One of the Secrets to Nurturing a Strong Mind in Your Child - Sarah Mae
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One of the Secrets to Nurturing a Strong Mind in Your Child


I have been let in on a great secret.

Maybe it’s not a secret, but it was unknown to me until I actually tried it. My Ella, avid reader that she is, was always picking books at the library that were of the Geronimo Stilton sort. Fun, but in a candy-appetite sort of way. Sure, she was reading, and I always encourage reading, but Sally pointed out to me that just like our diets, what we feed our minds daily is important in being healthy. If my girl always reads “candy books”, her mind would be engaged, but not necessarily strong. Plus, what we consume frequently we tend to have an appetite for. I want my children to crave the good things. I also want her to learn about history and interesting people and science and so much more through “living books” and the wide world around us.

All to say, the secret…

It is, the book basket. And specifically, it looks like this: A basket by the bed filled with a biography, a history (can be historical fiction), a science/nature, a classic literature, and a fun book.

There it is, that’s it. That is what my girl has been cycling through the last few months, and it has been the greatest asset in nurturing her mind. Whenever we go to the library (usually every two weeks), she must pick at least five books on those topics. Of course she brings home more books to read, but those are the requirements. And friends, she is not only becoming an excellent reader, I know she is developing a strong mind. Her vocabulary is vast and her knowledge of historical events and people is growing weekly. And all through story and interesting texts.

People often ask me what I use for curriculum. Mostly, the library. We read. We read good, living books on a variety of subjects. We talk about them, and then we look up more information on what we’ve learned if we’ve become curious. We have a few other texts here and there, mainly for math and mapping, but our go-to is the library.

But how, you might ask, do you get your children to read the five books?

Rewards of course! 😉 My children get to pick a special experience if they read a certain number of books. My nine year old has to read 50 chapter books (or, if they are science or biography, they can be 30 pages depending). Her choice of reward? Hershey park with her dad! My son, who has struggled with reading, also has to read 50, but they are of the BOB book variety. His choice? A night out with me in a hotel. Yes, these are expensive items, but they have to read quite a bit to earn the reward. They keep track by keeping a poster in their room and they put a sticker on it for each book they read. It has been a great success! Now listen, I didn’t come up with any of these ideas; I got them from Sally Clarkson. If you’re not following her, you must. She’s lovely and gracious and wise and has done the work in raising her children well. I love her so and you will too.

If you want more ideas, or book recommendations, pick up Read for the Heart: Whole Books for WholeHearted Families by Sarah Clarkson (Sally’s daughter). It is wonderful, and is filled with practical advice for encouraging your children to read.

And just for fun, you must run right now and get your hands on the deeply touching book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It is one of the best books I have ever read. The kids and I were hooked; we couldn’t put it down. It is an exceptional work by Kate DiCamillo.

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Okay, your turn! What secrets do you have when it comes to encouraging your children to be well-read? Also, what is a current kids book you are loving right now?

Keep on!


P.S. Another way we sneak in “reading” is by listening to audio books in the car. We are currently listening to Anne of Green Gables every time we go somewhere. It’s been a fun way to get more reading into our lives!

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  • Ashley O

    What a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

  • Laura Lee Ellis

    Great ideas, Sarah Mae. Love living books! Another great way to help your kids develop strong minds is to read aloud together often even after their old enough to read on their own:

  • Cindy Finley

    We homeschooled for 13 years with good “spines” and lots of living books. I completely agree with you. There is nothing like having lots of great books around. We always had a read-aloud going. Most often it was in line with what we were studying in history. BiblioPlan for Families was a great resource for pairing history and literature. We also love audio books. The Penderwick books by Jeanne Birdsall were one of our favorites. We transitioned our kids to a classical Christian school a few years back and it’s a great fit. But those years of homeschooling laid such a strong foundation for a love for learning as well as strong family connectivity. Some of our favorite books that made history come alive? Shadow Spinner, Secret of the Andes, The Hawk that Flies by Night, Beyond the Sacred Page, The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Hittite Warrior, A Wrinkle in Time … I could keep going, but I’m guessing that many of my favorites are also yours. 😉

  • Erika

    Great post. Love Kate DiCamillo!

    I think one key is lots and lots of picture books — at any age! Sometimes it’s nice to just get lost in a beautiful picture book. The art and illustrations and the words! I’ve seen many a 10-year old when I taught in public school go for the picture books 🙂 Sally Lloyd-Jones often talks about how children should read books that nourish the mind and soul, too — and how she loves her job writing such books.

    One thing I’ve done with my son who is just starting to read is to pick out books that I think he will like, a new series, etc…just to expose him. He may not like at first but I find that several library trips later he wants to pick them out on his own. Also, if he chooses a “twaddle” type book, I just go with it. For example, if he’s in to a certain character from a show he wants to read and learn all about him/her. I don’t necessarily encourage those types but if it’s helping develop the reader in him, I’m all for it. Lastly, for our read alouds I pick something above his level but that we can discuss together. For example, 10 Boys Who Changed the World.

  • Jen

    I love this! Your posts inspire me. I just reserved the Kate DiCamillo book at the library 🙂 My kids are 2 and 4, so we’ll see if they get into it. We read picture books and they love books on cd. Their favorite is our Polar Express book read by Liam Neeson. I’ve tried other books on cd, but they have fallen short. I finally found StorytimeOnline on youtube, where SAG award celebrities read picture books and it’s adorable! Also extremely helpful when you’re sick and have no voice to read to them 😉 Enjoying all the recommendations from other commenters and love the fact that you use the library for your curriculum! Feeling like homeschooling is a real possibility!

  • Phyllis Sather

    When our son was diagnosed with leukemia just before we started homeschooling our oldest daugher we talked with several teachers from Christian schools about how we could do leukemia and homeschool. All of them said read to them, just read to them. We did and they are all still voracious readers. Our oldest typically reads 20 books during our week at the cabin.

  • Gabrielle

    I love those 5 core types of books!! We’re going to try this with my 6 year old. And yes, following Sally Clarkson is a must. Her writing is such an encouragement to me, and I actually found your blog only through reading hers (and then reading Desperate!). Thanks for these fabulous ideas. Our summer reading extravaganza is about to begin.

  • Mary Grace Beelman Peters

    Hi Sarah! We LOVE Kate DiCamillo too–so many of hers are forever favorites! I have started reading the same books my kids are reading, even the chapter ones (although not all). This helps me engage them in meaningful conversation. I’m also reading some that they are growing into, ones that would be coming up in the next year or two. My oldest (9yr old) and I are going to do a book swap this summer: I pick 2-3 that I’d like him to read, and he picks 2-3 that he’d like me to read. I’m excited about this! Thanks for the book basket idea!!! Blessings to your family~ Mary Grace Peters ps. Also, one of our favorite picture books (your son might like it) is “If I Built A Car” by Chris VanDusen (he is the artist for Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series)

  • Mary Caldwell

    This is great! However, when I get to the library I am overwhelmed by all the books. I feel like I don’t know if the books are good or bad. This is a bad excuse I know. I have a friend that takes her kids to the library I may ask her to let us tag along 🙂

  • ArlenePellicane

    Love, love, love this! Dr. Gary Chapman and I write in “Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World” about the importance of READING! I tease moms and say, “Even if you’re not a reader, if your child is in the room, just grab a book and pretend like you’re reading.” Our kids will do what they see us do. My daughter who is in 3rd grade loves Geronimo Stilton and next in line to read is a biography about Corrie Ten Boom. She doesn’t need any incentives for Geronimo but she earns cash for Corrie!

  • Karen Baughman

    Just came home from CHAP – where I listened to your 50cent Homeschool talk. We are preparing to homeschool beginning in the fall. Our kids will be in 4th, 6th and 8th grade (and a two year old, just for added fun), and have gone to public schools up til this point. I have no clue what I am doing, but am following the Lord’s lead on this. I walked around the convention all morning and collected a bazillion pamphlets. I said to my husband, “Everyone told me I needed to come see all these curriculum’s in person…but they all look the same to me. A book. I don’t know how they will work for our kids, unless I use them.” I was nearly in tears. This was just prior to your session.
    I know you didn’t get to say everything you wanted to say….I hope you don’t feel discouraged by that….because….you said exactly what I needed to hear. So, thank you. Thank you for reminding me that its not about the curriculum. Thank you for reminding me to consider “why” we are doing this. Thank you for speaking words of love and encouragement to all those other mamas who may have been feeling overwhelmed. Thanks for letting the Lord use you!

  • k

    Hi Sarah Mae! Really appreciate your blog and really like the book basket idea!
    We have found lots of not so fantastic things at the library (you sort of have to know how to filter through it- lots of praying and flipping through pages- it’s amazing what the Lord will reveal!) so we look at book lists, etc and reserve lots of books online through the library system that we then pick up at our local library. That helps fill up our bags and leaves less room for pacing the shelves to find just anything appealing to read. We also read aloud a lot and I find if we read good books aloud at least they are getting a taste for good books. For those new to homeschooling moms, I find if we have set times we read- at breakfast, lunch and before nap and bed times- the kids look forward to it as much as I do and it doesn’t get completely neglected when life gets busy:). It’s so fun to have inside jokes, stories, and adventures that have come from experiencing so many stories together! Along with Sarah Clarkson’s Read for the Heart, the Sonlight Curriculum catalog is also a great reference for finding good book titles (and the library has almost all of them!). We’re currently reading Pinapple Place and the sequel. Very fun reads for elementary ages!

  • Thea Rosenburg

    I love the book basket idea! We have sort of “book pile” going on–all over our living room floor 🙂

  • Renee

    I just found your blog through the Money Saving Mom blog. I am a Home Schooling Mom. This will be our 7th year Homeschooling. We have a daughter who will be a Senior, and a son who will be a 6th grader. We have always used curriculum, and that has always been quite costly. My husband is our only source of income, as I am a SAHM. I was reading through you blog, and was so excited and encouraged about your sources of utilizing the library for curriculum, with the exception of Math, and Spelling. And, I also love, love, love the idea of the “reward” system you guys use (the Hersey Park, and hotel stay). I just had a question, can you tell me what the time frame is that your kiddos have to read the 50 chapter books? Is that for the whole school year? I saw that the 50 chapter books read was for your 9 year old, so I know that I would need to adjust that for my 2 kids. My 6th grader is 10, and my 12th grader is 16.

    You have no idea how excited that I am about reading your blog. I save your blog in my favorites last night. Like I said, I have been homeschooling for several years, but we have always used curriculum. I have seen blogs, and done research on the internet before about using the library, but your blog is the first one that I have come across, that has actually been able to encourage and get me pumped about going that route. I feel like God used you and your blog to help our family be able to homeschool this year and not struggle financially and have that burden this year.

    Thank you for your time, have a blessed day. Have a wonderful school year.

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