If you read my post on A Thomas Jefferson Education, you will know that I have been inspired to have more intentional book discussions with my kids, with an eye toward mentoring them.
This sounds really ambitious, especially for modern-day, busy homeschool parents. But, while these discussions take time, I think there are ways to integrate them into a homeschool program, without it having to derail our schedules.
Here are two ways I squeeze in more books and discussions with my kids:
1) Listen to audio books in the car.
If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time driving around town. That time is golden! Your kids are strapped in their seats—a captive audience if there ever was one.
We are currently listening to the audio book Animal Farm during a weekly commute. Two other children are joining us in the car during this time, so I save the book just for them and keep track of our place. When it’s just my own kids in the car, we have another audio book going, currently Misty of Chincoteague.
In just the first 20 minutes of Animal Farm, we hit the pause button and talked about the meaning of allegory, the Russian Revolution, communism, and—because the kids felt the farmer in the story was mean for drowning old dogs—animal rights and the euthanizing of pets. These kids are ages 3-11. The older kids are getting the most out of the book, but it never ceases to amaze me how well my three-year-old son understands some of the things he hears when we listen to audio books.
In fact, I wish we had started listening to audio chapter books in the car much, much sooner. I think my older kids could have benefited greatly by hearing the stories, ideas, and all those rich language patterns from a very young age. Toddlers and preschoolers absorb so much! When my son was two, he yelled, “The lion killed the witch!” as we listened to the close of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He was totally tracking with the story, and I reminded myself how easy it is to underestimate kids sometimes.
2) Skim to get the author’s main point.
When I was a teenager, I met a professor who read a book a day, every day. He said something that I have never forgotten,and have tried to apply to my life: “You don’t have to read every word in a book. You just have to know what the author thinks.”
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested,” according to Francis Bacon.
Some books should be savored and processed slowly. Other books should be read for deeper understanding. But, in order to have a discussion with a kid about the ideas of a particular author, you don’t always have to read every word. You don’t have to take copious notes, either. Who has time for that?
Have you ever tried to read just the first sentence of each paragraph in a book, letting your eyes scan the rest of the paragraph, just briefly, to gather other snippets of information? Sometimes, honestly, you don’t even have to scan the paragraph. The first sentence is enough. I do this and then quickly speak notes into my phone, so I can use them later to ask my kids questions.
If you feel you have to read every word, or take detailed notes on every book, you will easily get bogged down and end up reading a lot less material. Skimming can be a great tool to understand enough of the characters, plot, and ideas in a book to have a 20-minute discussion with a child.
And here’s another thing about skimming: the more you skim, the better you will get at it. You will do it faster and glean more information over time.
On our vacation, my daughter started reading a short chapter book called The Chocolate Touch. “That book looks interesting,” I told her. “Why don’t I read it too, and we can discuss it over some hot chocolate when we get home?”
My sweet-toothed daughter jumped at the opportunity. She devoured (no pun intended) The Chocolate Touch and made me keep my promise about a book discussion.
It took 25 minutes to skim this book and also speak (dictate) my thoughts into my cell phone note-taking app, so I could formulate some questions for a discussion.
Here are the things we talked about (feel free to use this to have your own discussion):
♦ What story in Greek Mythology does this book remind you of?
♦ What does it mean to be obsessed? What was John Midas obsessed with?
♦ What did you think about Mrs. Midas’ quote: “Don’t you think there is such a thing as enough? Don’t you think that things are best in their places?”
♦ What does it mean to have “enough”? Can there ever be too much of a good thing?
♦ Can you think of some good things—other than candy—that are best in small doses? How are they better in small doses?
♦ John wanted to start a coin collection, but his addiction to chocolate made him give it up. What do you think about this? Could an addiction cause us to give up other good things because it controls us?
♦ How can we keep the things we love and enjoy from controlling us?
♦ John thought it would be best to hide the large chunk of chocolate behind his back when entering his house. Why did he feel like he should hide it?
♦ Have you ever had a time when you started to do something, but then felt guilty? How can we make sure to listen to our conscience?
♦ When everything Midas touched turned into chocolate, it initially induced a lot of pleasure. Why did the enjoyment of chocolate fade and disappear after a while?
♦ What was Midas’ biggest vice at the beginning of the book? At the end of the book, what did the owner of the magical store tell Midas that was “part of the cure”?
♦ How did Midas change and grow during the course of this story?
We sipped hot chocolate while discussing these things. It was a sweet time, in every way.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; second image courtesy of Amy Koons.