Teaching My Baby To Read

Home » Classical Education » Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program: A Reading List for Children Part 3

Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program: A Reading List for Children Part 3


(Please also note that this post has no official affiliation in any way shape or form with Stanford University. I am however, a Stanford and SLE alumna.)

In college I spent my first year at Stanford in the Structured Liberal Education program, which is perhaps the most rigorous curriculum in Classical Education a freshman can take. At 9 units a quarter, SLE is a year-long course where students immerse themselves in literature, philosophy, art, and the humanities. Ninety freshmen live in the same residence hall, eat dinner three times a week with their professors, write a ten page paper a week, and have a private SLE writing tutor to critique their work. There is even a resident SLE tutor to assist in the evening hours. At Stanford, “SLEeezers” are nerds among nerds!

This is the “SLE Inspired” reading list I’ve created for Bruce (age 7) that is inspired by the Spring syllabus from my freshman year in SLE. You’ll notice that the major themes of this reading list include Modernism and Post-Modernism. Traditional theories being challenged and new ideas being discovered are really powerful things for kids to think about, so I’m really excited to read these books with Bruce (and my daughter Jenna too someday).

Unlike my previous two Inspired by SLE reading lists, I am not using Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World as our history spine this time. That’s because Story of the World 4 is not really appropriate for seven year olds, by the author’s own admission. I know this because we own the complete series of CDs and Jim Weiss reads off a really stern warning to parents not to let kids younger than third grade listen to the fourth book. I think this is because some of the subject matter, like the Holocaust, is really scary. So instead, the non-fiction history text I’m using as our spine this time is The Last 500 Years.

Speaking of scary things, I really struggled with how to include some deeper topics that the real SLE students discuss, in a way that is developmentally appropriate for children. One of the big questions I had is when/how to teach children about the Holocaust? Bruce already knows a little bit about the Holocaust because I’ve told him about his Great-Grandpa in the 741st Tank Battalion who helped liberate Flossenburg Concentration Camp. I want Bruce to learn more, without giving him nightmares. After thinking about this for a long time and looking at a lot of books, I chose reading Who Was Anne Franka as a respectful way to start.

Finding a safe book that talks about Sigmund Freud however, was impossible. Every book I saw that was supposedly for kids, mentioned some really adult subject matter. Maybe they were okay for 13 year olds, but not second graders. This is really a shame because one of my learning goals for this list is to teach kids that they can “think about thinking”. If you have any ideas for books that would accomplish this, please let me know!

I plan to read the books one by one with Bruce at bedtime, so that we can thoroughly discuss them over the next six to nine months. In the future, I will review each book separately, so that I can share my thoughts on whether or not it is worthwhile checking out for your little one too. Some of these books I have purchased, and some we will check out from the library. I am also including a few movies, because every Thursday evening in SLE we watched a movie that was inspired by our reading from the week.

Learning Goals for Children:

  • Just because something is, doesn’t mean it has to be that way.
  • The world is rapidly changing; sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
  • Humans have certain rights that other people should not be allowed to take away.
  • You can think about thinking.
  • You can be your own hero.

Texts for Children:

The Actual 2012 SLE Booklist for Stanford Students:

  • Wretched of the Earth, by Franitz Fanone
  • The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot
  • To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
  • Survival in Auschwitz, by Primo Levi
  • Pere Goriot, by Honore de Balzac
  • On Liberty, by J.S. Mill
  • On Genealogy of Morals etc., by Nietzche
  • Marx-Engels Reader, by Tucker
  • Freud Reader, by Gay
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • Essential Works of Lenin
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Arendt
  • Caucasian Chalk Circle, by Brecht
  • Metamorphosis etc., by Franz Kafka Edition


  1. Jean says:

    Is that YOU in front of the Berlin Wall? How lucky! I was living in Denmark in 89-90, the year the wall came down, so that was neat but I never got anywhere near it. It was pretty confusing really, because the news was full of stuff I didn’t understand, and half the time it was hard to tell what footage was Germany and what was Romania.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      Yes! We were there 6 months before it fell. Is that the Brandenburg Gates behind me? As I recall, I was really impressed at how clean everything was from the East Berlin side of the wall. I have some more thoughts about that trip coming up in my Animal Farm post.

      That’s really neat that you got to live in Denmark. 🙂

      • Jean says:

        Oh wow! Yep, that’s the Brandenburg Gate. 🙂 I was very lucky to be an exchange student, and look what it got me–not just a new language and cultural knowledge, but into a better college than I deserved, where I met my husband!

      • jenbrdsly says:

        I’m pretty sure it wasn’t undeserved!

  2. Tori says:

    Hi Jen. I haven’t seen a bio of Freud that is perfect for younger kids, but my son and I did read a really good one together when he was around 8 — Kathleen Krull’s biography of Freud (part of her excellent Giants of Science series). It is written for older kids, but I thought it approached the sensitive topics in a fairly shallow way, while leaving a much more in-depth treatment of the rest of Freud’s life and work. The sensitive topics also tend to be put into their own chapters, which made it a bit easier to scan and skip things I didn’t really want to talk about (like little boys desiring their mothers! Ack). You can read quite a few pages of the book on Amazon’s Look Inside feature.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      “a shallow way”… Yes! For once being shallow is my goal! 🙂 I did check out the Kathleen Krull book from our library but alas felt it offered too much detail for a seven-year-old, especially since my son will read ahead on his own without me. He’s also asking some pretty tough questions about babies in general at the moment. I’ve held him off by mumbling something about prenatal vitamins, but it’s only a matter of time before my husband is going to have to explain things in greater detail. Argh!

  3. jengod says:

    You (and my smart friend Cathy Q) always make me passionately wish I had done SLE. I was warned off it as a pro-fro, but I wish I hadn’t listened, because in retrospect I think the structure (and the experience) would have been good for me!

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