Responding to what you read

This past summer I was so blessed to attend Heart of the Matter’s online homeschool conference.   I don’t get a dime for saying this, but at a time when we are all looking even harder for the best for less, their conferences are a great deal.    They are very inexpensive (generally under $25), and, given that the whole conference is online, you can attend in your pajamas and all the comforts of home—literally.     There are about four conferences each year, but the homeschool conference generally occurs in early August, right before many of us are beginning a new academic year.   It is well worth the effort.   Also, if you miss a speech that you really wanted to hear, or if you simply want a repeat performance, MP3’s are available soon afterward such that you can relive the moments.    Regardless of where you are in your homeschooling journey, this is a time of gaining knowledge, hearing some practical wisdom, and being encouraged, or renewed, if that’s more appropriate.

I posted earlier about my thoughts on The Well Trained Mind, and stated at the time that I planned to read The Well Educated Mind.   Since then, I have read the book, but I also had the privilege of hearing Susan Wise Bauer at the August conference.    She details all that she covered in The Well Educated Mind, but I was especially intrigued by her thoughts on educating your children to respond to reading.    Of course, this is a transition as children grow, and for our older two, it’s been an interesting shift to watch them make.

For years, we’ve enjoyed notebooking.   As recently as two years ago, the kids created these beautiful written narrations of their history studies.   We’ve used, and their stories and pictures rose to the occasion on decorated cardstock.  


I actually bought Hold That Thought’s advanced history pages for their high school studies, but because of how we’re moving through history at this point, that CD will go largely unused.    Given a choice, they decided upon notebook paper rather than the pre-printed notebook pages; according to them, the regular notebook paper gave them more freedom to create in their own way.   They are creating commonplace books to capture their thoughts.  Their work now looks more like this:


 The words their thoughts are a mouthful—not a summary, not an answer to a pre-scripted question, not even something that I said, but their thoughts.   It begins with a simple question:


How did you feel about what you read?


I’ll be the first to admit that this question might be waaaaaaaayy over the heads of most pre-teens and teens.   My oldest struggled most of her freshman year with why she had to write something other than a summary.   “If I like writing summaries, what’s wrong with that?”   Because I couldn’t readily articulate why she needed to make the transition, I’d back off, then I’d come back for a second press.    I just knew instinctively that she needed to do something more than regurgitate what she read.    So, with more reading, more research, and a willingness to be a bit more hands-on, I now have an answer, and we press on.   Besides, I’m learning that she’s more tactile in nature than to ask her how words make her feel.    She’ll stand flat-footed and tell you she didn’t “feel” anything, with a look that says, “So, do I still have to do the assignment?”  (smile)    With all of that in mind, I will post in her planner the following thought starters:

If I wrote this book, ____________________ (a character in the book) would…

I wish the author would ____________________…

Other thoughts for generating responses to  reading are here.   In fact, each child has a copy of it, though usage varies.    After a few weeks of giving the oldest the lead-in, she began to come downstairs in the morning and say, “Here’s what I’m going to write about today.”    Here were her thoughts, mistakes and all, regarding how the ancient Greeks viewed hell as opposed to our post-modern view of what happens when we die:

In our world, we believe that hell is a place where non-believers go after they die.   To us, living in hell is complete torture, because you’d be burning eternally in fiery pits with no relief.   But in the Aeneid, they believed that everyone goes to the “underworld,” no matter how young they are.   In their heads, some people there live broken, in sadness and despair, while others live well with games, feasts, dances and fun.   Some underworld-dwellers were even supposed to be going back to earth as heroes.   This just goes to show that people thought very differently back then.


Our son, like his mother, spends quite a bit of time with his thoughts.   Consequently, this concept of writing what he feels has seemingly come to him more easily.   He noted this response to his study of God in Know What You Believe:

The Trinity is a very hard concept to discuss.  The Bible never actually mentions the Trinity.  But it does mention the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Many people refer to the Trinity as individual people.   They are three different parts of God.   The Father is the head, but everyone has a job and purpose.

The Father, the fount of Deity, originates.

The Son, eternally begotten of the Father, reveals.

The Spirit, eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son, executes.


Of course, the icing on a great cake, given the written responses, is the possibility of discussion following, and I get to learn and re-learn in the course of completing it all.   The place of women in ancient history, the misuse of power in the early church, the correct way to handle conflicts, how did people stay awake to listen to Homer–we’ve covered it all.    I’m truly blessed that the kids can engage in an intellectual discussion, but can still have fun and be quite silly when our day is done.    Thank God that I have some environmental control such that the silliness, and moreso the desire for it in what they watch and read (as Miss Mason calls it, “twaddle”) , doesn’t squelch their pursuit of wisdom.   May the Lord bless your efforts as well.

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2 thoughts on “Responding to what you read

  1. I love your transition in notebooking. I’m a huge fan of DIY lapbooking and notebooking. I think that when the medium is a blank piece of paper, there’s even more learning going on.

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