Our Literature Notebooks

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of introducing kids to classic literature and other longer books of substance long before they are ready to read these books on their own. Just because kids don’t understand every single word or can’t decipher the sentences on the page without help does not mean there is not much they can gain from a good chapter book. Because we are a slightly big family, I’m often on the lookout for one on one time with my children. I think this is really important, just as important as quality family time and quality sibling time. So we decided to combine our love of literature with our desire to spend quiet moments alone with our children one on one.

So here’s the super simple model for our literature lesson time:

After each of our children completes a well-rounded Kindergarten curriculum, we begin working on literature notebooks with them as part of their elementary education. This does not necessarily coincide with the calendar year for Kindergarten, since our kids get to work at their own pace. We begin by naming a bunch of different books we consider of solid literary value to our children, and then they choose any of the books we name. I give lots of choices, and really, I’m just naming good books off the top of my head on that given day. If we own the book, then that is great, but if not, then we have fun making a trip to a used or local bookstore, or the library, or sometimes we order a book if we can’t find it locally. The book choosing is part of the fun; the kids don’t usually know what the book is about. They are just choosing an interesting sounding title, and so the book’s content is often a surprise to them. And then approximately five times a week (we like to be flexible around here), I find something constructive (hopefully!) for the other kiddos to work on, while I grab some time to sit side by side with the little listener and read aloud one chapter from the chosen book. And here’s something that I think is important, which many people strongly agree with and many people strongly disagree with: I read the words the writer put on the page, and I DO NOT stop to explain new vocabulary or ask questions or make points. Not only do I think stopping to explain or define interferes with the story and imposes my beliefs about the story on the child, but stopping to explain new words also implies that kids need that kind of explanation, when I think the best way to learn new words is by hearing them in context and letting their little minds remember them and use them on their own. This is not literary criticism time, but simply relaxing and reading and listening time. Now that doesn’t mean I won’t respond if they ask what a certain word means. It just means that I trust them to hear the story and to get it on their own level. And if their little mind wanders from time to time while I’m reading through a longer chapter, then that’s okay, and hopefully, that wandering mind has something to do with the adventure they are listening to in the book.

After completing the chapter, if I ask them anything, I simply ask, “What did you think?” and I just listen. And most of the time, that is the end of our literary lesson, but on special days, we come to the end of the chapter book, and then we get out my child’s literature notebook, which is one of those old school composition books. We use the ones with room for drawing on top of the lined pages, like this:

And then our kid gets to choose their favorite part of the entire chapter book. I just love this part, hearing what their little unique self picked out of hundreds of pages as their very favorite part. When my five year old chose a silly song from Alice in Wonderland as her favorite part, I just smiled and laughed, because that was so like her and such a unique choice. I would have chosen some dramatic scene, but this sweet and funny little girl of mine chose a song.

We find that passage in the book, and then they copy it straight from the book onto the lines of the notebook. They then make their own illustrations to show how the scenes looked in their own heads. Each entry is finished off with writing the author’s name and then listing herself as the illustrator.

Copywork is a practice which schools utilized a great deal in the early part of the last century and also well before that, and it is making a fantastic come back. I think it’s a great way to learn to write, remember, learn grammar, and also to look for value in literature.

It’s great that my kids and I get this one on one time. Most days it is a wonderful experience for me to read chapters to my kiddos, but on some days, it is tiring. How long is this chapter? And then I have to read another one to your sister? But it is worth it, I know, and I keep telling myself that, as mothers everywhere tell themselves about so many things which can be a little tiring at times. And one major plus about this for my kids is that when this is all said and done, they each have a notebook filled with all of their favorite passages from books they read in their childhood with their mother. I love this, especially since I am a slacker at keepsakes and scrapbooks. At least we have our literature notebooks.

Pictured above: my oldest daughter’s first literature notebook entry from her very first Narnia experience