As a young homeschool mom, I was busy in my son’s room dusting and re-shelving some books one afternoon. After dumping several hundred volumes on his bed, I was called away and promptly forgot all about them. My eight-year-old son headed to bed that night, but soon reemerged from his room with a grin on his face, “Mom, this print rich environment is getting in the way of my napping environment!”
A Print Rich Environment
Chris and Ellyn Davis of the Elijah Company introduced me to the term Print Rich Environment – having a home filled with good books to foster a love of learning. They built their case by citing Cradles of Eminence, a study of 400 famous men and women of the 20th century that concluded among other things, “A rule of thumb for predicting success is to know the number of books in the home. . .”
Now, I had been shopping for wonderful children’s books since before my children were born. But after reading their comments in the infancy of my homeschooling endeavor, I ramped up my efforts to create a library that would nurture my small children’s developing minds. As a young mother, I wanted to create an atmosphere in our home that would cultivate a love of learning and develop the habit of logical, sequential thinking. I wanted my children to interact with the world’s greatest thinkers and to wrestle with their ideas. In short, I wanted them to have a better education than I had.
I began going to library sales, checking bargain book racks, scouring catalogs for the best that was available. I memorized recommended lists from wonderful books like: Gladys Hunt’s trilogy- Honey for a Child’s Heart, Honey for a Teen’s Heart, and Honey for a Woman’s Heart. I utilized Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson and Who Should We Then Read? by Jan Bloom.
Set the Example
If we are to teach our children to love good books, we must lead the way. I embraced Charlotte Mason’s advice, “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.”
She recommended keeping three books going besides the Bible: a stiff book (maybe something challenging like C. S. Lewis), a moderately easy book (perhaps a biography), and a novel (something like Jane Austin or Elizabeth Goudge). She suggested that a woman read the one she felt fit for that day. By the end of a year, it is amazing what you can get through!
A Home Library
Even though our home library has been radically culled on a few occasions, it now stands at about 4,000 volumes and is still growing. Though it was an expensive time-consuming endeavor and has required dusting and packing and building shelving through the years, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was my gift to my children and will be my legacy to my grandchildren. There is certainly a place for the use of a public library (and we did frequent ours), but there are several reasons to build your own.
Teachable moments are fleeting. Let me give you an example. As I write, we are in the middle of dealing with the remains of a winter ice storm. The landscape is perfectly white, which is probably why I noticed a rather unusual thing this morning. To my amazement, a fairly large bobcat walked calmly under my office window and circled the perimeter of the house, probably looking for mice or rabbits. While I see a lot of wildlife out my window (no human habitations visible clear to the horizon) a large predator like a bobcat is fairly rare, especially so close to a house and in the open.
When things like that would happen through the course of the week when my children were young, we would pull out ID books and try to identify just exactly what we had seen. Then we would find other informative books and read about the bird, animal, tree leaf, insect, or mineral we had just discovered.
Of course, 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 and sometimes I would quickly design a unit study to make the most of the chance encounter.
Here is how this worked. On an easily accessible shelf in the main part of the house, we kept our collection of books to answer practical questions:
- ID books on insects, birds, trees, spiders, rocks, native plants, clouds, etc. that allowed us to name things
- Dictionaries and a thesaurus to answer word questions or spelling
- Different types of atlases to answer geographical questions
- Encyclopedias to give us a quick reference to a person or place
Often the kids would burst through the door after working in the garden or exploring the canyon and plop down in front of the bookshelves in the entry and pull out a book to answer their burning questions. In the evenings at supper, it was a common occurrence for someone to leave the table and grab the encyclopedia or an atlas to clarify a point. Books became a natural part of the ebb and flow of our lives.
In the next post we’ll talk about more reasons to create a print rich environment in your home!
Copyright 2010 Home Life, Inc., PO Box 1190, Fenton, MO 63026-1190, (800) 346-6322, www.home-school.com. Originally published in Practical Homeschooling # 95. A Practical Homeschooling subscription is $19.95 for six issues. Used by permission.
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