Did you read Old Yeller as a child? Remember your terror when the enraged momma bear charges little Arliss and your rejoicing when the “yeller dog” attacks the bear to save his life? How about Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates? Did you cheer when Gretel won her race and their dad miraculously regained his memory? Not only are great books entertaining. For many reasons, reading excellent literature is essential to learning.
Don’t you remember your favorite childhood books? No matter how long it’s been since you’ve been a child? That’s because a great story sticks with you! Great literature has the power to change your life. It gives your kids the chance to “experience” different cultures, faraway places, and long-ago times in a way that typical textbooks cannot.
So it’s not rocket science to realize that one of the easiest things you can do today to make your kids’ learning stick is to read more high-quality literature. Not only will great books make your homeschooling more enjoyable. But research consistently shows how important literature is to education. Keep reading to find out why!
Note that this post contains affiliate links to books we’ve loved! If you buy one of these books using the link we’ve provided, we might make a few cents per book, at no extra cost to you. But we thank you from the bottom of our heart for your support!
Why is Literature Essential to Learning?
Literature is vital to education, from preschool through high school. No matter what type of philosophy or homeschool ‘method’ you use. It’s foundational to learning because crucial skills such as having good character, understanding others, critical thinking, and development of imagination are all used and enhanced through literature. Additional benefits include stronger vocabularies and reading comprehension as well as the development of solid pre-writing skills for younger children. Additionally, reading excellent literature is a catalyst for better writing in older children.
By the way, when I’m talking about excellent literature, I’m not referring to textbooks. Instead, I’m talking about “real” books. High-quality literature that’s full of ideas and information. These kinds of books are often called living books. Living books are written by authors with a passion for their subjects. They are the kinds of books that will capture the imaginations of your students.
Reading great literature is essential to students of all ages, but vital during the high school years. It’s at this age that your students discover the concept of “authors’ bias.” With the right literature curriculum, your high schoolers will learn to be critical thinkers of what they read, watch, and listen to. As Christian moms, we know how essential this is to keep our kids strong in the Lord.
If you as their teacher/parent choose the right books, literature can also help your students:
- deal with their complex emotions
- better understand the human condition
- give them new ways to look at the world around them
- provide insight into how the world became the way it is
Additionally, during the high school years, your students learn to express their own ideas. Studying the elements of literature will help your high schooler craft a sound argument. Write a persuasive essay. Learn to advocate for a person, group of people, an idea, or a cause. Whether in college or in life, you want your children to be able to express themselves well while speaking or writing.
More Reasons Why Literature is Essential
Besides the ones already mentioned, research has shown more reasons why literature is such a learning help. Here are more benefits of reading and listening to great literature:
- A fascinating story gives pleasure to listeners and readers. It sparks imagination and develops thinking skills.
- Literature provides a language model for those who hear and read it. Therefore it paves the way for better writing in future years.
- Reading and listening to great literature builds experiences in young readers that help them understand “real life.”
- Literature supports all areas of your language arts curriculum. You can read great literature about topics in history, science, geography, and other curriculum areas, as well!
- By reading about other’s problems, literature helps children deal with their own problems. It also helps kids better understand the problems of people they know and hear about.
- Reading about other races and cultures helps readers value others who are different from them.
- Literature helps one see the world more broadly. It helps us not to be so centered on ourselves.
- Reading excellent literature can teach many moral lessons and develop the character of readers.
- Many ages enjoy superior literature at the same time, making reading aloud an activity the family can enjoy together.
I don’t know of another element of education that can do all of those things, do you?
And especially as the world becomes more complicated with each passing year, it’s crucial that students understand the lives, experiences, beliefs, and motivations of others. Especially as believers, it’s critical for our older students to better understand the world they live in before leaving the nest!
So, how do I use literature to teach?
It’s amazing what great literature can teach. But how do you make it happen? Here are some posts from our Train up a Child Publishing blog archives that will give you ideas for using literature to teach language arts (and other things!) in your homeschool:
- A Week of Gentle Grammar Lessons – this is a week of language arts lessons from our 4th-grade daily lesson plans. You can see how easy these literature lessons are to put together and teach. And even better, you can use the same books your students are using in history and science. Additionally, this allows your students to review history/science at the same time as they do language arts!
- 15 Creative Language Arts Lessons Using Living Books – this post provides many additional ideas Charlotte Mason left us about ways to use literature to teach language arts, other than oral narration. These ideas are perfect for late elementary, with a few for middle school and even high school. You’ll be surprised at the variety of ideas!
- Our Favorite Christmas Books – provides a list of beautifully illustrated, keepsake books. I bet some of them are new to you. Included in this post are character lessons and additional Christmas activities.
- Use our literature-based high school courses, with step-by-step instructions, customizable assignments to fit your student, and easy grading helps for you. Click on the courses you are interested in and scroll down to see the table of contents and sample assignments.
As a homeschooling family, you have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to incorporate more literature into your children’s lives. But I warn you — if you start reading more excellent books, you might have to give up your textbook curriculum in favor of a literature-based one. If you do, I promise you’ll never look back!
Even if you aren’t yet ready to ditch your textbooks in favor of total learning using high-quality literature, make sure to add more great books into your homeschooling. You will reap mighty benefits and your kids will thank you!
Following is a shortlist of some of our favorite books to get you started.
Literature for all ages!
The Phantom Tollbooth is perhaps the most original book we’ve ever read. The story’s about a very bored boy, Milo. Then Milo finds a tollbooth. And what a tollbooth. It transports him into an incredible place, full of adventures! Milo is not bored anymore. There are many lessons here with hilarious wordplay! Perfect for a read-aloud.
The Green Ember will be one of your children’s favorite read-alouds of all time. This is a swashbuckling, heroic story of good against evil with rabbits as the main characters. The Green Ember is full of excellent character lessons and plenty of excitement and drama with a sprinkling of humor.
Hans Brinker (or The Silver Skates), is chock full of adventure, suspense, and character lessons as your children read about 15-year-old Hans and his younger sister, Gretel, and their seriously injured and amnesiac Dad. Hans’ sacrifices for his dad and others throughout the story will inspire your children, as well as expose them to life in the Netherlands in the late 1800s. Your kids will love the ending!
The Bronze Bow is the exciting story of an eighteen-year-old boy at the time of Christ who burns with hatred after losing his father. As he travels down the road to revenge against the Romans occupying Israel, he comes to learn that death is not his enemy. He begins to see just how powerful the exchange of hatred for love can be.
Johnny Tremain is a somewhat arrogant young man who is a highly skilled silversmith in Boston just before the American Revolution. However, one day he has a tragic accident and is unable to continue his work. Finding a new occupation leads Johnny to rub shoulders with the men of the Revolution. As the story unfolds, Johnny becomes a player in creating a new America and learns quite a bit about humility in the process.
Amos Fortune is a compelling story of a fifteen-year-old boy who is captured, transported to America, and sold as a slave. He dreams of freedom yet maintains his courage and his integrity. After 45 years as a slave, he finally begins to see his hopes revealed. The character and humility of this great man will inspire your children. This is one of our family’s favorites!
Hittite Warrior tells the tale of Uriah, a Hittite boy living during the Old Testament Judges. He is on a mission after his family is killed by the Greeks. This book is full of ancient history, action, war, and suspense. As you read you become immersed in the life of this young warrior as he comes to understand peace and forgiveness.
Set during World War II, before America entered the war, this is the incredible story of a soldier who found his kidnapped brother… who was raised as a German youth, never knowing his true identity. The struggle between their newfound brother and his real brothers and sisters is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Will this sullen young boy, raised as a Nazi, ever be able to rediscover his true identity? Grab this book and find out.
Literature for high school
Quo Vadis, which translates “Where are you going?” is set after the death of Christ, during the horrific reign of the Roman emperor Nero. Quo Vadis immerses the reader into the Roman culture with its politics and intense persecution of the Early Church. This is a story of redemption and transformation. Even better, parts of this book are based on the writings of Tacitus, a Roman senator (and therefore primary source) for this time period. We study Quo Vadis in our high school World Literature course. Don’t miss it!
Although Safely Home is fiction, it realistically portrays the persecution of Christians in China. An American businessman travels to China to visit his former Chinese college roommate. Although the American is not practicing his faith, his Chinese friend is. And at great peril, living in terror of being caught by the Chinese police. Through this excellent novel, the reader comes to understand the fascinating spiritual heritage of the Chinese. Also and appreciate Chinese believers’ strength and courage as they live out their faith. The author forces the reader to understand what it means to “take up your cross daily” as the story moves the American on a slow path of returning to his faith. One of our family’s all-time favorites!
The Chosen is an incredibly moving, fictional story that will plunge you into the life of two young Jewish boys of very different sects. In spite of their differences, they forge an unbreakable bond of friendship through difficult circumstances. This book takes place in 1944. Beautifully and sensitively written, this is a story that will profoundly affect you and your students. Another book not to miss! After reading this, you’ll probably want to also read its sequel, The Promise. The Chosen is in our high school General Literature course, written especially for 9th graders.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a must-read for your high school students. This American classic tells the story of a courageous, honest, compassionate lawyer in the midst of a controversial court case in the 1960s. Full of suspense and drama, it will help your student understand the Civil Rights movement as well as the racial tension we still struggle with today. We’ve included this classic in our high school American Literature course. Don’t miss it!
Two More Classics for High School
Okay, these last two books are classics you’ll recognize — they are fantastic in their UNABRIDGED form. I’ll warn you, they are LONG (as in 1200-1300 pages), but excellent! Plan accordingly!
The Count of Monte Cristo is considered by some as one of the best books ever written. Again, choose the unabridged version. (Make sure to check.) This is the story of a man wrongfully accused of treason and thrown into a cruel prison for many years…until he escapes and plans revenge! Quite long but well worth the time. Captivating with many character lessons.
Les Miserables is another lengthy book, also teaching about grace and redemption. This moving book gives the extra benefit of providing tons of historical information about the French Revolution. Again, the unabridged is long but worth it. Otherwise, the best parts will be edited!
Imagine a day without textbooks or workbooks!
If your children are weary of worksheets and you want to teach them the most effective way possible, then explore literature-based learning. All of these books and more are in our literature-based homeschool curriculum.
And make sure to put some of the excellent literature above on your list this year for holiday and birthday gifts for your kids! You won’t be sorry!