This article first appeared in the Homeschool Journey newsletter, May 2005
One of the most rewarding things a homeschooling parent can share with their child is a love for reading. As homeschoolers we can spend the time surrounding our children with song, verse, poetry and good literature from their earliest days, thereby paving the way for their later joy in written language. The following are some ideas and thoughts for parents to consider when thinking about their children’s reading and writing:
- It is absolutely necessary for young children to be surrounded by beautiful language from their earliest days. And the most important vehicle for that is your voice, singing, talking, reciting nonsense rhymes and so on. The inspiration comes, however, from Mother Goose, not Baby Einstein — this is an exercise in surrounding the child with language, not attempting to insert information into him or her.
- By reading poetry and high quality children’s literature to your child, you ‘imprint’, as it were, the patterns of imaginative, colorful, interesting and thoughtful use of language into your child’s being — again, not through pointing out clever usage of imagery or metaphor, but by simply letting your child develop an ear for good use of language (obviously, it is entirely appropriate to point out such things to an older child of, say, ten and up!).
- Some people believe that “any reading is good reading”. Pizza Hut book token programs and most of the Summer Reading programs at public schools and libraries which I have seen take this approach. I would say that this is not so — just as we would not let our children eat just any junk that came their way, so we help them make good choices about what they take in when they read.
- When we read aloud to older children, we can make an effort to read them books which they might otherwise not read themselves. Different genres, classics which seem a bit off-putting, epic poetry... When such reading becomes the focal point for long cozy sessions on the couch, then reading becomes associated with a wonderful, soul-enriching activity.
- Just as we know the difference in how a trashy supermarket novel affects us, so poorly written, dumbed-down books affect our children. Take care with what they read, and if they are struggling, then read aloud to them. Be especially wary of poorly written early readers as, in the name of simplicity, they are often not even written using proper sentences! And so they do not sound right to children who have been raised on good literature, thus creating frustration.
- If children are going to spend long hours reading and listening to stories, then, obviously, they need to be able to listen. Help your child develop his capacity to listen and to be still from earliest days by ensuring he is not overstimulated and that the rhythms of his life are slow-paced and predictable. A frantic pace of life, always rushing here and there, being surrounded by stressed out adults, is not conducive to creating a calm and peaceful child who has the inner strength to be able to be still and to listen.
- Do not interrupt stories and ask questions to your child when you read to her — this is how public school teachers and librarians who have story time are taught to read to young children. It is wrong. It interrupts the flow of the story, pulling the child out of the narrative, out of the pictures she is creating within herself as she listens. For those children who tend to be a bit flighty or easily distracted, this is disastrous!
- Likewise, if your child constantly interrupts you, asking you questions while you read to him or tell him a story, gently shhhh him and carry on. If he persists, tell him you can talk about it after the story is finished. Once you’ve managed to keep him quiet for a whole story, slowly wean him off the habit of questioning everything about the story by suggesting he think about it or asks the angels when he goes to sleep... Suggest he draw a picture based on the story or act it out with puppets. In this way, he will be encouraged to keep his internal dialog within himself and to begin to reflect on what he’s heard. Then, when a question truly needs to be asked, he will be able to do so after a bit of thought and not merely react.
- By telling stories, as opposed to only reading them, one also helps a child develop the capacity to create mental images and follow along with the narrative. The story goes in deeper and becomes the child’s ‘own’. Further, the child experiences you as a creative person who has something to share, that stories are told by everyone, not just by people who write books.
- Again, another possibility, whilst working to develop a child’s capacity to make inner pictures, is to choose mainly children’s books with very plain or no pictures. Obviously, we all enjoy the beautiful illustrations created by the many talented children’s writers and illustrators, but do give your child the opportunity to create her own (inner) images rather than always depending on another’s. An example from my family is how I read each of my sons, when they were in 4th Grade and then 5th Grade, the wonderful stories from D’Aulaires’ Norse Gods and Giants and then Greek Mythology. As those familiar with the work of the D’Aulaires know, their illustrations are hugely colorful, powerful and wonderful. No one seeing Freya in the former book or Zeus in the latter could carry any other image of those gods than those illustrations: and so I read the stories to my boys and did not let them see the pictures until after each had completed his own Main Lesson book. Then we enjoyed the D’Aualaires’ books together! (By the way, I kept my sons apart for these blocks as well — but that’s another story!)
- Do check our list of Great Read-Aloud Books on our website: http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/great_read-alouds.htm
- Lastly... read, read, read out loud to your child! As those of you who have my Waldorf Curriculum Overview know, I spend a lot of time discussing language arts and a lot of time urging parents to READ OUT LOUD TO YOUR CHILDREN. You cannot possibly to too much if this. And please carry on well into your child’s teens.