Here’s my documentary philosophy in a nutshell: it’s far more important that you regularly watch documentaries than it is which documentaries you watch. The reason is twofold: first, documentaries are, by nature, mini adventures. They’re excursions into an unknown place in which you might not even be able to guess what’s around the corner. If you choose a documentary based on the importance of the subject matter, you lose this element of the unknown.
The second reason is that no matter the subject, documentaries expand your mind. They increase your knowledge of politics, economics, history and psychology, and along with these, your mental flexibility and creativity. After I watched Being Elmo, I wondered what other art forms are currently underappreciated and what might be done with them in the future. After I watched The Staircase I considered the snowball effect that often happens when the desire to be right trumps the desire to know the truth.
In short: documentaries make you smarter. They do. Even if you’re just learning about puppets.
There’s a third reason to watch documentaries, too, I suppose: they get us talking, leading to some top-notch conversations with friends and family.
The following list of documentaries, then, is merely a suggested starting point. My advice is to watch any documentaries you can find that interest you–any, and every, and all.
By the way, IMDB has a few great top-100 lists for documentaries, and many more for other film categories. When looking for something to watch, don’t peruse Netflix; find stuff on there first instead.
A final note: this list is a work in progress. Check back for updates anytime. (There’s a link to this series, School in a Book, on mollieplayer.com.)
Best Educational Documentaries and Shows for Older Children and Adults
Planet Earth* Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey* Through the Wormhole* America: The Story of Us* American Experience* Food, Inc. King Corn The Future of Food Food Matters Ken Burns: America American Masters How It’s Made Myth Busters Drive Thru History Timeshift The Most Extreme How the States Got Their Shapes Worst Case Scenario Ancient Discoveries Chasing Mummies Steven Hawking’s SciFi Masters The Adventures of Captain Hartz The Unknown War Castle Secrets and Legends Get Schooled Super Structures of the World United States of America Joseph Campbell: Myths Travel with Kids The Rachel Divide Amanda Knox Searching for Sugar Man Jesus Camp Going Clear Paradise Lost Cave of Forgotten Dreams Life Itself The Wolfpack Bowling for Columbine Amy Room 237 Grey Gardens Undefeated How to Survive a Plague Abacus Spellbound Jiro Dreams of Sushi* Blackfish The Act of Killing Icarus 13th Hoop Dreams What Happened, Miss Simone? Casting Jonbenet 20 Feet from Stardom Strong Island The Look of Silence Exit Through the Gift Shop Citizen Four The Cove Grizzly Man Paris Is Burning Faces Places The Staircase The Keepers Herb & Dorothy Iris Sour Grapes Bisbee ’17 Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun? Free Solo Hale County This Morning, This Evening The Last Race Minding the Gap Shirkers 306 Hollywood Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Three Identical Strangers McQueen Momentum Generation The Thin Blue Line
Best Educational Websites for Older Children and Adults
TED talks* Wikipedia
Best Educational Podcasts for Older Kids and Adults
Revisionist History with Malcom Gladwell Invisibilia by NPR Maven Interviews Where Should We Begin
When I was in school, nonfiction was textbooks. And the encyclopedia and the dictionary, too. What nobody told me is that there’s another kind of nonfiction out there. There’s the kind that’s actually fun to read.
Modern nonfiction is some of the most entertaining, well-written stuff you can find. (After all, if you want to make money writing about neuroscience, for example, you’d better make it relevant, understandable, and full of fascinating anecdotes, right?) It’s stimulating and informative, but that’s not all it is: it’s a road map for becoming a better person. Nonfiction can widen your perspective, give you wisdom, make you stronger . . . maybe even make you a happier person. Nonfiction helps us come up with new goals and ideas about what our lives can encompass–then takes our hands and helps us draw the circles.
With this in mind, here is my carefully curated list of what are, in my humble opinion, the best, most inspiring works of nonfiction in existence. To make the list, books must be:
Though this list may seem overwhelmingly long, my promise to you is that I haven’t put anything on it that doesn’t truly deserve to be here. With some exceptions, these books aren’t stuffed with humdrum filler; they’re solid. And the exceptions are exceptions for a reason.
Also, they’re books I’ve actually read. Which is why this list is definitely a work in progress; I’m always reading awesome new stuff, and I’ll update this page regularly and tell you about it. (The permalink for this post is on my homepage.)
Note that the best of the best are marked with asterisks.
It’s such a great time to be a reader, isn’t it?
Comprehensive Reading List: Nonfiction
Essential Classic History and Philosophy Texts
The Holy Bible The Koran The Analects, Confucius (551–479 BC) Tao Te Ching, Lao Tze (c. 6th century BC) The Art of War, Sun Tzu (late sixth century BC) Selected writings of Plato (c. 428–347 BC) Rhetoric, Aristotle (384–322 BC) De Republica and other writings, Cicero (106–43 BC) Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans, Plutarch (c. 46–120) Enchiridion, Epictetus (c. 55–135) The Confessions, Saint Augustine (354–430) The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (c. 480–524) Selected writings of Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Aquinas The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380–1471) In Praise of Folly, Erasmus (1466–1536) Novum Organum, Frances Bacon (1561–1626) The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes (1596–1650) Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes (1596–1650) Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke (1632–1704) The Second Treatise of Government, John Locke (1632–1704) The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) Rights of Man, Thomas Paine (1737–1809) Common Sense, Thomas Paine (1737–1809)* The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745–1797) Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Thomas de Quincey (1785–1859)* Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Sojourner Truth (1797–1883)* Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896)* Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897)* Walden, Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)* Other works by Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895)* The Souls of Black Folks, W. E. B. DuBois (1868–1963) Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938)* The Jungle, Upton Sinclair The Constitution of the United States The Gettysburg Address The Magna Carta The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank (1929-1945)* Go Ask Alice, Anonymous* The Story of My Life, Helen Keller (1880–1968)* Roots, Alex Haley* In Cold Blood, Truman Capote* Autobiography of Malcom X, Malcom X* Mythology, Edith Hamilton* Black Boy, Richard Wright (1908–1960)* Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin (1920–1980)*
Optional Advanced Classic History and Philosophy Texts
Selected writings of Buddha (c. 500–300 BC) Selected writings of Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle (384–322 BC) Wars of the Jews, Josephus (37–100) Annals, Tacitus (c. 56–117) The Early History of Rome, Livy (c. 64 BC–AD 17) The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius (c. 69–after 122) The Campaigns of Alexander, Arrian (c. 89–after 160) On the Nature of Things, Lucretius (c. 99–55 BC) Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (121–180) The City of God, St. Augustine (354–430) The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380–1471) The Education of a Christian Prince, Erasmus (1466–1536) Commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther (1483–1546) The Freedom of a Christian, Martin Luther (1483–1546) Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (1509–1564) Selected writings of John Knox (c. 1513–1572) The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)* Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross (1542–1591) The Defense of Poesy, Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586) The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather (1663–1728) An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) The Way to Wealth, Ben Franklin (1706-1790) The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) The Journal of John Woolman, John Woolman (1720–1772) The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1723–1790) A Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) On American Taxation, Edmund Burke (1729–1797) Life of Johnson, James Boswell (1740–1795) Memoir, Correspondence and Misc., Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804) The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, Victor Hugo (1802–1885) Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1806–1873)* A Child’s History of England, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) For Self-Examination, Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx (1818–1883) The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams (1838–1918) Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Frederich Nietzsche (1844–1900) Beyond Good and Evil, Frederich Nietzsche (1844–1900) An Autobiography, Annie Besant (1847–1933) Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) The Ego and the Id, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler Notes on Nursing, Florence Nightingale The Ecclesiastical History, Adam Bede The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
Other Recommended History, Geography and Philosophy Books
The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Susan Wise Bauer* A good world history encyclopedia (either aimed at children or adults)* A good geography encyclopedia* Travel guides as needed/desired* Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank* Roots, Alex Haley* In Cold Blood, Truman Capote* Autobiography of Malcom X, Malcom X* The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay Citizen Soldiers, Stephen E. Ambrose Alexander of Macedon, Peter Green The Devil’s Triangle, Richard Winer Treblinka, Jean-Francois Steiner The War Magician, David Fisher Is Paris Burning?, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre An American Life, Ronald Reagan Plain Speaking, Merle Miller Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen Twelve Great Philosophers, Wayne Pomerleau Mythology, Edith Hamilton* Aku-Aku, Thor Heyerdahl 1776, David McCullough The Bridge at Chappaquiddick, Jack Olsen The Night of the Grizzlies, Jack Olsen Enola Gay, Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Paul Theroux The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson Don’t Know Much About History, Kenneth Davis* Bomb, Steve Sheinkin Cyberpunk, Katie Hafner How the Web Was Won, Paul Andrews The Hundred Year Diet, Susan Yager Inside the Third Reich, Albert Speer Citizen Soldiers, Stephen E. Ambrose Miracle at Philadelphia, Catherine Drinker Bower* Black Boy, Richard Wright (1908–1960)* Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin (1920–1980)* The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
Best Science Books
A good science encyclopedia for children* A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking* The Particle at the Edge of the Universe, Sean Carroll* The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Richard Feynman* The Meaning of It All, Richard Feynman* The Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene* Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin (1809–1882) Zoobiquity, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz Bonk, Mary Roach Spook, Mary Roach Endurance, Scott Kelly Being Mortal, Arul Gawande* Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser Genome, Matt Ridley Gulp!, Mary Roach Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, Robert Lanza and Bob Berman* Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable–and Couldn’t, Steve Volk
Best Politics and Economics Books
Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner Superfreakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner Capitalism and other books by Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand Discover Your Inner Economist, Tyler Cowen Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert T. Kiyosaki* The Four-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss God and Man at Yale, William F. Buckley
Best Psychology and Sociology Books
The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman* The Plug-In Drug, Marie Winn Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Summers Escape From Freedom, Erich Fromm The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg* Switch, Chip Heath and Dan Heath* Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath* How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer Decisive, Chip Heath and Dan Heath What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, Malcom Gladwell David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcom Gladwell Other books by Malcom Gladwell The Feeling Good Handbook, Kenneth Burns* The Consuming Instinct, Gad Saad The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, Dan Ariely Irrationally Yours, Dan Ariely Dressing Your Truth: Discover Your Type of Beauty, Carol Tuttle* Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman Flourish, Martin Seligman* Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmivaly* The Science of Happiness, Stefan Klein The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile, Daniel Nettle Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, Richard Layard Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Ed Diener & Robert Biswas-Diener Happiness, Ed Diener The Happiness Equation, Neil Pasricha* Engineering Happiness, Manel Baucells and Rakesh Sarin* The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo The Inner Game of Work, W. Timothy Gallway* The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcom Gladwell* The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook The Mindful Brain, Daniel Siegel The Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantarn Daring Greatly and other books by Brené Brown, Brené Brown The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon* Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel, Candace Pert* Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d, Candace Pert A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming, Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel and Thomas Peisel
Best Diet and Health Books
The Diet Alternative, Diane Hampton French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan Food Rules, Michael Pollan Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, Gary Taubes Neanderthin, Ray Audette Overcoming Emotional Eating and other books by Geneen Roth, Geneen Roth Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch How to Make Almost Any Diet Work, Anne Katherine Fasting and Eating for Health, Joel Fuhrman How I Gave Up My Low-Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds, Dana Carpender The Diet Cure, Julia Ross
Best Writing Books
The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White Spunk & Bite, Arthur Plotnik Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This, Luke Sullivan A Whack On the Side of the Head, Roger von Oech Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell On Writing, Steven King Save the Cat!, Blake Snyder The War of Art, Steven Pressfield The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maas The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maas How Fiction Works, James Wood Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Mary Kole Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster Manuscript Makeover, Elizabeth Hyon Your Life Is A Book, Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann Hooked, Leslie Edgerton Good Prose, Tracy Kidder Sick in the Head, Judd Apatow The Memoir Project, Marion Roach Smith
Best Education Books
The Well-Trained Mind, Susan Wise Bauer* The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer* How Children Fail, John Holt* How Children Learn, John Holt Learning All the Time, John Holt Instead of Education, John Holt The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin* Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn* The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn No Contest, Alfie Kohn Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek Books Children Love, Elizabeth L. Wilson Study Is Hard Work, William H. Armstrong In Their Own Way, Thomas Armstrong Seven Kinds of Smart, Thomas Armstrong* Unschooling Rules, Clark Aldrich Un-Jobbing, Michael Fogler The Unschooling Handbook, Mary Griffith The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould
Best Marketing Books
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini* Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi* What Would Google Do?, Jeff Jarvis* Viral Loop, Adam L. Peneberg The Whuffie Factor, Tara Hunt The Long Tail, Chris Anderson* Trust Agents, Chris Brogan* Get Slightly Famous, Steven Von Yoder Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsich Whacha Gonna Do With That Duck?, Seth Godin Linchpin, Seth Godin Other books by Seth Godin Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcom Gladwell Grapevine, Dave Balter and John Butman
Best Relationships Books
His Needs, Her Needs, Willard F. Harley, Jr.* Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice, John Gray* The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and other books by John Gottman, John Gottman* Love Is Never Enough, Aaron Beck* The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Shaunti Feldhahn The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, Dr. Laura Schlessinger For Better, Tara Parker-Pope A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle* I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them, Byron Katie and Michael Katz*
Best Parenting Books
Between Parents and Child, Haim G. Ginott Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, Adele Faber Siblings Without Rivalry, Adele Faber Parenting with Dignity, Mac Bledsoe Parenting with Love and Logic, Foster Cline The Child Whisperer, Carol Tuttle If I Have to Tell You One More Time, Amy McCready Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv The Case for Make-Believe, Susan Linn Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, John Mordechai Attachment Parenting, Katie Allison Granju The Baby Book, Barry Sears The Discipline Book, Barry Sears Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, Bryan Douglas Caplan Home Grown, Ben Hewitt Nurture Shock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman Raising Your Spirited Child, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka Oh, Crap! Potty Training, Jamie Glowaki
The Story of My Life, Helen KellerA Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout Into the Wild, John Krakauer Wild, Cheryl Strayed The Two Kinds of Decay, Sarah Manguso Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin Jay J. Armes, Investigator, Jay J. Armes and Fredrick Nolan Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klostermann Klostermann II, Chuck Klostermann Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman Killing Yourself to Live, Chuck Klosterman Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Elizabeth McCracken How Starbucks Saved My Life, Michael Gill Found, Jennifer Lauck It Was Me All Along, Andie Mitchell Let’s Take the Long Way Home, Bossypants, Tina Fey Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami Sex Object, Jessica Valenti They Left Us Everything, Plum Johnson In Memory of Bread, Ordinary Light, Passage, Connie Willis Glitter and Glue, Kelly Corrigan The Middle Place, Kelly Corrigan Lift, Kelly Corrigan Dying, Cory Taylor The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy Hunger, Roxane Gay What Comes Next and How to Like It, Abigail Thomas The Seven Good Years, Etgar Keret The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, Amy Silverstein Flat Broke With Two Goats, Jennifer McGaha Fifty Acres and a Poodle, Jeanne Marie Laskas Fifty Years in Polygamy, Kristyn Decker Why I Left the Amish, Saloma Miller Furlong Cult Child, Vennie Kocsis Favorite Wife, Susan Schmidt “It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass, Joanne Hanks and Steve Cuno Banished, Growing Up Amish, Ira Wagler Educated, Tara Westover Cult Insanity, Go Ask Alice, Anonymous Straight Pepper Diet, Joseph W. Naus Coming Clean Fall to Pieces, Mary Forsberg Weiland Girl Walks Out of A Bar, Lisa Smith Manic, Terri Cheney Madness, Marya Hornbacher Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me, Chelsea Handler My Horizontal Life, Chelsea Handler Official Book Club Selection, Kathy Griffin I Regret Nothing, Jen Lancaster MWF Seeking BFF, Rachel Bersche Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me, Rachel Bersche A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, Kristin Newman A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, Lev Golinkin Eating Ice Cream With My Dog, Frances Kuffel A Year of No Sugar, Eve O. Schaub It Was Food vs. Me-And I Won, Nancy Goodman Massive, Julia Bell The Taming of the Chew, Denise Lamothe Hungry, Allen Zadoff The Good Eater, Ron Saxen The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life, Wendy Shanker Locked Up for Eating Too Much, Debbie Danowski Full, Kimber Simpkins Learning to Eat Along the Way, Margaret Bendet Dying to Be Me, Anita Moorjani Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda The Search For Grace: A Documented Case of Murder and Reincarnation, Bruce Goldberg Zero Limits: The Secret Hawaiian System for Wealth, Health, Peace, and More, Joe Vitale Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives, Brian Weiss Ten Percent Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, Dan Harris A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
Best How-To and Miscellaneous Books
Drawing with Children, Mona Brookes The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer and Marior Rombauer Becker The Story of the Incredible Orchestra, Bruce Koscielniak The Nourishing Homestead, Ben Hewitt The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle Who Would You Be Without Your Story?: Dialogues with Byron Katie, Byron Katie A Mind at Home With Itself, Byron Katie A Thousand Names for Joy, Byron Katie Conversations with God, Parts One through Three, Neale Donald Walsch Whatever Arises, Love That, Matt Kahn The Shack, William Young
Honestly, there aren’t as many awesome educational shows for kids as I would prefer. A few are pretty outdated, and many are a bit frenetic in pace and tone (over-stimulation can desensitize kids to the pleasures of reading and quiet play), or simply not as educational as advertised. For this list, then, I looked for the exceptions to these limitations: the shows that are informative and calm but engaging, too.
Note that this list doesn’t include classic films for children, which you can find elsewhere in this series.
The best of these resources are marked with asterisks.
Best Educational Documentaries and Shows for Children
Tumble Leaf* The Magic Schoolbus* Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood* Peg + Cat* Reading Rainbow (original version)* Wishbone Zoom Beakman’s World Destination Truth Wild Krats Bill Nye the Science Guy Odd Squad Electric Company (updated version) Earth to Luna Cyberchase Word Girl Animal Atlas Design Squad Nation Xploration Outer Space Beakman’s World Jaques Cousteau’s Ocean Tales Scigirls Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego Xploration Awesome Planet Brain Games Genius by Steven Hawking Get the Math Breakthrough
Best Educational Websites for Children
The free online video series by the Khan Academy* National Geographic Kids (YouTube series)
Best Educational Podcasts for Children
But Why* Tumble* The Past and the Curious* Elderberry Tales* Pants on Fire What If World
I know I’m not the only one who just can’t stand the thought of my kids missing out on the movies that meant so much to me. Besides, who wouldn’t want to snuggle up to their littles and watch Anne of Green Gables again from a new, savvier perspective? (In case you’re wondering, thirty years later, that movie didn’t disappoint at all.)
Classic Children’s Films
Wizard of Oz Return to Oz Alice in Wonderland E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Labyrinth The Neverending Story Goonies The Karate Kid Star Wars: A New Hope Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (original version) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (new version) Ghostbusters (original version) The Muppet Movie (original version) The Lord of the Rings series The Chronicles of Narnia series The Harry Potter series The Anne of Green Gables Series The Anne of Avonlea Series Bambi Sleeping Beauty Beauty and the Beast Lion King Cinderella Aladdin Little Mermaid Beauty and the Beast Snow White Pinocchio Dumbo The Sound of Music The Parent Trap (original version) Swiss Family Robinson Charlotte’s Web Lilo and Stitch Benji Old Yeller Winnie the Pooh Hugo The Red Balloon The Jungle Book Pippi Longstocking The Adventures of Milo and Otis Totoro Grave of the Fireflies Spirited Away Finding Nemo Frozen Moana Babe Freaky Friday Big Home Alone Home Alone 2 Matilda The Incredibles How to Train Your Dragon Wall-E The Sandlot Enchanted The Iron Giant Tangled A Little Princess Escape to Witch Mountain Pete’s Dragon
A Christmas Carol Miracle on 34th Street A Christmas Story How the Grinch Stole Christmas A Charlie Brown Christmas Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Frosty the Snowman The Muppet Christmas Carol
This summer, I signed a contract with Creativia, an excellent small publisher who is taking on Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby. Working with them has been an awesome experience so far, and guess what? There’s an audiobook version in the works, too. Stay tuned for details on how to get your new, improved version of the book.
Recently, I enjoyed an email exchange with my friend and fellow spirituality blogger Evan Griffith, a person who thinks deeply and is deeply . . . alive. Just the kind of person I like having around, in other words. I needed some advice about when to say “yes” and when to say “maybe later.” Here is what he generously offered.
Mollie: I am having a hard time deciding which opportunities are yeses and which are nos. Some are a clear yes or no, while others are just things that come up and either sound good or don’t.
First question: Do I only do the things I have a clear yes or no about? Pray about everything and be ruthless about waiting for a clear yes before moving forward?
Evan: You get to the pithy heart of things, man.
My inclination is to tell you to only engage in the clear yeses.
I say this partly because of what I know of your life, and partly because you need to keep creating books, putting work out there. Only say yes to powerful projects that keenly interest you–and keep diving deep into your self challenges, sharing them with all of us.
Mollie: Second question: If I do decide to only go with the clear yeses, how do I locate new opportunities? Do I seek them out or do I just wait and let them come if they come? I have always thought it was a recipe for mediocrity and small-mindedness to not search and explore; it really, really limits what you are able to do with your life to just the things that, for example, a suburban mom runs across. There’s a whole world of stuff to do, and sometimes I have a nagging suspicion that I’m not doing as much as I could. On the other hand, I have a friend who is never seeking out the next big thing and she is very, very happy and very Zen. Desire is bad, remember? Buddhism? Byron Katie also says she never plans anything, really. She makes day-by-day plans and if they happen, great, and if they don’t, then that’s fine, too.
Evan: My take is that 1) you stay ready to seize new opportunities that you search out, while also 2) not expending a great deal of energy to do so.
Here’s how that might look: You challenge yourself to take on a project that expands you, one that is fully within your personal mission but also stretches your boundaries a bit. In this way you are continuing to create your life’s work–AND at the same time making connections beyond your immediate community. This allows you to reach out and Zen it, too. You can reach out as much or as little as each week allows.
P.S.: I’m in the camp who believes desire is good–that it’s only negative when you attach too strongly to any one particular path. Abraham Hicks/law of attraction ideas are to me a contemporary restating of the Tao– finding the path of least effort to what is most meaningful. This way you get to have desires and soul surf your way there–or to an approximation of there–or even somewhere you didn’t know was there until your soul surfing toward the original there took you there . . .
Mollie: Extra credit question: What about when I felt something was a clear yes, but then it didn’t turn out well at all? Was I wrong?
I often wonder about that, too. There are times when my clear yes worked out swimmingly, and there have been yes pathways taken that seemed to bear no fruit–or worse, sucked!
I don’t have an answer. Except in the sense of kaizen: continuous small changes or improvements toward a goal. In my understanding of kaizen, every undertaking leads you to greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t, what’s right for you and what isn’t. This clarity leads you to better experiments, better improvements, other small changes that can be made toward your ultimate goal.
I would add that enjoying this process like a scientist, where no answer is good or bad but simply an enlightening answer that allows for further inquiry, is the ultimate spiritual mode of living.
Like most other subjects, science is best learned through conversation. Experiments are great, too, but they’re not always necessary. If like me you have little kids who can’t yet handle close proximity to anything magnetic, explosive or filled with water, choose a few scientific concepts to talk about per day, and send the older kid to a fun science class. (Video demonstrations are great, too.)
History isn’t hard. It’s just stories. Lots of stories. And remembering dates and names is important, too. One of the main reasons I made my history timelines is that when you’ve committed certain important dates to memory, they anchor you to new information you gain throughout your life.
Spirituality feels complicated: cultural, nuanced. And it is. I understand that. But the basic tenets of the major world religions are actually fairly straightforward, and it is these that I seek to present here. Please note that this treatment is highly simplified and does not represent all adherents of the given faith. Other religions with over one million adherents that aren’t discussed here include Falun Gong (a 20th-century Chinese religion similar to Buddhism that incorporates meditation and qigong exercises), Sikhism (a 15th-century Indian religion that follows the teaching of Sikh gurus and rejects religious certainty), Korean shamanism, Caodaism, Bahá’í Faith (a nineteenth-century Middle Eastern religion that seeks to unify all world religions), Tenriism, Jainism, Cheondoism, and Hoahaoism.
Christianity Knowledge Checklist
Rank: Number one. Christianity is the world’s most populous religion.
Holy book(s): The Bible. The Catholic Christian version of the Bible includes additional sections, and Mormons have an additional holy book called The Book of Mormon.
Concept of God: There is one all-knowing, all-loving, everywhere-present, all-powerful, gender-neutral God, who created the universe.
Notion of life after death: Salvation–that is, eternal life in a place of bliss called Heaven–comes to those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins. Others go to Hell after death.
Other basic tenets: Humans are sinful and in need of redemption. Jesus Christ, the sinless son of God, came to Earth to preach faith in Him and to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. In addition to faith, Christians should practice love, charity, self-sacrifice, humility, morality, prayer, Bible reading, sexual abstinence prior to marriage and monogomy thereafter, and other good works.
Origins: Christianity began with the life of Jesus Christ, who lived in the first century AD in the Middle East. His followers spread the faith widely over the following several centuries. From these early Christians, Catholicism developed, which appointed a Pope as its leader. Then Orthodoxy and Protestantism split off from Catholicism, in that order. Protestants divided into many different sects, including Methodist, Anglican and Lutheran Christianity. Later, Mormonism split off from Protestant Christianity with even greater changes.
Islam Knowledge Checklist
Rank: Number two
Holy book(s): The Quran, which is the verbatim word of God revealed to the prophet Muhammad, plus the sunnah, the other teachings of Muhammad, and the hadith, the record of Muhammad’s life.
Concept of God: There is one God, with Muhammad as the messenger of God. God is merciful and all-powerful.
Notion of life after death: Muslims go to a blissful Heaven, and non-Muslims go to a place of eternal punishment.
Other basic tenets: Islam is the final expression of a faith that pre-existed and was partially revealed through Adam, Abraham, and Jesus. Therefore, it is considered an Abrahamic faith like Judaism and Christianity. Muslims must practice the five pillars of the faith, which include (1) recitation of the creed, (2) daily prayers, (3) almsgiving, (4) fasting during Ramadan and (5) making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. They also must follow sharia law, which is more specific and lengthy and includes guidelines on clothing, relationships, finances and more. Most Muslims belong to either the Sunni or the Shia sect, with the major original difference between them being who they considered the proper leader of their faith after the death of Muhammad. Muslims also believe in angels.
Origins: Islam was started in the early seventh century in Mecca by the Prophet Muhammad. It spread in Europe through war and coercion, and in Africa through trading relationships.
Hinduism Knowledge Checklist
Rank: Number three
Origins: Hinduism is a fusion of various ancient Indian cultural ideas and tradition, with no single founder. It began to take its current form between 500 B.C. and AD 300. It is widely practiced in India and parts of Southeast Asia.
Holy book(s): Hindu texts are many and varied. They are not considered absolutely true. They are divided into two categories: the Shruti and the Smriti. The Shruti are the oldest traditions and include the four Vedas. The Upanishads are the parts of the Vedas that discuss meditation and philosophy and are the foundation of Hinduism. Of the Smritis, the Hindu epics, especially the Bhagavad Gita, and the Puranas are most important.
Concept of God: Varies by tradition. Some traditions teach the existence of multiple deities (dualism) while others teach of a single supreme being that is reflected in all other beings (the divine in all/non-dualism). Hindu gods are depicted in art and stories. Various incarnations of the same god are called avatars.
Notion of life after death: Reincarnation, called samsara. Hindus desire liberation from samsara through moksha (enlightenment).
Other basic tenets: Dharma (the path of rightness) is considered the foremost goal of a human being. It includes religious duties and moral virtues, but it is also equated with the eternal, unchanging truth. According to Hinduism, achieving dharma allows people to be in harmony with their true nature and with the world. Other Hindu goals are artha, properly pursued economic prosperity; kama, aesthetic pleasure; and moksha, liberation from suffering (enlightenment). Hindus also believe in karma. Hindu monks are called sanyāsī, sādhu, or swāmi. Religious rituals are observed mostly at home and are not mandatory. They include yoga, chanting, meditation and more. Hindus recognize four social classes: the Brahmins (teachers and priests); the Kshatriyas (warriors and kings); the Vaishyas (farmers and merchants); and the Shudras (servants and laborers). They believe in non-violence, respect for all life and vegetarianism.
Buddhism Knowledge Checklist
Rank: Number four
Origins: Buddhism was founded between 500 and 400 B.C. in India by Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha, who as a wealthy but unhappy young man who became enlightened while sitting underneath a Bodhi tree. Buddhism is prominent throughout Asia.
Holy book(s): Numerous and highly varied. Some are based on the words of the Buddha, like the sutras, while others were created by ancient Buddhist schools, like the tantras.
Concept of God: There is no creator God or supreme being in the universe.
Notion of life after death: Reincarnation. This cycle of death and rebirth, which is affected by one’s karma, can be escaped through nirvana (enlightenment).
Other basic tenets: Meditation, mindfulness, nonattachment, compassion, lovingkindness and virtue; taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the way) and the Sangha (teachers and fellow travelers); the Four Noble Truths; and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are: suffering is universal; suffering is caused by desire and attachment; suffering can end; this happens through the Noble Eightfold Path (right understanding, right thinking, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration). There are two main schools of Buddhist thoughts: the Theravada and the Mahayana. They differ in their recommended approach to nirvana and more.
Confucianism Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Confucianism was founded by Confucius, a government worker-turned-philosopher who lived around the time of Buddha (551-479 B.C.) in China. Confucius taught his philosophy to his subordinates at work before quitting to travel and teach only. His teachings became the state philosophy during the Han Dynasty in China, which liked Confucius’ emphasis on strong central government and respect for authority.
Holy book(s): The Analects of Confucius
Concept of God: None. Confucianism is sometimes considered a religion and sometimes considered a philosophy.
Notion of life after death: None.
Other basic tenets: Kindness; manners; rituals; morals; respect of elders and family; moderation.
Taoism Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Taoism (sometimes called Daoism) began with the writing of the Tao Te Ching, likely by the teacher Laozi around 500 B.C. (This is close to the time of Buddha and Confucius.) The Tao Te Ching was influenced by an ancient divination text, the I Ching (Yi Ching), which as the oldest Chinese classic text was compiled around 800 B.C. Like Confucianism, Taoism became prominent during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-AD 220). It might have developed as a reaction to that more authoritarian philosophy.
Holy book(s): The Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, the Daozang/Treasury of Tao, and the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu). The Daozang is a collection of over 1500 texts written up to the Ming dynasty, and is considered the Taoist canon. The Zhuangzi is an important, beautiful, lighthearted description of the ideal sage written by Master Zhuang (Zhuangzi) (c. 369-301 B.C.).
Concept of God: Various gods exist but none are supreme, and all are subject to the Tao. (Most Taoist gods are borrowed from other cultures.)
Notion of life after death: Unclear. The soul is eternal, but there is a regular afterlife and an enhanced one.
Other basic tenets: Taoists are naturalists. They believe in the interconnectedness of all things; acceptance of contradiction or paradox, called Yin and Yang (concepts originated in the I Ching); and the pursuit of harmony through virtue. They also believe in fortune telling, honoring deceased spirits, and more.
Shinto Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Shinto is the traditional religion of Japan. It is a collection of animistic folk mythologies. Practices were first codified around 700 B.C.
Holy book(s): The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, written in the 8th century.
Concept of God: There are many gods, spirits and essences, all with unique roles and purposes.
Notion of life after death:
Other basic tenets: Shinto emphasizes the importance of performing rituals for the purpose of connecting with the past.
Judaism Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Abraham, a man who lived in the Middle East, had a son, Isaac, who had a son, Jacob, who was the father of twelve sons, who founded the twelve tribes of Israel. These tribes, who lived around 1200 B.C., later became known as Jews, or the Jewish people. Later, Christianity and Islam developed from Judaism. Jews have been persecuted throughout history and repeatedly forced to leave their nation, Israel, yet they have largely maintained their ethnic and cultural identity. About 43% of Jews reside in Israel and another 43% reside in the United States and Canada.
Concept of God: Orthodox Jews believe in one all-knowing, all-loving, everywhere-present, all-powerful, gender-neutral God, who created the universe. Other Jews believe that belief in God is a matter of personal choice.
Notion of life after death: Unclear and controversial.
Holy book(s): The Torah, which is part of the Hebrew Bible, and additional oral tradition found in later texts like the Midrash and the Talmud. Texts are open to interpretation by rabbis and is a highly scholarly and intellectual endeavor.
Basic tenets: Jews, particularly Orthodox Jews, practice a complex, laborious array of rituals dating to the time of Abraham. They believe that by doing so, they are keeping the Covenant (the law of God given to the Jews by which they earn God’s favor). Among these practices: not working on Sundays; not eating pork or shellfish (eating kosher foods only); and celebration of Jewish holidays. Conservative and Reform Jews take a more lenient approach to Jewish law.
Alternative Spirituality Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Alternative spirituality includes Buddhist Modernism, some new religious movements (NRMs), spiritual-but-not-religious ideas, New Thought spirituality and New Age spirituality. It primarily refers to belief systems that originated during the twentieth century. Alternative spirituality evolves rapidly as new spiritual teachers, channels and authors become known. It is largely influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism.
Holy book(s): None. Modern spiritual thinkers read modern spiritual-but-not-religious authors like Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Esther Hicks, plus Buddhist authors like Pema Chodron, Ram Daas and more.
Concept of God: God is the one, unified something that makes up everything in the Universe. As such, God is part of everything, including each person. God is sometimes called the creator, the force, the all-that-is or simply the universe. God is good and loving.
Notion of life after death: Reincarnation, another afterlife including the experience of oneness with the Divine, or unknown. There is no Hell, but there is no one clear and correct path to a happy afterlife.
Other basic tenets: Sin does not exist. Though people often judge poorly or act out of fear, they are naturally and fundamentally good. Onesself is one’s only spiritual authority. Meditation and mindfulness are helpful. So are various healing modalities, such as Reiki. Discovering one’s highest self is a priority, as is practicing love and non-judgment. Truth is often relative and experiential and may be discovered through the law of attraction; divination/clairvoyance/mediums; angels, spirits and ghosts; near-death experiences; deathbed revelations; intuition; and more. Enlightenment or something akin to enlightenment is the goal of many modern spiritualists.
I love homeschooling. I really do. And I think my kids are good with it, too. Here, just what it sounds like: a brief description of the process that seems to be working for us thus far.
K-12 Homeschooling Process Overview
What We Learn
I recommend you decide on a core set of facts, skills and textbooks that you develop from various sources of your choice. You can do this on an annual basis, or, if you’re a planner like me, you can outline through to your projected endpoint. Once you have your curriculum, divide your efforts into two parts: core curriculum studies and elective studies. Elective studies are, of course, pretty much anything. I call this part of our homeschooling day “unschooling,” because it is entirely child-led.
Here is a more specific description of what we learn in our home.
We study the following subjects: history; science; literature; writing; mathematics; art, film and music; religion and spirituality; morality, relationships, health and life management; physical education; Mandarin; Spanish; philosophy and logic; psychology and sociology; and more as time and interest dictates.
We rotate between history and science, choosing one as our core subject for the school year. During history years, we study our core curriculum history books, lesson by lesson, in their entirety. During science years, we study our core curriculum science books, lesson by lesson, in their entirety. Every year we also choose several other secondary subjects to focus on. We learn various other skills and lessons and read other books as time and interest allow.
When We Learn
In my family, homeschooling works backwards: heavy reading and conversation in bed at night with the lights turned off and the little ones bored to sleep, independent projects in the afternoon and social and physical stuff first thing in the morning. Coincidentally (or not), this order roughly reflects my educational priorities for my kids (and myself), and is exactly the opposite of traditional public education.
How We Learn
When planning for homeschooling, the question of how to learn is both the most complicated one and the least important. I recommend that you default to the old-fashioned reading, writing, arithmetic and lecture M.O., noting that your lectures will normally take the form of every day conversation. As you are able, seek out high quality podcasts, worksheets, YouTube videos, games, TV shows and other activities to supplement your efforts. The range of choices is enormous, and they’re all effective. But sometimes it’s easiest to just choose a few concepts a day and just … talk about them.
Here’s a brief outline of how we learn in our home.
Each week, we: listen to music, read together, read independently, engage in various hobbies and self-directed projects, engage in physical activity, attend play dates, have quiet time, practice life skills, practice character building and relationship skill building through coaching, attend at least one class outside the home, go on family outings and more.
We strictly limit the use worksheets, calculators, TV and video games and the Internet.
We learn our core and secondary subjects primarily through reading and discussion.
We incorporate reading and writing practice into our core subject lessons.
While reading primary sources, we ask the following questions:
What does the piece say? What is the historical context of the piece? Who was the author (profession, social standing, age, etc.) of the piece? What is the genre of the piece? What does the author have to gain or lose from others accepting or rejecting his ideas? What events led to the writing of the piece? What events resulted from the writing of the piece
We also use some of the following methods to learn the material:
Supplemental reading Outlining Discussion Memorization Time line making Map making Doing science experiments Coloring, drawing and painting Teaching another student Creating and playing games Learning songs Watching documentaries and other films Additional in-depth projects like book making, writing argumentative essays, model making, building, traveling, creating subject taxonomies and more.
How We Record Our Learning
For me, record keeping is a huge deal. It keeps me on track and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I highly recommend a robust but efficient system, whatever it may be, so you don’t waste time on old material and so your kids have handy evidence of everything they’ve done.
Here’s what I do for my kids (and myself, too) to keep track of our reading and other accomplishments.
I keep a thorough and meticulous record of all students’ homeschooling activities in a single spreadsheet. The spreadsheet includes a list of books each student read or heard and a list of each student’s learning experiences and accomplishments.
I keep detailed checklists of everything we’re learning on our office walls. As a student demonstrates understanding of one of the items, I mark their initials and their grade level next to it. My plan is to have everything on all our checklists initialed at least three times per child throughout their homeschooling career.
I scan and save each student’s selected writings, artwork and more in a homeschooling scrapbook file.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to recall the approximate date for the beginning of the universe, or the invention of fire, or the first known appearance of Homo sapiens on the spot but could not. Knowing a few key dates is hugely important to your understanding of the world. It provides a framework that you can build on as needed.
FYI, prehistory is history that took place prior to the invention of writing. After that, everything is part of recorded history. Also note that all dates listed here are approximate and many of them merely indicate the earliest known evidence of the events they describe. Finally, recall that the Stone Age is comprised of the Paleolithic (big-game hunting) Era, the Mesolithic (transitional hunter-gatherer) Era, and the Neolithic (farming) Era, though the dates of these eras vary by location since they’re based on the acquisition of related technologies. The Stone Age is followed by the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, though these terms are only useful regarding the ancient Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Egyptian peoples. Among other advantages, bronze technology allowed for better weaponry, and lighter, cheaper iron technology allowed for more widespread use of weaponry.
Basic Prehistory Timeline
The Beginning of Time
14 billion B.C.: The Big Bang occurred. Matter exploded, cooled, and expanded.
4.5 billion B.C.: Earth formed.
4.4 billion B.C.: The oceans formed.
4 billion B.C.: The first microorganisms evolved.
3.8 to 3.5 billion B.C.: The last universal common ancestor (LUCA)–the most recent living organism that survived to evolve into all current life on the planet–existed.
8 to 6 million B.C.: The first great apes (hominids) evolved.
The Stone Age: The Paleolithic Era
2.5 million B.C.: Homo habilis, the first human species, evolved in East Africa from an unknown, extinct great ape. Habilis was the first to use stone tools and had a larger brain than his ancestors.
1.8 to 1.5 million B.C.:Homo erectus evolved, then migrated out of Africa to Asia.
1.6 to 1 million B.C.:Homo erectus started using fire for cooking. Half a million years later, these early humans began hunting with spears, building shelters and creating more complex tribal communities.
230,000 B.C.: The Neanderthals evolved and migrated across Asia and Europe..
200,000 B.C.:Homo sapiens evolved in Africa and migrated across Asia and Europe.
150,000 B.C.: Humans developed the ability to speak.
50,000 to 12,000 B.C.: Human culture developed rapidly. Humans began performing ritual burials and making clothing, artworks, jewelry, advanced tools, boats, ovens, pottery, harpoons, saws, woven baskets, woven nets and woven baby carriers. Also during this time, the Neanderthals mated with Homo sapiens, then went extinct. They were replaced by the Cro-Magnons, who also mated with Homo sapiens. From them the modern Homo sapiens inherited larger brains.
40,000 B.C.: Early modern humans appeared. They settled Australia, then North America.
The Stone Age: The Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras
13,000 B.C.: People in Mesopotamia (the Fertile Crescent) started raising animals.
10,000 B.C.: People in Mesopotamia started cultivating crops and forming small towns. They created religious sites, grew grain (particularly barley and wheat) and other crops, smelted copper, developed a simple writing system built irrigation channels and invented the wheel (only used for pottery, though, at this time).
10,000 B.C.: Caucasians settled Europe.
5,000 B.C.: The Sumerians built a collection of individual city-states in Mesopotamia on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, creating the world’s first true civilization. It had ziggurats (pyramid-like centers of worship), scribes and accountants.
3200–2600 B.C.: Writing was developed in Sumer (cuneiform) and Egypt (hieroglyphs), triggering the beginning of recorded history.
Note that when it comes to literature, reading great books is only the first step. Literary analysis comes later, and is also vital, so be sure to read that School in a Book section, too.
Works I particularly recommend reading in their entirety have an asterisk after them.
Introductory Classic Fiction
Pilgrims Progress, John Bunyan (1628-1688)* Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)* The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (1783-1859)* Rip van Winkle, Washington Irving (1783-1859)* Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1797–1851)*
The complete poetry of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)* A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)* Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne (1828–1905)* A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne (1828–1905)* From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne (1828–1905)* 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne (1828–1905)*
Other novels by Jules Verne (1828–1905) Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)* Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)* Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)* The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain (1835–1910)* Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1835-1910)* Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain (1835-1910) Green Mansions, William Henry Hudson (1841-1922)* Dracula, Bram Stoker (1847–1912)* The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924)*
Other novels by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)* Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)* Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) Peter Pan, James Barrie (1860-1937) The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry (1862–1910)
The Anne of Green Gables series, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1865-1947) Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling (1865- 1936) The Scarlet Pimpernell, Emma Orczy (1865–1947) The Time Machine, H.G. Wells (1866–1946)* The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells (1866–1946)*
The novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)
The poetry of Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) The Complete Father Brown Stories, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)*
The poetry of Robert Frost (1874-1963)* The Call of the Wild, Jack London (1876-1916)* White Fang, Jack London (1876-1916)* The Sea-Wolf, Jack London (1876-1916) To Build a Fire and Other Stories, Jack London (1876-1916)* The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) You Know Me Al, Ring Lardner (1885–1933) Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie (1890–1976)* Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (1890–1976)*
Other novels by Agatha Christie (1890–1976)* The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)* The Yearling, Marjorie Rawlings (1896–1953)* Our Town, Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)*
The Chronicles of Narnia series, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)* Out of the Silent Planet and the rest of the Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)* The Once and Future King, T. H. White (1899-1985)* The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900–1944) Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls (1913–1984)* Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls (1913–1984)* Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Cleary (1916–)*
Other books by Beverly Cleary (1916–)* You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, John Ciardi (1916-1986) A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007)*
Other books by Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007)
Various books by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Twelve Angry Men, Reginald Rose (1920-2002)* Black Beauty, Anna Sewell (1920-2002)* To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1926-)* The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (1927–2013)* The Bears’ House and other books by Marilyn Sachs (1927–)* Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes (1927–2014)* I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, Hannah Green (1932–)* Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Patterson (1932–) Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson (1932–)* Summer of My German Soldier, Bette Greene (1934–) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey (1935–2001)* Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller (1944-)* The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton (1948-)* Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (1951–)* Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1816–1855)* Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (1818–1848)* The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas (1802–1870) The Scarlett Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)* The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)* The Blithedale Romance, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas (1802–1870) The Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss (1743–1818)* Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Howard Pyle (1853–1911)* The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) The Ball and the Cross, G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) Daylight and Nightmare, G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936) Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)* Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)* Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (1900–1949)* Lost Horizon, James Hilton (1900–1954)* The Lord of the Flies, William Golding (1911–1993)*
The complete works of J. D. Salinger (1919–2010)* Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1920–2012)* Dune, Frank Herbert (1920–1986)*
The complete works of Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)* A Separate Peace, John Knowles (1926–2001)* My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potak (1929–2002)* The Chosen, Chaim Potak (1929–2002) The Promise, Chaim Potak (1929–2002) The Princess Bride, William Goldman (1931–)* Rabbit, Run, John Updike (1932–2009)* Rabbit Revisited, John Updike (1932–2009)* The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1932–1963)* A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines (1933–)* The Color Purple, Alice Walker (1944–)* The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1952–2001)* Everyman, Anonymous Walden Two, B.F. Skinner* The White Stallion, Elizabeth Shub* The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia series, C.S. Lewis The Way of a Pilgrim, Anonymous The Pilgrim Continues His Way, Anonymous Stuart Little, E.B. White The Trumpet of the Swans, E.B. White The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting The Walking Drum, Louis L’Amour
The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White Peter and Wendy, James Barrie Pollyanna, Elanor Hodgman Ben Hur, Lew Wallace The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow The Scarlet Pimpernell, Baroness Emmuska Orczy Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie Heidi, Johanna Spyri Lassie, Eric Knight Paul Revere’s Ride, Henry Longfellow
Other books listed in Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson
Classic Fiction for Readers of High School Age and Beyond
The Illiad, Homer The Odyssey, Homer
Roman Mythology The Orestia Trilogy, Aeschylus (c. 525/524–c. 456/455 BC) The Oedipus Plays, Sophocles (c. 497–405 BC) Medea, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC) The Bacchae, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC) The Trojan Women, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC) Hippolytus, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC)
Selected works of Thucydides (c. 460–400 BC) Lysistrata, Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BC) The Frogs, Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BC) The Clouds, Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BC) Odes, Horace (65–8 BC) The Aeneid, Virgil (70–19 BC) The Metamorphosis, Ovid (43 BC–AD 17/18) The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, Epictetus (c. 55–135) Prometheus Bound and selected works of Aeschylus (c. 525/524– c. 456/455 BC) Beowulf, Anonymous (c. 975-1025) Cur Deus Homo, Anselm (c. 1033–1109) The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (c. 1090–1164)* The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321) The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375)* The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer (c. 1343–1400)* Mabinogion, Anonymous (c. 1350-1410) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Anonymous (c. 1300s) La Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1415–1471) The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527)* Mandragola, Niccolo Macchiavelli (1469–1527) Orlando Furioso, Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533) Utopia and other selected works by Sir Thomas More (1478–1535)*
Selected works by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503–1542) Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616)* The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599) Selected works by William Shakespeare (1564–1616) Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593)* Faust, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593)*
The complete poetry of John Donne (1572–1631)* Volpone, Ben Jonson (1572–1637)* The Alchemist, Ben Johnson (1572–1637)* Paradise Lost, John Milton (1608–1674)* Paradise Regained, John Milton (1608–1674)* The Bourgeois Gentleman, Moliere (1622–1673)* The Misanthrope, Moliere (1622–1673)* Tartuffe, Moliere (1622–1673)* Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731)* Gulliver’s Travels, Johnathan Swift (1667–1745)* The Way of the World, William Congreve (1670–1729)*
Selected poetry of John Hopkins (born 1675)* The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay (1685–1732) The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) Candide, Voltaire (1694–1778)* Tom Jones, Henry Fielding (1707–1754) Joseph Andrews, Henry Fielding (1707–1754) The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Lawrence Stern (1713–1768) The Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774) The Sufferings of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)* Erotica Romana, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) Hermann and Dorothea, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832)
The poetry of William Blake (1757–1827)*
The poetry of William Wordsworth (1770–1850)*
The poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)*
The complete works of Jane Austen (1775–1817)* The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal (1783–1842) The Red and the Black, Stendhal (1783–1842) Don Juan, Lord Byron (1788–1824)* The Last of the Mohicans, James Fennimore Cooper (1789–1851)
The poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)* Sartor Resarus, Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) Pere Goriot, Honore de Balzac (1799–1850)
The complete works of Victor Hugo (1802–1885) Les Miserables, Victor Hugo (1802–1885)*
The poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)*
The poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)* Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) The Professor at the Breakfast Table, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)* Great Expectations, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)* Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)*
Other works by Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
The poetry of Robert Browning (1812–1889)* Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman (1819–1892)*
The complete works of Walt Whitman (1819–1892) Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1819–1891)* The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot (1819–1880) Adam Bede, George Eliot (1819–1880) Middlemarch, George Eliot (1819–1880) Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880) Sentimental Education, Flaubert (1821–1880)
The complete works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881)* The Man Without a Country, Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909) Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)* War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)* Modern Love, George Meredith (1828–1909)*
The complete works of Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906)* The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler (1835–1902) Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
The complete works of Henry James (1843–1916)* Miss Julie, August Strindberg (1849–1912) The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909)* Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy (1850–1898) The Awakening, Kate Chopin (1850–1904)*
The complete works of Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)*
The complete works of George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)* The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) The Hound of Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930)*
The complete works of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904)*
The complete works of Edith Wharton (1862–1937)*
The complete works of W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)* Kokoro, Natsume Soseki (1867–1916)* I Am a Cat, Natsume Soseki (1867–1916)* The Seven Who Were Hanged, Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919) The Life of Man, Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919) Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust (1871–1922) Twelve Men, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane (1871–1900)* The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford (1873–1939)* My Antonia, Willa Cather (1873–1947)* O Pioneers!, Willa Cather (1873–1947)* Of Human Bondage and other selected works by W. Somerset Maugham (1874–1965)* The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux (1868–1927)* Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann (1875–1955)* The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann (1875–1955)* Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941)* Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)* Siddhartha, Herman Hesse (1877–1962)*
The complete works of E. M. Forster (1879–1970)* Ulysses, James Joyce (1882–1941) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (1882–1941)* A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)* Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)* Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)* Jacob’s Room, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)* To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)*
The complete works of Franz Kafka (1883–1924)*
The poetry of Ezra Pound (1885–1972)* Main Street, Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951) Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951) Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930) Women In Love, D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930)* Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence (1885–1930)* Giant, Edna Ferber (1885–1968) The Key, Junichiro Tanizaki (1886–1965)
The complete works of T. S. Eliot (1888–1965)*
The complete works of Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953)* Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953)* Black Spring, Henry Miller (1891–1980) The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck (1892–1973)*
The Lord of the Rings series, J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973)*
The complete works of E. E. Cummings (1894–1962)*
The complete works of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940)* The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder (1897–1975) As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1897–1962) All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970)*
The complete works of Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)* The Sound of the Mountain, Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972) Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972) You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938) The Pearl, John Steinbeck (1902–1968)*
The complete works of John Steinbeck (1902–1968)* Animal Farm, George Orwell (1903–1950)* 1984, George Orwell (1903–1950)* The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren (1905–1989) Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler (1905–1983)
The complete works of Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980)* Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)* Endgame, Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)* Waldo, Robert Heinlein (1907–1988)* Magic, Inc., Robert Heinlein (1907–1988)* Stranger In A Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988)* The Bald Soprano, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994)* The Lesson, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994) Jack, or the Submission, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994) The Chairs, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994) A Death in the Family, James Agee (1909–1955)* Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee (1909–1955)*
The complete works of Tennessee Williams (1911–1983)*
The complete works of Albert Camus (1913–1960)*
The complete works of Dylan Thomas (1914–1953) The Assistant, Bernard Malamud (1914–1986) The Fixer, Bernard Malamud (1914–1986) Dangling Man, Saul Bellow (1915–2005) Herzog, Saul Bellow (1915–2005) On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1922–1969)* Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1923–1999)* Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin (1924–1987)* Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote (1924–1984)*
The complete works of John Knowles (1926–2001)* The Tin Drum and other selected works by Gunter Grass (1927–2015)* The American Dream, Edward Albee (1928–)* Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee (1928–)*
Optional Advanced Classic Fiction
The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery Kempe (c. 1373–after 1438) The Schoolmaster, Roger Ascham (1515–1568) Tamburlaine the Great, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) Every Man in His Humour, Ben Johnson (1572–1637) The Duchess of Malfi, John Webster (c. 1580–c. 1634) Life is a Dream, Calderon de la Barca (1600–1681) Pensees, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) Absalom and Achitophel: A Poem, John Dryden (1631–1700) Oroonoko: The Royal Slave, Aphra Behn (1640–1689) The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731) The Bassett Table, Susana Centlivre (c. 1667 to 1670–1723) Satires and Epistles of Horace Imitated, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) The Dunciad, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) Pamela, Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) Fantomina, Eliza Haywood (c. 1693–1756) Edmond, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) Charlotte: A Tale of Truth, Susana Rowson (1762–1824) The Deerslayer, James Fennimore Cooper (1789–1851) Mr. Midshipman Easy, Captain Frederick Marryat (1792–1848) The Inspector-General, Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) Henry Esmond, William Thackeray (1811–1863) Vanity Fair, William Thackeray (1811–1863) Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana (1815–1882) The Small House at Allington, Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883) The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889)* The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889)* The Egoist, George Meredith (1828–1909) The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, George Meredith (1828–1909) The Rise of Silas Lapham, W. D. Howells (1837–1920) The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) Tess of the D’ubervilles, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce (1842–c. 1914) In His Steps, Charles Sheldon (1857–1946)* The Virginian, Owen Wister (1860–1938) What Every Woman Knows, J.M. Barrie (1860–1937) The Petty Demon, Fyodor Sologub (1863–1927) The Three-Cornered World, Natsume Soseki (1867–1916)* The Pastoral Symphony, Andre Gide (1869–1951) The Pit, Frank Norris (1870–1902) The Octopus, Frank Norris (1870–1902) Sarra, Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919) Death Comes For the Archbishop, Willa Cather (1873–1947)
The writings of Amy Lowell (1874–1925) Giants in the Earth, O.E. Rolvaang (1876–1931) Many Marriages, Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941)* Demian, Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)* Red Roses for Me, Sean O’Casey (1880–1964)* Finnegans Wake, James Joyce (1882–1941) Dubliners, James Joyce (1882–1941) Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951) Mutiny on the Bounty, Charles Nordhoff (1887–1947) and James Norman Hall (1887–1951) The Horse’s Mouth, Joyce Cary (1888–1957) At the Bay, Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923) In a German Pension, Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923) Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter (1890–1980) The Sea of Grass, Conrad Richter (1890–1968) Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (1890–1960) The Light in the Forest, Conrad Richter (1890–1968) Johnny Tremain, Ester Forbes (1891–1967)
Selected works of Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) The Maltese Falcon, Dashiel Hammett (1894–1961)* The Citadel, A. J. Cronin (1896–1981) The 42nd Parallel, John Dos Passos (1896–1970) The Big Money, John Dos Passos (1896–1970) Nineteen, Nineteen, John Dos Passos (1896–1970) The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (1897–1962) Light in August, William Faulkner (1897–1962) Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner (1897–1962) Sanctuary, William Faulkner (1897–1962) Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther (1901–1970)
Selected works of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991) Too Late the Philanthrope, Alan Paton (1903–1988) The Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West (1903–1940) God’s Little Acre, Erskine Caldwell (1903–1987) The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene (1904–1991) The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene (1904–1991) The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder (1897–1975) Anthem, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* Night of January 16th, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* We The Living, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* Act Without Words, Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) Across Five Aprils, Irene Hunt (1907–2001) Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank (1908–1964)* The Ox-Bow Incident, Walter van Tillburg Clark (1909–1971) Free Fall, William Golding (1911–1993) The Inheritors, William Golding (1911–1993) All My Sons, Arthur Miller (1915–2005)* The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk (1915–) The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers (1917–1967)
Selected works of Robert Lowell (1917–1977) A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1917–1993) The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Muriel Spark (1918–2006) The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac (1922–1969)* A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt (1924–1995) Music for Chameleons, Truman Capote (1924–1984)* Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote (1924–1984)* A Day No Pigs Would Die, Robert Newton Peck (1928–) The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera (1929–)* No Longer At Ease, Chinua Achebe (1930–2013)*
Selected books by Toni Morrison (1931–) The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Ernest J. Gaines (1933–) Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya (1937–) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard (1937–) Their Eyes Were Watching God, Nora Hurston
Selected works of J.D. Wyss Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad Nana, Zola Native Son, Richard Wright The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton Kim, Rudyard Kipling
Contributor: Subhan Schenker, who runs the Osho World of Meditation in Seattle.
Mollie: When someone is fully enlightened, do they feel psychological pain?
Subhan: I have heard that enlightened people feel physical pain but not psychological pain. They may have some awareness that there is a mind that has pain, but it’s very far removed; the mind has dropped into the basement.
Mollie: What do you do when the mind makes a judgment and tries to nudge you—sometimes not so gently—to do something, change something, or at the very least, abhor something about yourself or your life, which then separates you from that feeling of connectedness?
In other words: How do we react to the monsters in our heads?
Subhan: You don’t. It’s not about getting rid of anything. It’s about watching, noticing what’s there. Becoming aware of how the mind functions is tremendously helpful. You’ll be able to experience how parts of the mind push and pull you; that there are so many judgments–about you, about everyone else, about everything! This watchfulness becomes more and more available. And the distance between “you” and the thoughts starts to grow.
Mollie: Where do the monsters go?
Subhan: Once this dis-identification starts happening, the thoughts aren’t perceived of as monsters. They are simply the way the mind functions, and they don’t have to be taken too seriously! They lose their power over you.
I can’t explain it. I can’t intellectualize it. You have to try it for yourself. When you have a thought you don’t like, notice it, remind yourself that it’s not you. I tell people to step back just one-twelfth of an inch from the mind. That doesn’t seem too hard, does it?
Mollie: I do that. It doesn’t always work.
Subhan: No, it doesn’t always work. The mind is tremendously powerful. It can process an unbelievable amount of data in a mere second. It is a miracle that we have the ability to step back from it at all. The only reason we are able to is that what is behind it is indestructible. And usually, we only obtain just a flash of true silence. Maybe for ten seconds you are in silence, and those ten seconds can be life-changing.
Mollie: Why is this the way it is? Why is it so hard to detach from mind, from pain? It doesn’t seem fair.
Subhan: Maybe awareness isn’t that cheap. Maybe awareness has to be earned.
The truth is, though, it’s hard because it’s hard. Because this is the nature of the mind. Asking “why?” is a game of the mind, the one it plays a million times a day. Why can’t I have this? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I be there, feel that way?
D. H. Lawrence was a very intelligent man. One day he was walking with his nephew in the woods when his nephew asked: “Why are the leaves green?” Lawrence didn’t answer right away; instead, he thought about it for a time, wanting to give an answer that was the truth. Finally, he said, “I know the answer, but you are not going to like it. The leaves are green because they’re green.”
Your mind is not happy with this answer. But your inner being is.
The leaves are green because they’re green. Asking “why” leads to a never ending work game!
“They’re green because of chlorophyll.” But why does chlorophyll create GREEN? “Because of the chemical reaction in chlorophyll.” “But why does this chemical reaction create GREEN and not RED?”
(Once a children learn the “why” game, they can keep adults over a barrel forever!) Ultimately the only real answer we can give is that leaves are green…because they’re green…!
Mollie: So what about when you really do want to change something about yourself or your life? Maybe your life is going pretty well, and you already have a lot of what you want, but you would just like to tweak something just a bit. What next?
Subhan: Well, the first thing I’d say is to watch that desire. Notice your perceived need to change things. Ask yourself what this tweaking is all about. That desire is the mind, and by accepting its ideas, you’re identifying yourself with it. But the truth is, you are not your mind. You are much bigger, much grander than it, and within the real you there is no idea of “lacking.”
What is the point in identifying with a lacking? Don’t. Don’t allow there to be a split between the reality of the person you are and the ideal of the person you want to be. Because whenever you have something called the ideal, you will be in conflict with the real. And if you’re in conflict with the real, you will never arrive. There will never be a time when the mind doesn’t want something different, or something more. Never. So, it’s better to sacrifice the ideal for the real!
Mollie: Then how do we ever change anything, do anything, get anything done? If we’re all perfectly content with things just as they are, won’t we end up sitting around and meditating all day like you?
Subhan: I don’t meditate all day. I am in constant contact with people. I do counseling sessions. I write. I teach classes at the college. I lead four meditation sessions a week at our center. I do numerous weekend workshops.
You see, the mind tells us that if we stop listening to it, and stop being in conflict, we won’t get anything done. But all you have to do is look at the great spiritual masters to see that isn’t true. Buddha, Lao Tzu, Christ, Rumi … They all accomplished a lot and many things change around them.
Subhan: When I am in acceptance of who I am, Existence does the changing!
Mollie: How? Let me slow down and look at this process you’re talking about because there’s obviously something I’m not getting here. So, there you are in a state of meditation, disidentified with the mind, blissed out. Then the mind comes up with another judgment—say, “My child is misbehaving, and I want him to stop.” This is the moment we’re really talking about—the moment that repeats itself all throughout the day. This is when you decide to either reidentify with the mind and become the one who is judging, or to not accept the judgment, and just notice it instead. But when you decide to just notice the judgment, isn’t that also a decision the mind is making?
Subhan: No. I don’t decide. We are part of an Intelligence so vast our minds are useless compared to it. When we are in a state of meditation, it is not our minds that do the deciding, but this Intelligence within us.
Mollie: But if you don’t use your mind, how do you speak? How do you carry out the instruction of this Intelligence—say, to hug the child, or to correct them, or to comfort them?
Subhan: For verbal and physical responses like these, you do use the mind and body. They are tools that allow us to be part of the physical world—to speak, to move our bodies. The key is to respond rather than to react. When you react to your child rather than responding, you’re not using your mind; it’s using you.
Mollie: Ah, I see. So you can still speak, talk, respond to the situation without using your mind to do so? Maybe we are defining mind differently. So there is the mind that’s the ego, the monster, the monkey, the neuroses, and there is the mind that’s a simple, useful tool, a tool we use to translate what is going on in our larger Intelligence? And so is the body, when we hug the child rather than yelling at him?
Subhan: Yes, that’s right. The mind is a fabulous tool … but a crappy boss!
Mollie: So how does a spiritual seeker, someone who is committed to becoming disidentified with the mind, make this switch? In that moment when the child is so-called misbehaving, how does she learn how not to react as the mind would like and to instead suspend thinking, then receive and act upon Intelligence, all without using her mind? This sounds like quite the skill. How does she learn how to accept a situation she finds unpleasant, without “making it into a problem,” as Eckhart Tolle says?
Subhan: Meditation. Meditation that really works, really functions, allows you to, for a moment, to be completely separated from the mind. This doesn’t happen overnight! So it’s best to start with simpler things and situations. Practice watching the thoughts whenever you remember to do so, in simple settings that aren’t triggering emotions and control issues, etc. You slowly build up the knack of watching – in your meditation, in simple situations, and then, ultimately in more “difficult” situations.
Mollie: Then what?
Subhan: Then, acceptance comes. And wisdom comes, the wisdom that is right for that moment.
Mollie: Then what? I will ask it again: How do we end up getting what we want out of life, if we’re always just listening to Intelligence and doing whatever it tells us to do?
Subhan: We try to force Existence to give us what we want, but this is ridiculous, totally futile. It’s like we’re playing the greatest cosmic joke on ourselves: We are buddhas, capable of extraordinary things, even peace and enlightenment, and instead we’re acting unconsciously. We pretend to have all kinds of self-imposed limitations, including a mind that has no clue what to do most of the time, that’s creating many more problems than it’s solving. It is our nature to be a buddha. Anything else is going against the flow. To paraphrase Osho: “The miracle is not when we obtain enlightenment. The miracle is when we conceal it.”
Mollie: So if we want to be truly happy and free of mind, we have to let Intelligence give us what it deems best for us, no matter what that may be?
Subhan: That sounds like the mind talking, not wanting to give up its control to a higher intelligence that resides within us. One we step back from the mind, it loses its control and the intelligence is THERE, waiting to be of immense service!
I tell people to ask for 100 percent of what they want, then let the Universe decide, because it will!
Mollie: So would you say that the main purpose of meditation is to teach us acceptance of whatever the Universe deems best for us?
Subhan: The purpose of meditation is to disidentify with the mind. Acceptance comes naturally after that.
Mollie: Then what? What happens after acceptance?
Subhan: Acceptance and gratitude, and peacefulness and fulfillment become real once there is the disidentification from the mind. I had an early experience of this before I became a meditator. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had dropped into meditation. When I was a young man I was driving my mother’s car when it slipped on some ice. In the ten seconds between starting to slide and hitting the car in front of me, I had my first experience of the meditative state. The mind understood that there was nothing it could do, no role for it to play in that moment, and it said, “I’m out of here. You’re on your own.” Those ten seconds felt like an hour. They were bliss. And the silence was so serene, so “palpable!”
Then I hit the car, and the mind said, “Oh, I can deal with this.” And it started in again: “What is your mother going to say, how much is this going to cost,” etc. It was much later that I realized that when the mind disappeared, something extraordinary emerged. And later still, it became clear that this space had something to do with an essential nature that is always there, although covered by the minds overthinking.
Mollie: I see. And yes, that bliss is what I want. But should I make it a life goal of mine to obtain it? Should happiness be something I strive for? Because it seems the more you try to get happy, the more neurotic you become.
Subhan: You’re right! Anything you desire is a product of the mind. And it will create misery around it. Do not make happiness a goal. In fact, do not make anything a goal. All goals keep you stuck in the mind. Life will give you what you truly need.
Mollie: So—and I realize that I’m really trying to pin you down here—would you say that if I practice meditation regularly, and practice living in a state of meditation and acceptance, I will certainly become happy?
Subhan: I will say that if you stay with it, there is every possibility that you will have more moments of feeling loving, feeling grateful, feeling at peace. And that’s assuming that you are doing a meditation that works for you. Because as I said, a lot of people are doing meditation techniques that don’t really work for them.
Also, be really careful because the mind that asks that question is more interested in the goal than the process. As long as you have a goal to your meditation it will keep you locked in your mind, evaluating whether or not your meditation session was “successful.” Every time the meditation happens the mind will judge it based on whether or not it has achieved that goal. The mind is very crafty. Instead, be there sincerely, without the notion of getting somewhere.
The mind doesn’t want you to be happy. How many times have you experienced a moment of joy and the mind has tried to throw you out of it, using every complaint, seeing every shortcoming, predicting every future bad result it could?
The mind doesn’t want you to be happy, because if you are it is no longer needed.
Mollie: And how long will it take for me to get there? How much meditation would you recommend that I do?
Subhan: There is no way for anyone to know that. There is no formula to it. It is a quantum leap. But after a while, you will notice that you don’t take life so seriously, that you have moments of greater clarity, and that you even feel more gratitude, just for being alive. These are clues that the meditation process is working.
Mollie: Is just meditating and noticing the workings of the mind enough? Is there anything else I need to do?
Subhan: Watching the mind is essential. But you can also find people on this path of discovery who can share their experiences and understandings with you. They offer workshops and sessions that can be of great assistance to you in coming back to your inner, essential nature!
Mollie: No mantras? I love my mantras.
Subhan: If you enjoy mantras, then use them! Some mantras can help you go deeper inside. Just remember, the point of meditation is to disassociate yourself from the mind.
Just watch the mind. A thought comes, and you watch it. Nothing more. This is the only real meditation. Saying mantras may be a good and helpful practice, but it may not lead you to the state of meditation, which is awareness, relaxation and no judgment.
Now, let me ask you a question. Have you had enough of what you don’t want yet?
Mollie: I would have to give that some thought.
Subhan: If you have to think about it, you haven’t. When someone is being physically tortured, and they’re asked if they’ve had enough yet, there is not a single instant of reflection. The answer is yes.
Mollie: That is true. I am getting there.
Subhan: I would hope you get there as fast as you can.
Recently Matt Kahn agreed to an interview. I know: how lucky am I? I got to ask him anything I wanted–anything at all. So of course I thought of the hardest questions possible. Enjoy.
Mollie: What spiritual practices do you keep up with regularly? How strict are you?
Matt: I am not strict at all. I meditate, breathe, send blessings to humanity, and love my heart on a daily basis, but only when I get the intuitive nudge to do it. I maintain a daily practice not only to continue my life-long exploration, but to practice for those who need it most, but aren’t in a position to open their hearts just yet.
Mollie: Do you practice self-inquiry, such as Byron Katie’s The Work? If so, is this an important practice for you? Do you recommend it?
Matt: I ask very intriguing questions, but only because my exploration is how I download new teachings to offer. Self-inquiry can be very beneficial, but it has a short shelf-life. The best approach to any process, including self-inquiry is to prepare to be without it. If not, you are subconsciously asking life to continually give you things to work out through your inquiry. If you can engage inquiry from the stand point of always moving beyond it, it can offer benefit. Especially knowing, it is not the inquiry that heals you, but the amount of attention you are offering neglected and repressed parts of yourself that represent the true keys to inner freedom. Undivided attention is the grace of love in action. It is life’s eternal liberator. Self-inquiry merely gives you a framework to face yourself directly.
Mollie: I’ve heard you mention the law of attraction and note that at some point we focus less on “moving around the furniture of our lives”–improving our outward circumstances–and more on increasing our inner joy instead. Is this true for you? At some point did you stop striving to improve the outward circumstances of your life, and focus only on internals instead, or do you still do some of both?
Matt: In each and every moment, life shows us exactly what each moment asks of us. If spending too much time waiting for things to be different, we overlook the fact that anything attracted into reality could only be a catalyst of our highest evolution. This is why I wrote, “Everything is Here to Help You”. While we should always envision greater circumstances for ourselves and others, it is our willingness to ask, “how is this circumstance giving me the chance to face my most vulnerable parts and shine even brighter?” that determines the trajectory of our soul’s evolution. Simply put, life only appears to not give you what you want while preparing you to have things beyond your wildest imagination. With faith in life’s cosmic plan and a willingness to love ourselves throughout it all, experiences deeper than loss and gain are given permission to be.
Mollie: I’m a hard worker, a doer by nature. I love lists, plans and goals. You seem more laid-back. How do you feel about striving toward goals? Is this something you recommend we do, given that our goals are healthy and peace-promoting? Or would you rather we wing it and let the universe take us somewhere we might never have planned to go?
Matt: It’s a balance of both. I have goals but I go about them from a peaceful space of being. Out of the being, the doing can be done with gentleness, precision, and ease. When we are solely focused on the outcome, we are not fulfilling each task in alignment with our soul, but attempting to outrun the hands of time to capture what we fear we were never meant to have. If it’s meant to be, it will come, which requires destiny along with our participation in taking inspired deliberate action.
Mollie: Do you listen for divine guidance for your actions–say, when to go wash the car or feed the dog? What is the terminology you use for this?
Matt: My intuition is always active and flowing. For me, there is a perfect time for everything and when I get that message, I follow through without hesitation. Like stomach grumbles that remind you when to eat, my intuition guides my every move without me having to micromanage anything. It’s just the joy of following the flow of each instinct. It’s a visceral flow of inspiration, not a mental calculation of any kind.
I have a basic working Mandarin vocabulary–what I call “traveler’s Chinese.” Though it’s one of my life goals to become fluent or close to it (mostly because it would be so much fun), I also feel that this basic level is extremely valuable in its own right. Once you get past the language basics and talk to some natives who–surprise!–actually understand you, the groundwork has been laid; you become confident. After that, you have fun with it: talk to people you meet, ask them to explain things, practice a bit here and a bit there. A decade or so later, you’re ready to visit the land of your chosen second language and make a lot of progress in a relatively short amount of time.
A note on the list: There are four tones in Mandarin Chinese. Fortunately, they’re not hard to master; just do an Internet search to hear them and practice. One more tip: At first, don’t worry about grammar too much. Get the main verbs, the main short words (“because,” “with,” “and,” “very,” and the time- and distance-related vocabulary) and the whole introductory conversation basics, then move on to your nouns–food, body parts, etc. When you practice, make as many mistakes as you can possibly make, grammar-wise; just get yourself understood. That’s the goal.
Basic Mandarin Vocabulary:
Conversational Basics and Common Phrases:
Hello: Ni3 hao3 How are you: Ni3 hao3 ma What is your name: Ni3 de ming2 zi jiao4 shen2 me My name is: Wo3 de ming2 zi jiao4 First name: Ming2 zi Family name: Gui4 xing4 How old are you: Ni3 ji1 sui4 le I am __ years old: Wo3 you3 __ nian2 Good morning: Zao3 an1 Good afternoon: Good evening: Wan3 an1 Yes: Shi4 No: Bu4 shi4 Please: Qing2 May I: Ke3 yi3 Thank you: Xie4 xie4 Excuse me/I’m sorry: Dui4 bu4 qi2 You’re welcome/I don’t mind: Mei2 guan4 xi1 No problem/I don’t care: Bu4 yao4 jin3 Where are you from: Ni3 lai2 zai4 na3 li3 I am from: Wo3 lai2 zi4 I speak __: Wo3 shuo1 __ Do you speak __: Ni3 shuo1 __ ma? U.S.A.: Mei3 guo2 American: Mei3 guo2 ren2 English: Ying1 wen2 China: Zhong1 guo2 Chinese (person): Zhong1 guo2 ren2 Chinese (Mandarin language): Pu2 tong2 hua4 Chinese (Cantonese language): Guang3 dong1 hua4 How do you say: Wo3 zem2 me shuo1 What does this mean: Shen2 me yi4 ci2 Say it again: Zai4 shuo1 yi1 ci4 May I ask: Qing2 wen3 Can you please: Ni3 ke3 yi3 Nice to meet you: Hen3 gao1 xin1 jian4 dao4 ni3 Be careful: Xiao4 xin1 (yi1 dian3) Hurry up: Kuai4 yi1 dian3 Wait a moment: Deng3 yi2 xia4 I am ready: Wo3 zhu3 bei4 hao3 le Both are fine: Shen2 me dou1 ke3 yi3
To be: Shi4 To go: Qu4 To want: Yao4 To use: Yong4 To need: Xu3 yao4 To know: Zhi1 dao4 To like: Xi3 huan1 To love: Ai4 To live: Zhu4 To be born: Chu1 sheng1 To die: Si2 To sleep/go to bed: Shui4 jiao4 To wake up: Xing3 lai2 To cook: Zuo2 (fan4) To read: Kan4 (shu1) To practice: Lian4 xi3 To make/do: Zuo3 To look at: Kan4 To see: Kan4 dao4 To look for: Zhao3 To walk: Zou3 (lu4) To run: Pao3 (bu4) To go to work: Shang4 ban4 To finish work: Xia4 ban4 To rest: Xiu2 xi3 To play: Wan2 To sing: Chang4 ge1 To smile: Wei1 xiao4 To laugh: Da4 xiao1 To hug: Bao4 To cry: Ai1 hao4; ku1; bei4 qi4 To dance: Tiao4 wu3 To swim: You2 yong3 To take pictures: Zhao4 xiang4 To go shopping: (Qu4) guang4 jie1; gou4 wu4; mai3 dong1 xi1 To go to the bathroom: Shang4 ce4 suo3 To take a shower: Xi3 zao3 To wash hands/face: Xi3 lian2/shou3 To ride (a bike, etc.): Qi2 To ride (a car–no movement): Zuo4 To visit (someone): Bai4 fang3 To visit (something): Can1 guan1 To leave: Zou3 To wait: Deng3 (dai4) To stay (there): Liu2 zai4 (zhe1 li3) To stay home: Dai4 zia4 jia1 li3 To stand up: Zhan4 qi3 lai2 To sit down: Zuo4 xia4 To find: Zhao3 dao4 To pay: Fu4 qian2 To break: Sui4; lan4 To fix: Xiu1 To take: Na2 To listen: Ting1 (shuo1) To lay down (something): Fang4 To lay down (body): Tang3 xia4 To meet (regularly): Peng4 dao4; peng4 tou2 To meet (past or future): Kan4 jian4 To show/indicate: Zhan3 shi3 To mistakenly think: Yi3 wei2 To try: Shi4 yi1 shi4 To taste/experience: Chang2 hang2; chang2 yi1 chang2 To guess: Cai1 yi1 cai1 To translate: Fan1 yi4 To hate: Hen4 To put on/wear: Chuan1; dai4 To change clothes: Huan2 yi4 fu2
When: Shen2 me shi2 hou4 How long: Duo1 jiu2 Early: Zao4 Late: Wan2 Soon: Hen3 kuai4 Not soon: Hen3 man4 Always: Zong3 shi4 Never: Cong2 lai2 (mei2 you3) Again: Zai4 Often/usually: Jing1 chang2 Sometimes: You3 shi2 hou4 Still more (time): Hai2 (you3) Daytime: Wan3 shang4 Nighttime: Wan3 shang4 Day: Tian1 Morning: Zao3 shang4 Afternoon: Xia4 wu3 Time: Shi2 jian1 Hour: Xiao3 shi2; zhong1 tou2 Minute: Fen1 zhong1 Second: Miao3 zhong1 This week: Zhe4 zhou1 Next week: Xia4 zhou1 Last week: Shang4 zhou1 Before/earlier: Yi3 qian2; zai4 shi1 qian2 After/later: Yi3 hou4; hou4 lai2; dai1 hui3 At the same time: Tong2 shi2 First: Di1 yi1 Second: Di1 er4 One time: Yi1 ci4 The first time: Di1 yi1 ci4 Midnight: Ban4 ye4 Long (time): Jiu2; chang2 shi2 jian1 A while: Yi2 xia4 Future: Wei4 lai2 Past: Ever: Guo1; ceng2 jing2
Size- and Amount-Related:
How much/how many: Duo1 shao1 More: Bi3 (jiao4) duo1 de; Less: Bi3 (jiao4) shao3 de A little: Yi1 dian3 A little more: Duo1 yi1 dian3 Most: Zui4 Some: Yi1 xie3 de Only: Zhi2 you3 Still more (amount): Hai2 you3 Almost: Cha4 bu4 duo1 Not enough: Bu2 gou4 Not quite: Bu2 tai4 Too (much): Tai4 Size: Da4 xiao3 Short (people): Ai3 Short (stuff): Duan3 Tall (people): Gao1 Long (things): chang2 Wide: Kuan1 kuo4 de Deep: Shen1 de Empty: Kong1 dong4 Amount: Deng3 yu2 Enough: Gou3 le None: Mei2 you3 yi1 ge Both: Liang3 Both/all: Dou1; quan2 bu2 de Another one: Zai4 yi1 ge Equal: Deng3 (yu1) How many?: Ji3 ge Another: Bie2 de One or two: Yi1 liang2 ge Either one: Bu2 lun4 . . . dou1 (hao1) Only: Jiu4 Pound: Bang4 Kilo: Gong1 jin1 1/2 kilo: Jin1 Still more: Hai2 you3 Others: Qi2 ta1 de Every: Mei3 yi1; mei3 ge Each: Mei3 yi1 ge The whole (one): Zheng3 ge4 The whole (time): Suo3 you3 (shi2 jian1) Everything: Yi1 qie4 dou1; shen2 me dou1; suo3 you3 shi4 wu4 Something: Xie1 shi4 Nothing: Mei2 you3 dong1 xi1; mei1 you3 shi4 Everybody: Mei2 ge ren2; ren2 ren2 Anything: Wu2 lun2 shen2 me Somebody: Yi1 ge ren2 Nobody: Mei2 you3 ren2 Anybody: Ren4 he2 ren2; shen2 me ren2 Everywhere: Mei3 ge di4 fang1; dao4 qu4 dou1 Somewhere: Yi1 ge di4 fang1 Nowhere: Mei2 you3 di4 fang1 Anywhere: Ren4 he2 di4 fang1
A direction: Fang1 xiang4 A location: Fang1 wei4 Here: Zher4 There: Nar4 High: Gao1 Low: Di1 Beside: Zai . . . pang2 bian1/lin2 jin4 Between: Zai4 . . . zhi1 jian1/zhong1 jian1 Ahead: Zai . . . qian2 fang1/qian2 mian4 Over/above/on: Zai4 . . . shang4 mian4; gao1 yu2 In: Zai4 . . . li3 bian1 Under: Zai4 . . . xia4 mina4 The top: Zui4 shang4 mian4; zui4 shang4 bian4 The bottom: Di3 bu1; zui4 di3 Side/limit: Bian1 Behind: Zai . . . hou4 mian4 Both sides: Liang3 bian1 This side: Zhe4 bian1 That side: Na4 bian1 Central: Zhong1 yang1 de Inner: Li3 bian1 de Outer: Wai4 bian1 de Right: You3 Left: Zuo3 Center: Zhong1 jian1 Close/near: Jin4 Far away: (Yao2) yuan2 To travel forwards: Ziang4 qian2 zou3 To travel backwards: Ziang4 hou4 zou3 On the corner: Zai4 jiao3 luo4 One block: Yi1 kuai4 zhuan1 To turn right: Xiang4 you4 zhuan3 To turn left: Xiang4 zuo3 zhuan3 To go straight: Zhi2 zou3 North: Bei1 South: Nan2 East: Dong1 fang1 West: Xi1 fang1 Easterner: Dong1 fang1 ren2 Westerner: Xi1 fang1 ren2
Other Small Words:
This: Zhe4 ge That: Na4 ge But/nevertheless: Ke3 shi4; dan4 shi4 If: Ru2 guo3; yao4 shi4 Which: Na3 yi1 ge Although/even though: Sui1 ran2 Therefore: Suo3 yi3 Will: Hui4; jiang1 (yao4) Should: Ying1 gai1 Because: Yin1 wei4 Anyway/regardless: Qi2 shi2; bu4 guan3 Also: Ye3; you4 Probably: Huo4 xu3; ke3 neng2 In addition: Ling4 wai4; hai2 you3; chu1 ci3 gi4 wai4 Instead of: Er4 bu2 shi2 Not so: Bu4 ran2 To: Qu4 (location); gei1; zi1 (time) From: Cong2; lai2 zi Of: Shu3 yu2 For: Wei4 (Word at end of a question): Ma (Word at end of a completed statement): Le
“So that’s what stuff is.” That’s an important thought to have cross your mind at least a few times throughout your life. Don’t underestimate young children’s ability to grasp many basic chemistry concepts, either; the earlier you start, the less intimidated they’ll be by one of the most straightforward school subjects there is: science.
Basic Chemistry Knowledge Checklist
Chemistry: The science of what stuff is made of
Chemical: Any kind of matter with constant properties that can’t be broken into its component elements without breaking its chemical bonds
Atom: Tiny part of matter. It has a nucleus with protons and neutrons inside it and electrons moving around it. These parts are held together by electrical charges. Positive parts (protons) attract negative parts (electrons) and neutrons have no charge. Most of each atom, though, is empty space. Quarks are what make up protons and neutrons. A sheet of paper is probably one million atoms thick.
Matter: All stuff, visible and invisible
Parts of an atom (subatomic particles): Protons, neutrons and electrons
Three states of matter: Solid, liquid and gas. You can’t compress liquids or solids, but you can compress a gas. (You can flatten a solid, but the mass remains the same). This is because there is space between the particles in gas, and because there’s no bonding/attraction between the particles in gases. Note, though, that there are limits as to how much you can compress a gas. Do it enough and you turn it into a liquid (like liquid nitrogen).
Solid: State of matter with definite shape and volume
Liquid: State of matter with definite volume, varying shape
Gas: State of matter with no definite shape or volume
Molecule: Group of atoms that stick (bond) together and aren’t easily broken (until there is a chemical change). Fundamental particles. When molecules are messed with, the matter they make up might change state.
Element: A substance that contains only one kind of atom. (If the atoms are bonded in a different way, though, the element is an isotope.)
Particle: A bit of something that is still the original thing and not something else
Compound: A material that contains two or more elements that are chemically bonded together. The atoms of the elements can’t be separated by physical means and the end product has different properties from the original elements. Example: Cake.
Periodic Table of the Elements: A visual arrangement of the elements organized by their atomic number.
Atomic number: The number of protons (and also the number of electrons) in the atom, which indicates its substance
Mass number: The total number of protons and neutrons
Mixture: Ingredients mixed together but not chemically bonded. Can be separated again. Example: Air. Another example: The ingredients in a cake that are mixed together before being heated and formed into a cake.
Chemical bonding: The joining of atoms to create molecules. Atoms share electrons to form molecules. They do this to fill their outer shell and thus become more stable.
Chemical reaction: When the atoms in substance(s) rearrange to form new substances. Example: Baking a cake. Heat and electricity are often used to break the bonds.
Isotope: A different form of the same atom, with different number of neutrons. It has different physical properties but chemically it is the same.
Chemical symbol: The letters that represent the atoms of a particular element
Chemical formula: CO2, H2O, etc.
Ion: An unstable atom or molecule whose net charge is either less than or greater than zero
Enzymes: Catalysts that speed up chemical reactions in living things
Covalent bond: A chemical bond formed when atoms share electrons. Each atom still has its proper total number, but some of its electrons are attracted to the other atoms and stick there. Most non-metal elements are formed with covalent bonds.
Double bond: A chemical bond formed when atoms share two electrons each with each other
Ionic bond: A chemical bond formed when an atom gains or loses electrons
Metallic bond: A chemical bond between metals where free electrons travel between them
Electrolysis: Separating individual elements in a compound by passing an electric current through it when it is molten or in a solution
Salt: Any metal and non-metal bonded together. Salts have a crystal structure. There are many different kinds, not just table salt.
Organic compounds: Compounds that include carbon. All living things contain organic compounds, and many can be made artificially. They are used to create fabrics, medicines, plastics, paints, cosmetics and more.
Alcohol: Organic compounds that contain carbon, oxygen and hydrogen
Fermentation: A chemical reaction that produces alcoholic drinks. It is caused by fungi, which produce enzymes.
Semiconductor: A semi-metal element
Main metals (all those used in manufacturing): aluminum, brass, bronze, calcium, chromium, copper, cupronickel, gold, iron, lead, magnesium, mercury, platinum, plutonium, potassium, silver, sodium
Main alloys: Solder, steel, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, zinc
Crude oil: The raw material from which fuels like oil, fuel, gas are obtained. It is a fossil fuel that is often found in rock reservoirs under the seabed.
Plastic: An easily-molded synthetic polymers made from the organic compounds found in crude oil.
Polymer: A substance made of many small molecules joined together to make long chains. Some are synthetic (nylon), while others are natural (hair, rubber, wool, silk, etc.).
Carbon monoxide: A poisonous gas formed when fuels burn in a place with limited air (oxygen), such as an engine.
Oxygen: The element that helps plants and animals release energy from food. In the human body it is one of the most important things the blood sends the cell. As blood flows over body cells, oxygen and other nutrients are “let in” and waste products are deposited into the blood. It is the third most abundant element in the universe.
Hydrogen: An element that can form compounds with most other elements. Water is formed when hydrogen is burned in air. It is the most abundant element in the universe. (Helium is the second.)
Carbon: The element that occurs in all known organic life. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe and is found in more compounds than any other element.
Your high school student probably already has most of the skills on this list, at least to some degree. Treat this checklist, then, as a gentle reminder not to pass by the couple of things he hasn’t nailed yet.
Note that this list does not include skills mentioned in other sections of the School in a Book series, including sports skills, art skills, logic and much more, nor does it include skills generally possessed by people under the age of six, such as memorizing one’s phone number.
General Life Management Skills
Cooking (baking, stovetop cooking)
Household cleaning (laundry, dishes, bathroom cleaning, etc.)
Money management, including budgeting, calculating interest, avoidance of debt, calculating highest affordable mortgage payment, saving for retirement, investing in the stock market, risk management, filing taxes, organizing financial records and more
Simple household maintenance, including testing and changing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, using a fire extinguisher, cleaning the roof and gutters, fixing leaky faucets, unclogging the toilet and more
Basic car maintenance, including changing the oil, checking tire pressure, checking fluid levels and more
Basic first aid
Public transportation use
Writing formal letters and emails
Emergency procedure memorization
Nutrition and exercise
Disease prevention, including STDs
Reproductive responsibility and health
Owning and operating a business, including basic accounting, creating a business plan, legal compliance, insurance and liability, marketing, project management and more
How to purchase a house
Online safety and security
How to choose and purchase home, health and car insurance
Basic wilderness survival
Map and compass use
Online source verification and vetting
Recycling, reusing and environmental care
Creating a website
Designing flyers, brochures and more
Using the Microsoft Office suite and other important computer programs
Interviewing for jobs
Familiarity with important federal and local laws
Driving a car
Addiction avoidance and effects of drugs
Keeping to-do lists and goal-setting lists, with steps to achieve those goals
Active listening without interrupting
Good eye contact
Saying “no”, “no, thanks,” and “really, no”
Talking to strangers
Relaxing without screens
Casual conversation/small talk
Crafting a convincing argument
Labeling and discussing emotions
Separating fact from emotion
Shaking hands firmly
Good eye contact
Telling a joke (at least one good one)
Understanding other cultures, family types and gender identities
Understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships
Responding to anger or unkindness without anger or defensiveness, but instead with simple statements of fact (such as “I don’t agree” or “That’s interesting,) questions (such as “Why did you do that?”) or kindnesses (such as, “Are you okay?”)
Using simple consequences instead of physical force or emotional abuse to get what you want. (For example, “If you do that, I am not going to play with you,” or, “If you are rough with my toys, I will take them away.”)
Spending time alone
Engaging in hobbies
Cognitive therapy (noticing one’s automatic thoughts and beliefs and, if negative, intentionally disputing them)
Healthy exercise habits
Healthy eating habits
Observing the mind
Personal Qualities To Develop
Hope, optimism and positivity
Purposeful cultivation of joy
Non-attachment to the opinions of others
Purposeful cultivation of one’s highest self
Respect for differences
Ideas for enjoyable, educational activities for kids aren’t hard to find. The trick is to remember them when the time comes. Here, I share a checklist of activities I plan to encourage each of my children to try at least once during their elementary school years. (I’ve hung it on our wall for easy access.) My goal is to expose our kids to a wide variety of games and activities in the hopes that several will become lifelong hobbies.
Essential Board Games and Puzzles
Scrabble Chess Checkers Maj jong Monopoly Trivial Pursuit Complex strategy board games like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic or Settlers of Cattan Other educational board games Card games Crosswords Sudoku Logic grid puzzles Mazes Map/geography puzzles
Essential Quiet Indoor Activities
Listening to educational podcasts Listening to audiobooks of classic literature and interesting nonfiction Setting reading goals with associated rewards Writing stories and poems Journaling Writing and self-publishing a book Writing a blog Creating a website Learning computer programming Creating a newsletter, newspaper or magazine Doing educational coloring sheets (such as diagrams of body organs and systems, parts of the cell, maps and much more) Memorizing important poems and passages Scrapbooking Listing life goals, dreams, and future plans/activities Learning educational songs (especially with fact lists like the presidents, the major elements, etc.) Writing longhand letters to friends
Essential Science Projects
Treasure collecting from nature Growing plants Building science-related structures and models with mixed media Building science-related structures and models with Lego (such as solar system models, lifelike animal and vehicle replicas, etc.) Block building Train set building Playing with magnets Breaking open and identifying rocks Building circuits Taking nighttime walks Watching astronomical events (like a lunar eclipse, shooting stars or the Aurora Borealis) Using a telescope and a microscope Choosing many other science projects from science books
Optional Whole-Family Activities
Holding a family book club Reading aloud together Doing home improvement projects Holding family presentation nights during which siblings do show-and-tell, hold demonstrations and teach mini classes to the rest of the family Gardening and landscaping Doing service work in the community Job shadowing (visiting workplaces of people we know and learning about their jobs) Wood working Planning and throwing parties Planning a family trip on a budget Starting a small business Holding a garage sale Putting on a talent show Making a bat house Making a birdhouse Making a bee home for honeybees Creating a store for selling candy and other small items to family members Planning and leading scavenger hunts Building a town or dirt racetracks in the backyard Build a go-kart Building playground structures like teepees, volleyball poles and more in the backyard Learning how to shoot a gun
Optional Classes and Clubs
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts or Eagle Scouts Instrument lessons Singing lessons with performance Art lessons Drama lessons with performance Sports lessons
Optional Trips and Special Local Outings
Here, you can list the local attractions you’d like to visit and the longer trips you’d like to take.
Camping Hikes The aquarium The zoo The children’s science museum Tide pool nature collecting (More)
Simple Homemade Learning Games
The List Game
How to Play: Players choose a fact list and print out one copy per player. Players read over their fact lists. Then they compete to see who can list the most items on the list in an allotted time period. (Inspiration: Scattegories.)
Twenty Questions/Who Am I?
How to Play: Players choose a fact list and print out one copy per player. Players silently select a person, place or term from their fact list of choice. Then they take turns trying to guess the other person’s selection by asking simple yes or no questions. The winner guesses the term in the fewest questions, or guesses the most terms correctly in an allotted time period. This game works well with any checklist except foreign-language vocabulary lists, and is especially interesting with history timelines if you play the role of an event or person. (Inspiration: Twenty Questions.)
Do-It-Yourself Crossword Puzzles
Instructions: Print out grid paper with large boxes and create crossword puzzles using the terms you want to remember. The clues can be written on a separate sheet of paper. Crosswords using foreign-language vocabulary words can be easiest to create, since the native-language word can be used as the clue.
Do-It-Yourself Historical Timeline
Instructions: Using a simple template, create your own historical timeline with the key dates you want to remember. Hang it on a wall for easy reference.
The Math Puzzle
Instructions: Create a simple 13×13 grid. Number
the vertical and horizontal rows from 1 to 12. Choose whether to
multiply, divide, add or subtract the numbers, then in each box,
write the value of the two numbers whose lines intersect at that
point. Notice the number patterns that form. This game is especially
useful for memorizing multiplication tables.
The Money Game
Practice addition and subtraction by creating your own fake money
and playing “store” with a friend.
Do-It-Yourself Map Puzzles
Color a map of the world (or of a country or a continent). Cut it
into puzzle-like pieces, then reinforce the back of each piece with
Do-It-Yourself Dot-to-Dot Drawings
Print out simple photos of important world landmarks or works of art. Place a piece of paper over each, and trace them with dots. Number the dots as you go. Then try to redraw the picture by connecting them.
Educational Coloring Sheets
Challenge yourself to color and label the parts of a plant, the human body and much more. The possibilities are nearly endless for people who like to color.
Optional Pretend Play Scenarios
Camping; Store; Restaurant; Post Office; Theater/Play/Music Play; Art Gallery; Grocery Store; Zoo; Toy Store; Gardening; Making Pizza or Muffins; Teddy bear/animal hunt; Car wash; Forts; Pet Hotel; Tea Party; Hospital; Cops and robbers; Superheroes; Star Wars; Vet Clinic; Lions and deer; Monster and townspeople; Alligators and swimmers; Fireman; Motorcycle, race car, truck drivers; Airplane Voyage; Submarine; Astronauts; Queen, king, servants, hosts and guests; Tea party host and guests; Library; Aliens; movie and TV show scenarios (like Star Wars), and much more.
As humans, we experience the effects of chemistry, biology and physics every day, but not always knowingly. Geography is the most sensual of the hard sciences, the one that allows us to better understand our immediate environment.
Basic Geography and Geology Knowledge Checklist
Layers of the earth: Outer crust, mantle (viscous), outer core (liquid metal), inner core (solid metal)
Earth’s crust: The surface of the earth that is made of various rocks and minerals with soil on top. The five main elements found in the Earth’s crust are oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium.
Rock: Collections of minerals formed together into a stone. A compound.
Mineral: A single material of uniform color, texture, luster and structure. Usually made up of two or more elements.
Crystal: A piece of mineral that has a characteristic shape (box or cube). Ex: table salt. Each grain of salt is cube-shaped. Each molecule, too.
Dirt: They are made up of broken down minerals and organic substances through weathering.
Soil: Dirt that is fit to grow plants in
Ore: Any natural, earth material that is mined and processed to obtain a desired metal. Ex: iron ore is rock containing iron.
Metal: The chemical particles, often found in minerals, that are pure metallic elements such as iron, copper, gold and aluminum. They share these properties: 1. shiny; 2. conduct heat and electricity; 3. solid at room temp (except mercury); 4. some are magnetic (iron and nickel).
Alloy: A mixture of two or more metals
Steel: An alloy of iron, carbon and traces of other metals
Sediment: The dirt and sand that is carried away with water and wind and add layers to other places. The layers separate according to the size and density of the materials and eventually harden into rock under the sea and elsewhere.
Fossil: The structure that results when organisms are buried under layers of sediment and pressed on, then cemented into the soil
Clay: A kind of dirt with the smallest particles. Makes a very uniform, soft sdimentary rock, like shale … unlike sandstone. Clay soil holds water well.
The three types of rocks: Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic
Sedimentary rock: Rock formed when other rocks break down into sediment, then gradually reform other rocks due to pressure and layering. The Grand canyon is an example of sedimentary rocks. Its layers are visible. It was once under the ocean.
Igneous rock: Rock formed from magma erupting from a volcano. It forms in an irregular, crystalline pattern combining two or more distinct materials, with less mixing. Come from cooling magma, so form quickly and doesn’t contain fossils.
Metamorphic rock: Igneous, sedimentary or other metamorphic rock that changes due to heat
Corrosion: The damaging chemical reaction that occurs when metal is in contact with oxygen. The damage happens because oxide forms on the metal.
Weathering/erosion: The process of the breakdown of minerals, rocks and organic materials through freezing, thawing, melting, abrasion, wind, acids, etc.
Water: A chemical compound that is the most common liquid on earth. It is a solvent that is formed when hydrogen burns in air (oxygen).
The water cycle: The process by which water is continuously recycled between the earth, the atmosphere and living things through heat and evaporation and clouds and rain
Dissolve: To mix something into a liquid
Solution: The result of dissolving something in a liquid
Soluble: Able to dissolve in liquid
Insoluble: Unable to dissolve in liquid
Tides: The rise and fall of sea levels caused by the gravity of the moon and the rotation of the earth
Air: The gas that we breathe. Air is oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. It helps people breathe oxygen, which they need in their blood. It helps plants make food. It protects people from sun’s UV rays. Nitrogen: 78%, Oxygen – 21%, Other – 1%. Molecules/particles in air are constantly moving and there’s lots of empty space between them. Like water always flows downhill, air always flows toward lower pressure. To separate out the gases in air, just cool and compress it. Each gas liquifies at a different temperature.
Earth’s atmosphere: All of the air that surrounds the Earth. It is held near the earth due to gravity. There is no distinct starting point, but instead a gradual decline; the further up into the atmosphere you get, the less air is held down. Also, the higher air is thinner, with less oxygen, and unbreathable. (Side note: the moon’s gravitational pull isn’t strong enough to hold air down, so there is no air on the moon.)
Air compression: What happens when air particles are pushed closer together (as in a small space). Compressed air is more highly pressurized.
Air pressure: The condition created when air is pushed. When you push more air into a small space, air particles move closer together but try to escape by pushing on the inside walls (of the tire or balloon or whatever). The place on the body we notice air pressure changes is the ear since the eardrum must have equal air pressure on both sides, but air has to go through a bottleneck, and can move unevenly, resulting in popping.
Vacuum: When we suck or otherwise remove air from a container, we create a vacuum. By removing air, air pressure decreases. And since air always flows toward lower pressure, sucking occurs and air and materials from the outside get pulled in. (It’s not the motion of pulling out the air that causes sucking. It’s the higher pressure on the outside wanting to get in!) Outer space has no air, so it is a vaccum. If you went to space without a spacesuit you’d explode because all the air in your body would push outward toward the vaccum at once. Spacesuits provide air pressure.
Geological time: A division of the history of the earth into periods based on the types of fossils found in the layers of the earth’s crust
Radiometric/carbon dating: A way to determine the age of a rock by the amount of carbon it contains
Sea level change: The change in sea levels caused by temperature changes. During ice ages, sea levels are low due to the great amount of frozen water. Today, sea levels have risen due to global warming.
Ocean currents: The movement of the water of the world’s oceans due to wind, the rotation of the earth and more
Groundwater: Water under the Earth’s surface. Most groundwater is found in porous rocks.
The water table: The depth at which groundwater is found, which is affected by rainfall or lack thereof
Spring: A place where groundwater emerges from a hillside
The magnetic field of the earth: The field of magnetism in the earth with poles near the North Pole and the South Pole that are tilted at a slight angle. The field may be caused by moving metal in the Earth’s outer core. From time to time, these reverse, with north becoming south.
Magnetosphere: The area that stretches into space in which the Earth’s magnetic field can be felt.
The seven continents (in order of size): Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australasia/Oceania.
The seven oceans: North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Southern Sea, Arctic Ocean
The four U.S. time zones: PST (Pacific Standard Time); MT (Mountain Time: PST plus one hour); CST (Central Standard Time: PST plus two hours); EST (Eastern Standard Time: PST plus three hours)
Pangea: The most recent single, unified “supercontinent” to have preceded the current continental forms on Earth
The five geographical zones of Earth: Arctic and antarctic (in the far north and south); north temperate and south temperate; and tropical (the middle of Earth on both sides of the equator)
Latitude lines/parallels: Imaginary lines running horizontally around the globe. They are measured in degrees, with the equator at 0° latitude, the north pole at 90° north and the south pole at 90° south.
Longitude lines/meridians: Imaginary lines running vertically around the globe. These meet at both poles. They are measured in degrees, with the prime meridian at 0° longitude (at Earth’s axis), and the farthest extensions at 180° east and 180° west.
Geographic coordinates: The two-number combination that gives a location’s latitude and longitude
Hemisphere: A hemisphere is half the Earth’s surface. The four hemispheres are the Northern and Southern hemispheres, divided by the equator (0° latitude), and the Eastern and Western hemispheres, divided by the prime meridian (0° longitude) and the International Date Line (180°).
Equator: The imaginary line around the center of the earth that we measure as zero degrees latitude. The Sun is directly overhead the equator at noon on the two equinoxes (March and Sept. 20 or 21). The equator divides the globe into the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The equator appears halfway between the North and South poles, at the widest circumference of the globe. It is 24,901.55 miles (40,075.16 km) long.
Prime Meridian: The imaginary line down the center of the earth that we measure as zero degrees longitude (0°). It runs through the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich, England and divides the globe into the Western and Eastern hemispheres. The Earth’s time zones are measured from it.
International Date Line: The imaginary line located at approximately 180° longitude that, by convention, marks the end of one calendar day and the beginning of the next. It bends around countries to avoid date- and time-related confusion.
Tropic of Cancer: The imaginary line located at 23°30′ north of the equator. The Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer on the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (June 20 or 21). It marks the northernmost point of the tropics, which falls between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
Tropic of Capricorn: The imaginary line located at 23°30′ south. The Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn on the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere (Dec. 20 or 21). It marks the southernmost point of the tropics.
Arctic Circle: A line of latitude located at 66°30′ north, delineating the Northern Frigid Zone of the Earth.
Antarctic Circle: A line of latitude located at 66°30′ south, delineating the Southern Frigid Zone of the Earth.
Map projections: Distorted representations of the relative locations on Earth that allow for two-dimensional map making. There are many types of projections, the most famous being the Mercator projection, which shows the far northern and southern areas as much larger than they are.
Longest river on Earth: Nile 4,160 miles (6,695 km)
Largest lake on Earth: Caspian Sea 143,243 sq miles (371,000 sq km)
Highest point on Earth: Mt. Everest 29,035 ft (8,850 m)
Lowest point on Earth: Dead Sea –1,312 ft (–400 m)
Largest ocean on Earth: Pacific Ocean
Largest desert on Earth: Sahara 3,263,400 sq miles (9,065,000 sq km)
Largest island on Earth: Greenland 836,327 sq miles (2,166,086 sq km)
Coldest place on Earth: Ulan Bator, Mongolia –26°F (–32°C)
Hottest place on Earth: Baghdad, Iraq 110°F (43°C), July/August
Wettest place on Earth (by annual rainfall): Liberia, 202 in (514 cm) of rain per year
Driest place on Earth (by annual rainfall): Egypt, 11°8 in (2.9 cm) of rain per year
Number of nations on Earth: 193
Largest country on Earth: Russian Federation 6,592,800 sq miles (17,075,400 sq km)
Smallest country on Earth: Vatican City 0.17 sq miles (0.44 sq km)
Longest border on Earth: US–Canada 5,526 miles (8,893 km)
Country with most neighbors on Earth: China (14), Russia (14)
Oldest country on Earth: Denmark, AD 950
Youngest country on Earth: East Timor, 2002
Number of people on Earth: Six billion
Top five biggest cities and populations: Tokyo, Japan; New York, NY; Seoul, South Korea; Mexico City, Mexico; and São Paulo, Brazil. (All have over 20 million people.)
Country with smallest population: Vatican City, 900
Most densely populated country: Monaco 42,649 people per sq mile (16,404 people per sq km)
Least densely populated country: Mongolia 4 people per sq mile (2 people per sq km)
Country with highest birth rate: Niger 55 per 1,000 population
Country with lowest birth rate: Hong Kong/Macao (China) 7 per 1,000 population
Country with highest death rate: Sierra Leone 25 per 1,000 population
Country with lowest death rate: United Arab Emirates 2 per 1,000 population
Country with the highest life expectancy: Japan (81)
Country with the lowest life expectancy: Sierra Leone (39)
Richest country (highest GNP*): United States $9,602 billion
Poorest country (lowest GNP*): Tuvalu US$3 million
Note that students should also learn how to read a map and compass; how to identify the four directions; and how to draw or make a model of the earth, the solar system and the path of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth, showing how they rotate and how those rotations and shadows create days, nights and years. They should also learn about their local natural area, including their own time zone, climate type and seasonal changes as well as the names of common local rocks, trees, flowers, insects and other animals.
Basic Meteorology and Ecology Knowledge Checklist
Weather: The atmospheric conditions caused by changing air pressure and heat from sun
Climate: The long-term weather conditions of a particular area
The four basic climate types: Tropical (hot all year); polar (cold all year); temperate (moderate, seasonal change); deserts (dry all year).
Wind: The movement of air that happens when higher pressure air is moving toward lower pressure air. If there’s no pressure difference, there is no wind.
Storm: Any disruption in the atmosphere producing severe weather, including strong wind, tornadoes, hail, rain, snow (blizzard), lightning (thunderstorm), clouds of dust or sand carried by wind (a dust or sand storm)
Lightning: The visible and audible flow of electricity that occurs during a thunderstorm. It can occur inside a single cloud, between clouds, or between a cloud and the ground. It produces an audible booming sound called thunder. Since the speed of light is greater than the speed of sound, we hear thunder after we see lightning.
Tornado: A funnel-shaped column of wind, evaporated water, dust and debris that moves rapidly, sweeping up objects in its path. It is formed when a thunderstorm occurs in areas of both cold and warm air.
Hurricane/typhoon/tropical cyclone/tropical storm: A spiral-shaped group of thunderstorms formed over the ocean that forms a cyclone (a circular movement of wind with a low-pressure center)
Earthquake: A sudden shaking of the surface of the earth due to shifts in tectonic plates
Seismic activity: The sum of all of the tremors and earthquakes in a region
Plate tectonics: The movement of the plates that make up Earth’s crust. It is driven by movements deep in the Earth.
Fault line: The deep cracks in Earth’s crust that make those areas vulnerable to extreme movement when earthquakes strike.
Subduction zone: An area where two plates collide and one slides below the other
Volcano: Vents (openings) in the ground from which magma (molten rock), ash, gas, and rock fragments surge upwards, in an event called an eruption. They are often found at boundaries between the plates in Earth’s crust.
Tsunami: A series of huge, destructive waves formed due to major events like hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, meteorite crashes and earthquakes. Tsunamis are sometimes mistakenly known by the misnomer tidal wave.
Evaporation: Water vapor that is breaking free from the rest of the liquid
Condensation: The water vapor that collects back into drops on a solid. It comes from the air.
Water vapor: The gas that forms when water evaporates
Dew: The water vapor that forms as the sun rises and begins to warm cold air and humidity into condensation
Humidity: The water vapor in the air
Atmospheric particle/particulate: Microscopic solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere. Some are organic and others are human-made.
Thermometer: A tool to measure temperature
Barometer: A tool to measure air pressure
How to make a sundial: Draw a simple clock face. Suspend a stick or pencil in the center of it. Sit in face up in the sun in a way in which the stick’s shadow points to the appropriate time.
Ecosystem: A group of plants and animals that interact with each other and their surroundings
Habitat: The natural environment in which a species lives
Biodiversity: The huge variety of living things in a particular area. Biodiversity is lost with selective breeding.
Pollution: The unneeded junk (particularly the human-made chemical particles) that gets into the air and water. Water pollution happens both due to poisons in water killing life and to the oxygen in the water being used up by the bacteria (or even plant) overgrowth as they feed on waste materials. When there is inadequate oxygen for fish and animals, the water becomes lifeless.
The Ozone Layer: The layer of ozone (O3) that exists in the upper atomosphere of earth. It is poisonous to humans but protects us from UV rays.
The Greenhouse Effect: The result of an overabundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which traps heat and causes a greenhouse-like effect on earth which then results in major climate change
Global warming: The result of the Greenhouse Effect
Sewage treatment: The process by which a city’s waste water is filtered for large particles, then left in tanks where the organic solids sink to the bottom and are broken down by bacteria
Carbon cycle: The process by which carbon cycles in an through plants, animals, minerals and the atmosphere. This happens mostly due to the respiration of carbon dioxide by animals, the incorporation of carbon dioxide by plants during photosynthesis, decomposition and the burning of fossil fuels.
Nitrogen cycle: When the nitrogen cycle is not in balance, global warming and ozone depletion can occur.
Intensive farming: Farming with use of chemicals, machinery, etc.
Fossil fuels: Coal, oil, and gas, which are called fossil fuels because they were formed from the remains of animals and plants that were buried by layers of sediment millions of years ago. They are non-renewable.
Like freedom and fun, creativity is an inborn need. I mean, lots of people think they don’t need it. But maybe they just haven’t yet found their medium. Here, a checklist to pique their interest. As a homeschooling mom I hope to expose my kids to most of these at some point during their childhood.
Drawing (with chalk, charcoal, crayon, marker, oil pastels, pen, pencil)
Painting (with acrylic paint, oil paint, watercolor on canvas, glass, fabric, human body, plaster, wood, walls with brushes, sponges, hands, stencils and more)
Graphic Design/ Electronic Art
Sculpture (with wood, wax, stone, metal, clay and mixed media)
Performance Art: Dance, Theatre, Music
Conceptual Art/ Installation Art
Recycled Material Art
Applied Art Skills Checklist
Light Art/ Lighting Design
Gardening/ Landscape Architecture
Graphic Narratives/ Comics
Textile Arts: Crocheting, Knitting, Macrame, Weaving and More
Jewelry (with beads, other materials)
Bean-filled heat packs (heat in microwave)
Miniature dolls and animals
Doll house with furniture
Stuffed animals (sewn, with button eyes)
Christmas decorations (ornaments, bead chains, other chains)
Masks using paper plates and popsicle sticks
Nature-inspired art (including nature collecting)
Beard and glasses (wearable)
Edible necklaces with apples or other food
Word collages concerning that day’s lesson
Collages using drawings, paintings, other art we’ve done in the past
Mixed media/recycled materials collages on cardboard
Mixed media/recycled materials play city
Reduced-mess painting: put paint and small objects in a plastic baggie and mix
Makng leaf and hand prints or rubbings
Playing with playdough
Gluing and taping with recycled materials
Hole punch and tie string
Egg carton treasure box
Flower pots made from sticks