I think the most valuable time I have ever spent home-schooling my kids is the time we just talk – about everything. Of course the kids loved to talk when they were little, but as they’ve grown older their subject material has become more sophisticated. Now instead of full-blown explanations of Pokemon characters or deadly snakes, our conversations cover other territory: books, politics, story ideas, future scenarios, relationships, economics, religion, philosophy, history, health, current events, family stories and cool new game concepts.
Traveling in the car is always prime conversation time, but I find that some of our best discussions follow reading aloud a thought-provoking book. We’ve always read aloud a lot of fiction and history, but when my oldest was 12, I started reading aloud other nonfiction books each day (for about 15 min). This usually was enough to launch 30 minutes of spirited debate, conjecture and spin-off topics.
Most of the books we use lend themselves to a single short chapter a day, so it takes some time to get through each book. But I believe it works better this way, taking the time to slowly digest each topic. Here’s some of the books we have used over the years:
The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn – how to detect faulty reasoning
The Thinking Toolbox by Hans Bluedorn – discusses critical thinking skills and how to argue convincingly
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard Maybury – very accessible explanation of inflation
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt – high school level examination of Austrian theory
Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Sandra Eisert – a great visual comparison of human culture
The next book I would love to do is How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, but my kids are now too busy with other things. Maybe I’ll find someone else to talk about it with! Of course, there are about a thousand more books I wish we could have got to. I wanted to cover more philosophy – one book I’ve heard great things about is Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Josteen Gaarder. I also wanted to examine the original sacred texts from various world religions. Some of the choices depend on the kids too – I would never pursue this with a book they didn’t find interesting. So this list is only to give you an example of the types of books you can use. Magazines such as Smithsonian, Popular Science, Wired and other science/political/current events type journals work well too.
I didn’t make my kids write any essays or answer comprehension questions or even narrate after reading – they were usually more than willing to jump in with their own examples or opinions. Although some of the material eventually found its way into later writing projects. One son was fascinated with the way the economic systems of a Role Playing Game (RPG) virtual world affected the game play, so he wrote an essay comparing the economies of “World of Warcraft” with “Runescape.”
If anyone has recommendations for other good “discussion” books, I’d be glad to hear about them – and add to this list.