Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Top Ten Books for Teaching Kids

Continuing my mailbag week, another thing I get asked about sometimes is: Books. I didn't want to say "Homeschooling Books" specifically, because even though WE use them for homeschooling, I think any or all of these books could be used by all types of families, either as primary or supplementary educational resources.

These are the books that, even if I wasn't able to be their primary educator, I would want to share with my kids.


Note: Book titles are links, mostly Amazon Affiliate links. Clicking and shopping through the links will help support this blog. Thanks! A good resource for used Catholic homeschoolish books is Cathswap, a Yahoo Group dedicated to pairing buyers with sellers and vice versa.




When my oldest started showing an interest in learning to read as a preschooler, I tried just sounding things out with him in picture books we had around the house. But it was SO frustrating for both of us. Why did "g" sometimes say "guh" and sometimes say "juh"? I didn't know.

But now I do. (It's because g says "juh" before e, i, or y.)

I have had success with all of my kids using this book. It not only tells you what to do, it tells you exactly what to say. If you can read, you can teach from this book.

The lessons are short and gentle. (I don't usually use the writing component, which makes them even shorter.) My kids like the stories and illustrations. They are proficient enough to move on to phonics readers by about lesson 70, so we don't usually do the end of the book. The stories get really long back there.

But overall, I think it's a great program. I start my kids as they show an interest in reading, which has been between 4 and six years old. As long as I wait until they are ready, things go quite smoothly. I've had kids master reading before kindergarten and kids who didn't read well until 2nd grade. But they've all learned. (Except for the ones who haven't yet.)



This is my favorite book in our homeschool curriculum. And it was written in 1911, so that'll probably tell you a bit about my schooling preferences. It's intended for use by 7-9 year olds. (There is an Intermediate version as well for 9-12 year olds.)

It contains lessons in grammar, capitalization, punctuation, composition, poetry and reading comprehension, fables, fine art appreciation, letter-writing, copy-work, and conversation practice. Yep, the art of conversation. We get a topic, and we practice conversing on that topic. I have had the cutest conversations with third graders using this book.

There's a more expensive color version out now that I've got my eye on for next year when I'll have another third grader.



Story of the World is a history program that I "let" my kids listen to in the car if they've been good. (Winning!)

There is a text book and an activity book that I have on the shelf, but we really just use the CDs to listen to in the car. We use a different history program too, this one is supplementary for us. There are four volumes that cover world history from nomads through the fall of the USSR, using a storytelling format that highlights, especially in the early volumes, traditional folktales from various cultures.

Each volume is intended for a slightly older audience, but we have listened to them all with the entire family. I'm not sure how much the toddler is getting out of them, but they keep him quiet.

There is controversy in some circles about Volume II, which covers the Middle Ages and the Protestant revolt and Volume III which pretty much trashes Charles V and Philip II and unequivocally celebrates Elizabeth I. This is not a Catholic text, and the stories are not told from a Catholic perspective. That's not a problem for me. When the narrator gets finished explaining how very miserable it must have been to be a monk copying Bibles by hand, I stop the CD and we discuss how terrific it must have been to be a monk copying Bibles by hand. And at the part about how being Catholic is like being over at your snooty aunt's house and she won't let you sit on the couch or have any juice (it's been a couple years, but it was something like that), I stop the CD and we discuss how, um, it's not like that. At all. Correcting the slanted take in Volume III did require some research on my part so that my kids would know about the sending-agents-to-murder-pregnant-St. Margaret Clitherow part of the Elizabeth I story. But now they do. And we pray that one day we will all be one. But really, it's not a problem for us. We just talk about it. The stories are great.



I like everything about the Mother of Divine Grace recommended curriculum except the spelling book. The Writing Road to Reading was The One Way Ticket to Confusingland for us. Then I found All About Spelling. And it is everything I'd been wanted a spelling program to be. It is scripted, and divided into daily lessons, like 100 Easy Lessons, so my kids think I know what I'm talking about.

The lessons are short and engaging and interactive and work with multiple grade levels.

It's just so. much. better. than what we were doing before.



We do Abeka consumable math books until 4th grade, then we do Saxon Math after that. But over the summer, and just for fun, the kids also do Life of Fred math.

The books present math (and other science) concepts in a chapter book format, while telling the story of Fred, a five year old university math professor. My kids think they are hilarious.

I'm not quite loosey goosey enough to do Life of Fred as our only math curriculum, but we've really enjoyed it as a supplementary program. Jack has done all of the books through pre-Algebra and thinks they are brilliant.



I like this Bible because it doesn't try to cram each story to fit on one page. It just takes as much time as it needs for each one.

The language is accessible without being completely dumbed down. My kids like the illustrations.

We say prayers and read a Bible story all together first thing, before the kids go off to do their own assignments. It's an excellent way to start the day.



This book, compiled by Laura Berquist, who also developed the MODG curriculum, is a great resource for any home. It's full of excellent, timeless poems for all age groups, as well as other literary and dramatic selections for memorization and dictation.

We start our kids on memorizing well before they start school. They always want to participate in the big kids' poetry recitals. (I'm sure it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that they get jelly beans for each poem properly recited.) There are adorable little short poems and long complex epics and everything in between.



This is the old "Who made you? God made me." Baltimore Catechism. Along with volumes 1 and 2 for older kids, it really gives a complete explanation of our Catholic faith.

I was raised Catholic, but didn't learn any of this stuff as a kid, so it's been really good for me to learn all of this alongside my kids. And it's amazing to me that all of those things I wondered about the Catholic faith, that I was told there just really aren't any good answers for? There are answers. They're all in the Baltimore Catechism.

We are told to "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:15) These books help us do that.



Like The Harp and Laurel Wreath, this book is a compendium of stories and poetry, but it focuses on a different virtue in each of its sections.

The stories and poems have been great jumping off points for family discussions.



I want my kids to have a basic understanding of Latin. But I do NOT, myself, have any kind of an understanding whatsoever of Latin. So, I really appreciate these DVDs. The teacher and her cute Southern accent keeps my kids engaged. And their Latin is way better than mine.

So, how did I do? Do you have any favorites I left out?

More book-related posts . . . 

My favorite Catholic-type books:

THIS JUST MIGHT BE THE BEST DEFENSE OF CATHOLICISM SINCE AQUINAS

My favorite pregnancy and childbirth and new sibling-type books:

MY FAVORITE PARENTING BOOKS

THE "YOUR BABY" METHOD OF SIBLING PREPARATION, AND SOME BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS


My favorite picture books:

FIVE NEW PICTURE BOOKS THAT WON'T RUIN YOUR KIDS


Thank you for asking . . . 


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31 comments:

  1. We are loving the All About Reading program. We did 10 lessons in Teach Your Child to Read and then moved onto this. I also absolutely love love love the Character First Education character training. It is not Catholic but I have made it Catholic by matching a saint with each character trait. We spend one month learning the trait and doing one short activity a week. Everything is free on their website but I do buy the posters.

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  2. We use the 100 easy lessons too. I was not sold at first, but we are 50 lessons in now and I love it. I also just ordered All About Spelling. I held off to the last minute to order because it was so darn expensive. But I'm glad to see you love it and hope we do too! I definitely want to check some of these out -especially that second book. :)

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  3. I particularly like your approach to the different perspective of The Story of the World. It would be great if more parents took that approach instead of "There's something in here I don't agree with! BAN the whole thing!"

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  4. I'm so glad you shared your approach to The Story of the World. We've been doing volume one this year and love it, and I've heard such mixed things from various sources about volume two that it made me nervous. Your strategy is definitely reassuring and is something that would fit with how we've done history and what we've read so far.

    And I love the Golden Children's Bible! It was the one I had when I was little and I need to dig out our copies that are somewhere under the house since we moved almost two years ago! It is definitely my favorite for kids!

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  5. Do you do anything special with your catechism or do you just read each section to the kids and then have them answer the questions at the end? I've just been reading it aloud and then asking the questions but I feel like I should be doing something more :)

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    1. Depending on how strong their reading is, they read the chapter to themselves or I read it to them, and we do the discussion questions together. Then they memorize the answers to the question and answer part. I love that we all have an answer ready to things like "What happens to those who die in mortal sin?" (And that answer is, "Those who die in mortal sin shall suffer forever in the fires of hell.")

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  6. I'm loving all this mailbag shenanigans you've got going on, madam. I'm going to mentally file this away for someday in the future.

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  7. Do you do any structured art projects? My nieces spend a lot of time with me and they love doing art projects. I'm forever searching pinterest for things that are easy/use materials we already have on hand but I've found that just turning them loose with our art supplies keeps them interested longest.

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    1. We have done some kits from Illuminated Ink, and they are really lovely. But that was mostly when I just had one or two students. I really don't have time to participate in art now. So, we have a couple of plastic bins and I put ribbon and string and buttons and religious cards that come in the mail etc all in there and the big kids do art projects on their own during nap time.

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  8. Loved this! We use many of the same books. My family loves SOTW. We all learn the same period of history at the same time and the whole family listens to the audio text and discusses so my kids have all grown up hearing the stories again and again. Re: Vol II next year will be our first year reading it as Catholics. This article may be of interest to you- http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/dominicselwood/100272287/how-a-protestant-spin-machine-hid-the-truth-about-the-english-reformation/

    "It's not a problem for us, we just talk about it" is my approach to just about everything in life with my kids within reason. So refreshing to see I am not alone in this.

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    1. Wow, that was a really interesting article. I never think about revisionist history applying to other countries!

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  9. We JUST started 100 Easy Lessons! It's going great.....except the writing. She's not into it and I'm so discouraged. So are you saying you just skip the writing and work on writing at a later time? Because that sounds GREAT!

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    1. I've found that reading and writing readiness don't necessarily come at the same time, so I keep them separate. Reading readiness seems to be about mental concentration abilities, but writing is a physical skill. Gus, for instance, is a great writer. He could trace letters well at three, but was no where near ready to read at that point. So, we do Hundred Easy Lessons for reading and a separate copy book for tracing letters.

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    2. Kaitlin, don't push the writing if she's not into it. Benjamin hated the writing part, too, but once the reading clicked, he's wanted to write grocery lists, letters to pen pals, etc. Anything that's not just boring practice. The writing is difficult, especially for a kid as young as Hannah! Skip the writing for now and don't feel bad about it.

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  10. Nice list. If you're including CDs, we really like the Classical Kids series, dramatized stories about famous composers, with their music as background. And old-timey Kendra might like "Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans," by Edward Eggleston. It's a nice history supplement, originally published 1895, with short (read-aloud) chapters about Ben Franklin, Kit Carson, Daniel Webster, and other (you guessed it!) great Americans.

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  11. And by all means don't forget A LITTLE BOOK ABOUT CONFESSION FOR CHILDREN. It is an excellent book for children preparing for first confession and for others to come. I think it is even good for teens and adults because it puts the Sacrament on a personal level for everyone. I highly recommend it for everyone to have and to read. If you don't have a copy go to Amazon.com or Ignatius Press.com and get your own copy and also copies for your parish. They will thank you for it,

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  12. I keep hearing wonderful things about the Baltimore Catechism - I think I may actually look into getting it for teaching confirmation this year (teens ask so many great questions and I don't always have the answers).

    My parents read The Book of Virtues to my brother and me when we were younger, and they eventually bought The Children's Book of Virtues which I read cover to cover regularly. I loved the pictures and the stories and it was often a great conversation starter with my parents.

    I love your book lists, they're so fun to read!
    ~Willow

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  13. HA! I love your response to the flaws in SOTW. We are coming up on Vol II this year, and while it's not my *only* history curriculum, it still is one of the main items. Good to know I don't need to memorize Aquinas to refute the bias in there.

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  14. We're not planning on homeschooling (going to get the Catholic school uniforms this weekend!), but I'm all about supplemental programs. I'll be looking into Primary Language Lessons for sure, and definitely want to check out the Saint Joseph Catechism. Thanks for the recommendations!

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  15. We take the same approach with SOTW and other like things. I'd rather just address it than feel like we need to be afraid of it. Although it would help if I listened to the CDs as well which doesn't come easily to me... I teach Latin via DVD as well. Have you used First Form Latin from the same publishers for the higher grades? We're trying that this year (although the DVD set got lost in the mail - ARGH.) Would love to hear what you think!

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    1. Yes! I really think it helps them to understand that books have an agenda. They all want you to see something a particular way. I want my kids to recognize that, and decide if the agenda of what they are reading jives with what they believe. It's like baby proofing. I can baby proof the house, or I can baby proof the baby. It seems like a better long term solution to do the second.

      I don't think I'd be able to make myself sit and listen at home, but we listen in the car. So I'm a captive audience.

      We are going to try an online Latin class for next year, (Jack is going in to 7th AHH!) so I don't have experience with anything past Latina Christiana II. I was happy with that one too.

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  16. A terrific free grammar series is KISS Grammar. The idea behind it is that most grammar books use sentences that are written to illustrate the particular grammar topic you are working on. But that is not how we actually write. So it uses excerpts from children's classics in its exercises. They can be challenging, but the author often tells the kids that if they only do things that are easy for them, they will never really learn. In this series mistakes are acceptable. The point is to keep working through and they really start to hone their skills. Once a concept it introduced, you apply it to all future lessons. And through the constant practice they start to realize the ways that grammar is used to communicate.

    Here is a link to the workbooks:
    http://www.kissgrammar.org/kiss/wb/PBooks/index.htm#Grade_Level

    And I use the Serl books too (love them!) As well as Fix It from IEW. I love grammar and think it's helpful to mix it up for them.

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  17. Kendra, I feel like my Parenting Resources Pinterest page has recently been filled up with CatholicAllYear posts. Maybe I should rename it? :) And I loved these recommendations - even as someone who will likely not home school, I will seriously consider buying many of these!

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  18. I like most of these as well, good choices! ;] And good call on the History of the World stuff, we haven't gotten there, but it seems like an approach that'll achieve a number if things, while letting the kids keep listening.. They're huge fans, I see where you're coming from with the "letting them listen" ;]

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  19. Have you been browsing our book shelf? J/K

    Ditto on every single point. Loved each of the recommendations!

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  20. Love these! We use many of these too.

    I also really like the Catholic National Readers. My 1st grader is working through the primer and my 2nd grader is reading the 3rd book (she reads a bit above grade level). The stories are wonderful, and it includes words to pronounce before you start, dictation, comprehension questions, and some copywork (in the 3rd book anyway).

    I looked at Prima Latina this year for my 1st grader as he is asking to take Latin. I decided on Song School Latin for this year as an introduction. No prayers, but it does have a DVD of lessons that both my kids enjoy watching. I decided I wanted him to be a stronger reader before we started Prima Latina and this makes a nice in between for this year.

    We used Story of the World 1 last year, but passed on SOTW 2 this year in favor of Founders Of Freedom. The "stories" are not as rich, but the content is, and the book is easy to read. We also like the illustrated version of Gombrich's Little History of the World, though I am still reading over the later parts to better see how it handles the middle ages so I can be prepared for discussion.

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  21. Loving all these recommendations - we seem to have very similar teaching styles/preferences. Would you tell me what you use to teach writing when you get a chance? I have five kids aged 8 and under, so I am looking for something pretty low key, yet engaging and effective.

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    1. Huh, that's an interesting question Elisa. As of 7th grade, our Mother of Divine Grace curriculum doesn't include any books on writing per se. The kids start off listening to stories and then retelling them, and I copy them down. Then they listen to stories, retell them, I copy them down, they re copy them. Then we do the same process with original compositions. And, eventually, they start writing essays themselves, in 6th grade, that I correct for errors and they write out again. I'm not sure if there will be a book specifically on writing technique, but we haven't had one yet.

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  22. Just love King of the Golden City by Mother Mary Loyola. So old and so good! I got the Study Edition with the text and questions all in one book. Kids 10,8,7,5 & 4 all sit and do it together! But only I secretly read the older section with the Carmelite Connections :) Who says you cant explore the "Interior Castle" while having a motherly vocation.- One quote at a time.

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  23. There are a lot of great books for stimulating an interest in math that didn't exist when I was a kid. One of my favorites is What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras? which explains why we learn about the sides of a triangle. Another is One Grain of Rice which demonstrates the power of compounding. Here are some others I’ve used at home:
    https://amazingwizkids.com/great-childrens-books-that-demonstrate-math-concepts-in-a-fun-way-kids-understand/

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