Blog

Poetry & Words, Homeschooling

East of Eden Book Club Hosted by the Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Hello, friends! Late summer finds me here, back in Tennessee after my summer wanderings. School books are stacked up again, pencils are sharpened, and we step into the rhythm of lengthening shadows and lingering sunsets. Here and there a leaf drifts by as if to whisper what’s next, on the wings of the wind.

[We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

“A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to.” -John Steinbeck

Sometimes, as homeschool parents, our world can end up being all-consumed with education, can’t it? Especially when we’re entrusted with the education of quirky, out-of-the-box, outlier kids, we can easily spend all our spare time chasing down solutions to help our asynchronous students thrive. This is definitely true over in The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community, the closed Facebook group that’s an offshoot of this blog. We spend a lot of time discussing giftedness, education, curriculum, and our kids in general. I love the support homeschool communities can provide. I’ve learned so much about various homeschool helps for gifted and twice exceptional kids.

But do you know what else is essential for success?

Our own wellbeing, as homeschool moms. We need to fill our reservoirs, too. If we’re stressed out, frazzled, expended, and flat-out exhausted, we’ll find it a whole lot harder to pour in to our kids, and lean in to this whole homeschooling craziness.

We think nothing of spending hours tracking down the precisely perfect literature list for our kids, but then somehow allow the stack of to-reads on our bedside table to languish. We make sure our students spend time digging in to the nuanced treasures hidden in stories, knowing it will enrich and edify, but then we scroll through social media instead of paging through a classic. (Or am I the only one?)

Online Book Club for East of Eden

Reading is really a wonderful kind of literary, thoughtful, continuing education. This fall, won’t you join us as a group of us from The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community pick up John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, lingering over four chapters each week?  I’m planning to pick out a brand-new commonplace book, too, and jot down passages which stand out to me.  (Everyone’s favorite Sarah Mackenzie explains what she keeps in her commonplace book.)

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

I’m naturally an overly-speedy reader, so keeping a pen and commonplace book handy as I read forces me to slow down a little more. As I wrote in a recent piece called Five Rewards of a Reading Lifestyle,

“Sometimes the nuggets of truth in a written passage are readily apparent; other times, the nuances require a little deeper digging before they’re visible. This is analogous to life; the profundity of life will not always shout to us from the surface, but is often

  • hidden away in quiet corners,
  • glistening in the shadows,
  • camouflaged by the everyday,
  • waiting to be discovered.

Reading teaches us it’s not always the flashiest or the loudest moments which are the most precious. In quiet searching through the written word, we are rewarded deeply.”

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

And as a writer, slow reading spurs me on to write, every single time. Yet like Steinbeck, “I find it difficult to write about my native place, northern California. It should be the easiest, because I knew that strip angled against the Pacific better than any place in the world. But I find it not one thing but many–one printed over another until the whole thing blurs. What it is is warped with memory of what it was and that with what happened there to me, the whole bundle wracked until objectiveness is nigh impossible.” -Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I can’t wait to open East of Eden and travel west — walking figuratively through the West Coast again, seeing familiar places through new eyes, and stretching myself through intense plot and characterization.

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Join us, September 2nd, as we dive in to all 601 pages of East of Eden!

so you can chime in during our online discussions.

If you don’t have a copy of the book, ThriftBooks has several copies for around five dollars. (Click through to ThriftBooks from this page, and get 15% off your first purchase. Overly obvious disclosure: this is a referral link.)

Alright, ready? Mark your calendars for September 2!

Download the East of Eden Book Club schedule 

In September, the air smells different. Septembers are charred. The earth is dried and shattered into thousands of immovable pieces. I can always taste the wildfire in the air in September, that deep mix of ashes, burned pine resin and dust. No one else talks about it, but I think there’s a hint of pollen and petals in it too — that faint scent a rosebush gives off at the end of a long dry summer, when the blooms are slumped into disfigured, twisted crepe. I’ve always loved the way everything in September aches for the rain, looking forward to the washing that’s around the corner, even when everything is in ashes.” -an excerpt from my in-progress memoir

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Poetry & Words

The Place Where Time Can’t Find You

A Place Where Time Can't Find You

Everyone needs a place where time can’t find you, where the landscape swallows time the way the water gulps up the shoreline every second of the day. This corner of the world is detached from time, wholly present, endlessly still, yet always in motion. The water sees to that.

It’s good to disappear sometimes.

It’s good to be suspended in that ethereal space between perpetual motion and perpetual stillness.

As bloggers, our livelihoods are attached by a fragile string to algorithms and engagement and content. We feel a constant push to be active, to be relevant, to be on top of the ever-raging onslaught of consumer habits and user trends. We photograph, we edit, we caption, we package, we sell. We ride the waves of Instagram stories and live streams and pin boards and tweets.

But photographs don’t last, here, in this empyreal place. Oh, photographers have tried: these deep-ridged trunks and these limestones cliffs dissolve into silvery liquid depths on the developers’ trays — but then fade again, swallowed by time. And as I stand here, I put the camera back into my bag, reverently. This moment exists so deeply outside of time, that to photograph further is to crush the gossamer wings which bore me here.

Few things are constant. Grace, the tide, His omnipotence, eternity. These rocks of chalky white have not always stood sheer, have not always born sturdy roots of cedar red. But they have outlived me — and outlived Instagram — a thousand times over.

A place which swallows time also swallows up egotism, and vain ambition, and leaves only perspective behind. Existence is not dependent on audience. Performance is not dependent on audience.

The water in this bay does not stop faithfully sweeping up shore, the cliffs do not stop holding up the trees, the sun does not stop feeding chlorophyl green for mere lack of audience.

What is the reason you picked up the pen? What drives you to tap away at a keyboard and scribble fragments on napkin shreds in the wee smalls? Were you born with the incurable drive to find the one shareable Facebook meme that will allow your analytics to exceed last week’s numbers — or were you born with a story inside you?

I see the story in these cliffs, in the sky, in the tools left in the white clay dust beneath the crumbling foundations, in the iron anchors sinking, in the blackened chimneys still. And through this dimmed glass, I see.

The beat of my soul pulses to a rhythm composed  by all the unphotographable places I’ve stepped inside. These northern cliffs, that impenetrable eastern curtain of iron, the southern mountains edging closer to the Equator. My heritage, my culture, every place my footprint has pressed. This is my soul, my heart, my life, my story.

I can’t iron this all out and square up the edges to place it neatly into Instagram. You’ll never see it there. But if you listen quietly, you can hear it, in a place that swallows time.

You have this, too. It’s not just me.

You have moments you can’t contort into a photograph. These are your illuminated treasures. Pull them out of the ash. Hold them up to the Light. You are a blacksmith. The fire refines. And these words are molten in a way photographs will never be.

Lift up your tools, face the fire, and write.

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words, Travel/Moving

On Moving to Tennessee

Sunset comes in like a whisper, hushing the robin’s monologue, stretching and bending the shadows until, at last, nothing speaks save the skies. They breathe deep navy words — slowly, confidently, and silence settles down. The lamp glows warmly, inside, and I pull my legs up over the pine bench and settle down into the posture of writing as the last remnants of Jasmine rice and watermelon dissipate into the air.

I don’t know what Tennessee smells like, yet. Florida was a cauldron, with thick air pressed closed to the ground, rippling intermittently through the Spanish moss and magnolia. And I miss the sea-salt air of the Atlantic, with its tangled seaweed and glinting jellyfish tossed up in the surf. California, too, brought me scorched pine-resin September skies, rich sweetness of strawberries wilting in the thin dry air, and a whiff of tar along the freeway as I sped toward the windswept Pacific cliffs of Bodega Head, drinking  juniper and cypress into my lungs.

But I don’t know Tennessee’s signature scent.

I walked through the plant nursery last night, ivy tumbling at my feet and ferns bursting from their swinging baskets. I buried my face in the mint and lavender, and ran my fingers through the Irish moss. This one smells like the coast, I said, and that one is pure ocean. But what’s in this new landlocked soil that’ll unfurl its leaves and wind its way around my heart?

Cedar in the air will bring me to the pebbled shores of the Great Lakes, every single time.

And the syrupy incense of wisteria rewinds me all the way to Taborska Cesta, Ljubljana, where I can still see the trail of ants parading up the vine.

But what

years from now

will bring me back here when I close my eyes?

Homeschooling

Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for Success

Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for SuccessAs a homeschooled kid born in the 1980s to pioneering parents, I was one of the first guinea pig generations. My friends and peers were steeped in Christian culture — in safe, sheltered, homeschool culture, our own personal circles teaming with prominent authors and leaders — and yet a startling number of my peers no longer embrace Christianity. Some of them picket home education. There’s a whole lot more to be said about that (a lot more) but let’s start here: homeschooling is not a formula to guarantee your child will turn out the way you want. Homeschooling is not a formula for raising Christian kids. Homeschooling is not a formula for raising any particular kind of kid. Homeschooling is simply not a formula.

The truth is, there’s no formula for raising kids. There’s no way to ensure your child will turn into the adult you envision.

There’s no parenting panacea against rebellion.

Let me say that again: there’s no parenting panacea against rebellion. There simply isn’t, no matter how strongly the Christian bookstore tries to sell you one, neatly bound and displayed so enticingly on the eye-catching endcap, and no matter how many conferences try to lure you in with the seven-step parenting workshops guaranteeing trophy children.

This is the whole, terrifying, somber, humbling truth about parenting: there are no guarantees.

(There are no guarantees for earth-side life, even. A wise woman once told me never to forget that children are on loan from God. And it’s profoundly true.)

So if we’re looking for a tidy copy-and-paste template to neatly apply to our lives, one which guarantees a particular outcome, we’re not going to find it in parenting. We’re certainly not going to find it in homeschooling. I emerged from the guinea pig generation, and I’m telling you, conservative homeschooling didn’t work the way the speakers promised.

If we’re looking for that perfect template, we’re not even going to find any such guarantee in the Bible. If there’s anything disappointing about the stories of Biblical men and women — I say this in all reverence — it’s that there are precious few formulas we can glean. It’s true. It’s actually very difficult to create familial formulas (say that ten times fast) based on the examples handed down to us in the Bible. Biblical accounts are wildly diverse, and in all honesty, often nothing short of bizarre — and I say this as a Bible-believing Christian.

So if the Bible isn’t an index of formulas, and there are no guarantees in parenting, how has homeschooling gained a reputation in conservative Christian circles as a way to somehow promise adherence to Christianity and safeguard against rebellion?

In the 90s and 00s, I spent plenty of time observing the homeschool guru circuit from the front lines. (I like to say I’ve seen it all in my time as a homeschool kid: the good, the bad, and a whole lot of ugly.) And the more I watched, the more I saw speakers and authors peddling this idea: homeschooling will save your child from the claws of culture, in a way that other forms of education never will.

As humankind has been drawn toward simple solutions to complex problems since the beginning of time, parents latched on to this idea by the droves.

And as I watched, Christian homeschool families shelled out hard-earned cash for conferences, retreats, and books outlining a path to purity and good character and uprightness. This was a path which often circumvented the radical Jesus, chasing wildly after morality instead  — as long as that morality could be modeled inside a controlled homeschool environment.

Religious homeschooling, intended to preserve religion, instead became religion — and morality replaced Christ.

Morality, the homeschool gurus insisted, will make your child perfect. Morality is key. Virtue will save us all. And so, homeschool subculture created a fantastic Morality World, complete with its own literature and curriculum and clubs and dress codes, a sort of monastic exile hyper-focused on creating the outwardly perfect child.

Like I said before, this didn’t work so well. Morality-first education delivered in a sheltered homeschool did not produce the Christ-centered generation the pioneering homeschooling gurus promised us it would. (Imagine that!)

Yet in the thirty years since I entered kindergarten, I still see homeschool celebrities and curriculum companies (and Sunday Schools!) shilling out the idea that morality and good character and wholesomeness is somehow going to change hearts.

Friends, it can’t. It never will. Jesus changes hearts. Character curriculum and good books do not change human nature. Putting morality first is not the path to redemption. Teaching our children more about mimicking a list of admirable traits than about the transforming power of the blood of Jesus is wrong.

What would  happen if we turned our eyes to Jesus himself, and not to character education? What would happen if we viewed our role as parents to equip our kids to boldly face the world, not to entirely shelter them from it? What would happen if we embraced the mystery of grace for the earth-shattering wonder that it is, rather than reducing it to human terms and claiming to understand it all? What would happen if we lived the kind of  life that Jesus (quite a radical, by the way) was personally calling us to live?

The answer to those questions might not always be found in homeschooling itself.  Really.

In fact, I don’t even necessarily see a definitive Biblical mandate to homeschool.

(Yes, I actually just said that.) I can hear the collective screech of proverbial brakes right now. I can hear some of you sputtering. I know I put off a lot of people whenever I say this, but please, hear me out. Don’t close the tab yet.

I support homeschooling. But I do not support homeschool onlyism.

I do not support the idea that if you are a Christian, you are obligated to homeschool.

I educate my own daughter at home, but I didn’t choose this path because I believe it’s the only way to educate. In fact, when I read through the Bible, I see incredible diversity.

Paul was a Roman citizen.

Moses was raised by Egyptian royalty.

Daniel got his education from the Babylonians.

Rather than only one template for life, I instead see examples of God’s glory shining through impossible situations (and, let’s be real, there are some impossibly odd people in the Bible, too.) I don’t see a formula. If anything, I see God going out of His way to make a point about there being no such thing as a catch-all formula.

The Bible’s not big on catch-all formulas.

Even when it comes to marriage — a topic that’s specifically addressed in the Bible, unlike homeschooling — the examples are wildly divergent. We all know the story of Ruth, right? [1] Ruth was told to wear perfume, wait until Boaz had drunk plenty, then go into his room, uncover his feet, and lie down. (I’m still waiting for the wholesome Ruth Generation movement to show up at courtship seminars across the country.)

And then there’s Isaac and Rebekah [2]. Rebekah watered his camels, and then when Isaac gave her a nose ring and some other bling, she knew he was the one. (Yes, a ring for her nose. Not ear. The Hebrew word נֶזֶם refers to a nose jewel.)

Go back a little further, and we have Adam and Eve. What can we find in this account to boil down into a family-based formula that’ll sell well at homeschool conferences and Christian bookstores? They were naked, she was made from a rib, and then one son murdered the other. Hardly an example of marriage and family life that will top the Christian self-help charts.

You might still be reeling from my insinuation that homeschooling isn’t addressed in the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean we are to live so apathetically hands-off that our children run wild, adrift with no moral compass. When I read the Bible, I clearly see the mandate for Christian parents to instruct children in the ways of God. There’s no arguing this: we should teach our children the things of God and our Biblical heritage. The Bible commands us to. So don’t misunderstand me: I’m not speaking against raising children in a Christian home. I’m not saying to stop instructing your kids in the foundational tenets of Christianity. I’m just saying modern Western homeschooling, as it’s represented in the modern homeschool movement, is not the only way to educate kids. (I still love Jesus; I’m just not a legalist when it comes to what kind of school Christians should use.)

I’ve been in the homeschool subculture for a long time, and sometimes the subculture needs a few reminders: Jesus’ power is not stopped by brick-and-mortar school doors. He doesn’t limit his salvation to only those kids whose parents homeschool them. He transcends centuries and languages and continents. Homeschooling is not an essential tenet of Jesus-based doctrine and theology.

We can’t have a conversation about education and Christianity without mentioning Deuteronomy chapter six. Verses five through nine talk about instructing our kids in the ways of faith; we’re told to do this “when you are at home and when you are on the road…on the doorposts of your house and on your [city] gates.” [3]

In other words, everywhere.

Not just at home.

Not just in a bubble of our own constructing.

Not just in a shelter we’ve fashioned with our own hands.

Everywhere, without fear.

The truth is, I often detect an element of fear in the homeschool subculture’s insistence that all Christian parents must homeschool. I can understand that. I see the ideals running through public school education, and I know they’re often counter to Biblical convictions.

I get that.

But when I look at the Bible, I see repeated rebukes against fear. I also see God taking broken situations like Joseph’s or Daniel’s — stories full of pain and desolation, and certainly full of the secular culture of the day — and using these situations to glorify His name in mighty, mighty ways.

Look at John 11:4 — it’s God who was glorified.

These things happened that God might be glorified.” That’s the goal of what we do. He’s the point of how we live.

Not that homeschooling might be glorified, but that God might be glorified.

Not that our particular flavor of homeschooling might be seen as superior, but that God might be glorified.

Not that our parenting might be held up as an example of excellence, but that God might be glorified.

Not that we might get the credit, but that God might be glorified.

And God is not limited by environment. He can work mightily in a lion’s den, a virgin’s womb, a donkey’s mouth, a public school classroom, a broken home, or a homeschool living room.

It’s not about our formulas and styles and philosophies.

It’s all about Jesus.

So go forward fearlessly. Live wildly and bravely, the way God wants you to, not the way the parenting gurus and bestselling authors tell you to.

“Abraham believed God,” Andrée Seu Peterson wrote, “not what well-meaning pastors or little old ladies told him about God.”

Now go, live fearlessly!

Homeschooling

Using Children’s Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

We read a lot of books in this house. How many? Last year, we scanned most of the books my daughter read, and at year-end, counted a virtual stack of 530 books. The year before, when she was five, we catalogued 561 books. (I don’t need to sign up for a fitness program; I carry library tote bags.)

And we didn’t scan every book she read, either. We tend to mostly scan library books, and not necessarily the daily-rotating selection from our wall of overstuffed bookshelves. So one thousand is a conservative count; over the course of two years, she easily read far more than a thousand books. (Does that make your head spin? It does mine!)

How do I keep up?

I don’t.

How do I preview them all?

I don’t.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

I’m aware of what she reads, but there’s no way I could possibly pre-read even a fraction of these books. That’s why it’s so important to teach a solid foundation of discernment, critical thinking skills, and logic — teaching how to think, and how to “rightly divide the word of truth”, as 2 Timothy 2:15 says. (And I’m not claiming to be an expert on this, either.) But as parents, we’ll never be able to preview all of life. We need to equip for life, not shelter from life.

Finding enough quality books, though, can be challenge. We frequent more than one county library system, and I’m always marking used book sales on the calendar, but I still need to know what to look for. My daughter, a fan of non-fiction, loves meaty books of facts; I appreciate good design, format and layout. (No, you can’t judge a book by its cover — but isn’t there something special about particularly pretty books?) The books we both get really excited about deliver substantial chunks of information in aesthetically pleasing packages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received free books from Candlewick Press and was compensated for my time in exchange for writing and publishing this post. All opinions are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

One publisher which consistently releases exceptionally well-designed and well-written books is Candlewick Press. As I was browsing their catalog this season, I kept thinking about the concept of curiosity, and how wonderful it is that even in the Information Age, books still haven’t lost the power to draw us in to new, unimagined places.

In this era of Google searches, answers are at our fingertips.

The internet can answer nearly every question we could ever think to ask.

But what about questions we haven’t thought to ask?

What about places, people, ideas, worlds, inventions, and habitats we never even knew existed?

If we were to bypass books in favor of the ubiquitous search engine, we’d get answers to our questions, but we’d miss out on a whole wonderful world of questions we’d never have even known to ask. An internet search can satisfy curiosity, but a book will ignite curiosity.

Books are life-changing.

I love homeschooling for the incredible flexibility which allows children to pursue their interests (and ask Alexa endless questions), but sometimes kids need a nudge to explore areas outside their chosen niche, too. The right book — a colorful, captivating, grab-your-attention book — has the power to

  • ignite curiosity,
  • provoke questions, and
  • uncover brand-new areas of interest.

And it’s in curiosity and questioning where the real learning begins.

Using Candlewick Press Books to Challenge a Gifted Learner

I moderate a small online homeschool community, and parents of outliers, quirky kids, and out-of-the-box thinkers often ask me,

  • How do I challenge my gifted child?
  • How do I know I’m providing my gifted child enough opportunities to learn?
  • How do I know what topics to introduce to my gifted learner?
  • How do I allow my gifted child to dig deeper?
  • How do I encourage my gifted child to branch out?

To alter a phrase from Marie Kondo, the launching point to answer all of these question can be found in — you guessed it — the life-changing magic of reading books.

A book is more than the sum of its pages.

A single book can open the door to countless other avenues for exploration and adventure.

I’ve found a number of fantastic books from Candlewick Press — about everything from Charles Dickens to the Mars rover to poetry to Johnny Cash to nature study — especially well-suited to igniting curiosity about the world around us. These books encourage kids

and more.

I love these titles not only for the fantastic subject matter, but also because they represent the potential for so much exploration. A healthy dose of curiosity, paired with all the topics either directly or tangentially addressed in each book, will allow you to follow extraordinary rabbit trails of learning for weeks. Talk about getting a lot of mileage out of a single book!

I’ll show you what I mean.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Using Drawn from Nature to Encourage Curiosity about the Natural World and the History of Timekeeping

This lovely book had me at hello; I was immediately captivated by the cover’s delicate, gold-imprinted details. Inside, author-illustrator Helen Ahphornsiri has filled each page of Drawn from Nature with stunning pressed-flower collages and captivating fact-filled narratives, weaving a story of plant and animal life throughout each of the four seasons. Instinctively, one might use this book as stepping stone to further study

  • flora and fauna,
  • habitats,
  • botany,
  • plant anatomy,
  • foraging and edible plants,
  • insect life cycles,
  • natural dyes from plants,
  • native and invasive species,
  • migration habits,
  • local animal life,

be inspired to go on a hike, begin a nature journal, plant an herb garden, and more. And those are all fantastic avenues for exploration.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

But with curiosity at our side, we might begin by reading the short, accessible introduction first.

“Year after year, plants bloom in spring and fade in autumn in a cycle as old as time,” the author begins. “Animals follow the pattern of the seasons, too..”

Oh, what a concept natural rhythms arePrior to the invention of the electric light, humankind woke and slept by the light of these natural rhythms, following the cycle of seasons. Time’s passage was marked by

  • the sun’s light,
  • the moon’s phases, and
  • the star’s position.

As your curiosity continues to wander and wonder, you might begin to ask the following questions:

  • How has the advent of electricity affected human sleep patterns?
  • How has electric light affected jobs, productivity, factories, and even the times men and women go to work?
  • How does the equator affect weather and light?
  • How have people tracked time throughout history?
  • How were the hours marked in the Middle Ages?
  • Who made the first clock?
  • Were clocks ever made of wood? (Research Benjamin Banneker.)
  • How were time zones decided?
  • Who mapped out the longitudinal lines?
  • How was time kept at sea? (Research John Harrison.)
  • What about daylight savings time?
  • What is an atomic clock?
  • What is a leap second?

All this, and we haven’t even turned the page past the introduction. What a wonderful teacher the rabbit trail is!

Using What’s so special about Dickens? to Encourage Curiosity about Dickens, the Classics, and Victorian England

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

I was raised in a family where quoting Dickens dialogue around the supper table was normal fare. But how do you pass on that love to younger kids, who might be — with good reason! — intimidated by the immense size of Charles Dickens’ tales? How do you make Dickens approachable to kids? Michael Rosen’s book, What’s so special about Dickens?, is more than a biography; it’s a primer to Dickens-related cultural literacy topics. By weaving in the most beloved Dickensian vocabulary and quotes with overviews of four Dickens classics, Rosen provides kids with just enough Victorian English quirkiness — and Dickens’ genius — to make them search out one of the epic novels for themselves. (Any book that nudges people into a Dickensian world is a winner in my eyes!)

Reading a Dickens novel, says Michael Rosen, “is like being taken on a journey that affects the whole of your being.”

But while we’re waiting for the Dickens book we put on hold at the library to arrive, we can try our hand at these extension activities and research ideas:

  • Grab a book with a lot of dialogue, and try reading the different character’s lines dramatically, the way Dickens did. (page 1)
  • Make a list of all the books and stories the author mentions in this book. (No, they’re not all by Dickens. Don’t forget to check the timeline!) Which one do you most want to read?
  • Use a dictionary to look up all the words you don’t know. (I had to look up scimitar from page 16!)
  • Invent some characters and write a short story about them. (page 66)
  • The timeline contains milestones from Dickens’ life interspersed with notable historical events. Choose five — like the Corn Law riots, the assassination of Lincoln or the the Staplehurst railway crash — to research further.
  • What can you learn about life after the Industrial Revolution in Europe or England, or about the railway and brickmaking frenzy which followed? (page 52)
  • Research the history of children working in factories. What were working conditions like for children during Dickens’ life? (page 26)

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

And we can discuss these questions with our kids, too:

  • How were students treated in Dickensian schools? (pages 15 and 32)
  • In what ways might your life be different if you had been born in Dickensian England? In what ways would it be the same? (page 46)
  • If the Factory Act of 1833 were proposed in today’s time, how would people react? What changes might they make to the rules? (page 137)
  • How many references to Dickens’ characters and phrases do you recognize as commonly-used idioms? (page 128 and throughout book)
  • After reading the synopses of four different Dickens’ books, which one sounds the most interesting to you?

Now that’s enough to shake up even Mr. Smallweed of Bleak House fame!

Using Jabberwalking to Counteract Perfectionism and Encourage Curiosity About Writing and Art

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

After diving in to the prolific works of authors like Charles Dickens, it’s natural to feel a little intimidated about writing. So this is also the ideal time to switch gears and turn our attention to Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera, the United States’ first Mexican-American Poet Laureate. This book is so much fun. The title, of course, is a nod to Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem and is a call to kids everywhere (“and all those like me that cannot sit still”, adds the author) to pick up their pen and write while they walk. There’s absolutely no perfection in this process — Herrera invents words, mixes up the sizes of the fonts, and even causes the words to wrap around the sides of the pages sometimes. I love that!

“A Jabberwalking poem is not an essay or a novel or a…formula,” Juan Felipe Herrera writes. “A Jabber burble scribble poem is not even a typical poem…[it] loves to be free (wherever it lands) so it can loosen up your mind-brains to see things you have not seen before.”

What an absolutely wonderful antidote to the paralysis-inducing perfectionism which sometimes tortures gifted kids. And poet Juan cheers kids on to persevere, too.

“After four hours of nonstop Jabberwriting, after four hours of moving your Jabberhand…even — if you have misspelled everything! You, yes you! in four hours — will have an (what follows is indisputable!) ALMOST-BOOK…Yes…an honest-to-goodness almost-book.”

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

We’ll be re-reading this for years to come, I am certain. (Why can’t writing curriculums be this encouraging?) And Jabberwalking isn’t just about writing: it’s so motivating for art, too. The illustrations in this freeing book are wild and wonderful and infused with a whole lot of crazy. Here are some ways we tried our hand at this style ourselves:

  • Place your pencil on the paper, and draw an animal without lifting your pencil off the paper.
  • Close your eyes, and draw a portrait without looking.
  • If you’re left-handed, use your right hand. If you’re right-handed, switch to your left hand. Now draw a picture.
  • Fasten your paper to a clipboard, then march around the house while drawing.

And of course — don’t forget to jabberwrite.

Using Hello, I’m Johnny Cash to Encourage Curiosity About Modern American History and Music Tradition

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

When we had to tell this sweet girl we were up and moving away from our home, she’d sung enough Johnny Cash songs in her little life to know that moving to Tennessee meant being closer to the place her favorite singer once called home. It always touches me how deeply Johnny’s songs speak to her heart. She just adores the Man in Black’s music. (When she was an infant, only three singers could get her to stop crying: Josh Garrels, Enya, and Johnny Cash.)

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash looks like a picture book for young kids at first glance, but the lilting prose — written in columns, like lyrics — delivers a message that’s rich, deep, and touchingly poignant. (Although it’s a picture book, the publisher recommends this book for grades four through seven. I recommend it for adults, too!)

This is a biography, yes, but this book is also an absolutely perfect launching point to dive deeper into history, geography, and the American music tradition. The span of years covered in Hello, I’m Johnny Cash had a massive impact on American families, especially in the South. Simply by researching the significant historical events mentioned in the book — events like

  • the Great Depression,
  • the Dust Bowl,
  • the New Deal,
  • the Historic Dyess Colony agricultural resettlement project,
  • the cotton industry,
  • the Great Arkansas Flood of 1937, and
  • the plague of boll weevils and armyworms,

— you could build a fascinating year-long study of modern American history.

You could also explore the corresponding geography, looking at

  • Arkansas,
  • the Mississippi River Delta,
  • the Tyronza River,
  • Nashville,
  • Memphis
  • New Orleans,
  • Texas,

and the surrounding areas.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Of course, no study of the American South would be complete without digging in to the American music tradition.

“His songs gave a voice to the voiceless, capturing so many people’s heartaches, struggles, and triumphs; it seemed like he spoke to America just as America spoke to him.”

This book contains so many rabbit trails for further exploration. You can explore

and, of course, more of Johnny Cash’s songs. (Here’s a recording of Johnny Cash talking about his family’s experience during the Great Flood of 1937, then singing Five Feet High and Rising.)

Isn’t it amazing what a rich educational experience you can create simply by following your curiosity through a picture book?

Using Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover to Encourage Curiosity About Astronomy and Space

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

In 2011, the year my daughter was born, Curiosity launched into space. (That fact seems so appropriate to me.) This new book from Candlewick, Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover, delivers a riveting first-hand account of space exploration — it’s told from the perspective of the Mars rover herself! And I love how author-illustrator Markus Motum chose to use so many pitch-black, star-sprinkled pages throughout. This design choice — along with the large size of the book itself — creates such a magical, immersive experience. (There’s even a two-page vertical spread for liftoff.)

Before we moved away from Florida, we used to be able to see launches right outside our front door. It was hard to leave the Space Coast behind, but this book — and the resulting exploration prompted by the book — helps keep that connection to space exploration alive.

We have enjoyed following a myriad of rabbit trails nearly as expansive as the universe itself, asking questions about,

and, of course, our favorite Space X missions, too. (You can watch SpaceX launches live!)

While we often think of education as learning information — and yes, we need a solid foundation of Truth — there is still so much undiscovered and unexplored. Curiosity is crucial. Asking questions about what we do not know drives the world forward, and opens up further inventions and discoveries.

“Most likely, the discoveries I make will lead to more questions,” writes Markus Motum as the Mars Rover, “…questions can be just as exciting as answers.”

Encourage your children to explore. Allow them space to marvel, and to be in awe.  Provide ample time to run down rabbit trails, and allow them to go off the path in pursuit of wonderment and curiosity.

After all, it’s in curiosity that the real learning begins.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Get 25% OFF your Purchase from Candlewick Press – and Enter to Win a Book, too!

Candlewick is generously offering a full 25% off discount! Just head over to the website, shop for favorite new Candlewick books, and enter the code CANDLEWICK at checkout. (You can also browse the full Spring-Summer 2018 Candlewick Press Catalog to see sample pages, expanded book descriptions, and more.) My favorite books from this season’s releases are

Of course, there are lots more great Candlewick titles, too.

Psst…you can also enter to win a Judy Moody fiction title from Candlewick Press, too. Click through the image or link below and fill in your name and email address on the resulting page. Giveaway ends on April 18th at 11 PM Eastern time.

CLICK TO ACCESS GIVEAWAY FORM

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool
As you forge ahead in your homeschool journey, do not fear the rabbit trail of sidetracking — embrace it.

Curiosity will serve you well.


If you found this homeschool how-to post helpful, why not pin Building Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool to Pinterest?