Those of you who know me in real life or who have been around Smart Simple Homeschool for a few minutes know that books are something I love. I love to read them in a quiet room. I love to read them to my children. I love to share them with others. I love to talk about them. New books, old books, board books, picture books, chapter books – give me all the books. Books come in no shortage in our house. In fact, we decided that in place of a formal living room we were going to use our front room for a library and music room [side note: I do a lot of our live videos, Q&A times and IG stories from this room].

While most of the books in our library are picture books – after all, I was a classroom teacher before I stayed home with the boys – we still don’t have every book we want to use when it comes to school time. WHAT?!?!?!? Yep, even with over a thousand children’s books at my fingertips [yes, they are sorted alphabetically and in a database on my phone so they are truly at my disposal at any moment], I need more books than I have to share a love of literature, teach comprehension strategies and keep things interesting in our homeschool journey. So, every couple of weeks we head off to our local library for an infusion of new stories, great literature and information.

Many homeschooling parents that I talk with are terrified of going into the library without a solid plan. Most have already put the books they want on hold or they have a specific list that they can systematically go through and grab. The result is the trip to the library becomes no more than another errand to run. I want going to the library to be magical – an adventure if you will. I’m not going to say that I never put a book or two on hold because I do, especially for a novel or unit study; but, more often than not, we go all of us with empty canvas bags and a willingness to see what catches our fancy.

As we head into the library on any given day, I can almost guarantee that my oldest is headed for his favorite couple of authors and to check out what is on the new shelf. My middle two are walking through the stacks in search of variety. And the three year old, well he’s plopped down with the first two books he can get his hands on and he will pick out his stack after I give the 10 minute warning.

Me? I usually sit and observe the boys first. Then, I walk slowly until I find a title that intrigues me. Sometimes that takes less than a minute. Other times, I’ll walk through three of four sets of shelves before I find it. I’ll read through the book and make a decision. Will it work for one of our next couple of comprehension strategies? Is it a solid story? Can I see all of us snuggling up to read it? Do I think I can pull a theme for the week out of it? If the answer is yes to all or most of these questions, I have my first book and my first theme.

Now, the treasure hunt is on – I dig into the card catalog looking for other titles that can carry our theme through the week. This is honestly my favorite part of our library adventure. I get the chance to see new authors and titles that I would never have met without trying to pull together our theme.

So, how do we keep from getting lost in the stacks? We don’t. For our family, the library isn’t a place to go in and spend five minutes. It is a happy place of exploring and experiencing. It is rare that a trip to the library takes us less than an hour and that’s okay. How is going to the library like this smart and simple? To us it is smart because it expands our thinking and allows us unstructured time to find new interests. It is simple because there is no agenda, expectation of finding a particular book. How do you keep library trips smart and simple?

Answers about Themes

Why a theme? Well, for us it helps hold our week together. It is a simple way to carry one day to the next.

What kinds of themes do we look for? Some weeks our themes are simple like the week we looked at bears through the lens of both non-fiction and fiction. Other weeks, we go more abstract like love, responsibility or words. On super rare occasion, I will choose a theme based on what we are learning in another subject. I don’t do this terribly often because we read so many books about those topics that I like for our reading comprehension time to stand alone and be about the strategy not about learning about our history, science or math topic.

How many books are you looking for to fit a theme? Ideally, I will find five that I love. If I can’t, I’ll settle for four solid books before choosing fluff because I know that I can always reread the group favorite.

Do all the books have to come from the library? No, I often find that I have chosen a theme and I have one or two books at home that I’d like to add to the pile for that week.

Do all the books need to be new to my children? Absolutely not! We reread stories hundreds of times. Some stories pull us in and beg to be reread and some stories lend themselves to all sorts of themes.