Take Notes…

So we’re back at the grind again. Homeschooling, that is. I want to talk about one thing in particular right now. Note taking.

This doesn’t just apply to homeschool kids. It applies to everyone. I want you to take notes. I want you to teach your kids to take notes. I am not talking about taking notes when they attend a lecture, although that is useful. (Actually, studies have shown that it’s more useful than recording the lecture even! Best to take those notes by hand!) I’m talking about taking notes when they read. I want you to teach your kids to *brace yourselves for this* write in books.


Are you shocked? I hope not. I hope that you already knew this was a good idea. It is. It’s important. Don’t hesitate. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry about your pretty unmarked pages. Mark them up. Get your pens when you get your books. Here. Let me convince you with this little list

You Learn the Unexpected

Books are amazing things. They mean different things to different people. How many times has someone recommended a book to you that they “just loved”, and then you read it and thought, “Meh.” It happens! And then vice versa? Do you know why? I think Thomas L. Jeffers gave the best reason when he said, “A literary work is, like a living person, a complicated and ambivalent organism.” Yes. That is why. It’s complicated, just like people. Sometimes we love them; sometimes we hate them; sometimes we think “meh”. 🙂 I think you would agree with that. What about taking notes in the margins though? Well, Jeffers again said, “We have to live with it awhile if we hope to comprehend it properly…By discovering what authors think, feel, and care for, we find out who they are.” That makes sense, doesn’t it? Still, not enough reason to start writing though. That just tells you what you get from reading the book thoroughly. It doesn’t tell you what the unexpected lesson you will learn is. Here’s the last thing Jeffers said. “By entering into dialogue with their books—annotating in the margins when we agree or disagree or when we aren’t sure—we define who we are.” Aaaahhhh. There it is. We define who we are…which means we also learn more about who we are. This is a good thing, especially in a world that is becoming increasingly lost in that sense. I know that I want my children to always have a clear sense of themselves, their minds, their spirits. Writing in the margins of books, having conversations (even arguments) with the books helps them with this.book-writing-2

Aids in Learning

This one is actually sort of taught in school. At least, it used to be taught when I went to school ages ago. (Let’s not mention my age…again. HA!) Underlining words that you don’t know yet, looking them up, and then writing the definition in the margins helps you remember the word. It really does! It helps tremendously. I also have found that underlining passages that reference something that piques my interest is very helpful. Why? WE FORGET! You know it’s true. We always think we will remember something, but continue reading and the thought is gone. Underline it, write in the margin to look it up, and do it. Then you can even go back and write what you learned. For example, a lot of historical fiction books refer to actual historical events. When I read these with my children, we frequently look up these events. But nobody wants to pause the reading to look it up! So we underline it to look it up when we are done with the chapter or whatever. Then sometimes we go back and make a note about what we learned. If it’s a long note, we make it at the end of the chapter.book-writing-1

It Makes Reading FUN

I personally think reading is one of the best and funnest things in the world. Truly. I always have, even before I gave myself permission to write in my books. I think, however, you and yours could have as much as I do. Did you know that everyone used to write in their books? It’s true. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it began to be considered as naughty. Whatever. All the smarty pants used to do it. It helped them think! It helped them enjoy the book. Thomas Jefferson, William Blake, Charles Darwin, Mark Twain…so many more!! (It’s called marginalia, by the way.) But my favorite was C.S. Lewis. He even did it with books that most would find dry and boring. He wrote a letter about it. He was talking about a book on French history, and he said, “To enjoy a book like that thoroughly I find I have to treat it as a sort of hobby and set about it seriously. I begin by making a map on one of the end-leafs: then I put in a genealogical tree or two. Then I put a running headline at the top of each page: finally I index at the end all the passages I have for any reason underlined. I often wonder — considering how people enjoy themselves developing photos or making scrap-books — why so few people make a hobby of their reading in this way. Many an otherwise dull book which I had to read have I enjoyed in this way, with a fine-nibbed pen in my hand: one is making something all the time and a book so read acquires the charm of a toy without losing that of a book.” A toy. He called it a toy. Now tell me that doesn’t sound like had fun. You don’t have to do it his way. Just write in your books, and have fun.

Mark Twain left a comment about “Huckleberry Finn,” in his copy of “The Pen and the Book” by Walter Besant. Credit Sally Ryan for The New York Times
Mark Twain left a comment about “Huckleberry Finn,” in his copy of “The Pen and the Book” by Walter Besant. Credit Sally Ryan for The New York Times

Leave A Legacy

This one is the most important to me. I recently inherited some books from my parents’ home. They were purging. My mom knows how sentimental I can be about books. 🙂 So she gave me these books that were owned by my great grandfather. Do you know what he did? He engaged in keeping marginalia. I’m not really a crier. But my heart…my heart still just weeps with comfort. I’ve always felt alone with my thoughts. I’ve always written them because I thought there was no one else to give them to but the book, and they simply had to be shared somewhere. They had to be written. Then I opened his books…and there were his words…all over the pages. I never met the man. He was gone long before I was born. But, oh…how I love him. I have read his words so many times this past week. Each time they are so precious to me, and they aren’t even in context! But the point is this. Leaving our words and thoughts for others is a gift. It is no longer a conversation between us and the author. It becomes a conversation between the author, us, and the new reader. It gives them more insight, more learning, and piece of us. We can’t all write novels. But we can leave our thoughts and bits of wisdom. I will leave you with this bit from my great grandpa that touched my heart at the exact moment that I needed it most, and the hope that you all teach your children to take notes in their books.book-writing-4

Take It, and Be Thankful

P.S. For those who want to know but can’t read what my great grandpa wrote:

A Fleeting Thought 1954

There’s a great reward awaiting us, so be patient, brave & strong. For the Lord has hidden shelters all along. If you make the run successful from the cradle to the grave there’s a crown of glory awaits you and you are numbered with the brave.

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