Monday, July 18, 2016

What’s a Mother to Do?

Here is the question of the week: “My daughter wants to read the books her friends are reading. I have not read these and am suspicious that they are not worthy books. How can I encourage her to read excellent literature when she is wanting to read the things her friends are talking about?”

The business of growing up is not easy for the mother or the young person who is moving from childhood to adulthood, from dependence to independence. There are many fearful pitfalls the mother can foresee and wishes to circumvent. What cannot be avoided is that it is the young person who must learn to choose and make her own decisions. The wise mother allows that responsible choosing to increase gradually over many years.

So it is with the choosing of reading. If twaddle has been kept from the child and good literature has shaped the taste acquired throughout the younger years, the chances are great that the young person will not crave the trendy trash many young people take up when the choice is no longer made by the mother. But, what if the teen years come along and that habit has not been formed?

I have Charlotte Mason to thank for much common-sense wisdom in many areas. Though she didn’t have children herself, she lived and worked with them for nearly her entire life. One extremely helpful truth I have learned from her is that bad habits or choices cannot be altered by focusing and fretting over them. Instead, she believed in the inherent nature of a child to desire the beautiful. It is the responsibility of the mother and teacher to present only the best ideas to the child so that there is no time or room for anything inferior to find a place in their thoughts. Naturally, the world is full of undesirable ideas, and our children will encounter them whatever we do to direct them otherwise, but if the habit of life, the accustomed diet, has been saturated with the best, the attraction to the unlovely is weak. This is true whether we are considering courtesy and manners, food or clothing, or reading materials. Exposure to the good is the best prevention against bad choices. It is the old, "Train up a child in the way…” truth, or, as it is also expressed, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink” principle. We guide, direct attention, present the best, but in the end, they will decide.

Still, young people do appreciate guidance if they feel their personhood is being respected. One of the ways we can accomplish this is by simply explaining, not by lecture or badgering, but in simple comradely conversation, some truths that do appeal to every young person. They are more concerned every year with becoming the most they can be, after all.

A mother certainly cannot keep up with all the literature that the presses produce, nor would she want to spend her time and fill her mind with those books. Mason addressed this in some words to parents of girls at home and out of school:

“…it is hopeless and unnecessary to attempt to keep up with current literature. Hereafter, it may be necessary to make some struggle to keep abreast of the new books as they pour from the press; but let some of the leisure of youth be spent upon "standard" authors, that have lived through, at least, twenty years of praise and blame.” (School Education, Appendix)

Few would disagree, but the challenge lies in convincing the young person of the importance of good reading. Young people are not prone to look too far ahead to consequences. Obviously, the ideas expressed in literature become part of the thoughts of the reader’s mind, and those thoughts ultimately affect the character of the person. “As a man thinketh, so is he.”

Recently, I ran across a lesson plan from a student in Mason’s House of Education that shows her understanding Of the importance of appealing to the noble desires within teen girls. Here, in part, is what she intended to convey to her class of 16-year- old girls:


1. To give some main principles to guide the choice of reading…

4. To emphasize the fact that very thoughtful reading is necessary in order to get full pleasure and benefit from a book.


Step 1. Decide with the pupils as to some principles which should guide us in the choice of books, such as the following:

Never waste time on valueless books.

Have respect for the books themselves.

Try to cultivate taste by noticing the best passages in any book that is being read.

Time is too short to read much; there is a necessity, therefore, for judicious selection.

The best literature can only be appreciated by those who have fitted themselves for it.

It is more important to read well than to read much.

The gain of reading some of the most beautiful literature while we are young is that we shall then have beautiful thoughts and images to carry with us through life.

To get at the full significance of a book it is necessary to dig for it…[the book} is a reflection of the writer's character…”

With the teen years comes a growing awareness of what others think. This knowledge can aid us in helping our girls to understand that the reading of books is the entrance, in a way, into the thoughts of another and will have a profound affect on our own. No appeal to fear or peer pressure should be our measure of a good book, but, just as clothing fads come and go, so do silly books. The highest thinking, most long-lasting pleasure, will be found in the books that have stood the test of time and endured the scrutiny of generations of previous readers.

These are ideas a mother can share. After that, all I can suggest is that the mother herself talk of good things—once in a great while--that she is reading herself, then give her daughter the space to ponder and make her own choices. It is sometimes frustrating and frightening to a mother, but we cannot do their thinking for them. They must find their own way, make up their own mind. I caution against much questioning, censoring, or managing. We must step aside and allow them time and experience to become wise readers.

For the joy of reading,



  1. This is excellent, Liz! :) I've been wading through this with my oldest as well a bit and what you said rings true. :)

    PS. Do you gals having a good recommendations on a short title about Ogden Nash? :) This is just for me to read as I prepare for sharing a wee bit with children in our group. Emily was so helpful with sharing a couple of Sandburg ideas, but I switched to Nash. :P ;) Still researching a bit!

  2. "We must step aside and allow them time and experience to become wise readers." As someone who's been a very unwise reader at times, this is a hard pill to swallow. Necessary, I know (though I keep wishing it were otherwise; it makes my heart flutter most uncomfortably). I'm super grateful for you wisdom, Liz, and your willingness to continue sharing it.

    1. Kimberlee,

      I hope I conveyed that preparation for that independent reading is made by introducing children to the best as early as possible. Stepping aside is never easy, even when they first toddle off on their own two legs and we foresee imminent accidents. I do think most young people are fully aware of the difference between the trash they are exposed to and the treasures they have experienced--trust the books
      and your wise early guidance.