By Alyce Repko
As a middle school science teacher, I was always looking for ways to promote student engagement. When I began using children’s books as a motivator and introduction to the lesson, the students were engaged from the start of class. The side effect, at least for me, was a passion for these books that continues today. This lesson can easily be adapted for use with homeschool books, and in this article, I will let you know how to pick this right children’s books and share four of my favorites.
Choosing The Right Books for Homeschool Science and Homeschool English
When purchasing a book, make sure to look for beautiful artwork and a plot or narrative that is enjoyable and accurate. I may accept poorer artwork with a beautifully written text, but will forgo a book with a poor text that doesn’t live up to its artwork. Don’t give the recommended age or grade level of a book too much weight. Focus on content and how you may use and manipulate that content to enhance understanding of the subject you’ll be studying with your child.
Topic specific children’s homeschool books usually contain a story line of one topic. I enjoy reading a book that aligns easily with the textbook lesson we’re studying. Not only does it make it fun for both the teacher and the student, but the student is presented with the information twice—from the children’s book as well as the textbook/lesson. There is a wide variety of topic-specific books available. Some of the books in my collection are The Storm by Anne Rockwell (weather); America’s First Elephant by Robert M. McClung (historical fiction); Fritz and the Beautiful Horses by Jan Brett (The Golden Rule); Mojave by Diane Siebert (desert ecosystem); and One Rainy Night by Doris Gove (animal habitat and conservation).
4 Children’s Books That Can Be Excellent Homeschool Books
My favorite way to use children’s books as homeschool books for older children is the “hidden” use—a way unintended by the author, but that worked for me. Although there are many wonderful children’s books available, some subjects are not directly addressed. If I wanted to use a book as a motivator, I had to be creative. The following books can be used in some “unintended” ways:
1. Wildflower Tea by Ethel Pochocki
Through the seasons, an old man, with a basket or bucket in hand, walks in the forgotten orchards and fields from his childhood to pick wildflowers and berries. It is the wildflowers that he prefers over the berries and apples. Throughout the seasons, he takes the basket of flowers to the attic and empties the contents onto a table covered with a clean table cloth. Their aroma reminds him of his mother and his youth. At the end of the book, while the snow is falling, he makes his special tea, and considers himself “a most happy man.”
I used this book for the seasons, but there is another use. All of the flowers are mentioned by name in the book. Each flower can be researched to see if it is edible. In addition, many of the teas can be purchased. This begs the question, Does blueberry flower tea taste like blueberries?
2. The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss
When mother went to town for the day, Sally and her brother were given the task of shoveling the snow. While they were working, The Cat in the Hat arrives. Straight away the cat takes a bath resulting in a pink bathtub ring. For the rest of the book, the focus is removing the pink spot. It transferred to the mother’s white dress, then many pink spots, but did not disappear no matter what was mechanically used, or what the alphabet cats used. In the end, little cat Z was able to dematerialize the pink spots. The lesson was “like dissolves like”— an expression used by chemists to refer to how some solvents work. Cat Z dissolved cat spots.
3. The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Iza Trapani
The itsy bitsy spider climbs up the waterspout, get washed out, and lives to have more adventures in different habitats. The entire book can be sung using the children’s song of the same name. As I sang the book to my middle school students, I paused at each page, allowing the students to identify the organic or inorganic objects in the pictures. I continued with this theme with an activity.
It was not part of my lesson plans that day, but students could use a field guide to try to “identify” the type of spider. It is obvious that the spider that Isa Trapani drew is not anatomically correct, but no matter what spider the student chooses, they must be able to support why they chose that spider. They could cite the color, habitat, or any other information from the field guide. It is a fun introduction to field guides. (Iza Trapani’s biography page is worth reading.)
4. Who Killed Cock Robin? by Kevin O’Malley
Using the English nursery rhyme by the same name, Kevin O’Malley, creates a mystery that must be solved. All of the characters in the book are birds. The artwork on each page begs the student to stop and reflect on the picture for clues. As the clues become more obvious, Inspector Owl, who is silent until the end the book, solves the crime; it was a heist, not a murder. This book is pure fun not only with the challenge of finding the clues, but also O’Malley’s play on words, such as the stolen “Gizzard necklace,” or as Owl said at the trial, “We in the police are not bird brains.”
I used this book as an introduction to the scientific method. The Scientific Question is, Who Killed Cock Robin? The inspector (as well as the students) makes observations and “research.” Inspector Owl makes a hypothesis/experiment with the evidence collected on his desk and comes to a conclusion as the newspaper headline in the book claims, “Robin is a Hood!”
An Untapped Resource
Children’s books are an untapped homeschool books resource that can enhance learning and make it fun for both the teacher and the student regardless of their age.
Alyce Repko is wife to a hard-working husband and mother to six adult children who live in five different states. On their six-acre farm they raise rabbits, chickens, and sheep. She puts up food, does freelance artwork, plays with a local orchestra, knits, sews, and buys too many books.