Friday, August 10, 2012

There is a Time for Reading

Suspecting many of you share this mother's concerns, I have decided to quote her letter in full here:

Dear Liz and Emily,
"I want to first say how much I appreciate your blog and your vision "I'd like to call it a ministry!).
My 10 year old daughter is the only reader child in our house right now. She loves reading twaddle which she gets from our public library. She reads all her school books and reads all the Free Reads from Ambleside Online; but she does not necessarily want to read those books. They are definitely more work for her, and she doesn't want to expend that energy when reading for fun. I was the same way as a child.
I wish there was a living books library close by so that she only had those choices to choose from. Right now  I try to pick out recommended living books thinking maybe she'll try them out, but she won't read them (I don't make her since there are so many school books she already "has" to read).
Do you think I should just pick out her books for her fun reading time? Should I allow her to continue to  choose these candy books? She reads them so fast ~ probably 15 in a day. We haven't been to the library in a month or so and she's been spending her time on imaginative pursuits. Maybe I should just stay away from it! :-)
If you don't mind advising, I'd appreciate anything you have to share. Thank you!"
I also wish everyone had a living books library nearby. There are at least 30 families across the country in the process of getting one up and running, but for now, many of you will have to work toward building your own home library (look for my coming post on home libraries scheduled for August 17).

First, let me commend you, dear mother, for not only teaching your child to read and providing her with  excellent literature for her school work, but for your desire that reading should also be a pleasurable part of her life. Charlotte Mason, whose method you value, advised that once children could read, they should be expected to read independently lest they should become lazy. She believed that habit of effort would assist them to strengthen their inborn desire to know and learn. It appears that you are doing this very thing and  that the fact that her school reading is a challenge for her is a good thing. Without effort, the mind will not be  strengthened.

I also commend you for encouraging your daughter to read for pleasure as well. For many children, this does not necessarily come naturally. This fact, however, does not mean that you should give up on the idea or simply allow her to read anything at all. Certainly you should continue to make careful decisions about how she spends her free time and what she is allowed to read. I'm going to avoid a huge digression here, but believe me when I say that I have observed mothers who catered to their child's craving for twaddle at your  daughter's age who now lament to me that their teenagers will not read. Many children do not enjoy a wide variety of healthy food either, but this does not indicate to us that we should permit them to nourish  themselves on a few limited foods or eat junk food to the full. Most wise parents patiently continue to insist on a taste of variety along with occasional enjoyable treats.

Ms. Mason also insisted that children of your daughter's age have plenty of free time to engage in just what you describe as her "imaginative pursuits." The difficulty of her school lessons needs to be balanced with plenty of time to explore her world at will. We must beware the common ailment of packing our children's every moment with organized activities, including reading. In this freedom, her entire person will have time and space in which to grow and learn in other areas. This is part of why Mason reminds us about the child's personhood. Our tendency once a child has accomplished proficiency at reading is to assume that that child has now somehow arrived and is ready for everything. Being capable of a skill is not the same thing as being comfortable with it. I'm sure you know this, but the reminder is sometimes helpful because we all forget how much time finding pleasure in reading can take. You do realize this since you point out your own reluctance to read for fun as a child.

Still, you can continue to nurture and encourage the habit. There are no magical answers. I can tell you that I had one daughter like that who suddenly around twelve years just started reading good things for pleasure. I think much of it is maturity and comfortability with reading. However, the bind comes in that they have to read to become comfortable readers, just as practicing an instrument can take many years before a child can play with ease and for enjoyment. I definitely suggest you select worthy books for her, but perhaps in a much lower reading level than she is competent with for "school" books. It seems, if she can read through 15 a day, that what she enjoys is ease and speed. There are absolutely "easy" books that are not twaddle. Another daughter of mine had an aversion for many years to any book with small type or closely packed print, and was daunted by length too. I still sought out worthy books with this preference in mind.

When I first read your note, my gut reaction was "don't go to the public library." I was relieved that you have considered this idea so I didn't have to sound so radical. Just as you have chosen a home education, I think building a home library may be critical for not just this child, but those who are coming after her. Can you make a library corner or bookcase in your home that is packed with a wide variety of books, including lots of easy series books like Happy Hollisters, (old) Nancy Drews, The Moffats?  Other easy reads for young girls are by such authors (and maybe you've tried all these already) Mabel Leigh Hunt, Carolyn Haywood, Maude Hart Lovelace
(the first four Betsy-Tacy books), Emma Brock, Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books by Maj Lindman, mysteries by Helen Fuller Orton, the Toad books by Russell E. Erickson, or Thornton Burgess Bedtime Storybooks. Peruse the Top Picks we post and choose a variety of books in nonfiction as well that we point out are for young readers. Have some easy and short living history, science, biography, mythology, and stories of children from other lands sprinkled in this mix. Occasionally rearrange this book selection so her eye falls on a book she  hasn't picked up before. There is no harm in prescribing a set time for reading outside of school lessons. I would even intersperse the Ambleside "free reading" selections amongst the fun reading you provide on your own private library shelves. She may stumble on a favorite if she doesn't realize it is "for school."

As with all areas of parenting, reading is one that takes patient, but persistent vigilance and care. It is  definitely an example of Mason's "Masterly Inactivity" principle. You provide the banquet, even light or fun reading fare, and allow her to graze and build her appetite over time. Allow plenty of time and space from  only good choices and you will be rewarded. It is worth the trouble you go to to find quality books and  assure your daughter spends some time every day learning to enjoy them. Just this summer my most reluctant reader of all has suddenly taken a shine to reading Rosemary Sutcliff and Howard Pyle in his spare time. Some seeds take longer than others to germinate and require more fertile soil and patient tending, so provide the healthy environment, gently train, and wait like a patient gardener for the flower and fruit.

For the joy of reading,


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to give advice! I can't wait to find some of these authors you've recommended.