Friday, August 17, 2012

Living With Living Books Part 1: A Case for Books

What a family values is readily apparent as soon as you step into their home. How it is arranged, the order or disorder, the style and quality of its content reveal in part, just as the outward appearance of an individual reveals something of their personality, but the evidence of what a family does with its time is most indicative of its character. A wall to wall screen, piles of sports equipment, craft projects, musical instruments, show how they spend their time and tells much about what is happening in the heart of the family. Whether books reside there, how much space they are given and what kinds of books occupy that space is extremely revealing.

Every week I receive inquiries about how a parent can get their child reading. Beyond being a reader and reading to your children, it is necessary to have a huge selection of books. I grew up in a family of readers, surrounded by books. However, it wasn't till I was grown that it occurred to me that the reason my dad could converse with any one from any walk of life on any subject was because he was a massive reader. Every time we moved the book boxes seemed endless. I considered learning to read to be the greatest achievement of my young life.

It is said that the mark of a well-educated man is the possession of a library of books. This statement is possibly as old as Plato. Apparently such a commonly held opinion seems to be borne out by a 2010 report in Science Daily comparing the education levels in families from 27 countries. The common denominator was the possession of at least 500 books. The ownership of these books alone, not any reading of them, was the highest correlation between rich and poor alike. Children in these homes attained at least three more years of formal education than those in homes without books.

Certainly history is replete with examples of men and women who have achieved extraordinary accomplishments without any formal education; however, I have yet to discover any such persons who did so without books. I have written extensively about the foreboding implications of the current lack of habit of reading in this country. My present purpose is to make a case for the importance of building home libraries. Beyond the fact that the modern public library contains a deplorable lack of worthy books, and collecting your own living books can help supply you with superior literature, if you want to cultivate a love of reading, a love of learning that will last a lifetime, the presence of books is absolutely necessary.

For the homeschooling family, having a vast supply of books on every imaginable subject ready to hand at any moment is immeasurably helpful. It is satisfying to teacher and student alike when a book on a topic of current interest is handy. Children surrounded by books are free to browse the shelves when no one is looking. They will discover that one book leads to another, a book about a jungle will naturally lead to finding out about a particular plant or bird that lives there, which may in turn take that child down the path of further botany investigation, or on to another book about a missionary working in that jungle, or a famous earthquake or battle that took place there. Who knows? The possibilities are limitless. It is a mystery, but who can tell which child, on which day, will discover a great idea that takes hold for the rest of his life.

And on a practical point, think of the time and gas that can be saved not having to fit in a special trip to the library. Think of the money that can be saved not buying packaged curriculum because the books worth studying are right their on your shelves. Think of the family time that can be regained having this creative entertainment accessible at all times.

Not only do children need to see books in your home, they need to have them for their own personal possessions. They should have books of their own with their own name in them on their own shelves. Considering that most Americans have more "stuff" than anyone else in the world, the one thing a child cannot have too much of to learn to care for is books. I cherished my little bookcase of books as a child, lovingly added to it, even though as a Braille reader I literally could not read them for myself. When all my children were at home, I thought we owned a lot of books, until they started homes of their own and walked out the door with boxes of books they had acquired growing up. Those boxes represented the seeds of their own home libraries.

Charlotte Mason believed books were important, not just to accumulate and read, but in teaching a child to are for them:
"Neatness is akin to order, but is not quite the same thing; it implies not only a place for everything, but everything in a suitable place, so as to produce a suitable effect. Taste comes into play."
If the habit of caring for and organizing books is instilled while they are young, children will naturally grow up to value books, to be book collectors and users. For now, let me just remind you that books, and the kind of books you own, are an expression and reflection of what your family values. It is the model for your children to begin learning to build their own collection of books. An e-reader storing hundreds of books is no substitute for a well-stocked bookshelf or the experience of physically holding, smelling, and turning the pages of a real live book. The reasons for encouraging ownership extend beyond considerations of physical possession, but symbolize the knowledge and wisdom and pure enjoyment to be found in selecting, opening, and entering into the world between the covers of their very own books. Children naturally love to collect. I urge you to allow them this lasting collecting habit. Let books have a place in your home, a place in the hearts of your children.

For the joy of reading,


1 comment:

  1. FANTASTIC post. Thanks for the supportive, encouraging words for us book people, not to mention the link to the fascinating study.