I’m not going to try to hide it; I love literature. I am a regular at our local library and bookstores, and I’m usually the one leaving with a huge armful of books. And my at-home library? Well, let’s be honest. You can never have too many books…only too few bookshelves.
And I know I’m not alone. Homeschool families tend to have a lot of books! Not just the books that are required in the lesson plan…but books. Tons of them. On every subject, at every level, everywhere.
Many of us have the same goal: to teach our children to love to read and learn.
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Digging into Literature
But how often do we teach them to go beyond the “reading is fun” level of things? To really dig into the ideas, to understand what’s really being said, and to be able to apply their conclusions to what’s happening around them?
In the goal of teaching our kids to love reading, I’ve found we often miss the greater goal – of teaching them to be part of what’s sometimes called “The Great Conversation.”
And while this might not seem as much fun as the earlier years, I’ve got a secret to share: it’s actually a lot more fun!
You see, when we manage to get our kids to the level of “conversing” with all the ideas available to them, they don’t just blossom. They analyze and understand. They fly. Our kids thrive. They see connections and patterns in everyday things that they never knew existed. And all of a sudden, everything has significance and purpose.
And once they see that…look out. What they can achieve and contribute to that “conversation” themselves becomes pretty amazing to watch.
Great…But How Do You Do It?
I’ve found that the biggest obstacle in helping our kids reach this goal is that we were never taught to do it ourselves. Out of all my high school classes, the only one that taught me to really dig into literature was my AP Lit class, which had all of 6 or 8 students in it. (That equals out to less than 2% off all the students in the school.)
Needless to say, not many of us learned to really love the finer points of literature.
So if this is not a strong point for you, how can you teach it to your student? Well, it’s your lucky day! There are some fantastic resources available to help you do just that.
What to Include?
There are so many amazing books out there, and there’s just no way to fit them all into four years of high school. (Well, there probably is, but I wouldn’t suggest trying!) The thing is, you don’t have to. If we’re teaching our child to love reading – and to understand what they’re working with – they’re not going to stop reading the moment they get that diploma in hand. It’s a habit that will stay with them for quite a while.
To that end, our goal should be to expose them to a fairly wide variety of really good literature, and to teach them how to work with it. There are a few different ways to do this.
First, it’s important to nail down what types of literature to include in your course of study. Then, you can figure out which method works best for your family. As far as what to include, I personally recommend a mix of novels, short stories, biographies/autobiographies, poems, and plays. As far as who to include (authors and poets), I recommend sticking with the greats. They’ll give your student something to chew on while also providing an incredible story.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to throw your ninth grader head-on into Hamlet or Great Expectations, but you should stretch your student beyond what they might pick for themselves. Personally, I found the Hunger Games trilogy and the Harry Potter series fun to read, and there are interesting discussion and projects that can arise from both. However, if your child only reads within their comfort level, they’re not likely to grow.
And right now, I’m offering a free 5-page checklist of literature options for your high schooler to work with. (And it’s newly updated!)
Just sign up here to get your copy. You’ll also get access to more freebies in my subscriber-only Resource Library and my weekly newsletter.
This should give you some ideas to work with!
Different Methods to Consider
Once you know what you want to cover, it becomes easier to pick how you want to cover it. There is no “right” way; it all depends on what works best for your student. Here are a few to consider.
A lot of families choose to align their literature studies with their history studies. This makes sense: literature is not created in a vacuum. It’s a product of the thoughts and events of the time in which it’s written. Even historical fiction – novels written about another point in time, such as the Battle of Troy or the Civil War – is written in part from the viewpoint of the author. If the author didn’t live through either of those events, it’s likely he or she has a different take on things. That doesn’t mean it’s not accurate, but it is something to be aware of.
The main benefit of aligning your history and literature studies is that they work really well together. The literature can help your student better understand the historical events, and the history study provides context for the book. Instead of just memorizing dates and places or trying to figure out theme and imagery, it all works together to form a larger picture.
Genre or Author
If you have a student who learns by classifying material or through mastery, working with one genre at a time may be a better option. Reading a few good biographies can help your child better understand the structure and elements; discussing the similarities and differences can solidify what is learned.
In the same way, tackling a few different works from the same author – say, a novel and a short story from Hemingway or Hawthorne – can be a great way to get your student to dig into literature.
This is similar to a “block schedule” method for other subjects. Some kids just plain prefer to dig deep, do so in one block of time, and move on. If this is your child, the variety of moving from one genre to the next too quickly may become confusing. For kids who think this way, this can be a fantastic method.
For kids who thrive on variety and seem designed to thwart your lesson plans, having a basket or shelf of books available (that you have chosen beforehand) can be a good method to choose. This does require a bit of pre-planning on your part – choosing the books over the summer perhaps, and having a literature guide ready to go – but it’s worth it. When it’s time to pick a new book, they walk over to the basket or shelf and pick whatever meets their fancy.
The agreement that works well in this situation is, you pick it, you do it. In return for being given autonomy over timing of their assigned books, your student agrees to complete what they choose.
My Favorite Literature Programs
Now, because this is a subject that I love, there are times I’ll go off on my own and just create a literature unit. (I’m working on formatting these and will be releasing them throughout the year, so keep a lookout!) In the meantime though, it’s often really nice to have a literature program pre-made for you. Here are my top picks:
7Sisters Homeschool: 7Sisters offers such a wide variety of literature units, and they’re all of great quality. The company is made up of six veteran homeschool moms, and the units they offer are written with you and your student in mind. There’s an amazing array of choices…you’re sure to find some books that will spark some great learning experiences for your kids!
American Literature from Apologia: This book…oh, when I first held it, I actually hugged it. That’s how much I like this book. You can read my review of it here! American Literature is written by a professor at Bryan College, and he has written it with college prep in mind. If you’re wondering what skills your child will need for college, they’re in here!
One thing to note, though…this book is very meaty. It’s written for two semesters, but if your child is a younger high school student or literature is not a strong subject, it may be a good idea to stretch it into three or four semesters. That’s perfectly ok to do – it’s actually a better option than rushing through it just to meet some preset deadline.
James Stobaugh: Dr. Stobaugh’s literature units are available through Master Books; his courses are also very meaty, but excellent. There are options available for junior high and high school which will integrate history and worldview into the study of literature.
Progeny Press: I’ve used Progeny materials for years; they’re easy to work with but will challenge your student in literature analysis and writing. The guides are written by experts in their fields, and there’s a fairly good variety available.
Resources for You!
If literature is something you’d like to have a better handle on yourself, there are books that are written to give you just that.
How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (A Touchstone book) by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren
Invitation to the Classics (Masterworks) by Louise Cowan and Os Guinness
Wrapping It Up
So, let me know! Do you love teaching literature? Fear it? Somewhere in-between? Comment below and let me know!
And don’t forget to pick up the free checklist of high school literature choices! (There are other goodies in my library for you too, and more are being added all the time!)