When it comes to Homeschooling High School, the book, Little Women is probably not one you’d think about using with your teens. Why Little Women Isn’t Just for Girls is a treatise on why this “coming of age” story is for young women and, perhaps more importantly, a story for teenage boys.
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I read everyday with our two high schoolers. At the time of this writing, we have a new sophomore and a senior in our homeschool.
Often, we have more than one book going that we read together, plus there are other titles they are reading by themselves that we talk about.
With this in mind, and needing a quiet tale for night time reading, we embarked on the story of four sisters and their neighbor boy, Little Women.
“This book is surprisingly woke.”Anonymous teenage boy who cannot believe Little Women was written long ago about a family that lived more than 150 years ago
Little Women is a Lesson in History
It is a time capsule of life in Concord, MA during the Civil War in the United States.
Concord was home to many significant literary contributors of the day.
Louisa May Alcott spent time with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.
If you ever have the chance to visit MA, take the time to see Concord. It does not disappoint- even in November.
The pictures in this post are from our visit there when we hiked around Walden Pond, took the tour of Orchard House, and visited the Concord Museum and the bridge at Lexington.
In the books you’ll get a sense of:
- The Civil War– which is ongoing in the story though only mentioned in regard to Jo March’s father
- The Homefront– in Concord, MA which depicts the activities of families supporting the war effort from home and how the war affected the supply chain of certain goods
- Scarlet Fever– plays a big part in this story and it’s a disease mentioned in several pieces of literature I can name off the top of my head.
- Transcendentalism– this philosophy is talked about in the book and directly affected the author’s life. Her father was a part of the movement with other prominent Concord men.
It should be noted that Louisa May Alcott and her sisters grew up in an usual way for young girls and women at the time.
Bronson Alcott was an educator with progressive ideals about education and he and his wife made sure their girls were given every benefit of education. This plays a big role in the life of Jo March in the story.
Heads up! This is a terrific talking point with your teenage boys even today.
Little Women Offers us a Lesson in the Culture of Mid-19th century America
You get an insiders view of what was expected of young men and women at the time.
- Status & Society– who was who in mid-18th century America
- Women’s Fashion– what was popular to wear and what girls thought must have
- Plays & Public Entertainment– shows to see and what was proper
- Private Parties– the customs of the day on entertaining at home for both the wealthy and the smaller
- Weddings– you’ll experience large and small ceremonies
- Courtship & Marriage– on both sides of society
- Amusements– how people spent time when they weren’t working
- Travel– both abroad and in country
- Work– for both the rich and the poor
- Family– both large and small and from different people in the story
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Just think of the conversations on expectations for men and women of all manner of place in society.
This story doesn’t just portray what the girls are doing, but it gives us a pretty clear idea of what the boys are doing too.
Provides Perspective on the Life of its Author
In the story, Jo March is an aspiring author.
She wants to write.
Like any writer, she puts paper to pen and will spend hours immersed in her story worlds.
The novel is the story of her life with her family up to the time she finally writes the title book.
A few things to note:
- She wanted to fight in The Civil War- but went as a nurse instead and came home after being injured.
- She wanted to go to college- but was not permitted as a woman
- She wanted to travel- mostly to Europe and must settle for NYC
- She wanted to write- and make money as an author which she did and ultimately, she bank rolled her family
Take the time and add on some biographical information to your time with Little Women. It will solidify the whole story for you.
Also notable, Louisa May Alcott wrote many books and stories outside of Little Women and its sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.
The author was a troubled adult and her writing reflects some of that turmoil.
Allows for Genuine Running Commentary from Your Teens
Reading with teens is valuable and the key is to begin reading to them when they are young and talking with them and asking their opinion.
When you continue that process into the teen years, the conversations get even better.
Take some chances in your book choices so you can have big conversations.
Here are a few tips:
- Go outside your teen’s comfort zone– at least a little so you can hear what they think
- Take on a little controversy– now is the time to help your teen form their own thoughts on long held values. Don’t be afraid to challenge them in a way that allows them to make their own conclusions.
- Read a variety of books– whether they are classics or modern fiction. You can even read non-fiction.
- Allow conversation– let your teens talk and talk with them. Books even the playing field for discussion. Embrace it!
- Enjoy those reactions & comments as they come– you won’t regret it! It’s easier to get teens back on track than young children. So don’t worry that you want get back to reading that day. Those comments are going to tell you how your teens are engaged with the story!
There are a lot of ways to engage your teens with a story and if you sign up below, you’ll get a free eBook called, How to Engage Your Teens with Books: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Reading with Teens.
Gives you a Window into Shocking Pick up Lines & Failed Proposals
This was probably the most amusing part of reading Little Women with teenage boys.
It was heartening to hear their strong response to some of the crazy things the young men in this story said to the March girls.
A boy mom win.
Maybe you haven’t read Little Women yet, so I won’t spoil too much. Look for these moments in the story:
- When Laurie’s tutor, John Brook, takes notice of Meg- watch the reactions of those around them
- The moment things get serious for John and Meg- this is the line that made our boys fall OUT. Even their lack of experience with such things did not keep them from understanding this guy’s approach was cringe-worthy.
- The debacle of Jo & Laurie- need I say more? By the time the actual proposal comes, my boys are like what is he DOING?
- And Amy’s proposal in the story? – they weren’t so sure about all that. It was a different time when maybe sisters could handle things better.
- The professor in Jo’s life- let’s not forget the man Jo falls in love with.
All of these scenarios gave me a perfect opportunity to broach the subject with our teenage sons.
You’d be amazed at the topics you can talk about all in the context of a story.
Perfect Coming of Age Story
This story is wasted on the young!
I’ve always thought so, but then it is true that you can read Little Women at any stage of life and take away something new each time. I wouldn’t have thought much about Marmie’s point of view when I was young and I wouldn’t have identified with Meg as a young girl.
All the fiercely independent girls love Jo! Of course!
But, this story really is about the March sisters and their emergence into adulthood.
When people ask me for books for young women, this is the first one on my list.
It’s packed with all the usuals:
- Dreaming of the future
- Struggling with growing up
- Resisting the change that comes with siblings growing up and leaving home
- Trying to find your place in the world
- Looking for your soulmate
- First loves
- Break ups
- Leaving home for the first time
There is so much in this book for teens to consider.
Don’t miss the chance!
Resources for Teaching Little Women in High School
Honestly, this book should be one of the classics you read with your teens.
Here are a list of ways you and your teens can interact with the story.
- Little Women– the classic unabridged book edition by Louisa May Alcott
- Little Women Audible Edition– there are many versions, but we like this one for its organization, though another may have a better narration
- Little Women Kindle Edition– the nice thing about a classic on the Kindle is you can have it immediately with little to no cost. So, seize the moment and read!
- The Astonishing Impact of Louisa May Alcott– a Read Aloud Revival podcast episode featuring the director of Orchard House, the home of the Alcotts in Concord, MA.
- Little Women Movie– 1994 edition with Winona Ryder (my personal favorite)
- Little Women Movie– 2020 edition
- Little Women Movie– 1950 edition
- Comparing Every Version of Little Women– a You Tube video comparing the various film adaptations and how they depict the story in the light of their own age.
- Orchard House– the website for the original house which you can visit in Concord, MA
- Orchard House: Home to Little Women– a documentary on the home of the Alcotts and featured in the movies.
- Little Women Boomerang Guide– from Brave Writer which is a unit on literature and mechanics. These are an easy to way grab dictation and grammar lessons from the book along with some discussion points.
- When Women Write: Little Women– an Outschool class taught by Kendra Fletcher. She has a whole series of these and they look amazing!
More Resources for Reading with Teens
Are you looking for more ways to capture your teen’s attention during the high school years?
Books are a big way to stay in communication with your teens.
I’ve got resources for you!
- How to Engage Your Teen with Books: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Reading with Teens– down load this free eBook when you subscribe to Blog, She Wrote above. It’s packed full of goodness on reading with your teens.
- Why Re-Reading is Possibly the Best Reading– another podcast episode from the Read Aloud Revival. So full of great reasons to read books again and again. Little Women is the perfect example of a book that hits you differently when you read it at different times in your life.
- 100 Books You Should Read by the Time You Turn 20– a book list by teens for teens and recently updated. When you subscribe, you’ll have the opportunity to download the eBook.
Even MORE Guidance on Books for High Schoolers
Do you know about the Homeschooling High School by Design Membership?
We meet for live calls twice a month and enjoy a community of parents all trying to homeschool high school in a purposeful and unique way.
Membership comes with all sorts of bonus topics outside of the course material in Homeschooling High School by Design.
One of them is the high school book list.
We talk about things like:
- How many books should high schoolers read?
- What kinds of books go on the book list?
- Do the books have to be academic?
- How do I share the book list with colleges?
- How do you get your high schoolers to read the books?
- What books should my high schooler read?
- What’s the point of a book list?
Membership enrollment opens a few times a year. Get on the waiting list so you’ll be the first to know when it’s time to sign up!