Books and the Budding Writer

“Never be without a good book on hand. If you will read and ponder, you will find that it stimulates your educational thought in many directions and keeps you from drifting into mere routine. Do not think this is a selfish thing to do, because the advance does not end with yourself.” – Charlotte Mason

Emily choosing a bedtime story...or two...or three

I have approximately 400 books in my home. I thought this was a lot until I read an article about a homeschooling family who has 4,000! Which got me to thinking about books, how much I have always enjoyed them, and how well they have served me over the years.

When asked what got her to finally learn to read, my eldest said to me, “You always had your nose in a book, Mom. I decided I was going to learn what the big deal about reading was.”

Having plenty of books around naturally encourages reading. And despite my husband’s efforts to convince me that a Kindle is the way to go (he says it looks like a library vomited all over our house!), I have remained determined to surround myself in books of all sizes.

The Benefits of a Large Book Collection

“The greatest university of all is the collection of books.” – Thomas Carlyle

Having books of your own, in your home, is something I would consider a necessary luxury. Not just the most recent on the market, but even the more antiquated tomes can be attractive. I remember reading a play centered on the Salem Witch trials out of a turn-of-the-century book in my mother’s antique book collection. It was fascinating, I read it over and over.

All 14 Oz books - plus a few spinoffs

In my own home we have the classics, as well as the full series of Oz books written by L. Frank Baum (14 in all), but we also have several shelves filled with antique books. As Emily grows, she will have plenty of variety to choose from. As it is, our little four-year-old has more books now than I did at the age of 25, so she is well on her way!

Some antique books - and me in 1974

An article in the November/December 2010 issue of Practical Homeschooler extols the virtues of a large book collection. Jeannette Webb wrote, “The secret to being able to follow the kids’ curiosity was to have a well-stocked library at home. If I had to wait for a trip to town to check out a book from the library, my little children would have already lost interest. By being able to follow up immediately, their interest was often piqued for weeks.”

Scheduling regular reading time

I try and make it a priority to read to our daughter at least twice a day. This doesn’t always happen, but it is the goal! Her favorite reading spots are cuddled up in our bed at night or snuggled on the sofa during the day. In both cases, her warm little body is tucked close against me, my arm around her.For us, reading time is a time of bonding, of cuddling and complete undivided attention.

Even if your children are already well-versed with reading, consider having a family reading hour, where members can switch off or take turns reading aloud from a book you have all agreed upon. This encourages established readers to become familiar with cadence and rhythm.

I learned to read at an early age and I remember my kindergarten teachers going into raptures over my ability to read with emphasis. It served me well at age six, and it still serves me well now. It gave me a feel for the natural rhythm of speech, which was an inestimable help when I began to teach community education classes.

Encouraging Writing

Even if the goal is not to help mold a future professional writer, encouraging writing in all forms is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child.

My mother and father encouraged me to write whenever possible, and this included thank you cards, letters and more. I won’t claim to have been good at writing letters or thank you notes – at least not until I was well and thoroughly grown, but it was definitely an important theme in our house and one that I have tried to perpetuate.

One of the ways I have encouraged writing at an early age is to let my little one dictate to me. When she receives a present, I encourage her to tell the giver what she appreciated about it. This is especially important when given a gift card, so that the giver (usually my uncle) will know that his gift was appreciated and well-spent.

Little Emily has also dictated letters to be sent to her older sister, far away in California. And when I mentioned this to my dad he remembered his father writing down stories that my dad and his brother told him, putting them in little books and having the boys illustrate them. Note: KEEP these, they are marvelous keepsakes. When I asked my dad if they were still around he said, quite sadly, that they were not.

Keep in mind that excellent writing abilities actually come from lots of reading…not diagramming sentences. I consider myself incredibly lucky in that as a teen, in a private high school, I was given the gift of writing by my teachers. It came about by my endless whining and complaining of hating to have to diagram sentences.

I was in a unique high school, one that had all of the students study out of books, no teacher lectured at the front of the room, and our performance dictated our level of freedom. If you got all of your work done each week, your freedoms could increase progressively to the point where you could come and go from campus at will.

So when I dug my heels in and announced my everlasting hatred for the particular English textbook I was having to study, my teachers let me do an amazing thing…they let me write instead of fighting through the lessons in the book. I have no doubt that they were amused, that I would willingly spend two hours writing a poem or essay or the installment of a story rather than simply answering the 5-10 problems in the Warriner’s book.

But allowing me this freedom also had a remarkable side effect…I learned to write…effectively. I learned:

  • How paragraphs functioned – and when it was time to start a new one
  • How to use quotations for speech between characters
  • Rhythm and cadence in poetry
  • Plot and description

In short, I fell in love with writing. To this day, I cannot tell you what a gerund is, or how to properly diagram a sentence. And to this day, I can tell you that it makes no difference. Sure, there are grammatical mistakes. Most of them are caught by the computer’s editing capabilities and the rest by my re-reading what I have written and thinking, Huh, that doesn’t sound quite right, and then making the necessary changes.

So, like the Dress Me dolls, or the learning games, I have to say, there is no better education on how to write than one gets through the act of of the process itself, which in this case is actively reading and writing.

Best get to it!

Part of my self-sufficiency, DIY and gardening collection

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