Focus on reading excellent literature
People often say to me, “Well, it’s fine to read all those books with your children, but how do you find the time?” Reading great books must be our first educational priority. Let the textbooks and workbooks take second or even third place. I believe that the education of home school children would be enhanced if an entire school year were taken off to focus on reading excellent literature.
When I was pregnant with my fifth child, I had an opportunity to test this theory. It was not by choice, but by necessity, that we implemented this mode of learning.
I was sick almost the entire pregnancy and spent much of the time in bed. (One of my teenage sons relates now that all of his memories of me during that period are horizontal!) The children gathered in my bed and listened to me read aloud for hours, though I admit, I worried that they might suffer academically. The opposite proved to be true as I observed that their vocabulary, thinking, and composition skills soared.
When it was time for annual testing, their reading, spelling, and math scores had actually improved. This was enough proof for me: exposure to great literature stimulates the mind. Since that time, literature has held a high position in our home.
Children reflect their parents’ interests in reading
It is whether we, as parents, value reading that determines whether our children will be attracted to reading. Parental involvement and absorption in reading relates directly to the child’s ability and desire to learn to read. In other words, the more involved the parent is, the more interested the child will be.
My strong belief in the value of sharing great literature with my children is confirmed again and again as I study the works of educators such as Ruth Beechick, Charlotte Mason, and Susan Schaeffer MacCaulay.
Reading widely not only helps to stimulate our children’s academic abilities, but it stimulates their creative abilities as well. Sharing great books with our children – books teaming with life – provides an avenue for creative activity. Reading these books together allows us to spend precious time with our children while strengthening their academic and creative skills.
A good book will transport us to another place and time and help us to become intimately acquainted with great individuals – real heroes and heroines. A biography offers us an opportunity to tread in another person’s footsteps, enabling us to share in their triumph, defeat, anguish, and jubilation. Even a well-crafted fictional character may offer us a glimpse of true heroism.
I treasure memories of my children acting out characters from classics such as Pilgrim’s Progress, Heidi, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Secret Garden. The majority of children today spend more time watching TV and videos than they do absorbing good literature. They are generally held hostage by the cookie cutter heroes (pressed out of an inferior mold) formed by the latest TV or movie craze.
One cannot walk down the aisle of a store without being bombarded by this mediocrity. I think over stimulation from the media has squelched our children’s natural inquisitiveness so they settle for the mundane and the mediocre. I will grant some videos and TV programs have good things to offer and are not to be discounted entirely. However, we should not allow the good things to crowd out the best things.
Children enjoy literature from an early age
Follow a plan of reading aloud that introduces new levels of difficulty as the child develops. Begin with picture books for young children. Bright pictures focus the child’s attention while still leaving much to the imagination – more so than videos, which bombard them with fast moving pictures and sounds.
Picture books also help young children develop an appreciation for art while building familiarity with the rhythm and flow of our language. As children mature they will enjoy other types of books: fantasy, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biographies, and more.
My children have learned to enjoy literature from an early age. It is exciting for me to see that literature continues to hold a place of high importance for my teenagers. Recently, my 17-year-old daughter, Melissa, said to me, “One of my goals in life is to read all of the classics. I think I have a pretty good start so far.” We then discussed our favorite authors and books, and she commented, “I’m interested in reading books that were written at least a hundred years ago. Most of the books that are being written today can’t compare with these, so why waste my time?”
Years of learning alongside my children have taught me the value of reading great books with them. By “great books,” I mean books that stimulate the mind and arouse the heart. Great books help us to grow intellectually and spiritually. They allow us to experience loyalty, courage, honesty, truth, wisdom, and other enduring qualities through the creative expression of the author. Great books are of outstanding literary quality.
I wish that I had realized the importance of reading literature with my children earlier in my home schooling experience. It is so easy to be caught up in completing this textbook or that workbook to the point that meaningful education is pushed aside. Reading great books with our children has provided us with many wonderful educational experiences, and reading aloud to them from an early age has prepared them to begin formal reading instruction.
The positive influence of literature
As my children play I am reminded of the positive influence of literature in their lives. Last year when my youngest daughter, Mandy was 7 years old, she began taking piano lessons. This sparked an interest in the lives of the great composers, so we read more than twenty biographies. Some were the easy-reader-type, which she could read to me, while others were more lengthy books, which I read to her. I was amazed at how she kept the events of the different composer’s lives so neatly sorted.
This enthusiasm flowed over into her playtime where she centered her activities on a composer’s era. She managed to draw her 3-year-old brother, Randall, into her pretend world. I recall one day in particular when they were totally absorbed in their play. I rushed into the bedroom because we were hurrying to leave for an appointment, and there they stood – coats on (in the heat of summer) and suitcases in hand. I abruptly commanded, “Hurry up! We are going to be late for the orthodontist. Take off these things, and get into the van.”
Mandy and Randall took no notice of me. I repeated my orders. Then Mandy said, in an emphatic tone, “He’s Mozart and I’m Nannerl, Mozart’s sister. Mozart’s performing at a concert tonight in Vienna. We must be off to Vienna at once!”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Mozart can have his concert when we come back home. We must go to the orthodontist now.”
My teenage son, Robert, was listening from the hallway. He burst into the bedroom, exclaiming, “Nannerl, Mozart, we must hurry! The last coach leaves for Vienna in five minutes!”
Without a word, the two little waifs, with coats on and suitcases in hand, ran outside and jumped into the van. I stood silently in the bedroom for a few moments, until my son put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Mom, you just have to meet them in their world.”
I encourage you to assist your children in creating worlds of their own. A great book is a gateway into such golden worlds.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1885814135″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51FlH52SjOL._SL160_.jpg” width=”124″]Valerie and her husband, Bruce have home schooled their six children for over 25 years. She has written the following books: How to Create Your Own Unit Study, The Unit Study Idea Book, For the Love of Reading, and Success with Unit Studies – all of which have been released in one updated volume Unit Studies Made Easy. She has also written The Frances Study Guide, Creating Books with Children, Successful Puppet Making, Making the Most of the Preschool Years, and Reading Made Easy. Valerie is probably best known for her teaching on unit studies.