We are talking today about pondering portals, and what to do when the protectiveness of the early years begins to open up. I think, again, we must foster an attitude of health in our hearts, of acceptance and love for what happens when in our family, just the way we have a ho-hum attitude about complying with the legal age of drinking or when to drive a car. Some things do come when, and it not like trying to hold a flood of things from the world back at all, but more about letting things unfold naturally as children grow.
I’d like to ponder books with you all today. I have written about the progression of storytelling, fairy tales and books before in quite some detail: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/03/20/fairy-tales-books-and-storytelling-with-the-little-ones/. I would like to summarize this post by just saying that we go through a progression.
First we have our youngest children, birth through about age four or five hearing nursery rhymes, nature stories and little made up stories about nature and life around our homes. Extremely repetitive tales such as The Gingerbread Man, The Pancake, and Chicken Licken also fit here. Storytelling is emphasized over books to build a strong vocabulary and identify children with the cadence and texture of speech. Singing, and singing games are also a huge part of this. These things are the precursors to books.
I think where homeschoolers differ is that most of the homeschoolers I know have huge amounts of books in their homes, and they may have a diverse range of ages in their homes so there will be more printed material available than what would be available in a Waldorf school in the early grades or in a kindergarten. I don’t know as this is a problem; this is life at home. However, I urge you that when you bring “time” just for your youngest children into your homeschooling day or at bedtime to think about the things I mentioned above first.
Between the ages of five to eight, we move into fairy tales, folk tales, and even some legends. There is, of course a complexity to this as not every fairy tale is appropriate for a five year old, and some fairy tales are even more for adults! We relish these stories from around the world, and the strong imagery they portray of good versus evil where good wins, we relish the archetypal characters where every boy and girl can be a king, a queen, the third son. I have written so much on this blog in back posts on fairy tales, so if you will search, there is quite a lot there.
In the home environment, we may start reading simple chapter books aloud in the first grade (so ages six and a half to age 7). “Little House In The Big Woods” comes to mind for first grade; I had an American anthroposophist suggest to me this weekend that “The Wizard of Oz” (the book NOT the movie) is the true American fairy tale and should be read aloud somewhere in these beginning grades.
The caution here is to go slow. If your child hears or reads to themselves all the wonderful chapter books there are for children ages 8 to 10 or so, then what is left is really a lot of what Charlotte Mason called “twaddle” out there for children. I think if your child is a voracious reader, (which is not a bad thing, it is a good thing!) your child may just have to re-read some things and wait on developmental maturity to deal with some of the themes found in the older children’s literature. In other words, there are some books a child CAN read at the age of eight, but really the child will get so much more out of it if they wait until age ten or twelve.
Books with very strong central protagonists are seen as the realm more of those children past that developmental shift at nine or ten where the child has a stronger sense of self. I have published reading lists on this blog for the early years and each grade one through five so you can look at those back posts for help in what to read when.
My last few thoughts about books are these:
As your children grow and become voracious readers, you cannot pre-read everything, but if you have children who are very sensitive one thing that I have observed is that more “modern” books can be darker than some of the older books for children, so it may important for you to peruse a book before your child just takes off with it. I also tend to like older British children’s books and older books in general.
Also, giving a child to time and space to re-read books is not bad, and it also can give the space and time for children to balance themselves with other things besides books. One concern I do hold for smaller children who want to do nothing but sit and read, (from a completely physical therapy/developmental perspective), is that most children really begin to slow down in their play and want to be rather sluggish around the age of twelve. So I would actually encourage you to set boundaries for children under the age of twelve who just want to sit around with a book. Encourage activity for those children to be in their bodies and in community with siblings and other children, because just sitting around and reading really is something that corresponds to being older and coming out of that golden age of play, play, play. Go outside with your children and run, play tag, roll in meadows, stomp in puddles, hike, bike, swim, play catch. Remember that for children there needs to be a balance to sitting and reading.
Lastly, please do not forget the other balance to reading: choral recitation, drama, acting things out, reading aloud as a family, and poetry and poetry and more poetry. Pop some popcorn and read some beautiful poetry together and recite it! Memorize lines of beautiful poetry.
I think that is enough food for thought regarding books. Remember, these are just my opinions, and I suggest that you take what works for your family and leave the rest behind. I represent this as my view only.