When You Can't Read Books Fast Enough
- Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Recently while hosting a younger family for dinner, I was reminded of a major aha! moment in my early homeschooling days. It happened years ago as I met with a veteran homeschooling mom and fellow Christian, who happens to have her PhD in Developmental Reading and now works full-time to tutor children with reading disabilities and counsel homeschool families in curriculum selection. She was conducting a year-end assessment of my daughter, looking at samples of her work in all subjects as required in my state. Because I was paying this assessor for her time and expertise, I asked her near the end of our appointment the question that had been gnawing at me for some time.
"How can I possibly read fast enough to pre-read my daughter's books?"
My then 9-year-old daughter had become a competent, capable, even voracious reader. The previous summer, much to my delight, she had read all the books in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Throughout that school year, I conscientiously read late into the evenings to keep a few pages or even a chapter ahead in whatever fiction she was reading. I wanted to learn alongside her and guard her heart and mind from what might be objectionable. But now, one year later, with two younger children and other homeschool subjects for which to prepare, I was simply running out of time. Call it pre-reading, selecting, or even censoring books, I didn't physically have enough time to get through the increasingly longer books she was reading. And yet, what a wonderful dilemma to have!
Sitting in that appointment, I asked my assessor, "How can I offer my daughter good books without reading them myself to make sure I approve of them?" After she wiped the been-there, done-that smile off her face, this wise, veteran homeschooling mom and educated reading professional gave me her two-part answer. First, the practical answer: "Find authors you like and stick with them." Then the more challenging reply: "Eventually you'll have to teach your daughter to discern what she's reading and trust God with the outcome."
Wow. That was a big moment of letting go. I began to realize that I needed to equip my oldest daughter to think in a Christ-like manner as she read on her own. So much more than just handing her a book to read, I needed to teach her to read with God's perspective!
I didn't grow up in a Christian home, had never applied God's Word to my own studies, and did not have Christ's perspective to lean on long before becoming a wife and parent. The assessor's answer to my question began a time of personal growth, learning, and reliance on God in my life, as first, I needed to learn how to read with discernment myself. I needed to let God show me what He thought was a good book. Only then could I train my daughter how to read with discernment, whether for school or for pleasure. What follows is what I have since learned.
What Is a Good Book?
First, I had to learn to evaluate books. What makes a good book is a much disputed topic, even among homeschooling Christians. Entire books have been written on the subject. Certainly personal preference is involved; sometimes I just enjoy one book more than another. But philosophical choices are a larger component. For instance, some Christians discount the value of using historical fiction in education; others don't pursue the fantasy genre.
Not wanting to determine those values for your family, my suggestion is to read the different perspectives, pray about your decision, and discuss it with your spouse until you reach a unified decision. Some of my favorite resources are Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt and Honey for a Teen's Heart. Other related titles are Books Children Love and Who Should We Then Read?
Another litmus test for many homeschoolers is whether a book has endured the test of time. Classical homeschool curriculums are based on such enduring titles. In my opinion, there is merit in this: many books written since the 1960s aren't worth the paper they're printed on due to author bias. Even though I don't base all our schooling on classics, I apply the principle that older may be better by selecting library books with an older publishing date. For example, even if I'm looking for books about U.S. westward expansion or nature study, I prefer older publishing dates to something printed in the 2000s because the author is usually influenced by fewer politically-correct biases. On the other hand, newer books can be just as good if the authors walk with God and write what's true. (Note that older doesn't always guarantee wholesomeness, especially for older books that were originally written for an adult audience. Discernment is still needed even with older titles.)
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