Approaching middle school for the first time as a homeschool mom can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Including a literature-rich experience
for your little men and women can be the first and easiest step you take toward a successful middle school journey.
If you’ve been homeschooling for long, chances are pretty good you’ve already been reading classics with your kids before they start middle school. The Secret Garden, Black beauty, and Robinson Crusoe are just a few popular classics for lower grades.
The middle school years, however, provide an opportunity to expand your reading of the classics. Your children are older. They are ready for deeper, more grown-up topics and have the ability to grasp heavier themes and plot lines. This is your chance to get them hooked on classic novels and prepare them for a literature-dense high school career that puts them ahead in the college game.
Reasons to Cover Classic Literature in Middle School
Sure, they should still be reading what they like, but including classic novels in their curriculum will show them what incredible sentence structure, rich vocabulary, and a slower pace can do for a book. Most of the books we now consider classics were written at a time when reading was the most luxurious and popular pastime. Instant gratification was not a thing. You couldn’t get the story in a 2-hour film; often you had to wait a month for the next installment to come out in a newspaper or magazine. These authors knew their stuff when it came to foreshadowing, building suspense, and immersing the reader in the story.
Yet that’s only one of the reasons you should read classic novels with your middle schoolers. Classics are a peek into history by their very nature–they were written during another time period. Often the language itself is historical. I have been careful to include at least 3 classic novels that are from the historical periods we study every school year. This year, we’re reading Animal Farm for WWII studies, The Great Gatsby for the Roarin’ 20s, and The Grapes of Wrath for the Great Depression. That way, my boys aren’t just learning facts, they are getting immersed in the time periods and thought processes of the eras written by authors who actually lived through them. I am not making it up that my boys love this method and learn more through it.
Classic novels can also be a serious influence on your child’s writing skills. Just seeing the way it’s done by authors whose works have withstood the test of time is going to help them learn how to better construct a sentence or describe a scene. The vocabulary that will be introduced to them is astronomical. They could learn hundreds of new words in just one Dickens novel. (Believe me, I’ve seen it happen.)
Ways to Include Classic Literature in Middle School
Because of all the reasons you should read classics with your middle schoolers, you should also read them aloud with your kids. I am not lying
when I say I have 3 copies of every classic book I own, plus another on my Kindle. When we read classics in our homeschool, we read them aloud
together. Sometimes I read and the boys follow along in their own copies, and sometimes I have them read alternating pages. Either way, they are
both seeing and hearing the words, which helps them grasp language they might be struggling with.
It means I’m there to give a definition if they don’t know the word or to explain a passage they didn’t quite comprehend. It also leads to lively conversations about human nature and history (you should have seen them realize this week that Victor Frankenstein was really just a selfish jerk–their words). There’s nothing quite like seeing your kids make the connections that are literally expanding their worlds as you watch.
Reading classics aloud with them will also give you the opportunity to help with topics that confuse or worry them. It gives you the chance to prepare them for life in a safe and non-judgy way. You know what your kids are ready for better than anybody, so choose the books wisely and you can cover topics that might otherwise require you to have ‘a talk’ with them. I don’t know about you, but I’m shuddering just thinking about ‘talks.’ I’d much rather read a book.
The added bonus here is that reading a chapter a day aloud with your kids is a great time to slow down, enjoy each other’s company, and bond. Bonding over books is better than sharing an ice cream.
Classic Literature Books for Middle School
I’ve already listed some of the books I’m reading with my 6th and 9th grader this year, but there are tons to choose from. From a librarian and
educator’s point of view, here’s a short list that I feel are appropriate for middle schoolers, in no particular order (again, you know what your
kids are ready for better than I do, but this list is a great start).
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Les Miserable by Victor Hugo
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London
- Hamlet or Macbeth by William Shakespeare
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
If you don’t have a tradition of reading aloud in your homeschool, or if you’ve stopped because your kids are reading for themselves, introducing
classics in the middle grades is a great way to start or revive the habit. If your kids love stories as much as my boys do, it will quickly become their favorite part of the homeschool day. This way literature is one middle school subject you can scratch off that scary list.
What classics do you plan to read during the middle school years?
KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys.Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her
nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words. For more book-related crafts and activities, visit her at Lit Mama or connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.