Monday, March 19, 2012

The Necessity of Fiction

I previously wrote about the important role fiction can play in our every day life. Anyone who has observed children playing knows they pretend. They play act, imitating what they have seen and heard. This is a healthy and normal part of childhood learning. I remember my youngest daughter's surprised tone of voice when I asked her what she had been playing at all afternoon in the backyard and she said, "I was Pocahontas"-- of course, what else? Part of our school morning had been spent reading a story about that Indian princess.

Research bears out that rehearsing is essential to long-term memory storage. Whether this takes the form of role playing what has been seen, drawing pictures of ideas presented, or simply telling or narrating back what has been heard, it is the way children get understanding. Children come to us in little newborn  packages, fully equipped for life, and thoroughly ignorant of all life holds. Time and experience brings them all the lessons to be learned day by day to grow to maturity.

Stories are one of the essential elements necessary to this development. All the "once-upon-a-times," adventures and events, and "ever afters" give them ideas of the particulars of life as well as the vastness of the world. The unknowns are introduced so that when they later encounter them, they have some acquaintance with them, and can know something of what to do and how to handle them. These tales told set the stage for what gradually becomes the life they know, full of unpredictability and unknowns, and the more they have lived in their minds with the lives of others, the more ready they will be to take their part in life and play the roles for which they have been destined.

This is a long defense for the reasoning behind my insistence to parents that they not fear what a story holds for their child. Tragedies and death are harsh, but for a child, they are less harsh when prepared for by use of stories of others who have suffered and lived through them. It gives them a small taste, a dress rehearsal. It is inevitable that our innocent children will suffer loss and hardship. Homeschool parents especially say they are interested in character development. The Bible teaches that character comes through long-suffering and trials (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-4, etc). My contention with those who would strive to present only the pleasant and perfect to their children is that they are doing them a disservice. It is possible that encountering the death of a beloved dog in a story, the betrayal of insincere friends in a book, will furnish them with some make-believe experience that will quite possibly strengthen them for coping with the reality of those inevitable happenings. Reading may just be one of the exercises that builds the stamina to handle the challenges they will surely face.

"My child is sensitive," a mother says. Be courageous, dear parent. Let this sensitive child learn in the comfort of your home, through the pages of a book. When they read about the death of dear sister Beth in Little Women, how Heidi copes with loneliness as an orphan, how Lassie perseveres in misery and misfortune, they will try the ideas on for size and when they face their own situations they will find these friends have given them a gift, have strengthened them for their own battles.

"My little boy cried and cried at the injustices and cruelties that James Cook suffered," my friend shares, and we can find comfort for him in the remembrance that Joseph saved a nation because of such injustices, that our Friend, Jesus, suffered the most injustice of all. We all find we are in good company when we have had such a great cloud of witnesses as Daniel in the lion's den, Cinderella and her wicked stepsisters, and Ralph Moody out on the range.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

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