Thursday, October 15, 2009

Family Book Baskets

I often tell people that I consider myself home-educated. I went to school every day, but most of the best learning happened at home with my family, in conversation and during evening story time. Once we were all bathed and in our pajamas, we were allowed to gather in the formal living room where my mother read poetry, picture books and great literature aloud.

These days, my greatest joy as a mother is to select books and to read to my children. One of the best tricks that I have learned from other homeschooling families is to have themed book baskets. Ours are in the living room and they are part of our school curriculum, but this idea would also work well for a family whose children are going out to school. My book baskets follow the seasons, the liturgical year and also certain topic areas of our studies.

It is amazing what children of all ages can learn from the themed read alouds. This fall, Leo has learned to say "apple" and "pumpkin," and yesterday when we read the wonderful "Ox Cart Man," Holly sighed deeply and said "what a wonderful, simple life!" An added benefit of the book baskets is that the books get put away when their season is over. I stick the whole stack into a big rubbermaid box in the basement, they are in order, a bit like a filing system. This keeps our bookshelves from being too full, and it also means that there is great novelty and excitement as new books and old favorites come out to the baskets.

Our book collection has grown over the eight years that we have been parents, and each year I pick one area to expand as part of my school book shopping. This year we have purchased lots of new books about the middle ages, for example, but no new books about fall. Our local library also does some seasonal displays, so each year we find new favorites there, too.

I wanted to share our fall book list with our readers, and in looking for a good way to organize the list I decided to open up an Amazon store for Building Cathedrals. You can visit there to see the books in my Fall Book Basket, and over time all of the Builders will be adding to the categories there. Amazon has a referral program, so if you decide to buy any books or products through our store we will earn a small commission. For now, the commissions will be saved to be used for growing and redesigning our website. In the future, I hope to be able to donate these commissions to pro-life causes.

Please feel free, though, to use the list to browse and not buy, to make a list to bring to your library, or just to get ideas. Go through your own shelves and see what "themed" books you can pull out and put into a basket. Books about bunnies, favorite fairy tales, and theme can get you started. If you have some favorite picture books, you might look for one or two non-fiction books at the library to support your theme, or google for a little craft project that would go along with it. Think about the basic skills your child needs to be working on and tie them into your theme.

Last year, we did a huge fall curriculum, even an apple themed birthday party. You can:

Paint apple bags and go apple picking (we used small canvas bags from the craft store, and a homemade stencil. We store these with our fall books and reuse them each year!)

Paint trick or treat bags (same as above)

Cut out leaves or apples and paint a big tree. Number them and do lots of counting games

Download the free life cycle of a pumpkin cards from Montessori For Everyone

Go on a leaf walk, and try to identify the trees in your yard or neighborhood

Make crayon leaf rubbings

Bake apple crisp -- peel the apples and cut them off the core, then the children can use plastic knives to cut them into small pieces. Even a three year old can do this! Count together as you measure and mix the crisp topping. Use smaller measuring cups if it allows you to involve more children (we often get one cup of flour into a recipe in quarter cups so that each has a chance to scoop, level off and pour some flour!). An older child can learn to make a simple crisp all by themselves. My 6 and 8 year old have learned enough over the years that I can get out of the way and let them do it themselves, and they love this!

Make apple prints, carve pumpkins, count seeds and glue them to index cards with that number written on it

Just a few ideas to get you started, so now go check out the book list, and happy fall!


texas mommy said...

I am giddy about sharing booklists!! Thanks so much for setting this up, MaryAlice!

Jennifer Frey said...

What a great idea! Thanks so much!

Olivia D said...

this is exactly what i have wanted to do in our school area! make a designated place for themed books for whatever we are talking about at the moment. I even have a tiny little childrens bookshelf to put the books on BUT I have no idea where to start with the books... your list is great and I LOVE "the box cart man." it was my favorite book that they read on Reading Rainbow when I was a kid. Thanks so much for helping me get started. (please post a new one each season!)

Karen said...

That is great! We are learning about apples this week.

Kat said...

Wonderful, thanks MA!!

AWOL Mommy said...

So, if I quickly have three more children in rapid succession and tell my husband to stay at work until 2200 M-F -- will that make me into the uber-organized homeschooler that you are, MA? Hmm, maybe I will just stick with the reading lists for now. Basement space limitation is a severe problem here at the moment. We will improvise with library loans! Thank you for taking the time.

Sophie said...

can I just ask a very tedious organization question?

Many of our books come from the library. We are sloooowly building our own home library but I have voracious readers here and our budget can't possibly keep up with their appetite! Currently I have a basket for just library books. But it frustrates me because I would like to have them mixed with our various subject baskets. So I have a section in the school room for our weekly history and science books. But then I have a section in the family room for our seasonal books (like apples or the saints for the month, or Thanksgiving, etc.) Do you mix library books in with all the rest that you own for your basket or do you keep them separate?

I know it's a little tedious but...

Also, do you rotate books weekly, monthly, daily...?

Lucy said...

What a terrific idea, Mary Alice! Our extremely crowded (read: cluttered) bookshelves had been stressing me out for a while, and now thanks to you, I've got five themed baskets in the basement and one out in the playroom. Now we can actually see our favorites on the bookshelf! I also cleared out a huge stack of books to give away - if we don't really like these books, why are we hanging on to them?

I just discovered your blog, and I so appreciate all of your honest, loving thoughts on child raising and your willingness to wrestle with tough issues and find what's right for your families.

Mary Alice said...

Sophie, rest assured that tedious organization questions are my very favorites!

So, I used to keep just a library book basket, especially in the summer when we are using TONS of library books. Right now, though, I am mixing library books into the baskets, and I also have one basket (fungi and bacteria) which is almost all library books.

I think the key is to take the printout and stick it on the fridge, and then just take the time to gather the books the night before the library trip.

I still need to have a library book basket as a place to keep the free reading books as they finish them - novels, sports trivia, etc.

As for the rotation, we have monthly books (september is apples, october is pumpkins, nov is thanksgiving books), but I call that the fall book basket. Right now, I have pulled out some, but not all of the apple books and added in the pumpkin books, though I have a few Halloween books that I will just put out that last week, I really don't want to spend all month reading about Halloween. These themes are supposed to be more of a preschool science/social studies thing.

Right now, I also have a basket of Middle Ages books, this will stay out all year, and the basket of bacteria books which is for the current science unit, most of those will go back to the library in just a few weeks and that basket will get refilled with books about bugs or whatever is next in the older kids science text.

Hope that helps!

Mary Alice said...

One more tip -- on the booklist, other Builders are now adding to the Fall Basket, so there are lots of terrific ideas there, however, I want to point out that none of us have all of those books in our baskets, even from the library. My book baskets tend to have 6-8 books on a them, a mix of books we own and library books. I happen to own a lot of fall books (beginning of the school year and I have more room in my budget and energy to plan), and lots of Christmas books (gifts and also so many wonderful choices available). My other baskets are more often library heavy.

I read from these baskets most days, but I still give the kids the option to pick their bedtime stories -- sometimes they pick favorites from the themed baskets, but also, as Lucy said, it is now easy to find out favorite classic stories on the shelves because they are less crowded.

Mary Alice said...

On giving away books: I just discovered that our ballet studio has a library where the older students study between classes -- they have beautiful books about ballet that you can check out. I asked whether they would be open to donation of children's books to entertain those younger siblings waiting around, and they said yes. Other places that have toys in the waiting rooms, like gymnastics studios or doctors offices, might also take book donations. I know that it is a blessing when I happen upon a decent book at the pediatrician, so I am going to keep all of these in mind as I cull our bookshelves.

Rarely Sara said...

Hello Builders! I would love to see a list for Mommies. I have about 47 amazon wish lists with various Catholic parenting, Catholic apologetics, making a Catholic home, keeping your kids Catholic, and Catholic kids' books. It is hard to know what is a good buy, and what is a waste of money. I like to see what some of the Builders have found useful at home, and maybe some that haven't been so helpful. As you can see, I'm loving the booklist idea! Keep up the good work, ladies!

Mary Alice said...

Thanks for your comment, Sara! I am reading something right now on the Mass and I was just thinking that I would like to do a list like this, as well as one on homeschooling and homemaking references. We'll get on it!