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22 June 2018

Dealing With Prereading


This past year has been the first year where my oldest had significant quantities of reading in books that I assigned based on the curriculum we're using (Ambleside Online) but that he read independently in a book that I had not previously read, or that I'd read so long ago that I couldn't remember what happened. In the not-too-distant future, I'm going to have three kids reading challenging books, and I'm going to need to be able to have intelligent conversations about these books, and also keep the household running.

My strategy is to keep a prereading notebook. It's just a regular composition notebook, which I covered first with scrapbook paper and then with contact paper. That's what I do with most of my notebooks, and they are practically indestructible: my scripture journal has been with me for five years, most weeks drug to church and back in my backpack, and it's still beautiful. Which means that I can count on this notebook, which will see lighter use, lasting nicely as well and plan on it not falling apart before my youngest is reading these same books. Also, being pretty helps me to like it, and want to use it, and that helps me to get the job done. It's remarkable how much difference it makes to have an attractive notebook, even if it's just a composition book that I got for $.50 in back to school sales at the end of summer.





The first page is just an index. I write down the title, and I write down the pages of my notebook that deal with that title, and I decided to make a note of which year the book belongs in, which may or may not actually be helpful in the future. I don't actually preread all of his books: I have a limited quantity of time for prereading, and I prioritize the literature selections, such as Robinson Crusoe and Oliver, and I find that the science selections also require a little bit more from me, so I'm trying to stay ahead of him on those as well. Plutarch we do as a read-aloud, so I get that at the same time that he does, and we do Shakespeare as a group, so I'm not prereading that one either; these books I do preread are the next most difficult books on the list.

Once the notebook is set up, it's simple: I read and narrate. I decided on written narrations in a notebook because then when my younger kids read these books, instead of needing to reread the whole book, I can look over my narrations before I listen to theirs, and see what to expect.



As I read, I will sometimes define words in the margins of the books, or leave other marginalia for my kids to see. Even if we don't discuss it, leaving a few marks will draw their attention toward things that I think they ought to notice.




If I want to remember to have a conversation about a particular section, then I will make note of it in my notebook after my narration. I did that here for Oliver Twist, because I want to discuss what motivates Nancy to return to Bill Sikes, even knowing that he's likely to become violent toward her. This not only reminds me when my younger kids read this book, but doing it this way also allows me to read the whole book ahead of my oldest, and still remember to have these conversations with him when he comes along behind me in a few weeks. Occasionally, I'll jot down a quote from the book that I think we ought to discuss, and those usually get a follow-up question too. It doesn't take very long to make the note, but it enriches the conversation I get to have with my kids. I usually also mark these quotes in the margin of the book, but I don't necessarily plan to discuss everything that I mark in the book; I don't want to over-do it: I want to help the kids develop the habit of engaging with the text even when they don't know for sure that I'm going to be asking about a thing. I'm hoping that marking some and discussing a few will help them learn to pay attention and read with their minds actively engaged, without running the risk of me coming between them and the text. It's a bit of a balancing act.

I originally tried to read more or less on the same schedule as what he is doing, but I found that I don't do well with juggling that many books at once, and I get more books read if I do them mostly one at a time. One nice effect of this is that I can see that my system narrate-and-return system is working pretty well, even before my second son gets into these books, which is reassuring.

In books like Oliver and King Arthur, where the readings are whole chapters, I just title my narrations with the chapter's name or number, and that lets me coordinate my notebook with the assigned readings. But not every book does whole chapters: Age of Fable and Madam How Lady Why both have been broken up into shorter readings on the AO schedule, and for this kind of thing, I get my pen out and number the readings, and then just write the number in the margin so that I can match my notes to the text. In Oliver, although the readings are whole chapters, the chapters are short, so he's doing 3 chapters in a sitting. In this case, I put a little star at the end of the section he's supposed to read. 




The system mostly of the same with the science books as it was with the literature: read and narrate, but usually there's also some extension activity or reading. Madam How Lady Why is one that AO actually assigns over the course of Years 4 and 5, and there are some nice resources in the forum for that book --but I won't be looking at the forum when my kids are reading this. So if there's something there I want to use, I make a note of it in my notebook. A couple of chapters later I've got notes to remind me that some stuff from National Geographic dealing with plate tectonics and volcanoes and tsunamis. The internet being what it is, it's possible that some of the things I like will be moved or removed by the time that my youngest is ready for these things, but in that case my notes will still let me know that I'd wanted to look at certain topics at certain times; finding the occasional replacement shouldn't be a hideous process.

While I've been trying to establish a workable routine that actually gets the prereading done, it's been a bit frustrating: I tried not assigning things to Hero until after I'd read them, but that caused problems. And it's definitely more effective when I've read it first: he got out ahead of me a couple of times in the reading, and it definitely makes a difference for me to have been through first. It's not been until I found a system that worked for me to actually get things done that I realized how beneficial the system is for me: this is Mother Culture. Reading great literature and narrating it is as good for me as it is for my children. Prereading is typically not the only Mother Culture I have going; in fact, I find I have to be careful not to let all the other things I'm curious about push prereading to the side. But it's definitely Mother Culture, and as my kids get into more difficult literature, I can feel how this second go at education that I'm getting as I educate them is helping me to grow. Effective Mother Culture is an immunization against both "mommy brain" and burnout, it prepares us for the work that's coming in high school, and it has the same soul-enriching effect on mom that we're hoping it will have on our children: education is a life-long pursuit, after all! 

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