9 Ideas for Living Book Activities

Whenever we start a new homeschool read-aloud, and I want to find activities to go with it, I google: "BOOK TITLE homeschool." I inevitably find a few blogs with a pdf bundle with cutesy clip art images to go with the book, teaching math and spelling aimed at lower elementary kids, but isn't at all what I want.

After some thought, I realized [what is probably obvious to veteran homeschoolers] that I'm finding unit studies, when what I really want is to engage in a living book study. Of course, living books don't require worksheets. They teach by engaging you in a well written story. As we stretch out a book over a few weeks, we enjoy engaging with them in hands-on ways.

So here's a list of ideas (for my own sake as much as yours) for enjoying a living book with kids, drawn from our recent experience:

1. Historical/Geographic context: Often this is the reason I've chosen a book. A quick check on Wikipedia can provide a lot of this information, and then you can look up the location on the globe or map, or note other stories you know from the same time period to draw connections.

2. Themes: Although sometimes the themes are obvious, sometimes we study something that I'm less familiar with and I need a little help. Right now we're reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland because we're going to see the ballet next month. I realized my knowledge of the story is pretty limited, and I was thrilled to realize that Cliff's notes are online. A quick read on the Themes section is a good starting point for what I can expect and what kinds of conversations we may have.

3. Recipes: Food is an important part of many stories. We especially enjoyed cooking as we read through the whole The Little House Series one year. Making lemonade, butter, maple candy, and fried cakes were all helpful insights into pioneer life. We absolutely love the The Little House Cookbook! We also had a lot of fun making turkish delight when we read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

4. Recreating scenes: Focusing on some of our favorite scenes helps us live within the story a little more. We made a diorama of the cabin in the woods after reading The Courage of Sarah Noble, and built a lego sod house after reading On the Banks of Plum Creek.

5. Wildlife: Notice when plants and animals play important roles in the book. Look them up in field guides, read about them, and draw them. Find videos on youtube. We chose Island of the Blue Dolphins especially because of one child's interest in sea life, but we encountered so many new creatures throughout the story. We often had to look up words to figure out what kind of animal it was, or food she was eating. We enjoyed watching videos of Karana's devilfish.

6. Handicrafts/Games/Activities: Experiencing the different types of activities of people of different times and cultures can be a lot of fun. We tried a few Little House on the Prairie crafts with My Little House Crafts Book, and we made a thaumatrope after reading the Kirsten books.

7. Write about it: I had already planned to have my kids write a mini-book report on Stuart Little, but when they were unhappy with the ending they ended up sitting down to write their own new endings. This was a lot of fun and helped them think through the story a bit, as well.

8. Field Trips: When we read The Trumpet of the Swan, we decided to go to a local park and read the last two chapters of the story while eating lunch and feeding the ducks and geese. [We wished our park had swans, but we enjoyed the geese anyway!] Other times we read in a noisy restaurant, or the train museum, to add a little ambience to our story. Its harder for little ones to pay attention for very long this way, but its a fun way to finish (or begin!) a new story.

9. Watch the movie: I won't let the kids watch the movie until we've finished the book, but they are often excited now to realize a book has a movie. It helps to actually see and hear the clothing and styles and accents of a story. Its also fun to discuss how the movie was different from the book and why. I'm generally impressed that they prefer the truer plot of the book to the movie, but they can also appreciate the fun of the movie. We've especially enjoyed seeing Anne's puffed sleeves after reading Anne of Green Gables, and the tree house of The Swiss Family Robinson.

So there you go! My best 9 tips for activities to go with your living books. Turns out I knew what I was doing more than I realized, and next time I'll skip the googling!

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