Yvette Hampton: A listener asked, “I’d love recommendations on a good homeschool curriculum for my preschooler, age three.” And Aby, I’m going to let you answer this, but before you answer it, I’m going to say, we just recorded an whole episode all about preschool with Leslie Richards, from the Homegrown Preschooler. In this hour-long conversation with Leslie she dives deep into homeschooling preschoolers and how to keep order in your home when you are teaching multiple ages.
Aby Rinella: I hope I don’t answer it differently than her!
Yvette Hampton: It’s okay. I know you won’t because I just interviewed her and I know where you stand on this issue, because you stand where I stand.
Aby Rinella: Wonderful. So, what I’m not going to do is give you recommendations on a good homeschool curriculum for your preschooler because your three-year-old is three! We need to throw out curriculum because your three-year-old doesn’t need curriculum. Your three-year-old needs you to read to her, as much as you possibly can. Your three-year-old needs you to talk to her, play with Play-Doh with her, play games with her, take her on adventures. Read to her. I’m going to say that over and over.
I have my Elementary Ed degree and I got an emphasis in early childhood development. My husband always says I have my masters degree in “coloring and Play-Doh.” And there is really no evidence that says that if you use a formal academic curriculum in those early years – and I’m even talking about for kindergarten – there is no evidence that your kids are going to be any more academically “successful” than kids that didn’t. But there is an unbelievable amount of evidence that shows that if you read to your child, interact with your child through verbal communication, and play games with them, they will be far ahead of their peers.
So that’s, I’m not going to go too much further into this because there’s a whole podcast on it. But I would say, would you just take your three-year-old and snuggle that three-year-old on your lap, and just do life with them and not worry about the curriculum. That is my greatest advice.
Yvette Hampton: Yep.
Aby Rinella: And my guess is that this is this mom’s first three-year-old, because we all asked that with our first kid. And then we all realized that you don’t do that!
Yvette Hampton: Right. When Kirk Cameron was with us for the Homegrown Generation Family Expo someone asked him a question about curriculum and he said “parents are the best curriculum for their children.” YOU are the curriculum! We are their curriculum. They will watch us and learn from us.
Aby Rinella: Oh good. I mean, she’s literally written a book about preschoolers and it’s through play, it’s through exploration, it’s through interacting with your kids. That’s how they learn. Do not sit your three year old down at a table and expect them to copy letters and do worksheets because they can’t.
And here’s the thing, if you do, not only can they not, you are going to rob that child of the love of learning. You’re going to kill their love of learning before they’re ever even actually school age. And I’ve seen it happen time and time again, you get a first grader who hates school and that’s because they’ve been sat down for the last three years trying to do school when they never should have. So just right now, just instill in them a love of learning. Don’t kill that with worksheets and curriculum.
Yvette Hampton: Right. And I used to be a preschool teacher. And let me just tell you, we didn’t have a set curriculum. We literally read to the kids several times a day. We had our reading hour, they played dress up, they played with toys, they played outside, they just explored, they played with Play-Doh. We did not make them sit down, pull out flashcards and say “A says Ah” “B says Buh.”
Aby Rinella: At three they’re not even able to put that stuff together.
Parents, be encouraged. You will have plenty of time for academics. While your kids are in pre-school (and even in kindergarten) let them play, read to them, and love them!
One of the most important things you can do for your kids is let them play outside – a lot! Listen to Aby and Yvette discuss the importance of outdoor play here. Were created to be in the garden, and there are SO many benefits to the great outdoors, including dirt, sun, exercise, and especially, pointing our kids to their Creator through His creation!
It’s time for the next installment of our homeschool Q&A discussion with Yvette Hampton and Aby Rinella! Today’s conversation discusses what is important for your child’s reading development and offers some helpful resources for those who are trying to find age-appropriate material for their advanced reader.
Yvette Hampton: We are back, and we have a mom asking for advanced reading help. She says, “My now-second-grader is reading chapters and I want to continue to make sure she’s deciphering the words properly. She’s comprehending what she is reading, so I’m thankful for that.” You want to jump on this one, Aby?
Aby Rinella: As long as she’s comprehending what she reads, you’re good to go there. As far as deciphering words, let me just tell you a story. I mispronounced the word argue until two years ago because I only ever read it. In my mind, the G was silent. And nobody in my entire life was kind and loving enough to say, “The G is not silent.” Like, why would someone not tell you that?
Yvette Hampton: Oh, my goodness. [chuckle] Oh, I love it.
Aby Rinella: I don’t even understand why everyone was silent. It’s like, are we so afraid of offending people?
Yvette Hampton: Did you have a lot of arguments?
Aby Rinella: I “arue” a lot. And now I argue. Anyway.
Yvette Hampton: Oh, dear. But we need to just need to move on because that’s way too funny, Aby.
Resources for Advanced Readers
Aby Rinella: Okay, sorry, so she may stumble, but she’ll get it eventually. Additionally, I would say get audio books, she can listen and follow along as she reads. Also, have her read aloud to you, so you can actually hear. Reading out loud to her constantly would be helpful, too. Read-alouds are really great to help her get those words.
Aby Rinella: Those are really good; often with advanced readers, parents get into a place where the content that is advanced enough for their children is too mature. So even though they can read it, and even if they can comprehend it, if the content is beyond what you want them to be reading, that isn’t healthy. So with these resources that we gave you, you can feel safe knowing that all of those books are safe for your child to read.
Yvette Hampton: Yes. And I want to say one more thing on this, don’t always assume that because a child is advanced now, that they’re always going to be advanced. Sometimes we get that in our minds thinking, “Well, she’s in second grade and she’s reading at a fifth-grade level. So, when she’s in third grade, she’s… ” I think that’s setting yourself and her up for disappointment. And it could be, she could soar and always be way ahead of her grade level, but that doesn’t always happen. She may just pause where she is for a while, and that’s perfectly fine; just let her go with it. She’ll grow naturally into her ability to read.
I, of course, have been preaching on this for 20 years. That if what you want is a person who is good at speaking and writing, the single most important thing to do every day is read out loud to them in huge quantity, all through childhood.
Yvette Hampton recently had the opportunity to talk with Andrew Pudewa, for the Schoolhouse Rocked Podcast, about the importance of reading aloud to our children. They also discussed the ideas of mastery of subject matter and maximizing our homeschooling time by teaching integrating multiple subjects. Andrew Pudewa is the founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). He is a popular speaker and author, who has been talking to homeschool families around the world for 30 years. We were privileged to have been able to interview him for Schoolhouse Rocked and have been blessed by the support of IEW as a gold sponsor of the film.
Yvette Hampton: As we’ve filmed for Schoolhouse Rocked and talked to so many people, including you about education and the educational system. One of the conclusions that I have come to is we seem to think that all of our kids need to master every single subject – straight A’s. That’s the thing. Every kid must get straight A’s.
Even colleges want these kids to get straight A’s. And you have talked about, basically, doing what the public school system does is they learn to the test. I mean they basically learn so they can pass the test so they can move on with their life. Whether it’s something that they’re interested in or not. And as I’ve looked at my own kids and I’ve looked at other kids and interviewed so many people, I’ve realized God has not created all of us with a bend to master every single subject.
You talked about science, your passion is music, I know, and English and language arts. It’s not science. And so why do we pressure these kids to have to ace every single thing? And I’m not saying that they don’t need to learn the basics of science and the basics of history and the basics of all these … writing and all these different things. But not every one of us is created to be a historian and a scientist and a writer and all these different things.
And I just feel like we pressure our kids so much to become something that God did not intend for them to be. And we’ve often told our kids, and I’ve said this on the podcast before, “You have to learn to read well so that you can read God’s word. And you have to learn to write well so that you can write about him. And you have to learn the basics of science so that you can understand the universe and the world that God created. And you have to learn the basics of history so that you can understand the history of God’s world.”
But I don’t feel that it’s necessary for them to master every single one of these subjects in order for them to have succeeded in school. What is your opinion of that as you’ve talked to parents and educators?
Andrew Pudewa: Well, it’s always a balance between … There’s kind of your core knowledge, I think. There’s cultural literacy, there are things that everyone … To be an American citizen, a literate American citizen, things you should know. And so we do try to cover that. And I think when E.D. Hirsch wrote Cultural Literacy, and then that came into the Core Knowledge Foundation and that came into the What Every Third Grader Needs to Know series of books.
Now, that was very helpful in reminding us that pretty much, we’re either natives or immigrants by birth. But what binds us together is this shared cultural literacy, knowledge of Western civilization, familiarity with some good and great books and all that. So there is that, but then there’s also the question of how much chemistry do you need to have some literacy?
The funny thing is, I think all of us who went to high school, if you said, “Well, okay, you spend a year in biology or chemistry or whatever, of that book, of everything you studied over that year, what percentage of it did you remember or still know one year after that class was over?” Well, I mean most people are saying like five percent, if you’re a genius. Two percent if you’re normal.
Yvette: Unless you are really interested in that and want to be a chemist.
Andrew: Right. And then you go and you study it more. That reactivates that. So how much do we need of a subject to say, “Yes, I’m familiar with that in a way that makes me able to get the jokes and understand and read.” I think a lot of it is we teach a whole lot of that stuff in high school so that people will retain a little bit into adulthood. Maybe that’s not the most efficient way to do it, however. Maybe there’s a way to say, “Well, maybe we could do less, and then less is more.”
One thing I’ve noticed about my kids, and we were talking about this a little bit, you and I before, is that so much of what they remember and took into adulthood wasn’t in the textbooks. It was in the storybooks. It was in historical fiction novels. It was in the books that involve various elements of science and government and literature and things. Literature, well, that is books.
I’m thinking, for example, of Swiss Family Robinson. That is an adventure story, but it’s also practically a primary natural history of Oceania and New Guinea. I mean there’s so much stuff about animals and geography in there. So the author of that, he understood to catch the imagination of kids, you tell them a good story. And while they’re listening, teach them stuff.
That’s what I think parents who discover that they can often find their kids learn so much more and remember it. See, that’s the trick. They carry it with them into the future, future years, from the read-alouds that they do at home. And choosing many good and great books that have historic illusions, geographical information, biographical information.
Like I said, sometimes natural sciences, government elements, they’re all often … A good book is a good book because people say, “Wow, I learned a lot from that. It was fun and I learned a lot.” That’s what made it good. How else would you define a good book? It was entertaining. But if you could have it’s just entertaining versus it was enjoyable and I learned a lot. Well, that’s kind of a no brainer. What would you choose?
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Yvette: Yeah. And that perfect. I love that answer. One of the questions that we actually got from one of our listeners was, she asked how can read-alouds cross subject barriers and maximize our homeschooling hours, science, literature, theology, history, ethics, all in one? And that perfectly encompasses that. I mean, you can read a good book and it can encompass all of those things at one time instead of breaking them out into different subjects.
Andrew: Yeah. And I, of course, have been preaching on this for 20 years. That if what you want is a person who is good at speaking and writing, the single most important thing to do every day is read out loud to them in huge quantity, all through childhood. Because that more than anything is formative. It’s forms the vocabulary base, it forms the database of syntax and grammar patterns. It builds a stock of literary devices, schemes and tropes of rhetoric, and it will build in general knowledge.
It’s funny, I’ll meet kids who seem to just know so much. It’s like you say something and then they say something and you’re like, “Wow, how did you even know that?” And then I’ll talk to their mom, go, “What do you do?” “Well, we don’t really have … We’re not all that organized. We just read a lot.”
Yvette: Yeah. I love it. And I’ve actually heard you speak several times about the importance of not reading, because I think a lot of people think, “Well, we read a lot to our young kids who don’t yet know how to read.” But you’re talking about reading aloud to our kids who are even in high school, to our teenagers.
Yvette: Talk a little bit about that, because I love this. And for those of you who have not heard your take on this, they need to hear it. Because this has literally changed our homeschooling, and I read to my girls all the time and they … Well, my eight year old is still becoming a strong reader, but my 12 year old, of course, can read. But she loves me reading to her and I love reading to her. And talk about that for a minute.
Andrew: Well, I think we do tend to kind of fall into the mistake of as soon as a kid can read on their own, it’s like, “Oh, great. You can read to yourself now. That’ll free me up to do Peng and The Beautiful Yangtze River here one more time with the four year old.” So we tend to favor the younger children. But my argument is that it’s when kids read on their own that they most need to be read to at a level above their own decoding skills.
They need to be read to the things they would not, or could not read on their own. Because if they just read what they can read, they’ll keep reading what they can read. That’s easy. But they won’t necessarily try to read something that has longer sentences or more obscure illusions or more complex vocabulary, because it’s harder. And so they’ll either skip stuff or they kind of say, “Well, I don’t like that.”
But if we read to them, if they get it auditorily, we not only don’t skip stuff, we read all the words, we read it in the right context with the right vocal nuances that help improve comprehension. That’s actually how you improve reading comprehension, is not by throwing books at kids and saying, “Here, read this and take a test to see if you understood it.” We create reading comprehension by reading out loud to them at above their own … at a level above their own reading level, and talking about that. That’s what creates the understanding of the vocabulary and the idioms and the more complex ideas.
So, a lot of kids in school, they read, read, read, read, read, read, read, but they kind of do lateral shifts. And then as adults, they don’t want to read a great book like Jane Eyre or Ben-Hur or something. It’s too hard. So if we want our kids to enjoy reading harder stuff, the absolute best way is to bring them into that world by starting reading it to them and talking about it, defining it, understanding it.
Yvette: Yeah. I want to actually encourage any moms or dads who are listening to this who might be intimidated by that. Because I’ll tell you, I did not … I know how to read, obviously, and obviously when I graduated high school, I knew how to read. But I was not a strong reader. I didn’t not grow up reading books. My parents never really read to me. I remember them reading Cinderella and Green Eggs and Ham. Those are the only two books I ever remember my parents reading to me over and over again.
And so when I got out of high school, I was not a super strong reader and I hated to read aloud. I was the kid that whenever the teacher was … we were reading Romeo and Juliet or whatever it was we were reading. And they would say, “Okay, so-and-so is going to read next.” And I mean, I would start … My palms would start sweating and I would start getting all shaky and nervous because I hated to stand in front of my class and read.
And right after I got married, I was 20 when Garritt and I got married. My very first job was … I was a preschool teacher and I remember sitting down and they were like, “Okay, go read to this group of four-year-olds.” And I mean, I was reading again, obviously, preschool books. They were Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat, things like that. And I was terrified to read in front of these kids, not because I didn’t know how to read the books, but there was just something about it. There was something about standing in front of these little kids or sitting in front of them and reading out loud to them. Because I felt like I was going to fumble on the words and it was just terrifying to me.
And of course, over the years, I’ve become a much stronger reader. And now I read to my girls all the time. And so I want to give that encouragement to moms who, and dads, who maybe are just intimidated by the idea of reading aloud to their kids. Even if you have teenagers, just do it. I mean, the more you do it, of course, the better you get at it. I love to read now. I love to read aloud, but I also love to just read on my own. And it just opens up a whole new world of learning, not just for your kids, but for yourself.
But it can be scary, because we’re not all excellent readers and not everybody grew up knowing or learning how to read aloud in a really effective way. So anyway, I love it now. It took years for me to learn how to love reading a lot, but I love it-
Yvette: Oh, of course. Yeah. She’s one of our cast members on Schoolhouse Rocked. Absolutely. We’ve talked with her.
Andrew: We should get your listeners connected up with her if they are not already, because she’s so encouraging, particularly in that area of read aloud. I would also love to mention that a lot of what I’ve been teaching and speaking about for the past many years, I’ve written articles. And those articles are now all collected into one book, and it’s available. And did I give you a copy?
Yvette: You did. Yeah, I’ve got it.
Andrew: Okay. My book, However Imperfectly, Lessons From 30 Years of Teaching. So that’s available at our website, along with all of our product stuff, IEW.com. And you can also, of course, call us or text us or email us if you have any questions about teaching writing to your children or spelling or literature or early reading. We’ve got materials for all of that.
Yvette: Yeah. We’ll link back to all those things for sure. Let me ask you one more quick question, and I know Sarah Mackenzie, Read-Aloud Revival is her podcast. I’m sure many of our listeners have heard it. She has an excellent podcast, and I think you’ve been on her podcast a few times now, right?
Andrew: Well, Yvette, when I get envious of her big numbers, I just remember, I was her first.
Yvette: I know, I remember. I remember. It’s an excellent interview too. She’s so encouraging when she talks about the importance of read-alouds. And so one of the things that she has is a book list and she has an excellent book list. I love the way it’s categorized. It’s by age and it’s just a great book list. But do you also, is there an IEW book list somewhere or what do you use? When parents ask you, “Okay, I want to read aloud to my kids. How do I find great literature to read to them?” Where do you direct them?
Andrew: Yeah. Well, we have three. One is a free list, you can just get it off the downloads tab off our website, IEW.com. It’s called Books for Boys and Other Kids Who Would Rather be Making Forrts All Day. And it is divided just into elementary, middle and high school reading levels. We also have, we sell a book by Adam Andrews whose website is centerforlit.com. His course is called Teaching the Classics, and he has a book called Reading Roadmaps, I believe.
The one we published, which is the most extensive book list I’ve ever seen is called Timeline of Classics by a homeschool mom, Gail Ledbetter, and it can be got in ebook form or you can get a paper spiral bound from our website. And it’s got well over a thousand books listed. And they’re organized in time periods. So they were either written about or written in that time period. It goes from ancient all the way up to modern, tells the author and gives the approximate reading level. And that’s a resource that people probably use for their whole life.
Yvette: Yeah. Okay. That’s great. I’ll link back to all those. And then I know one that I’ve really enjoyed is Hunting for a Child’s Heart. That one has some great book recommendations and little blurbs on each book, which is awesome. So we will link back to all those things. But I feel like we could talk forever and ever. So we will definitely love to have you back on the podcast again at another time. And we can talk about more things homeschooling and how to encourage and equip parents who are on this journey of home educating their kids. But thank you so, so much, Andrew, for your time today. I know you are a busy man, so we appreciate you taking the time to talk.
You can find Andrew Pudewa and IEW online at IEW.com.
Andrew Pudewa recommends the following resources in his interview.
Yvette Hampton: Hey, everyone, this is Yvette Hampton, welcome back to the Schoolhouse Rocked Podcast. I hope you are having a great day and enjoying this podcast. I sure am enjoying recording this for you. I have the great opportunity of getting to meet so many different people and having so many different guests, some of them are people that I know personally. Some of them are people that I have never met in person but have had the privilege of getting to know just through the homeschool community.
And, today is one of those guests. I’m really excited to have him on. His name is Jim Hodges, and he is an audio book reader. I guess that’s what your title would be, right Jim?
Jim Hodges: On my tax forms, I put Recording Artist.
Yvette: Oh, Recording Artist, that’s even better.
Jim: Yes, I mean-
Yvette: I love it.
Jim: It sounds so official.
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Yvette: It really does, it really does. So, Jim welcome to the podcast.
Jim: Thank you, thank you, good to be here.
Yvette: Yes, yes, our Recording Artist, I love it.
Jim: You’re a Recording Artist, too, you know.
Yvette: I guess I would be a Recording Artist, as well.
Jim: You are.
Yvette: Since we’re both recording.
Jim: There you go.
Yvette: Tell us about you and your family.
Jim: My wife and I have been married 39 years. We have three grown children. Luke, married with four children. Shannon, married with four children. Matthew, married with no children. All three of whom we homeschooled through high school. We began with Shannon in kindergarten. And, by … and we sent Luke, pardon me, Luke we homeschooled. He was in third grade and so, we started with him homeschooling, Shannon went to kindergarten for six months and then we pulled her out. And, Matthew was like two. And, we never. Well, we looked back once or twice, but we never went back.
And so, Matthew’s never known anything but homeschooling, Shannon, six months of kindergarten and Luke, you know, first or second grade.
Jim: But, we homeschooled them all the way through high school and by all outward indications, we did a pretty good job with them and with their education.
Yvette: Yeah, and so you actually started this back in the late ’80s, right? Was when you started homeschooling?
Jim: 1988, yeah.
Jim: Yeah. It was pretty early in the homeschooling history basically. I think it was the ’70s, maybe mid, late-’70s that the movement really kinda got started. I was not interested quite frankly. Monica was very interested.
And, so we came to an agreement, look, oh, all right, let’s homeschool one child one year, then at the end of the year, we’ll take another look at this. And, as I said, it took four months, and we pulled Shannon out of kindergarten and decided, yeah, this is something that we can do and this is something that we want to do. I just wasn’t convinced that we could.
Jim: And then, when we started, it was like, okay, yeah, we can figure this out. We can figure this out.
Yvette: Yeah, and you were figuring it out back before we had all of the resources that we have today. Because, back then, you didn’t have that many, you maybe had Abeka and-
Yvette: Maybe a few others.
Jim: Konos. We used Konos, which I don’t know how many people have ever even heard of it today.
Yvette: I’ve heard of it.
Jim: It was a … I forget what the phrase is that they use, but it’s basically, here’s a basic subject, build on that, you know, everything is tangentially off of this. And, it was based on scripture. I think by the time we pulled Shannon out at Christmas, we’d gotten to like Genesis chapter one, verse four, you know because everything just went, as things grew, they just grew and grew and grew.
Jim: And so, we were very slow getting through that. We had, we ended up with a pretty eclectic mix of resources that we used and lots of field trips and hands on activities and things like that. But, we … you know, it was a lot of work.
Jim: It was a lot of work, there’s not question about it.
Yvette: It still is.
Jim: It was a huge commitment of time and energy and effort and money and … but it was something that we felt like this is what God wanted us to do. So, you know you just do it.
Yvette: That’s right, that’s right. And, it turned out really well for your family.
Jim: It did.
Yvette: So, you were a 20 year Navy-
Jim: Navy vet, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Yvette: And, so did you travel? Did your family travel through your time in the Navy?
Jim: We were stationed in a number of different places, yes.
Jim: By the time I got into high school, I had moved like eight times.
Jim: And so, when I … then I got out of high school and I went to college for a year and then I joined the Navy, and we moved every four years. Three or four years after that. So, we homeschooled actually in Pennsylvania, we were stationed outside of Philadelphia. And, they had a put together a portfolio system, have it assessed by a certified teacher, standardized testing and then they say, “Okay, third grade happened.” You know, [crosstalk 00:05:15]. New York was, “Tell us every book you’re going to use, give us your quarterly reports.” You know, just, they were just insane of oversight and provided absolutely no assistance, of course.
Jim: You know, you just feed us information. And, from there we moved to Oklahoma, which is, the law there-
Yvette: Big difference.
Jim: Is, “You want to homeschool? Yeah, okay. Go ahead.”
Jim: Absolutely, no oversight whatsoever. So, we were very happy to leave New York and very happy to get to Oklahoma where we just didn’t have to worry about, but you know, we were responsible parents.
Jim: We took that responsibility very seriously. And, you know the concern is legitimate if there’s no oversight, some people are going to let things slide. Well, of course they are. Public schools let things slide.
Jim: I mean, everybody lets things slide that they can get away with and so it’s really up to the parents to be committed to it and responsible with homeschool.
Yvette: How did your extended family react to you homeschooling in the beginning?
Jim: Is that legal? Was the first, you know question. You know, why do you feel like you need to do this? And, for us, it was really because we’d become Christians and neither one of our families were Christians and we wanted to have our … we wanted to teach our kids our faith.
Jim: Transmit our faith to them. In the midst of their education. We had kind of a built in excuse by being in the military. You know, we just don’t want to take our kids and have them dropped into this school and then pulled out and then dropped into that school and then pulled out.
Jim: They would just figure that since we know we’re going to be transferred every three or four years, we just figured we would homeschool and you know it’s legal and you know we’re responsible parents and they were like … they were a little bit, you know.
Yvette: Apprehensive, sure.
Jim: Curious about it and not very supportive but the real hammer kinda came down as far as their reaction to our homeschooling when our oldest son, being a typical first born, quite the achiever, very mature, entered high school and they said, “So, what are you going to do for high school?” We said, “Well, we’re going to keep homeschooling them.” And, they just kind of blew up like, “Oh, you’re going to ruin them.”
Jim: And, that high school first born son, also joined the Navy.
Jim: And, the Navy found him to be smart enough and well-educated enough and a high enough caliber person that they paid for him to get his Harvard MBA.
Jim: So, you know, I think we did okay with that high school. Yeah. Training, as far as preparing him for life. You know, he went on and to, got his four year degree and then the Navy said, you’re good enough, we want … “Apply to any one of the top ten colleges in the country for a Master’s in Business Administration, and we’ll pay for whichever one you want to go through.”
Jim: And, Harvard accepted him and so, he just graduated last spring, he graduated.
Yvette: Okay, wow, that’s exciting.
Jim: So, you know-
Jim: Homeschooling can work out for you.
Yvette: It certainly can, it certainly can. So now, would you have ever thought at that time, you were in the military, homeschooling your kids, would you have seen yourself speaking at homeschool conventions as you’re doing now?
Yvette: So, this is a new gig for you. You’re going to homeschool conventions around the country-
Yvette: Actually, around the world because you’re actually going into Canada.
Jim: Going into Canada for the first time this year, yeah.
Yvette: Talk about-
Jim: And, I do, I mean, I’ve got customers in Canada, I’ve got customers in England, I’ve got customers in South Africa, I’ve got customers in Australia and New Zealand and Singapore and-
Jim: So, I am international even though I haven’t been to the majority of those places.
Jim: My voice has.
Jim: And, my product has. So, when I was in the Navy, no, I had no plans to start an audio book business. That was actually a prompting from my wife, Monica.
Jim: We had finished probably 19 years of Navy and we were out on a weekly date night at a Cracker Barrel and she asked me, “So, you know you’re going to be retiring in a year, what are you going to do? You know, what are you going to do next?” And, I said, “Well, there’s this big base that right there at Tinker Air Force Base, I could get a job there, I’m sure, I’m retired military. Oklahoma City is the state capitol of Oklahoma, I’m sure I can get a job with, you know a state job as a military retiree, I’d do office administration, I’m really good at …”
And, she said, “Well, you know, forget all that. What if you didn’t have to worry about money? You could just pick any job you wanted and it would be sufficient income for you? Would that, then what?” I said, “Oh, I’d record books.”
Jim: Yeah. And, she said, “Okay, we’ve been married 18 years, I’ve know you 18-and-a-half, 19, you’ve never, ever, ever mentioned this before. Where did that idea come from?” And, I just kind of related the story, I’ve done theater and I would sing solos at church and narrate the cantata, I was a newscaster when I was aboard ship. They had a closed circuit TV so I said, “I’ll volunteer to do the news every night.” So, using my voice and reading out loud is something that I had always done. So, I thought, well, why not get paid for it for a change?
Jim: And so, I thought, recording books would be a great idea, and she said, three magic words. “Let’s try that.”
Jim: So, we did. Yeah.
Yvette: And, it has turned out well for you. It has been a good thing.
Jim: You know, I tell people I have never made a killing, but I’ve made a living. And, I absolutely love what I do. Love what I do.
Yvette: Oh, that’s so fun.
Yvette: Yeah, well, there’s nothing greater than doing what God has called you and to do and made you to do and so-
Jim: Gifted you to do. Right.
Yvette: That’s right. Right.
Yvette: You are very gifted at reading audio books.
Jim: Oh, thank you.
Yvette: We, our family loves your audio books very much.
Jim: That’s great.
Yvette: We travel a lot-
Yvette: We are on the road and in the car a whole lot and so, oftentimes, that is our school. We listen to audio books all the time.
Jim: Oh, my gosh.
Yvette: And, so we’ve really enjoyed listening to your audio books.
Yvette: Which is why I’m really excited to have you on the podcast today.
Jim: Great, great, great.
Yvette: Talk about, well, you know what, let’s do this. Let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and I want to talk about the whole process of recording books, how you find the books and-
Yvette: Record them and all that. So, let’s take a quick break and we’ll be right back.
So, we’re back with Jim, talking about audio books. Tell us about your whole business of audio books, how you decide what book you’re going to read, just how this whole thing has unfolded for you.
Jim: Okay. I’ve always loved history. I’ve always been an adventurous person, that’s why I joined the Navy, and fortunately for me, my wife is also an adventurous person who I met in the Navy.
Jim: So, she was on active duty, and we just happened to get stationed together and that’s a whole ‘nother, wonderful, wonderful story. But, when I first decided that I wanted to record books, I thought I would record the Horatio Alger books, which I had heard about and learned about when I was in elementary school-
Jim: Rags to riches stories, you know. There were hundreds of them, they were pretty much rote. But, they … so, I actually recorded one in a friend’s sound studio. He worked at a radio station. But, I felt like I had to leave certain things out. I wasn’t comfortable with some of the things that he had his characters do.
So, that got put aside. So, I asked all of my homeschool friends, “Hey, I’m looking for an author who I could feel comfortable recording his books, or their books,” because I didn’t know if it was going to be a male or female. Everybody said, “George Alfred Henty. George Alfred Henty, George Alfred Henty.” So, I said, “Okay, let me get a couple of those from Ruby Reeves,” a friend of ours, who was actually selling the books. And, I read a couple of them and they were like, this young man is just the most amazing, the hero character, the protagonist, just the most amazing young man you’d ever want to meet, almost perfect in every way, but not quite.
You know, just like a real human being.
Jim: Who is, industrious and respectful and reverent and active and deferential to authority and just all of these character qualities and he gets himself hooked up with famous people from history and he’s at all the famous battles and the marches and the events from history. And, he ends up you know getting the girl and he’s rich at the end of the book.
So, it’s kind of a pattern. But, I learned more history from this guy than I ever knew before and I very much wanted to record books that had good male, strong male role models. And so, I asked a little bit more I said, “Okay, are all of his books like this?” And, everybody said, “They’re all like that.” And, I said, “And, how many did he write?” They said, “A hundred and 22.”
Yvette: Oh, wow, I didn’t realize he had written that many.
Jim: So, I thought, okay, they’re out off copyright, I don’t have the pay any royalties, they’re fantastic books, they’re history, they’re geography, they’re advanced use of the English language, the author was Cambridge educated, a newspaper reporter, a military guy, a real Renaissance man and in 1800s England. And so, these were just a great package and so I’ve now recorded, I do unabridged recordings. I read every single word that’s in the book. I’ve recorded 30 of them.
Jim: So, I’ve got, you know, 92 to go, something like that. And, I’ll have them all done. But, the process to getting one done is actually pretty involved because of the advanced vocabulary, because of the breadth of locations, because of the numbers of people that he encounters, I spend a month before I turn the microphone on, researching the correct pronunciation of things.
Jim: And, getting a mental map of where things are going because if you can see it in your head while you’re saying it, you can say it more clearly.
Jim: I mark up the text, putting, you know an underline on a word that needs to be emphasized or a comma where there needs to be one for the sentence to make sense. So, there’s a whole lot of prep work figuring out what character voices to give each of the people, knowing where the story ends up from where it begins so you know how to present the character in the first place and how they develop over … So, there’s just a lot of, lot of prep work that goes into it.
And then, you turn the microphone on, and you know I record one hour a day, that’s it. Because, I can hear my voice quality degrading.
Jim: Especially, if I’m doing a lot of character voices, because, you know you do a little, old man, or a young girl, or you know and you do all of the different voices, you’re using all of these different parts of your vocal chords and wearing them out.
Jim: So, you have to be a little bit judicious with your use of that time. So, anyway, I recorded a couple of his books and contacted people that were distributing the books themselves and said, “Hey, I’ve done an unabridged recording of, With Lee in Virginia, or In Freedom’s Cause, would you like a copy, I think your customers might like them?”
And, virtually everybody that I sent a sample to ordered it.
Jim: So, it was like, wow, okay, great. So, I just kept doing it.
Yvette: That is awesome. So, when you do the character voices, because I was thinking about this the other day, do you play around with the different characters as you’re reading the book? And then, do you have, I mean, I think what would make sense in my mind would be that, you know, highlight the different characters in different colors or something like that. Like, how do you know what character you’re reading before you get to it to move into that character voice?
Jim: I actually used to read right out of the book itself.
Jim: And, I’ve discovered that I’m better if I have the text on half of my screen and then the recording software on the other half of the screen.
Jim: So, what I do is, I actually have a file folder now on my computer with a couple hundred characters.
Jim: And, my take on that character’s lines so that, I mean, I have to reuse some voices.
Jim: Like, all the time.
Jim: In fact, the hero character has the exact same voice in every single … I mean, it’s the same you know, because I have a reasonable repertoire, I don’t have a vast repertoire.
Jim: But, I try to do accents, and you know I do French accents and British accents and old and young and boys and girls and you know, and so, I can go back and record. Like, the first sentence of a character in the book, I’ve assigned a voice in my head and then I just read that guys’ first line. And then, I stop and I cut and past that and I create a file with the character’s name.
Jim: Captain … and then I put that audio file in there. So, anytime he comes up again, if I forget what his voice sounded like, because he’s been gone for three chapters-
Yvette: You can go back.
Jim: I can go listen to him again.
Yvette: Oh, okay.
Jim: And then, when I run across … and, you know you make mistakes when you record.
Jim: And, so you edit out your mistakes. What you guys hear is the 30 minute edition of an originally 45 or 50 minute recording because I’ve taken out you know repeated lines and mistakes and coughs and-
Jim: A plane flying over or you know whatever.
Jim: So, that, the recording phase take … the prep phase takes a month, the recording phase takes a month, the cleanup, mastering, designing the CD cover, and all of that is basically another month. So, each book, each really long book, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 hours books, takes at least three months to get finished.
Jim: It’s a long process.
Yvette: That is a long process.
Jim: I just recorded my longest book ever-
Jim: Mark Twain-
Yvette: Oh, wow, okay.
Jim: Wrote Joan of Arc.
Jim: Nobody knows Mark Twain wrote Joan of Arc.
Yvette: Yeah, I didn’t know that.
Jim: 15 hours and 50 minutes long book, and I think it’s the best book I’ve ever recorded. I just fell in love with the book, with Twain’s style, I fell in love with Joan of Arc, I learned a whole lot about the history. Just an amazing book and it took a long time. Because, to end up with a almost 16 hour audio book is just a big, that’s a big project.
Yvette: Sure, sure you know it’s funny because I think, when people, you know whether they’re listening to the podcast or they are watching a movie, we’ve been working on our documentary for two-and-a-half years now.
Jim: Oh, my gosh.
Yvette: Well, it’s going to be an hour-and-a-half long documentary. It doesn’t take an hour-and-a-half long to make an hour-and-a-half long documentary.
Yvette: It takes a really long time and the same with you as you’re recording these books, you know, a 15 hour book, doesn’t take you 15 hours. You don’t sit down and do it all in one reading or even do 15 one hour segments.
Yvette: It takes hours and hours of practicing, editing, re-doing, re-reading and so I love that put so much heart into these books.
Jim: I love, it helps that I love what I do. And, I did theater, I did high school, college and community theater many years ago. And, I love to perform. But, I want somebody else’s words.
Jim: Don’t ask me to come up with something. Just give me the text and I can, I’ll do it and I just get into it. And, it’s just, it’s fun.
Yvette: Well, it shows in your reading. Very much so.
Jim: Good, glad to hear it.
Yvette: You do an excellent job of it. So, as you travel to different conventions and you’re talking to different homeschool families and kids, who do you find are the families or kids who listen most to audio books? And, when do they do that? How do they tie that into their homeschool?
Jim: The best, I mean, a lot of people will listen to them, obviously you know driving to soccer practice or violin lessons or doctors appointments or whatever.
Jim: In the car is probably the number one place where people listen. But, the number two on the list is quiet time. In your room time. Family time in the evenings where they’re literally just gathering around the CD player and listening to an audio book. I very much encourage them to let their younger kids in particular, play with Legos or draw or color or something, because young hands that are busy can actually listen better than hands that are supposed to be in their laps.
I mean, no child is, very few children, let me put it that way.
Jim: Very few children can just and listen.
Jim: But, I think the best counsel, advice, method that one family used that I’ve heard is they’ll get a new audio book of mine and the chapters are roughly 30 minutes, 30, 35, 40, some are shorter, some are longer. And, these are the Henty novels. They’re pretty much right around 30 minutes. Well, what they will do is, they’ll go to the kitchen at lunch, and say, “Okay, turn it on.” And then, everybody makes their lunch, everybody sits and eats their lunch, but they’re all listening.
Jim: There’s no talking going on. They’re just listening to the story. And then, at the end of the half hour or whatever it is, they’ve had their lunch, Mom turns it off, she lets them listen to one chapter and then she talks about it. And then, they talk about the words and the definitions and who’s, how’s this person acting and how’s that person acting? And, making sure the younger ones are following along in the story line. And then, they’ll do that until they get through the whole book, and then once Mom’s been through it once with everybody, then it’s like, okay, who wants it?
And then, they will go off and listen to it on their own in their own time. But, I would say, primarily it’s car. But, you kinda need to have a half-an-hour in the car because otherwise you’re chopping up a chapter.
Jim: Better to try to get through the end of the chapter or pick a book with shorter chapters or something like that. I don’t know. But, you know, car, quiet time, and evenings. I mean, I had a mom email me and say, “You have become part of our evening tradition-”
Jim: “In the wintertime, especially.” They put a fire in the fireplace, they do the dishes and then they all sit around and listen to me in front of the fireplace as a family in the evening and it’s just really gratifying to be-
Yvette: Yeah. That’s exciting.
Jim: That much a part of people’s lives, it’s really kind of neat.
Yvette: Yeah, that’s so cool, I can not tell you how many times we pull up to the front of our house, and we’re still listening and the kids are like, “No, don’t turn it off.” So, we just sit there and whatever. You know, five or 10 minutes because we have to hear what happened at the end of that chapter.
Jim: You have to hear, right. Right. Right.
Yvette: And, you just cannot, you can’t just turn the car off in the middle of it. A chapter or a sentence.
Yvette: So, I think our neighbors probably think we’re crazy because so often we sit there and we’re just sitting.
Jim: How long are they going to sit there?
Yvette: We look, we probably look like we’re crazy because we’re just sitting there listening to what seems like nothing to them. What subjects can use the help of audio books thinking through homeschooling, and obviously history because a lot of you read-
Jim: Oh, gosh.
Yvette: A lot of historical books.
Jim: Yeah, the history is, since it’s my favorite subject, the history is obviously number one. Number two is language. Henty, in particular, Twain, these people were well educated people. They had vast vocabularies. They used long and complex sentences. So, you kinda, Andrew Pudewa makes frequent mention of its, whatever comes in is what’s going to come out when they’re writing-
Yvette: That’s right.
Jim: When they’re communicating. So, if you get good literature and good vocabulary and good use of the language coming in when it’s time for them to communicate with the world on whatever their subject is, that’s how it’s going to come back out. So, language for sure, geography, these books take place in Australia and the United States and all over Europe and the Middle East and Russia and you know just all over the place.
In fact, I will sometimes choose a title because the storyline takes place in a new location because I want there to be that breadth of understanding of the world geography in the next generation of kids, too. So, absolutely and the hero character is just an amazingly fine young man, so character training is just infused throughout these storylines and that’s, like I said, that was my primary motivation for choosing Henty to record.
The hero character is the kind of young man that we need. And so, sure, we can hang history and geography and language onto that.
Jim: Because, to me that, I think that was his primary motivation was to develop the next generation of you know proud Englishmen. And, I met a gentleman once who was a big, big Henty fan and it was his theory that Henty trained the World War I and the World War II British generation of young men.
Jim: Because, he was in Downton Abbey Season Three, where they’re bringing the World War I wounded soldiers in to Downton Abbey as a recuperation center, they actually tell them, “We’ve got a whole slew of Henty’s on the shelf. You know, there’s plenty for you to read, help yourself.” And, that was how much a part of-
Jim: British culture he was. All of these men knew who Henty was, of course they knew who Henty was, they all read him growing up. And then, the World War II generation, as well. So, he’s had a … Louis L’Amour read Henty growing up. F. Scott Fitzgerald read Henty.
Jim: Agatha Christie read Henty. Arthur Schlesinger Junior, two time winner of the Nobel Prize in History read Henty. I mean, some serious people, authors and historians and you know … read Henty growing up and was a formative part of their education. Anyway, he was an amazing guy.
Yvette: That’s awesome. And so, you don’t obviously have just Henty books.
Yvette: You have a whole lot more than that. Very quickly, because we’re almost of time-
Yvette: Talk about the other, some of the other books that you offer. The other audio books that you offer.
Jim: Got a lot of children stuff. Todd Wilson, I mentioned in our pre-show, he’s written a lot of Christ centered Christmas stories that I’ve recorded.
Jim: American history stories, stories of the pilgrims, I’ve read Treasure Island, I’ve read Frederick Douglass, I’ve read you know, classics, children’s, overtly Christian and Henty. I mean, I’ve got, I think we’re up to like 72 different titles to choose from.
Jim: So, if you want to see what I’ve got, you can head on over, it’s a very curious and confusing web address. It’s called, JimHodgesaudiobooks.com.
Yvette: Yup, that’s right. Well, we’ll link back to that in the show notes, as well.
Yvette: For those listening, there are so many great opportunities and things that he offers on his website. So, definitely go and checks those out. Our family, I don’t know how many we own, I think 13 or 14 at this point.
Jim: Okay, great.
Yvette: And, we are so much enjoying listening to them. So, we know where people can find you. I would love for you just as we close this out, and then I actually want to continue on just for a few minutes for the backstage pass members and we’ll talk about that in just a second. But, I would love for you to give encouragement to homeschool dads.
Yvette: We have a lot of dads who listen to the podcast, which is really encouraging to us. I would love for you to talk to that homeschool dad, and just encourage him in any way that you can. You know, why he should continue homeschooling his kids and how he can maybe support his wife and his kids through this homeschool journey.
Jim: Okay, do the dishes.
Yvette: I love it. Three simple words.
Jim: You know, it’s … one of the things that I struggled with when we were homeschooling was the disarray that I was presented with when I got home from a hard day at work, a stressful day at work. It just really bugged me. But, I got to tell you, the most important thing that happens when you’re homeschooling your kids is that you can develop a really good relationship with them. That was Monica’s primary focus. I did my best. I was a stressed out dad in a reasonably good job but there was major you know dentures, oh, not dentures, but braces and piano lessons and all of those expenses that come with homeschooling that you get for free with your taxes if you go to public school.
All of these, it’s a stressful thing for a dad. I would just say, “Hang in there, do what you can to help around the house. Do what you can to support your wife. In fact, this is a major one, date your kids, date your wife.” We had a date night with our kids. I would take one kid out, once a maybe, every week, then it would be Luke’s turn, next week was Shannon’s turn, the week after that was Matt’s turn. So, they would get it, you know, every three weeks or so. And, I would say, “What do you want to do?” We’d just go out for ice cream, go cruise the mall, go see a movie, go, you know whatever.
Jim: It was just hang out time.
Jim: And then, Monica and I went out on dates every week. If we had to pay a babysitter, we paid a babysitter. If the kids got old enough, then you know Luke could watch them and we could leave them and we wouldn’t go out for very long. Sometimes, our dates were grocery shopping together.
Jim: Because, you know-
Jim: It’s hard to fit those things in. But, my oldest son, the Navy paid for him to go to Harvard for his MBA. My youngest son, earned a full boat ride to any state school in the state of Oklahoma. Shannon went a different way. She became an au pair in France and learned French. She taught English in Korea, South Korea. She was more interested in language and travels. But, you know, she got her Associate’s Degree and then she got married and she and her husband went to China and taught English in China for a year.
Jim: So, the kids are going to go different ways and they’re going to do different things. But, it is absolutely worth it. Most things that are worth it in the long run are hard in the short run.
Jim: Homeschooling can be hard in the short run. But, the long run is worth it.
Yvette: Yes, amen. Well, thank you for that. We are out of time for the podcast, but for those of you who are on the backstage pass membership site, we’re going to continue on. We’re going to talk about a couple of things. We’re going to talk about families with special needs and how audio books can play into their homeschooling and help them. We’re also going to talk … I want to ask you about tips that you can give parents for reading aloud.
Yvette: And, when we get to that, and I know that that’s a big thing for a lot of parents. It was something for me when I started reading aloud to my kids that was a little intimidating to me. And, so I want to get some of your advice on that.
Yvette: And then, I would love for you to do a short read for us.
Jim: All right.
Yvette: So, I think you’ve got a book there that you’re going to do that.
Yvette: So, for those of you listening, thank you again for sticking with us today, listening to the podcast, you are a great blessing and encouragement to us. Have a great rest of your day and we will see you next week.
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