Free Reading

by Wendi Capehart

This suggested additional reading is what we also refer to as 'free reading.' How you handle these is entirely up to you--the main idea is that these are generally done outside of 'school' reading. I usually include one of them in my children's school schedule just for fun, but it's not required. Some people use this list for family read alouds. Others just hand a stack of books to their children and tell 'em to read away, some probably add these books to school.

I choose one of the books for a family read aloud. Then I give my children the list of the remaining books and these are the books they read during their free time. When they finish the list, they can go on and select their own books--we alternate this way, going by feel as to when the time is right to switch. I choose their 'free reading' for a few weeks. They can read however much of these books they want, in whatever order they prefer, at whatever speed they like (Unlike their school books where we work through them at a slower pace). When they've finished my list of 'free reading,' they have a few weeks where they choose their own books. After a while, my children find themselves at a loss for what to read next, and they ask me for some suggestions. Then I make a new list of 'free reading' books. It happens to work out just perfectly for us, timewise. They always get through the suggested additional reading for each term.


Are free reads required reading?

The path to answers here is fraught with pitfalls, stumbling blocks, and the baggage each individual brings and carries on the path. Do I sound zen enough? Please take a deep breath. Breathe in slowly, counting to 8. Hold for a count of four. Breathe out slowly to a count of 8. Repeat until your heart rate has gone back to normal and you are at peace with the knowledge that ultimately you are the one who knows your children best, and we are not here to judge you.

Required? What does that mean? We can't make you. We don't grade you or give certificates, and we don't live in your home or walk in your shoes. You aren't a failure if they cannot be done. You might be a failure if everything is normal and you just let your kids play video games because you could not stop main-lining bon-bons and binge viewing K-dramas. "You" here is a vague, general second person pronoun referring to a purely hypothetical person resembling none of us and especially not me, and only you can decide where you fall in this spectrum between "impossible" and "don't care."

Ideally, yes, I think when we designed the curriculum we assumed that was the goal, reading the free reads, all of them. It was my assumption, anyway, 17 years ago (AO as AO is 15, but it's a couple years older than that, really).

Realistically, some of our kids did and some of them didn't and some of us were hit upside the head with the tire iron of some sad and harsh realities, failures, burdens, and obstacles we couldn't control and so we did not meet our ideal. Two of mine who went through AO did, and two of mine who went through AO did not. Three of mine didn't do AO at all, really, -- two were too old, always ahead of whatever year we were doing (and often what we did became a part of AO), and one is too disabled.

I want to say yes, give it your best, but I have learned that people misinterpret that to mean "half kill themselves and their kids trying, and then know you're all failures and sub-standard humans if you could not succeed even though you worked so hard you're bleeding at the ears", and I don't mean that. Give it a good shot, don't beat yourself up if a sincerely good try means only one free read a year. Don't beat yourself up if you did that and for reasons outside your control you could not finish one free read an entire year. Notice a theme here? Do not beat yourself up. We love you and do not wish to see you beaten, even by yourself, even if you really could have done more but chose the path of bons-bons and k-dramas. If this latter is honestly the case, we still love you and would like to help and and encourage you, not see you beaten and discouraged.


Well, the books are very special. It would be really, really lovely if every child could read all those lovely, luscious books. We hope that happens for as many as possible.

Do not let the ideal destroy your joy in the good enough and the knowledge that 'she hath done what she could.'

It's also really, really lovely if you are still on your feet, taking joy in music and art and literature and nature in some small way and loving each other largely at the end of the school year. You don't even have to be on your feet -- maybe you must do those things from a bed of chronic illness. However and wherever, we hope taking joy together in some or all of these things happens even more.

And if you're parenting kids in hard places, from hard places (and/or are a parent from one of those hard places), it's really, really lovely if you are loving them, no matter what they say they feel about you at the end of each year, each month, each day.

Rejoice with those who can do all the free reads and be joyful with and for them. Be glad for them. Don't sap their joy.

Rejoice with those who can do 1 or 2 and consider that a major accomplishment, because for some, it is. Be glad for them -- and yourself if you are in this group.

We are not comparing ourselves with each other because such comparisons are thieves of joy. We don't know where we've all been. We know where we are, maybe, and we can move on, at our own pace.

Keep track of what you have done, and look on that list and smile and move forward as you can. Forward may be reading another book as a family over a year, or a term, at bedtime or lunch time or listening to an audiobook in the car on the way to music lessons or church or counseling.

Forward might be laying outside and looking at stars together and sharing a breath-taking awareness in the beauty of creation. It might be holding a struggling, kicking, panting, angry child who does not know why he's angry and whispering, "I love you, I love you, I love you" in his ear until he is calm enough that he is not going to hurt himself or others. It might be calling for outside help. It might be sitting alone on the stairs at night, quietly crying and praying for each child in your home and praying for grace for tomorrow to be better. It could be all of the above, or any combination. Only you live in your home with your children so you will know better than we, although we have some knowledge and experience and reading under our belts which enable us perhaps to advise; in the end you choose whether the advice is a fit for your home and circumstances.

Are the Free Reads required?
Maybe not.

Wendi Capehart
Posted to the AO Forum July, 2016

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