Thursday, July 14, 2016

Book Talk - How I worked to teach my kids discernment when reading

I had a few requests asking how I chose the books my kids read.  At last, a chance to write about it! 

The easiest way to explain it is that the younger they were, the more I controlled what they read (and watched).  We began with board books in the crib, something I think a lot of young parents overlook.  So many of them have beautiful illustrations and both of my children started out teething on them and then when they could sit up easily, looking through the brightly colored pictures.

Our favorite board book was I Am a Bunny.  It had brightly colored photos and the cutest rhyme.  At one time Hubby and I could remember all the words without looking at the book.  I think he could almost still recite Goodnight Moon from memory.  Yes, that is the book whose words our daughter had printed out and framed next to her dad's place at the wedding reception.  He bought a board book version for Elisabeth when she was born.  I purchased I Am a Bunny and gave it to my daughter-in-law before Piper was born.  Tradition and all...

Both of our children had lots of books as preschoolers.  Many they could enjoy just looking through and as they were able to read, would read to us.  We used the library but I always asked for books as gifts for them from grandparents and we gave books as gifts.  With our children being twelve years apart, Stephanie took most of her books with her when she married.  Which was okay as Christopher later preferred a different kind of book.

The real filtering of what they read came when they reached school age. Stephanie learned to read very early (I think she was four) and always carried a book with her, much like her mother.  By middle school years I was doing a lot of research about books for her age.  The classics like the Anne books, the Emily books, etc. were welcome.  However, parents of prolific readers that age know it can be hard to keep up.

I think that is the age I had to do the most research and yes... banning certain authors that other parents let their children read.  For instance, I encouraged her to read the original Nancy Drew books for they had been my favorites.  However, I heard not so good things about the "new" Nancy Drew books and when I read a couple, I just felt she should spend her time elsewhere.

I went farther than many of my Christian friends because I came from a very non-Christian background and had access to books of every kind growing up.  Childhood is short and the books we read form who we are.  Some authors seemed to encourage the bratty attitudes and less than respectful opinion of parents.  Not in my house at that age.

I depended on the advice of likeminded friends and "books about books".  I highly recommend Sarah Clarkson's book Caught Up in a Story and her Read for the Heart: Whole Books for Whole Families.  I loved  Honey For a Child's Heart (I love Honey For a Woman's Heart, too).  Just recently I reviewed Give Your Child the World, which is full of books to read about other cultures.

My husband read to Stephanie more than I did, for a long time that was their time together.  I think they went through all (or at least most) of the Narnia books together.  I read to Christopher the most as we homeschooled, first in second grade and then permanently after third grade.

Since Stephanie went through the public schools, there were books she had to read for class but to be honest... most of them at that time weren't all that bad.  I'll come back to share what I do if a child has to read something you may not approve.

Christopher was different at that age.  For one thing, we were homeschooling and using the Charlotte Mason method mixed with unschooling.  So there were a lot of books that centered around history as that is the way I set up our homeschooling until high school.  He loved history.

He was different than Stephanie because he enjoyed nonfiction books more than fiction.  It was fairly easy to keep him in books as the children's librarian became his best friend (or so it seemed).  He knew where to go in the children's room at the library to find what he wanted and rarely was there a nonfiction book that didn't pass approval.

Once my kids were past elementary school, they received more freedom in choosing books for themselves although always books I had researched.  I guess you can say I was a literary helicopter mom!

By high school, I encouraged books that caused them to think about the world.  One of the books I gave Stephanie to read was How to Be Your Own Selfish Pig by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.  It is an excellent and easy to understand book about other worldviews.  Christopher enjoyed the Starting Points worldview curriculum by Cornerstone.*

I found that by being very careful about what they read until middle school age and then monitoring carefully even then, they both developed an excellent ability to discern what to read.  Stephanie chose books that I didn't know and shared them with her dad and me.  For instance, she introduced us to the Brock and Bodie Thoene historical fiction books that we loved!

I wanted both of my kids to not only develop a love of reading but of quality reading.  That doesn't mean there were no Baby Sitters Club books for my prolific girl (at least the first in the series were fine) or that my boy didn't read fantasy books for kids (authors approved by my research).  But they each developed a love for good writing.

I remember when Christopher was still struggling with reading.  He is slightly dyslexic and while reading was not impossible, it wasn't easy for a long time.  I expect that is why he loved the nonfiction books.  Then he heard about The Count of Monte Cristo and decided it sounded great. 

I have to admit to discouraging him a bit for that is not an easy book... but he was determined.  He read ever so slowly and then he began to get used to the flow of the words and was hooked.  He looked for other books in the genre to read.  Which may be why he took up fencing as a sport?

I have heard similar stories from other homeschooling parents as their child... when given space and time... suddenly "gets it" and becomes a prolific reader.  I'm still bewildered at how he went from not understanding math at all to getting A's in advance math and physics in college.  Sometimes it just takes awhile for that part of the brain to turn on completely.

All of this to say... I was the queen of banning books before middle school, let up a bit in middle school, and then by high school gave them freedom for they earned it.  Obviously nothing would be allowed much less encouraged that I wouldn't want them to read as an adult or that I would choose not to read because it was too racy.

If you are sending your Christian child to college, they need to be prepared.  I have spent a lot of time on campus and I can tell you that on Friday nights and Saturdays it looks like Sodom and Gomorrah.  I. am. not. kidding.  And we live near a somewhat conservative university.

There is a saying that socialism failed in most parts of the world but thrives in American universities.  There is a lot of truth to that.  There are professors determined to remove faith from Christian kids.   Our children need to know how to think before entering the world in general and college in particular. 

Okay, so what about when kids have to read something you would not approve?  

I'm glad you asked.  Actually, it was a blog friend who wrote me an email saying her grandchild was allowed to read Harry Potter and she didn't approve.  She asked me what to do.  My answer was... read Harry Potter.

If they are going to read a book then become one of the people in their life that they can discuss the book with.  I'd never say anything against their parents to that child (never ever) but by reading the book, you can provide little bits of discernment here and there.

It was the reason I watched Dragon Ball Z with my son when all of his friends were watching it.  We cannot always give an answer of NO when the occasional YES is possible.  By watching it with him, we talked about how it is based on an oriental world view different than the Bible teaches.  Believe me, we could visualize the whole concept of false gods. 

Being a parent today is not at all easy but neither is being a kid. It is so much harder than when I was a child living in a world where even in a non-Christian family, Biblical morals were the basis of society.  There was even a substantial difference in society between the time my daughter was in high school than when my son was that age.

It is not easy at all to filter what they read but it is certainly worth it in the long run and essential (I think) in helping them develop not only a Christian worldview but discernment.  Does that mean they only read Christian books?  Gosh no!  I would never want that for then when they go out into the world they would sink and not swim.

We want our kids to be salt and light in their generation.  We want them to be present day Esthers and Daniels.  Both Esther and Daniel were taken to the courts of pagan kings as teenagers (we have to assume Esther was still quite young and we know Daniel was a teenager).  But by the time they were surrounded by a pagan culture, they had been taught how not to be defiled by that culture.  They both were salt and light for the One True God. 

Hold tight the reigns when they are little, slowly release them as they get older, pray a lot... and hopefully they will stand firm as adults. That is your job and my job and our job for our children.  To give them such a Biblical base that they stand firm in this very ungodly world we live in today.  The very time for which God intended them to live.   

Some books listed:
How to be Your Own Selfish Pig... here
I Am a Bunny... here.
Goodnight Moon... here.
Starting Points book... here.

Read for the Heart... here.
Caught Up in Story... here.
Honey for a Child's Heart... here.
Honey for a Woman's Heart... here.
Give Your Child the World... here.

*Cornerstone Curriculum Starting Points one year curriculum... here.

Most links to are Associate Links.  I thank you.

Image:  Bedtime Story 


Anonymous said...

Very wise, my friend!! Very wise. Once again you have nailed it. Pam (SD)

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

One of my own favorite topics....My sister in law (who is a retired first grade teacher) always said, "reading is caught, not taught" and there is a lot of truth to that. If your children are read to when little they associate reading with happy comforting times. If they see their parents reading they will see it as a good activity that they want to enjoy, too. And you can guide them gently in what they are reading. I like your ideas so much. Maybe because they are so much like my own! My daughters are also D.E. Stevenson fans! My son reads more science and biography, and science fiction. But we all love to read. And now my grandchildren all like to read, very much indeed. Recently I read that if you read a book a day to your child by the time they are five years old they will have read more than 1800 books.....

Anonymous said...

If we provide very excellent books and novels, I do think it helps give our children discernment. Good writeup, Brenda!! And your comment on college is spot on. One reason for our middle child being an atheist now. But we knew of no better christian college either...or we would have sent her there. Sadly. When you have friends who work in such, they have inside information. Of course, as to public education, it appears that the goal behind it in the first place, at least the one given credit for it, was to produce a socialistic society. I think we are nearly there...though it took more than 1 decade as was planned. Well GOD knows HIS own. And what must come to be, will come to be... I am so glad for you that your children have turned out as you would have desired...truly a blessing!!
Elizabeth in WA

Susan said...

Great post.

And, for what it's worth, the Harry Potter books are wonderful.

Vee said...

Oh dear. Looks as if I may have to read Harry Potter. I tried once for the same reason you mentioned and find they don't qualify on "my accepted list" because of the heavy duty witchcraft aspect...if it were presented as an evil, I'd be fine. (As movies, I find them dull as dust. Just can't get into them.) And I already knew that this was going to be a lonnngggg summer. =D

Anonymous said...

Good word and very good advice! I used to go to the library with my daughter's class in elementary school. It was fun to discover the range of books for kids available. She got hooked on some very good series for kids and would read all summer long. My son, on the other hand, would only read during the school year! Thanks for sharing!
Laura C. (WA)

Keri said...

Very well-written post (even more so because I agree with everything you've said ;-) ). I Am a Bunny is one of the board books I miss most since it was boxed up along with many others a few years ago! Therefore, you'll appreciate this video as much as I did...

Anonymous said...

This is soooo good, Brenda. I know you have put time and thought into this post, and I appreciate it so much. It is especially helpful to me as a home school parent of elementary and high school age kids. I really like the advice about reading/watching the book/show with the child if you feel like you can't say "No" (or you have no say in the matter), because then you can at least discuss it and help them filter it through a Biblical worldview. Thank you! -Joy

Heather said...

Very good advice and experiences shared here, Brenda. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.