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Creating a Thomas Jefferson Home Library

Inspired by an email from A Thomas Jefferson Education, I reorganized our home library to fit our lives better and encourage our children to read more on their level and beyond- a Thomas Jefferson Home Library. The basic idea is to put children’s books on the bottom shelves (where they can reach when they are small and can crouch to select a book to browse through). Books for middle grades and teens are placed in the middle shelves so as children grow older and taller, their sightline falls on these books. Finally, harder or adult books on the highest shelves. In homes with high book shelves, this is ideal, but in homes with smaller libraries or bookshelves, this can work as long as you keep the books you’d like them to notice first on their sightline (and reorganize year by year as needed).

Most bedrooms and living space in our home have small libraries or book shelves, so we are building on variations of this idea in each room. The boys’ bedrooms only have books that are appropriate for their current age and grade level and beyond (aside from a few very beautiful and sophisticated picture books, all juvenile reading has been removed). We currently had all our children’s baby books and first readers on the highest shelves (I’m not sure why) and my old text books, school books, the encyclopedia set, and medical manuals on the lowest shelves, where dust collects and no one pays any attention. My guess is that I figured bigger and heavier books should be on the bottom, and lighter, smaller paperbacks should be on top, but my sons never noticed the amazing middle school novels that were lower down, and basically ignored the children’s series books and board books on top that they read a million times and are way below their current reading level.

After reorganizing, they have started to notice different books, and my younger son especially (who loves to read for an hour or two almost every night before bed) has been consuming a large amount of wonderful books as a result. He’s been picking up old classics such as The Great Brain, favorite series books like Henry Huggins, and philosophical books including Animal Farm, and reading them on his own, often rereading (which we love around here- when you reread, you understand better, pick up things you may have missed the first time, and are reacquainted with new vocabulary a second or third time, ensuring remembering these new words). I love when he wants to talk to me about books his reading, the ideas they express, the storylines he finds incredible… it’s a marvelous thing to share with your children.

Kids raised near such bookshelves, organized to make it easy for them to find quality books suitable for their current life stage, naturally start to read what they notice and can reach. Going forward, they look upward to higher shelves in the future, and the next phase or reading and knowledge. I have some ambitious books on that shelf that I can’t wait for them to show interest in- Charles Dickens books are quite meaty and emotional, and I bought a gorgeous, leather-bound copy of Sherlock Holmes that I hope they reach for soon ♥︎ Of course, I also have books about astronomy, the human body, science experiments, books in Greek, animals, biographies, art history, hobby books and magazines, and more, so they can discover what interests them when they are alone and able to study their true personal interests.

We truly value a print rich environment, so made sure to always surround ourselves with books in every room. It made me really happy when I see my sons pick up a book to pass the time, and we all have books on our night stands to read before falling asleep. We wanted to create a print-rich environment where we read to our children and listened to wonderful audiobooks together when they were young, then moved on to encouraging them to take ownership of their own reading lives as they became older (while still enjoying audiobooks and read alouds together). We would visit the library and bookstores often, I would stack books with their covers facing outward near couches and sitting areas (think Barnes and Noble curating their shelves to appeal to shoppers), we’ve immersed ourselves in wonderful books for years by ensuring there are books in almost every room of the house with appealing covers to display around the home and attract curiosity, and listening to audiobook versions of great books to entice our sons to check out the sequels themselves. We read a lot (my husband and I) and model a love of literature, fun reading, hobby reading, etc. as well to remove the sense that reading is just for kids because it’s for school. Reading is for fun and pleasure, for desired learning, for everyone, forever!

Here are some of our past posts for readers who are also bibliophiles and want to share their love of good books with their children:

Benefits of reading to babies from birth

Tips for reading aloud with children

Encourage summer reading (plus a free printable)

Favorite middle school novels and books for boys

And of course, there is math….

Recently, Oliver Demille from Leadership Education/Thomas Jefferson Education (TJEd) also pointed out that is many Asian countries, the focus in on a math-rich environment, which is a brilliant idea and something we want to focus on creating next. Montessori taught that such a learning-rich environment is among the very most important facets of promoting quality education, so when we want our children to love literature, we surround them with good books and quality writing, and when we want them to learn math (or music, or art, or whatever we value), we surround them with an environment that immerses them in math, music, art, etc. Similar to learning a new language via complete immersion, learning anything can be done by creating an environment that encourages and supports that love for learning, and we have been bringing math into our home in new ways. Stay tuned for our detailed post on how we create a math rich environment.