Cultivating The Habit of Reading in Our Children

Through my 4 years of elementary school teaching, lots of conversations with parents, and straight up observation, it seems pretty evident that many children these days have lost the habit of reading. In our technology crazed culture, I can see how this happens so easily, and most of the time, without us even knowing it. It even takes me over! Yes, there are days where I want to relax and "veg out" with my favorite television show, and there are days where I choose to relax with a book. Although, truth be told that's not even as often as I want it to be!

John Senior said it like this: 
The Great Books movement of the last generation didn't so much fail as fizzle, and not because of any defect in the books- they are 'the best that has been thought and said,' in Matthew Arnold's famous phrase- but like champagne in cracked bottles, the books went flat in minds which lacked the habit of reading. 

To change the figure, the seeds grew, but the cultural soil had been depleted; the seminal ideas of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas only properly grow in an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes, romances and adventures: the thousand books of Grimm, Anderson, Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Dumas, and the rest.

So how do we cultivate a habit of reading in our children? A "skill" that seems to be more and more a thing of the past.

I've been reading a lot about Charlotte Mason education and plan on using many of her philosophies in my kids' early years of schooling. Charlotte Mason has a great reading philosophy and her way of cultivating a "habit of reading" involves staying away from "twaddle" and providing kids with "living books."

Charlotte Mason's early writings discourage parents from giving their kids "twaddle" when it comes to reading. Twaddle would include things such as...
  • books that talk down to a child 
  • books that are diluted and devalue the intelligence of a child
  • "reading made easy" books
  • tedious books
  • silly or trivial books
Charlotte Mason is very "strict" on not allowing these kinds of silly, simple, watered-down books. I do not agree with this 100%, but like many things, take some and leave some! In my opinion there is definitely a place for the silly children's books, and rhyme-like fun books, such as Sandra Boynton books (my kids' favorite silly rhyming board books). But I do think she makes a good point. If the majority of books we read to our children are "twaddle" why on earth will they later desire to read good books? Why are those high school classics so "hard" to read? Why don't our kids like to read? Why is reading such a chore? And why as adults do we not read to learn, or instead, choose not to read at all? A Charlotte Mason writer said it quite well, "It is not difficult books that are the problem, it is that we are not developing the habit of reading in children. And not just the habit of reading, but the habit of reading 'the best that has been thought and said.' Developing this habit is not for the sake of your child to become some high achiever or high level literature student. It is for the sake of opening up a door that your child can walk through someday."

So what kinds of books does this leave? I found myself asking the same question, assuming my kids would be reading "boring" books from "way back when" using strange words like "thou, thee and hence." But that's far from the wonder of reading great books! It includes fairy tales, fables, stories, rhymes, romances and adventures. They are books like Blueberries for Sal, Caps for Sale, Peter Rabbit, Aesop's Fables, Frog and Toad, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Little House ont the Prairie, Chronicles of Narnia, and hundreds more!

Another thing Charlotte Mason characterizes as the best reading is "Living Books." Simply Charlotte Mason writer describes them like this:
Living books are usually written by one person who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or narrative style. The books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it's easy to remember the events and facts. Living books make the subject "come alive." They can contrasted to dry writing, like what is found in most encyclopedias or textbooks, which basically lists informational facts in summary form. You might be surprised to find that living books are available for most school subjects- even math, geography, and science!
I simply love this idea! Especially because when I was growing up we read history lessons and science lessons from textbooks. I was bored out of my mind, which is probably why I didn't remember half of the stuff after the test was over! Charlotte Mason is huge on using living books for teaching history...using books that tell the real accounts through real people and real stories. How fascinating and what fun for a child to learn like that! There are a ton of resources out there that already have all the "living books" you should read for each section of history and science you are going through.

Mekonen is only 3 years old so we obviously haven't begun "formal" homeschooling. But this summer, we are beginning Charlotte Mason's 3 year old book list. We have already read through many of these books over the last couple years, but will be getting them all out of the library again this summer and reading them through. I'm super excited! Mekonen is really into books lately and loves when we read to him. Evie also just loves her books and is usually found sitting on some little seat, just her size, flipping through her favorite books.


Barbaloot said...

Excellent! I've been thinking a lot lately about quality of books for Yosi. He has piles of books. I read to him a lot. But many of the books he's received as gifts are... useless. He's bored by them. They do not inspire him or demonstrate any sort of lesson or value. I recently introduced Dr. Seuss. He LOVES it. He can't get enough of it. He started using his magnetic letters to spell out 'cat' and 'hat' on the fridge. So, heck yeah, the right books make a massive difference and I'm feeling inspired to clear out some of the bleh ones so it's easier to find and see the good ones. Quality over quantity!

Rachel Sarah said...

I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject and the link to Charlotte Mason's early readers lists. We are starting Classical Conversations Homeschool program this fall with out five year old so I'm thinking a lot about choosing books for him, etc. Thanks!

Melodie said...

i've been lurking on you blog for MONTHS now. we have so much in common in the way parenting...among many other things. reading to the kiddos is just a small one. thanks for the links. i'm checking them out now.