Reading books is one of the central aspects of learning in our family. I believe that reading books, good books, well chosen books, will facilitate a love of learning and in turn create a life-long learner with a well-rounded education.
I grew up with my mum telling me that books were my friends. This meant that I needed to look after them. But having a book as a friend is more than caring for it. As I read and reread many books the characters in those books become my friends – I am transported to their time and country, I experience their highs and lows, I learn their life’s lessons right alongside of them. As their thoughts are revealed to me I have a little conversation here and there with them – I agree with them, I totally disagree with them. I question their choices and I celebrate their victories. It is as if a real friendship has been established and that character has influenced and affected my life.
Reading Makes Connections with Life
It is this connection with the people in books that I want my children to make and as they do they too will be changed by reading such a good book, they will be learning from books. Connections can also be made with animals, places and situations.
Children make these connections with books from an early age as we read aloud picture books to them. They ask questions, they remember the detail, they make connections. I am sure we have all seen our children mimic stories that have become their favourites. As they get older they set up scenarios to re-enact with their toys. These children are learning.
We then start to teach our children to read for themselves. Actually their reading lessons began as soon as we began reading aloud to them. Reading to our children is the most significant thing we can do to enhance their learning experience. Eventually, and it will differ for each child, but eventually they will begin to read for themselves. As their confidence as a reader develops they will find themselves interacting and making connections with the stories that they are reading. This is the step we want them to take towards independent learning.
A great book should leave you with many experiences,
and slightly exhausted.
You should live several lives while reading it.
~William Styron (Amerian Writer)
Just because our children can read independently it doesn’t mean they can automatically learn independently. It takes time to transition and grow these skills. We learn to read, and then we read to learn. Our kids learn with our support, collaboratively, and then they can learn independently. Another thing to remember that reading fiction is a different skill than reading non-fiction – and our kids may master these skills at different times.
Once my children are learning independently from the books they read I expect them to keep a balance in their reading between various subjects and interests such as, History (including Australian history), Science, Christian Reading, Literature/good books, and any other subject that we have decided as valid for this time in their life (eg World view, apologetics, economics, politics etc) They would also have books in keeping with their own particular interests, hobbies and pursuits. All of these books then present a balanced education.
It is easy, especially for children who enjoy reading, to get absorbed into the story – for entertainment sake. And though this has its place, I want my children to be reading books, at least some, where they are thinking – thinking about the characters and the choices they make, thinking about the places these characters live and the situations they find themselves in. This is why I expect my kids to write about their learning once they are finished a book. Knowing that this project is ahead of them, helps them stay intentional while reading.
That being said, I also want them to enjoy the story – this is what makes a book engaging! I grew up with comprehension questions and set assignments to complete after reading a book – this prompts kids to read to find the answers – not to enjoy the story, to appreciate the skill of the author or to learn from the characters – they just find the answers. So to avoid that we have used a narration based method for their writing – they tell me, either orally or written or in a creative project – what they have observed, thought about, researched and concluded.
Tools to help them use books to learn
- Practice together – our children need to learn how to learn from their books before we ask them to do it independently. Five in a Row was the curriculum we used in our primary school years and their learning process was this very aspect of learning from books. These years, reading good picture books, discussing, researching further and recording our learning established a learning habit that the kids were able to take into their independent learning years.
- Book lists – Initially I created a book list for my kids – ensuring that they had titles covering a variety of subjects and content. By middle-upper highschool they were able to create their own booklists.
- Reading Log – This is where they would record the titles that they read, the date, and the subject matter the book covered.
- Note-taking Bookmark – I like to read with a pencil in hand, and I don’t mind marking the books that I read (if they belong to me), but not all my children where happy with this idea. So I created a bookmark note-taking sheet: a piece of lined paper, that recorded their notes while they read – doubling up as a bookmark. By using this piece of paper they always had their notes with them, and once they were done with the book, they filed it in their the relevant section in their binders. As they grew older they tended to use notebooks but this bookmark worked well for a few years.
- Intentional conversations – I tried to ensure that I talked to my kids about the books they were reading. I would ask them questions that would prompt them to think – questions beyond general comprehension. I wanted my kids to glean wisdom (practical application in life because of knowing God). Often our discussions would then become the basis of any written work they would then undertake.
We have a little motto in our house – never leave home without a book! Reading has become a way of life for us and the only challenge with this is that there are so many good books, and not enough hours in my day!