The Angelicscalliwag Homeschool: Reading and Literature Studies

For Part One: Introduction

For Part Two: Why History?

For Part Three: Era, Person, Dress Up, Geography, Explorer study

This part will cover the history of writing, reading and our literature studies

History of Writing

I cover this briefly as an interlude before teaching the literature of the time.  I love seeing how writing has evolved, and how the different cultures have taken a basic form of communication and each have made it their own.  In Mesopotamia we learnt about cuniform:

In Egypt Hieroglyphs:


And we made Viking rune stones:

And just recently when we were in China we studied Chinese characters:


And its development:

A piece of scrap wood from the kitchen, which between all of us we covered in pictographs

We have looked at the writing of all the cultures we have studied.  In the new year we will be studying Chaucer and will once more be shown some of the very old English.  Love it!

This study of writing leads us nicely on to the books that are made up of it!

Books, glorious books

You may have noticed a common thread throughout my blog – namely all of our love of books.  I am so blessed to have three older children who love, love, love to read.  I can not keep up, financially or otherwise.  But what a problem to have!  I create very heavy reading lists which are devoured in days and then I am begged for more.  This is handy because a whole heap of learning goes on in those reading times.

Fiction or non fiction?

Why choose?  We read it all and blog posts, news articles, primary evidence, secondary evidence, historic fiction and lots of non fiction.   I have a few heavier non – fiction to hand and if I think the children might struggle with them, I read them aloud a few minutes at a time.  If they lose interest I don’t continue.  There is just no point in my eyes.  Why waste time reading a book that the children are probably day dreaming through?  If I think it is very important, I will read it and then give them a précis or photocopy certain pages for them to read.

This variety in their reading allows the children to learn heavy subjects with no teaching from me.  This is useful, because I am actually a very poor teacher.  My strength is facilitation and reading is a great way to facilitate learning with very little effort on my behalf.

Picture Books

I love picture books and will always seek to have some on hand regardless of the topic.   I am fairly snobby as to the picture books I choose.  There are some out there that are atrocious and fit only for the lining of our rabbit hutch.  In the main, though, I have been pleased with those recommended by curriculum companies such as Sonlight.

This book about the Passover was fabulous:

Whilst the book we read on Champollion the children loved so much they all (including T11) rewote the book in their own words!

‘I am the Mummy HEBNEFERT’ by Eve Bunting was a fabulous book, which I used to tackle the tricky subject of the morality of keeping mummies in museums:

I do love a good picture book, and they are fabulous at tackling otherwise less interesting subjects.

Literature Studies

Oh, how I love our literature studies.  It’s funny, because this would have been a weak area of mine at school and one in which I had little interest.  But time changes all things including Claire and I now thoroughly enjoy them.  I think if I needed to forgo everything to save money, literature would be the last thing to go.

I am going to reiterate my thoughts on good quality picture books, even for literature study.  As we have tackled literature meant for older readers, I always have the children read the children’s version first.  For example, we studied Gilgamesh when the children had just turned 7, so they read these versions:

When we studied Homer, we used Sutcliff’s excellent, true to the original, retellings:


We would then use the original text to carry out passage study, like when we studied the Trojan War in detail.

Currently we are studying Dante and I am using a young person’s version:

however, we will use the original version when we do our Canto V study next term.  I have written about my views on picture books for literature studies here.

I have been asked why I tackle literature like this at such a young age.  There are many reasons, the main one being the sheer learning potential of each book we read.  For example, there was no need to do a separate study on Greek Mythology, we learnt more than enough reading the Odyssey and Iliad.  Shortly after reading these books I had the children write a descriptive passage, in the style of Homer, about their own encounter with the Cyclops.  They were short but so funny.

Having already read Gilgamesh, we were then able to seek for the elements that go into making an Epic poem and compare them.  When we read Beowulf the children were able to compare the burial described there with the Anglo-Saxon burial they had learnt about at Sutton Hoo, which we had built using Play Mobil:

Through Homer, the children learnt about similes, metaphors and alliteration which stood them in good sted to understand the Anglo-Saxon literary device of kennings found in Beowulf.  This year we are studying Dante’s Divine Comedy, another epic poem. This is an allegorical poem written in terza rime (a three line rhyming scheme).  Chaucer also wrote in terza rime, which will be handy for the children to understand and appreciate as it is the forerunner to the Iambic pentameter that Shakespeare used in his work (to be studied next year).

Even though literature is by its very nature a study of writing, I still try to make it as hands on as possible.  During our Beowulf study we made a newspaper outlining Beowulf’s feats and called it the Geatish Guardian:

Our Geatish Guardian- a newspaper all about Boewulf!

In addition, I had the children make up tomb stones for Beowulf out of air drying clay, complete with Runes as an inscription:


During our study of the Trojan war the children made reliefs of the horse:

In our recent Dante study we built a diorama of the Inferno.  This was a huge project, over which I lost the little sleep I do manage to get.  The children however, talk about it fondly and really enjoyed the whole process:

Our very own Circle of Hell

I think my most favourite activity to date was our board game based on Homer’s Trojan war, complete with a plaster bandage Trojan horse which held all the discs (soldiers):


That was immense fun to create and encouraged all sorts of learning from strategy to building to recall when they made up the question cards.  So much learning without the children even realising!

Tomorrow I will write about how we cover writing in all its forms – narration, summation, essay writing and the like.


    1. Yes… and when Clara’s week inside your brain is up, it’s MY turn. I think you are absolutely FABULOUS!!! And I am sure that all the others who read your blog will agree with me when I say thank you so much for your generosity in sharing all your learning ideas and experiences with us. I for one LOVE your blog!

    2. Seriously, both of you don’t want to go anywhere near my brain! It’s like a spaghetti junction, which is why I can’t get to sleep at night due to all the unravelling that needs to be done to make sense of everything in there! Honestly, I’d stay well clear if I were you!
      But thank you for the encouragement, that’s lovely! And it is absolutely my pleasure to share.

  1. What amazing ideas you have come up with. I love the game. What wonderful concrete learning you are providing for your children.
    Blessings, Dawn

  2. Today, I am at a loss for words. Excellent post. I agree completely, wholeheartedly, absolutely!
    We are a literature-loving family. We have books in just about every room of the house and boxes of books in the garage because there is no room in the house for them. The boxes have special labels and coding so we can find them if we need them.
    I love the activities you do with the children. What do you do with all of the things they create?
    Once again, thank you for sharing. You are doing a fantastic job of showing and explaining what you do.
    Have a wonderful day, Claire.
    (I guess I wasn’t really at a loss for words. Sorry.)

  3. This is so much fun to read. It makes my heart smile.

    I jotted down some of the books you mention that we have never read. We do have the Sutcliff books and the Gilgamesh series, and my children have read the Gilgamesh until the bindings have come loose.

    I am new to your blog, and I have not been able to explore every link, but I was wondering if you have compiled a literature list all in one place of the titles you have used for study.

    1. I smiled at your heart smiling! What a lovely expression.
      I haven’t done a particular post on book lists but if you scroll down to my categories and click on the history period you are studying I always include a book list in at least one of my posts. Maybe one day when I have more time I’ll get one up…

  4. We are reading those Gilgamesh books next week! Your ideas are endless, and I am so grateful you are ahead of us in history studies…it will serve our family well 🙂

  5. What else can I say, but that I so enjoy all the spin-offs that you do for history and literature, and putting them all together so seamlessly. Love it! 🙂

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