Classic books are more than homeschool assignments to oversee. Here’s why you should jump in and enjoy classic literature with your kids, whether you’re reading for the first time or rereading.
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Before we jump into why your kids benefit from having you read along with them, it helps to identify any potential problems you may have with classic literature.
Start by considering why you don’t want to read what you’ve asked your kids to read. Perhaps you’re not a reader or maybe you disliked reading assigned books when you were a student.
To be honest, I can relate to this one. I’ve always liked reading, but I didn’t appreciate assigned reading when I was younger. Every book I was forced to read took me away from one I wanted to read. Did it matter that I usually enjoyed the assigned books in the end? Nope. I still wanted to read what I personally would have chosen, but I digress.
Maybe you’re feeling unequipped as far as discussing or working through assignments related to the reading. You may even have good experiences with classic books, but think of particular titles as something you used to read.
Why You Should Read Classic Literature with Your Kids
Good news: regardless of your reason, the solution is to jump in and read anyway. Here’s why.
1. Who you are as a reader changes over time.
As an adult, you have perspective on themes, nuances, and character development that you simply didn’t have as a child or teenager. Does that mean your kids shouldn’t be reading those books now?
Absolutely not; it just means that you’ll gain more from reading these classic books now. Thankfully that’s true whether you’re reading a book for the first or fourth time because who you are as a reader changes through the years.
You engage with the stories differently now because of the life you have lived and the life you’re living now. This shows up when you experience Anne of Green Gables through the eyes of Marilla and Matthew rather than Anne.
It also helps when reading The Scarlet Letter. I know I gained a completely different understanding of Hester Prynne and all she went through than I had reading it in middle school.
Even with only a couple of examples, it’s clear that it makes a difference when discussing books with your kids or helping them talk through specific points for assignments. That doesn’t mean you’re telling them what to think, but it does open the door for fantastic discussions — the kinds of discussions that go a long way in shaping family culture.
2. Your example matters.
If you care enough to read this, chances are you understand the importance of raising readers. You most likely agree that reading shouldn’t be something you do to earn rewards like money or video game time. You know that reading itself is the reward.
Here’s the thing: if you want your kids to see reading for the gift that it is, they need to see YOU reading. Whether it’s getting lost in historical fiction, listening to an audiobook while folding laundry, or borrowing books about a particular topic and taking all the notes before returning them to the library, books need to be a part of your life.
If we want our kids to feel inspired and capable of reading, enjoying, and discussing classic literature, it starts with us. We must be intentional because, like everything else in life, they’re watching and learning from us.
Does it mean that you have to be reading a work of classic literature during every precious moment of downtime? No, but it doesn’t change the fact that you can’t expect your kids to follow an example they don’t have in front of them. That’s why they need us on the reading journey with them.
We should enjoy what we’re asking our kids to read.
And if you’re just not interested in reading what you’re kids are reading? If that’s the case, you may have them reading the wrong things.
Madeleine L’Engle isn’t wrong there. It’s not fair to expect our kids to be captivated by books that don’t hold our attention either. In fact, forcing them to read bad books can zap the love of reading right out of them.
I’m not referring to the occasional book that doesn’t captivate you. After all, every book can’t be in your list of all-time favorites. Instead, I’m referring to a consistent list of books that seem beneath you for you whatever reason.
On that note, a book doesn’t have to be about life as an adult to be fantastic. From picture books like The Clown of God or Who Owns the Sun? to classics like Heidi or Anne of Green Gables, there are incredible, life-changing stories written with children and adults in mind.
3. Your kids need you on the journey.
It doesn’t matter which educational philosophy guides your homeschool. In fact, many credible voices all say it: you need to read with your children.
Lest you think it’s the teacher role only that compels homeschooling parents to read with their kids, know that it’s equally beneficial to your relationship as a parent.
You can dig into all the books like Gladys Hunt’s Honey for a Child’s Heart, Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook, Meghan Cox Gurdon’s The Enchanted Hour, or Sarah Mackenzie’s The Read-Aloud Family for confirmation, but they all basically point to the same conclusion: reading with your kids is a powerful thing.
But where does all of that fit in if your kids are reading literature you’ve selected or assigned to them? In a nutshell, they need to know they’re not alone searching for value in these tried and true, meaningful books.
In other words, you need to be reading these books with your kids regardless of which homeschool hat you wear. Both roles — teacher and parent — come into play when it comes to reading because of the connection and collaboration that happens by default.
Getting Ready to Read the Classics with Your Kids
Need to brush up on classic literature or meet some of these books for the first time? Here are some resources to help you share the classics with your kids.
1. Online Book Clubs
These online book clubs are a great way to read classic books with your kids because they allow you to appreciate the books themselves, but give you room to explore topics related to the text and connect with the stories through related activities and projects.
Literary Adventures for Kids offers a wide variety of these online book clubs from picture books to classics geared toward teenagers. You can see all the options on their site, but here’s a small sampling of what’s available in the way of classic literature:
- Where the Red Fern Grows
- A Wrinkle in Time
- Alice in Wonderland for teens
- Up From Slavery for teens
- To Kill a Mockingbird for teens
- Little Women for teens
2. Guided Reading
Guided reading resources can also be a huge help with reading classic literature. In particular, I’ve found the Puffin Classics like this edition of The Odyssey and the entire Puffin in Bloom collection to be helpful because they include talking points and notes of interest at the end of each book.
If you want a guided reading series that takes things to the next level, look for B&H Publishing’s classic literature series. Sense and Sensibility and Heart of Darkness are currently available in this series, but Jane Eyre and Frankenstein are scheduled to release next year and can be preordered.
I received a free copy of Sense and Sensibility from this B&H collection to review and have been so pleased with it. Each of these gorgeous hardcover novels includes valuable insight from the ever-brilliant author, professor, and theologian Dr. Karen Swallow Prior along with the original text with footnoted explanations and definitions.
I’ve read Sense and Sensibility several times because I’m always happy to have a Jane Austen book going. Even so, the introduction and background notes from Notorious KSP shed new light on this familiar story.
(Side note: I feel like I can call her Notorious KSP because I love following her on Twitter)
I’ve connected with this work more deeply than I have in the past through the help of this guided reading approach and recommend it if you’re seeking fresh insight before sharing one of these books with your kids.
You don’t have to personally be the one to read all of these wonderful books! Free apps like Librivox have a huge selection of audiobooks in the public domain. Since classic literature and public domain go hand in hand, these recordings are great for screening a selection before reading together or for enjoying the selections with your kids.
Also keep in mind that Audible recently added the Audible Plus Catalog to their monthly membership. I’ve added some wonderful newer selections along with classics to my Audible library for free thanks to this new feature.
In closing, know that reading the classics along with your kids doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Through your example and faithfulness, you can raise readers who appreciate the classic works and lay a valuable foundation for language development and character formation in the process.
Do you have tips for reading classic literature with kids and teens? If so, we’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below. 🙂