"Surround Them With Books"

by Edie Wadsworth on July 6, 2009

This is part two in a series entitled Creating an Environment of Learning for Your Children. We will explore the power of books as a guidepost to your child’s educational and spiritual development while inspiring them to a rich inner life that leads to greatness. I hope to give you some resources that will inform and equip you but most of all, I hope to encourage you and your children to read the great classic books of the past, and to use those books as a cornerstone for your life.
Our culture seems to have all but forsaken the written word. We live in an image-obsessed age where ‘screens’ have completely invaded every part of our lives. Even most of our churches have been invaded by the big screen. And when we do read, it’s usually something written in the last 2 years, or worse the last 2 days. We have become unfamiliar with and ungrateful for the wealth of great writers, intellectuals, and heroes that have shaped the very way of life we now deem so precious. And you might ask, what is so wrong with a society that has become subjugated to images? What about the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words?’ Gene Veith’s book Reading Between the Lines begins with a powerful first chapter on the importance of the written word.

As television turns our society into an increasingly image-dominated culture, Christians must continue to be people of the Word. When we read, we cultivate a sustained attention span, an active imagination, a capacity for logical analysis and critical thinking, and a rich inner life. Each of these qualities, which have proven themselves essential to a free people, is under assault in our TV-dominated culture. Christians, to maintain their Word-centered perspective in an image-driven world, must become readers.

Vieth quotes Neil Postman who wrote extensively on the subject of image-dominate media.
Postman explores the differences between the mental processes involved in reading and those involved in television watching. Reading demands sustained concentration, whereas television promotes a very short attention span. Reading involves (and teaches) logical reasoning, whereas television involves (and teaches) purely emotional responses. Reading promotes continuity, the gradual accumulation of knowledge, and sustained exploration of ideas. Television, on the other hand, fosters fragmentation, anti-intellectualism, and immediate gratification.

So, how do we ‘get back on track’? How do we turn back the tide and reclaim our children from the images that dominate our culture? The best way to is to set the example yourself. A Thomas Jefferson Education lays out a clear plan.
“Set the example by reading, pondering, writing about and discussing classics, sharing your love and ideas with your students (children). Then they get inspired, go to work, find the study difficult, and come back to you for encouragement.”
We NEED books. We must turn off the screens . We need to teach our children that reading is THE most important part of their education. Teaching them to read great books is likely the single most important thing you can do for their educational development and for their spiritual growth.
For Their Educational Development
1. Reading reinforces the truth that we alone are responsible for our own learning. We’ve been handed a pernicious lie in our society. We expect someone to teach us the things we need to know. We have been taught to pawn off the responsibility of our learning to someone else. We are taught the learn the bare minimum: the ‘Will this be on the test’ mentality. And this mind-set wreaks havoc on one’s desire and love for learning. Learning is hard work. It takes time, sustained concentration, and some solitude— three things we seem to all be in short supply of. We want ‘sound bites’ instead of depth and spoon feeding instead of the difficulty of ‘digesting’ difficult vocabulary and complex sentence structure.
2. Reading great books connects us with great minds and thinkers of the past, who have been where we are, faced what we face, and have often done so with a dignity and character that can rarely be found in modern society. We learn the stories of Cleopatra, Esther, Augustine, Prince Caspian, King Arthur, and Tom Sawyer; stories of redemption and adventure that inspire us to greater and nobler pursuits in our own life. Nothing personal against modern writers, but there’s little to inspire my 7 year old from a Junie B. Jones book. She can learn disrespectful language almost anywhere. But introduce her to the sisters of Little Woman or the adventures of Joan of Arc and then watch the magic begin. Next thing you know, she’s staging tea parties and pretending to ride on horseback, and without ever verbalizing it, she’s creating a rich inner life. Where her thoughts and dreams become entangled with those of the heroines she’s read about; where she begins to come alive and believe that she is part of a grand story.
3. It inspires us to be creative, industrious, and virtuous. I cannot count on my hands the times this year my girls have read a great book and then been inspired to make or invent something or to draw and paint or to bake and sew. It’s true for me too. Great books change us. They change the way we look at the world. They change the way we see ourselves. They move us to stretch our minds, to challenge our assumptions, to grow, and to refuse to stop learning.
For Their Spiritual Development
1. Christianity is a faith based on WORDS. We have a historic tradition that has been handed down to us as words on a page. We, of all people, must be people who read and value the written word. Our very life and faith depends on it. God warned His people early on about ‘graven images’. Pagan societies have always been image-centered and we seem determined as a culture to let images be our master. Veith says this tendency toward image and emotion has invaded our church life as well:

As evangelicals, we too are tempted to conform to the world rather than to the Word, just as the children of Israel were tempted by their neighbors’ graven images and the thought-forms these embodied. We too often stress feeling rather than truth. We tend to seek emotional religious experiences rather than the cross of Jesus Christ. Because we expect worldly “blessings,” we do not know how to endure suffering. We want to “name it and claim it”—instantly—rather than submit ourselves without reservation to the will of God. We are impatient with theology, and we dismiss history, thus disdaining the faith of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and neglecting what they could teach us. We want entertaining worship services—on the order of a good TV show—rather than worship that focuses on the holiness of God and His Word. We want God to speak to us in visions and inner voices rather than in the pages of His Word. We believe in the Bible, but we do not read it very much.

2. Christians should be a well-informed and thinking people. Sustained serious reading, when modeled by parents, will teach children the value of personal discipline. It’s easier to watch Stuart Little than to read it. It’s far easier to watch Ben Hur than to read and memorize and meditate on the Ten Commandments. But as we know, anything worth having is worth working hard for. We must model for them the dedication and discipline it takes to educate ourselves. It will inspire them to seek truth on their own and equip them to identify falsehoods and posers.
The Practical Side—What to Do Now?
~Literally, surround them with great books. Start building a library of great books. Antique stores are often a great place to find classic books cheap. And most book stores have a section of classic literature and they are usually the cheapest books in the store. Try yard sales or Goodwill. The point of reading classics is that you’ll want to read them over and over again, so start accumulating your own copies.
~Visit the library often and monitor what they get—a few ‘fluff’ books won’t hurt them, but teach them to search out quality works too. I followed the Well-Trained Mind advice and make them get a biography, historical work, science-related book and then whatever else they want–each week.
~Give books as gifts—it teaches them that you truly value the printed word.
~Read to them, have them read to you, provide ample opportunity to listen to audio books, memorize poetry, bible passages, or quotes. ie……WORDS are important. WORDS are AMAZING!
~Make reading fun. Snuggle with them, stop and talk about the characters, ask them anticipatory questions to see how their logical skills are developing, and most of all, pick great books. Do interesting projects based on the books you read. Cook food from the time period or country from which the book was written. Use online cliff notes such as sparknotes to aid in your own understanding of plot, setting, and character analysis.
~ Having a plan for your reading will increase your success. I use The Well-Educated Mind to educate myself. It lays out a reading plan that can be tailored to meet your time constraints. I even started a bookclub based on this book and you can join us online this fall, as we tackle great thinkers like Plato, deToqueville, and Thomas Paine. If you don’t have a group to read with, join us this fall. It’ll at least give you a deadline, which is key for me finishing difficult books.
So, if we can agree that we should read, the next question is what to read. All books are not created equal. What is a great book? There are many definitions, but any book that can be read over and over again without you wanting to poke sharps objects through the your eardrums is usually a great book. And as much as I loved reading Twilight, I never once thought of reading it again. You can easily ‘get it all’ in the first time through. Not so with The Hobbit. Or Treasure Island. Or even Beatrix Potter.
There are many available lists of recommended books for children. I like this one, which you might argue contains only books written at least 90 years ago or longer. This one is very much more comprehensive and is broken down by ages, starting from birth.
My most important advice, open a classic and keep turning the pages. Great books are challenging, but as you exercise that part of your brain, it gets stronger and more fit for the task. There is no substitute for reading the great works of the past.
Happy Reading!
P.S. I just posted a new post for Rhoda’s thrifty treasures party. Visit here to see everyone’s ‘finds’.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah July 6, 2009 at 6:11 am

Hi Edie … I found you through The Nesting Place, back when she featured your (amazing!) kitchen … and since have learned that you homeschool w/ The Well Trained Mind – me too!! My kids are still very young (6, 4, 2 & 1).
I just wanted to tell you how very much I appreciate your insight and honesty. I'm encouraged and challenged by your perspective on education, especially as Believers. Thank you! (and I'm glad your girls are just a step ahead of mine; it's a blessing to watch you and learn from you!)

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2 Sara @ Be Still and Know July 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm

edie… this is spot. on. what a fabulous post! i certainly couldn't agree with you more. i have done a couple of book reviews on my blog for little ones, and i highly reccomend 'honey for a child's heart' and 'honey for a teen's herat'. they are both great resources for reading lists! i'm interested in your book club too…off to check it out! :) thank you for your honesty.

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3 TheOldPostRoad July 6, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Thank you! My middle child is a visual learner – so I have struggled finding something to keep her going (the other two get in trouble each night for reading too late – are we dumb parents, or what ?-"If you don't stop reading and turn off that light I will…..!!!". )

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4 Trica (Tree' - ka) July 6, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Remember the "bedtime story?" My mother always had a bedtime story read to her. Her mother was a teacher. I always had a bedtime story read to me. I tried to read my children bedtimes stories, but probably wasn't as faithful as my mother was. But I did raise four "readers." I remember as a cdhild I couldn't wait until I could read – the bedtime story just wasn't enough! I believe reading develops a child's the imagination. Television robs children of it. If parents read, children will most always follow suit.

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5 Kathy July 6, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Yes ! I wish that I had grown up surrounded by books. I loved to read as a child, but lacked a good home library. So, as a home schooling mom that values the written word, we read aloud and visit the library often. I am building my home library and am a little obsessed with good books. Thanks for such a great post on reading !

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6 Hopefull July 6, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Really love your first point summarizing Veith on having a Christian heritage based upon words! It is really so key. We love Great Books – glad we are states away so I don't have to look behind my back at the used book stores thinking you may snag something I want :)
Great series…reminding what is important and why this homeschool thing is such an amazing blessing.

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7 VanderbiltWife July 6, 2009 at 8:23 pm

fantastic. What wonderful points. As a bibliophile, I started collecting books for my daughter long before she was born (or even thought of!). I can't wait to share those treasures with her and any future children.

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8 TRICIA @boutellefamilyzoo July 6, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Hi Edie.
I loved this post. This series seems to get better as it goes. {No pressure} ;)
The proper written word is becoming more and more lost on todays' kids. I can't help but wonder when babies will be born texting in abbreviations.
Thank you for this post. I look forward to the rest of the series.
Have a wonderful week.
*Tricia

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9 Sarah July 6, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Dear Edie, thank you for a very enriching, inspiring, thought out word. I have been studying the wisdom and teachings of Miss Charlotte Mason for a few years now and what you have written pretty much sums up her philosophy in reading 'living books'. One of our read a louds to my Son (8) that we have been doing is'Pagoo' by H.C. Holling and after 1 chapter and narrating back to me, Joshua begs me to keep reading, he stares at me with his gorgeous brown eyes as I read hanging off every word. Those treasured moments are what make homeschooling so rewarding.

Thank you again and I appreciate your wisdom and for willingly sharing it with young Mum's like me.

Love Sarah xxx

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10 Kristie July 7, 2009 at 12:06 am

What a fabulous post Edie! I am not a mother, but I can easily relate to what you are saying.
When I was little I loved getting new books for gifts…I remember getting Little Women, The Three Musketeers and Lorna Doone for Christmas when I was 9. I couldn't wait to find a comfy place to sit and read them. I have read Little Women so many times I've lost count…but I still cry when Beth dies…I get SO involved with the characters!
I went to university at the age of 32…AND got a classical education! History, Philosophy and my major, Studies in Religion, as well as various languages such as Classical Greek and German (plus a couple of other lesser known ones). I always say that the most important thing I learned from uni was not WHAT to think, but HOW to think, and it was the classics that taught me that.
How lucky your little girls are to be exposed to the great writers so early on in their lives! I think that you are a real blessing to your daughters and you should be so proud of yourself for stepping out of the mainstream educational systems that only give children facts without teaching them HOW to think for themselves. You are a real inspiration and a role model and I look forward to reading more of your adventures with the classics ♥

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11 Jessica July 7, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I couldn't agree more with this post. Reading was the best part of our homeschool year and is what will keep a child 'self educating' which is the key! I agree w/ #3 too, my kids read something and before we're even finished I see their creative minds working over time thinking of what they want to do w/ this information. Classic books have also increased my hunger for reading by leaps and bounds.

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12 Jessica July 7, 2009 at 2:41 pm

BTW, you're so inspiring, I think I'll have to read TJED again!

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13 Duct Tape Chronicles July 8, 2009 at 7:04 am

Hi Edie,
I just found your blog a couple of weeks ago and am pretty sure this is the first time I have commented (it has been a long couple weeks-everything is fuzzy), but I just had to tell you that I love this series-keep it coming.

Kathi-another homeschooling mom.

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14 Abby Maddox November 2, 2009 at 5:07 am

Parts of this post made me cry. I love LOVE to read…classic literature!! I feel like so few people read the "good stuff" anymore. I'm scared to tell people I like to read, because they invariably begin to rattle off best-sellers–that I've never heard of–and I feel like they walk away thinking I'm a liar :) I just finished a series of three books by Elizabeth Goudge. If you haven't read them (A Bird in the Tree, The Herb of Grace, and Heart of the Family) you MUST. I just know you will fall in love with them :)!!

Just so you know I'm not crazy (really this probably won't tell you that much, come to think of it :)) but I'm a friend of Darby's (how I stumbled upon your wonderful blog tonight), my husband is an orthopaedic resident at UAB right now (was it hard to give up ALL this training to stay home?), I think The Hidden Art of Homemaking should be given to every new bride, and all my neighbor/friends worship Charlotte Mason (and I'm scared to read about her because then the Lord may convict me to homeschool and I DONT WANT TO!!!! :))

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15 Gwynie Pie November 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I LOVE this post. We are a family that loves to read and always read to our children from birth on. They are all grown up and are still readers and thinkers and all have great creative minds and imaginations. We now have a little grandaughter, 3 yr. old, who loves to get a stack of books and be read to. My husband and I have long believed something very important and vital in our world is being "threatened" by the prominence of "screens".

Very encouraging post. Thanks. Now I'm gonna go find a good book :)

Gwyn Rosser
The Pink Tractor
http://www.gwynrosser.blogspot.com

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