Welcome to the Book Hearth! We are two homeschooling moms, Jean & Alison. And we’re thrilled to welcome you to the Book Hearth, a unique and comprehensive approach to bringing stories to life for your children and students. We invite you to pull up a comfortable chair, make a cup of tea, and settle in close to the fire. This fire of course can be literal; but for our purposes, it’s enough to keep in mind an imaginary hearth ~ a place of warmth and crackling light ~ a space for pause, restoration, and reflection. The hearth has long been a place where stories are shared. The Book Hearth is a space where learning happens almost effortlessly ~ where sharing stories kindles conversations and ignites experiences to savor long after the last page has been turned.
Who Are We?
Hi, I'm Jean Miller! As the homeschooling mother of three now-grown children, I've loved sharing stories in so many ways through the years ~ reading, telling, and dramatizing stories. In my close to 25 years of homeschooling, I've savored the stories as the vehicle for teaching new content ~ while integrating language arts and history ~ and all the creative ways of combining stories with the lively arts. In our homeschool, we also loved spending time outdoors and having fun with circles of song, poetry, and movement. These days, I spend my time mentoring homeschooling parents at Art of Homeschooling.
Hi, I'm Alison Manzer! Waldorf-inspired homeschooling, and working together with Jean, have been a very big part of my life for many years. Our collaborations and friendship continue to guide and inspire me as an educator. Our workshops focus on one of our very favorite things ~ books ~ and how to use them as "main lesson containers." Most recently, I've taught yoga at Fusion Academy, an alternative high school, where I've also taught English and History. Currently, I serve as the president of the Little Angels Service Team, a non-profit whose mission is to change lives through the power of education by supporting struggling students and teachers in rural India. My passion for India's people and culture was kindled during the years I homeschooled my three grown sons, especially with the ancient India main lesson block in 5th grade!
Jean & Alison’s Approach
Together, we have taught children of all levels, from preschool to high school. We’ve worked together at the annual Taproot Teacher Training for homeschooling parents and alternative educators for over a decade. Over the years, we’ve presented numerous workshops where we not only talk with teachers and parents about how to “start with stories” in their own teaching, but also encourage them to experience firsthand the power that stories have to drive learning. Parents and teachers have often told us that our workshops were pedagogical game changers for them, and that they left prepared to teach their students with more ease, improved outcomes, and a deeper sense of purpose.
With the Book Hearth, we have distilled our years of teaching experience into a cohesive approach for you to use with your learners ~ in your homeschools, classrooms, clubs, and book groups. The Book Hearth approach is built on 5 easily remembered Anchor Points, as they all begin with an S!
5 Anchor Points of the Book Hearth
The Book Hearth Anchor Points are simple, interconnected, and mutually supportive. When you intentionally integrate these anchor points into your approach to teaching a story, your students are guaranteed to gain knowledge, build academic and life skills, and take part in memorable learning experiences.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the Book Hearth Anchor Points by starting, as we always do, with stories. Stories are the primary currency, if you will, of our approach to teaching, lesson planning, and education overall. Why stories? Why not start with textbooks, worksheets, workbooks, videos modules, or other planned curricula? The answer is deceptively simple: stories work. We have found that stories in particular have the potential to meet everyone in the room ~ everyone gathered around the hearth ~ right where they are, not only as learners, but also as human beings.
Stories fulfill a deeply felt, heart-centered, human need. Our brains are hardwired for stories and the emotional catharsis they provide. Moreover, storytelling has traditionally evolved in community ~ symbolized by the hearth ~ small, organic gatherings in which stories were shared and pondered. Most of us can recall the campfires or slumber parties of our youth where ghost stories were whispered to spellbound listeners. As you and your learners come together around the particular book you are working with, a similar space will be created. We like to think of this space as almost a 5th dimension, where the 2D characters and setting depicted in the book and the 3D reality of our lives in this present moment, meet and shed light on one another. This back and forth between the world of a story and the world we live in is one of the most compelling reasons we start with Stories.
The second Book Hearth Anchor Point is Self. In our view, stories offer unparalleled opportunities for self-development to readers of all ages. Stories generate insights and questions which will contribute greatly to the growth of your student’s ability to make connections. Stories bring abstract ideas to life in ways that no other medium can. Qualities such as empathy and resilience are tested and modeled by characters that we connect with personally. Analyzing and reflecting on stories through the conversations kindled by the Book Hearth opens doors to self-expression and builds critical thinking muscles. We believe our individual natures are not only shaped by our lived experiences, but also formed by the stories we read and share with each other on our journeys to selfhood. (This is a lifelong journey and we’re each on that journey, too!)
The Book Hearth is rooted in a multi-sensory approach where different learning styles (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) are celebrated. We do not view a multi-sensory approach as an accommodation or an extra, but rather as integral to promoting holistic learning for all students. Book Hearth guides contain a curated selection of hands-on multi-sensory learning opportunities that will appeal to students of all ages and learning styles. Multi-sensory learning promotes cognitive development, cross-lateral brain integration, and is healing for the nervous system. Often lessons for older students overlook nourishing the senses. But with the Book Hearth, we demonstrate how multi-sensory lessons contribute greatly to advancing more so-called academic skills. The student who is allowed to enter the world of a story through the senses and to respond artistically becomes a far more engaged reader and writer. A student who has walked the path of a story ~ integrating its sights, smells, songs, and textures into their interpretation ~ will actually have something authentic to say about it.
Our mantra “start with stories” by its very nature also encompasses the fourth anchor point of the Book Hearth approach ~ Strengths. Telling and listening to stories represent one of the most unique gifts ~ perhaps even one of the basic needs ~ of our species. Much like “starting with stories,” the Book Hearth approach also urges you to “start with strengths.” What are your student’s gifts? What do they like to do? How do they learn best? What is their leading learning style? Using a captivating story as the spine of your academic work allows you to plan lessons around your students’ strengths and to use those strengths to eventually strengthen their weaknesses. Our guides feature response questions and experiences that you can easily choose to highlight your student’s strengths or customize to fit their strengths. For example, while reading the story Coo by Kaela Noel, a child who loves to draw could learn about the different morphs of pigeons, draw examples, and label them. While a more kinesthetic child might recreate Coo’s apartment nest - gathering the blankets, pillows, and newspaper - that made her feel safe and at home in an unfamiliar place. Auditory learners could make a recording describing how it feels to snuggle down in this nest for themselves. Gradually weaving in micro-opportunities to practice other skills while allowing your student to express their gifts or pursue their passions in the context of a story is simple, doable, and effectively builds over time.
The final Book Hearth anchor point is really a culmination of all the others. Sharing experiences inspired by a story enriches and enlivens its educational impact. Each Book Hearth guide highlights heart-centered experiences that will bring the story to life for your readers. It is amazing to observe how one meaningful shared experience ~ planned and carried out with intention and depth ~ will stock your storehouse of memorable learning moments over time. This is why we are strong advocates for experiences over activities. Imagine the difference between going out exploring with your learners while reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and encountering a real live spider web in a shed or even basement corner (maybe with the sun’s rays hitting it just right revealing the spider at work) versus working through a pile of worksheets featuring word finds, crosswords, and multiple choice questions about spiders. There is just no comparison to the resonance that the most simple of experiences can have as you read a story together.
Educators in our workshops often express relief when they hear us emphasize that less is often really more here. We advocate for intentionally planning for one culminating shared experience per story. Our educational mantra: “go deep and not wide” reinforces the more with less mindset around lesson planning that underpins the Book Hearth approach. These culminating shared experiences reinforce another of our mantras: “expanding the circle.” Sharing our love of a story in community through meaningful, memorable experiences is a way of strengthening our connection to a story and to one another. Expanding the circle can be as simple as writing a letter to a grandparent about a story; visiting a neighbor with a homemade gift inspired by a story; or surprising a friend with the next volume in a beloved series and making a coffee shop date to talk about it soon. Step by step, each time we authentically share our love of a story with another, we enhance both our experience of it and its power to change not only ourselves but the world around us ~ story by story, book by book. Our brains are hardwired for stories.
Our brains are hardwired to comprehend and absorb knowledge and ideas best with an absence of stress and pressure. So ask yourself: how could you do this in your home around your hearth? To generate a feel for the book so it doesn’t feel artificial. It’s not complicated but this takes practice!
In the end, that is what the Book Hearth is all about - cultivating a space where sharing a story allows learning to occur with warmth, liveliness, and ease.
We’re all about keeping homeschooling simple, inspiring, and doable. You can apply these five anchor points to any subject you study. And our Book Hearth Guides will show you how to create a main lesson around one book. So put the kettle on, find your slippers, open your book, settle in by your “hearth,” relax, and exhale.
You are now more than ready to begin “BookHearthing” for real!
💜Jean & Alison