like Judy had mentioned. Get on these community groups. Get on with people, with moms that are there. Get somebody who can help you with things that are out there and that you need to have done.
I think one of the things that happened in our family is how you can learn together. Well, I was really really good at algebra when I was in school, it was easy for me. I totally understood it. I had a harder time with geometry, so when my son got to geometry in high school, I thought, uh oh. So what we chose to do was go through his geometry book together. And by gum, if we didn't come up with strategies and figure out how to do things more effectively, but in that, we were modeling even how to learn and how to grow together. And at the end of it, I can honestly, we both got better at geometry. But you do it together and it's away to say, you know, maybe I don't know how to do this, but let's figure it out together. And that's all of life, right? When we come up with a situation, you wanna be able to say, I don't know quite know how to do that, but let's work it out together. Super great tool that we can have with our children and we can grow and learn together. It's a great thing to do.
We can share the load. If you have a...if you don't wanna teach writing, creative writing, which a lot of us have struggles with, maybe you find someone who's good at that within the homeschool community and say, can we trade up jobs? Can you teach my child how to sew, and I'll teach your child how to make soap. Or whatever thing you might have that's out there. Homeschoolers are great at sharing their...at pooling their information and all of us can learn different things from different people. Sometimes, somebody who's out there can help you with those kinds of things. Go to the different experts that are out there. Expand into the community.
I know, when my children were younger, they had, you know, the library had programs that they could connect into or find junior colleges have programs that you can get into. You can get tutors. I mean you don't have to do this alone. There's resources that are out there, just ask. There's gonna be somebody who can come alongside and help you with the things that you wanna do. And these are great ways to encourage our moms and dads who've been trying to teach our children because Judy's right. Some days, particularly, January's hard, but I think too, a lot of times, we think, oh my goodness, I can't teach this. Cause I don't know enough about this. Honestly, the teaching part of it's probably the easiest part of it. The homeschooling that's the challenging piece of it is, the training and the mentoring, which we have to do anyway, right? Our teachers maybe can say, okay, I help you. You sit still right now. But to teach our children how to live life, that's the challenging piece.
And then, finally, recognize that this is the beginning of a journey. My notes says stay humble. We cannot possibly teach our children everything they need to know by the age of 18. And honestly, school systems can't do it either. But, if we can raise up kids that love to read, that love to learn, there are no barriers for them at all. They can do whatever God has called them to do and we have an opportunity as parents to mentor and to walk alongside and to join with our children and enjoy the journey as we do it. It's an opportunity to impact our world through the lives of our children.
May it be that you and your family grow in this time. You know, I pray a blessing on you. May you enjoy this time with your children. May your children rise up and call you blessed. May you enjoy and grow together and love learning together and may this be the beginning of a lifetime journey of just a breakthrough in the life of your family. May your children be empowered to do whatever God calls them to do and may this be your very best year ever.
Judy, you have anything to add?
I don't think there's another thing I could say, just a hearty amen.
Agreed. Thank you both so much for that advice. I think it's invaluable, so thank you so much.
And here is session two, with Sarita talking about turning children into book lovers one chapter at a time.
We know that humans are wired for stories and storytelling. That has been the foundation of Sonlight for years now. 30 years to be exact. And we're here to talk today a little bit about turning kids into book lovers one chapter at a time.
Sarita, what are the benefits of reading great literature for your family.
There's a lot of them, but let me give you the few that I've thought about ahead of time. It allows you to create memorable connections with your family that last, actually, a lifetime. I know that when my kids were little, I read The House at Cook Corner to them, and in that story, they play a game called poo sticks. And whenever we would go over a crick, or a stream, or a bridge, our kids would immediately say, oh, I think we should play poo sticks. It was a story that had just become a part of our family's culture and just the way we live and looked at the world. So it's a chance to do that in a really natural and easy way.
It also allows you to forge emotional bonds. Great books can give great passion in your life. You can laugh together and cry together, or if you haven't cried when Charlotte dies at the end of Charlotte's' Web, you just have not had an emotional connection with your kids. But it's one of those where, we have that every single time. We have a chance to read together, it's huge to reach for a bridge that we have.
We can also help our kids develop empathy. It's one of those life skills that most kids don't... aren't born with. They have to kinda learn how to grow in this very strategic and important attribute that we have. It's one of those where, when my kids were little, I kind of, meanly, would hand my husband stories that he would...he always read to them in the evening. It was a huge privilege that my kids had when the mental picture of them all sitting, crushed together on the couch and listening to him...avidly, here, cause he's a great reader. And I'd hand him a story that he would start to give them and it would be this emotional ending, he'd start to cry out loud, it was super important for my children to learn that was okay for men to cry. So it was one of those where they would just learn, and he'd start slowing down and stumbling over his words and they'd go, Dad, Dad, what's going on? And it was just one of those where they had to learn to be more empathetic. So it's a chance to teach that to our children.
We can create conversations with them. There're certain situations that we don't want our children to experience. But, if they can learn them through the reading of a story. For example, The Outsiders would be a story of a little boy who gets trapped in a gang. May it be that our kids never ever ever end up in a gang. But could it be that they learn that that's not the way to go through reading great stories? And as we read and talked about it and we just interacted in kind of this creative way, we didn't just really teach our kids that the content, we could learn those kinds of things as we did.
We can foster character development. I know when I would read a number of the stories with my children, some beautiful stories, set in World War 2, and some...at one point, that girls don't get along very well with one another and they kind of nitpick at each other. And so, it's an opportunity for us to say, okay, in our family, we don't do that. We actually care for one another and we actually walk carefully with one another and we take care of each other's feelings. And that's a way we can teach our children good character development, even through the stories that we read.
That's great. What are some of the benefits of reading great literature when it comes to your child's education?
And I could go on and I will. It helps history. It can make history come alive. If you wanna know exactly what life felt like in different historical events, you can read stories that take place in different time periods. So, for example, the Revolutionary War, you can actually get to know some of the soldiers that fought and come to care for them. And when you read about the Great Depression and you think you were about the girl who's scrubbing the claws because they can't get food otherwise. I mean, you can read the same event in the history book, but it's dry. But when you read somebody's experience, history comes alive.
I think, too, we can spend a lot less time memorizing different dates. It's one of those where when you read stories that take place historically and meticulously, and they take...cover time periods, kids actually get to the point where they can triangulate what the time frames are without having to memorize the dates. I can remember one young man who, I think he was taking a multiple-choice test, and one of the questions was, you know, when did the Civil War happen? And he went, okay, it's before this and it's after this and he actually worked it out and he went it's not this date and it's not this...he came up with the right answer. Just because he was able to figure out from the flow of history based on which stories had happened. And I don't know, I think memorizing things is probably less important in today's world...it's much much much more important to have understanding and flow and the way things happen way more strategic and more helpful.
I think too you can travel around the world through great stories for pennies on the dollar. Think about how inexpensive a book is and how enjoyable it can be. But you can read a story like Young ??? and visit ancient China and see what life was like at that time, without ever having to get on a plane. It's great.
Or you can read Daughter of Moms and visit Mongolia and Northern Italy and just see how people view the world and understand how things occur. It's a super great way to experience the world and to visit different cultures all from the safety of your home. It's an awesome, awesome opportunity.
I think too, you can learn random facts quite curiously. When I was a girl, I read a book...I was ??? one of my favorite detective stories was a series about Trixie Balden, and I can still remember to this day, that one of the...her little brother gets bitten by a copperhead snake, and she knows what to do. And I know what to do because I have read the story so long ago and it's written in my... so it's one those that's really an easy way, it's an easy way to learn key facts and different things.
I learned how to do latitude and longitude from reading ??? It's one of those books...it's painless, it's easy, it's something that we can do so, so, so readily. You can broaden your children's vocabulary painlessly. I was talking with a dad who said you know, my son isn't doing so well in math right now. He said, you know, I just spent a couple days, I know I could bring him up to speed. He said, but, what you can't teach quickly is vocabulary. Think about it, he could memorize lists and lists and lists of words, but it's just one of those things without context, it just goes to the brain and you just don't remember it ever. But if you've read it in a story, and it's in the context of a book, you actually do remember how that word meant, what that word meant. My son, we were reading one of the Dickens books, and in there, they talked about the word, pecuniary. And my son said, wow, what does that mean? So we defined it and figured out, he used that for a couple of weeks after that. It was one of those where I thought, here's a little thirteen year old and he's... I thought, not too many people know what that means. And it's something he learnt easily, easily, through a story. It's just something that becomes part of just your worth and your... as you walk through life. It's a great, great way to do it.
You can encourage listening skills. With Sonlight, we have kids read what we call read-alouds. Mom's read to the kids, and the purpose of that is to build those listening skills. I think every employer, every husband or wife is gonna be super grateful that you've taught your children that. But it's one of those, as they listen to a story without pictures, without any other stimulation, they get a chance to make mental pictures of what those stories look like. It's building their imaginations, one of those tools that's just super great on our way to be able to build those great listening stories. And you won't believe... I mean, you maybe think your kids aren't listening because they're playing with Legos...my boys did...but if you ask a question, they are totally tracking with your cause the story pulls them along. It's a great, great way to do that.
You can enhance your writing skills. Benjamin Franklin, when he was a man, he decided that he wanted to teach himself to write. ??? what's the best way to do that? But to listen to how other people write. So he would read a passage and then he would close the book and then he would try to write it himself, and he got to the point where he said, I actually liked my own version better than the actual initial story. But I think, for all of us, as we listen to great stories, we get the sense of how the pacing and the sentence goes. How a chapter flows. How the words in the page should sound. And just that whole mechanism, as it helps kids learn how to write really, really subconsciously. It's great.
I think too, they can gain cultural literacy. Dee Hersh wrote a book called Cultural Literacy. And in that, he talks about there's so much more kids need to know than just the words...how to decode the words on the page. Think it is an example in this book, junior college students, that have tests that they had to take. They had to read a paragraph, then they had to answer some questions. One of the paragraphs was, basically, I think of what love is. So they could all decode that and then answer the questions. But then he had a paragraph where General Lee and General Craft are meeting at Ethmatic Station, and the kids who didn't know the cultural literacy behind it, that was part of the Civil War, they had no idea how to answer the questions from that. So, cultural literacy, that whole background, that framework, cause authors don't always tell you everything you need to know. You know, if you think about how many times we have terms from, you know, the stories we've read. You know, think Achille's Hill. And gotta have Cinderella story. Other examples like that. Those types of things are all from books and we learn them and we need them to even understand what, sometimes, the things that we're reading and understanding.
I think, too, we can train our critical thinking skills. I think if you read like a textbook and then you get one group of authors who ???, but if you read widely, you can read a story that takes place...somebody who's thinking about the Civil War from a North perspective, and then read another book that takes place in the South's perspective, and you get to marry those two perspectives and understand that there's different ways of looking at the things that come up, and that's basically building critical thinking. That you can look at what somebody's written and said, I think I understand this perspective, now I can see this other perspective. Very, very important. Very critical...one of those super strategic and super important things for us to learn.
And I think too, we can give our kids books that they just wanna read again and again. Think of the last time we read a story that you loved, just because you just loved it to death. It's one of those where we can give our kids just by giving them books to read that they'll love. So, it's one of those where I think, too, you can create a love of learning. You know, it's one of those where if every day, you get up and you think, I get to read another book. think how great your education can be. This can be so much fun and so enjoyable. I think if somebody asked me, you know, what's the benefit of the literature-based education, I'd say, it is a delight. It's not painful, it's not hard, and it raises up kids who love to learn. What a perfect, perfect thing to do.
that's awesome. Thank you. So, you read over three hundred books a year, to make sure that Sonlight has the best of the best. You have a criteria that you sort of developed and, can we talk about criteria for great books?
I'd be glad to. It's one of those, where I'm always looking...okay, when I put together a curriculum, I try to limit the use of the same authors again and again cause I feel like I want...I think if you find an author that you like, you can read a lot more of this types of things. Sometimes you have to have a particular author cause they're just perfect ??? so I do occasionally use someone. ??? Comes to mind. He just does great, really easy to read middle-level stories, so it's that type of thing can happen. But, what I'm looking for are, number one, real realistic characters. Don't want any characters that are flat or not, they're not going anywhere, they're not purposeful, they don't look...you know, I don't...it used to be that there used to be really black and white characters, where the bad guy wore black and he was usually in a mustache and he was a...just, he had a bad laugh. That's not the type of thing I'm looking for. I'm looking for characters that really are realistic and that we could say, I know somebody like that. So that's number one. And our hero shouldn't be flawless. And our anti-heroes don't need to be evil. So, it's one of those where everyone should be nuanced. And they should interesting and able to do.
I've left the number two for solid character development. My protagonist must get better over the course of the book. I don't want somebody who, at the end of the book is worse than before, cause I just don't feel like that's...that's not what I want children to view. Now, I want them to see that we can all grow and get better and improve.
I think number three would be content that increases our children's cultural literacy. So, for example, if we're studying something in the Middle East, I'm gonna pick a book that takes place in that part of the world, so they understand that part of the world a little more effectively. So, number three's cultural literacy... adds to our cultural literacy.
Number four is an intriguing multidimensional plot. It has to be a story where you say, oh, I wonder what happens next? Or, yep, can't predict too readily what's gonna happen. It has to be something that's an interesting way to move forward.
And number five would be it's emotionally compelling. It has to be. Writing has to be good and it has to be something that I get a good round and I think, oh, I really like that story. That was a really good one.
Number six would be it has to be verbally beautiful. It has to be...the writing has to be good, has to be something that you actually want...that just flows as you read it. It should be for fluent reading as you move through it.
And number seven would be re-readable. It has to be something I think...for example, I had one story, one book in the curriculum that, I read it for the first time with my...one of my set of kids and when I came back to it the second time, I went, I actually don't wanna read this. That one came out of the curriculum. Cause it wasn't re-readable. So, it's one of those that were gone. That's the goal. It has to be one that we say, I really look forward to reading this again. So, that's the seventh.
With all of that in mind, what is not good literature?
Well, we could probably put boring books on that list. Or pessimistic books. Books that feel like they're not going anywhere, they're just circular. Try not to do any of those. Books that encourage self-absorption. We don't want kids that are stuck on themselves, we want them to be figuring out how to really connect within society. We don't want Pollyanna type books. Books where everything's okay, cause life isn't always okay. We want our kids to be...recognize that, you know, even though life is challenging, they can overcome. They can do things. They can fix things. They can make things happen. So that's the goal. A book that ignores real-life consequences. We don't want that, or ???, which just means, kinda lame. Or moralistic tales, you know.
To be fair, we do Aesop's Fables, which is...that's because it's part of cultural literacy. So occasionally, a moralistic tale is okay, but for the most part, nah. No thanks.
How do you suggest parents encourage reading a good book?
I think it's... basically, you wanna make them comfortable with reading, so you want them to read something every day. You wanna try to do a variety of genres. You want them to try, you know, let's do some historical fiction. Let's do some biographies. Let's do, you know, some time travel. I mean, it's just a, there's a variety out there. So mix it up and try different things.
I think you wanna choose great books. It's important to have a good home library. A home library, just waiting for books to be had. There's a great quote, let's see if I can find it. An extensive study shows that a child from a family rich in books is nineteen percentage points more likely to complete university than a comparable child growing up without a home library. In fact, the size of the home library greatly affects the educational attainment, even adjusting for a parent's education.
So the point of that is, I mean, just having books in your house makes you smarter. Or makes you more likely to go to college, which is a great thing. So, that's a good thing to do. Have a home library, make sure it's full of great books. So it's one of those where we let our kids have a chance to do. So, we wanna help our kids learn to love to read. So, one of the tips that I've found is that you could read to your dog or another pet. Now, what they find is, kids who maybe are less brave about reading, because it's a life skill that we have to learn, if we have them read to their dog, a dog, of course, never judges. Never says, oh my goodness, you're going too slowly. Or whatever rit might be. Kids love that. It's very relaxing for them, and it's something that you could actually end up.
So, if you don't have a dog yourself, find your neighbor's dog, or a dog down the street. The dog will be glad and your children will be helped. I think too, another thing we wanna make sure we do it have our kids read along their reading level. That's really important. I think as parents, we oftentimes think that we want our children to look just amazing. We want them to be so smart. But what's studies have found is that, if you're stretching kids and making them read books that are too hard, it's not even very good for them. And when I think about it for ourselves too, you know, we don't actually wanna read War and Peace all the time. We'd really rather read a magazine once in a while or something else, so it's similarly for our kids. We want them to be reading something that's easy enough for them that they can feel success and keep moving forward. It's all very very good.
So we wanna make sure we're reading...letting them read books that aren't too hard. Another thing is, don't skip the picture books. Picture books, it's very interesting but, picture books have very developed vocabulary. Cause they know somebody's gonna read, right? But the pictures actually help kids figure out what the book ... so it's a huge way to help kids learn how to do this more effectively. It's one of those where you're reading to your four-year-old and the ten-year-old wanders in and they all join in and there's no penalty. It's all, all, good. It's a chance to bond and it's all those good things that happen to our kids.
So, another thing, use audiobooks. If you're traveling or if you're moving around. When my children were young, we would, I know we would fly anywhere, I'd get little cassette players, back in the day, and we'd get tapes from the library, and the kids would be...the only thing I would hear them say, oh when you're done with that one, can I have that one next? It was one of those where we could actually get through the trips very readily, and they would just be totally silent, cause, of course, the story was so, so compelling. So, get some from your library, and just plug them in and let them listen. They figure that kids need to listen to a thousand hours of stories, and it's something that we actually need to make sure that they do. So, this is an easy way to do it. Just plug them in and make sure they're actually listening to stories.
And Mom here's one for you. Put model reading. Make sure that you're reading aloud. Reading to yourself, so that your kids catch you reading a story, so that you can say, yeah, reading is worthwhile and I do as well. Let me show you how to do that. So, don't step away, Mom, just say...your husband comes home, says why isn't dinner set? I'm modeling reading. Tell him Sarita told you you could do that. So, it's one of those where, do it, and it's all good. So, read. Which it's super important to read. So, moms, this is one of those that, one of those things you don't want to not do. so, find books. Get things to read. Plug your kids in. And just grow in this great and necessary thing to do. And thanks so much.
Thank you, Sarita.
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